Thursday, October 2, 2014

Spirit of Albany: Jack's Oyster House

Jack’s Retains its Relevance, Over a Hundred Years Later

Some may call into question the future of a restaurant that has witnessed over a hundred years of American history. Could this place still impress the diners who aren’t easily wowed?  And if so, how? Few may think that such a restaurant can exist -- and if it does -- it’s a likely shell of its old self; one that’s been politely grandfathered into the now uber hip dinning landscape.   But on State Street, the horn of New York State political machine, sits Jack’s Oyster House, an old-line seafood and chop house that still reigns as that quintessential American icon.

Opened in 1913, Jack’s continues to be helmed by members of original owners -- the Rosenstein’s –and the restaurant has been dubbed “Albany’s Greatest Restaurant Legend” as well as, “The Best Restaurant of the Century.” The establishment consistently courts the interest of politicians and professions during its thriving lunch and maintains the pace during the evening hours as well. And through the changing frontier in the landscape of American restaurants, Jack’s look and feel exudes the understated opulence akin to a high-brow roadhouse restaurant of the 1930’s. In 2010 the restaurant received a facelift, modernizing some elements – like seating – but still staying true to its chop-house concept.

In terms of its food and fare, Jack’s – once again – maintains its culinary relevance by simultaneously embracing change, and also, at times, strategically bucking it. The menu is classic but not outdated.  At its core, the menu is a three dimensional aggregate, representative of American food past, present and future.  As expected, there’s a robust raw-bar – arguably the best in the city. And the menu, as a whole, is dominated by updated, generously portioned,  stand-out classics of a by-gone era, like Steak Diane and Chicken Lemonardo.

For the Spirit of Albany Campaign, Bill Crabill of Jack’s created a celebratory libation honoring the space Jack’s has occupied in Albany’s history and aptly named The Centennial Tini. On first sip, the presence of the extra dry champagne and echoes of citrus reminded me of a traditional French 75. But as the flavors coalesced, I began to taste how truly special this cocktail is, and why it is the most fitting representation of the restaurant.  With the Centennial Tini, every component was palpable and none of the elements competed against the other. The result was a beautifully balanced, near flawless cocktail served in a chilled vintage martini glass.  

The reason why this drink deserves such acclaim is partly due to the ingredients employed, but moreover, it is largely a result of precise craftsmanship and use of exacting ratios.  Far too many bar-keeps make a fundamental attribution error assuming that the ingredients trump the composition.  And that isn't the case, as the Centennial Tini proves. For instance, the flavors of the black raspberry liqueur in this drink detonate on one’s mid palate, right before the effervescence of the champagne is perceivable. Achieving such balance takes skill but it also takes great attention to detail; an attribute the staff of Jack’s just happen to be masters of.

There are many restaurants that will continue to be part of region’s strong unbroken wave in Capital City dining, but there is no disputing that Jack’s Oyster House will persist as its leading edge.

Editor's note: We asked some of Albany’s best mixologists to create original cocktail recipes that embody the spirit of Albany, and we compiled those recipes into our 2014 Spirit of Albany Recipe Guide. In this exciting blog series local foodie Brigid Washington, a Culinary Institute of America grad and local restaurant consultant, explores each restaurant – it’s menu, it’s atmosphere, and of course, it’s custom cocktail – and provides her perspective on how it all comes together to create part of Albany’s creative culinary scene! (The ACCVB does not, in any way, condone drinking and driving so please designate a driver as we did for this series.)

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