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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Capital City Gastropub, Finally

We finally made it to the Capital City Gastropub this past week. I think maybe my expectations were too high. I guess first I might say a word about the Wine Bar on Lark. I've previously written a really positive review of it, but I think my feelings have kind of changed since then. And it is not that they have done anything wrong, it is that I have realized maybe this whole "small plates" trend is not my favorite thing. I had friends over a few weeks ago, and they were saying how they thought it was meant for "people who eat like birds", which is fine since these people probably do exist. It reminds me when we lived in NYC, and frequently had drinks at a place called the Clover Club.  Of course the cocktails were fabulous, we felt very, very cool for going there, but if you wanted to eat it was sort of a rip off. They had amazing potato chips fried in duck fat with crème frâiche and chives for much more money than you would imagine, which is fine, and they were very, very tasty, but you just drank many cocktails and all you've had to eat is a few potato chips. For the same amount of money you could have gone to most any other reasonably priced restaurant and gotten an actual meal that might include a serving of vegetables. There is so much importance at places like this placed on the presentation. Once they start calling things "small plates" instead of "meals" there is no longer any correlation between portion and price. All of a sudden $18 for two small ribs seems like a fine thing to sell, whereas any other place for that price would include a piece of bread or a handful of broccoli or something to flesh it out a bit. What is really annoying is when the people at the Wine Bar act all passive-aggressive if you don't order their bird-meals. I would rather just have wine there and stop at DiBella's on the way home.

And I am not saying I only believe in big portions over amazing taste. I love the lunch at Jean-Georges in NYC, and sure, it is $30 for lunch but it is completely amazing and memorable. You only need tiny bites of fois gras on brioche with sour cherry preserves because you will remember that bite for a very, very long time. If your food is legitimately outstanding, that makes it all worth it. But fancy bar snacks, with a lot of the emphasis based on presentation and unexpected styling (why is the Bahn-mi deconstructed?), just doesn't seem like my favorite thing.

You never know how much to order. We went to a similar place, Quinn's, in Seattle a couple years ago, and our approach with 4 people was to just keep ordering things until we felt full. This sort of hurt my impression of the CCG, because it immediately made me feel like we could be in a place in Portland or Seattle without it actually tasting as good. If your model is "a stylish, unusual bite of that, stylish, unusual bite of that" it better be really, really good.

That all being said, I had a Delirium Tremens which I hadn't had in years and it was great. Everyone had some great beers, including a Brown's oatmeal stout for our out of town friend. Here was the food breakdown:

  • Fried brussel sprouts- very, very good. They had a light and flaky texture and everyone loved them.
  • Duck gravy poutine - the gravy was very flavorful and the fries held up their crunchiness. The cheesecurd was good too. I read someone else who said it wasn't cheesecurd, but ours was, so maybe they are working things out.
  • I had the fish tacos. I know another reviewer liked them, but I actually found them bland (which is hard to do with something that contains avocado and something fried). I don't know, I put some hot sauce on them, but something was really missing - maybe add some lime, a smoky flavor, habeneros, vinegar - something. Could have done without.
  • Our friend had the boudin blanc which was fabulous.
  • My husband had the short ribs and thought they were fine, but overpriced for only a couple of bites. 
  • Our friend had Bahn-mi. She seemed to like it ok, but was expecting a sandwich.
For dessert:

  • Two of us had butterscotch eclairs - fabulous. Reminded me of Sander's cream puffs in MI where I grew up, they were that good.
  • Two of us had this parfait thing with black forest and liquid cheesecake. Those were good, but something about "liquid cheesecake" annoyed me a little bit. Just like the Bahn-mi not being a sandwich for no reason. Like my little sister who once wanted to make a "reverse root beer float" with vanilla seltzer and ice cream made with root beer extract. Sure maybe that is fine, but why? I feel this might all play into a larger conversation about liking foods because they have some stronghold in your memory. This is a topic for a separate post, but at Thanksgiving we had a long conversation about how food you are nostalgic for is not always food you actually still want to eat. And I wondered if that was why I wasn't that wild about this place - like it is a collection of things that wouldn't mean anything to most people. But then after this conversation at Thanksgiving, I thought, no - it is more like that pretension without being really outstanding feels slightly irritating. 
Perhaps my expectations were too high. Later in the weekend we took our friend from out of town to Muza and Bellini's, and last night we got take out from Capital Q's, and I gotta say I was more excited about those experiences. I wonder if, like the Clover Club and their duck fat-fried potato chips, this whole style has a luster that can fade in a way that something like a really well done roasted chicken or beef bourguignon doesn't. Like, yes you put duck gravy on the fries, but they are still just fries and they are $12.

6 comments:

  1. "Pretension without being really outstanding feels slightly irritating."

    I think you've hit the nail on the head for pretty much all of the expensive restaurants in the region. For the same price or less, you could eat a meal in Manhattan, NYC, Chicago or SF that was truly spectacular.

    Not that our local places are bad. But they set themselves up (with their prices) to be operating at a level they fail to achieve.

    That said, I think "Fancy bar snacks" can also be successfully elevated to magnificent heights. And much like NWBB I think great experiences can be had at the Gastropub once you can decipher the hits from the misses.

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  2. Yes! Totally. You've got it. I didn't even like my first meal I had at NWBB, and most things since then I have loved very much. It is a new place - they are working things out. Some things we had were great though. Great place for drinks, and maybe a snack - for dinner though you can do better for the price.

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  3. "For the same price or less, you could eat a meal in Manhattan, NYC, Chicago"

    I don't understand what that means. You are not in Manhattan, NYC, or Chicago. I don't go out of my house to drive to Manhattan, NYC, or Chicago. Hey, I bet for that price I could get an even bigger, very delicious meal in Morocco too. You can't dissociate price from location that easily, it's *that* quality for *that* price in NYC because it's NYC, because there is much more competition for example. Albany and NYC are different markets, apples to oranges.

    That reminds me of that baffling ad that was for the longest time on a building for rent near the corner of State and Lark, something that said "These condos would be worth millions if they were in Manhattan". Well DUH, of course they would, but we are not in Manhattan!

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  4. Here's the calculus (or maybe it's algebra):

    - I am going to treat myself to X $100 dinners this year.

    - This year I expect to be in Big City A for Y days and Small Town B for Z days.

    Now optimizing to get the most gastronomical pleasure for my dining dollar, how many $100 dinners this year should I eat in Small Town B?

    The answer is close to zero.

    However the answer changes as X approaches infinity. In that case I think the answer would be (Z/Y+Z)*X but I have yet to calculate the actual curve.

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  5. It reminds me of our friends who live in Storrs, CT where there is literally just a "Wings over Storrs" in the town and basically no amenities, and an apartment there for one of their friends costs over $800. My apartment in NYC cost around $900. So in the middle of nowhere this friend of our friends pays like the same price I did, but then as he said Storrs is not New York City.

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  6. The Gastropub is a first-rate drink/unhealthy snack/desert place, but as a dinner place, eh. For just a couple bucks more than the 3 unaccompanied, good-not-great shortribs that run 18 bucks, you can get an entree at Capriccio or NWBB or Provence that won't require lots of high-fat apps to constitute a satisfying meal, and you might even get vegetables on your plate. There are better options for the price.

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