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Wine Bar on Lark

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Some days it just doesn't pay to have high hopes for an establishment, simply from a perceived reputation. This was my lesson of the day with regards to the Wine Bar on Lark Street in Downtown Albany which I finally got to visit, after having wanting to do so for quite some time.

When we first entered, the front tables were jam packed, and we thought that would mean it would be too long of a wait for a table. To our pleasant surprise, the customers up front were simply enjoying a few glasses, and with the patio open there was still plenty of seating to be had. This, however, was where all pleasantness ended.

What first struck me as odd was the demeanor and dress of the wait staff. To call it 'laid back' would be an understatement. Of the three servers in our relative section, one wore short shorts and a tank top with visible bra straps. When she spoke, her hands never left her pockets. A second server had an ... intriguing lace over skirt, with a somewhat short skirt underneath. The third server was actually professionally dressed. When they spoke, it was in such a tone that it felt almost as if they didn't want to be there. There was no energy. There were no smiles. It felt .. uncomfortable, and none too friendly.

To start, Brian and I each ordered a glass of wine. Would you believe it took almost 15 minutes for us to get our wine? Strike two.

For meals, Brian ordered the hangar steak ($20). I ordered the bone marrow from their small plates section ($14), plus a small plate serving of the fresh pasta entree with shrimp, pancetta, and peas ($14).

It took well over an hour for our entrees to be served. Inexcusable! What's more, we watched as table upon table of diners seated after us received wine within 3 minutes, and appetizers/small plates within 10-12 minutes. One table in particular (of 2 people) received a never ceasing processional of wine, and appetizers, on the house, while Brian and I sat, hungry, and waiting. After the 4th free appetizer, delivered by a gentleman from the bar who wasn't even serving in this section (my guess is a manager), he says to them "You might want to consider ordering some food." He then chuckles, and walks away.

Meanwhile, the servers who are serving everyone else have not communicated to us about the wait time. After about 25 minutes or so, the bone marrow (and only the bone marrow) arrives. Now, on the one hand, I concede I should have asked that both my small plates be brought out together. On the other hand, as a server, when your customer orders 2 small plates as a meal, wouldn't it make sense to ask them if they wanted the small plates served together? This goes back to the less then welcoming, less than energetic service we received.

I'll actually segue here, and talk about the taste of the dish. I'm not a bone marrow aficionado by any means, but I liked this rendition much better than the one I had at New World Bistro Bar. I think part of it was because the bones were lengthwise, providing more surface area for roasting. That said, one of the two bones had little to no fat on it at all, really leaving only the one bone left. The bones were accompanied by a handful of perfectly fried oysters, two toasted baguette slices, and a mango rhubarb chutney. While the flavors and textures complimented each other, the star of the dish was the chutney. Hands down, that chutney was amazing.

Now we return to the wait. Again, we notice tables being turned over and served while we wait. What's even worse was that the wait staff was not only avoiding eye contact by this point, but they were also avoiding walking by our table at all. Even the simplest communication of "we're sorry for the wait, your plates will be up very soon," or some other form of acknowledgement would have been appreciated. Instead, I felt like we were being ostracized, and I couldn't figure out why.

After a 40 minute stretch, Brian and I were about to flag the earlier gentleman from the bar, who was now serving drinks to -and chatting with- another table. As hungry as we were, we had finally reached our breaking point, and were ready to leave. Lo and behold, off to our right, we see a server approaching (I don't even remember which one it was at this point, I was so hungry..and angry). Our dishes finally arrived, 40 minutes after my small plate.

Brian's steak was cooked to a perfect medium, and had good flavor. The fried potato gnocchi was also delicious, and everything was bathed in freshly grated cheese. What was unfortunate was the size of the plate. For $20, the portion size was that of a small plate. There was a grand total of 10 pieces of gnocchi on the plate. If you're unfamiliar with gnocchi, they're made of potato and flour and are barely the size of a finger tip. For a $20 steak entree, I dare say it felt like a ripoff.

By contrast, my pasta dish was the perfect size for a small plate. The pasta was al dente. The sauce, though uninspired, was still tasty. The shrimp were fresh, and perfectly cooked. My one complaint is that the peas were hard. They were crunchy, and undercooked, really taking away from the rest of the dish.

It probably goes without saying, but the Wine Bar is not on our list of places to return. Tasty as the food may be, the utter lack and failure in service makes me cringe at the thought of eating there again. For the first time, in our roughly 70 reviews, we found ourself having to grab something else to eat from a nearby establishment, in order to feel like we had a meal.

By a slim margin, the only thing holding the Wine Bar at a 3 fork rating was that the food was good.

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Bone Marrow Hangar Steak w/Crispy Gnocchi
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Fresh Pasta w/ Shrimp