Call me crazy, and a traitor to the Albany food scene, but I had never been to New World Bistro Bar. I had heard awesome things about their loyalty to local ingredients and their willingness to pair strong flavors with head to tail ingredients like sweetbreads and blood sausage. I'd even cheered Ric Orlando on with the rest of the Capital Region when he pulled off a 36 spice Jerk Rub from memory on Chopped. But, I had never been.
Well, along came a friend due for a second baby and in need of a fancy shmancy last hurrah of a lunch out with the girls. We called ahead, reserved ahead and showed up at 12 for a Sunday brunch. Was the service phenomenal and accommodating? Absolutely. Did the food hit high notes with original combinations and strong spices? Surely. But there were so many dishes that we walked away from thinking,"This would be so good, if only...."
Truth? New World Bistro Bar packs a punch, but it doesn't land it.
For example: we started out our meal with Jalapeno Cheddar Biscuts with locally sourced Butter, Cage Pan Blackened Green Beans with Cajun Remoulade, Mimosas, and an Artisan Cheese Plate of Danish Blue, Fromage Blanc, a Vermont Aged Cheddar, Fig Jam, Spiced Rice Crackers and Tamari Almonds. All arrived promptly, green beans cooked perfectly crisp; the cheese and butter at precisely the right temperature.
The beans were so coated in spice that they overwhelmed the palate and the remoulade was not remoulade as I know it. A Cajun remoulade with its sweet spice would have been welcome and would have balanced the dish. Instead, we were served a sour bitter concoction, tasting of whole grain mustard mixed with Asian sweet and sour sauce. Those of us who were persistent in desperately wishing to enjoy the dish ended up scraping off spice onto our plates in huge black clumps.
The rolls were just fine, if too mild to pair with the green beans, and the butter was at the right temp. But, if we were looking for a starch to ease the pain from the heat and the jalapenos fell perfectly into the adage, "Misery loves company."
The dairy on the cheese plate also had the potential to ease our capsaicin woes. Unfortunately, the portions were simply too small to be sufficiently effective. The rice crackers were also spiced, not only depriving us of another potentially healing starch, but also contrasting horribly with the fig jam and the blue cheese choice.
The blue was Danish Blue. As Gustav puts it, Danish Blue is a pedestrian blue. All of the cheeses were mild and none could cut through the fig jam, let alone the crackers. In a previous life, I worked the cheese counter at HWFC for my volunteer hours on a weekly basis. So, I knew what the mark up on this $14 plate was. Any part of me which was still pleased by the dish was pretty resentful by this point.
I can sing the praises of the large arugula salad - it was fresh, delicious and crisp with roasted beets, orange sections, roasted almonds and nutty shaved parmesan - a better cheese than any on the Artisan Cheese Plate.
My entree was a Ropa Bennie (aka Eggs Benedict). It consisted of a Cuban Pot Roast aka BBQ Beef Brisket with perfectly poached eggs and guava hollandaise, served on top of toasted Brioche. The main piece was exquisite and perfectly balanced. Mellow, seeping egg against the smoke of the meat, a slight sweetness from the hollandaise that was by no means overpowering, and the crunch of the buttered brioche crunching finishing the bite.
But accompanying this perfectly executed entree were 'throw away sides.' The greens were not properly washed. They were grainy and beginning to wilt, a far cry from our fresh arugula salad. The homefries were nothing short of steam tray mush. They were over cooked, under seasoned, worthy of any high school cafeteria.
I have made a study of homefries, and I know full well that the most basic greasy spoon can make homefries that will make this half Irish gal purr. So this is what I'm going to say if I ever meet Ric Orlando: "Ric, if I am choosing to pay you $12 instead of $6 at my local greasy spoon for a Sunday brunch, why are you serving me over cooked potatoes? The work that you put into perfecting the main part of my entree is clearly evident, so why are you ruining my plate and my palate with this drek?"
Everyone ran into the same issue with their entrees: a great idea, beautifully presented, with zero follow through on the flavor profiles. Perfect crepes, folded around crisp apples, with an unidentifiable sauce (supposedly Cinnamon Creme Fraiche). Simply cooked chicken, blue cheese, cranberries, with the twist of toasted hazelnuts, tossed through lovely greens, then overdressed with a mediocre vinaigrette. A "Straight Up Belgian Waffle" with "real maple syrup" on a plate for $7. No sides, nothing special. Just a $7 waffle.
The service was extraordinary, the atmosphere divine. But the 'must try' specialty Chocolate Coconut Cupcakes with Key Lime Creme Anglais arrived at our table stale and tasting of the refrigerator they were pulled from. There was a hint of lime in the Key Lime Creme Fraiche, but it was not strong enough to have any impact on the dish. In a bite with the chocolate cupcake, the lime did not cut through the chocolate or the cold, limp coconut, nor did the cream moisten the crumb enough to make the cupcake worth eating. Allow me to emphasize this point: A table full of mothers, out to brunch without their children, did not finish their chocolate cupcakes.
All in all, it was a great brunch with people I love. We had phenomenal service. But I could have done that at Dan's Place II or Mike's Diner or Peaches n' Cream or Londonderry or Alexis Diner or The Ripe Tomato or any number of other places around the Capital Distict. And it would have cost me $30 less.
I have been to flagship restaurants of celebrity chefs and I have been to outpost restaurants of celebrity chefs. I am a born and raised Capital District foodie. I've worked in the catering house for the BSO's top donors at Tanglewood and I've watched my spouse work his way up in the world of the Corporate Big Box Restaurant Chain. I know that I was eating brunch in a restaurant that does its majority of business with its best chefs on Thurs/Fri/Sat night.
But, I want New World Bistro Bar to land the punch, not just the pretension.
I want my perfect entree to be accompanied by a side worthy of it. I want that Artisan Cheese Plate, brought perfectly to temp, to have cheeses worthy of the care and time that went into that preparation that are served with crackers that don't overwhelm the centerpiece of the dish. And as for cheese mark ups, Chez Sophie Bistro of Blessed Memory charged less for more adventurous cheese, served in larger portions.
I want an in-house dessert. If you're going to bring in a dessert from out of house, do it justice. Don't serve it stale, tasting of refrigerator. And for Pete's sake, I want a key lime creme anglais that tastes like key lime and a cinnamon creme anglais that tastes like cinnamon.
If I was paying $10 per head, I wouldn't be asking this. But, I'm being charged gourmet prices by a rightfully respected local chef for dishes created with in season, local ingredients. All I'm asking is that the kitchen does this bounty justice.