“Smells Like Teen Spirit”- Back in the CD (Day 4 & Out)

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Sunday, our penultimate day in the Capital District, started off with a diverting brunch at Jen and Gabe’s. We had Nutella-filled crepes, bellinis, and more visiting with our great friends. After that, Big G drove Cati, Nina, and me down to Albany to visit a few friends, catch dinner, and spend the night there so we could catch our plane out early the following morning. We dined at Ric Orlando’s new joint– New World Bistro Bar.

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First impresions were good– small place, bustling vibe, handsome and friendly faces at the door. We were a party of 6 (counting Nina) and we were seated right away. There were parties that night that didn’t seem very baby friendly. Cati and I noticed that we were being shot a whole lot of stink-eye from several tables. Nina was just walking around and acting like a one-year old. Ah well, maybe they were in a foul mood from all the money they lost at the track on the preceding Saturday, or maybe there was a meeting of the Zero Population Growth Society in town. [shrug] The servers and hostesses on the other hand were nothing but friendly.

So we listened as our server described the specials that evening and we were interested in a few of the items. As it was a cool fall night, Cati ordered the soup special (not the gazpacho)– they were all out. She then ordered the regular soup on the menu– they were all out of that too. Say what? The server explained that they had had a very busy weekend– it still seemed kind of rookie to us.

We ordered a few appetizers:

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We had to have Chef Orlando’s famous “Pan Blackened String Beans with Creole Remoulade Sauce.”   My lousy photos do not do these justice– they are fantastic.  They are eaten like french fries– with fingers, contagiously.  I heard an apocryphal tale that Chef Orlando came up with this dish on the fly while catering a function. He was allegedly running out of food and had to come up with something fast to feed the still-hungry mob. So he seared some string beans in a blackened pan and it was like chocolate meets peanut butter, and history was made. It’s a good story, and an even better appetizer.

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“Chef’s Daily Ceviche- the freshest summer seafood ‘cooked’ in citrus.” This was pretty good; the subtle flavors were a treat.   I didn’t even mind the played-out martini glass presentation; the dish was refreshing– like a cocktail. 

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“Chile-Garlic Glazed Pork Belly with Grilled Leek Salad.” The pork belly was fantastic (when is pork belly not fantastic?) and the chile-garlic glaze complemented it beautifully. Chef Orlando does spicy really well. It was very well balanced with the spicy contributing to the succlulent unctuous pork rather than over-powering it.  This dish is a must-try. 

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Gina had the “New World ‘No Crash’ Mushroom Risotto made with Organic Brown Rice, a mix of Portobello, Oyster and Crimini Mushrooms, Sweet Peas, Leeks and Sage.” It looked like oatmeal and unfortunately was about as flavorful. A wet, thick, underwhelming mess of a dish.  It lacked the deep savory flavors that typify a good risotto. 

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Cati ordered the “Yellow Curry Gulf Shrimp and Big Noodles with Crisp veggies and Fresh Basil.” This dish was probably the most disappointing of the entire lot– it was very bland. We had such high hopes of flavorful curry and briney plump shrimp, but alas…nothing of the sort was presented. Eve Aronoff’s curried mussels appetizer is our new benchmark (for non-Thai restaurants), and this dish didn’t even come close. Cati added copius amounts of salt in an attempt to make it somewhat interesting, but it helped little. There’s more curry in a cigarette than there was in this dish; maybe they accidentally added only tumeric instead. Cati just kind of shrugged and half-heartedly picked at it like a bored child being forced to finish her lima beans.

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The talented Mr. Parr ordered the “Thai-Italian Love – Papardelle with Panang Bolognese made with Chopped Beef and Lamb, Aromatic Red Curry, Tomato, Lime Leaves and Coconut.” It was very flavorful. The creamy coconut flavor and savory meat flavors worked very well together. It was an interesting combo and delivered the goodness. But take a look at it– go on, take a look. Remind you of anything? It had the aspect and composition of Hamburger Helper. There’s something about ground meat, sauce, and noodles in those proportions that makes the resemblance undeniable. The flavors were really very good, but there’s got to be a better way to present them so I don’t feel like mom whipped this meal up because she had to work late, right?

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Esti ordered the “Maui Poke of Ahi Tuna with Red Salt and Wonton Chips”; she let me try it. This was an elegant, well thought out, and well executed dish. The coarse salt added a really nice texture and flavor to the raw tuna. The crispy wonton added a light and airy feel as well.  It was excellent. 

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I ordered the “Pasta Puttanesca with Salmon” and really enjoyed it. It was salty and a touch spicy just like a good puttanesca should be. The capers, well-cooked pasta, salty salmon, garlic, and chunks of tomato make me wish I had a plate of it now (I really do). It was as good of a pasta puttanesca as I’d ever had– I can gladly recommend it. 

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For dessert, the ladies had the “Bittersweet Chocolate-Chevre Truffle with Cinnamon and Lemon Sauce.” I was so stuffed from finishing my dish, I obstained– but it sure looked good, no? Cati was unimpressed and thought the goat cheese brought nothing to the dessert. She thought there was too much going on with the chevre, lemon, cinnamon, etc.  All a gal wants sometimes is a delicious piece of chocolate to end the evening.

