Cati, Nina, and I returned to the Capital District to celebrate what has become an annual tradition—partying, placing bets, and picnicking with our dear friends for the running of the Travers Stakes at the Saratoga Race Course. We opted not to bring Nacho on this trip so we returned him to the animal shelter and wished him the best. I kid; a neighbor took care of our special little-guy. See, he’s as spoiled and pampered as ever:
The plane ride was uneventful. As we approached Albany for our landing Cati and I admired the emerald greenery and mountainous horizons of the Upstate NY.
Here’s a picture of the server-farm-esque Empire State Plaza from the plane. Whoddathunk all that grey concrete could be endearing?
We landed shortly before noon and made a bee line to Dale Miller for lunch. It was kind of hard to find the entrance (it’s on Beaver St.), and we wound up roaming around a little and eventually cutting through the Omni Plaza to get to the entrance.
Cati, Nina, and I were joined by our lovely friends Gina, Susan, and Esti. Yep, that’s right, it was me and 4.5 ladies. I get high-fives from Arabian sheiks all the time as they check out what appears to be my harem. Anyway, we let the hostess know we had arrived for our reservation and then we strolled around to look at the place while our table was prepared. The dining room was quiet, but the patio was completely full (it was a beautiful day).
We both thought the place was stylish and had a light but formal feel. The large windows and lighter colors imparted a sort of levity to the ambience. Every corner of the place reflected Chef Miller’s perfectionist character*; from the bathrooms to the chef’s table to the patio outside—the place is very elegant and refined without being stuffy. It also helped that outside was probably the most lovely weather Albany had had all year.
While snooping looking around, we saw Chef Miller himself at the open kitchen window, in the dining room, overseeing things. We were pleasantly surprised to see him there for lunch. Cati and I went over to say hello and chat a bit; he took some time to show us around– we were super-impressed. Apparently Nina liked the place too.
Okay, so what’d we eat? Thanks to Chef Miller’s hospitality, he invited our group to move to the chef’s table for our lunch– we immediately agreed to the upgrade. Also thanks to a generous friend that Chef Miller and I have in common (and who probably has Dale on speed dial), our group was treated to a special appetizer trio. Normally these appetizers are not available at lunch, but we lowly lunchers were accommodated (thanks, gents).
Let’s take these one at a time:
1) Spicy sesame crusted ahi tuna with; pineapple salsa, and tamarind barbeque kimchee.
It was a beautiful piece of fish with a flavorful toasted sesame crust. The pineapple salsa wasn’t as sweet and tart as we were expecting. The kimchee was very nice but this dish was really all about the succulent piece of tuna.
2) Pan seared squid chiffonade with gingered herb pistou and sprinkled with tobiko.
It was as delicious as it was attractive. The warm squid was the perfect soft texture and the fresh and ‘popping’ tobiko was a very nice touch. Squid is a good vehicle for a great sauce, and that is exactly what we got. After all the squid was gone, I couldn’t stop dipping my bread in the plate to soak up that “gingered herb pistou.” I think this appetizer shows the skill and creativity for which Dale Miller is lauded.
3) Pan-seared rougie foie gras served with vanilla poached pear, walnut crostini, root-beer gastrique, and cherry compote.
Ok, this one brought sexy back. It was visceral—it was so rich—eating this felt like you were doing something you shouldn’t be, but couldn’t stop yourself. The sweet poached-pear and the not-too-sweet root beer reduction were the perfect accompaniment for the foie gras. What a well-proportioned dish; the flavors were great. I can’t say enough to explain how delicious this was.
Cati took it easy on the appetizers to save room for Chef Miller’s lobster bisque (she still talks about it from our dinner at the Inn at Erlowest last year).
“Lobster bisque, Latin style– essence of ginger, lime, coconut and jalapeno; jasmine rice fritter.”
I usually try to avoid superlatives like this, but here goes– no one makes a better lobster bisque than Dale Miller. His is the standard by which we all-too-often judge the tepid, sweet, and thick messes we find at other restaurants. He somehow manages to capture the flavor of lobster like no one else. Maybe he uses five lobsters for a single bowl—I dunno, but it’s great. The Latin flavors were mild, perhaps too mild for those expecting a spicy dish.
Cati followed her bisque with the “chopped salad Indu-chine; organic field greens, curried chicken, spicy almonds, vegetable confetti” wrapped in a toasted lavash, and topped with “AJ’s Indu vinaigrette.”
The curry was not too strong and the chicken was nicely cooked and not at all dry. The toasted lavash wrap was a nice (and tasty) way to present the salad. Cati noted that although it’s a salad, it was very filling. She was getting kind of full so I offered my plate-cleaning services. [ain’t I sumthin'?]
I ordered the “triple sear” sliced flat iron steak served with rock salt, aged sake and soy sauce.
Apparently great minds think alike, because our three friends ordered the steak as well. I am not that familiar with the flat-iron cut. I think I have had it one other time. I remember reading that it’s a fairly recent cut of steak that was developed by researchers at the University of Nebraska and the University of Florida. Prior to their “discovering” it as a cut of steak, butchers just relegated it to hamburger. To me it tasted a lot like sirloin—flavorful, but not the tenderest cut.
The ladies split dessert and I walked around with Nina to keep her occupied. They had the “summer berries trifle.” It was a lemon scented poundcake topped with white chocolate mousse and strawberries, raspberries and blueberries.
Cati said it was light, fluffy, and refreshing. Nina and I strolled around the patio and enjoyed the day.
Overall, we had a great meal, from a talented chef, in an elegant venue with some quality people– what’s not to like?
After lunch we all headed to Wolff’s Biergarten to check the place out and watch the FC Barcelona match against FC Shakhtar Donetsk. It was Catalonia vs. Ukraine, so Cati and I were interested in bragging rights for our respective bloodlines. [FCB won, dammit] Esti read on the Wolff’s website that they were showing the game there but when we arrived the bartenders realized that they had publicized the match for the wrong day. The game was actually scheduled for the following day. They were quite apologetic and gave our group a free round to ease our disappointment; I didn’t even have to ask, they were just classy like that. Well played, fellas.
Wolff’s seemed pretty cool; I could easily imagine myself putting away a lot of beer there with friends if we still lived in Albany. Even Nina liked the place until she had too many beers and starting head-butting the camera like Sean Penn on the paparazzi.
Even more friends joined our little party and it was really nice seeing those who could make it.
After Wolff’s, we headed up to Saratoga to join our friends Jen and Gabe for a weekend of food, fun, and festivities.
To be continued…
* Cati and I have always had the good fortune of being patrons of noteworthy chefs and not employees. Let’s face it, exceptional chefs are notoriously hard on their employees. Case in point– Saso-san, of the now legendary Saso’s, used to say with a smile, “You pay me, you can yell at me. I pay you, I get to yell.” My friend “Rick” has a great Dale Miller story. Back in the day, when “Rick” was young and aspiring to become a chef, he scored a job working in the kitchen at Jack’s Oyster House under Chef Miller. Chef Miller gave him instructions to prepare a brunoise of celery. After a few minutes, Chef Miller came back; he took a look at the celery, picked it up, told him that was not chopped correctly, and then shouted, “unpalatable!” as he threw it down and stormed away. He broke “Rick’s” little heart and “Rick” spent the rest of the night crying into his pillow like a jilted prom-date. [ok, maybe not THAT bad] Seriously though, my buddy wound up getting fired not long after this incident for allegedly not having what it takes. “Rick” still jokes about how he cringes at the word brunoise.