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Gung Hey Fat Choy! I kicked off my Chinese New Year Festivities at Hong Kong Bakery & Bistro with a bevy of local bloggers. Daniel B. organized the dinner to try the set menu featuring two dishes he’d never tried before. Set Menu A was on our hit list.

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Seafood & Fish Maw Soup was up first. A nice light fishy soup with egg white bits, thickened with cornstarch. If you’re wondering what fish maw is, it’s the gas bladder that helps the fish go up and down in the water. It’s pretty flavorless. Overall, good light start to the meal.

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Next up was the fabulous salt and pepper PLATTER. My family usually gets salt and pepper shrimp, so this was a real treat. It featured (from bottom clockwise): tofu, squid, bait fish, ribs, and in the center… jellyfish. Oh man, I want this platter all of the time! It was great! Salt and pepper tofu makes tofu automatically delicious, even if you’re not a tofu fan. Salt and pepper squid is an automatic win (though these were  bit small so they got a teeny bit overcooked/chewy). Salt and pepper bait fish. This was delicious, and not something I see very often in Cantonese/Hong Kong cooking. IMO very under-utilized because these tasted fantastic – briny and simple. Just tell squemish people that they’re fish strips, nuggets, or more squid. They won’t be able to tell.
Salt and pepper ribs. Where have you been all my life? Man, if there was a star, this was it. Crispy exterior, savory interior. Yes. Total win.
Jellyfish is a CNY mainstay dish, and it was nice to try the s+p riff on it.

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Abalone course. Abalone slices over bok choy and shiitake mushrooms. Abalone is another popular Chinese New Year dish because it’s expensive and symbolizes prosperity. But overall it doesn’t have a lot of flavor going on by itself, so it picked up a lot of the shiitake flavor. I wasn’t crazy about the thick brown sauce over it, but I liked how tender they got the abalone. This stuff can be prepared differently, and I’m not a fan of the texture when it’s rubbery and not cooked as much. This provided a lot of give. You know it’s a traditional dish when it’s expensive and the best you can say is that it wasn’t tough.

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Lobster, my love! Gotta love double ginger scallion lobster. Coated in a light cornstarch startch ginger scallion sauce, this fried lobster is another mainstay, and I was surprised to hear that Daniel B. had never tried it before. I’ve failed him as a friend! This was a great preparation of the dish. The lobster was juicy and succulent, and chopped up to dig out easily. “Easily” is probably a relative term, as part of the fun of this dish is getting messy eating it!

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Crispy Chicken is another traditional dish. This was covered in a garlic sauce, but the garlic flavor was pretty mild overall. Mmm, adorned with garlic crispy bits, too. This is a great dish any time of the year. Juicy plump chicken, crisp skin, simple chicken flavors. It’s a real crowd pleaser.

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Ultra blurry pig feet dish. Another first for Daniel B. This preparation was a bit tougher than other versions I’ve had. I prefer softer versions, but overall the flavor was good. Rich and meaty without getting too funky. The pieces were chopped up into easy to grab bits to gnaw on. There’s a lot of gnawing in Hong Kong/Cantonese Chinese food culture. 20160209_203636

Dessert time! What a pretty fruit platter!

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Red bean and tapioca soup  for dessert part two to end it on a sweet note.

CBH 001 amuse popcorn

“Hey m’dear, any interest in going to a whiskey tasting dinner tomorrow night at City Beer Hall  (in collaboration with The Speakeasy)?”

There’s something to be said for good friends who bring you food when you’re sick, generally check in on you while conquering the world, and take you as their date to a whiskey dinner. Deanna Fox is one of those friends and then some. *swoons at succinct offer of one of my favorite brown liquors*

City Beer Hall’s chef Dimitrios Menagias and Robert Mack, the man behind the Speakeasy’s cocktail program, teamed up to pair food with drink from Brown Forman (an American owned spirit and wine business). It was a good night.

We had a popcorn amuse atop a truffled mousse with mushrooms. Paired with the fun amuse drink below whose name I’ve forgotten because this happened a week ago and I have the memory of a fly.

CBH 001 Drink
CBH Course 1 Drink Indian Candy Corn cocktailCBH Course 1 Drink Woodford White Corn Bourbon

Course 1: Indian Candy Corn cocktail (left) featuring Woodford White Corn Bourbon (neat, on the right).
The bourbon itself had a strong caramel scent, and was a real kicky type bourbon. The cocktail was equally punchy.

