What’s in a name?

I’ve been thinking about this question, and this post, for quite some time, not sure how to proceed without sounding as if I’m trying to drum up business in the restaurant where I work. Trust me, after the amount of running up and down the steps to the kitchen that I do during a usual shift, increasing traffic is not my purpose. Actually, I’m doing this more for you than I am for me. Screw it – here goes…

In the past 25 years, I’ve worked with most of the best known chefs in the Capital District. I’ve been lucky enough to serve food prepared by Yono Purnomo, Dale Miller, Andrew Plummer, Rick Weber and Jason Baker. Exceptions who come immediately to mind are Ric Orlando, Jaime Ortiz, Michael Cunningham and Mark Graham. I know there are others.

If you’re remotely tuned in to the Albany food scene, you probably recognize all of those names, but what about Nick Ruscitto?

Who’s Nick? He’s the guy who has been running the line at the Wine Bar & Bistro on Lark pretty much since Jason Baker left for other opportunities. He and his sous chef, Abby Ruddy, have been putting out some of the best food I’ve ever been fortunate enough to serve. Seriously.

20130806-073801.jpgNick’s food is creative, seasonal and playful. There is no preciousness or pretense in what he serves and I love the way he offers comfort food which is completely noncliched. Take his penne and “meatballs” plate, a totally vegetarian preparation in which mushrooms stand in for ground meat, a meal that is satisfying and familiar while simultaneously being cleverly unique and a bit provocative. Nick’s specials always seem to combine disparate ingredients (little neck clams, pulled pork, salsa verde) in a way that is beautifully balanced and stimulating. That’s what I want in a meal.

Sometimes it almost appears as if the Capital District is playing a bit of a game of revolving chefs and projects. There are a handful of people who seem to bounce from place to place as they try to find the right balance of professional stability and personal satisfaction. I don’t fault them in the slightest – being a chef is an incredibly demanding career, often with limited financial gain, always with long hours.

Their names are the ones we read and hear repeatedly, but by no means are they the only kitchen talent worth being familiar. How about you? Who are your favorite unheralded, no-name chefs in the Capital District? Drop some names!

One thought on “What’s in a name?

  1. Drew and I were seriously impressed with what’s going on at the Wine Bar now. We had been big fans of Baker, having first discovered him ourselves up at the Black Watch. The Wine Bar is a rare treat for us and I’m so glad it’s doing well with Nick at the helm. I unexpectedly popped my beef tartare cherry there on a whim and have been dreaming about it ever since. We’re big NWBB fans but that’s a different vibe, when we want pure food bliss in a spectacular setting, it’s the Wine Bar all the way.

    As for notable chefs not discussed much, Aneesa Waheed is doing amazing things over at Tara Kitchen if Moroccan is your thing.

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