When we lived in NYC, we used to frequent a really intimate and comfortable wine bar in Astoria. I love the whole feel of wine bars, the relaxing ambiance, the sophistication that surrounds being able to try a variety of wines. So it was no surprise when we moved to Albany, that we were very excited to try the Wine Bar on Lark St. First off, let me discuss the setting. They have three fireplaces. Especially if you can't find parking and are braving the harsh winter, there is nothing more enjoyable than coming in to the all surrounding warmth of 3 fireplaces. It is like drinking wine under a down comforter. Fabulous. And then in the summer, they have a beautiful patio. It has fountains and greenery hanging from above. If you squint you could believe you were in France. Of course, the patio also has the scents of the kitchen hitting you in the face, which contrary to what you might expect don't always smell that good, but still, near perfect, beautiful setting.
They also have wine specials for $5 which I think are in effect all day Monday and before 7:00 other days. A lot of these are very delicious including a Chilean Cabernet, a Loire Valley Vouvray, and a few other really tasty varieties. The real fun for me is being able to try a glass of many different varieties so that I might have an idea of what to buy when I get to the wine store. Their list is humongous and you could try something different every time you visit. The staff is also incredibly knowledgeable, and honest and will really let you know in advance what something tastes like. It always seems like the same people working there, and I love that they are unobtrusive and attentive at the same time. I have more than a few times tried something there, and went on to buy it in the store. So in that way enjoying their beautiful ambiance, friendly staff, and warm setting can also be educational.
I haven't eaten there that many times. I did have the seared chicken with papardelle, cream sauce and pine nuts that was really delicious. I have also had a few times the Tuna Nicoise salad and all of the ingredients seemed incredibly fresh. The marinated olives were amazing. I also tried a few times the quartro of dips which include hummus, a goat cheese/red pepper dip, and some kind of olive tapenade, and those are a great complement to your wine. One time we went and only ordered a sequence of small plates including specials like Jerk style short ribs and a goat cheese caramelized onion tart. We don't seem to go here especially for dinner, and I think part of that is you cannot make reservations. This is fine if it's spur of the moment, or you get there really early. I also understand why this is because at a wine bar you don't know how long parties will stay there, but it makes it less of a dinner destination for us. But the wine list is definitely great, and if you feel like something while you are there you will not be disappointed by the food.
One problem in addition to it not being possible to make reservations is the seating in the front of the wine bar. I have met people there a few times and ended up sitting in the very front next to the curtain where people enter. If part of the charm is the three fireplaces and the warmth of it, then why put people half outside? I say get rid of the seating and make people wait for open tables that don't get a gust of freezing air every time someone enters. It's not comfortable, and I'd not really the type who would ask to move, but come on, no one can think that is a great location. You might as well reopen the patio in the winter if you are going to have three tables right in the entry space.
Overall: I love it. This place is classy, casual, and comfortable all at the same time. If Albany didn't have a place like this I would be agitating for one. It really fills a niche for socializing in Albany that the more masculine Mahar's and the busy and loud Justin's don't fill (even if there are good things about those places too).