Saturday, December 16, 2006

Home Made Egg Nog and Food Porn

Lookee what I did!
It's food porn! Isn't that the most luscious thing you've ever seen?

I just finished making my annual batch of egg nog in time for the solstice/Hannukah. Making it was a sensual experience. I may be slightly tipsy right now. But I only had, like, maybe 1/3 cup of the stuff. I love making egg nog. First, there was shopping for the freshest organic ingredients at the Troy Farmer's market. It's important to get only fresh organic eggs, milk, and cream, because it has to last for a while. The ingredients get to sit and deepen for about a week.

Okay this is where I say that you are technically *NOT SUPPOSED* to use raw eggs. Legal disclaimer: Nosher and her dependents and household items and her future progeny DO NOT recommend you eat raw eggs! Don't! Okay?!? Click here for scary USDA warnings about it. They recommend pasteurized eggs when you have to use raw eggs in a recipe. And here it says that "According to a recent USFDA report, between 128,000 and 640,000 Salmonella infections are annually associated with the consumption of S. Enteritidis-contaminated eggs, and the CDC estimates that 75% of all Salmonella outbreaks are due to raw or inadequately cooked Grade A whole shell eggs." Almost 600 people die in America every year from Salmonella infections. So, consider this a major caveat.

I buy all my eggs from Cornell Farms. They are from free range chickens. Dale & Edna Cornell
Cornell Farms
292 Lower Pine Valley Rd.
Hoosick Falls, NY 12090

They carry: "Dried/fresh herbs, vegetables, berries, honey, maple syrup, eggs, cut flowers, crafts."

Then I whip up the eggs (I'm not disclosing my full recipe here, but there are plenty of great egg nog recipes floating around on the web, so you can experiment and put one together). Then I feel warm inside looking at the beautiful yellow color of the yolks.

It's the color of the returning sun. Now I have to go pack up the bottles and ship them off to all the good little girls and boys.

This has been a nog blog (yuk yuk).

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Café Utopia in Mrs. London's

If I could have my way in the world without the restraints of reality, I would eat every day at Mrs. London's in Saratoga. In fact, I would live there. I can't think of enough good things to say about it. In every way it is the ideal café, with the highest quality European style pastries, cakes, espresso drinks and teas. Even their chinaware is of the best quality. And their almond croissants are as good as the best almond croissants in Paris (and I've tasted lots of them both in Paris, and here).

But that doesn't even begin to explain why I love Mrs. London's. Here is a photo of their famed chocolate nebula, a cake of chocolate mousse of such featherweight chocolate heaven and ethereal beauty it approximates the ideal afterlife in chocolate. I've been to Mrs. London's many times, and each time it seems to be even better than what I had remembered. Last week I went there after an incredible spa experience at esthetiques-- my birthday present to myself. I would recommend esthetiques, although they don't have the mineral waters of the Lincoln Baths or Crystal Spa nearby. Anyway, I was already on cloud nine, but eating at Mrs. London's was in itself a transformative healing experience.
I went hoping that they would have my favorite soup, a simple cream of tomato served with grated cheddar that is out of this world. They didn't have it, but they did have a white bean pureé soup that was so good I can't stop thinking about it. It was flavored with rosemary and had a blush of tomato coloring in it, and was just so simple yet so delicious that I became determined to learn how to cook it at home myself.

See how they drizzle top-quality olive oil on the top of the soup? Doing that really enhances the flavor, which was just sublime. I was lucky enough to be in the café at the same time as Mrs. London herself, who explained to me that the soup was actually quite easy, and she makes it with dry beans that need to be soaked, but in a pinch one can make it with canned. Although the dry really are so much better. Beans, some tomato-- a little, not too much-- rosemary, and sage were the ingredients, and some stock.

They have sandwiches and salads at Mrs. London's as well as those stupendous soups, and I am thrilled to announce that they are in the process of expanding to become more of a restaurant. Along with the soup, they serve toothsome fresh bread and a generous pat of butter that is always at the exact right temperature for spreading, and not at all salty or unctuous. I suspect it is European butter.

Here is my full meal, including a pot of jasmine tea and a dessert:

My dessert, called Night and Day, uses the same airy chocolate mousse as the Nebula, but is swirled with fine, light layers of white cake, and topped with dark chocolate. It is just not possible to enter Mrs. London's and go without ordering a dessert. They are works of art-- some of them small domes decorated with tiny sugary honeybees, some of them elegant swirls of chocolate, and yet others classic tarts with perfect berries perched on top.

I swear, when I enter Mrs. London's, my heart rate relaxes and I feel I can breathe again knowing that the world is civilized and there is time for beautiful pastries and real espresso drinks and tea. Their decor is so classy and warm and just right, too. I usually find myself having enlightened thoughts about the state of the world. It is really food satori. But I do not consider Mrs. London's to be 'above and beyond' or 'only for special occasions.' Foods that take time and love to create are essential to life. Granted, it would be pretty unrealistic to eat at Mrs. London's every day (who knows, though? Maybe someone exists out there who does! If you are out there, write me and tell me what it's like to be in heaven, okay?), especially considering that I don't even live in Saratoga. But when I need to be reminded of perfection, I know where I to go.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

EATS at Stuyvesant Plaza

This is going to be brief, but I want to recommend EATS Gourmet Marketplace in Stuyvesant Plaza. They're a small deli/catering outfit with excellent stuff: Tate's cookies, a dairy section with imported yogurts, spreads and the like, smoked salmon, a sandwich of the day, gourmet chocolates, and a mix of Jewish and non-Jewish deli foods like chopped liver (it looks really good!), egg and potato salads, knishes, and stuffed grape leaves.

And their web page has photos! It's a good thing, because I forgot my camera.

My favorite item there is the Brie de la Brie. It's the authentic stuff! I don't know anywhere else around here where you can find actual Brie from Brie. The Coop has some, but it's not quite as good as at EATS.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Nicole's Italia in Guilderland and "family values" food

Last night (Sunday) I went to see a movie at Crossgates with a friend. Afterwards we wanted to get something to eat and didn't want to deal with Houlihan's or Uno's at the mall (noisy, food not great). So we tried Nicole's Italia, which is about a mile west of the mall on Western Ave (Rte 20) in what is known as the "20 mall." It's near the Guilderland public library.

Nicole's has a web page, but I can't get it to click on anything.

As my goal was to escape the whole mall feeling, I felt that all in all, we had really just traded one mall for another, since Nicole's is in a large strip mall wedged near Hollywood video. The food at Nicole's was *okay* but overall I don't think I'd go back there. Next time I'm near the mall I will try BFS restaurant, but unfortunately they are closed Sundays.

We shared the bruschetta for appetizer, and that was good in a grilled-cheesey kind of way; it was on the same warm fresh white bread that was set on our table when we arrived. (And doh! I forgot my camera so I couldn't take a picture of anything! Dammit!) Then I had a Caesar salad, which was good, but unremarkable. It was a salad of the dark outer leaves of Romaine, and a so-so dressing that didn't have any of that tangy-salty bite I love. (In the case of an actual Caesar salad, I would have tasted fresh garlic and anchovy paste).

Our waiter was helpful and the service was good. We didn't have to wait at all-- that's the good news. On the other hand, the atmosphere in Nicole's Italia is something between grandmother's living room circa 1975 and the foyer of a funeral home. Lots of mauve and pink and candles on the tables with a partition between the main dining room and the bar made of that cut-glass that was so popular in the 80s. Their bathroom was clean.

My main course was the Gamberi Ortolano, "Lightly battered shrimp, sauteed with broccoli, mushrooms, mozarella in a marinara cream sauce over fettuccini." Oy! Too too much. I should have known from the description, but your Nosher is ever-optimistic and hopeful that her culinary dreams will be realized. The cream sauce was okay but a little bit watery, and there was overall too much mozarella. DeFazio's in Troy does a much better marinara-cream sauce (they call it Rosario). And as usual my portion was way too big, with the signature “family restaurant” mozarella melted and draped over everything like smog in a developing country.

The shrimps were somewhat overcooked (or perhaps just not very fresh) and absolutely buried in layers of fried stuff then sauce then cheese, until it almost didn't matter that I had ordered shrimp at all. It might as well have been tofu or chicken nuggets or eyeballs in there.

Why, one wonders, is this food burial dining referred to as “family” style? I consider "family style" these days to be a euphemism, but for what? Is it perhaps a reference to the sedentary nature of most American families, who like to eat doughy bread and deep-fried everything? Or is it our repression-- we repress our shrimps as we repress our emotions in family life? Is there something politically conservative about people who have resisted the changes wrought by the gourmet movement (a la The United States of Arugula) that aligns them with the “family values” crowd? I do suspect that the people who bring you food unchanged from the 1970s are the same ones who resist changing definitions of family like gay marriage and women's rights. Repression, smothered shrimp, backwards politics-- it's all the same, man!

Albany, apparently, is one of those outposts that has resisted changes both political and culinary, where diners can still glut on major splooges of melted mozarella.

To you, dear reader, this may be a good or a bad thing. For me, it inspired a dream last night in which I had moved back to New York City.

My friend got chicken parmigiana, which looked quite good, and he enjoyed it. It came with a generous side of linguini.

Then came dessert: I asked the waiter what he would recommend-- the strawberry shortcake, or the tiramisu. His vote was for the tiramisu. It was okay, but I must remark that it was the first time I ever had a tiramisu that came with whipped cream (the kind from a can) and chocolate goop, like as in Hershey's from a squeeze bottle.


