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An Elegant Birthday Dinner, Dahling

February 7, 2008

This past Saturday night, my wonderful husband took me to a very elegant restaurant that I’d been dying to try for many years – The Scrimshaw at the Desmond in Albany. I’ve been to several weddings, conferences, and sales meetings at the Desmond over the years, but had never experienced any of their restaurants (the other two are The Tavern and Simpson’s, and they are much less fancy-schmancy).

I recently received the issue of Wine Spectator magazine, that listed all of the restaurants in the world (!) that have received awards for being “wine-friendly” (Wine Spectator’s words, not mine). Restaurants who receive these awards (Award of Excellence, Best of Award of Excellence and Grand Award) are highly regarded for the depth and breadth their lists, and the knowledge of their sommeliers (if they have one). The Scrimshaw was one of the restaurants that received the Award of Excellence – and it has received this award every year since 1997. Naturally, I was intrigued. Though I have to admit, I usually cannot take advantage of these award-winning wine lists for two reasons:

  1. Most of the best wines are only offered by the bottle, Bob does not drink wine very often (he’s a Screwdriver kind of guy), and I haven’t been able to drink an entire bottle of wine by myself in years.
  2. I can’t afford any of them, anyway.

So, off we went to dinner at The Scrimshaw, dressed in “proper dinner attire”, as requested.

We were greeted by attentive staff members dressed in Colonial-style clothing (The Desmond Hotel & Conference Center has a distinctive Colonial-era theme throughout). We were quickly escorted to our table. On the way, we passed a very agitated gentleman who uttered the phrase “I’m just anxious to sit down at my table” – it seemed as if the staff had kept him waiting quite a while to be seated, so we were very puzzled when we were shown a table in a nearly-empty dining room. We never found out what he was so riled about. Oh, well.

Our table was a small two-top, tucked in the corner. Our chairs were comfy leather wing chairs, which were very difficult to maneuver in and out. But once we were seated, everything was delightful! The dining rooms are decorated in Colonial New England style, of course, with rose-colored textured wallpaper, brass light fixtures, nautical artwork and carvings, wainscoting, antique-y china, and mismatched cherry dining furniture. Very charming and comfortable, in a Plimoth Plantation kind of way.

We ordered drinks (a Screwdriver for Bob -told you-, and a half-bottle of Korbel Brut bubbly for me), and were quickly brought an amuse-bouche of the most delicious bruchetta I’ve ever tasted – crisply toasted Italian bread, covered with a rich, chunky tomato relish and sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bob doesn’t eat that kind of thing, so I enjoyed both pieces. As a trade-off, he got to eat all of the bread that was brought.

Our server was wonderful! I cannot remember her name, but she was friendly, entertaining, and made us laugh the entire evening. We let her know that we are not the typical stuffed-shirts that she normally waits on, so we spent the evening making fun of said stuffed-shirts.

Right about this time, the piano player arrived and began playing a lovely selection of quiet jazz tunes and standards. The atmosphere was now even more impressive!

We ordered an appetizer of Zinfandel Glazed Pork Tenderloin, which was delicious, though the center was a little rare for our liking. The whole-grain mustard butter that came with it was perfect.

Next came the Desmond Salad, which I must describe for you – quoting from the menu: “Radicchio, Romaine, Boston Bibb and Red-Leaf Lettuce topped with sliced mushrooms, Mandarin oranges, sliced almonds, cheddar cheese, dried cranberries, cherry tomatoes, and our own creamy garlic dressing”. It was as good as it sounds. I normally despise salad, so the more “stuff” on it, the better.

The salads were followed by the best part of dinner: the palate cleansing lemon sorbet. Why was it the best part? Because, when the server set the tiny frozen dishes in front of us, I exclaimed, “Whoa! How fahn-cy!”. To which the server replied (in a terrific Cockney accent): “You’re at the Scrimshaw, m’deah!” Then, after the server walked away laughing, Bob said “What’s this? Dessert?”

Palates now thoroughly cleansed, we moved on to our entrees.

Me: Steak Au PoivreCenter cut sirloin dredged in a three pepper melange, pan-seared and topped with mushroom cognac cream sauce.

Bob: Prime Rib

My dinner came with vegetables and the Scrimshaw Potato (A flaky pastry shell filled with caramelized onions, topped with duchess whipped potatoes and baked to a golden brown). I attempted to take a photo of my dinner with my cell phone camera, which did not come out very well:

scrimshaw.jpg

I really was just trying to capture the Scrimshaw Potato, which you can see in the background, all frilly and golden. It was complete and utter heaven. I brought home more than half of my steak, because I was so full of the potato. The steak was terrific as well, cooked perfectly medium-rare as requested, and finished with a sweet and nutty mushroom cognac cream. I would have licked my plate, but The Desmond frowns upon it, I hear.

Dessert? No – just a couple of VERY strong specialty coffees: Nuts & Berries Coffee for me (coffee with Frangelico and Chambord), and Bob got something with a lot of Grand Marnier. He almost couldn’t finish it – almost.

Dinner was not inexpensive (around $120 before tax & tip), but also not the most expensive place we’ve eaten. That honor goes to the 360 at the CN Tower in Toronto, of which I have stories to share – another blog entry for the future!

I would highly recommend dinner at the Scrimshaw, but only if you have the patience for a very unhurried and upscale experience. I was enjoying every second of it, and I think Bob was enjoying my delight at every little elegant nuance. I must have said “I love this!” about 200 times.

I really did love it – thanks, Sweetie, for making my birthday special.

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