Central Ave., Albany, 456-1653. Serving lunch 11:30-3 Mon-Fri,
dinner 4-9 Sun-Tue, 4-10 Wed-Sat. AE, D, MC, V.
price range: $6 (tomato-avocado salad) to $32 (20 oz.
dislike coincidences. They are the stuff of the fictionist,
desperate to tie together divergent threads of plot. Yet they
do occur, and they must be dealt with. It is a coincidence
that my review of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que ran the same week as
Cheryl Clark’s piece in the Times Union. It is also
a coincidence, and, given my travels last Saturday, a very
unlikely one, that we should encounter Clark and her husband,
Paul, at Central Steak.
My family and I were waiting to be seated. Saturday night
can be a trying time for restaurants, but we hoped that Central
Steak was designed to move food and customers along with some
efficiency. As soon as you enter, you can see the grill—a
long, open line banging out entrées like something out of
This was our third stop on my search for a burger. One place
was closed, another far too crowded. I would have abandoned
Central Steak, with a promised half-hour wait, had not my
wife and daughter complained of their own hunger. So we were
there without a reservation, enjoying wisps of schadenfreude
as we noted that even those with reservations had
to wait. And that’s all we enjoyed, because after giving a
name at the host’s station, at no time during our lengthy
hallway occupation did either of the attendants there say
a word to us.
No countdown (“Looks like it’ll be just another 10 minutes”),
no menu talk (“You came on a good night—we’ve got a stuffed
veal chop on special”), no chat (“Are you from the area? Have
you been here before?”) Good restaurateurs know that no amount
of ad dollars can beat word of mouth, and every minute a customer
is in the house is a free PR opportunity.
We were seated at a five-top just after our friends walked
in, so we offered to spare them from their own promised wait.
We dined together.
Central Steak is the handsomely made over Butcher Block, refurbished
by its owner, White Management, to present a new face to a
flagging economy. Tables are spread through two large rooms
with a bar between, and everything has been lavishly reappointed—but
no amount of fancy decor makes up for inconsistent food and
There are customers who enter a restaurant spoiling for a
fight. That’s not me. That’s not anyone who was in my party.
Seated and with a good glass of ale already half-consumed,
I was relaxed and ready for beef.
The menu promised a burger fix on its list of $6 to $12 small
plates. You can get shrimp cocktail, salmon tacos, chicken
spiedies and the provocatively described short rib shepherd’s
pie, made with apricots and Yukon gold potatoes, but I wanted
the sliders ($7), which turned out to be two mini- burgers
that gained flavor from onions, mushrooms and barbecue sauce
but surrendered much of their presence to the bread that surrounds
Across the table, Paul was served a variation that put short-rib
meat between the buns ($8), and thus had a more dramatic presence.
But what about the little skewer of pineapple and tomato chunks
served with each? Mine was grilled. Paul’s was cold. Quality
control needed here.
Details like that shake your confidence. Susan’s starter,
a cream of celery soup ($3), never arrived, although it remained
on the check until we pointed out the error. But I liked the
heat and the allspice-rich mix of spices in Cheryl’s jerk
shrimp skewers ($10).
The wide range of salads includes a $10 Caesar, a $13 compote
of apple, fennel, orange, arugula and a pomegranate vinaigrette,
and even a $22 cobb with lobster and blue cheese. But a house
salad is served to the table—a big bowl of good mixed greens
and tomatoes, with containers of blue cheese dressing and
balsamic vinaigrette on the side.
When the entrées arrived, Paul and I again got to see two
perspectives of similar items. His ribeye (14 ounces, $24)
was in the right state of medium-rare doneness. I’d asked
for the same finish for my porterhouse (20 ounces, $32), but
it was thoroughly well-done. To their immense credit, the
restaurant immediately replaced it and comped it, which is
the only return-visit inducing way to remedy the problem.
I didn’t complain that the replacement was, according to the
menu-printed description, a solid medium. Big-time quality
control needed here.
The hanger steak ($21) puts what’s actually a very tasty cut
under a sweet, thick sauce of brandied cherries and toasted
almonds that would be better served on the side. My wife found
the sliced pork flatiron ($15) satisfying but not as flashy
as the promise of red and poblano pepper salad, cilantro vinaigrette
and chile threads suggested. And the crab-stuffed shrimp ($20),
served with a lobster sauce, sported a very nice combination
of flavors except for leaning too heavily in the salt direction.
Fried plantains figure as sides on a number of plates, which
is an unusual and welcome touch. But the plantains Foster
offered as dessert were fantastically oversweetened.
It seemed only fair to retry the restaurant, so my daughter
and I returned for lunch the following Monday. Only a handful
of others were dining there at 1 PM, and we were immediately
seated and enjoyed careful attention from a personable waiter—and
a very nice meal.
The lunch menu is whittled from what’s offered for dinner,
with sandwiches added in place of the big meat dishes. Lobster
bisque ($11) had a gorgeous texture, a strong presence of
lobster, and a little too much salt. Except for the sliders,
the only burger offered is a $20 Kobe beef thing, which I
won’t buy because I don’t want to encourage that pretentious
So I ordered the shaved prime rib sandwich instead ($10),
and was quite pleased with the simple presentation of meat
and bun and horseradish mayo. A side of string beans was crunchy
and served with that most delightful of all foodstuffs, roasted
Despite the pretentiousness my fine-dining habits encourage,
I’m a big steakhouse fan and would love to see this place
flourish. Quality control. Front of house. Training, training,
training. Put it all together and you’ll have something that’s,
for this area, rare. And I’ll be the first to say “well done.”
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
digging in as much as you are in order to eat
well while money is scarce. So I thought I’d share
some tips and techniques, and will do so over
four weeks at the Arts Center of the Capital
Region in Troy, with a class called Cooking
for the New Economy. Make your shopping trips
more efficient and plan menus without waste. Can
I cook anywhere as well as those I criticize?
Find out and enjoy some (putatively) tasty food
over the course of four Mondays (Jan. 24-Feb.
14) from 6 to 9 PM. More info at artscenteronline.org.
. . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.