Pine St. (at S. Pearl), Albany, 694-3689. www.envyalbany.com.
Serving lunch Tue-Fri 11-2, dinner Tue-Sat 5-9. AE, D, MC,
price range: $26 (lamb shanks with three-cheese risotto)
to $45 (grilled NY strip loin)
of the goals set by the Envy Lounge is to encourage young
(but not too young) urban professionals to patronize South
Pearl Street. The restaurant, which opened in October, is
on the Pine Street side of Jillian’s. You’ll see the big windows
behind which the cooking staff toils, although they’ll give
a friendly enough wave to suggest that they’re enjoying themselves
Chef James Demers brings several years of experience at an
exclusive Virginia golf club to the task at hand. He’s from
Clifton Park, and happy to be back in the area—and happy to
take on the challenge of updating our food sensibility. Given
the challenge of wreaking something adventurous, he has drawn
from classical roots to reshape the expected components into
something that will surprise both the eye and the palate.
Like the braised lamb shanks with three-cheese risotto ($26).
Once upon a time those shanks were garbage meat, selling for
next to nothing; like a neglected urban neighborhood, they
suddenly became trendy. And expensive. Braise them, especially
in a sturdy stock, and they reward you with intense flavor.
Demers presents a concentrated serving of boneless meat, giving
added depth with an apricot-sweetened sauce. And the meat
perches atop rice that’s also a-burst with flavor, the mixture
of cheeses strong but not overpowering.
Early in this restaurant’s inception, Demers explained, it
was going to focus on tapas. With the proliferation of that
approach, Envy’s menu was steered in a somewhat different
direction, although some of the small plates remain. Even
the lamb shanks entrée has a touch of this approach: It’s
a sensible-sized portion served in the well of handsomely
There’s the lounge aspect of the restaurant to consider, although
I explored it little. One of the two bar areas gives you a
view of the kitchen; the other is more traditionally placed
at one side of the dining area.
To describe the dining area itself as large is to do it little
justice. It’s huge, with row of outsized booths at one end
and a profusion of well-spaced tables elsewhere. The ceiling
is high enough to have its own atmospheric system, and the
warehouse-like look of the room was muted by painting the
walls and ceiling black. On the positive side, this gives
the look of a series of white tables floating in darkness.
It’s comfortable, even intimate insofar as you feel isolated
from the environment. But it’s not particularly attractive.
Booths can be a tricky proposition for an outsized fellow
like me, but I had no trouble fitting into one here. “The
owner is very tall,” one of the servers explained, “so everything
here was designed a little bigger than usual.”
Service, by the way, was exemplary. We enjoyed the attention
of Jason, who sparked his time with us with quiet wit, explained
the menu well, and delivered what was promised.
Although I don’t see the term “tapas” on the menu, it starts
with a series of small plates that can serve as appetizers
or small meals. Or large meals, as in the case of the scallops:
They’re available as a $14 starter or a $32 main plate. In
both cases, black ruffles, white truffles and lavender honey
are among the accompaniments.
Or start with a plate of cheese. Or olives. Each comes in
three sizes; the middle-sized olive plate ($12), which I chose,
was supposed to fly around the table—but none of my companions
was in the mood to enjoy the warm, herb-dusted selection in
which kalamata olives abounded. White anchovies provided a
subtle contrast, and a glass of prosecco (not included, but
worth the small investment) gave a nice finish to the dish.
An $8 plate of fried oysters is much more than you might expect.
The oysters themselves are crunchy with masa, spiced with
a subtle presence of chorizo and served with a pungent aïoli.
While $8 may seem pricey for a cup of soup, the blend of potatoes,
leeks and scallops was as effective a mixture as I’ve ever
Demers dry-ages the beef he serves; a grilled one-pound strip
is $45, while pair of tenderloin filets (with lobster sauce
and scampi) is $36. But why opt for those when there’s a bison
hangar steak ($28)? Marinated in Thai seasonings, it’s a tender
cut with a satisfying depth of flavor, served with blue-cheese-enhanced
mashed potatoes on a very decorative dish.
My daughter chose another small plate for her entrée: Those
seemingly ubiquitous scallops are worked into penne that’s
topped with creamy sherry sauce ($9).
I can’t imagine more flavor that what’s rolled into a dish
of twin quail ($27). The birds are glazed with apricot and
served alongside caramelized oranges; inside them is risotto
shot through with mushrooms and sweetbreads—insanely rich,
Although the fine-dining profile of downtown Albany has been
getting steadily more up to date (we’ve long been lingering
10 to 20 years behind the more avant garde urban areas), what’s
served at the Envy Lounge goes a long way to pushing us into
2007. And that’s good for all of the better restaurants in
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Larry Schepici’s newest venture, the Tosca
Grille (200 Broadway, Troy), recently added
a gourmet Sunday brunch with live jazz and, as
they roll around, holiday themes. Priced at $23
($12 for kids 5-12; under 5 is free) and running
from 10 AM-3 PM, the buffet features stations
for omelettes, waffles, pasta, pastries and fruit,
as well as a carving station for an array of meats.
Entrées change regularly, but could include eggs
Benedict with lemon hollandaise, cheese and blueberry
blintzes, and much more. More info and reservations:
272-3013. . . . Jan. 23 is National Soup Swap
Day, and a Schenectady-based potluck club
called Almost Foodies will take part. Begun in
Seattle as a way of bringing together people who
celebrate food and their community, it’s going
national with a blog (www.soupswap.com) and events
planned in several key cities. Almost Foodies,
led by Renée McAllister, will film the soup-swap
event for a future program on Schenectady’s public-access
station, channel 16. For more info, e-mail her
(renee at almost food ies.com). . . . Remember
to pass your scraps to Metroland (food at banilsson.com).
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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.
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
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!
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..