Category Archives: Capital Region

Date Night in Albany

A very sweet and generous friend of mine offered to babysit Future Foodie, so we took the opportunity to indulge in some culinary delights in Albany for our date night.  First, we headed to TJ’s Cafe, which has the best fried ravioli in town. Hands down. I don’t even know how the rest of the food tastes.  We went to TJ’s a few years ago, I got the ravioli and have never forgotten them.  We plunked ourselves down at the bar, I ordered a dirty vodka martini and promptly ordered my ravioli.  They came out perfectly fried, nice and golden brown.  They are filled with a blend of ricotta and mozzarella, with some chopped jalapenos.  They are served with a marinara sauce and a raspberry sauce, which I thought was totally weird but was absolutely delicious when I tried it.  Poor J got maybe three of the ravioli and I kind of inhaled the rest of them.  YUM.

We then headed over to Van’s Vietnamese to get our Pho fix.  The place was pretty packed, which we were glad to see.  We waited about 10 minutes for a table.  Once we were seated, we both ordered the Pho Chin (Noodles with well done beef brisket) and J ordered the shrimp summer rolls.  He absolutely loves them (I don’t eat shrimp).  According to J, the shrimp are fresh and perfectly cooked and the flavors in the roll itself are perfectly balanced, and then combined with the awesome peanut sauce, he was in summer roll heaven.

When you order the noodles, they always bring out a plate of accoutrements to go  with the dish.  We had a heaping dish of bean sprouts, a few sprigs of cilantro, sliced fresh jalapenos, lime wedges, and a little dish of plum/hoisin? sauce and Sriracha.

Our steaming bowls of noodle and broth came out.  We added in all of those delicious things and dug in.  The Pho was delicious, with a beautiful beef flavor with hints of sweetness, and the vermicelli noodles were just delicious.  The beef itself was really good, and wonderful when dipped in a combination of the plum/hoisin and Sriracha sauces.  We finished the noodles fairly quickly but ended up taking the broth home so we can cook some more noodles up and enjoy another helping of deliciousness.

 

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A real Chinese food experience, right in Latham

The hubs, Future Foodie and I popped into Ala Shanghai in Latham this weekend to give it a try.  We had heard great things about it and J was dying to try their pork soup dumplings.

We were there for lunch and there was a good crowd already enjoying their meals there.  First off, before talking about the food, I have to say that the service was just great.  They were really on top of things and very friendly.  J and I excitedly perused the Shanghainese centric menu.  We ended up ordering the:

Pork Soup Dumplings (we started with one order and gave in to our gluttony and ordered another after devouring the first order)

These were very good soup dumplings.  Nice flavor to the broth and the pork.  The only thing is the actual dumpling skin is a little too thick.  But these were absolutely the best soup dumplings we have had in the Capital Region so we’re not really going to complain.  They served it with the traditional Chinese black vinegar and sliced ginger sauce, which we poured generously over the dumplings.

Shanghai Spring Rolls (again we started with one order and couldn’t stop ourselves from ordering two more)

These were probably some of the best spring rolls I’ve had. Crispy on the outside, not too oily, and the filling was so tasty (cabbage and pork).

Mini Pork Buns

The mini is probably a misnomer since these buns were actually quite big.  We’ve had them at other restaurants where they are small and pan-fried so that they are nice and crispy on the outside.  These were more just like normal buns with some pork inside.  These were our least favorite dish of what we ordered.

Chinese Rice Cakes with Vegetables

This dish was another home run.  The rice cakes were perfectly cooked – soft and chewy.  The flavor was rich and kind of smoky.  Absolutely yummy.  They vegetables – carrots, mushrooms, and Napa cabbage were all delicious and obviously fresh.  Future Foodie was also a fan of this, an extra plus!

General Tsao’s Chicken

Okay, so I totally have a weak spot for this completely inauthentic dish.  So sue me.  But I am so glad I ordered it because it was so darn tasty.  We asked for it to be extra spicy and they definitely delivered on that.  The flavor was delicious and my lips hurt from the spice, but I couldn’t stop eating it. My only quibble is that the quality of the actual chicken could have been better but their General Tsao’s blows away any of the offerings from the run of the mill Chinese take out restaurants that are ubiquitous in the Capital Region.

We will definitely be returning to Ala Shanghai, sooner than later.

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My love affair…

My love affair with Chipotle began about 6 years ago when J had an internship with a company out in San Diego.  I visited him quite a few times and and was introduced to Chipotle there.  I marveled at the fresh taste of all the food; the light, crisp taco shells.  The flavorful meats.  But I was sad too because I knew that we had nothing even close to Chipotle in the Capital Region.  J and I even wanted to start a franchise out here, we were that into it.  So over the past 6 years, until Chipotle arrived in Wilton, I tried to eat it whenever I was near one, in D.C., NYC, anywhere I could my hands on it. And then Hallelujah! Chipotle finally came to Wilton and I am proud to say as of tonight, that I have eaten at every Chipotle in the Capital Region.

