The elegant contemporary building looked misplaced on Western Avenue/Route 20 — as if plucked from mid-city Dallas and placed it in the space where Coco’s used to be.
Black & Blue Steak and Crab
WHERE: 1470 Western Ave., Albany, 313-7388, blackandbluesteakandcrab.com
WHEN: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m. -11 p.m. Friday, 4-11 p.m. Saturday, 4-9 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $106.20 without alcohol, tax and tip
MORE INFO: accessible, parking in large lot, all major credit cards accepted, noise level and music permits conversation
Inside Black & Blue Steak and Crab, it was even more impressive: lounge area/bar to the right, small private dining space to the left, and a floor-to-ceiling 14-column wine rack behind glass stretching across the middle of the lobby area, accessible by an internal spiral staircase. Three dining rooms were partially hidden by the hundreds of bottles of wine vertically stacked like a soft drink vending machine.
My friend Gail and I were led to the middle room and seated at a table for two along the inner wall of wine. Hanging from the ceiling was a spectacular array of 14 breathtakingly large burnt-orange Chinese-like crumpled and starched organza lanterns.
Baguettes that were crispy on the outside and warm and soft on the inside were brought to the table in a small wooden bowl along with a sliced small partial loaf of pretzel bread — a bread resembling a fat pretzel, not too salty and soft enough to be sliced without crumbling.
We ordered a Crab & Lobster Fondue (sweet crab and Maine lobster, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese served with toasted pita chips, $14.50) to nibble on while we sipped our cocktails and perused the menu. The fondue was thick and heavenly, and the triangular chips were salty and clearly house-made.
The menu did not ramble on for pages, but featured high-quality meats and seafood offered in creative dishes. A dozen or so Appetizers were available covering a range of prices from $8.50 for Potato Croquettes to $85 for a Seafood Platter for Four.
Gail ordered Lobster Bisque ($9.95) while I chose the Caesar Salad ($9.50) as starters. The bisque was silky with small shreds of lobster meat floating in the middle. The soup had been splashed with sherry or some other gently nutty wine, and it had a slight nip to prevent the bisque from being wimpy. My Caesar salad of Romaine lettuce was ample and too large to finish at one sitting.
Gail’s entrée, an 8-ounce filet mignon ($38.50), was delivered sizzling and a perfect medium with a warm pink center as requested. Mashed potatoes with blue cheese accompanied the tender filet. Requiring little of the horseradish cream sauce on the side, half the filet was consumed with a vow by Gail to enjoy the uneaten portion of her dinner the next day.
My boneless short ribs ($33.75) were fork tender and also served with blue cheese-laced mashed potatoes. Thick rings of sweet Vidalia onion rings were piled atop the meat under the shade of a miniature rosemary tree. Visual and gastronomic perfection!
Other menu items included steaks, steakhouse and house specialties like Steak au Poivre and Steak Oscar, fish and shellfish, and ranged in price from $21.50 for Ginger Scallion Risotto to $69.50 for two pounds of Alaskan King Crab Legs. Most entrees were in the $30-40 range.
At this point, Gail and I decided that coffee for her ($3.25) and espresso for me ($4.25) would be all we could manage.
Until I spied the dessert wines.
Server Catherine (sly like a fox) casually pointed out a $22-a-glass Hungarian Royal Tokaji 5 Puttonyos Aszu (2008). Upon request, charming Manager Tim McBride came to the table to show me the bottle, (over)pour my petite glass and offer me the empty bottle. Gail had a similar experience with a slightly less precious Italian dessert wine.
The Gazette does not include alcoholic beverages in its restaurant reviews, but my reason for mentioning after-dinner beverages here was to offer examples of the impeccable and caring service offered at Black & Blue — attentive, even over-the-top — without smothering the diner. In a nutshell, Gail and I were made to feel special throughout the entire dining experience.
Perhaps charmed by our reaction to B&B’s dessert wine, the management sent us a small, round chocolate torte that began melting upon consumption. The serving plate was artistically but sparely decorated with a rivulet of raspberry coulis and a delicate dollop of whipped cream.
Sweet with hints of dried apricots, but balanced with enough acidity to prevent the wine from resembling pancake syrup, Tokay wines are from the Tokaj wine region (also Tokaj-Hegyalja wine region in Hungary) or the adjoining Tokaj wine region in Slovakia.
This region is noted for its sweet wines made from grapes affected by noble rot (Botrytis cinerea), a style of wine that has a long history in this region. The “nectar” coming from the grapes of Tokaj is so well-known it is also mentioned in the national anthem of Hungary.