Jack’s Oyster House
Old school service and great food never go out of style
Overall rating on a scale of 1-10
Service 9 • Food 9 • Ambiance 9 • Price – $$$
Some things you never tire of. And a great meal served with professionalism in a classic setting is one of them. This has always been my experience when dining at Jack’s Oyster House in downtown Albany.
Not that I needed an excuse to go to Jack’s, but with some new renovations and a fairly new chef at the helm, (French Certified Master Chef Luc Pasquier, as of spring 2008), it was high time for my dining companion, Peter, and I to make another visit.
As we entered Jack’s through its new entrance, now to the left of the dining room, we felt welcomed immediately – it was clear that service and attention to detail are of utmost importance here. After all, this Capital Region institution has been around since 1913, and has survived not by chance, but because they treat their diners as special guests and every meal as a special occasion. Both the hostess and manager offered to take our coats and offered us a chance to sit at the bar before being taken to our table. We took them up on the offer so that we could experience this new area of the restaurant, another one of recent renovations. The wood bar itself is fairly small, but charming and comfortable. The surroundings included beautiful woodwork, art deco ornamentation and a roaring fire in the fireplace.
When we decided it was time for dinner, we were led to a booth near the back of the dining room. The familiar, large space with its black and white tiled floor and walls adorned with photos of historic Albany transported us back to an earlier era.
Our waitress brought us back to the present by greeting us with menus and Jack’s extensive wine list. I chose to start my meal with a California Pinot Noir from the MacMurray vineyard, (yes, as in Fred MacMurray of "My Three Sons" fame. Don’t laugh, it was very good). However, Peter chose the real winner, a fantastic Merlot from Jack’s own label. It was fruity, yet a little spicy and medium-bodied – a true delight, I would highly recommend it.
As one would expect at Jack’s "Oyster" House, most of the appetizers revolved around seafood, however there were also selections like the whimsical Foie Gras Slider with Gooseberry Coulis ($23.99) and a Classic Caesar Salad ($9.99). But, alas, the Steamed Littleneck Clams ($10.99) spoke to me, so Peter and I decided to share an order. Seemingly a simple dish, steamed clams are often rubbery or tasteless, but not so here. They were steaming hot, succulent and full of flavor while light enough not to interfere with our forthcoming entrees.
Dinner was equally impressive; starting with the classic dinner salads of crisp, fresh greens adorned with creamy blue cheese crumbles and lightly dressed with a house vinaigrette. I am a big fan of crab cakes and like to order them whenever I think I might actually get more crab than filler. The Maryland Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes with Tangy Remick ($24.99) certainly delivered. The crab cakes were full of sweet crab meat chunks and sautéed flawlessly, so that they had a slight crunch on the outside. The remick, a sauce of mayonnaise, vinegar and a little chili sauce, mustard and paprika, was velvety and spicy, a nice way to offset the richness of the crab. I also admired the portion size of three small crab cakes; it was perfectly suitable, not pretentiously small, yet not "super-sized". (This is code for I didn’t feel guilty for cleaning my plate).
Peter chose the Pan Seared Native Sea Scallops served with Roasted Red Beet, Ginger and Pineapple Reduction ($25.99). These scallops were not only large, but particularly tender. The accompanying reduction was creamy and slightly acidic with the refreshing taste of ginger evident, but not overpowering. It was deeply satisfying, without being heavy. We also indulged in a side dish of Garlic Sautéed Mushrooms ($5.99) that turned out to be the ideal way to round out the meal.
Jack’s does not rush its diners, but rather treats the dining experience as something to be savored. Consequently, I wasn’t feeling at all full at this point, but instead, relaxed and able to contemplate dessert (who’s surprised?). All desserts on the menu were priced at $6.99 and included classics like New York Style Cheesecake and Crème Brûlée. However, we ordered the less traditional Snowball a la Jack’s – a large dome of vanilla ice cream, covered in flaked coconut and a warm chocolate sauce. It wasn’t particularly exotic, but the chocolate sauce was clearly homemade and the ice cream of premium quality. It’s a dessert that would most likely appeal to anyone who enjoys a good hot fudge sundae – and who doesn’t?
In short, dining at Jack’s is truly an experience to delight in, and at the end of my meal there, what I noticed most was how little things had changed…thank goodness.
The total cost for two glasses of wine, one appetizer, two entrees, a side dish and one dessert (excluding tax and tip) was $98.
Jack’s Oyster House is located at 42 State Street in Albany. Hours are 11:30am-10pm, seven days a week. For more information call 465.8854 or visit: www.jacksoysterhouse.com.
Christina DeMers is an online marketing manager, food blogger and amateur cook who lives in East Greenbush, but eats just about anywhere.