We have dined at Rick Orlando’s eateries a handful of times now, and his restaurants have a sort of “from the hip” easiness to them that borders on sloppy. Not in an unhygienic* way or anything like that, but more like a slapped-together border-line unprofessional way. He has served us some great dishes, but some notable duds as well. Speaking figuratively, the young servers and kitchen staff appear to have more face piercings than experience serving a discerning clientele. Case in point, I noticed a young server who was not paying attention while walking out with a precariously balanced appetizer. She toppled the plate over against her belly and slyly backed into the kitchen to recreate it. The servers spoke loudly to one another and seemed to be hurried and flustered all the time– why? It wasn’t that crowded. Maybe the place is too small to hide the “backstage” from the diners, but it was a bit distracting. I get the whole urban-bohemian vibe (I was once a teenage dirt-rocker, myself), but perhaps they could smell a little less of Teen Spirit, eh?  They should preserve the laid-back vibe that reflects Chef Orlando’s personal style, but a suit-and-tie, iron-fisted operations manager would be a wise addition to their team to reduce some of the inconsistency in food and service. Y’know, like a “bad cop” to balance Orlando’s undeniable “good cop.” 

I dunno, maybe I’m just turning into a cranky old curmudgeon– NOW GET OFF MY LAWN!

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Nina conked-out in my lap for the entire plane ride home [whew].

* Even though I did have a stink bug in my soup during the Champagne Dinner at New World Home Cooking a few years back. The server to whom I complained attributed that to the lack of pesticides used by their vegetable suppliers. I wasn’t that upset by it to be honest– it was a garden insect afterall– not a roach or fly. [shrug]  Plus, the real crime of the night was the over-cooked pheasant breast.  But man, there was a lot of GREAT food that night too (I just re-read that entry, mmm-mm). 

By the way, anyone esle get the feeling that of all the Captial District chefs, Chef Orlando would be the most fun person with whom to split a 12-pack?  Or is it just me?

9 Responses to ““Smells Like Teen Spirit”- Back in the CD (Day 4 & Out)”

  1. Cati says:

    As you know, I have been very unimpressed with Ric Orlando’s food 2 out of the 3 times we have gone to his restaurants. I only enjoyed the “Champagne Dinner” back in 2007 – dried-out pheasant and all.

    I understand that people like the ambience of the place, but the food just doesn’t deliver.

    If/When we go back to the Capital Region, I have no interest in going back. There are many tastier restaurants to go in Albany than this one, especially if Chef Jaime Ortiz is still around.

  2. alex|dimitri says:

    Cati, amor de mis amores, don’t be too hard on Chef Orlando. There are two things you must always remember:

    1) There were some sincerely and profoundly delightful dishes during our champagne dinner that night; no one else could have done that. The mozzarella di buffala and duck soup remain uncontested to this day (not to mention the Slavic dishes that night).

    2) (I know this one is gonna embarrass you but) Nina was born, more or less, 40 weeks after our dinner that night in December 2007. ;)

    We may owe more to Chef Orlando than you are willing to admit.

    PS- I love and miss you.

  3. llcwine says:

    that’s why I don’t go out to the trendy places during track season, especially on a Saturday evening….I hope your next visit back is even more enjoyable. BTW, Eve may be one of your favorite chefs in your new locale, however, she didn’t fare too well on Top Chef – Las Vegas. I wonder how someone like Ric would do?

  4. jess says:

    I tend to prefer the apps and small plates to the entrees, although I really do love the ropa vieja.

  5. alex|dimitri says:

    LLC,
    Yeah, our girl Eve stunk-it-up big-time on Top Chef. You never know how well someone will do when you place odd ingredient and time constraints on them. Orlando would probably do well considering his impromptu style, right?

    I have another blogpost in the works on Eve…she was kind of all over the place. There were four of us and two dishes were great– the other two, not.

    More later.

  6. denise says:

    I’ve been to the New World Bistro and definitely plan on returning. We sat up in the bar/restaurant area and the atmosphere was fantastic, and the food I had ordered was delicious. I had the soft shell crab during season, and it was cooked to perfection. We also had the sampler appetizer platter and was impressed with how well the selections complimented one another.
    I do think the restaurant has a few minor things to iron out (waiting for the restroom near the kitchen!!) but once it’s established and the hype of a new restaurant wears off, I see a very nice future for it. The servers are quite eclectic but I enjoy that about the place.

    On a completely different note, Rick ran his first marathon on Sunday! The Mohawk Hudson and did awesome, although he was bummed he didn’t qualify for the Boston Marathon, I have no doubt he will at the next one! You should shoot him an email. He finished in 3:24:46!

  7. alex|dimitri says:

    Denise,
    Nice to hear from you. Glad you liked the restaurant. Sounds like you had a great time. I do like Orlando’s food; it just seems inconsistent. I don’t think it’s due to new-restaurant kinks since we experienced the same thing during several trips to his place down in Saugerties. Sounds like you were there on an UP night– and that’s a great thing.

    Rick’s time is good (he beat my first marathon time by over 10 min); he’ll qualify next time, I’m sure. Interestingly, the guy who won the marathon worked with me and Rick in SLK. I don’t know if he and Rick met, but he worked down the hall from me. What CAN’T we technology guys do? (Like I had something to do with it.) :)

  8. denise says:

    It’s funny! I came across your friend, Gabes running blog. I was searching for photos. It’s hard to follow runners!

    Seriously – you SLK guys!

    Great to be in touch. Nina is sooooo adorable! Tell Cati we said hi!

  9. denise says:

    And I’m debating the NWB this weekend since it’s our wedding anniversary. Although I’ve wanting to go to the Brown Derby. Have you been yet?