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photo:Joe Putrock

The Steaks Are High
By Laura Leon

Angelo’s 677 Prime

677 Broadway, Albany, 427-7463. Serving lunch 11:30-2 Mon-Fri; dinner 5-10 Mon-Sat; bar menu 2-10 Mon-Sat. Closed Sun. AE, CB, D, DC, MC, V.

Cuisine: It’s what’s for dinner

Entrée price range: $8/$16 (small/large portion angel-hair pomodoro) to $65 (butter-poached 2.5-pound lobster)

Ambiance: classy, high-powered steakhouse with a few tacky undertones

Almost as sacred in my childhood pantheon of memories as the family trips to Fenway Park were the visits to a steakhouse near the stadium. Often my father would disappear sometime during the first game of a doubleheader to finagle tickets to the night game. In between games, we’d trek to this very old, very solemn steakhouse. The old waiter there took his job—or, more accurately, took beef—very, very seriously, so that when my mother or I asked for well done, the curl of his lip and slant of his eyes barely concealed his contempt. Never mind his expressions when he saw me reach for the ketchup.

Over the years, my appreciation of—and I’d like to think, my palate for—steak has increased, though it’s still not a meat that I’d order at most restaurants, no matter the reputation. So when Angelo’s Prime 677 opened in downtown Albany, I was intrigued but, frankly, skeptical.

Over the past six months, during which time I’ve had quite a few chances to sample Prime’s offerings, I’ve come to a modest respect for what the restaurant is trying to do. Modest, because while the food is generally very good, and the service exceptional, the place still bears traces of what you might call the unintentionally tacky.

The restaurant itself is attractively appointed, with lots of cherry wood, plush leather seats and crisp linens highlighting a welcome attention to detail and cleanliness. That said, however, the famous wine- storage facilities, which greet you upon entry, look more like the cubbies you’d fine in your kids’ day care, with gold plate cards labeling their respective owners. The bar, while comfortable to sit at, features as its focal point a way-too-big flat-screen TV that makes it more like a sports bar than a sophisticated place to meet, flirt or conduct business. In the evenings, the place is five deep with women of a certain age who seem to outnumber their male counterparts three to one. The overflow clogs the path to the restrooms, a problem that perhaps could be alleviated by the removal of the player grand piano, another incongruous touch—more Gaslight Village than, say, Sparks.

During the day, Prime has a quiet buzz about it, with a large contingent of businesspeople closing deals over sliced steak sandwiches (served with garlic brown butter, melted mozzarella, tomatoes, sweet cherry peppers and arugula on semolina bread, $14) or, for the more diet-inclined, one of a number of bountiful salads, ranging in price from $8 to $10, with the option of add-ons like grilled shrimp or chicken or sliced beef ($3 to $5). The loaded 10-ounce black angus burger ($11), is a luscious slab of iron-requirement-fulfillment topped with bacon, pepperjack cheese, roasted onions, cherry peppers, chipotle remoulade and 677 steak spice. I must admit, on the two occasions when I’ve ordered this, I’ve left the place feeling deliriously sated for two whole days. For a more refined lunch, try the grilled marinated flatiron steak ($17), served with crispy onions, chimichurri and Tabasco jus. One caveat: You never quite know what you’re going to get from one visit to the next. The first time I had this, the good- quality, perfectly cooked meat was served alongside equally delicious grilled green and red peppers, with the accompanying onions and sauce, and a side of steak fries that would make even Dr. Atkins forget his carb phobia. A subsequent visit, however, found the beef mealy and undercooked, with the aforementioned sides now pureed into a kind of brownish-greenish relish.

Incidentally, the restaurant has added what it calls the 677 Power Lunch, a prix-fixe offering featuring a choice of appetizer (goat cheese, raspberry and walnut salad or cream of asparagus soup), 10-ounce filet mignon or 12-ounce prime New York strip steak, and, for dessert, tropical-fruit mousse trio or chocolate polenta cake, all for $32.

