Restaurant Review

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Two (more) reasons to eat out on Lark Street
The Wine Bar and Bistro on Lark
Jewel of India on Lark

Most of us that live in the Capital Region don’t need to be told how lucky we are to have Lark Street and all the quality local businesses located there. But that doesn’t mean we should take this unique neighborhood for granted; instead we need to continue to show our appreciation and support these diverse restaurants, gift shops and other businesses. After all, Lark Street is one of the places that helps define our area and make it special. 

I’m not boasting or anything, but I truly am a regular patron of many of the bars and restaurants on Lark. The reason? Variety, quality and a friendly community-feel that is hard to come by elsewhere. My two most recent trips to Lark Street involved visiting an old favorite and trying out a brand new spot. 

First we’ll talk about my old favorite: The Wine Bar and Bistro, located at 200 Lark Street. Although this Albany favorite has been around for about three years, it has gone through some transformations, including a change of ownership in December 2007 when Chef Kevin Everleth bought the place and expanded its menu, but thankfully didn’t change any of the things that make this neighborhood spot so charming and cozy. The most recent change is that while Kevin is still owner, Jason Baker is now executive chef, so it was a good excuse to check out what has changed. 

Next, I’ll share my new adventure to Jewel of India, the much-anticipated Indian restaurant at 187 Lark Street that opened in September. Unfortunately the delay was due to much needed construction of the building it is housed in, which the owners purchased several years ago. Was it worth the wait? Read on… 

The Wine Bar and Bistro on Lark
Overall rating on a scale of 1-10
Service 9 Food 9 Ambiance 9 Price – $$$

Two friends and I stopped into The Wine Bar and Bistro on a recent Thursday night. To us "regulars" there are no surprises, just a nice reassuring and familiar feeling upon entering. But, if you haven’t been before, the space is the first thing you’ll notice. The restaurant is below street-level and as you climb down the narrow stone stairs, it feels a little like you’re walking into a cave – a nice cozy cave with wine bottles all around you. The atmosphere is positively charming and relaxing, especially in the winter, when the three fireplaces are roaring and you’re sitting in a booth adorned with throw pillows. 

Upon being seated we were handed a wine list that’s the equivalent of War & Peace, as well as the menu. Now while I understand that the food here has always been good, and would likely still be, to me this place is all about the wine. This means I start by choosing a wine and then work backwards, choosing a dish that best complements what’s in my glass. Luckily, as we arrived before 6:30pm we can choose from a variety of wines by the glass for only $5 (or a selection of bottles for $20), which is exactly what we did. It was a chilly November night, so to warm up I tried the Jose Maria da Fonseca Periquita, a medium-bodied red wine from Portugal that is fruity, soft, and well-balanced with a long, smooth finish. My companions both had the Michel Torino estates Torrontes. This is an Argentinean white wine intense with floral aromas backed up by lemon and orange notes and hints of white peach that managed to retain a bright acidity. Even though we were all thrilled with our choices, it is nice to know that the educated staff is always there to help with choosing a wine from the extensive list. 

The Wine Bar and Bistro’s menu is small, but features some very imaginative dishes. There are appetizers, small plates, soups and salads, in addition to the entrees. Prices range from $7 to $22. More conducive to sharing, my companions and I ordered several small plates, including the Salad of Baby Greens, Fuji Apples, Gorgonzola and Candied Walnuts with Tarragon Vinaigrette ($9), The Wine Bar and Bistro Quartet: Spicy Black Bean Puree, White Bean Hummus, Walnut Pesto and Roasted Red Pepper and Vermont Goat Cheese Puree with Garlic Crostini ($12), the Assorted Olives with Roasted Garlic and Baguette ($8) and the Butternut Squash Ravioli in Sage Butter Sauce ($10 for the small portion). All of these were served with a perfectly crusty warm baguette and olive oil.

The salad was dressed perfectly and none of the ingredients overpowered each other, although they each had the ability to. This is a wonderfully balanced dish of fresh, salty, tender, sweet and crunchy. The olives are a must when we go out, and these did not disappoint – among the colorful mélange were mostly Spanish, French and Italian varieties including Nicoise, Kalamata, Picholine and Sevillanos. 

The butternut squash ravioli with pancetta was a hit – how could it not be? The first thing you smell is butter, the first thing you taste, butter… and it just got better. This dish, characterized by the popular seasonal butternut, was the essence of rich, smooth and velvety and was a nice contrast to the salty, crispy pancetta. The pasta was clearly homemade, delicate and pillowy. The filling was flavorful, sweet and savory and the sauce downright luxurious. Overall this dish displayed a nice juxtaposition of textures. 