Our friends invited us to the soft opening of the new Chipotle in Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany.  Of course, we headed right down there after work, Future Foodie in tow.

The decor is a bit more funky than other Chipotle I’ve been in and it was really cool.  The restaurant was getting busier and busier and there must have been at least 6 people behind the counter, smiling, and ready to take my order.

I got carnitas tacos (hard shell) for myself, with pinto beans, mild and hot salsa, cheese, and lettuce.  We got Future Foodie, the kid’s small cheese quesadilla with the cilantro rice and pinto beans. J got the biggest burrito I have ever laid eyes on and it was filled with carnitas, pinto beans, rice, mild and hot salsa, sour cream, cheese, and guacamole.

Everything was really good, like really tasty.  The tacos were really crisp and fresh and the meat was perfectly flavored. I always like to squeeze some fresh lime or lemon juice in to give it an extra tang. What I really like about their tacos or burritos is that all of the ingredients really hold their own, it doesn’t just taste like one big mushy mess like a lot of subpar Mexican food does.  The lettuce stays crisp, the tomatoes are firm, and the meat is tender.  Future Foodie gobbled her cheese quesadilla down. As always, by the time I was on to my second taco (you get three), J was already done with his 2,000 calorie burrito.

I just had to take a momentary pause because a freaky looking bug landed right next to me and J valiantly squooshed it after I screamed a few times.

I’ll always, always pick Chipotle over Moe’s (which is a teeny step above Taco Bell in my opinion).  I love Chipotle use of natural, free range meat and locally sourced food.  Okay, I’m done gushing with adoration.

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Nothing like…

A crisp apple. I recently started eating Ginger Gold Apples.  They are slightly tart, very crispy, and just sweet enough.  Perfection. I buy them at the Honest Weight Co-op.  That place and the Troy Farmers’ Market really opened a whole new world of apples to me. I grew up eating Red Delicious and all of the other standard varieties at the grocery store.  But then at the Troy Farmers’ Market, I had a honey crisp.  Oh my, was that delicious.  And then I recently had a Cameo apple (again at the co-op), which almost tasted like a pear.  I’m open to suggestions on some great apples out there.  A caveat, I’m really not a big fan of Granny Smiths.  Keep them coming please.

Also, I just had to share this picture of the really sweet, couldn’t stop eating them heirloom tomatoes from our garden.  They were a mixture of Green Zebra, Cherokee Purple, and Striped German, all of the starter plants were from the Farm at Miller’s Crossing.   J used this recipe, Heirloom Tomato Salad, at Epicurious.com.  Really freaking good.

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A scathing review…

Check out this review of Peddlers Bar and Bistro in Clifton Park in the Timesunion.

She is rough on them and I love it! Reviews like that are not the norm.  Cheryl is definitely refreshing.  She is right on as well, since I have only heard negative reviews of the food at Peddlers.  I have not eaten there but if it’s anything like J.J. Maxie’s on Wolf Road, then the food is definitely sub par.

Yay – a real food critic!

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The best Capital Region pizza so far…

We are planning to conduct a pizza death match but we did find a contender for the best pizza we’ve had up here so far. We got a pie from Caputo’s Pizzeria in Clifton Park.

J had been talking about this pizza for a couple weeks now, some of his co-workers were talking it up.  As foodies, we take all food seriously, but pizza has a particular soft spot for us, especially me since I’m from Long Island (land of awesome pizzas).  For the past 11 years that I have lived in the Capital Region, I have tried a lot of different pizzas and have been let down repeatedly.  My husband, having had the experience of both LI and NYC pizza also understands my despair at the desolate landscape of pizza in the Capital Region.

Forgive me for my little tangent, but what is up with the pizza up here? The crust is usually tasteless, too thick, or cardboard like.  The cheese has no flavor and there’s always way too much of it.  Then the sauce, or the lack of it, has no tang, no depth.  Uggh.  I mean, if I need pizza, J will usually make it himself (always delicious) or we make do with Inferno’s Pizza, which is probably one of the better Upstate type pizzas there are.