Usually tiramisu = lady fingers soaked in espresso with mascarpone and bittersweet chocolate. Click here for good normal recipes for tiramisu at Heavenly tiramisu!! I've eaten tiramisu all over the world, and it took good ole Albany to put doubt in my heart about it. Now whenever I want to order it, part of me will hesitate, wondering: are they going to serve the tiramisu with chocolate squeeze sauce and whipped cream?

My friend's pecan pie was pretty good, with a butterscotchy rich flavor, but I had only one bite-- it was really sweet, and more might have felled me right there to the mauve carpeted floor.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Fishy tales

I've been on a fishing adventure, sailing the high seas of-- well-- Central Ave., mostly. Alas, the Capital Region doesn't have a single great independent fresh fish market. You'd think we'd be awash in fish, since we're so close to Boston and New York harbors. But overfishing has affected the market, and it seems harder to get fresh fish in general. Buying fish has also become an ethical puzzle: do I go for the fish with higher mercury content that's not endangered? Or the endangered but safe-for-me fish?
There are a few places you can find good fresh fish in the Capital Region. Above is a photo of some of the fare at the China Supermarket on Colvin Ave. Based on what I saw there the one day I looked at the fish, I would not rely on them. However, they did have fresh (live) crabs... and more.

Covered in this review:

Cousins Fish Market
581 Livingston Ave
Albany, NY 12206
(518) 449-8830

Price Chopper
716 Hoosick Rd
Troy, NY 12180
(518) 266-9947

China Supermarket
91 Colvin Avenue, Albany

I also heard about a place near the Home Depot plaza in East Greenbush that I have yet to check out.

First I went to Cousins, with great hopes of dockside barrel talk and Nor'easters. Alas, 'twas not so. I did buy some shrimp there, and I'm still alive after eating them, so that's the good news. Oddly, some of the shrimp tasted really good, but a few of them (I had maybe 5 or 6) tasted of iodine. I hear that's got something to do with what the shrimp eat, and it's not unhealthy. But it is irksome.
Cousins seems to serve a vital function as a neighborhood grocery/deli, with lots of takeout meats. You can even buy things like pasta and sauce there. But much of their fish and shellfish were frozen. In addition, the fish didn't look too appetizing: some of the fillets were lying in their own fish juice, not on well-drained ice, as they should be.

I'm not going to completely knock Cousins, because it's an independent store, and apparently they've been in Albany forever. And this Times Union writeup, from 2000, highly recommends their fish fry, which I did not get to try:
Cousins courtesy Times Union

Next on my menu was the China Supermarket on Colvin Ave., just off the busy Central Ave. across from Westgate Plaza.

Let me say right away that I really like the China Supermarket, and rely on them for some Chinese herbs that I use. They have absolutely wonderful, and incredibly low-priced spices, beans, rice, condiments, and an impressive produce aisle with fresh bok choy, long green beans, scallions, and the like. It's worth going to the China Supermarket for these things. However, the fish department seems touch and go.

This was a picturesque barrel of fresh crabs. I haven't the foggiest clue how to cook a crab, plus I'd have to kill it first, so I didn't jump for those.

I do feel I must point out that they also have fresh, live frogs. They do not look like happy frogs. They especially do not seem happy when a customer chooses them from their crowded tank to be placed in a suffocating plastic bag, from which they are summarily taken to have their heads chopped off.

Yes, I am a vegetarian partly because I don't believe it's right to eat animals. I draw my own personal line at fish. I don't eat fish often, but I do believe I need to eat some protein to stay healthy, and I like fish. Frogs have legs, so they just seem too close to 'animal' for my comfort.

At the same time, I must here point out that, in the China market's favor is that these are undeniably fresh. And I would vastly prefer supporting the China market, which is an independent business, and suffering whatever qualms I may as I pass by the frogs (and turtles), rather than patronize a big box style grocery store--where animal suffering may not be on immediate display, but you know it is lurking everywhere in the details. For surely it is a far worse crime that millions of chickens are raised in squalid conditions, debeaked, diseased, than that a small market play a small role in frog despair, when the market's benefit to the community is so great. In case you need to be convinced about the chickens, (click here for graphic depictions of the disgustingness that is the poultry industry in the US).

I can't help the way I feel about animals. But I can make educated choices.

Alas, for fresh fish, my choice is with the local supermarket chains, for reliability and freshness. I was really impressed by the knowledge of the fish department at the Price Chopper in Brunswick, where they had *fresh* : cod, Atlantic flounder and pollock, monkfish, swordfish, catfish (one of Ocean's Alive 'best' fish choices) and clams.

They also had pre-frozen fish, much of which, they explained, is "frozen at sea," which I guess seals in the freshness. They didn't say "flash" frozen, which is a new process used by fishermen now. I will have to enquire further.

In terms of frozen they had West Coast salmon steaks, wild USA shrimp, and many other things. They also had farmed tilapia (but farmed fish is not supposed to be good for the environment), and Wild Alaskan smoked salmon (which is okay for the environment but has lots of salt in it, which makes me retain water, which makes me seem to weigh more than I really do...).

Conclusion: you can do pretty well, either at Price Chopper in Brunswick or the Hannaford in Latham (I can't speak for the other locations-- anyone out there know?)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Where's the FISH??!

Forget where’s the beef. Where is the seafood in the Albany area? I’m a vegetarian who eats seafood, and I know fresh fish is healthy, low in bad fats, and high in healthy brain-food omega fatty acids. We in Albany live a mere three hours from Boston, and less than three hours from New York City up the Hudson River, so you’d think that this would be a watery, swimmin’ hub of seafood activity.

It is *so* not.

In today's blog I will cover restaurants. Next up, actual purveyors, where one can (in an ideal world) buy fresh fish to take home and cook.

A little background: the salmon I had at Tai-Pei the other week was some of the worst salmon I’ve ever had in my life, *counting* airplane food. After that horrid experience, I was determined to find fresh fish. I'm a woman with a mission. I already knew that Jack’s Oyster House is top of the list, with fresh fish prepared elegantly in a classy, Old Albany style setting.

Next comes the Real Seafood Co, although there’s a BIG distance between Jack’s and Real Seafood in classiness. Real Seafood is a more down-home, family friendly, almost diner-esque type restaurant, which you’d expect on Wolf Road. Real Seafood Co. is at 195 Wolf Road in Albany, tel. 518-458-2068.

My first experience with Real Seafood Co. was last week. Even though I’ve lived here for 8 years, I’d never wanted to go to this restaurant on Wolf Road with the huge lurid neon octopus sign out front (pictured above). It just looked-- scary. Kind of like the sleazy motel version of seafood. But then I heard from someone that it was actually a good place. So we went. And I was immediately reassured by the impressively long menu: name the fish, and you can pretty much get it here. And by the oyster bar, and the helpfully informative background on fish on their web page. They have total disclosure here in terms of what comes from where when, which is excellent.

Although, of note is that some of their fish is not top-of-the-line. The salmon is farmed, not Wild Alaskan salmon. Most of their seafood does seem to be fresh from the East coast, however, which is good. Click HERE for a printable list from Oceans Alive of ecologically and healthy fish choices to make!!!!! You NEED to take this list with you to ensure that you are not ordering something full of mercury or creatures from depleted stocks.

The good news first: my main course, which was the Lemon Cod, was excellent. Fresh, cooked just right, and with a simple breaded buttery lemony crumb and a side of sweet potato fries, this is just what I look for when I’m needing some extra omega-3s and sixes. Most of their main dishes come with potato and veg, and prices are reasonable.

Now the not-so-good news:

We waited. And we waited. And then, we had to wait. I’m talking, I watched my nails grow into talons while we waited for, first our appetizers--nothing exciting here: Asian-style tuna spring rolls, in which the tuna was indistinguishable from any other meat-unidentifiable object-or-tofu filler; and my clam chowder, which was abysmal--only a few languid clams, NOT fresh, in a Campbell’s-Cream-Soupy glutinous pasty broth-- then our main course. I swear my hair grew about an inch as we waited.

We arrived around 8:45, and there was a decent crowd, but not anywhere near a full house. So why the incredibly agonizing wait, while we watched the ornamental fishies in their aquariums swim doomfully around and around, and commented on and noted each object of acqueous decor (the fish-shaped planter, the jellyfish-like lamp)? Then, to add insult to injury, they started using a battery operated vacuum near our table as we finally started in on our main courses. I hate it when it's only 9:30 and restaurant staffers start cleaning up around you as you eat. Anyway, I know the wait was not due to lack of staff.

The other bad thing: my husband does not eat seafood, so we need a restaurant where he can also find good things to eat. And Real Seafood Co. does not, so far, do the trick here. They only have a couple of steaks and one pasta dish as non-fishy options. He asked if he could get the pumpkin ravioli appetizer as his main dish, which they courteously agreed to. It was basically pumpkin pie filling in ravioli, smothered in, again, a kind of Campbell’s-Cream-of-Mushroomey sauce.


But-- silver lining--my main course was very very good. Next time I go to this restaurant, I’m skipping the appetizer and asking to sit near the kitchen so we can be within closer nagging distance of the waitstaff. Or just telling my credit card to shut up and going to Jack’s.

Next: Cousins’, Hannaford/Price Chopper, Lee’s Market, suffering frogs, foreign national shrimps, and dull-eyed urchins!!!! Stay tuned at dish and dirt.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Not impressed with Tai-Pan

Tai Pan is in Half Moon, on Route 9, in a good location. What I mean by this is that if you liked their food, it would be easy to get there, from Clifton Park, Troy, Loudonville and Latham. Tai Pan is on 1519 Route 9, in Halfmoon; tel. 383-8581

But unfortunately, Tai Pan is very far away. I forgot. I forgot I didn't like their food, and it's not worth driving 20 minutes there. Then this weekend I thought suddenly, "Why don't we try Tai Pan?" It has an aura of respectability about it lacking in some of my favored dining institutions of the Capital Region. People who dress nicely go there to eat. I'd heard good things about their dim sum.