The Bistro Quartet is a favorite of mine; the perfect dish if you like to sample many different flavors. The four dips, all delicious and very individual, are served with garlic crostini. The walnut pesto is a favorite, as is the spicy roasted red pepper and Vermont goat cheese spread. The white bean hummus and black bean puree are both nice, but a little too mild for my liking. 

When all is said and done the bill, including tax and tip, for three glasses of wine and four small dishes was a reasonable $68. The food, as always, was an adventure I am l glad I embarked on, and the ‘first time’ wine choices were all glasses we’d order again. The service was just as friendly and helpful as it always is. What could be better? I convince myself that this is all I need in life… and I wonder – would they let me live there?

The Wine Bar and Bistro on Lark is located at 200 Lark Street in Albany. They can be reached at 463.2881 or www.winebaronlark.com. They are open seven days a week at 4pm. The kitchen is open until 10pmSunday-Thursday and until 11pm Friday and Saturday.

Jewel of India on Lark
Overall rating on a scale of 1-10
Service 9 Food 9 Ambiance 8 Price – $$

My next trip to Lark involved trying the street’s newest restaurant, Jewel of India, at 187 Lark. My sister, in town for the Thanksgiving holiday, and I were in desperate need of a meal on Saturday that involved no turkey, stuffing or gravy. We found it here, at the $8 lunch buffet, and it was heavenly. The restaurant space is small, but nicely decorated and the staff affectionately fawn over patrons. After their delayed opening, I think they were more than ready to make up for lost time. 

The buffet was certainly the most popular choice, judging by the other tables, however diners can always order off the regular menu as well. My sister and I perused the menu briefly, but thought we could get a more complete feel for the restaurant and the chef’s abilities by trying the buffet with its wide selection of Bangladeshi and Indian dishes. And we made it count, sampling literally everything – see what we do for you? 

After being seated we were told we could help ourselves immediately. Up we jumped to survey the choices: we counted a total of 12 hot dishes: a vegetable and lentil soup, tandoori chicken, vegetable tandoori, saag paneer (rich and creamy spinach and Indian cheese), lamb aloo (a mild lamb and potato stew), gobi pakora (chick pea flour batter fried cauliflower), roast chicken biryani, lamb curry, tilapia curry, chili chicken, shrimp bagun (shrimp, okra and onions in a spicy red sauce) and daal (lentil curry). In addition there was a crisp and refreshing cold chickpea, corn and onion salad, basmati rice, paratha bread (a whole wheat flat bread similar to naan but denser, and better in my opinion), and the obligatory condiments: tamarind sauce, raita (yogurt and cucumber) and mango chutney. 

While everything we sampled (or more accurately ‘inhaled’) was very good, there were a few standouts worth expanding upon. The tandoori chicken was not only moist, it actually fell off the bone. I’m sure most of us have experienced overly-dry and stringy versions more often than not, so this was a welcome change. The saag paneer was one of three vegetarian dishes and one of the very best saag paneers I’ve ever had. This popular spinach and Indian cheese stew was uncommonly rich and fragrant with what I thought could be a little nutmeg. It was outstanding. Lastly, what was labeled as shrimp bagun was sumptuous. The bagun (or authentically called "bagoong” which refers to a paste made from fermented fish) was the spiciest of all the dishes, featuring crisp vegetables and tender shrimp in a thin, fiery sauce. This, over a little Basmati rice, was near perfection.

After our "tour of India” was over we decided we needed to go all the way and end with the two desserts on the buffet table. The kheer (rice pudding) was creamy and flavorful without being as thick as most American puddings, and which I was thankful for. Then came what could be the highlight of the entire meal, for me, anyway – the mango coconut "pudding”, which was in essence pureed fruit with a little milk added to create a creamy texture without diluting the intense fruit flavors. If I wasn’t already full from having sampled the entire buffet, I would have hopped up for seconds. 

Overall the food was milder and more delicate than many Indian restaurants in the area, but I have no major criticism with anything we ate. The quality of all the dishes was very high and it was evident that everything was freshly prepared with skill and thoughtfulness and at a very reasonable price. The cost for two lunch buffets, two sodas, tax and tip was $29. (The lunch buffet is available from 11am-3pm daily, and costs $6.99 on weekdays, $8.99 on weekends for a larger spread.) 

Jewel of India on Lark is located at 187 Lark Street in Albany. They can be reached at 512.5600 or www.jewelonlark.com. They are open daily for lunch, dinner and late-night dining; enjoy a marvelous Lunch Buffet from 11am-3pm seven days a week. 

It’s time for you to show your appreciation for Lark Street. I’ve already done the hard part for you, now go and enjoy these tested and approved eateries while supporting our own little microcosm of culture and good taste. 

Christina DeMers is a senior online marketing manager, food blogger and amateur cook who lives in Troy, but eats just about anywhere.

 

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