10 September 2014
Despite a lengthy trip planned for Europe soon after, I made my way north to the capital of New York state earlier this week. The original plan was to catch the first 2 shows of the new configuration of King Crimson – one of my favourite bands of all time. However as I planned the trip, the more I thought of balancing it — with elements beyond music, namely eating and hiking/sightseeing. For the latter I spent the day in various parts of Upstate New York, a region I’ve not been back to for 20 years.
For the former, I decided to check out the best restaurant in the region, Yono’s. It just happened to be in my hotel — the first time you’ll see a tasting menu in a restaurant linked to a Hampton Inn I’m sure. I knew I’d had to sacrifice the 2nd show to enjoy the feasting, but I decided to anyway. I need balance in my life at this point, and I got to see the very 1st show — which was memorable enough.
The previous night, after the concert, I had a late dinner at Yono’s sister restaurant, DP Brasserie, and had some nice dishes. I would have written a review or posted some photos but it was so dark I couldn’t see what I was eating — and was eating with my phone light so I know what I was putting in my mouth. Come on, that’s annoying as all hell… And earlier in the day I also had a wonderful smoked prime rib at Smoky Rock BBQ in Rhinebeck.
Anyway, back to Yono’s. It’s a cute dining room within the same complex as DB Bistro. It wasn’t very busy it being a Wednesday night when the New York State Assembly was out of session, but it was actually somewhat loud. The room echoed pretty noticeably and for the earlier courses I could barely hear my server. I was seated in a nice corner table and enjoyed my 8-course tasting.
After an amuse bouche based on a berry compote the first of the courses arrived, the peekytoe crab salad.
It was a nice portion of crab, and the avocado at the bottom was a nice touch. But for me it wasn’t very congruent, felt like various elements sitting on its own. The texture also made it hard to mesh the parts in a mouthful. But it was of good quality seafood. A nice muscadet as a pair. Not a bad start.
The second dish was the lobster agnolotti. Cooked well, much better than the odd agnolotti I had at Pittsburgh’s Cure a few weeks earlier. Not spectacular but solid for the most part, the corn was very nice. A good viognier paired this dish.
I do apologise for the photos. The Samsung Galaxy S-4 has some major problems with the camera. It often fails to focus correctly when light is low — which was the case in Yono’s. It was not as crazy dark as next door at DP Brasserie, but it was not bright. And even with the so-called “picture stabilisation” feature that helps take pictures in low light, it very frequently fails in its focus. So the selection of shots (I always take 5-10 per, including 1 or 2 using picture stabilisation) that I had to choose from was surprisingly poor this evening…
The third dish (sorry for the drab photo) was the corn and shrimp bisque. Now corn is a major produce in the region so I was looking forward to this. It also featured (unseen) a shrimp tempura on the bottom. However, if you don’t drink this fast (I like to savour the flavours of soup), the tempura gets a bit soggy. I never like this kind of item in my soup. But the soup itself was excellent, full of maize goodness. This time a nice vouvray paired this flavourful soup.
One thing very good about Yono’s tasting menu is that it really utilises the various strengths of regional produce. This part of Upstate New York produces some excellent items across the board, and it is well treated here in earlier and in upcoming dishes.
The fourth dish of this 8-course tasting gets into the meats with another regional specialty, foie gras. To be honest this was a bit of a small portion (considering how healthy the portions of all the other dishes were) and it wasn’t anything special. And the brioche under the foie gras was pretty much wasted, as it was inedible soaking up an odd assortment of juices that didn’t add to the foie’s character. Probably the weak dish of the night.
Moving onto the fifth dish we get another regional specialty, duck. This was a fabulous piece of duck breast, cooked perfectly. It was tender and scruptious, one of the best duck breast I’ve had in years. Fabulous! An Oregon pinot accompanied this dish, which worked very well. The best dish of the night, and the entire menu was on solid momentum now.
Onto the sixth, the last savoury dish, we got the 24-hour braised shortrib. This was really the first touch of Chef Yono’s Indonesian roots. The meat was utterly delicious and tender, a wonderful last dish that was also very filling. This was larger than it looks, very solid. Close to being the best dish of the night, a great 1-2 punch for the end of savouries. Seriously good.
I was pretty happy as we shifted into the relaxing portion, with local goat cheese as the first offering. A nice Churchill’s white port worked well with this rich cheese. The pistachios were delicious as well. The server nicely checked if (and when) I wanted my coffee. I’m glad, because too often the coffee service timing is off when there is beverage pairing because no one asks at the right time. Good training.
And finally we arrive at the final course, my dessert of coconut chocolate torte. Two flavours I absolutely enjoy, this was a fine way to close the evening. The chocolate was not overwhelming, and the coconut complemented the richness of the chocolate just perfectly. A wonderful closing number, especially with a glass of the rather rare tannat dessert wine from Uruguay (Alcyone).
This was an excellent dinner, capped off by some calvados. Portions were generous, and the variety excellent, especially in demonstration of some of the best produce of the region. Yono’s is an excellent restaurant with a solid tasting menu, better than some of the Michelin-starred places I’ve been to in the last few years. It may have started a little slow but it was burning down the fast lane as the meal was in full force. Recommended.
Post-script. After dinner I later returned to the bar (which is at DP) and enjoyed some local spirits, as craft distilling has exploded in Upstate New York. From some excellent whiskeys to awesome gin, I was very excited by the products in this part of the country. Excellent stuff that liquor connoseurs should definitely try, and kudos to owner/sommelier Yono (chef’s son) for putting together one of the best stocked bar I’ve seen outside of a major metropolis. Even his wine list is extremely impressive, as I enjoyed a wonderful zhilavka from Macedonia’s excellent Stobi Winery the night before.
Post-script #2. I had a killer hangover, not helped when I was woken up at 7am by construction INSIDE the hotel. Hotel fail.
25 Chapel Street
Albany, New York