Capital Repertory Theatre is one of my favorite gems on North Pearl Street in Albany. Finding a matching little jewel for dining before or after a show was not difficult. There is a string of eateries up and down the street, from posh places like Prime to less ostentatious venues like The Hollow, just a couple of doors down from The Rep.
The single door on the corner appears to be the main entrance, although there is a door on North Pearl leading to the small dining room.
At 6 p.m. on a Monday, Colleen and I had no trouble parking on the street, though a municipal lot is nearby.
The brick-walled bar area was pleasant, with the bar itself, promising trivia at 7, taking up about two-thirds of the length of the room. A handful of high-topped tables occupied the rest of the ample space.
We were seated immediately, and the first thing I noticed was what appeared to be a long hand-crafted “chandelier” fashioned from lights strung inside Mason jars. The Mason jar theme is carried out in the restaurant’s signature jar drinks ($9, or $7 during Happy Hours) — concoctions with names like The Saucy Minx, The Caprifruta and The Russian Pumpkin.
Colleen and I were hungry and immediately ordered the Signature Salad ($11) to share (good thing, too — it was enormous) from what initially appeared to be a pub menu. But the menu was deceiving. A combination of arugula, warm shiitake mushrooms and shaved asiago, the salad was ever-so-lightly dressed with truffle oil. “I was never fond of arugula,” admitted Colleen, “but I could learn to love this.”
The Hollow Bar + Kitchen
WHERE: 79 N. Pearl St., Albany. 426-8550, www.thehollowalbany.com
WHEN: 5-11 p.m. Monday; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 5-11 p.m. Saturday; and closed Sunday
HOW MUCH: $62.50 with soda and coffee but without alcohol, tax or tip
MORE INFO: accessible, kids’ menu, street parking, municipal parking across the street, all major credit cards accepted, noise level and music permit conversation.
She was considering steak but noted a lack of pertinent information. “Did you ever see steak listed on the menu that doesn’t indicate cut or size?” Our server enlightened us: it was a 10-ounce rib eye.
Colleen’s choice of Shrimp Marsala ($20) was definitely not pub fare. The perfectly cooked butterflied shrimp in a marsala wine reduction with shallots and braised wild mushrooms topped creamy herbed polenta. I had to restrain her from licking the plate.
I did not fare as well with my entrée and it was entirely my fault. I had my heart set on the blackened tilapia brioche roll. Alas! The kitchen was out of tilapia. “Would the chef be willing to blacken the salmon?” I asked hesitantly, aware that when it comes to commercial food preparation, the customer is not always right.
Unfortunately, the blackening spices overpowered the delicate wild salmon. Moreover, the color of the quinoa was nearly identical to the blackened salmon and the result appeared to be one amorphous dark mass. A semicircle of arugula rimmed half the plate (they were out of asparagus), but the deep green was not a sufficient contrast to the dark brown of the rest of the meal.
A bright yellow wedge of lemon would have helped both the color and flavor, as the spices were heavy on the salt and red pepper. I was able to correct the imbalance by scraping off most of the spices and removing the skin from the salmon. But by then I had lost interest in the meal.
Moral: Most of the time, the chef knows best.
Desserts were recited. “We usually have bread pudding made from cider doughnuts,” Christine explained, “but tonight we only have Salted Caramel gelato and lemon sorbet.” Colleen was full but I needed a palate cleanser after the spicy salmon. The tart sorbet flecked with bits of lemon peel was most satisfactory. Christine told us it was from the SoCo Creamery in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
Along with my cup of French-pressed coffee (the Hollow does not serve espresso), the lively lemon sorbet was an appropriate ending to an evening of culinary surprises.
Colleen and I had opted for dinners, but we might have chosen lighter fare from the varied Hollow menu. A number of vegetarian dishes (like house-made Pasta e Fagioli for $5 or Grilled Apple Brie Sandwich for $10) are offered. While not extensive, the menu provides a variety of selections to please any diner.
Had it been available the day we visited, I would have enjoyed the Grilled Asparagus with lemon ($9). Or the Three Bean Stout Chili ($5).
Boards ($10) are available and feature either house-made hummus with roasted red peppers, goat cheese, arugula and grilled naan, or lemon-thyme chicken salad for omnivores.
Food, service and ambiance at the Hollow Bar and Kitchen get a standing ovation from these reviewers.