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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.

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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!).

Mother's Dumplings

Toronto was such a great city to visit. I’m still happily remembering my trip for my Uncle’s 100th birthday celebration. I’d heard Toronto had a big Chinatown with lots to see and do, and wanted to stay nearby. I booked an Air BnB reservation in the heart of Kensington Market, which was basically like a little hipster neighborhood in the middle of Chinatown. A microcosm in a microcosm (also, holy wow on hotel and rental prices in that neighborhood). It was cute and a great place to stay while on vacation. There was a ton of stuff to see in just a 1/4 mile radius, and even more to walk to within 5 kilometers.

One such place was Mother’s Dumplings on Spadina Ave. If there’s one thing I love it’s a good dumpling. Most reviews touted Mother’s as a must-try. The hardest thing was deciding on only two types of dumplings to try for Albany John and myself. We decided we’d get an order of 12 boiled dumplings and 10 pan-fried dumplings. Ah, the perils of being but two diners in a city full of treats to try.

They were out of lamb shu mai, so we went with a dozen pork and dill boiled dumplings. I never see this combination, so it was a must-try, and I’m really glad I did. I usually think of dill as an Eastern European flavor, but it went incredibly well with juicy pork and Chinese spices. Even soy sauce. I’ll definitely be making pork and dill dumplings of my own in the future. Seriously – a  nice bright punch of dill leaves really counterbalance the rich juiciness that good pork dumplings possess.
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Oh. My. Glob. Yes on those pan fried dumplings.
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DO YOU SEE THAT GLORIOUS LACEY CRUST ON THOSE PAN FRIED DUMPLINGS??? DO YOU?

I almost couldn’t even. But then I could.
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We got the pork and shrimp dumplings for our pan fried order. Juicy pork meatball with bits of shrimp inside, made even more texturally appealing by crisping up one edge of the dumpling. These were well executed – each skin was nice and crispy without being greasy. Oh, that fine lace edge was just divine, too. The skins on both the boiled and pan fried dumplings tasted the same – a  nice and hearty, thick dough that complimented the rich flavors inside. Held up well to boiling and pan-frying.

If you’re in Toronto, this is the place to check out. Cash only. Condiments at the table. Fast serivice.

2015-Logo NYS Fair New Your State Fair

It’s summer, which means that it’s time for the New York State Fair in Syracuse! The fair will be August 27th – September 7th. There’s a ton of stuff to do and see. Did you go to fairs as a kid? What was/is your favorite thing to do? When I was little I LOVED the rides. and the NYS Fair has discounted tickets for $20 for a day pass to ride all you want (available here), which is a pretty good deal if you plan on riding more than 3-4 rides.

And FOOD. Let’s talk food. There’s butter sculptures to see, a ton of food to eat, and cooking competitions.

Did you know there’s also a parade every day at 6 pm? I didn’t. That’ll be cool to check out.

There are also special fair days like :

8/28 Pride Day
8/31 Dairy Day
9/01 Beef Day
9/02 Women’s Day9/03 Armed Forces Day (free admission with ID for active duty and veterans)

Want a pair of tickets to attend the NYS Fair? The New York State Fair is giving me a pair plus a parking pass, and a pair of tickets and parking pass to you, too! Add a comment down below about what you’d like to do at the fair! Use a valid email address, and be comfortable sharing your address over email. Contest closes Thursday, 8/13.

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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.

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A few weeks ago the innovators at TC Paris Bakery in Saratoga Springs, NY debuted a new menu. They invited Daniel B up to see the new menu creations, and I tagged along for the pictures (and the delicious goods).

New menu items are beignets, Le Mosaic macaron, and … salted caramel.
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The beignet. What’s not to love? It’s a light and eggy dough fried, and packed to the gills with raspberry. So good. I bought a few more on my way out, and they were just as stuffed as these. And guess what? They keep very well until the end of the day, which is impressive for anything fried.
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Le Mosaic is a new macaron – pistachio shell on top, branded Morello cherries, and a white chocolate shell underneath. Delectable! While I love making my own macarons, TC Paris is on another level, and are so inventive with their flavors.
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And guess what? Lunch is now on the menu! A Croque Monsieur made with Niman ham, bechamel, imported gruyere and Pan de Compagne. It’s a hearty sandwich that I want to eat entirely too much of. Saratoga, call in your lunch orders now. This is an amazing treat.

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Salted caramel! This is lovely – It’s firm enough to retain its shape, but pliable enough to yield to a bite. TC Paris once again manages to perfectly push their caramel to the burnished side, developing rich caramel flavor. This is no one-note saccharine caramel.

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And any time Daniel is around, the lemon tart must make an appearance. This was another one of my purchases on the way out that kept very well until the end of the day. That is, if you can fend off everyone who sees a TC Bakery box.