I’ve heard from a few acquaintances whose food opinions I trust that Peck’s Arcade in Troy is the best food in the Capital District. And that’s not a statement to be made lightly to someone like me. I was even more interested in trying it out when I realized how affordable the menu is. Peck’s Arcade isn’t a high priced, black tie, steakhouse type of place. Instead, the menu is a diverse collection of creative small plates that hover around the fifteen dollar mark. With one or two other people, you can sample a few of the offerings without breaking the bank, and still feel like you had a good amount of food.
But then a few weeks ago, another friend told me that they had been to Peck’s and found it to be completely overrated. Rather than deter me, this only added more fuel to my curiosity. Was it actually a treasure of the local dining scene that I had somehow missed out on for all this time? Had it already reached its peak, perhaps even starting to decline? Or was it just completely over-sold?
Luckily I had a good special occasion dinner on the horizon to put Peck’s Arcade to the test. We reserved two seats at the “Chef’s Table,” which I expected to be the counter right by the open kitchen where I could watch the dishes come together. Instead, we were given what I would call “Chef’s Table Once Removed,” which was an awkward table behind the actual Chef’s Table. Mostly I could just see the backs of everyone enjoying the real viewing experience.
But of course the real test was the food. We ordered the Chef’s Selection for $60, which is a mystery combination of four to five plates from the menu. Even though everything sounded good, we were really crossing our fingers that we would get the octopus dish (one of my new favorite foods).
And Peck’s came through.
This was the smallest portion of the plates that we were served, but one of my favorites. The octopus had a fantastic smoky char on the outside, and it was served over some nicely crisp onions, potatoes, and an onion aioli. I do wish they had given us a little more on the plate.
Another standout was the burrata dish, served with shaved butternut squash and pepitas (yes, there is actually a ball of delicious cheese underneath it all in the picture below).
At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about the butternut squash being raw, but when it was mixed with the soft and slightly runny mozzarella and the little pops of crunchy pumpkin seeds, I appreciated all of the textures together. This dish also had some very subtle but interesting flavors from fresh herbs and something that added a little spice. They were light touches that didn’t overpower the rest of the experience, which to me was all about the textures.
We also liked the mushroom dish, which had big meaty wild mushrooms mixed with hazelnuts and fregola (similar to a big Israeli couscous type of pasta). This dish was more savory and rich than some of the others, so it was a good change of pace in the middle of the sequence.
Our least favorite of the small plates was a bowl of littleneck clams with kimchi and greens, but that’s mostly because neither of us really enjoy kimchi that much. The clams were fine, and I’m not enough of an expert to opine on the quality of the kimchi, but I do know that we didn’t really eat much of the broth or the toppings.
I also felt a little unexcited about our pasta dish – gnocchi served in a fra diavolo sauce and topped with a hefty mound of ricotta cheese and fresh basil.
The gnocchi were also fine, but not out-of-this-world amazing. Maybe it’s because I’m fresh off my pasta-centric trip to Italy and I’m now that annoying person that’s always talking about how nothing here compares to the real deal. But in this case it was hard to ignore the comparison. I also think the sauce could have used some more spice if it was going to be advertised as fra diavolo – it barely had any zip to it at all.
Final Rating: 8.5/10. The final verdict is that I don’t necessarily think Peck’s Arcade is the “best” food in the region, although it’s definitely in the top tier. I like what this place is doing, and I do think it’s pretty unique. There are a lot of ingredient combinations and styles of food preparation on the menu that I haven’t seen at other restaurants, and it’s clear that the dishes are extremely well thought out. Ultimately I just felt like some of the flavors were a little more tame than I was hoping for, and I didn’t leave feeling completely blown away by a few of the dishes. But this place does get props for a very creative menu and for doing small plates right – diverse selections that are big enough to be shareable but small enough to leave room for several courses.