This weekend, two hearty helpings of humble pie were served to me (Alex). One of them was completely my fault:
1. I had a bet with Cati that “autochthonous” was NOT a word in English. She was anglicizing the word from Spanish: autotoctono, and I was sure we didn’t use it at all in English. Autochthonous is indeed a word, and I suggest you learn it. Both my wallet and ego have suffered a loss. (note: She was wrong on spelling, and pronunciation, but won the spirit of our $50 wager all the same. I had to pay.)
2. Nicole’s Bistro at Quackenbush let me down. I have had some terrific meals there, and I consider this place one of the top five restaurants in Albany, but Friday Fed 23 was not their best night. Although you would never know it from their atavist website, this place is great. It’s the real deal; small and quaint, and in no way prefab or cookie-cutter. Nicole is often there hosting, the service is always second to none. The food is always elegant, fresh, well-presented, and top-notch quality. I was really expecting to impress our friends, who had never been there. We were a party of seven; five from Saratoga. I must mention that I am responsible for starting a rivalry of sorts between my Saratogian friends and me. I am always cutting on Saratoga for being an Albany suburb that panders to the Northeast’s pseudo-couture. I get the feeling that Saratoga eateries try too hard to be “classy, and authentic,” and the whole place comes off feeling like Orlando <shudder>…but with a track instead of a geodesic dome. Naturally, my Saratoga friends hate it when I say stuff like this. I was really looking forward to demonstrating Albany’s culinary superiority at Nicole’s. That didn’t happen. The Cajun shrimp bisque was excellent, we were off to a good start, the wine was nice too; we had a Napa valley merlot, but everything went down from there. Then came the entrees; I had the beef filet special which was a filet of beef, topped with goat cheese and a tomato jam. This came with garlic mashed potatoes and some green beans. Cati had the gumbo from the special Mardi Gras prix fixe they were featuring that week. For starters, my STEAK WAS OVERCOOKED; I said medium rare, and was presented with medium well. Tom ordered medium, and got well-done. The waitress offered to take them back, but the damage was done. I am not going to send back an overcooked steak and wait while my fellow diners are finishing their meals. I will send back an undercooked steak, but that takes ~5 min. The chef was a little grill-happy, and overcooked our filets; how amateur. The mashed potatoes were mealy, as though they had been frozen and thawed– not good. Cati’s gumbo was insipid. I wasn’t expecting Louisiana hot, but c’mon, it’s Cajun food; don’t be afraid to add a little spice. It was gumbo from the Northeast for Northeasterners. Sarah also ordered the gumbo and felt the same. Gabe had the blackened catfish, he had no complaints. Jen ordered some breaded fish plate, and she was not impressed. I should have ordered and suggested the duck to my friends; it has always been fantastic. The desserts were quite good; I split a banana praline pie with the wife. There were nice pieces of banana in the pie, but I thought the caramel sauce was a bit too sweet.
My Saratoga friends felt vindicated. They were/are certain that all my harsh criticisms and proclamations, that Albany’s restaurants are better than Satatoga’s, are unfounded. I stepped up to make a point and struck-out thanks to the milquetoasty meal at Nicole’s Bistro. Maybe Nicole’s absence was a factor; maybe the chef was tired; maybe, maybe, maybe. There is one thing that is certain, an opportunity to make a great first impression was blown that night. Cati and I will likely go back to Nicole’s, because the food really is great most of the time, but they are going to have to rebuild the love we once had. <–Hey, it’s my blog, I can be melodramatic if I want.
I hate to brag, but we have some cute friends, no?
Mouse over the photo to see what Jen is thinking: