Monday, May 3, 2010

Oh, Albany!

Last Saturday, I met a couple at the restaurant who were in the process of moving to Albany from San Francisco. Now, there are others who have made this same trek East only to be disappointed by some of what the Capital Region has to offer. I don't know if it is a question of expectations, personal values or perception, but after more than 20 years living in Albany, I can emphatically say (politics and orange mayors aside) that I love Albany. Don't get me wrong - in my heart, Greenwood Lake, N.Y. will always be the place that I envision when I hear the word home, but, Albany is where I am able to provide my family with a good quality of life at an incredibly reasonable cost and I celebrate that with sincerity.

Since Saturday, I've been considering how much Albany has changed since I first moved here. The most obvious change, to me, is the increase in dining options. In 1988, there were very few fine dining spots downtown and little variety in ethnic food choices. The Lark Street area then was home to a mediocre Chinese place, El Loco and Mamoun's Falafel, all of which remain, but they have been joined by Indian, Thai and Greek options. Seriously, there have to be at least 7 or 8 countries represented by menus on Lark Street these days - and that is a good thing. And for fine dining downtown there are terrific options like Yono's/DP, Angelo's 677, Marche, Dale Miller, and The Brown Derby - all of which have made their debut in the past 5 years. Pretty impressive.

I grew up outside of NYC, and it was initially a challenge to consider Albany a "city," but over the years, I've grown to appreciate Smalbany and am quite content here. If you're local, be it native or transplanted, to the Capital District, what are your favorite places? Share.


  1. It's often said that the best thing about the Capital District is its close proximity to so many things. 3 hours from NYC, 3 hours from Boston, 3.5 from Montreal, an hour to the Adirondacks...the list goes on.

    But I have always thought that this point, while certainly valid, overlooks the things that are great about the region itself. Within 20 minutes you can be at Thacher Park, in the middle of beautiful and amazing nature, and then in the City of Albany, enjoying authentic ethnic foods, taking in terrific regional theatre, viewing an independent film, or just enjoying a night out at great bars or in Washington Park.

    This area has it all - admittedly on a smaller scale than other areas - but that is what makes it so wonderful. You can have it all in little time and with far less struggle than in other areas.

    Listen, I'm a native, so I'm bias. But while I love traveling all over, and while I wouldn't mind experiencing "living" in different places, the Capital Region will ALWAYS mean home.

  2. McG's hands down...need a rezzy Saturday night as a matter of fact!

  3. Thatcher Park, Washington Park, Lark street at night, the Art Room. My parents house, Arcadia Ave, Corning Preserve, State Street. I could go on and on.

  4. Capital Q, cake donuts at Bella Napoli, glazed donuts at The Cookie Factory, Dewey's Diner (and a few other similar places), Bob & Ron's Fish Fry, Famous Lunch, Mahars, Flores Family Restaurant, Chow Fun at Emperor's, the existence of Pakistani style Chinese food at Tandoori on Wolf Road, Harvest Spirits in Valatie, Ralph's tavern (and a few other similar places).

    Thank you for the mention, by the way.

    I am very well aware of how much the Capital Region has improved over the past few years, and I am grateful for it. You should know that when I first moved to Berkeley I did not love it either. These things take time.

    In the meanwhile, I am finding some good places, and enjoying telling people about them. I am also finding some overrated places, and in those cases am unafraid to declare that the emperor has no clothes.

    What I'm curious about is which places Anonymous considers to be authentic ethnic foods. We may have a different definition of authentic, but it is always helpful for me to understand where others are coming from.

  5. Daniel B-

    I think Al Baraki is terrific authentic Lebanese, and I think there are several pretty authentic Indian and many authentic Italian places (just to name a few different categories of ethnic foods).

    The definition I was using pretty much just meant not chain or super-Americanized.

    For instance, I've always thought of El Mariachi as being great authentic Mexican, but never felt the same way about the now-defunct Garcia's.

  6. I am in love with LaSerre and Marche. As far as Lark Street goes, DeJohn's, Justin's and the Wine Bar & Bistro are my faves.