CBH Course 1 Winter Salad

Course 1: Winter Salad. Grilled prawn, carrots, starfruit, napa cabbage, persimmon nuoc chom. A few kernels of freeze dried corn on the right that paired very well with the meal and bourbon. This made me realize how underutilized napa cabbage is in its raw, salad-y form. A great winter salad with bright notes from the persimmon nuoc chom.

CBH Course 2 Charcuterie

Course 2: Charcuterie. My notes on this dish are covered in hearts. Duck pastrami, foie gras mousse, venison, sweet corn mostarda, pickled green tomatoes. I was talking with some folks recently who said they just didn’t “get” foie gras, and I had to reconsider our friendship for a moment. It’s fat, rich, and delicious. What’s not to like? Duck pastrami was deliciously smoky, aand was great paired with the pickled green tomatoes. The sweet corn mostarta also contained some toasted corn.

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I just couldn’t help but take  bunch of pictures of this plate. There was so much to love!

CBH Course 2 Drink Lion's Tail

Course 2: Lion’s Tail with Old Forester 1870 (which I forgot to take a picture of, and the cocktail picture isn’t much better. sigh). I LOVED the Lion’s tail it was tart and smoky with clove flavors. More hearts drawn around this cocktail. The Old Forester 1870 is the founding brand. 90 proof, spicy, and burns just a tad when sipped neat.

CBH Course 3 Intermezzo

Course 3: Intermezzo, with a cocktail reprieve. Pomelo sorbetto, aperol, candied pomelo peel. Dimitrios knocked this out of the park. The skill alone in candying the pomelo peel deserves respect. They were so thin, and so perfectly candied. Covered in sugar, and not too dry or too chewy. One of our table mates wasn’t familiar with pomelo, and remarked that it tasted “kind of like weed smells”, which is actually kind of accurate with its dank tartness and pungent citrus oils. It’s great to see this citrus featured front and center, especially as a plate cleanser.

CBH Course 4 Manhattan

Course 4: Manhattan with Old Forester 1897, where I have clearly crossed over from sober to jovial as I’ve forgotten to take another shot of the bourbon in its neat form. This may have been my favorite to drink neat or with a few drops of water in it, despite my forgetfulness. It had a tart nasal note, a bit milder than the white corn bourbon in the first course, with what I can only describe as having  great spicy afterburn. Definitely something to warm you up on cold winter night. The Manhattan was also expertly executed, using charred bitters and rhubarb vermouth. And that cherry. Or as my notes read “Oh my god, that brandied cherry”. It’s juicy and delicious and I love saving it to chew with the last few sips of the drink at the end. I think I could just load that Manhattan up with those brandied cherries and be a happy woman.

CBH Course 4 Wild Boar

Course 4: Wild Boar. Smoked corn relish, spaetzle, baby kale, red pepper oil. The corn was smoked over apple wood, the spaetzle was made with parsnip and mustard seed which added a lightly sweet and vegetal note to the spaetzle. All of this worked wonderfully with the boar, and sipping the Manhattan along with this dish made me feel like a very lucky woman to be eating such a fine dish, and to have a friend who’d invite me along to even try this.

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I had to use every ounce of willpower to resist picking up the bone and sucking every bit of delicious cartilage and tendon off of the bone.

CBH course 5 Jack Daniels Howard St. Scaffa

Course 5: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, Barrel Proof (left); Howard St. Scaffa (right). Wow, barrel proof. 130.8% alcohol. Holy caramel smell, with a subtle note of cinnamon. “Drinkable fire” someone noted at our table. Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” was playing in my head drinking this, in very enjoyable way. The Howard St. Scaffa featured a mellow cointreau noir and one drop of Angry God ghost pepper bitters. A definite way to turn up the heat.

CBH course 5 Stuffed Figs

Course 5: Stuffed Figs. Harbison, pecan, Shiva’s wrath bitters, dark chocolate. Harbison cheese stuffed into a Greek dried fig which was reconstituted in cointreau noir. The pecans were toasted and tossed in Shiva’s wrath bitters. This was a delightful way to end the dinner on a high note. The Harbison was creamy (a triple cream to be exact) with grassy, funky, rich notes that worked well to counter the heat of the drinks and complement the sweetness of the fig.

Way to end dinner on a high note. Mic drop Dimitrios and Robert.

