I've been in Albany on business for the past six weeks, and in that time have been able to dine at all of the restaurants recommended on here by fellow CH'ers. I've been concentrating on mainly appetizers and wine by the glass, although I will order the occasional entree. Taking lots of notes as well, although restaurant reviews will be for another time.
Being a regular at a few of the places, I casually asked with regards to Italian food in the area. According to a few of the managers, there was a very good place but they left the scene not too long ago, and the area is short on options, which really surprised me.
Unfortunately, at this point I have to agree. First I went to Grappa '72, which looked to be pretty well rated on both Yelp and Urbanspoon. Nice ambience, decent wine by the glass selection. So typically to get a sense of how good / consistent the kitchen in an Italian place is, I order the risotto. If an Italian place can't make a good risotto or pasta, well then...I don't know, it's like a Spanish place that can't make a good paella. However, the risotto is easier...anyways, I digress.
Ordered the mushroom risotto. Awesome mushroom flavor, infused with truffle oil, Reggiano shavings, etc. No excess liquid around the edge. But, it was slightly undercooked. Still, I'd give it a solid 8 because the flavor was definitely there.
A few weeks later, I get the urge to do Italian again. Ok, enough playing around, I think to myself. I'm going to the official CH recommendation for Italian in Albany, Cafe Capriccio. Straight to the top, passing Taste's beef carpaccio dish on the way.
So I get there relatively early, 6:30 in the evening. Bar area is empty, there is only one party in the booth behind the bar, and the owner himself is sitting with the guests, entertaining, talking about sending people to Tuscany to experience food and wine.
I inquire with the bartender as to wine by the glass, and am presented with a few options: Chianti, Malbec from Italy (which he then corrected and said Argentina!), a Montepulciano D'Abruzzo, and a Californian Pinot Noir. I chose the Montepulciano, although I've been tasting a lot of Malbec, Monastrell, and Riojas lately. It was ok, and consistent for the street price ($12). Problem was they were selling a glass for $9 (ouch).
So even though I was there for drinks, the bartender hands me the dinner menu. I glance at a few of the appetizers, standard fare there's the antipasti, 4 cheese eggplant, caprese salad, porchetta, etc. Then I look at the risottos. Shrimp risotto, ok. Grilled sausage risotto with fennel, well that looks interesting. I'll take one please.
They brought out some warm bread, olive oil, salt and pepper, and I was catching up on the latest Politico news and sipping wine, all the while listening to the party behind me rave to the owner on how good the food was. When the risotto came out and the bartender put the plate in front of me, one whiff and it was pure heaven. The heady combination of red wine sauce, freshly grilled sausage and fennel assailed my nostrils (how original, I know) and promised great things to come.
Then, I looked down at the dish and my heart sank. The edges of the risotto were drowned in red wine-infused stock! My elation turned to despair. I started to lie to myself: "it's just excess liquid, it has to be cooked, it has to be cooked". What was to be my risotto triumph was starting to turn into a horror show. Desperately, I sampled towards the edge of the plate. Under cooked. Officially panicking now, I sampled the middle of the dish. Almost al dente. I sampled the other side -- undercooked as well. The outside of the grain was al dente, but as you bite through to the core you get that grainy texture.
I glanced around; the bartender had mysteriously disappeared, the din of conversation and laughter in the background barely perceptible as I wrestled with how to address this issue in the most amicable way possible. There was no way my request to send this back was NOT going to be heard by the aforementioned party/owner, and I envisioned how invisible daggers would be hurled at my back as a result.
After taking a miniscule bite of the fennel sausage (damn it was so good!), I called over one of the waitstaff, and apologized that the risotto was undercooked and as a result I would not like to have it. At this point, a real embarrassing exchange occurred in which she attempted to say that they will "make another one", and "all our dishes are cooked to order", and a hundred other platitudes that are suppose to convince you that they will NOT microwave the darn thing, drain the fluid, and put it back on a fresh plate for you to consume forthwith.
I finally had to look her dead in the eye and, as politely as possible, firmly state that no I did not want the same dish, and that yes I would like to order another dish instead. At this point I got "the stare", and a silent retrieval of my plate. Interestingly enough, the room had gone silent..
An interminable minute passed, and I suppose no news was good news, because the conversation in the booth picked back up again and they were back to raving about Italian food as if nothing had occurred. No discourse from the owner. Suits me just fine.
To wrap things up (because I am starving now after having to send back freshly grilled sausage), I order the 4 cheese eggplant. Breaded eggplant, four cheeses, diced tomatoes. Nothing remarkable, but pretty solid fare. After finishing the dish and about half of the bread basket (hey, starch is starch at this rate...), I ask for the bill. When I eat at the bar, I always give the bartender his/her due even if the kitchen messed up. I'm just being fair, they're not the ones responsible.
The bartender was the only one to wish me well as I walked out (which is pretty much what I expected). The party in the booth and the owner pretty much fell silent and pretended to be in a state of deep meditation for my exit.
Guess I won't be headed back there anytime soon.
Ok, I'm over it. Any other suggestions for Italian in Albany, then?