The building itself is nice, spacious inside with lots of wood. Nothing fancy, but it feels welcoming. The menu offers plentiful choices, with soups from Chicken or Vegetable Coconut soup with basil and lime to Lentil soup with mustard oil, tomato and chives. Appetizers also range from Thai and Vietnamese, with Vietnamese pork kebabs and Grilled pancake wrap with roasted duck, cucumber and cream sauce-- to Chinese (Dragon and Phoenix, Evil Jungle Prince-- sounds exciting!). I don't really know where to classify something called Orange 'n Steak 'n Scallop-- maybe Chinese-Hillbilly? Anyway, it sounded good and there *seemed* to be lots of yummy ethnically diverse fusiony choices. So I got the Laksa Lamak ("Spicy and sour rice noodle w/shrimp, bean curd puffs, and silky coconut broth") to start, which the waitress informed me was really the same thing as the vegetable coconut soup w/lime. Huh? Okay maybe I misunderstood, because it didn't have any lime flavor in it, and was instead a rather spicy curry soup. Not bad, but a bit too much, both size and spice-wise, for an appetizer. The curries on the whole here seemed muddy.

The other thing I must mention here is that everything took sooooo loooong that I was ready to schedule a hair dye appointment because I was greying. There seemed to be only one waitress for a fairly large section of the restaurant, and the restaurant itself is spacious, so she would just disappear for long periods of time. Lots of other people seemed to be waiting, too. How many of those crispy fried noodles can you eat with mustard sauce and duck sauce? I'd say that between our appetizers and main courses maybe about 40 minutes elapsed.

My husband's Vegetarian Rice Paper Rolls were quite good, despite not having any sweet potato as promised. For his main dish he ordered the sweet potato curry dish, which I tasted-- it was just okay. The curries here seem to be of the more heavy, confused variety (lots of cumin and turmeric and heat), not the bright vivid curries I tend to favor (I like freshly ground spices, cardamom, mustard seed, etc.). Anyway so his dish was okay, but mine was really horrible: I got the Grilled Salmon on Udon noodles, and first of all the salmon was dry. Second of all, nothing was particularly hot (temperature wise). Thirdly, the salmon came with a viscous sort of sauce on top, which seemed nothing more than some oyster sauce.

I brought home the portion of salmon I didn't eat for my cats.

Note to Albany business leaders, government officials, and entrepreneurial chefs: WE NEED WAY MORE GOOD RESTAURANTS HERE. Do something about this, someone. There is a lot of money here to be spent. People are desperate for good places to go out to eat. Places that aren't stuck in some sort of weird 20th century time warp. Please. Okay? Eliot Spitzer, I'm counting on you.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Home made soup from my garden

I cannot tell a lie: I prefer eating at home these days, mostly because my garden is bursting with produce. This is a picture of the yellow tomato soup I made the other day.

It was delicious and had a real tomato-ey flavor, despite the yellow color. It had exactly two ingredients:

1) Lillian's yellow heirloom tomatoes from my garden and
2) garlic, also from my garden.

It doesn't get much easier than that!
First, I boil the tomatoes each for about a minute, and peel the skins off. (The tomatoes get hot and can burn your hands, but if you wait another minute, it won't hurt!) Then quarter them and put them in a pot with garlic. Let simmer for about an hour, longer if you want a thicker soup. Then put all in a blender.

This is the way food is meant to be eaten: really fresh, totally organic of course, and just brimful of flavor.

Now, if we could only get some restaurants around here with the same philosophy....
Does anyone else around here grow Lillian's yellow? They are absolutely my favorite tomato, even better than the red tomatoes. I don't know why, they just are. They also come very late in the season. I've always been fond of late bloomers.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Illium Cafe: Where It's At

Troy is no longer lacking for coffee houses. We used to have just one-- the Daily Grind-- and now we have four and counting (Daily Grind, which moved a year or so ago to Third Street; Java ++, next to RPI; Illium Cafe; Shake Shake Mamas; and for a while the mysterious Mean Bean, whose atmosphere was just as uninspired as its coffee and food selections).

I want to get this out of the way up front: "Illium" as a word does not exist. There are two meanings for the spelling "Ilium" (*one* "L"): one of them means "Troy" (as in our intended meaning here); the other means part of the large intestine.


So "Illium" is some new kind of meaning. Oh and another thing to get out of the way: The Illium Cafe web site does not appear to be working at this moment. I'm including the link in case it decides to get its act together, though. Illium Cafe site here soon we hope.

And for me anyway, the jury is still out on exactly what this cafe will mean to Troy, as in Ilium, as in Ilium fuit, Troja est. For the past year or so, the Ilium cafe, despite its ideal location, was a fairly humdrum cafe, with just-okay coffee, some good tea choices, and dicey food. Once, I had a piece of quiche there that was the worst quiche I've ever had. And quiche should be easy to make!

Anyway, now there is a new owner and chef, Larry Shepici, whose Tosca Grill will be opening soon-- in November.

My first experience at the new and improved Illium was wonderful. I ordered a soup of the day-- there are usually two or three choices-- and it was one of the best potato soups I've ever had, potato with jalapeno. It was smooth and creamy with none of that watery taste that can sometimes bog a good potato soup down. It came with homemade croutons on top-- just the right touch. For dessert I had a slice of chocolate polenta cake, which was good and mysteriously trendy (see recent entry on Nicole's Bistro at Quackenbush). I can't say I'd order it again, but it was better than the choices used to be.

My second experience was okay, but not as blissful. I got the grilled vegetables on ciabatta, and it was just so-so. Plus, the service had started to annoy me; both times I've been there there has been some confusion as to where I place my order, when I pay, and exactly how the food is to be conveyed to my table (or not). Sometimes they bring the food over but sometimes (as when I ordered on my second visit a peanut butter cookie) they leave it sitting on the counter for you to pick up.

Plus, on my second visit I was sitting in front of two people who were apparently just released from the mental hospital. Now, I am a strong advocate of mental health. However, it is somewhat distressing to be trying to enjoy one's lunch when the conversation nearby consists of hopeless, despairing, and more depressing. ("If you want to be a shut-in, you can be a shut-in." "I'm not that kind of sick. I can't just lie down and get better.")

This is the problem Troy is up against. Troy seems to have attracted, with the power of a magnet, all the wretched, the tired, and the poor that the rest of America no longer has any time for.

However, at least for now, we're getting some decent coffee.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Nicole's Bistro at Quackenbush

For our anniversary, my husband and I went to Nicole's Bistro at Quackenbush, a French restaurant that has gotten excellent reviews in Times Union among other local rags. It's in an old brick building (dating at least to the 1700s, perhaps earlier) with wide worn wood planks and a cozy feel. There's a narrow bar at the front. Nicole's Bistro is located at 25 Quackenbush House Albany, right off 787. They think the building was at one point a Dutch family's kiln and pottery building, and they also think the building served as a garrison during the French and Indian War.

All intriguing stuff, really.

But what really counts is food. And is it good?

I'm going to depart from the other restaurant reviewers and say that honestly, I think you can do better for the money.

I started with a mixed-greens salad, pretty standard, but in with the nice fresh greens were several rotten leaves. And I don't mean just slightly yellow. I mean almost composted, and slimy.

Now, come on!! Everyone knows that when you buy greens, some of them can go bad pretty quickly. But you clean them, and you pick out the bad ones, folks. Don't serve them to your clients at a supposedly fancy restaurant. Yuck.

My husband's tomato and mozzarella appetizer with basil pesto was quite good; they had in-season flavorful tomatoes (why does *he* always luck out?!)

My scallop entry was very good: diver's scallops with a lime-cilantro sauce that wasn't too overpowering. They were fresh and cooked to perfection, and came with slivered carrots and tender haricots verts. My husband got the steak au poivre in brandy sauce, which was quite good, although they did NOT cook it well as he had requested. He was okay with it but really was craving more of the poivre, the pepper flavors, that come with true steak au poivre.

Desserts were only so-so. I got the peach tarte tatin, which was flavorful but texturally disappointing (peaches kinda mushy, and ditto on the crust). Hubs got a slice of the chocolate polenta, which was really a kind of ganache with some polenta in it. It was good, but seems trendy (see: upcoming blog entry on the Ilium cafe!!). And this seems really picky, but they did not fill my one-cup teapot for mint tea with hot water; it was only maybe 3/4 full, and as we were the only ones there at the time, it seemed kind of-- stingy.

The walls are painted pink, there are some charming prints of Albany. But the whole effect of the paint, the somewhat shabby carpeting, the self-consciousness of the whole 'fancy dining' experience--was overweening. A fancy (read: expensive) restaurant should be classy and understated, so that you are made to feel that you are experiencing the ordinary elevated, as it really ought to be. The best upscale restaurants make me think: "Every night should be like this! This is how to live!" Not: "God, this is stuffy and expensive, let's go home and get more comfortable." True fine dining elevates the mundane until it feels beautiful, and makes the exotic comfortable.

The rotten salad greens detail was bad, but oddly, not enough to make me overall nix on the restaurant. No: it was the combination of so-so food (for the price: we paid a total of $97 plus tip, and no drinks) plus the somewhat worn atmosphere more than anything else. There were a number of other parties dining when we got there, but we closed the place (at what, like 9 pm I think. Come on people, we can keep restaurants open longer around here!! This is a complaint against Albany in general, though, not this particular restaurant). Our waiter gave good recommendations, and they kept an eye on us, but something was missing (maybe excitement? Joie de vivre?)

