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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

A Cut Above

By B.A. Nillson

All that’s missing to make Kirker’s a true throwback steakhouse is a salad bar, but I can’t say I missed it. Menu options are plenty, there certainly are enough extras included in your meal to keep you from starving—and you wouldn’t enjoy as much of Kirker’s personable service if you had to trudge to the greenery trough.

In an age when senators typically serve longer than restaurants, the longevity of Kirker’s—it was opened in 1953 by Harry Kirker—is astonishing. Susan and John Adams bought the restaurant from Kirker almost 20 years ago, and have been guided by their own experience (they owned the Trolley Restaurant on Central Avenue) while keeping the menu and style intact.

The dining room sports a look of rustic elegance. Nautical artwork decorates the walls. Sturdy wooden tables, with crimson-backed chairs or banquettes, get the elegant touch of white napkins. And those tables and booths fill quickly, as I’ve seen during a number of visits over the past several years.

Although you do get the annoying, “Hi, I’m ___ , and I’ll be your server” spiel, they at least don’t perform the crouch-and-touch move so popular at the chain steakhouses. (Some genius market-researched this and determined that tips improve through such shenanigans.)

The 10 appetizers range from $6 plates of bruschetta or onion rings to the $12 serving of grilled shrimp stuffed with horseradish and wrapped in bacon. Twenty-six dollars gets you a platter that includes the shrimp and bruschetta alongside crab cakes, calamari and grilled portobello mushrooms.

We sampled those mushrooms (available separately for $8), which turns out to be a plate of baby bellas wrapped in prosciutto and topped with cheese, with an almost superfluous sprinkling of roasted peppers as well.

Soup of the day was made of chicken and rice, a classic, and it tasted like a classic soup should taste: rich with flavor, with large chunks of meat and some subtlety to the flavor components. Contrast that with the French onion soup ($6), where a big, beefy flavor shouts at you, complemented by cheese-department relentlessness: as if Swiss, Parmesan and Romano aren’t enough, here comes some mozzarella to thicken it.

A basket of rolls hits the table once you’re settled in. We added a $4 platter of garlic bread, which is topped with cheese and served with a chopped tomato salad, letting you make your own bruschetta-like munchies.

A choice of soup or salad is offered with an entrée, and the salads were commendably fresh, served with your choice of a standard-issue dressing.

Steak offerings are very straightforward. Strip steak, cut from Angus beef, is served in a 10- ($25) or 14-ounce ($29) cut. Add blue cheese, melted on top, for a couple of extra bucks. Broiled filet mignon is $25 (7 oz.) or $29 (10 oz.). More economical cuts include Sliced Garlic Steak ($17), a marinated cut basted with garlic butter and served over garlic toast.

We sampled the Delmonico steak ($20), a 12-oz. cut that gets a quick, hot grilling (it’s a relatively thin slice) and carries all the good flavor components of such preparation.

The star of the show, though, was prime rib. It’s a cut of meat that frightens me, and my daughter instantly identified why (even as she begged more and more of it from me). “It’s full of fat,” she declared. “And it’s delicious.” The preferred term is “well-marbled,” and, sure, that’s where the tenderness lives and the flavors linger.

From the 10-oz. English cut ($18) to a 16-oz. monster ($24), you’ll get more than enough. The $20 12-oz. cut seemed promising, but I could barely get through half of it, even with sharing.

Avoiding the seafood was not intentional, especially given the more than a dozen toothsome-sounding varieties. Salmon, scrod and tuna are among the solos, with crab cakes, a shrimp- scallops-clams combo called the Cape Codder, and even crab-stuffed tilapia as inviting variations. They’re priced from $17 to $24—unless you go for the $38 twin lobster tails.

A list of spring specials includes chicken cordon bleu, linguine with white clam sauce, chicken carbonara and a shrimp sauté over pasta, all $16 to $17. Sweet potato pork turned out to be a meal of two thick chops topped with a sweet-potato purée and apple glaze, with the components mixing very nicely into a sweet but tangy finish.

Sides of potatoes—fried, mashed, or a tasty serving of deep-fried, cheese-topped baked potato chunks—and negligible vegetables (overcooked string beans, in our case) finish the plate.

Kirker’s isn’t pretending to great food artistry here. It’s a throwback to a time when we as a nation were frightened of more complicated fare, and a steak dinner offered the zenith of satisfaction. These days, it’s popular to dress up a steakhouse and artificially inflate its pricing to convince Joe Prole that he’s buying his way into the culinary upper class. But the steakhouse milieu will always be solidly middlebrow.

And there’s not a thing wrong with that. So why shell out extra for veneer? Kirker’s offers its good and satisfying food with no pretensions.

If New York’s state legislators weren’t tucking into such costly steaks in downtown Albany, maybe they wouldn’t clamor for the inflated salaries they enjoy. If you see one of them salivating on the street, escort (it most likely will be a) him to Kirker’s. But make it his treat. You paid for it already.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Café Capriccio (49 Grand St., Albany) presents Spanish Night at Capriccio at 6 PM April 27. The banquet begins with tapas, including Tortilla de Esparagos (Spanish omelette with asparagus), Pinchos Morunos (grilled pork kabobs), Pulpo Andalucia (marinated octopus) and more, followed by Caldo Gallego (a Galician Soup with greens, beans, meats and potatoes) and Paella Valenciana (saffron rice with chicken, chorizo, shellfish and vegetables). Dinner will be followed by an 8 PM performance by Flamenco guitarist Maria Zemantauski. The four-course meal and private concert costs $50 per person (not including gratuity, alcohol or tax). Reservations are required and seating is limited. Please call 465-0439 or email jcapriccio at aol.com to reserve seats. . . . The Schenectady County Public Library’s 2008 One County, One Book program concludes with an Afghan Cultural Festival at 11 AM Saturday, April 19, in conjunction with the 2008 community-read selection, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. The event takes place at the library at 99 Clinton St., Schenectady. Samples of traditional Afghan foods will be available for a free hourlong tasting beginning at 11:30 AM, and items will include samosas (pastry stuffed with peas and potatoes), pallow (rice with almonds, raisins and pistachios), chicken kabobs, lamb curry, Afghan salad, baklava and much more, catered by the Taj Mahal Restaurant. The festival also will feature a display of winning entries in a “peace”-themed children’s art contest, an array of Afghan artifacts and photography by Connie Frisbee Houde, and more, and a performance by the Storycrafters of international stories with a focus on peace and harmony will take place at 1 PM, with more entertainment to follow. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (food at banilsson.com).



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