At dinner, Prime is filled to capacity, and it is then that the design reveals its poor acoustics. On a recent night out, my husband and I could barely hear each other over the utter cacophony. Nevertheless, our waiter Tim went a long way toward made the evening memorable, with exquisite service and attention to detail. My husband started with the littleneck clams ($8), which were succulent and (thankfully) simply presented. I began with the rock shrimp fritters ($10), enticingly tender bites that popped with a dab of spicy garlic aioli. The bread was appropriately warm, which helped defrost the ice-cold slab of butter that came with it.

For dinner, my husband had the prime New York strip ($39), which comes from the most tender section of beef. Sides come a la carte ($4 to $8); he chose skillet potatoes, golden cubes presented in a miniature iron skillet, and sautéed spinach, which combined the fresh greens with a dressing that was oddly sweet. The steak, however, was the main event, and it was well worth the money. It arrived perfectly grilled, with a slight crust on its outer edges, the medium-rare center mouthwateringly tender. This was the stuff of famous steakhouses, the red blood of life, and Prime revels in its ability to deliver such good product so expertly. That said, I was less impressed on another visit with the steak au poivre ($36), which on that occasion featured a grainier cut of beef served with an inexplicably watery pink sauce. Prime offers other cuts, notably a 28-ounce prime porterhouse ($49), a 12-ounce flatiron ($24) and the 22-ounce, delightfully named cowboy steak ($39).

I decided to try the house’s hand with seafood, veering away from the tempting butter-poached 2.5-pound lobster ($65) and going instead with Tim’s suggestion of the pan-roasted sea bass ($32), which was served over a lobster risotto with an accompanying arugula and cherry-tomato salad. The outer edges of the fish were nicely golden, and tasted sweet and tender, whereas the inner portions had a vaguely metallic taste. The risotto was, considering its ingredients, surprisingly bland, resembling more a lumpy porridge than creamy arborio. My attempts to enliven things a bit by addition of salt or pepper were for naught, especially since the shakers for such seem designed more for somebody’s idea of cute than for practicality.

We were much too full for dessert, the menu for which highlighted gloriously fattening options with words like chocolate, peanut butter and whipped cream. Another time, perhaps. Coffee was exceptionally good, a nice change of pace from the too-familiar taste of coffee that’s been sitting on the burner since the evening shift began. In addition to an extensive wine list, Prime also features a good variety of after-dinner ports and cordials.

Upon leaving Prime, you can’t help but feel conflicted. Even if you’ve enjoyed excellent food and wine, as is probably the case, those little missteps add up. After our latest dinner there, which was largely satisfying, my husband and I could almost forget the snippy attitude of the maitre’d when we arrived a whopping 10 minutes past our reservation time. You might leave savoring the memory of a juicy steak and thinking about what special person you’d like to invite there in the future, as you pause underneath the large plastic banner reading “Now booking holiday parties!” that is pinned to the front of the building. Prime is special, but it needs to work harder to smooth its rough edges in order to earn its place in the pantheon of great Northeast steakhouses.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

“Truly hip” and “south of the Mason-Dixon line” aren’t usually overlapping concepts, but the South has us beat where barbecue is concerned. But there are signs of hope, the latest being the addition of barbecue to the menu at the Van Dyck Restaurant (237 Union St., Schenectady), which you can enjoy alongside the restaurant’s newly reinstalled home-brewed beer. Look for slow-smoked beef brisket, pork ribs and pulled pork, among other barbecue classics, along with blackened salmon, seafood gumbo and steaks from aged sirloin. The items are also available from the restaurant’s to-go menu. In addition to the barbecue items, many of the Van Dyck menu favorites remain, with fine-dining and tavern-fare options. Call the restaurant at 381-1111 for more info. . . . Nicole’s Bistro (Quackenbush House, Broadway and Clinton, Albany) celebrates its 21st anniversary with a special dinner at 6 PM on Thursday, Nov. 10. The courses will be paired with appropriate wine, and include tartlet au fruit de mer (a quiche of lobster, scallops and shrimp); grilled milk-fed veal chops with butternut squash risotto cakes; and a dessert of individual Paris-Brest. Music will be provided by Ed Clifford, and the price is $100 per person, all inclusive. Reserve seats by calling the restaurant at 465-1111. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food@banilsson.com)


We want your feedback

Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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