Well, we need fine restaurants, and I wish Nicole's Bistro the best. They are close to something really good, and maybe it's gone downhill since the previous rave reviews. I think what they need is a revamping of the menu (less sauce on the whole, more simplicity, some more vegetarian/pasta entrees), maybe a vacation for the proprietors, and some better feng shui. It can't be good for your karma to be so close to 787 (Take out the old carpeting, paint it red instead of pink, play some soft music and replace those dorky vine-encrusted candle holders on the table with something simple and classic.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Drop everything and go to Moxie's for ice cream.

Before I wrote about how much I liked Coldstone Creamery out in Stuyvesant Plaza, and about the ambience at Snowman. I had not yet tried the ultimate in ice cream: Moxie’s. Moxie’s is far east of central Troy on Spring Ave, and as you drive, you keep thinking, “there can’t possibly be ice cream here, let alone great ice cream.” It becomes rural; crickets chirp and the smells of the countryside sooth you. Then, just when you think there must be some mistake, you see the ginormous bug light, then the Moxie’s sign, and it’s like an oasis of pleasure in the worn down grind that is the Capital District.

I would like to empower you in your search for the good life here, the pleasurable things that aren’t necessary to sustain life, but without which life can become dreary and deadening. It is possible to live la dolce vita in the Capital District, but it takes some doing.

Moxie’s is a roadside stand of ice cream pleasure. And we’re not talking garden variety. We’re talking serious ice cream buffs. There are FIVE different types of vanilla ice cream at Moxie’s, all homemade, depending on where the vanilla bean was imported from (Haitian, Tahitian, Mexican). You can even get a sampler: “around the world with vanilla,” trying all six flavors, plus Moxie’s signature flavor, blue moon-- and a bottle of water “to cleanse your palate.” There is a flavor called Horchata, that has a creamy cinnamoney flavor (it is based on a rice pudding-like concoction). There is a flavor called chocolata peppercino, which is chocolate with a little aftertaste of spicy heat. These are all excellent flavors, and much much better than anything else I’ve had in the area. Not all the flavors are great: for example, fig was a disappointment (not much flavor, tasted too much like plain vanilla), and the pomegranate cherry was not as vibrant as it could be, either. Tonight, I had a sundae, and the fudge sauce is only so-so (I prefer my hot fudge really dark chocolate; this was too sweet). And the whipped cream, although supposedly from a better brand, was out of a can and not impressive (Ben and Jerry's has the real whipped cream).

Despite these minor flaws, there is a European influence here, and the proprietress has traveled to Italy when not running Moxie’s, during the winter. This year she plans to go to El Salvador, and says we’ll just have to see what new flavors get inspired by her travels there. Moxie’s has its own lovely backyard park with lots of space to run around and playground equipment for children, and picnic tables where you can sit and enjoy your icy confection.

Another benefit here is that the sizes are reasonable: a regular cup consists of two scoops of ice cream, not a whole pint. This is sensible! This is good. Prices are very reasonable, with a regular cone at $2.95; you can buy a half gallon of this heavenly stuff for $6.15.

Moxie’s is a family business, having been started by a father and now being run by his daughter. It’s in Wynantskill, at 1344 Spring Ave. Other flavors that sound good I have ended up not liking: the fig doesn’t have much ‘figgy’ flavor, and the cherry pomegranate was similarly disappointing. However, when they get it right here, they get it so right that it is downright addictive.

Moxie’s remains open only as long as supplies last. As of tonight (8/16/06) they estimate staying open only until the 29th. They aren’t making any more ice cream, and already the vanillas are gone (except for a vanilla with peppermint). So go now, and enjoy summer while it lasts.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

At the Farmer's Market: Vegan Creations

I took this photo a week ago of Rada and Nena, purveyors of Vegan Creations at the Troy Farmer's Market. Their cookies are one of the weapons in my diet arsenal. See, I have to have something sweet to nibble on during the day. Most days around 3 p.m. I hit this real low. I get a craving for some little tidbit or sweet morsel to go with a cup of tea or decaf. But this can lead to a cookie here, a piece of cake there... and before you know it I'm up a waist size.

The solution is to nosh on something delicious and tasty but light. Enter Vegan Creations, with the just-right-sized cookies they sell in many flavors. My favorite are the double chocolate and the regular chocolate. Just one or two of these fulfills my craving, and you see since they are Vegan, there is no sinful butter or egg.

Just for the record, I am not vegan. I am a lacto-ovo-fisho vegetarian. But vegan baking intrigues me (it's such a challenge: how to make delicious baked goods without the dairy or eggs?). It's not often well met. But Vegan Creations have figured out how to do it, at least for the things I've tried.

They also sell baklava, and things like carrot cake. Some of their delights are wheat- free as well, and their card says they specialize in seitan.

Their telephone number is: 518-479-5112
They also take orders.

The other intriguing development here is that they say they will soon start selling their baked goods at a vegetarian cafe that's supposed to be opening up in Averill Park (not far from Troy) called Slow Jed's Mud House Inc.

Here is their web site, but the links don't seem to work yet: Slow Jed's

More when I know for sure what the story is.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Brown's Brewery: Mixed Results. Too Damn Noisy Last Night.

Brown's Brewery in Troy on River Street is a perfectly adequate place to go most of the time. It is not one of my favorite places. But after discovering last night that Al Baraki closed at 9, we were left with hungry tummies and not too many options. So Brown's it was.

They seated us quickly, our waitress was friendly and efficient, and the menu offers a wide range of options. It's your typical brewery fare, although I read an article that I can't seem to find online that says there is a new chef there now.

I ordered the linguini with clams and white sauce, which was quite good. I am somewhat of a stickler about my linguini vongole, and this one passed the test. (Although don't expect actual parmesan cheese here. It came with one of those little shake jars with the crumbly kind of parmesan, not the real stuff). It was adequate (I seem to be using that word a lot, but it does describe the food, at least so far).

Some things they do really well: burgers. I don't eat meat but their vegetarian burger is one of the very best I've had. I've had the salmon there before, and it was just okay, not really great. I think they have a new version of it on the menu now, but I'm not eager for it, based on the mediocre quality of version the first.

My husband got the Reuben, and he complained that the corned beef in it this time was chipped. Apparently other times he's gotten it, it's come in the whole form that is preferable.

And the onion rings he ordered were below par. First of all there were exactly 6 onion rings of a standard size. That's not very many. The sauce they came with was basically just plain mayonnaise with flecks of something in it (pepper? I don't know. It didn't have any flavor). And they were doughy, not crunchy.

The other bad thing about Brown's last night was it was so noisy. They had this guy who was channelling Van Morrisson or Creedence Clearwater Revival or just drunk folk guy and I couldn't hear myself talk. So we skipped dessert and left early. Too bad, because I would have liked to try their Porter Chocolate cake.

This remains a standby, a kind of backup plan for us. And, it is a good place to go for beer. But beer alone doesn't make a restaurant.

76 Diner in Latham: Always Open, Always Something Good

The 76 Diner in Latham is exactly what every diner should be: open all the time, warm and welcoming, and chock-full of so many different options (breakfast all day, dessert all day, Greek salad, shrimp scampi, steak....) that it boggles the mind where they store all that food. How do they keep all those options in readyness, at a moment's notice, 24 hours a day? Plus the beverages.

The 76 Diner is located on 722 Loudon Road, Latham, tel. 785-3793.

They have a lovely dessert case that greets you and gets the salivary glands going just as you walk in. In it are all kinds of over-the-top things like Napoleons bursting with cream you know isn't good for you, strawberry cheesecake, and cherry and blueberry pies.

We were there the other night after having made an emergency run to the Lowe's in Latham Circle, and I got the broiled Haddock that came with: salad, side vegetable (I chose the spinach with mushroom, very good, almost creamy), potato (I chose the home fries, very good again). The piece de resistance was the garnish: a canned pineapple round with a maraschino cherry in the center on top of a piece of lettuce.

Where else can you go and order broiled Haddock and get a garnish like that, I ask you?! You know that love and care goes into that. And it is the essence of dinertude. My husband got the omelet with tomato and cheese (and home fries) and it was quite good.

Now let's be frank here: we're not talking organic eggs or quaint Berkshire-style diner. We're talking working man's, 24-hour, nightshifters, Greek-food inflected diner. But for what it is, it's at the top of its form.

The waitress, who spoke with a Russian accent, and I had a frank discussion about the fish. Was it fresh? I wondered. Well, she said, don't believe ANYONE if they tell you that fish is fresh at any restaurant, unless it is very very expensive. Almost all fish will be frozen in some way. But, she assured me, this Haddock would be good. I appreciated her honesty.

And the fish was good. It wasn't the best (or the freshest-- despite what she said, there are levels of freshness) I've ever had, but it was quite good. Better than I expected.

So go. Don't hesitate. And at $23 for two full meals, you can't beat it.

The Great Ice Cream Lick-Off

The Capital Region is blessed with several options for ice cream indulgence. At the risk of my street cred, I am going to endorse as one of my favorites the Cold Stone Creamery chain. We went to the one in Stuyvesant Plaza the other night and it was packed. The ice cream itself is of superior quality, and then there is the whole 'add-in' thing, whereby you personalize your ice cream. You can ask for any kind of mix-in (Snickers, Heath bar, M&Ms, nuts, sprinkles, etc.) and the servers then pound it all into a sludgy cold gooey submission on a marble slab. It's part of a larger trend of everyone being their own movie star/dreammaker/barista/iPod music mixer. They give you choices, and I got the peanut butter/chocolate concoction. It was chocolate ice cream with Reese's peanut butter cups plus actual peanut butter mixed in.

Can I just say YUM?!? Intense chocolateyness, plus peanut buttery goodness.