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It’s been a while since I’ve been to Van’s Vietnamese Restaurant. Seems like every time I’m on that stretch of Central Ave, I inevitably wind up going to Taiwan Noodle, but this time I managed to resist that siren call as my sister called for a dinner at Van’s Vietnamese on account of their menu having a good selection of vegan and low gluten/maybe gluten-free dishes (I’m not really sure about the gluten-free part, but the sister unit says they are and I don’t have a gluten issue so if she’ll eat at a restaurant with lots of dishes like Van’s then I’m not going to argue).

For some reason I don’t remember the portions being as large as they are! Holy cow, these crappy camera phone pics don’t do the size justice. These dinner plates were like hubcaps.

Above is Banh Xeo Chay (Vegetarian Vietnamese Crispy Pancake) – $17.99 which has tofu that is textured like meat! I seriously thought that we accidentally got a chicken or duck one, but nope – just tofu. The yellow pancake is crispy, true to its name. This is kind of like a Vietnamese dosa in that you’ll be breaking bits off to eat with the filling. Seriously, it’s a massive size portion and comes as a dinner, though we split it as an appetizer for our table.  0

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Another vegetarian/vegan-approved meal we ordered as an appetizer was Bun Cha Gio Chay (Fried Vegetarian Spring Rolls over Vermicelli) – $12.99, which seems like a much more reasonable price to me. Also, it’s freaking DELICIOUS. Great texture contrast between the soft and pliant rice noodles and the crispy, crunchy vegetarian spring rolls covered in nuoc mam chay, mint, peanuts, scallions, and carrots. I’ve gotta get more mint on in my savory dishes.

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Canh Ga Tom Chien (Fried Stuffed Chicken Wings) – $8.99 for the meat eaters at the table, because how can you resist trying deboned chicken wings stuffed with crab meat? Overall, okay, but I think I prefer regular chicken wings. Kind of overwhelmed the crab flavor, IMO. Still, gotta admire those skills. No way in heck can I debone a chicken wing and leave the skin intact like that.

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Okay – one meaty main for me! Ca Hoi Nuong (Grilled Salmon with Ginger) – $15.99. How is this less than the banh xeo  chay? Our waiter laughingly told me how he’d ordered this dish for a month straight because it was so good.
This dish worked for me – light tasting but satisfying, and tons of veggies! Even a few spears of asparagus in the winter. The veggies all were lightly steamed and still had a firm texture, which I liked. I wound up bringing half of this home because it was so much food and I’d gorged on the above mentioned appetizers.

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One of my friends also got the duck, Com Vit Quay Dzon (Van’s Own Crispy Roasted Half Duck) – $19.99, which was quite tasty, though not very crisp. More taught and roasted but still quite enjoyable.

Any way, sorry to be vague about the gluten-free and vegan attributes of this restaurant. I get that it’s a concern if those are your dietary needs, though they’re not a need for me. Food has always been an issue with me and my sister, so I’m always happy when we can go out to a place where we’re both happy eating (and if you ever find out that the above definitely-vegetarian dishes aren’t vegan please don’t tell me so I can keep going here with my vegan sister, hahaha!).

Shishito Pepper Comparison

Oh my gosh, I love, love, LOVE shishito peppers. I didn’t succeed in planting them this year but luckily shishito peppers are available at two local markets that I’ve found so far: Jang Tuh and Trader Joe’s.

What are shishito peppers? They’re mainly sweet little peppers that you can easily pop in your mouth and are delicious grilled or pan-seared. Every once and a while you’ll get a pepper with a little kick of heat, but for the  most part they’re mild little peppers.

So, since there are two places to buy peppers from, I was wondering if there was any price difference for shishito peppers in Albany. It’s also nice to have Jang Tuh as a source since they ALWAYS have shishito peppers. Trader Joe’s on the other hand can run out of stock or quit carrying an item all together.

So: Is there any price difference?

Trader Joe's Shishito Peppers scale

Trader Joe’s sells 6 oz bags of shishito peppers for $2.29, or about $6.11 per pound. This particular bag as a little under weight, within a 1/10th of a pound.

Jang Tuh Shishito Pepper

Jang Tuh’s packaging is minimal/nonexistent. There’s no label save for the $3.99 sticker on the package. Turns out it’s 10 oz of shishito peppers, which is about $6.38 per pound. If you walk in the store, you’ll find them in the refrigerated case.

Jang Tuh’s peppers are $0.27/lb more than Trader Joe’s shishito peppers. There’s no noticeable difference in quality or taste between the two. Jang Tuh has always had a large stock of shishito peppers available, while Trader Joe’s quantities can be limited or temporarily out.
I haven’t found shishito peppers at the Asian Supermarket or Asian Food Market in Albany (they only have the REALLY spicy peppers), and haven’t been to Kim’s in a while to tell you.