Deep breath.  Okay I’ve calmed down from my little diatribe about pizza.  On to Caputo’s.  The pizza was good, surprisingly good.  The cheese had that nice salty thing that a lot of LI/NYC pizzas have.  It needed more sauce, but the sauce that was on it was tasty.  I would prefer a little bit more tang to it.  The crust is really where Caputo’s shines.  It’s thin and crispy and tastes really good. I have to say I was impressed.  It will work for my pizza fix when I need it.  However Long Island/NYC pizza still reigns supreme. nothing beats a slice from Emilio’s in Commack or Little Vincent’s in Lake Ronkonkoma.    Then there’s the pizza at Lombardi’s in NYC, OMG.

We also ordered the garlic knots.  They need some work, they weren’t buttery enough and they needed more garlic.  But the dipping sauce was really good – it was a marinara but full of garlic slices, it’s delicious.

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A for Effort, B for Taste

We went to Blue Spice in Colonie.  I had high hopes for this place.  We’ve heard raves about the place before it expanded and our friends that we dined with also had great meals there in the new space.  J was a little leery as he had gone when they reopened in the new space and was completely and utterly disappointed in his experience.  So we went with hope and apprehension.

The restaurant itself is beautiful and calming. I loved the huge pots, filled with water, and a beautiful plant.  I thought it was thoughtfully designed and laid out.  A big plus was the little waiting/children’s area – very cool!

We sat in the area to the right, where there are steps and basically this huge platform, with spaces cut out for the tables.  They were great for Future Foodie and fun to sit on.  Before I talk about the food, I want to mention the service because they were very attentive (almost too attentive) but you know what? I would rather have that than to be ignored.  We never lacked for water and our food came out right away.

So the food.  I ordered the Panang Curry, a red curry.  It was very good, nice and spicy, just the right amount of rice to mix into the sauce.  The vegetables were fresh and nicely cooked.  I thought overall it was a very good dish although towards the end of my eating, I kept getting stronger and stronger hints of fish sauce. The only odd thing was this deep fried piece of eggplant that was kind of soggy when it arrived and didn’t really add anything to the dish.

J ordered the Masaman curry, which is a yellow curry.  His was okay, there was a weird sweet flavor to it. He ate it but was underwhelmed.

We ordered the vegetarian Thai Fried Rice for Future Foodie (FF).  This was a big miss.  I really don’t like huge pieces of vegetables in fried rice, it kind of counteracts the whole idea of being to eat the fried rice as a whole.  Plus there were whole cooked cherry tomatoes in the fried rice, kind of odd and not really a vegetable I would throw in fried rice.  There was overwhelming taste of fish sauce in the fried rice.  FF didn’t really like it, but she did eat the baby carrots and broccoli.  So we would not order that again, if we were to return.

Those 3 dishes were about $41. Right now, based on our experience, I would rate Blue Spice third behind Bangkok Thai, first, and Sushi Thai Garden, second.  I’m not sure if the restaurant is just inconsistent or still trying to feel its way around the new place because even at 6 PM on a Saturday, it was not even close to full.  Hopefully, it will figure things out.

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Cannoli Death Match

The time had come to see if any cannoli in the Capital Region could compare to the penultimate cannoli from the Alpine Bakery in Smithtown, Long Island.

Based on the kind suggestions of the readers of this blog, we purchased cannoli from the following:

1.  Bella Napoli

2.  Civitello’s

3.  Hannaford (in Clifton Park)

4.  Mrs. London’s

We had additional participants in this cannoli death match in the form of two close friends who were more than happy to act as objective taste testers.  I do have to say before anything else that this would not have been possible had J not been so dedicated as to drive around to each of these different places to get the cannoli.  He is really dedicated to finding good food.

J was the only one who knew which cannoli came from where.  We sliced the cannoli into four for the blind taste test.  We then thoughtfully sampled each of the four pieces and arrived at the following ranking (number 1 being the most preferred cannoli):

1.  Bella Napoli

– This was a unanimous decision, it was the most balanced cannoli.  The filling had a strong almond and anise flavor which was tasty but not exactly what I was looking for.  I would have preferred a little brightness to it but it was still delicious.  The crust itself was chewy and had  nice texture.

2.  Hannaford

–  The filling for this cannoli was probably more in line with what I had in Long Island, however it was a little too sweet, but there was a nice gingerbread quality to it.  The crust didn’t stand out with this cannoli.

3.  Mrs. London’s

– First off, this cannoli did not look like a traditional cannoli in the sense that it had pistachio pieces in it as well as lemon zest.  So while this was the most untraditional cannoli, it was still very good.  The crust was flaky and the best crust out of the four.  This was also the most expensive cannoli, ringing up at around $5 for one cannoli.

4.  Civitello’s

– This also was unanimous in that no one really liked this cannoli.  The filling was too one note, way too much cheese, not enough flavor.  The crust was okay.

While the winner of the Capital Region cannoli is from Bella Napoli, the cannoli from the Alpine Bakery in Long Island surpasses any of these competitors.