I was torn, though, and in retrospect I think I should have gotten the strawberry cheesecake concoction or the birthday cake one (actual pieces of birthday cake thrown in, with sprinkles!!!) There will just have to be many other samplings.

I might suggest ordering the smallest size, just because of the richness of the ice cream. It must have a high cream content, so a little bit goes a long way. There's another Cold Stone Creamery in Saratoga.

The other option for ice cream is of course the Ben and Jerry's on Lark Street in Albany. And I'm never going to pass up the chance for good old politically correct and intensely delicious ice cream by them. Plus, they use REAL WHIPPED CREAM!!! That is a big bonus in my book. And their fudge sauce isn't too overly sweet. One of the problems is parking, though: where are you gonna park, say, on a Friday night!??! It's not like there's a whole lot of room to double park with your flashers on while your sweetie runs in and contemplates the 20 or so incredibly delicious flavors.

It's problematic.

The institution we have come to love almost in spite of ourselves right here in Troy is The Snowman in Lansingburgh. Here is an article from the Business Review about ice cream with information about the owner of the Snowman, who makes his ice cream from scratch. Add to that all the soft ice cream options your heart could ever desire (vanilla and orange sherbert swirl for creamsicle effect cone, butterscotch or chocolate dipped cones, low-fat sherbert....) and you have a real conundrum. Pencil in about an hour's time just to decide what on earth out of all this sinful goodness you want. Recently I've had Maple Walnut, which was quite good. Their chocolate is okay, but not nearly as chocolately as Cold Stone's. Snowman tends towards the sweeter side of things, whereas I prefer less sugar, more flavor.

However, the Snowman is a social scene. Go on a Friday or Saturday night around 8 pm and you'll see everyone there: old, young, and in between lined up for their cold sugary goodness. It's so nice to see people out enjoying themselves in the Capital Region, where more often than not people are rushing around being workaholics.

The Snowman is on 5th Ave around 114th Street in Lansingburgh.

The article in the Business Review also mentions a place called Moxie's near Emma Willard which I'd love to try.

Happy lickings folks.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Wild blueberries on State Street

I haven't been active here because I've been battling my demons. I've had an extended period of the major demons. But I'm coming out of it. In the meantime I've relied on DeFazio's pizza and Edie's frozen yogurt (vanilla) as well as the double-chocolate vegan cookies sold at the Troy Waterfront Farmer's Market (subject for another post) to get me through. And of course, now that I'm starting to feel better, the first thing on my mind is food.

Today (a Wednesday, around noon) I was in downtown Troy, and there were three farmer stalls set up on State Street and Third. One woman was selling, among other things (cukes, zucchini, corn, potatoes), tiny wild blueberries. Natch I got some.

That I can buy wild blueberries on State Street in downtown Troy gives me hope, not only for our fair city but for humanity.

Feast well, friends.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Al Baraki: Excellent Lebanese food with heart

Al Baraki is one of the best places to eat in the Capital Region. You may be surprised by that statement, but you shouldn't be: consistently, immigrant and 'ethnic' restaurants in this area outpace more traditional (read: white) eateries for freshness, originality, and heart.

What is heart? Heart is that personal connection to food, that sense of emotional nourishment and connection we get when we eat food prepared with care and love. Too often, that quality is missing from overly corporatized chain restaurants and overbuilt, overly fussy places that try to pass as gourmet, like Provence in Stuyvesant Plaza.

At Al Baraki, you get garlicky, fresh food with great variety and a down-home feeling. Paul and Simone are the proprietors, and the restaurant is situated in what used to be a pizzeria. Apparently, Paul started out selling pizza pie, but was encouraged to prepare foods that reflect his Lebanese heritage. It has been working, and I for one will be going back for more. They had a very successful Lebanese festival recently and they tell me they plan to do it again next year. Also, students, be on the lookout for a promotion in the fall.

Today I had the sampler platter, and usually with these types of platters, I'll like one or two of the samples while the rest are pretty bland. But on the Al Baraki platter, I *loved* everything: the baba ganouj was light and garlicky; the stuffed grape leaf and the makdous (baby eggplant stuffed with walnuts and peppers) were topped with Al Baraki's stupendous, home made garlic mayonnaise (which sometimes you can buy to take home in jars); and the tabbouli was full-bodied with mint and lemon. Another one of their signatures is the homemade turnip pickle. It doesn't sound like much, but it packs a wonderful flavor punch, and they use it as a garnish/side on a lot of their dishes.

They also offer meat dishes such as shawarma (chicken or beef), home made pies (lahm-ajeen, which is ground beef with tomato; or goat cheese pie, which I want to try next); and hot vegetable dishes like mousakaa (this looks like a vegetarian version, with onion, eggplant and chickpeas) or loubieh (green beans cooked with onion and garlic).

Their hours are:
Daily 10:30 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Friday 10:30- 9 p.m.
Closed Sunday

telephone: 270-9404

Today it was nice, so I sat at an outdoor table, but they also have seats inside. Go to Al Baraki; it'll make you want to become a regular.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Emperor's gets another A: dim sum this time

Emperor's has a quiet but persistent way of making its excellence known. Its location and design are unassuming. It's in a small building on Wolf Road, and the decor is comfortable but not flashy. They don't have a huge dining room. But the food is quality and authentic, with fresh ingredients and an extensive menu. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's as good as Shun Lee in Manhattan-- it's not upscale or gourmet--but it does honor to traditional Chinese dishes and has enough variety to please everyone.

This weekend we had dim sum for three, and just about every dish we ordered was excellent: the sticky rice in lotus leaf was one of the best I've had; Chinese broccoli with garlic was good; and the sesame balls were awesome. We also had a variety of dumplings (shrimp, vegetable, etc). I had a hankering for mini-custards, but they were unfortunately out of them. The sesame balls were a deep-fried dough concoction with a bean paste inside that tasted chocolatey and smokey. I'm going to get cravings for those again soon! The spring rolls were filled with fresh vegetables. While we had to wait a while for our order (instead of the various dishes being paraded on carts as they are in big-city Chinatowns), everything was fresh and delicious, and the waiters were helpful and answered all our questions.

Let's be truthful: dim sum is all about heavy, greasy foods (unless you're really virtuous and order from the menu, which you can do here). Yet the food we had wasn't limp or soaked with fat as greasy food can sometimes be. It was crisp on the outside and light and heavenly on the inside. And what better way to start off a new week than with that repleteness that comes from the right combination of salty/savory/oily plus scads of hot tea?

It was slow at 1:30 pm on a Sunday, but the friend we were with said that he's been there at noon and it was more crowded.

Dim sum is such a wonderful ritual, and this afternoon felt like time off from the grind and the worries of life. I'll definitely be going to Emperor's more often.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Latham: Seat of Ho-Hum-ness

I don't know what it is-- maybe all the rain-- but something's been pushing me towards middle-of-the-road experiences lately. I've been burning myself out a bit with an article I'm working on, so that might be it. Anyway I needed a beer, so we went the other night to the Malt River Brewing company in the Latham Circle Mall. The restaurant was eerily quiet for a Saturday night, but that might be because they were about to close for two days of renovations, and we did go on the late side (around 8:30 or so).

They have excellent beers on tap, but I always order a stout, because it's always good. They have fine appetizer selections and bar food like Thai Peanut Wings that have won a Metroland award, and the sweet potato fries, which we got and that come with spicy dipping sauce. I have to stick with Bomber's Burritos as the place for best sweet potato fries in this area, but Malt River's are quite good. Other times I've been there I've gotten their black bean nachos for my main course, and it is just what you'd expect from a huge plate of nachos piled with beans and cheese: it's good but not great, and it loses its appeal when it starts getting cold and congealed.

You can also select from a couple of soups (onion soup, Texas red chili) and salads (they do have a caesar you can get with either chicken or grilled tuna, which is nice to know for dieters). Entrees are heavy on the meat and chicken, with strip steak, Cuban Pork Tenderloin, and Buffalo Meat Loaf. For vegetarians there is a pasta primavera or a tomato sauce and pasta. I got the Caribbean salmon, which came with an orange fruit salsa (really not very spicy, just more like some chopped fruit on the side); it was decent but not anything to distinguish itself. They also have a tuna-steak sandwich that I've gotten before. I've never been tempted by their desserts.

They have pizzas, too, although from the looks of it not that many people order pizzas there. Perhaps it's more of a bar food thing. My dining partner got the Red Barn Burger, which comes mixed with red onion and sun-dried tomato; he wasn't too impressed, since his came less well-done than he likes.

As my dining partner said to sum it up, it's the kind of place you go if there's a group of you all trying to meet somewhere convenient, but it's really not anything to get too excited about. Unless you're up for some beer-- and meat.

Dakota's in Latham: Comfortable Mediocrity

It's been raining so much here that it feels like the Pacific Northwest, and under such conditions, my husband and I hightailed it to Latham, that seat of all things comfortingly middle-of-the-road (and location to the only grocery store in the Capital District with a semi-decent natural foods section--the Hannaford). It's been a while-- like, a year?-- since I've been to Dakota, so it was worth re-testing, especially since they specialize in fish and meat, and I had an appetite for fish.

