Local Bistros

One of my favorite “deals” among Parisian restaurants is the bistro.  Sometimes spelled bistrot, this type of eatery is usually small-sized and offers a limited selection of simple yet tasty, satisfying meals at a good price.  In Paris, of course, bistros are found in virtually every neighborhood.  Here in Albany, while we might not have an overabundance of choices of this sort, we do have a couple that are worth a visit.

Located in an unassuming strip mall at 1839 Central Avenue, Garden Bistro 24 has been open for business just over two years.  During that period, we have gone there for dinner about four times and have always enjoyed a delightful meal.  I’ve had the mussels with at least two different sauces and both were delicious.  Probably my favorite was the basil lemon butter, but I had the special one night which was made with saffron and loved it as well.  On a separate occasion I tried the hanger steak with blue cheese-shallot butter; what a delight it was!  Most dishes come with French fries and they are the best I’ve had anywhere around.  I have heard some complaints that the menu is too limited, so you’d have to check it out before you go and decide for yourself.  Basically, though, there are chicken, beef, fish, and mussel entrées, as well as a vegetarian option.  As for the desserts, how can you go wrong with crème brûlée, chocolate mousse, pastries, and crêpes?  There is also a complete wine list at reasonable prices.  In 2012, it was voted the Best French Restaurant by Capital Region Living Magazine.  I really think it’s worth trying.

Just this week I spent a lot of time in downtown Albany and decided to drop in at The Merry Monk for lunch.  Billed as a bar, the name undoubtedly refers to the fact that Belgian Trappist monks have been in the beer-making business for centuries.  The restaurant, which has  been open just short of a year, is situated at 90 North Pearl Street in an old building with a lot of charm, both inside and out.  Its extensive beer list features bottled and draft brews from Belgium to Brooklyn and a lot of other places besides.  (Wine doesn’t seem to be an option, just so you'll know.On the menu you’ll find salads, soups, burgers and other sandwiches, as well as the national Belgian dish: moules frites.  Being a mussels fan, as readers are well aware, I tried the Thai curry variety; they were great: fresh, plump, in a delicious yellow curry with big pieces of lemongrass.  You can specify whether you want one or two pounds of mussels.  The French fries, which come at an extra charge, were a big disappointment for me—not crispy and probably not made on the premises.  Still, on the whole, the place has possibilities.  A starter, which was accidentally delivered to our table, the wings, looked especially good.  And I’m always up for trying the crab cakes, so I’ll definitely go back.

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