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Not a High Enough Standard

January 8, 2010

I have held off reviewing a particular local restaurant, despite having eaten there twice.  Why, you ask?  Well, I wanted to give it one more shot, since other people’s experiences seem to be contrary to what mine have been.

The Standard opened in Albany about a year ago, and an immediate attraction for the place is its theme and décor, which is based on Hollywood supper clubs of the 40’s and 50’s.  There are giant posters of movie stars, dark wood furniture, and even the font used on all the signage gives the place a retro feel.  The menu is quite extensive and varied, from traditional American steakhouse fare like burgers, sandwiches, steak and fish, to some Asian-fusion dishes and Italian classics.

The first time I visited, our experience did not begin well.  We were told it would be about 20 minutes for our table, and it ended up taking nearly an hour to get seated.  We ordered the calamari appetizer, which arrived extremely overcooked to the point of being inedible.  They did correct it, but so far things were not going well, at least in my mind.  My young son was with us, and we ordered him pasta with marinara off the kids’ menu.  I don’t know how large the restaurant owner’s kids might be, but if the size of the kids’ meal is any indication, they must be monstrous.  A giant bowl of what must have been ½ a pound of pasta was plunked down in front of my child, dwarfing his face.  I suppose it ended up being a good value, since we got to take home quite a bit of it, but still – why use so much food for a kids’ meal?

For my entrée, I ordered the Arugula Seafood Salad.  They did accurately list arugula as the first ingredient, because my plate arrived with a giant mound of the peppery lettuce, topped with a couple of shrimp and a couple of scallops.  Because it was an entrée, I had hoped that the shellfish would be the focus of the dish, but I basically had a plate of lettuce for dinner, which was disappointing.  The rest of our group was pleased with their steaks, so maybe I missed out by not ordering meat.

All in all I was not impressed by my first trip to the Standard, but a few months ago I had occasion to go again, this time for lunch.  With tentative optimism I hoped for a better experience.  I started with the endive, pecan and blue cheese salad, which was quite good – simple, but good.  Remembering my previous experience, this time I decided to order steak, albeit in the form of the Standard Steak Sandwich, which is described as: “Grilled Marinated Skirt Steak, Mushrooms, Onions, Gorgonzola Cheese on Fresh Baked Bread.”  Sounds great, right?  Well it might have been, had they not grilled the steak so long that it turned into tree bark.  It was so overcooked that any flavor from the marinade was obliterated, and it was like chewing on plastic.  There was no time for me to have them redo it, and even if I had the time, I’m not sure I’d even have bothered.  If you’re going to put your restaurant’s name on the name of a dish, shouldn’t it be one that you know how to cook properly?  I like my steaks more well-done than rare, but no one could possibly like it the way it was served to me.

So I was all set to write a scathing review, but I still kept hearing from friends what great meals they’ve had there, so using a generous amount of self-restraint, I decided to give it one more try – third time’s a charm, so they say.  Well the third time came today.  I ordered the same salad as last time, since I liked it before and hoped they could at least duplicate that good experience, which, happily, they did.  I then ordered the Carnegie Reuben, a traditional Reuben sandwich with corned beef, coleslaw, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing.  And it was…edible.  That’s about it.  The coleslaw was barely noticeable, and the beef tasted like it had been processed days (if not weeks) ago.  I don’t know if by using the name “Carnegie” the Standard is trying to associate this sandwich with Manhattan’s Carnegie Deli, and while I have never had a Reuben at the Carnegie Deli, I would have to assume that it is far superior to the one offered by the Standard.

So I’m afraid it’s three strikes and you’re out, Standard…time to live up to a higher one.

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