Dakota is a chain with other restaurants in Connecticut and Massachusetts. When you drive there you pass their wood-carved totem-like bears holding their sign up, and that's only a hint of the Adirondack-cum-American-Indian-pelted-carvings extravanganza that awaits you inside. The decor is an unholy alliance between Great Escapes amusement park style (carvings, fly-fishing wallpaper), an actual museum (they have real American Indian artifacts on display) and one of those stores that used to be on godforsaken highways everywhere that sell moccasins and papoose dolls. They have fireplaces in some of the rooms, which is a real bonus here in the winter. And they have real wood panelling in some areas, as well as life-sized stuffed bears climbing branches as a centerpiece of the main dining room. You have to be in the right mood, but sometimes that kitschy Adirondack style hits the spot. That mood may be psycho-- let's not forget that Humbert Humbert took his Lolita to many kitschy Pioneer themed motels and restaurants-- but I humbly admit that I am an American, and that kind of tacky faux camping stuff brings back memories. (That those memories are of being stuck in some cold smelly roadside campground or highway rest area only makes the restaurant experience seem comparatively better. These designers know what they're doing.) It's nice to imagine that you're in a lodge somewhere when really, you're in predictable Latham: it puts a hazy film over any disquieting reality.

Dakota is a large restaurant, and I've never had to wait more than about 20 minutes there on their busiest night. This time they were busy but we didn't have to wait at all, and it was a Saturday. They used to sell meat, fish, and lobster deli-style, but I don't know if they do that anymore. It seems there have been some changes and they're trying to become even more of a chain than they were, so quality is taking a kick in the pants.

Some things have changed for the worse: the Buffalo bread, to name one important one. It used to be that as soon as you ordered, the waitstaff offered you the Buffalo bread and the salad bar. The Buffalo bread *was* this malty, dark, rich and warm bread that was melt-in-your mouth good. Now, however, it is dry, lighter, and not nearly half as good as it used to be. Even if there were nothing formerly great to compare it to, I would have rejected this version. Another disappointment was that the salad bar is no longer compris: we had to order it separately, at $2.99. The salad bar is still, at that, a good deal: it's buffet style, and has many things to choose from, including some nice marinated vegetables (baby corn, broccoli). However, the carrots I chose with poppy seeds, while they looked spectacular, tasted like cardboard. No farmer's market here.

The choices on the menu are not as sophisticated as they used to be, with more things now surf n' turf style, and fewer types of fish. However, this is a meat-lovers paradise, and one can get things like crab cakes and shrimp dishes. (Forget it if you're a non-fish eating vegetarian, however).

I ordered the trout as my main course from their lighter Grill section of the menu (which they seem to be de-emphasizing: I don't know why, as everything else is overkill), and it was good, but not as good as it used to be. It's gotten heavier, and trout should really be the lightest possible fish, like a whisper. However, if I went back there, I would get the trout again; it did have nice grill flavor. My husband got the sirloin, which is like a hamburger without the bun, and it was good: "juicy and flavorful, better than it used to be. It used to be drier." So some things seem to have improved. "The side dish of onions was a bit-- much," he says, and what he really means is that it was lame. They were sauteed and liquidy, not caramelized as they should have been.

Desserts are still strong here, with a pie a la mode or, what we got, the falling chocolate cake with ice cream.

Overall, this is a good place to go when you know you want and it's fish or meat, and you're not feeling too fussy. It's a good place for a rainy (or snowy) evening, but I'm not going to be a regular there. It's too corporate, and they took away that awesome Buffalo bread.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Francesca's in Troy hits the spot

Well I've been out of commission here for a while because I've been working my butt off on an article that I may actually be paid for. But yesterday I went out to lunch at Francesca's -- it was the rainiest dreariest day we've had so far this spring. It felt more like autumn than summer. And Francesca's made it all better with warm, nourishing soups: I had a mixed-bean soup with vegetables-- it was vegan based, although I had mine with a lovely sprinkle of parmesan on top-- and my lunch compadre had a chickpea soup that she also said hit the spot. Along with our soups we shared a toasted buttered ciabatta roll, which was excellent: fresh and full of that great sourdough flavor. Francesca is accomodating, and they keep a regular group of customers coming back for more at this family operated cafe. They also have sandwiches like turkey, veggie, and roast beef wraps that you can order on different breads, salads (chicken caesar, chef salad), and "gourmet sandwiches" with things like "The Approach" (named after the nicely restored stairway from downtown to RPI) with artichoke hearts and roasted peppers on focaccia.

Desserts are also on tap: we tried chocolate chip cookies and a lemon bar. Both were adequate although the lemon bar crust was bland and mushy, and the lemon part didn't have the tang I usually like. The chocolate chip cookies were of the dry, smaller kind.

Drinks are the usual but they do have an espresso machine where you can get cafe au laits or lattes and steamers.

I definitely want to come back here.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Mezzo Marketplace and Eatery

Mezzo on 340 Hamilton Street, near the intersection with Dove, is a fantastic find. If I lived in downtown Albany, I'd probably be there a lot. They'd get tired of seeing my urbanite face every week. As it is, I have to settle for when I get to Albany and can actually find street parking.

Mezzo has absolutely top-notch deli foods as well as amazing baked goods (when I was there, I saw but didn't try what looked like a giant pie-sized lacy pecan cookie smooshed sandwich-like with some really yummy-looking creamy frosting stuff.) You can treat it like a mini gourmet shopping mart and pick up your fun fruit-shaped marzipans to brighten up someone's day; you can go there and forget you're in Albany for a moment while you sip your European espresso (or latte, chocolate, tea, etc) with baked delicacy of choice; or you can actually do lunch there and sit inside or in the courtyard. The staff is friendly and enthusiastic, and they also do catering and cooking classes.

I sat in the courtyard and had a little plate with crab cakes and roasted vegetables, picking and choosing from their deli counter. The crab cake I ate there was one of the best I've *ever* had anywhere: fresh lump crab meat with a minimum of the other stuff or breadcrumbs that seem to weigh down even the best-intentioned crabs. (I like to think of myself as a crab with only the best intentions!) I saw, but didn't pounce on (yet) their salmon (not sure if it's baked or poached) filet, some great looking pasta salads and chicken salads. Pestos, people! They actually have pestos in Albany, and it's only, what, 25 years after the gourmet food revolution?!?

Did I forget to mention that they also have sorbet and gelatos? These people know how to please.

They sell unusual ingredients (extra-fine sugar, marzipan, specialty seasonings and the like). My hope is that they will be hugely successful and have to buy out the whole block and then just work their way up the river to Troy.

Holmes and Watson, briefly

Holmes and Watson on 450 Broadway is an old Troy standby. Their cottage fries are fantastic, and they have an extensive list of beers; you can usually get some kind of stout on tap, which is my idea of beer heaven. The location couldn't be better for downtown dining.

Holmes and Watson consists of a nice bar in front with a few tables, and more tables in the rear. Since I'm not a drinker, I usually sit in the back. The steps down to the rear tables can be a bit tricky, but the restaurant has the atmosphere of a down-home English pub, which can be comforting especially come mid-winter around these parts.

They have sandwiches, steaks, fish, and soups, like the *excellent* Manhattan fish chowder I had when I was there with a group a few weeks ago. The food is good quality, with fine fish and chips and burgers (although not much by way of vegetarian fare: I think there's one veggie wrap option, or a grilled portobello-cum-burger. Just like England!).

The service when we were there was scattered; the waitress didn't want us to move two larger tables together, and so instead we had to move to a bench with two non-fitting tables, even though practically no one else was in the joint.

This competes with Brown's Brewing Co. on River Street for brewpub dominance. While Holmes and Watson has reliably good sandwiches and beers, Brown's has a much classier atmosphere (although it still feels like a pub) with many more tables, and a bigger menu with a great veggie burger. Holmes and Watson does fish really well, though, I think better than Brown's.

Brown's is where you take your out-of-town family visitors, while Holmes and Watson is where you hunker down for some down-home Troy lounging.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Karavalli makes me grateful to live here

Karavalli just keeps getting better and better. My husband noticed that they raised their prices; I was too busy chowing down to see. Besides, I think they are totally worth it. (NB: Their web site, while informative, makes the dining room look like a musty cave, which it is NOT, so just ignore the lame photos and instead get mesmerized by the psycadelic Hindi goddess cartoon).

You’d never know that a world-class Indian restaurant is hiding in the sleepy little plaza where Comfortex window treatments and an Arthur Murray dance studio do business. It’s off of Route 9, near the Ford dealership: official address is 9B Johnson Road, Latham, telephone 518-785-7600. I can’t say enough good things about this restaurant, but let me start off by asserting that I think Karavalli is as good if not better than Dawat, the only other really authentic Indian restaurant I’ve been to. Dawat is on the East Side in New York City. The fact that we have a restaurant here in little Latham that rivals that is news indeed.

Karavalli specializes in dishes from India’s southern region, Kerala, which is known for its heavenly food. Some of the dishes are your standard Indian restaurant fare (Aloo Gobi, or cauliflower potato dish) but a majority of dishes are unusual, like Okra Masala or Avial Malabar (with green bananas and yams in coconut sauce). Or Chicken Kashmiri in a cashew and almond sauce. This past weekend, I went with my mother and husband, and my mom got the More Kozhambua, listed as a Tamilnadu specialty, and it was AWESOME!!! It was okra and lentil dumplings in a tangy buttermilk sauce that was out of this world, yet somehow also managed to taste healthy at the same time. Karavalli food doesn’t succumb to the bane of many Indian restaurants in America of adding too much grease. Spicy dishes are clearly labeled, and you can find things here that are mild (and you can ask them to turn down the heat). Not that I would do that. I love spices. The other great thing for us vegetarians is that they have two separate vegetarian sections on their menu: one is vegan, with no dairy or animal products.

The appetizers alone are outstanding and diverse: Calamari Cochin (fried masala squid with red onions and pepper), tangy shrimp, Uttapam (a lovely potato pancake), Idly, which is steamed rice/lentil patties served with sauce, and tamarind eggplant. Running at $6-8 dollars per appetizer, this is more than reasonable for the high quality you're getting. The service is also very good and attentive here, and the place is always hopping. Reservations are a good idea for weekends.

