rosemary smoked escolar special at 677 Prime

A grownup night out: 677 Prime, Albany NY

I went out like a real grownup the other night. Yes, there were a few moments of panic before I left the house when I realized that grownups do not wear jeans and a T-shirt when they head out for a meal at 677 Prime.

My brain rattled for a few minutes: Grownups, yes, that's right, breathe, breathe, I think I remember how to do this. Somewhere in my closet is a skirt and perhaps a blouse or some other sort of non-T-shirt item of clothing.

But eventually, I found my one tube of lipstick and set out for the evening.

These days, I’m the big-bowl-of-curry girl. The one who digs into the $8 pile of noodles and covers myself in jerk sauce and stands at the counter to partake of my In-N-Out burger because some things just taste better when eaten standing up. And while we’re on the subject, most things taste better when eaten with your fingers.

Not that I’m unfamiliar with forks, or fine dining. I grew up with a father who liked us to be the last table still eating in every white-cloth establishment he could find. He would send items back, sniff and poke, nod and flirt, and, when the moment struck, which it often did, make a scene of either ecstasy or anger depending on the night, the breeze, and who knows what else, perhaps the wine.

My nights out with my father left me with ambivalent feelings about fine dining. I’m suspicious of fan fare and expensive adjectives and towering piles of unpronounceable audacity. But I also remember the first bite of sweetbreads in a little French Bistro in LA, when everything I thought I knew about cream and silk and rich and wonderful got permanently rearranged in my 17-year-old brain. The floating ting of a perfect Ramos Fizz. The soft lights, sailing plates, and gentle attentiveness during one of the first romantic meals I shared with my husband. The server made that night, and I can still see her face some 20 years later.

Great food is great food, at any price point. But few months back I noticed that, for some reason, I’d been avoiding Albany’s finer restaurants, saving my grownup nights for trips to NYC or the West Coast. There was a whole piece of my hometown that I’d neglected. Well no more, I’m plunging in. And what better way to start than a night at the bar at 677 Prime with Steve Barnes.

smoked escolar special

Steve and I are of the same mind when it comes to ordering. We want to try as many things as possible, and we are easily seduced by specials. So I managed to spend a wonderful three hours at Prime without coming near a steak. Or for that matter any other beef, except the delicate slivers of Kobe that dotted a plate of rosemary smoked escolar Carpaccio. The dish was far and away the highlight of the evening. The first bite was one of those “stop the presses” moments. Steve put his fork in his mouth, paused, and then ordered me set down my asparagus and taste the thin slices of fish in front of him.

I almost didn’t want to because the plate was so pretty, like a spring garden with speckles of pink beef and golden caviar, twists of green shaved asparagus, and drips of brown fig essence. I would have thought that smoke might add a layer of heaviness to an already intense fatty fish, but it wasn’t overpowering, more of a whiff than a brazen announcement. And the hints of rosemary sharpened and enhanced the fish’s flavor. Rosemary, in a stronger hands-on version, has a similar effect of lamb, another deeply flavored fatty protein, so I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised. The dish taught me something about flavor. It made me think and feel. And smile.

(Thanks to Executive Chef Jaime Ortiz for the wonderful welcome and to chef Ken Kehn for the escolar special. My hat is off to you.)

It was a lovely evening all around. But the plate of escolar reminded me of why it’s good to be a grownup every now and again.

smoked escolar special at 677 Prime


I love this piece. Some beautiful writing there, Celina. I don't care for seafood, but your description of everything makes it sound so wonderful.

Here's to more grown up nights out- with lipstick! :)

I guess it is CelinaBIGbean now - This place is wonderful I am sure but in light of Haiti and the recession and all those Albany kids hungry during the week off from school it seems somehow wrong to eat at almost the most expensive place in Albany. The class systems maintains itself with price points, but the public supports it with their checkbooks ( excuse me the Hearst/Times Union checkbook). Sorry-not for me.

Point well taken. Just to clear one thing up, this wasn't a company thing.

And if it makes you feel any better, I've been cooking beans (the small kind) almost every night before and since. That was a big night out for me, and not something I would/could do often. But I also think that if I am going to write about food in this area, I should know what is going on in all parts of the culinary world. So I do plan to continue the occasional foray into the higher-end scene. And I will be honest about it when I do.

To Uncle Laurie,
When one dines out in an Albany restaurant the money trickles down. Dining out helps to create jobs. There are cooks and dishwashers and waitstaff being paid. Maybe they have little children whom they can better support because we dine out. We do live in a capitalist country. By spending our hard earned money we help create jobs. Jobs help people feed their children.

Well said DDD.

I've lived here for six years without eating at 677 Prime. I just assumed it was an overpriced steak house and I'm perfectly capable of cooking a steak. I look forward to trying it out for some special occasion.

Comment #2 was uncalled-for, not to mention snotty and judgmental. Every sentence included a jab. You absolutely don't deserve to be treated that way. Not sure how an individual can be so concerned about Haiti and Albany's children, but so rotten to a gentle woman.

OK I admit - this restaurant is WAY above my price range (and I suppose there's a kick I get out of NOT ever having been there!) but IT IS LOCALLY OWNED! and I'd definitely rather have THIS here than Ruth's Chris (CHAIN), McCormick and Schmit's (CHAIN) and Morgans (CHAIN!)

And this review makes ME want to put on my grown up clothes and take myself out and try it!

M ... this was my first visit to Prime. If you are going to try it, I recommend sitting at the bar and ordering apps and or a special. You can certainly have the over-priced steak house experience if you want to, but there is more there than that.

I have such high quality meat at home (we buy our 1/4 cow from a local farmer friend) that I almost never order steak when out.

the mother ... just to be clear, I only wrote about one dish, and I wouldn't want this piece to come across as a rave about the restaurant as a whole or a real review. We sampled several things that night and some were better than others. But the small plates were in the $8 to $15 range, and it was certainly an interesting way to see what the place is up to. I chose to write about the highlight of the evening. if I were reviewing the place, I would give a broader overview of the highs and lows. But I tend to use Celinabean to write about things I like. More formal reviews, I save for the newspaper.

Celina works incredibly hard and lives frugally. Uncle Laurie's tone comes off as harsh - if you use that argument, then what is the line?

Celina, I also think it's great to check out Prime to expand your view on more of the local restaurants and give you more insight to the local scene.

I love Celina and her blog. I have said many nice things to her and about her. I guess I was just cranky because I am on a tight budget. It is interesting that I have not gotten this much reaction to something I have written on her blog from her or anyone else. I did go to Prime once for a freebie party for Life at Home - loved the food and the wait staff, but did not like the politicos (local and state) at the bar spending taxpayer dollars on over-priced food while being parked outside with the special sticker (Does that trickle down too?). I agree about eating out - always choose something you do not cook at home. I apologize for my mid-winter rant if it offended Celina or anyone else.

Uncle Laurie,

I was not offended. You have been around here for quite a while and you've always been encouraging, which keeps writers like me going. You made me think, never a bad thing.

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