Last Monday, while most of Eastern and Southern New York hunkered down for Hurricane Sandy to make landfall, The Missus, my sister and I ventured out in a light wind and rain for a dinner out while we were home. Because Albany was forcasted to get high winds and a great deal of rain (which never came to fruition), many restaurants in the area took precautions and closed early, expecting to lose power and expecting that many diners would stay in for the evening. We stayed close to my sisters house, heading out to Delaware Ave., for a meal at New World Bistro Bar. The restaurant is one of three places under Chef Ric Orlando, who may be familiar to the viewers of ‘Chopped‘ as he won his episode and participated in the ‘Chopped Champions’ entree round.
I knew from his New World Home Cooking, and his appearances on ‘Chopped,’ that his food was eclectic and that he liked to sprinkle Asian and Caribbean flavors wherever he could. So, when we sat down and read over the menu, we were not surprised to see things like Piri-Piri sauce served with crab cakes or a Panang Curry bolognese. What I was most surprised about was the fact that they call themselves a ‘Gastropub,’ which is a term I always find a little dubious and up for debate. If we’re putting restaurants into boxes, I’d say NWBB fits more into the ‘fusion’ category.
Truth be told, it wasn’t easy picking out a place for our one treat night out in Albany as Portland has us ridiculously spoiled on both quality of food and the diversity of its offerings. But, New World Bistro is by far the most eclectic restaurant in the capital city, so it had the biggest appeal for us. Also, any restaurant with a section on its menu called ‘Forbidden Pleasures,’ automatically wins.
The Missus and I went for a good section of this meaty pleasures, with an addition of the house Charcuterie plate, which came out first.
The plate was a trio of rich, house produced goodness: Headcheese, Chicken Liver Pate and Whipped Lardo. The headcheese lacked the traditional gelatinous texture and was packed with porky bits more in the style of a Pate Rustique. The chicken liver was creamy, with more of an herby (thyme?) flavor than the more familiar brandy based sweetness. My favorite of the three was the lardo, which was extremely clean tasting with a balanced dose of rosemary whipped in. Though we tried, my sister refused to venture into our world. Which is understandable as I don’t think anyone in my family, except for my nephews, would. Our one complaint was that there just wasn’t enough bread–only five crostini–on the plate to spread all of the Charcuterie on to.
The next round showed off a bit of that eccentricity Chef Orlando is known for: Burbon Braised Pork Belly with Bitter Greens and Black Garlic Caramel. This dish was perfect on so many levels. The pork was extremely crunchy on the outside, as if it had spent a quick moment in a deep fryer, but was fall apart tender the second our forks cut through it. The bitter greens, which I believe were a chiffonade of kale, were lightly sauteed and added a nice departure from the sticky sweet and roasty tasting caramel that covered the plate. And that caramel…good, God, was it delicious.
We then moved on from the belly to some bones. The presentation was cute and I was surprised to see that the bone marrow was served with out the ubiquitous parsley salad. Instead, they opted for a sweeter side in the form of some fig spread. The Missus, and I agree, was disappointed that they didn’t send out longer, thinner spoons to scoop the marrow out. It’s marrow and, unless under roasted, is kind of hard to mess up, so it was pretty standard and the fig spread was a nice companion to it. But, like the Charcuterie board, the marrow also lacked enough bread to meet needs of the marrow.
The last plate to hit the table was the Lobster and Sweetbread Nuggets. Do you see those things sitting on the plate that kind of look like white asparagus? Those would actually be Korean rice cakes and this plate was all about the Asian flavors. At first, I really enjoyed the sweetbreads, which had more of a scallop like texture than the traditionally prepared fried exterior/creamy interior. They had also taken on the flavor of the lobster and you could easily, with eyes closed, imagine that they were scallops. Then, as we ate it, I found that it was just a hodge podge of, to put it nicely, off textures. Let’s just put it out there: the lobster was horribly overcooked to the point of being rubbery. The rice cakes? Also had a rubbery texture and, as the plate sat, the sweetbreads also got an unappealing spring to them. The Missus, though, disliked the overall sweetness of the dish more than I disliked the textures.
I think the happiest person at the table was my sister, who was enjoying a nice night out away from her family of my brother in law and three nephews. She sat down to the crab cake appetizer and, while we dined on plate after plate of meat and fat, chose the ‘No Crash’ Brown Rice Risotto with mixed mushrooms, peas and Asiago cheese. My sister is a very small woman, yet she managed to eat the better part of 3/4’s of the plate. I think she only left some so that she could savor it later that night.
I think the three of us ordered dessert more because we wanted something sweet, though we had a questionable amount of room for it.
The gargantuan ice cream sandwich? That would be mine and I can tell you that only 1/3 of it was actually eaten (the rest went home to my brother in law). It was four massive scoops of Pecan Praline ice cream sandwiched between two giant Praline cookies that was then covered in caramel. It was so rich, especially after our intensely dense dishes, that I tried to convince myself to eat more than I really should have. But, in the end, it wasn’t much, but what I did have, I enjoyed tremendously.
The Missus had a very loose and, according to her, not too interesting Honey Peach Creme Brulee. She said you could taste the honey and that was about it. She also said that she didn’t think the custard had set very well. When I asked if she liked it, she just kind of shrugged her shoulders and offered an unconvincing, “Meh.” My sister, again, seemed to be the happiest kid at the table. By the time I asked her how her Chocolate Raspberry layer cake was–it was gone.
While there were some definite mixed opinions on some of the food, I would definitely go back to New World Bistro Bar the next time we head home to Albany. The menu is vast enough that it would take several trips to truly get a good feel of the food being served. And, who knows, maybe next time we might even eat a vegetable.