Cati and I went to Jack’s Oyster House for dinner a few weeks back. I had wanted to go back, since it had been almost a year since we had gone. We had unpleasant experiences (due to our server) on our last two visits (the same server). That, combined with all the new fine-dining options available to us, Jack’s just fell off our radar screens- so to speak. Plus I wanted to see what the new head chef, Luc Pasquier, brought to the table (or at least what he had sent to the table). On our most recent visit, we had a nice time and enjoyed our meals. I slipped the spy camera out of my sleeve and went to work. The service at Jack’s, on the Friday night we went, was superb. Every one of our perfunctory “thanks you’s” was followed by a “my pleasure” from our unobtrusive and effective servers. The elder Mr. Rosenstein was hosting that evening and was displaying all the charm that has made his restaurant famous. For example, I dropped Cati off at the curb in front of Jack’s while I parked the car; when Cati walked through the door, Mr. Rosenstein jovially exclaimed, “We’ve been expecting you!” This caught Cati off-guard and they both giggled as she looked around and tried to figure out what he was talking about. He was just being cordial.
We started with a half-dozen oysters on the half shell (3 each). They were blue points and some Louisiana variety. Both varieties were disappointingly flavorless. The Louisiana oysters were plump, but if they don’t have any flavor, who cares? We, in no way, hold this against Jack’s. We are still learning what we like when it comes to oysters and the oysters that night strengthened our standing as fans of oysters from the Pacific coast (e.g. kumamoto, hama hama, etc.). They just taste so refreshing and briny compared to the bay-mud tasting Louisiana and Atlantic varieties. We didn’t actively dislike our oysters that evening (not like we do raw clams [shudder]), but we certainly could have gone without.
We then had the Terrine and Pate de Campagne, Cornichons, and Walnut Tossed Frissee. It was presented elegantly with crustless toasted bread triangles. It was good and we quickly forgot our completely forgettable oysters. As we split this appetizer, we remarked on how much we like the open, communal, single-room that is Jack’s dining room. Sure, there are private dining rooms upstairs for the Capital’s big-wigs and private parties (I wandered up there once), and the bar is a nice place to chat and have a drink, but the large black-and-white checkered-floor dining-room makes one feel like his evening-out is a part of something more, well, grand. Jack’s was running like a clock that evening, with bustling servers and chatting diners. It felt a little like we had bit parts in a play- a hugely popular play that’s been showing (and will continue) for years. It was kind of harmonious really.
Interestingly, I recently heard a story on NPR’s “All things Considered” on the very topic of loud restaurants. Listen to it HERE. Different people have different preferences as to how loud a restaurant should be, I tend to agree with Sietsema (quoting a restaurateur), “No one likes to walk into a mausoleum.”
As for the entrees, I ordered the Canard a l’orange. I was expecting a half-duck as the menu stated, but instead, two legs were presented; one of the legs allegedly had a small piece of breast attached (say what?). I asked our server why I wasn’t given any breast meat and she checked with the chef. She returned from the kitchen and told me that he told her that there is breast meat attached to the two legs I received. I’m no expert of water-fowl anatomy, but that sounds like bunk to me. Here is an example of what I was served, and there is no breast about it (compare to photo below and judge for yourself). I didn’t demand further explanation, but I was annoyed that they were pulling a fast one, and dishonestly dismissing me.
Maybe it was a half duck by weight. If so, why not present me with two duck breasts; or perhaps, eight wings and a thigh? I’m not quibbling about quantity (there was plenty there), but I envisioned something different when I read “a half-duck.” I expected a left or right half, not the bottom half. Looks like I am not alone in my dissapointment over this. See Ruth Fantasia’s review here in the Times Union. She went unrecognized as a restaurant reviewer and was served the bottom half of the duck as well [bad form, Jack’s]. Looks like there are at least two versions of Pasquier’s duck a l’orange- the “VIP” and the “Average Joe” version (note: both versions cost the same). Anyway, I thought the orange sauce was excellent, but the wild rice it was served with was wholly uninteresting.
The presentation was very classic. Asparagus brought some color and levity, and the paper-thin crystallized orange slices that garnished the duck showed a little of Pasquier’s caché. Overall the dish was good (not great), but it was a bit formulaic; nothing really to get excited about. Cati and I are notorious for locking on to one dish at a restaurant and ordering it every time we go. Jack’s/Pasquier’s duck a l’orange is not going to be that dish for either of us. Perhaps I’d feel differently if I had the “VIP” version. [shrug]
Cati ordered one of the specials that evening and she was the hands-down winner of our impromptu “battle of the entrees.” She had the soft-poached halibut topped with asparagus and seaweed tempura served on a potato hash alongside an organic-carrot and miso coulis. We were both very impressed with the flavors and textures. It was beautifully presented, confidently conceived, and skillfully executed. I know that sounds like gushing, but it was good. The Japanese flavors were well paired with their more standard Western counterparts (e.g. potatoes, carrots, etc.). Cati may have even had to smack my hand on one of its many visits to her plate. It made my duck a l’orange look austere in comparison- like I was eating Amish food. Everything on her plate worked really well together; with that, Pasqiuer earned two admirers.
- Asparagus and seaweed tempura
- Organic carrot and miso coulis/puree
- Potato and leek hash
- Soft-poached halibut
For dessert we split a piece of lemon pie [Hey, I know what you’re thinking: “Two appetizers, two entrees, and dessert? Who are these people?” The only excuses I can offer are that I’m training for a marathon (remember?) and Cati is growing a baby (yep, she’s pregnant); we practically had to order dessert- y’know, for the baby.]. It was good too.
For some reason, when Cati and I select places to go out for dinner, we seldom pick Jack’s. To me, Jack’s is like the girl/guy your parents wanted you to date. I want to like Jack’s, I really do, but there is just no spark. Maybe I feel this way because Jack’s is my parents’ kind of restaurant. It’s the Lincoln Town Car of Albany restaurants, when I’d rather take a new BMW 1 series (300hp, btw) for a spin- y’know, something newer, more stylish, and exciting. Anyone else feel this way about Jack’s? Does it seem kind of stuffy? Maybe with the upcoming expansion, the Rosensteins will update the ‘Old Albany’ theme a bit. But then again, with a large portion of their demographic being Lincoln Town Car drivers, maybe they won’t. Maybe they want to focus on their cash-cow VIP clientele like the lobbyists, lawyers, and government officials and keep the blogging riff-raff out. [wink]
In short, next time you’re in the mood for the Capital District’s restaurant-version of a luxury-sedan, head on over to Jack’s Oyster House. Expect the luxury accoutrements from the minute you step inside, but you’ll have to look a little harder (and order from the specials menu) to find the more modern and stylish amenities.