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photo:Chris Shields

The Answer Is Yes
By B.A. Nilsson

 

Jack’s Oyster House

42 State St., Albany, 465-8854. Serving daily 11:30-10. AE, DC, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: classic American

Entrée price range: $20 (chopped sirloin) to $28 (filet mignon); dry-aged NY strip is $40.

Ambiance: homey, if you have a fancy home

 

‘Welcome home.” This was the greeting we received from Arnold Rosenstein as we entered Jack’s, and if it seems like sardonic graciousness—well, then you haven’t been to this restaurant lately. I certainly hadn’t—it was last reviewed here in 1994—and was eager to see if the place has been able to maintain its very high standards.

Part of the reason for those standards is Rosenstein’s family. His father, Jack, founded the restaurant in 1913; his son, Brad, is the current owner and manager, and more often than not the person you’ll see as you enter.

“You just missed me,” Brad explained when we chatted a few days after my visit, “but my father does a great job filling in for me.” For Rosenstein, hospitality is everything, and he carries it to a degree that seems almost absurd. (“At Jack’s,” the menu proclaims, “the answer is always YES!”) But he’s serious about it, and the result shows both in the way you’re treated while dining there and by the fact that this restaurant has been flourishing here for more than 90 years.

Jack’s scored one of the area’s biggest restaurant coups by hiring certified master chef Dale Miller to helm the kitchen. Miller is one of an exclusive fraternity of the country’s finest chefs—there are fewer than 100 in this group—and made a name for himself when he owed and ran the Stone Ends.

Taking over the kitchen at Jack’s was a tricky proposition. With what was then an 80-year heritage, a lot of customer loyalty had to be supported. And yet Miller had his own following as well, and he has the talent to liven any dish he tackles. He and Brad came up with a two-part menu that they ran for a while, separating Jack’s classic dishes from Dale’s newfangled stuff. Now they commingle on a single menu again.

“We call it Jack’s Evolution,” says Brad. “Dale has been constantly fine-tuning things, and combining the menus this way allowed us to take off some of the older items—and newer ones—that haven’t been moving well.”

They kept the calves’ liver ($18), a longtime favorite (“We go through a lot of it,” says Brad), and it tempted my wife as she scanned the bill of fare. (She and I took our common love of liver as good reason to marry; now we have a descendant who shares this taste. It’s a family thing.) The baked Atlantic cod ($18) is another old friend, and this one stirred something sentimental in Susan’s heart. She ordered it.

The fish was lightly breaded, lightly seasoned, cooked until just firm, and extremely satisfying, with fluffy mashed potatoes and a crisp vegetable compote alongside.

A well-chosen 18 items comprise the entrées, not counting the market-priced lobster dishes. Seven of these are beef dishes, which isn’t surprising. Given the restaurant’s history as a center of the city’s political machinations, steak would be the once and future king. Black Angus shoulder is $20; a 9-ounce filet mignon is $28. If you want to splurge on the best, $40 gets you a 14-ounce dry-aged strip steak. And there’s a variety of sauces and other accompaniments for your steak.

I enjoyed the steak Diane ($26), one of Miller’s classic Stone Ends recipes, which boasts a dark, rich, brandy-enhanced cream sauce tangy with the flavor of mustard. Two tender filet mignon medallions accompany the sauce, which really is the star of the dish.

One item I’ve never ordered at Jack’s is oysters, so I made a point of it—a bluepoint of it—during this visit, easily polishing off a half-dozen ($10). I would have shared them, but my companions (liver partiality notwithstanding) turned up their noses. Clams, crabmeat, shrimp and more also can be ordered from the raw bar.

A non-French onion soup was Susan’s starter ($5), and it was an unexpectedly light concoction with lots of sweet onions unsullied by cheese and bread. A more whimsical starter is the popcorn shrimp ($10) served with what looked like cole slaw but revealed itself as a lemon-pepper aioli. The shrimp itself peeks over the top of an old-fashioned movie-theater popcorn box that’s otherwise filled with, you guessed it, popcorn. We also shared a tomato-and-mozzarella salad ($7) with terrific cheese, good (for being out of season) fruit and a perky pesto accompaniment with a couple of slices of homemade focaccia.

Sea bass, scallops and salmon are also available as entrées, along with preparations of veal, chicken and lamb. My daughter was sold on the semi-boneless half duck ($22) because of its pineapple-ginger glaze, which drew out the sweetness in this crispy dish. She ignored the side of wild rice, which left it as a lunch item for me the following day.

The aged retainers who served you here a decade ago are retired; the staff is young and a little greener than before. But they lack no enthusiasm, and you feel sure right away that your comfort will be seen to.

“We’re open every day,” says Brad. “It’s a matter of principle. I don’t want customers wondering whether we’re closed on Monday, for example. To close on any day sends the message that you’re more important than your customers. Every decision that’s been made at this restaurant was made in order to serve our guests.”

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Chef/owner Damon Baehrel of The Basement Bistro in Earlton (Greene County) will prepare and host his restaurant’s final Winter Wine Tasting Luncheon of the season. He will pair three of his favorite Hudson Valley wines with courses served in his popular “Chef’s Tasting Menu” format. The luncheon takes place at 1:30 PM on Feb. 26, and the cost is $54 per person plus tax and gratuity. Reservations are required; call 269-1009. For more info, visit www.sagecrestcatering.com. . . . Provence (Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany) presents its Regional Wine Spectacular 2006, during which the restaurant offers a 25-percent discount on region-specific bottles of wine on Sundays and Mondays. During February, Old World Wines are the feature, specifically Italian, French and Spanish vintages; the March feature is Australian, New Zealand and South African wine. Call the restaurant at 689-7777, or visit www.provence-restaurant.net for more information. . . . Learn the basics of making pasta from chef Dominic Colose at his Saratoga pasta emporium, The Yawning Duck (51 Ash St.) from 7 to 9 PM on Feb. 16. The class covers making, rolling and cutting pasta dough, as well as a guide to filled and flavored pasta, and cooking tips. The class is $45 plus tax per person. Feel free to bring your own equipment (rolling pins, pasta machine, etc.). The second class, “The Fundamentals of Italian Sauce Making,” is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 23. Call 584-0929 for information and reservations. . . . 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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