I had the Salmon Tikka, which was stupendous, and came served on a platter sizzling with onions and green peppers. We also had at the table a coconut chicken, which I heard was excellent, and Green Beans and Lentils, which sounds plain but is anything but. Other times I've had the Malai Kofta, which was excellent, and the only dish I've ever not adored was the Avial Malabar (but I will probably try it again, just because this was early on in their tenure). It had a strange woody tasting vegetable in it that I ended up spitting out.

One most amazing thing is that they now have two Calcutta Jewish specials. One is a chicken with raisins and cashew sauce, and another is a lamb with okra. I don't eat meat but these sound really awesome. It is obvious that a master chef is at the helm here.

Karavalli uses spices the way that I have learned to use them from one of my favorite cookbooks-- Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Yamuna Devi--so that you can taste five or six distinct sensations when you eat. The theory is that in order to be nutritionally satisfied, we need all the flavors represented in one meal, such as sweet, salty, bitter, tangy, savory. It makes a lot of sense to me. Why go around feeling bland all the time when so much color exists for the palate?

My favorite side dish to order here is the Hot Lemon Pickle. It is the kind of food that I imagine, if I really flip out for good (I wonder sometimes), and someone were to put a small dish of the Hot Lemon Pickle in front of me and I tasted a triangle, I would immediately come to my senses. Like smelling salts, only really really tasty. I have waxed ecstatic about it before, but I am a little concerned that it’s not as hot as they used to make it. However, it truly is delicious, and tastes like a lemon that is the Platonic ideal of lemon essence. The lemon from the Garden of Eden. It beats psychotherapy.

Karavalli has an $8.95 daily lunch buffet, which is an excellent way to get started on your addiction. Go ahead. I dare you to go just once.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Daisy Baker's: Hold the sugar!!!!!!!

I have news for food-loving Americans. We eat bad stuff, and it's showing in our health patterns. Today, the Associated Press reported that Americans are less healthy than even the English. Now, if you've ever been to England and seen how they live and what they eat (beer, beer, and greasy fried stuff), this should be cause for some major consternation. The study even excluded minorities, who would skew results. I think the reasons for our ill-health are two-fold. First, we have a government that relies on polluting corporations to police themselves, and we sell and use chemical stuff to clean our homes. So I think part of it is this chemical soup we live in.

The second reason, and the one I'm focussing on here is, we eat TOO MUCH SUGAR!!!! The British have poor eating habits, but not as bad as ours. Why? They may guzzle the grease, but they don't souse everything with sugar or corn syrup. Anyone who eats processed or pre-made food in America is imbibing quantities of sugar inconsistent with good health. Read the labels and see. The insidious part is that sugar is added in restaurants, and there, you can't read a label. But you can taste it.

Daisy Baker's is a case in point. First, the good news: Daisy Baker's is in a great location on Second Street in downtown Troy. It's in a historic building, and the restaurant is in a room full of beautiful woodwork, a cozy bar, and an original pipe organ. You don't see those around a lot! The lighting is romantic; the setting gets an A++. Worthy of taking your parents or out-of-town friends to in terms of ambiance.

The food is just okay. As usual, Nosher has higher expectations for our local purveyors of food. Daisy Baker has a really nice menu with appetizers like Crab Cake with Red Pepper Coulis; Escargot; Fried Calamari; Tuna Togaroshi, served rare; and Chinese Potstickers with pork and vegetables. Salads are also lovely sounding with one featuring poached apple filled with gorgonzola and prosciutto. So there's one thing Daisy's can do to make all this food that sounds so good also taste good. Lay off the sugar.

We got salads: mine was the mozarella and tomato, and would have been perfect if they had left off the excessive squeezes of balsamic dressing. It was like Jackson Pollock had suddenly taken a liking to ketchup bottles full of sugared-up balsamic. The design aspect is nice, but it goes downhill from there. If your tomatoes are good quality (and these were-- they served the decent grape tomatoes that seem to be the only sweet tomatoes around during our off season) you really don't need any sweet condiment on them. So why? Why, Daisy Baker, why all the fuss with sugared up sauces? Underneath all that sugar there's a gem waiting to shine.

The main courses don't leave much room for vegetarians, but there are plenty of seafood options, and I got the Scallops with an Orange liquor infused sauce. The scallops were tasty, but they were drowned by this sweet sauce. Again, I ask, why? Why not just let the scallops speak for themselves? When sugar talks, it drowns out everything else. My husband's pork dish was good but I believe it had a maple glaze.

We decided to pass on dessert for obvious reasons.

And here I have a story to supplement these observations about sugared-up Americans: Last year on our honeymoon, my husband and I had the pleasure of going to a fine restaurant in Venice (alas, I can't find the name of it! After spending half an hour looking through my files and bookshelves, I can't find the food-dominated diary I kept, either. I think this can mean only one thing: I MUST return to Italy, poste haste) run by an Italian man and his American wife. She's not just any American, though: she's Texan! She was such a nice person, and told me, while I was debating what dessert to try, that she had started baking when she was a transplant to Italy and felt homesick for American cakes. The cakes were so good that her husband wanted them for the restaurant, with one caveat: that she HALVE the sugar in her recipes!!!

I had two small slices of cake (because I couldn't decide on one) and even though she had halved the sugar, it was STILL really sweet; it was much sweeter than a genuine Italian dessert would have been.

So once again disappointed, I must give this restaurant a low grade because of the sugar addiction.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Emperor's Fine Hong Kong Dining

Emperor's is located at 10 Wolf Road, next to Bangkok Thai (the Sears/Barnes and Noble/Target end of Wolf Road). Emperor's and Ocean Palace are the two consistently best Chinese restaurants in this area, and I would recommend Emperor's to anyone.

First of all, their menu is impressive, although a little less 'exotic' than Ocean Palace's (at Emperor's you can get Duck Feet, Conch five different ways, and a variety of Squid dishes, but it lacks the poetic touch. (See my review of Ocean Palace: reverence is the only appropriate emotion for "Virginia Ham and Fish Maw Soup").

My friend ordered the Shun Fan Golden Chicken, which truly looked like a feast meant for a king. It looked a lot like the soy sauce chicken I used to delight in at New York Noodle Town (in Manhattan's Chinatown), only it was a huge portion served in a regal mound and covered with crispy golden garlic.

I almost gave up vegetarianism right there on the spot.

But I had my dish, Shrimp with Peanuts and Hot Pepper, which was quite good and came with diced celery and carrot. I also ordered the Chinese broccoli (my favorite), and it was excellent. The other time I was at Emperor's I ordered trout, and it was so fresh they actually brought it out before cooking it. It was still alive. I was horrified and felt really really guilty and awful. That trip to Emperor's I considered giving up fish, just because that poor trout looked so unhappy. But I must say it was as fresh as you can get.

So go to Emperor's. You'll never run out of great things to order, and the service is excellent.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Antipasto's: cozy and fresh

The other night, I *finally* made it to Antipasto's, after a few years of saying "I should try Antipasto's some time!" It's in Clifton Park: you get off 87 for Rte. 9 west, and keep going past the Clifton Park mallapalooza (pass the Borders and TGIFridays) continuing for about a mile. Antipasto's is in a small outdoor strip on the left near a Price Chopper; it's easy to miss because it's tucked into a corner.

But if you are in the area, you owe it to yourself to try it out. It is a vegetarian friendly (and also vegan-friendly) Italian/Meditteranean restaurant, but you'll like it even if you're not a vegetarian. Antipasto's has a real neighborhood feel; it actually has the vibe of a restaurant in Italy where the locals like to congregate, which many restaurants claim to have but most don't actually manage. It also has an impressive wine bar. There are signed wine posters on the walls, attesting to the owner's love of quality vino.

Before I get started describing all the gustatory pleasures at hand here, I should warn you: Antipasto's does not take credit cards. So go there with some cash.

We shared a sauteed spinach and white bean appetizer, which really turned out to be a most enjoyable huge platter (and, note: we got the small) of vegetarian antipasto: pepperoncini, really nice olives of different sorts, and the spinach and bean mixture. The waitress, who was pleasant and helpful, also brought out some warm bread (from Bella Napoli-- a real plus) and balsamic dipping sauce. For my main dish I had "The Thomas Jefferson": eggplant parm with vegetables on the side. And oh, what fresh and delightful vegetables, all convivially making way into the tomato sauce at the center! There were carrots, broccoli, and more olives, and I felt not only sated but healthy. The eggplant was wonderful, and my glass of Chianti better than the usual. My husband got the Mixed Vegetable Ravioli, which were homemade and served in a simple olive oil and garlic sauce.

Other items on the menu include many types of pizzas, which you can order in individual or larger sizes; a soup of the day; plentiful salads, like a Spinach salad with Artichokes and feta or the Josey Wales with Gorgonzola and grapeseed vinaigrette. Salads can be had in small or large sizes (what a great idea!), and you can also get a gourmet cheese course or bruschetta for appetizers or to go with wine. Other dishes include Portobello Parmesan, Cheese Melt Florentine, and pasta of many types (Cheese Ravioli, Pasta Primavera, Porta Putanesca [sic]-- mushrooms with Puttanesca). They also had a 'vegetarian seafood' dish and vegetarian cutlets as one of the main dishes.

