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.
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.
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