My wife and I drove to Albany a few weeks ago to see the Doc Watson concert at The Egg. Elisa had researched the restaurant scene in Albany, and after she showed me the menu, we decided that the New World Bistro Bar would be a great place to have an early dinner before the concert. We called ahead from the road and made reservations for two, and we arrived right on time.
The New World Bistro Bar is a cozy location in the corner of a building on Delaware Avenue. There is ample parking in a lot behind the building. You can tell that the owner, Ric Orlando, has put his heart and soul into the place, and in all honesty it is a rare jewel in a neighborhood that’s seen better days. The interior is an eclectic mix of booths and tables, and it’s evident that the interior was put together by someone with a talented eye for design.
When we arrived we had to wait for a few minutes while dueling hostesses huddled up to decide where we were to be seated. Eventually a table was set for us, and despite the fact that there were many set tables available they sat us at a tiny two-top pushed up against the inside glass of the entry vestibule, without a doubt the worst table in the restaurant. But hey, someone had to get that table, so why not a couple of folks who drove three hours to get there and bothered to make reservations, to boot?
One of the things that had interested us about the restaurant was that the menu specialized in small plates, or Tapas as they are known in Spain. After reviewing the specials with us, the waiter gave us some time to decide on our order. From the menu, we learned that Chef Orlando had just won an episode of Food Network‘s Chopped, so we were looking forward to sampling a few items.
In the end, we decided to share four tapas: white anchovies with almonds and olive oil; Saigon street style fried calamari; crab cakes; and from the specials menu, a Tomato and eggplant tower. Elisa ordered the house red wine, René Barbier‘s Mediterranean Red, and I had a diet coke. Elisa thought her wine was quite adequate for an inexpensive house wine, and we passed the time chatting about the upcoming concert and bemoaning our table assignment.
When three of the four dishes arrived at the table, we realized that the bread that had been promised by our waiter had never materialized. We informed the waiter … he was very apologetic and he brought us a serving of bread immediately. Once we had sampled the bread, it became abundantly clear that the meal would have been much improved without it. We both declared the bread as being completely stale; the four diners at the table next to us separately made the same observation. Later, as I passed by the kitchen to use the restroom, I noticed that they seemed to be baking their own bread in house, which I still find hard to believe, given the final product that had arrived at our table.
So our table was filled to the brim with the bread and three of the four small plates, which, it turns out, were needlessly plated on very large plates indeed. The anchovies had yet to make an appearance.
Bottom line, the crab cakes were quite good, the calamari was good but not great, the anchovies, when they finally made their entrance, were a bit of a disappointment, and the Tomato tower … well, that tomato (or the two slices of it that we saw) was absolutely wonderful. But not at $9.
With standard tip, the meal ran about $65. The service was spotty, the food quality uneven, the bread horrible, and the seating left a lot to be desired. It’s possible that Sunday is not a good day to dine at Mr. Orlando’s establishment, but that was the day we chose. We both felt the restaurant succeeded conceptually but failed in execution. Greater effort should be expended on training the hostesses to be … well, hostesses. Something needs to be done about the bread they serve, and two slices of tomato surrounded by two slices of eggplant isn’t a tower, it’s a strip mall, and it shouldn’t sell for $9.
Ric Orlando’s New World Bistro Bar
300 Delaware Avenue
(parking lot behind building)