The Wine Bar and Bistro on Lark St. in Albany has long been our favorite capital region restaurant. We became fans of the restaurant while the kitchen was under the leadership of Chef Jason Baker and while we always talked about trying the tasting menu, we’re not really planners so we were content to pop in when the occasion presented itself to indulge in a delicious multi course dinner. That all changed when I read on Steve Barnes’ Table Hopping blog that Chef Baker was leaving the Wine Bar to pursue other opportunities and would be gone by the end of August. I immediately contacted the restaurant to make a reservation.
This past Friday was the big day and I was so excited for it. We left the house early but parking being what it is around Lark Street we had trouble finding a spot and called the restaurant to let them know we’d be five minutes late. When we arrived we were seated right away and I eagerly anticipated being led to my favorite spot in the restaurant, the make-out booth. Sadly, there was another party doing the tasting menu and they were seated first in the (my) booth.
While we were looking at the menu, the sommelier, Johnathan, came over with my first wine a Cava Brut Rose which was my second favorite wine of the evening. It’s crisp taste and fine effervescence paired beautifully with our amuse-bouche which was fresh corn kimchi, freeze dried corn and corn gelee in a light tomato broth with salty, chewy bits of fried prosciutto, bits of basil and topped with deep fried corn silks. Yes, corn silks. Apparently, they are edible. Although they didn’t add much to the taste of the dish, they were a fun and interesting textural element. I loved this dish so much I could have eaten a giant bowl of it, washed down with that delicious Cava. The Cava is a perfect summer wine and out of all of the wines I drank that evening, the Cava is the one I am most likely to seek out.
The first course was one of my favorite things to eat, Kurabota Pork Belly.
I absolutely loved the presentation of this dish and I wish I had a better picture to show of it. The pork belly was paired with a shaved strawberry, an orange segment, orange infused olive oil and garnished with an edible flower. The gentle acidity of the fruit cut through the richness of the fatty pork belly. Each bite made me close my eyes with happiness. The pork was paired with a German Scheurebe wine which is similar to a Riesling. I’m not at all familiar with Rieslings so I bow to Johnathan’s expertise here. It was lovely with the pork, tropical and tasting lightly of pineapples.
Our second course was a rabbit loin stuffed with foie gras and served with a sous vide crimini mushroom on a bed of leek ash with a horseradish cream. This dish was my surprising love of the evening. I can be a little fussy about meat. I don’t eat seafood and I don’t care for gamey meat. I would not typically order rabbit in a restaurant. I’m embarrassed to say I think it may be due to the cute factor. This dish made me into a rabbit fan. I ate this dish so quickly that when I thought to photograph it, my plate was empty. Completely. The rabbit was so tender and the foie gras so earthy. The leak ash gave the dish a smoky quality that was not at all unpleasant. It was quite delicious and I found myself searching out bits of the ash to taste alone. The rabbit was paired with an unoaked Lioco California Chardonnay.
Our third course was a Sous Vide Top Round with burnt cherry sauce, Napa cabbage and eggplant. Top Round is an inexpensive, tough, lean cut of beef but through cooking it sous vide, it’s transformed into a tender, rich piece of steak, almost like filet mignon. The sweet and tart cherries paired beautifully with the beef but the Napa cabbage seemed out of place in the dish. The steak was served with a lovely Carmenere from Chile. Spicy, smoky and rich, it was exactly what you’d want to eat with a tender steak.
Our fourth course was brought out by Chef Baker himself and this fangirl was thrilled to finally meet him. Chef Baker explained that his roasted quail with English peas and carrots was his interpretation of a classic roast chicken dish. The dish was topped with my second favorite element of the evening, pork fu . Pork fu is like pork cotton candy and is just plain fun to eat. The quail was partially deboned and there was a certain barbaric pleasure in eating it’s tiny drumsticks. The quail was paired with an Argiolas Costera from Italy. The rich Grenache was my second favorite wine of the evening, full bodied with a light spicy aroma.
Our fifth and final course was a sweet dessert. While we love our sweets, we’re not usually big dessert orderers. We typically opt to order a bit of cheese or a cheese plate to end our meals. The dessert was brought to our table by Chef Baker and this time we got to talk to him a little bit more about his future plans (will there be a possible pop up restaurant in his future???) and I was giddy as a school girl when Chef Baker said he knew of my blog. Luckily, I have a very understanding boyfriend who gets my chef crushes. The dessert was a lemon pound cake with whipped ricotta, fig molasses and a sugar cured egg yolk. That sugar cured egg yolk was my favorite interesting element of the evening. Basically the chef takes an egg yolk and lets it sit in sugar for a few hours and then carefully brulees the outside with a torch. It’s like the eggy essence of creme brulee. I may have quietly squealed a little when I broke that egg yolk with my fork and the warm yolk oozed all over the cake. The dessert was paired with a Moscato d’Asti that tasted of ripe peaches. The sweet ending to our meal was interesting and complex and was the perfect way to end our lovely dinner at The Wine Bar.
Chef Baker will be greatly missed but I am sure there is more to come from such a talented chef.