We passed on dessert (see my entry on Angel's to come soon!) but felt sure that we'd be back to try it out some time. I left only wishing that Antipasto's would open more venues around the Capital Region; Clifton Park is too far away from everything else. This is a neighborhood restaurant-- and I want it in my neighborhood!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Provence- Yawn, Etcetera

"Bon soir," the coatcheck girl greeted us. How nice! I thought-- someone actually using French in a French restaurant. But after that, it became obvious that Provence lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. You'd never find a restaurant like Provence in France: the food is way too fussy (Red Leaf, Duck Confit, Toasted Almonds, Brie and Raspberry Vinaigrette salad?). The French are, if anything, excellent editors and know that less is more. Provence is an ambitious restaurant, but I fear they have bitten off more than they can chew (pardon the pun).

We went to Provence on a Friday, to celebrate an accomplishment of mine. I got all dressed up, and--honest!--I was ready for some fine dining. I had hopes for Provence.

But both my husband and I were disappointed, at first in small ways, and then, upon reviewing our experience, as a whole. First of all, for an upscale restaurant, diners don't seem to have enough elbow room, especially where we were seated, up on the platform area. (There were some nice banquettes below, which seemed reserved for larger parties-- if you insist on going, even after you've read my review, you might want to ask for a quieter table if you want a romantic-- or even simply coherent--evening here). The volume was bearable but fairly high, and we were quite close to the neighboring tables, so the overall effect was that we were on stage taking part in a show. This can be enjoyable when the show is, say, Paris nightlife, but when you're in Stuyvesant Plaza-- I don't think so. In an upscale restaurant, the interior should be interesting but ultimately should put the focus on the food. By the end of the evening, we knew all about our neighbors' new business plans. (And, in case you're reading, no, we don't think you'll do well with your dog grooming place in Troy. You need to do more research, both on dog services and on Troy).

Provence is in Stuyvesant Plaza, the upscale outdoor shopping strip mall on Western Avenue; and let me not be the one to judge a restaurant by its location. After all, Karavalli is in the most unassuming strip mall in Latham. But Provence's location is reflected in the dining experience, both with the offerings and in terms of expense. We spent a little more than $100 for two salads, entrees, one glass of wine, and one dessert, including tip.

The space is pleasant and large, and there were plenty of people there. A pianist played unobtrusively. There are faux wood beams on the ceiling, and a nice chandelier in the center of the main room. The menu is lovely, with plenty of Continental/Fusion appetizers like Seared Tuna Sashimi and Smoked Salmon with Asian Slaw and Soy Ginger Sauce or Assiette de Charcuterie (assortment of patés and gourmet cold cuts), or Tart á la Forestiere (Potato, Wild Mushroom and cheese tart). They also have Butternut Squash and Sage Cream soup or Provençal Seafood Chowder.

Both of us ordered the Endive et Betterave Roti (Roasted Beet and Endive Salad with Toasted Pistachios, Pears, and Mustard Vinaigrette-- phew-- again with the long titles!) and the greens were lovely, but the beets were cut into cubes and served with a creamy dressing, which had the effect of making them look rather unappetizing. More thought overall could have gone into this salad (where were the endives of the title? I saw maybe three leaves).

The main dish offerings are prodigious, with everything from Fennel Seed Crusted Tuna on Gorgonzola Soft Polenta (etc.) to Steak Frites, Venison, Roasted Rack of Lamb, and Hommard á La Portugaise (Lobster, Shrimp and Chorizo Sausage in Charred Tomato and Roasted Fennel.. etc. sauce on linguini). They seem to have only one vegetarian entrée, which is Julienne Roasted Vegetables over Fettucine (etc.). On such a large menu, this is a real flaw.

I ordered the grilled trout, which bills itself as, in French, Truite Grillée au Champignon Sauvage, and translates, oddly, as Grilled Trout Filet and Citrus Caper Buerre Blanc with Exotic Mushroom and Roasted Red Pepper Risotto-- take your pick.* The trout was good, (watch out for some bones, though) but not the best I've had (I've had better at Emperor's Chinese on Wolf Road). It tasted a bit overfed and was a rather large specimen. The risotto that came with it was quite good. My husband got the Filet de Boeuf au Roquefort, which he said was too fatty, and not worth the $25.95.

For dessert I ordered the Lemon tart (I refuse to type out the long name!), which had an oddly deflated puff-pastry type shell. The filling was good, but needed to be offset by a more traditional shortcrust. The wait service was high quality while we were there, although, again, the noise was an issue: another waiter had a protracted conversation with our neighbors, and we now also know a lot about popular views on real estate.

The verdict is: overpriced, and too fussy. I doubt it will change, because it's too popular the way it is.

*It's one thing to have fussy, long names for your dishes, and quite another to insist on them both in French and English. And, yet another issue when the two do not match up. I've been wondering if the long titles are a way to force hapless reviewers like me to spend precious word counts on the inflated hype. Fortunately, this is a blog, and I don't have a word count. But, on principle, I'm refusing to type them all in. So there.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Albany Pump Station

The Albany Pump Station has become one of the most popular restaurants in the Capital District. With a huge brick building (according to the information on their web site, it began as two buildings with the first built in 1874) of 8,000 square feet floor space, there's plenty of room to get comfortable. There is an ample fireplace in the main dining room with cozy couches around for lounging. And, for beer aficionados, C. H. Evans has won awards for Kick-Ass Brown Ale and Hefeweizen, among others.

Why is it called the Pump Station? Originally, it was a beer brewery run by the Evans family, who started brewing in Hudson in 1786. They've done a beautiful restoration of the building (you can see an enormous hook still hanging) and continue to brew beer here today.

Because this restaurant has become so popular (and the bar area is packed on weekends), I highly recommend making a reservation. Last weekend, we had an unpleasant experience of waiting for half an hour, only to give up when they said we would have to wait even longer to be seated.

But the other time we've gone, a bit later on a Saturday night, we were seated immediately, and found that the service and food were both great. My veggie burger was one of the best I've had, and the sweet potato fries were good (but not as good as those at Bomber's Burrito bar!) The bread pudding for dessert was also excellent. Don't expect to lose any weight here, unless you're really disciplined and can order the large salads (the Spring Medley salad features baked brie bruschetta; you can also get a Grilled Chicken Fajita or a Traditional Cobb salad).

Executive chef Gerard Fleck, trained at the Culinary Institute of America, has done a terrific job making the menu as crowd-pleasing as possible, with plenty of choices: appetizers include Nachos, Coconut Shrimp, Thai Peanut Wings, and Pale-Ale Battered Red Onion Rings. Sandwiches include a vegetarian option as well as chicken, pulled-pork, and The Gobbler (turkey on a baguette with all the trimmings). You can build your own burger; order from entrees like Chicken Sophia (chicken stuffed with ham and mozarella), Fish and Chips, Polynesian Mahi Filet; or have pasta.

It's really a bit overwhelming. And I don't envy them their heating bill come winter. But it makes for a most pleasant experience.

Let's Do Brunch: Peaches Café

This past weekend, we had a visitor, and she suggested brunch. The Miss Albany diner is great, but we were looking for something a little more service oriented (Miss Albany is small and can get crowded for brunch). So we went to Peaches in Stuyvesant Plaza, and it was a hit.

It was noon when we arrived, and Peaches doesn't take reservations, but they were able to seat us almost right away despite the line. The service was friendly and efficient, even with a lot of customers. Two of us got the eggs florentine (like an eggs benedict, but spinach instead of ham); the other got the New Orleans omelet.

The menu is like that of a modern diner menu; plentiful options include omelets of every stripe, sandwiches, quiches, and of course pancakes and waffles. The food is high quality without crossing over that invisible line into gourmet. They have 7 different kinds of burgers (all served with 8 oz. Angus meat); lots of clubs (including a vegetarian with eggplant and roasted pepper), and low-carb choices like wraps or a meat omelet. You can even get an egg-cream here.

The atmosphere is warm and homey; and it doesn't hurt that they have an impressive array of pastries and cakes (I tried an apple torte for dessert, which was quite good, although it needed to be heated). Everything about my eggs was great except the hollandaise, which seemed too sweet or perhaps from a mix rather than from scratch. The whipped cream is from a can, and they like to put it on everything; but that only seems to add to the diner-tude here.

And after you have your meal, you can peruse the many shops at Stuyvesant Plaza.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Koto's: No No

Last night, searching for something new and craving good Japanese food, I went to Koto's Japanese Steak House, which is located on Wolf Road (actually, it's right before you turn onto Wolf Road from the 87 exit). There were plenty of people there on a Wednesday night, which is always nice, and the decor was attractive, with a fountain and bridge as you walk in. It's also fun to watch the hibatchi cookers; we sat right next to one, and watched as the chef stir-fried shrimp, meat, and veggies. Those diners looked happy, and the food on the hibatchi looked good.

From there, though, I am sorry to report my experience was not a good one, food-wise. Other people have given poor marks to the service (a Metroland review, as well as anonymous posters on the Times Union review site), but my complaint is with the food. The service was fine for me.

I ordered the bento, a box which comes with all your courses at once: salad, in this case shrimp dumplings, crab sushi, and salmon teriyaki. The dumplings were okay but pretty flavorless overall; the sushi, ditto, with the crab (cooked) being pretty unspectacular and most likely frozen. The salmon was poor: dry and thin, with a lousy excuse for a brown teriyaki sauce that had a consistency of mucus or egg whites and was too sweet. That should just not happen with a sauce. It seemed like store-bought sauce, not fresh or homemade.

It was edible, but that's about all I can say for my meal.

Ditto my dining partner: he ordered the udon with vegetable noodles, and I tried some. They were overcooked and almost completely flavorless.

I tried to make up for all this by sucking on my hot sake, but we won't be going back there. Oh, and with tip, the meal cost us near $50-- not a bargain by any measure, and I ordered only the one drink and no dessert. It seems like the kind of place that gets a lot of business just by being next to the airport hotels, but frankly, you'd be better off further down Wolf Road at Emperor's Chinese or Bangkok Thai.