|By Steve Barnes, Albany Times Union,
N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
November 29, 2009 - I was excited by the idea of the new Delta Blue Grill, even if the restaurant was just a tweaking of the in-house eatery at the Clarion Hotel on Watervliet Avenue Extension, near Everett Road and I-90 in Albany. Its collection of Southern and Louisiana favorites, from ribs to po' boys, chicken-fried steak to gumbo, looked promising enough to fill an underserved niche.
Hope for such a place still needs to spring eternal, because unless you're a businessperson lodged at the hotel and lacking transportation, there's no reason to go to the 2-month-old restaurant. Even if you are staying at the Clarion without a car, you'd do better to walk 10 minutes to Caffe Italia, on Central Avenue, or take a cab just about anywhere else in town. Guests seem to understand as much: When we arrived at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday, there were only two people at the bar and one couple leaving the otherwise empty dining room. We saw a single additional diner during our hourlong dinner.
Good for everybody who's staying away: Delta Blue Grill is so soulless and pedestrian, so lacking in vitality and professional pride that the most sensible reactions are to weep with boredom and reach for the Tabasco sauce.
None of the food we had during a recent dinner committed any crimes against the taste buds or other senses, just against sensibilities. None of it was interesting, to say nothing of authentic; it seems designed to be the blandest possible nod to Southern and Louisiana cooking. Case in point for the middle-of-the-roadness: Though a legend on the menu identifies a spicy scale of one to three chili peppers, not a single offering earns the three-pepper rating. When we asked that one of our dishes be spiced up from two peppers to three, the bowl came with telltale red drops, as if the kitchen had dosed it with hot sauce at the last minute.
A po' boy with house-smoked duck ($10.50) had good if unexceptional flavor, but the promised "sweet onion marmalade" seemed little more than a strewing of caramelized onions. Smokin' Joe's Memphis HogWings, a pair of small pork shanks, falling-off-the-bone in their tenderness, came with the merest hint of "Minnie P's barbecue sauce." They're a decent bar nosh, at only $6.50, though their presentation is an afterthought -- plopped in a bowl atop a flap of leaf lettuce and stingily scattered with scallion rings.
One of the entrees, shrimp and grits, would have been acceptable from a diner if priced at $9. At $14.95, or 66 percent more than that, for a modestly sized bowl with grits, cherry tomatoes and a handful of bottle-cap-size shrimp, the entree is both underwhelming and overpriced. Delta Blue Grill's attempt at chicken and sausage gumbo ($13.95) is misnamed. The menu promises "authentic gumbo" with a "full-bodied texture from dark roux." What arrived was blond enough that it resembled chicken-and-rice soup made hearty with coins of okra and andouille. Any soul-food joint in town makes better collard greens ($3.95 for a small bowl). We tried to order a side of mac-n-cheese, but the waiter waved us off, noting that the dish isn't made on premises. And we wanted to order crawfish etouffee but were told the kitchen was out of the crustacean. (No crawfish at 6:30 on a Friday night?)
All of the food was edible. It was also insipid, made and delivered by a staff that seems to be barely going through the motions. There's no passion at Delta Blue Grill and no visible care about distinctive food or quality service; nor is there a sign outside, and the menu consists of photocopied and stapled sheets of office paper. The bartender ignored us when we arrived, leaving us to wait a few minutes until we peered around a pillar, into a service nook, and found the lone waiter looking bored. When the waiter was repeatedly AWOL from the dining room, his cellphone, on a shelf in the nook, rang three separate times, causing the befuddled bartender to try to answer the hotel phone. Late in the meal, the front-desk clerk and the waiter argued in the middle of the dining room over whose job it was to remove food and dishes from a conference room. "I don't do catering. I'm a waiter," the waiter said. "What-ever," said the clerk with a wave of the hand.
I appreciate the restaurant's wine list: 20 modest but acceptable wines -- 13 of them reds -- for $20 per bottle, and six by the glass for $6 per. But the draft-beer selection is pathetic, with just two options, and a desperately-wishes-he-were-retired senior-citizen bartender splayed on one of the stools watching TV instead of behind the bar wasn't welcoming in the least.
Dinner for two -- including two appetizers, two entrees, a side of collard greens and three beers -- totaled $80 after tax and tip.
Steve Barnes can be reached at 454-5489 or by e-mail at email@example.com. Visit his blog at http://blogs.timesunion.com/tablehopping.
Delta Blue Grill
At the Clarion Hotel 3 Watervliet Ave. Ext., Albany
Reservations: Accepted but not necessary
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Hours: Open for dinner daily.
Parking/access: Parking lot; full handicapped access.
Food/beverage (*?1/2): Southern and Louisiana favorites, plus standard hotel fare. Appetizers average $6.50; salads, $9; sandwiches and burgers, $8; entrees, $16. Full bar.
Service (*): Service was friendly. For each thing the evening's sole waiter did right -- orders served to their proper recipient, steering us away from an item not made in-house -- there were a variety of other lapses, starting with long absences.
Atmosphere (*): The sort of generic, obligatory hotel restaurant that perpetuates the bad name of hotel restaurants.
Overall rating: *?1/2
One to four stars -- four excellent, two average. Overall rating an average of the three categories with emphasis on food. Past reviews available online at http://timesunion. com/life/restaurants.
To see more of the Albany Times Union, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.timesunion.com.
Copyright (c) 2009, Albany Times Union, N.Y.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.