Bella Terra Pepper

Now what have we here? These are Italian peppers from Bella Terra Farm at the Schenectady Greenmarket that look identical to shishito peppers! They were $2.00/lb. TWO DOLLARS PER POUND! What?! While they look similar in volume to the shishito peppers from Trader Joe’s and Jang Tuh, they were heavier. I excitedly talked to the folks at Bella Terra, telling them how they looked like shishito peppers (and rambling on about how good they are), when the mentioned that these were spicier and encouraged me to try one in case they were too spicy. I went for a sniff (they smelled exactly the same), and Albany John took a small pepper… and immediately started sneezing from the heat! Hee hee, so cute! (I mean manly. SO MANLY.). Any way, I thought it was incredibly sweet of them to urge me to buy less or none of their peppers. I settled on just over a pound. These are so good, and such a great deal at $2.00 per pound!

BurgerFi Storefront Latham NY

BurgerFi opens tomorrow at 11 am on 860 New Loudon Rd (Rt 9), Latham, NY. I was invited to a menu preview this afternoon. Overall I think it’s a good new addition – they’re a chain that sources from Meyer Ranch, which provides antibiotic-free beef that was never given additional hormones, grass raised and grain finished (best of both worlds, IMO), and none of the beef is ever frozen. I think this is a great direction for a chain to head, and one I see other chains embracing as well. Ethics aside (which is a weird phrase), the food is competitively priced and enjoyable.

BurgerFi Latham interiorThe interior is set up casually – order at the counter, pay, grab a table and wait for your food. They also have beer and wine, and it looked like some MMA style fights were on the TV when we were there. It’s easy for me to imagine biking over for a burger, beer, and a match if they wind up broadcasting fights.

There were some other local members of the media at the tasting. BTW, it’s really a thing of beauty to see Angelo Mazzone and Bill Lia walk over and talk to Steve Barnes, who curates the Tablehopping blog for the Times Union. If you want coverage, his blog certainly has the most readership/exposure. Also, he’s a nice guy with good taste, and someone pretty much anyone would want to talk to. Any way, social peeping aside, let’s get down to the food!

BurgerFi Cry Fry

Up first was the Cry Fry ($5.47) – a combination of their fries and onion rings. This is a regular order. You definitely want to share this with 1-2 other people. The onion rings are massive and massively delicious! Theyre beer battered in Coors Light. The breading is very light and crisp, giving way to large rounds of onion underneath. The fries are fried in peanut oil, and get the perfect balance of fluffy/poofy/creamy interior and crisp exterior.

BurgerFi Urban Style Fries 2

Up next were the Urban Style Fries, and I believe (hope) that these were the large portions. Because dear god, they were massive. There are two servings pictured above, and 3 people could barely put a dent in one of them. Urban style fries  are their regular hand-cut french fries with parmesan cheese, herbs, and garlic aioli. I’m not normally a mayo/aioli fan, but these were delicious. Just the right amount of garlicky creaminess atop the fries (they weren’t swimming in it), and a nice sprinkling of parmesan that stuck to the fries.

BurgerFi Urban Style Fries

Seriously massive, right? But also seriously good.
BurgerFi CheeseburgerAnd then it was time to try the burgers! First up was the BurgerFi Cheeseburger, which is two patties, american cheese, lettuce, tomato, and BurgerFi sauce. This reminded me of a ShackBurger. Actually, when you first walk in, you’ll probably notice some similar vibes from Shake Shack and BurgerFi.

The meat was good – the patties are just under 4 oz (pre-cooked weight), and cooked all the way through. They maintain a good amount of moisture and flavor while being cooked all the way through. Texture-wise, the grind is a pleasant medium or small/medium (depending on how you look at it).

BurgerFi Breakfast All Day Burger

The Breakfast All Day burger is one patty, American cheese, hickory bacon, maple syrup, a fried egg, hashbrown patty, grilled onions, and ketchup. I love that runny egg. It’s really nice to see a chain restaurant not cooking an egg yolk all the way through before it goes on a burger so you get that golden goodness all over the burger.

