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Retro Contemporary

by B.A. Nilsson on September 28, 2011

The Standard

The Standard, 1 Crossgates Mall Road, Albany, 452-7007, standardalbany.com. Serving 11-11 Sun-Thu, 11-Midnight Fri-Sat. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: mix of old and new
Entrée price range: $9 (chop-house burger) to $34 (Standard bone-in beef filet)
Ambiance: Prefab ’40s

Crossgates Mall on a Friday evening. As the afternoon wanes, the demographic begins to tilt towards a much younger crowd that displays attire and attitude that shouts its denial of a fundamental loneliness, a condition the desired alleviation of which will be social. Which means sexual. Which means that there’s probably no better spot on Earth at which to become aware of the creepiness of one’s own late middle age.

Let’s-pretend cops take up posts at the mall’s entryways, ostensibly to enforce the center’s six-year-old policy prohibiting those 18 and younger from entering without a parent after 4 PM on Fridays and Saturdays. But I watched many turn-away candidates waltz in unchallenged, and realized that, as with almost everything in the mall, it’s all for show.

Which brings us to the Standard. It glistens in the space once occupied by Bugaboo Creek Steak House, which, before it went under, treated us to the sad spectacle of the gradual deaths of its animatronic woodland beasts.

The Standard has brilliantly swept all of that aside. It shouts at you with a retro decor that jumbles characteristics of several long-gone decades. It flatters you with outsized photos of former entertainment stars, with David Niven leading the way and Rat Packers further within.

Opened at the end of 2008, the Standard is a unique eatery that looks like part of a chain, and in fact is owned and operated by a team responsible for similarly unique places downstate, such as Poughkeepsie’s Brasserie 292 and Coyote Grill, the Double-O Grill in Wappingers Falls and the Eveready Diner in Hyde Park. Manager Alex Serroukas is, himself, scion of a family that operated Greek diners throughout the Hudson Valley. He cut his teeth in the business by modernizing those restaurants.

At the Standard, the menu is what I term market-researched contemporary. Flavors of old and new commingle, old represented by French onion soup ($6), mac and cheese ($14), roasted chicken ($17) and meatloaf ($15). And then there are miso-glazed sea bass ($21), baked goat cheese with grilled ciabatta ($9) and the oddly bountiful-sounding shrimp with pad thai noodles in a spicy coconut curry sauce ($19).

I have a teenage daughter, newly ninth-graded, who needs to shop at a particular store, and thus she and her mother and I squeezed into the crowded restaurant for dinner. And only after a half-hour wait, during which I awaited the pocket-tickle of a pager.

Kids not much older than my own comprise the staff, with the requisite lookers at the front desk, beyond which is the tumult of a busy bar. Everyone has been trained, everyone is polite, nobody conveys any harmony with what can be creatively fulfilling about this business, leaving a Stepford-esque sensation.

Dinner service was very accomplished. We had to wait no longer than I would expect to order, ditto with receiving the food, my soda glass was refilled without my asking, and there was no wait to receive or remit the check. But it was the equivalent of hearing a piano roll of, say, Rachmaninoff playing one of his busy compositions: The notes are all there, but you miss the human touch.

Perhaps there’s a Friday throw-caution-to-the-winds thing that infects us all. Otherwise I can’t explain why my wife would select the $15 appetizer tasting, which teems with the fatty and fried. Was it any good? Oh, you betcha. Potato skins turned into spring rolls with bacon and cheddar cheese? Yes, please. Egg rolls stuffed with a couple of cheeses, chicken, corn and beans? Wrapped and fried chicken meat with a tabasco-rich Buffalo sauce? Of course! And a dish of cheese-rich spinach sauce in which to dredge the accompanying tower of corn chips.

This isn’t food you savor. It’s stuff you (or I, at least) inhale, and then regret that you’ve ordered more. But here it came: a tower of meatloaf on a foundation of string beans and mashed potatoes, the slices themselves enhanced with caramelized onions and some presence of cheese. Fortunately, it’s a light, breading-enhanced meatloaf, which was a good thing right about then, although I wouldn’t have minded a more distinctive flavor presence. Never mind the herbs and such—a little more salt worked into it would have been pleasing. Otherwise, a highly accomplished dish.

Wisely eschewing anything too sturdy after all that fried stuff, my daughter dabbed at a grilled chicken tortilla salad ($12) that was the perfect sum of its parts: black beans, corn and cheddar in addition to the chicken and mixed greens and pieces of corn tortillas. Finished with a vinaigrette and some stripes of avocado cream, it was a large portion that provided another meal the following day.

A generous selection of steaks and chops gives all the popular beef cuts, in addition to lamb and pork. Scallops, shrimp, salmon and tuna are part of the seafood menu. But it was the baked shrimp gnocchi florentine ($18) that my wife had to have, even though she could have guessed it would be laden with her gustatory enemy: cream.

Gnocchi and shrimp are a good pair: similar in size, wildly different in texture, both responsive to the garlic and butter treatment. Spinach and mushrooms were also part of the mix. Although the plate didn’t seem large, it certainly felt it and most it, too, traveled home with us.

If you’re intent on a busy-night visit, the restaurant takes reservations, which you can also make (as well as place orders) online. I can’t say that it offers much of a break from the madness of the mall, but at least the pricing does what the mall cops can’t: keeps the kids out.