A man sits on his sofa watching TV. His wife walks up to him from the kitchen and dumps a glass of water on his head.
“What the heck was that for?” he exclaims.
“That’s for thirty years of lousy sex,” she replies.
He wipes his face, shrugs, and continues to watch TV as she returns to the kitchen.
A few minutes later he gets up, walks into the kitchen, pours a glass of water, and throws it in her face.
“What was that for?” she asks.
“That’s for knowing the difference.”
Having this blog as a hobby means I have to be compelled to sit down and write something, or it doesn’t get done. Great experiences and horrible experiences are easy to write about, but mediocrity isn’t exactly the most effective motivator. When’s the last time you heard people shout “Who cares?” or “I’m nonchalant!” at a protest, eh? [wink] Let’s face it, it’s tough to muster any zeal about a lukewarm experience. It’s like telling a friend about an ok movie. Usually we say little more than, “Meh, it was ok.” It takes a point of reference, a benchmark, to convert indifference into indignation—and THAT is motivating. Like the lady in the joke, it (presumably) took a contrasting experience to fire her up enough to dump the water glass on her under-performing husband.
While Cati and I were out of town recently, we went out for Italian. I had gnocchi piedmontese with foie that was out of this world, and Cati had a perfectly prepared pizza. I practically buffed my plate clean with a piece of bread to get every last bit of sauce. It was rocket-to-the-moon good™.
I thought, “Why can’t I get Italian food this good in Albany?” My ambivalence was slowly turning into resentment; so here we are, I am finally writing this up.
Cati and I had all but given up on Albany Italian restaurants [by the way, Olive Garden was voted “best Italian restaurant” by a 2008 Times Union reader’s poll, if that tells you anything], when we received recommendations, from trusted sources no less, for Café Capriccio. So we went– twice. Café Capriccio is located in downtown Albany, on a small side street diverting from Madison Ave; it’s almost hidden. We sat in the downstairs dining room. Initially, we found the ambiance cozy, but then we started feeling a bit claustrophobic. After about two hours in there we felt like we were sitting in a dimly lit wooden box– completely hidden from any outside light. Albany winters are dark and smothering enough; we like/need windows. The first time we went, I tried the Calamari Neri. Cati had the Risotto Della Sera (appetizer portion) and a sea stew. The Calamari Neri was really light on sauce and the flavors were disappointingly mild. The dish came across as more of a novelty than a truly earnest attempt. I didn’t hate it, but there was nothing special to like either. Cati felt the same about her dish. We both appreciate good seafood, and we have been known to wax poetic about dishes done right. To their credit, the portions were plenty big, if you’re into that.
I was expecting something like the “chipirones en su tinta” I had on our honeymoon in The Basque Country. The sauce was so rich, briny, and complex that I did another one of my bread-buffing jobs on the plate. The squid was the ideal texture and that indicated experience cooking this visceral dish. The sauce was as black as tar, and the flavors were as striking as its appearance. I was reeling; have a look:
[Snap! ] Back to Café Capriccio; we were there for Valentine’s day, so we had a great time– mediocre food or not. The service was professional, effective, and courteous. One of the servers even offered to take a photo of Cati and me with my camera—she was sweet and had a cute sense of humor.
Some weeks later, we were at a party talking to some friends of Italian descent who grew up in Utica, NY. They were telling me about the Italian dish “greens and beans.” I wasn’t familiar with the dish and was intrigued. They mentioned that Café Capriccio has it on the menu; I wanted to try it, so we went back. I ordered it, and yet again was unimpressed. The most pronounced flavor was the bacon fat (not a bad thing); neither bean nor green was tasted much at all (the bad part).
I had the Gnocchi Sorrento as my entrée and I thought the gnocchi themselves were good, but the tomato sauce was too tart. More importantly, there was nothing to distinguish it from any other red sauce I can get anywhere else in town. Cati asked me how it was and I shrugged and said, “good…I guess.” Cati had the hand-made ravioli special which was a filled with mushrooms that evening. She thought the ravioli were a little too “al dente,” as they almost seemed dry. The filling was again “good…I guess” with a shrug. We ordered dessert and were further disappointed.
Cati ordered the millefoglie and I ordered the gelato. I have no major complaints about my dish, but the gelato could have been a bit smoother (have you tried Crisan’s yet?); again, it was ok. Cati was brought the wrong pastry. Millefoglie (which means “a thousand leaves”) is a layered phylo dough dessert that should melt in the mouth. She was brought what appeared to be a brittle hollow cookie accompanied by some whipped cream and a strawberry. Initially, the waiter tried to defend what he had brought out as being millefoglie, but upon inspection he quickly realized that he had indeed brought out the wrong pastry. He courteously apologized, and offered to bring us something else. We declined and only asked that her dessert be removed from the bill.
Café Capriccio is just not our cup of tea. I tend to lump it in with Nicole’s Bistro and Jack’s Oyster House as a veteran restaurant that hasn’t changed as the Albany dining scene has (although Nicole’s does have some interesting events scheduled). These aforementioned restaurants have their dedicated patrons and regulars; unfortunately, Cati and I are not among them (for now). I suppose we could frequent these places week after week for a fair but unremarkable experience, but it’s too late. We know how good Italian food can be and we’re ready to let the water glasses fly. Anyone else feel this way? Let us know in the comments section.
For good Italian food in the area (at a lower price point than Cafe Capriccio), we recommend the eggplant pizza at Mama Mia’s (in Saratoga), take-out from Cardonna’s Market, pizza from The Fountain or Sovrana, and the small but tasty “Tuesday lunch buffet” at Mangia in Slingerlands (surprisingly good, btw). For more upscale fare, I got nothing. We plan to try Tosca Grille soon; we’ll let you know how it goes.
For a good Italian pop song, this is the best I could do:
According to the video above, there’s an Italian TV studio looking to hire a security guard. Applicants must be able to stop a 105-lb pop star armed with a microphone and rudimentary dance moves. ;)