A Whole New Perspective on Albany, NY

This past week I had to travel for work to a small NY town called Gloversville.  It is about 40 minutes Northwest of Albany.  I do like to get out of the office once in a while, and be out there in front of my clients in the trenches so in that sense I welcomed the opportunity.  What I don’t like about business travel is the thought of eating meals alone.  Breakfast is not so bad since I can read the newspaper while I sip my tea and eat my yogurt.  But dinner is the meal I dread.  I just don’t do well eating alone which is strange because I do quite a lot of traveling on my own for business and pleasure.  Strangely, I also dread the options of eating at the hotel restaurant or worse – ordering room service.  But despite grueling work demands, my three days in Albany were fun, memorable, and I came back with new friends.
I opted not to stay too close to Gloversville.  For one, there is only one hotel within 20 minutes, and two there is nothing going on up there in the month of February.  Instead I stayed in the state capital of Albany just off the I-90 East so access to the highway was easy for my daily commute.  I arrived on Tuesday evening and after a workout and shower I was hungry.  After the long drive I decided that it would be easier to eat at the café downstairs and proceeded to take a seat at a table.  The woman at the front desk assured me the food was good.  I waited 15 minutes and no one had paid any attention to me because there was not a server or host in sight.  I went to the front desk woman and asked her to call someone.  5 more minutes and nothing!  Having little tolerance for incompetence which is only exacerbated when I’m hungry, I went back to the front desk and asked for local restaurant recommendations.  She cheerfully told me to head toward Wolf Rd, which I know from my past travels, has mostly chain restaurants.  So I asked her if she knew of any restaurants that were not chains.  She looked me squarely in the eye and with big smile said “You should go to PF Changs, it’s really good.”  To which I replied, but that’s a chain…….5 more minutes and she finally understood what I was looking for and directed me to a restaurant just a few miles away called Grappa ’72.
I entered Grappa ’72 and headed toward the bar.  There is absolutely no way I will sit and eat at a table alone.  Yes, I know that sounds weird – especially if you know me.  I much prefer the bar because at least some of the other people also are there alone.  As I walked up I was greeted with a great big hello from Tom , the bartender, who proceeded to ask my name and then introduced me to everyone around the bar.  I’m thinking what a friendly place!  I ordered a glass of wine that he recommended – Luiano Sangiovese – which was delicious.  Their wine list by the glass is quite impressive with an unusually large selection of Italian wines, and they have the proper stemware for different wines – a place after my own heart. 
For my dinner I chose a mixed green salad and lemon rosemary roasted chicken with asparagus and roasted potatoes.  Conversation continued and before my dinner came, I felt like I had known these people for years.  They were from all walks of life and had come to Albany by way of many different places like Washington DC, NYC, San Francisco, etc.  I was having fun!  My dinner arrived and it looked amazing.  I had switched to a Morande Pioneri Sauvignon Blanc from Chile which was definitely a better pairing with the chicken than the Sangiovese.  It was grassy on the nose and palate with a hint of lime zest.  My chicken was delicious!  I never ever eat the skin on chicken but this was so flavorful and crispy that I broke my rule and enjoyed every bite and made sure I thanked the chef later.  I was so happy that the café had not paid attention to me.  I ended my evening chatting with my new friends and exchanging information.  And before leaving I was invited to join a few of them at a different restaurant called Barcelona the next day.
My next evening at Barcelona was quite nice too.  Vincent and Laurel were there and we chatted like old friends.  I was introduced to an 84 year gentleman who served in WWII in the French Legion and to this day jumps out of airplanes for kicks.  Can this story get any better?  The menu at Barcelona is Mediterranean style tapas and Tony behind the bar is a riot to listen to with his rough attitude with all the patrons who he obviously knows.  I ordered some grilled artichokes with goat cheese and roasted peppers along with some spicy baby back ribs.  I had worked late that day and skipped the wine and ended my day.
For my last evening, I decided I was going to go back to Grappa ’72 as I had honestly preferred the ambiance and food better.  This time I had some very good veal with my same Sangiovese plus a special treat of a live jazz band and Tom singing some Sinatra once in a while.  I met Armand the owner whose wife incidentally makes all the desserts on their menu, and Gregory who is originally from the Bronx.  I had more work to complete for the day so I kept my last meal in town brief, said goodbye to my new found friends and went back to my hotel feeling like I had a home to go to the next time I go up that way.  I didn’t care that I still had 3 hours of work to do.  It just wasn’t a big deal.
The next time you go to the Albany area, be sure to stop in at Grappa ’72 or Barcelona and be sure to say hello to everyone for me.  Who knows, you may come back with some new friends too.  Not a bad week after all that dread. 
Happy travels!!!
Swati

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