This wasn’t my favorite type of burger, but if you’re a bacon-on-everything person you’ll like it. For some reason I just prefer my breakfast as breakfast and not on other stuff. Oh, and the maple syrup wasn’t too cloying. Very subtle.
BurgerFi The Twenty-Eight BurgerThe Twenty-Eight is the burger you want to order if you can only try one thing. Oh my gosh, so good. And I’m glad they saved this for last. It packs a mighty whollop of umami in the very best way. The burgers on the Twenty-Eight are from brisket dry aged for 28 days. The patties have a little more funk, just the right amount of blue cheese in between the burgers, and the pickles are add a great crunchiness.
BurgerFi VegeFi BurgerWe also tried the VegeFi Burger. It’s made of quinoa, lentils, and veggies, and topped with cheddar cheese, tomato, and BurgerFi sauce with a lettuce “bun”. The whole patty is fried, so it pretty much tastes like a big pakora/lentil fritter. The lettuce are squares of iceberg lettuce.

BurgerFi Chicago Style Wagyu Beef Hot DogChicago Style Wagyu Beef The hot dog itself has a nice little snap/pull to the case and a good beefy flavor. This is a little different than your typical Chicago style hot dog – the pickle and tomatoes are in slices instead of wedges, which makes for a different kind of chew/bite.
BurgerFi Red Velvet ConcreteDessert! We tried the Chocolate Shake (not pictured) which had a lot of dark chocolate flavor and wasn’t a complete sugar bomb. A very grown up shake.
We also tried Red Velvet Concretes, which are very thick vanilla custards with layers of red velvet cake. You’ll want to split your concrete with at least 1-2 other people. They are incredibly delicious and rich. The vanilla custard is really good. Lots of rich egg yolk flavor and vanilla. Frozen custard is more popular in the south – it’s nice to have a place nearby to grab some.

Overall, I think it’s a good addition to the fast food options in the area. It’s family friendly, cares more about animal welfare than other mainstream chains (change has to start somewhere), and has a tasty product. Hopefully the quality I tried today holds up to the test of time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go patronize another Lia-owned business and put some of this food to use!

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I know of no better way to start off a meal than with fried yucca and chicarron. Flores Family Restaurant is one of the few places you can get this fab appetizer.
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You can also get a papa rellena, which is a massive fried disc/oval of mashed potato stuffed with ground beef for $2.99. Seriously – share this. It’s great, but you’ll fill up on it if you order it for yourself, and there is so much more to eat. Creamy mashed potatoes filled with seasoned ground beef, the entire exterior crisped up.

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ALL OF THE PUPUSAS. Cheese, bean and cheese, and loroco greens. The loroco greens are incredibly mild and blend in well with the cheese. And who doesn’t love a soft corn exterior before giving way to any filling?
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Whole fried tilapia is another menu bargain at $10.99 and more than enough for two people to share. I happily crunched on the especially fried tail and fin bones.

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Ayelada is the newest frozen yogurt shop in the area. I was excited for their arrival as they tout using local ingredients as often as possible. They use the same dairy as the Cowbella line of yogurt as a main supplier (though it appears other farms supply them as well), and all of their froyo is made from scratch.

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In the first few weeks, I’d heard that Ayelada was a bit on the expensive side, and I suppose they are compared to the other fro-yo shops in the area, but it’s also a bit of a different format. This is not self-serve fro-yo. You order at the counter, and there is a toppings bar similar to the self-serve fro-yo, but you just tell them what you want and they add the toppings. In my opinion, the toppings are what add up the bill pretty quickly. The picture above was $7 for a 5 oz small ($3.50 + $1 for 1 topping) and a 3 oz mini ($2.50). I thought the portions seemed really small on this visit, and found it a bit on the expensive side for the portion (this seems to have been part of the opening kinks), but the FLAVOR. Man – that is some good frozen yogurt. It’s kind of tart initially, then has this creamy finish. It’s really a pleasure to savor the original.

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Second visit! The mini seems to have doubled in size almost, and they put the fro-yo on a scale. They also ask you if you want to leave room for toppings, and presumably fill it less. Since the frozen yogurt is the real star, I suggest skipping the toppings and focusing on the main event. I was able to snag the tropical punch (mango, pineapple, toasted coconut) which was a real treat – the flavors were well balanced and the fruit flavors complemented the tart and creamy yogurt.
There is also a free toppings area by the registers which feature some honey, caramel sauce, cinnamon, and cocoa powder. How nice! But again, that fro-yo is where it’s at.

I really recommend you try Ayelada. They’re a unique and delicious addition to the frozen dessert scene in Albany, with weekly rotating flavors. Their facebook page updates their flavors in addition to their website: This week currently features lavender honey, chocolate coconut, and triple berry.