Tuesday, October 25, 2011
I used to always say Provence was my favorite restaurant in Albany (I only say used to say because New World has taken up so much of my heart, I can't be sure). This is not surprising because I always used to say Balthazar was my favorite restaurant in NYC. Like Thomas Keller, my first instinct in cooking always seems to lean towards the French. I may proclaim that Indian food is my favorite, but it is the rarity of having something that makes it exciting. On a random weeknight it is a roasted chicken we'll probably make, and if it is a dessert I'm thinking of, it is probably based on something I had in France when I was a teenager.
I think we first stumbled on Provence when we were just walking around Stuyvesant Plaza and I stopped and said "I am going to love that place!", which was pretty much my exact reaction to Bettie Page Clothing in Las Vegas and was equally as true. Some places are just made for you, you can't resist it.
We first went there for our anniversary only maybe a week after we had moved to Albany. Pretty sure we had the Beef Bourguignon and French Onion soup, among other things, all fabulous and clearly made with a lot of care, time, and attention to detail. Then, we went there the day I met with Human Resources for my current job. Scott took a leap of faith by ordering me a glass of champagne which was waiting for me when I got there. And good thing I did get the job, because that might have seemed a little depressing. Pretty sure that day I got a lamb shank big as my head - totally worthy of a celebration for my first full-time job in my chosen field. Then we went there with my family the night after we got engaged. There was lots of champagne all around, and I think I had a seafood special with some kind of lentil or farro salad. Looking back over all the great things I've had there, somehow I think the seafood specials are the most memorable. The sauces are often light, and the accompaniments are well thought out. Then - chocolate mousse all around! I know my enormous "We just got engaged!" grin takes over this picture, but check out the mousse:
The wine list is well thought out, and the staff knows what are doing. When we were originally thinking (for about one minute) about having a very small, immediate family-only wedding, I thought we could have had our wedding reception in the banquet room there. That is how much I love this place. Of course, then we wouldn't have had dancing and thus we'd lack pictures like these:
Anyways, there is something about Stuyvesant Plaza that is a bit prissy. It is the kind of place where in the middle of a Friday afternoon there are swarms of older ladies browsing fur coats. Once, we were there talking about our wedding in the middle of our dinner a good 50 feet away from us a woman started yelling at us. She told our waitress to tell us to shut up, and even came up to us afterward and thanked us for ruining her anniversary. The husband looked very embarrassed. We were not even loud, and my first thought was, you chose to go out to eat and you can't tolerate other people having conversations at a reasonable volume on the other side of the restaurant? Isn't that your fault? Isn't part of leaving your house being in the same physical space as strangers? And another time the next table over from us I thought was really obnoxious towards our server. They were really staring her up and down, especially every time she walked away, and somehow seemed to think the price of their tip included getting her entire life story and getting away with saying really creepy things to her. With one look I could totally empathized with her, could guess exactly what she was thinking, and thought that experience was probably going to give her nightmares about being a server years after she stopped doing it. I also thought we'd be friends, and one day I would find out all those things I imagined she was thinking about those guys despite not saying anything - yeah, she totally was.
Provence is a gem of a restaurant. Incredibly consistent. Great atmosphere. Nice people. Bartenders who know what they are doing. Also, sometimes even music and a great woman of a server you are really happy to have met.