Slow-braised beef short ribs are the perfect dish for a cold winter night. Rich, heavy, filling, they are quintessential comfort food. And with a long, frigid winter that just won't quit, it's a fitting meal for the first week of March.
That said, it isn't terribly hard to make braised short ribs taste good. So for a time I held off on writing about the Midtown Tap & Tea Room's Vanilla Porter Braised Beef Short Ribs, despite how much I enjoyed them when I first tried the dish last summer, thinking I could probably get a comparably tasty version at many other area restaurants.
But a recent bad experience with short ribs at a different restaurant made me reevaluate -- and re-try -- the Tap & Tea Room's version.
With the lingering memory of those bad short ribs -- tough, grayish, unseasoned -- in mind, I found exactly what I was looking for at the Tap & Tea Room in Albany: short ribs so tender that a knife was unnecessary, with a lovely depth of flavor.
Midtown's ribs are accompanied by a sauce made with the braising liquid. This unctuous sauce features Breckenridge Vanilla Porter, a beer that's brewed with vanilla beans. That might sound odd, but there are recipes for braising short ribs that call for everything from red wine to sweeter additions such as Dr. Pepper. And I'm particularly fond of the way the Vanilla Porter works in this dish.
I've enjoyed this beer on several occasions and found its incorporation of real vanilla bean to be mellow and smooth. But the vanilla itself doesn't necessarily register in the sauce for this dish. Rather, the porter's roasty, malty flavor is perceptible. And after the long, slow braise the beer blends well with the other elements, such as the carrots that add an extra bit of sweetness and earthiness. When the sauce is combined with the beef, the result is incredibly satisfying.
If you'd like to pair the beer with the dish, the vanilla porter is on tap at the restaurant.
The Tap & Tea Room serves these short ribs with two sides, both vegetables. The first -- which doesn't seem to change -- is a combination of roasted Brussels sprouts and a few bits of corn. Some parts of the Brussels sprouts are browned and crispy, and the slight bitterness present is a nice complement to the rich short ribs. Another vegetable, this one a seasonal selection, is also served with the short ribs. Late last summer the Tap & Tea Room included carrots; in my recent winter excursion they served braised rainbow chard, which not only looks lovely on the plate but also provides both sweetness and earthiness.
And at $16, the price seems fair considering the portion size: three generously-sized pieces of beef that had been removed from their bones, along with those two sides.
The atmosphere at the Midtown Tap & Tea Room is comfortable and inviting. Enjoying these short ribs beside the warmth of the restaurant's fireplace, it was easy to forget just how cold and long this winter has been.
Jeff Janssens writes about food and beer at The Masticating Monkey.
Midtown Tap and Tea Room
298 New Scotland Ave
Albany, NY 12208
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