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Local Quality at The Gingerman

June 26, 2012

There has been a food movement of late wherein restaurants advertise that their food comes from local farms, butchers, and dairies, presumably to appeal to those who care about that sort of thing. It makes the restaurant look like they care about the quality and freshness of the ingredients they use, which can then make the diner feel like they are getting a good meal and supporting their local community. But of course none of that matters unless the dishes taste good; and the truth is…they are absolutely correct. Case in point: the Gingerman, located in Albany’s Pine Hills neighborhood. It’s an institution of sorts, featuring a famously extensive wine list (they also have their own wine cellar), and an eclectic menu featuring products from local vendors (which we learned first-hand, as you’ll read about shortly); and the food is quite good, served in a pleasant atmosphere.

We sat outside on a very comfortable evening a few weeks ago, and perused the aforementioned wine list, along with a very disappointing beer list (disappointing because the owner of the Gingerman also owns Washington Tavern just a few paces up the street which has a very nice beer selection). We settled on one of the wine “flights” they offer, a trio of reds that were mostly good – one of them was not very appealing, but our server replaced it with another one with no fuss.

The Gingerman’s appetizer menu includes mushrooms stuffed with sausage and Romano, fried calamari topped with pico de gallo, risotto crochettes stuffed with parmesan cheese, and lobster cakes with a lemon-chive butter sauce. We opted for the cheese fondue, featuring a small pot of melted Irish cheddar blended with Guinness beer and served with garlic toast for dipping. The cheese was so rich and flavorful that we assumed there was more than one kind of cheese in it, but our server corrected us. For health reasons we probably shouldn’t have polished off the whole thing, but it was really tasty. We also tried the tuna tartar, served with a cucumber-pepper slaw. The tuna was very fresh and tender, but it was quite dry – a light soy-based sauce of sorts would have been well-advised.

Somewhere between the appetizers and entrees came the accidental entertainment portion of the meal. A man sitting at the table next to us was talking fairly loudly with his friend, and we learned that he went to the Gingerman all the time, knew the owner, and was very into local food. He chatted up the server about the Gingerman’s apparently new chef, and soon after the chef came out and sat down with this man and his friend. They proceeded to have a long conversation about the Gingerman’s history vis-à-vis the previous chefs, and how this new guy was approaching the menu and food in general. We learned from the chef that he buys as much as he can from local farms and dairies, including a whole goat he had just purchased in advance of a Mediterranean wine pairing menu that was going to be featured the following week – he was going to make braised goat empanadas. We were also indirectly informed that you can’t buy goat segments around here, just whole goats. The entire conversation was fascinating to a foodie like me, and only slightly annoying that it went on so long. But something good did come out of it – the chef brought out a sampling of the braised goat for his new friends, and shortly thereafter when our server was bringing our entrees, we half-jokingly expressed that we felt jealous and left out for not receiving the chef’s generosity as our neighboring table had. A few minutes later the chef brought us some braised goat as well – a classy move, and better yet, the goat was really, really good.

For entrees, the Gingerman features lighter fare like the chilled vegetable tower, the lemon-pepper chicken sandwich, and the lobster burger. They also have heartier dishes like NY strip steak, red snapper in a lemon-thyme broth, tuna au poivre, duck meatloaf with onions and mushrooms, and lobster mac n’ cheese. We went with the vegetarian pesto risotto and the duck sliders. The risotto was mixed with celery, carrots, and onions and topped with an arugula-tomato salad. The rice was cooked perfectly and the vegetables were tender and delicious; the salad on top, tasty as it was, didn’t really compliment the risotto. It should have been served on the side; the other criticism we had was that the dish could have used a sprinkling of cheese, but all in all it was a nice plate of food. The duck sliders featured a thick slice of duck meat cooked in a port wine reduction and topped with brie cheese, sandwiched between toasted brioche. The meat was tender and flavorful, and the brie added a great creamy texture to the dish (though a bit more brie wouldn’t have been a bad thing), with the wine reduction enhancing the flavor of both the duck and the cheese. It was very good.

The dessert menu wasn’t overly interesting, featuring items like cheesecake, chocolate fondue, and crème brulee, but we were in the mood for a sweet finish, so we opted for the Guinness chocolate cake with an Irish Cream frosting. The cake was moist and rich, but the Guinness was undetectable, and the frosting tasted like plain old vanilla frosting. But it still hit the spot.

Prices at the Gingerman are quite reasonable for a nice night out – appetizers range from $8-$17, lighter entrees go from $10-$18, and the larger entrees range from $20-$28, with desserts going from $6-$9. Fresh ingredients that are well executed in interesting combinations make for a deserved trip back to the Gingerman.

The Mouse House Kitchen gives The Gingerman 3.5 out of 5 stars!

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