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photo: B.A. Nilsson

All of the Above

By B.A. Nilsson

 

PINTO & HOBBS TAVERN

32 Dove St., Albany, 426-4900. Serving lunch Mon-Sat 11:30-10, dinner Mon-Sat 5-10. Sunday brunch 11:30-3:30. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: pub fare and eclectic entrées

Entrée price range: $16 (sesame salmon) to $22 (osso bucco)

Ambiance: patio-enhanced tavern

 

Here are Italian bruschetta, Indonesian lumpia, Thai chicken saté, Carribean jerk pork chili—jerk pork chili? Has culinary fusion come to this?

And where is it leading? To an imaginative creative plane, or to something diminished by diffusion?

Only one way to tell: “I’ll have an order of the chili please.” The appetizers, which also include nachos, shrimp cocktail and, of course, wings, range in price from $7 to $9. A bowl of chili is $4, and that’s a breadbowl in which it arrives.

And having, as its meat source, jerk-spiced pork means that this chili has the fire and complexity that the so-named dish deserves. We’re so used to the wimpy beef-and-kidney-bean stew that passes for chili in the northeast that we forget how lively a dish it should be. Here, it’s lively.

Which bodes well for the fortune of Pinto & Hobbs, a six-week-old eatery that stands in place of the former Bleecker Café. In fact, I’ll confess that I rounded the corner the other night thinking it was the Bleecker Café I’d see, and so I immediately dragged my family within this new place to see what new culinary direction it may have charted.

“From the start, we wanted it to be a neighborhood tavern,” says co-owner Dave Hobbs. “We started with a pub menu of sandwiches and things, but right away people were asking for entrées. We have a lot of regular customers already, and a nice dining room, so we added the entrée menu. And it’s been a big success.”

Hobbs was one of the partners in Franklin’s Tower, the downtown Albany eatery; he has joined forces with Jessica Pinto, herself a longtime veteran of area restaurants, to stake out this new outpost in a location where such a place is needed.

And they have chef Eric Schade helming the kitchen, a talented fellow whose previous gigs include the kitchens of Carmine’s and Quintessence.

The three of them crafted a multipurpose menu featuring the aforementioned appetizers, as well as salads and sandwiches. Nothing terribly surprising, but much that’s impressive. A classic club, for instance, called The Classic Club ($8), which stacks smoked turkey, roast beef, ham or grilled chicken with the expected accessories. There’s a reuben ($8), perhaps the finest of all deli sandwiches; there’s a French dip ($8), possibly the silliest.

But you’ll also find a grilled veggie sandwich ($7) should your tastes run to meatless fare, and a Caralina (sic) pulled pork ($9), for the ultimate meat-eating experience (nothing is more fundamental as a meat enhancer than smoke). All of these are served on your choice of bread with chips and a pasta salad; add fries for two bucks more.

A hearty selection of burgers and wraps completes the standard menu, which is available throughout the dinner hours as well. Hobbs is looking forward to soon adding a late-night menu that will offer food until midnight.

This restaurant always has thrived in warm weather thanks to its outdoor and quasi-outdoor dining. There’s a patio that’s fairly open, and a closed-in porch that’s not, so you’re covered.

And while the bar may be the epicenter of the place, the adjacent dining room gives it its class. Big picture windows overlook the street; the room itself looks warm and comfortable. Service was efficient, although we weren’t sitting amid any kind of a crowd. According to Hobbs, the night after I visited, the place was packed, which is one of those maddeningly unpredictable aspects of the business.

One of the regularly featured soups is a smoked chicken and red pepper bisque ($3.25/$4.50); this is always a test of the kitchen’s mettle, and sported a delicious flavor well filled by its stock and ingredients.

Reinforcing the international cast of the menu, dinner appetizers included Indonesian crab fritters ($10) and Japanese chicken ($9), and it was the latter my daughter selected as an entrée after starting herself off with the abovementioned soup.

It was a perfect size for her, even allowing her to bring some of the panko-crusted chicken strips home. Served with a ginger-soy dipping sauce, it echoed a sushi setup with accompanying pickled ginger and a spicy wasabi extrusion.

Chicken also featured in one of the entrée specials, which put large strips of it (not unlike those Japanese chicken strips) amidst fettuccine and olives in a good marinara, seasoned with the appropriate Mediterranean feeling.

Listed on the dinner menu are such entrées as lobster ravioli ($17), seafood jambalaya ($18), Dove Street pork chops served with an brandy apple butter demi-glaze ($17), and a New York strip with onions, mushrooms and blue cheese ($20) or au poivre ($20).

Although osso bucco ($22) is always tempting, I veered in another direction and ordered the sesame salmon ($16), an excellent chunk of the fish steak coated with colorful sesame seeds, sautéed to the right point of doneness, served with rice and a medley of vegetables.

Although portions aren’t huge, we ate sparingly enough to walk out with containers of just about everything, and reluctantly refused dessert, although the items are prepared for the restaurant by one of the servers.

An urban neighborhood needs a good restaurant to support its identity; it’s pleasing to see that Pinto & Hobbs is not only aware of this fact, but also satisfies the need with a good menu, reasonably priced, cheerfully presented.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Dining Out for Life takes place today (Thursday) at participating Capital Region restaurants (see a full listing of the restaurants in the ad on page 51). Dine today at any of these restaurants and they will donate 25 percent of your food bill to the AIDS Council of Northeastern New York. For more information, call (518) 343-4686 or visit www.diningoutforlife.com. . . . 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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* E-mail address not required to submit your feedback, but required to be placed in running for a Van Dyck Gift Certificate.

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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