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.