We all had such a great time performing this taste test that we have decided to perform additional death matches for the following types of food:

  • Italian Sub Sandwiches
  • Pizza
  • Mustard
  • Spaghetti Sauce
  • Hot Dogs

The focus for all of these death matches will be local products.  I welcome any suggestions for any of the categories on what we should be trying.

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The First of Many

Today I attempted to make Bubble Tea from scratch.  I had my first upstate NY bubble tea yesterday and was not impressed, so I figured if I want some good bubble tea, then I damn well better do it myself.  Bubble tea by the way, is an Asian drink, prepared many different ways but always with large clear tapioca balls at the bottom that you slurp up through a wide straw.  Sounds weird and it looks weird but it’s so refreshing and I love having texture in a drink!  It’s not everyone’s cup of tea (HA! I hate puns!) but I have to say Asians seem to particularly love it and in this instance, I don’t deviate from my culture’s peculiar concoction.

My favorite type of bubble tea is with jasmine green tea, a small amount of simple syrup, and LOTS of tapioca balls.  Really if the drink was 80% tapioca balls, I would be the happiest Asian on the block.

Anyway, I brewed some jasmine green tea, and chilled it.  I boiled some water and threw in the tapioca balls (which weren’t big enough which I didn’t figure out until I cooked them).

The tapioca took forever to cook, a lot of them stuck together and 30 minutes later, some of them were still undercooked. I  need to refine my technique here obviously.

The simple syrup was really easy – 1/2 part of white sugar, 1/2 part of brown sugar to 1 part water. Since I didn’t need too much, I did a 1/4 cup of each sugar to 1/2 cup of water. I stirred the syrup on medium high heat, and when the mixture started bowling, I took it immediately off the stove.

I excitedly put it all together and took my first sip with my big straw that I had been saving for just this occasion.  I have to say I was mildly impressed with myself.  Cindy, as my sister Diana said, it’s just tea with tapioca balls but still, I made it all by myself.  And it was good.

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Dining at the Senior Hour

The Foodie family plus my sister descended on New World Bistro and Bar in Albany, NY tonight.  My sister had a hankering for their amazing adobe chicken wings and their even more amazing Bloody Mary.

We arrived promptly at 5 PM with the Senior crowd.  FF (my 18 month old daughter) has a 7:30 PM bedtime so we eat dinner as humanly as possible.

The hostesses were lovely and friendly.  Actually before I get into anything else, the service at this restaurant is fantastic, everyone was very attentive, helpful, followed through on our requests, and went the extra mile to find crayons for my daughter so that she could then fling them willy nilly around the restaurant.

Five minutes after we sat down, our table looked like this…

Here in descending order of tastiness is what we ordered (1 being the best, 10 being okay):

1.  Adobe Chicken – crispy, full of flavor, and just delicious.

2. Bloody Mary – perfect balanced blend of horseradish, spice, and a subtle flavor of vodka.

3. Tuna Tartare – we have had this dish each of the three times we have been to this restaurant.  It’s delicious with the light flavor, soft texture of the tuna, mixed with the crispness of the chip, mixed with the kimchi aioli was mouth-watering.  However, the portion was noticeably smaller this time.

4.  Watermelon Salad with house made queso fresco – This was so light and refreshing, and the watermelon was a surprising but interesting addition.  I couldn’t get enough of this but J and my sister were not as impressed.  I would order this dish over and over again.

5.  New World Burger (cheddar/jalapeno) – Unfortunately because I ordered this medium well, I kind of shot myself in the foot as I didn’t enjoy the burger as much as I did before.  But either way, the New World burger is a delicious burger, the bun is nice and soft and the fries are pretty good.

6.  Sweetbreads with baba ganouche – My sister and I did not try this as I don’t venture into organ meats.  According to my husband, the sweetbreads were not creamy and slightly overcooked.  The baba ganouche was good.  However, the caper berries were a nice touch and added a different flavor to the dish.

7.  Salmon ceviche – J did not like this at all.  It was swimming in sesame oil, and it killed the rest of the flavors in the dish.

8.  New World Pizza (Pizza was with tomato sauce, Romano, and mozzarella cheese) – This pizza was completely disappointing.  The sauce was missing and uninspiring with no taste because the Romano cheese overpowered everything.

Overall, after eating at New World three times now, the appetizers are the items that shine on the menu and I will keep on recommending their burgers.  Our bill for all of that food plus a beer for J was $93 plus tip.

The meal and the food was enjoyable, but our nearly 18 month old daughter cannot sit in the same spot for more than 2 minutes.  So when I say that we ate “together”, each of the three adults took turns entertaining and/or corralling her to keep the other diners safe from her destructive path.

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