Monday, December 15, 2014

DOING DISHES: Capital Area Calamari

calamari. n. (Cookery) squid cooked for eating, esp cut into rings and fried in batter. [Fr. Italian, pl of calamaro squid, from Latin calamarium pen-case, referring to the squid's internal shell, from Greek kalamos reed]

PUBLIC NOTICE:  Cephalapods, probably Loligo and Ilex squid, are invading the Capital Region!!! Please don't be alarmed - Zena, Goddess of Fire, is here to help!!! I will start (along with my courageous friends) by eating my way through a bunch of calamari to try and reduce their population. It's a tough job and not for the faint of heart. If you feel there is still a squid emergency at the end of all this, no worries: I'll go out after dark and use my laser beam vision to do some squid-jigging (as required).

Goat Island Squid
It seems like EVERYONE has calamari on their menus - the Italian joints, Mexican restaurants, Pan Asian options and even seafood restaurants. I have NO idea why. It's ugly (think tentacles), has almost no flavor, and, if you screw it up, chewier than a Barbie doll head (not that I would know). I think they think that, like ahi tuna, if they put it on the menu it will sell.

OK OK - it's pretty healthy (high in protein, low in fat, low in mercury) before you add the batter and deep fry it and cover it in sauce. Oh, and it enjoys a healthy wild population here in the northeast, so its also relatively inexpensive compared to many other seafood options (more than half or our squid comes from Rhode Island), and that's good too. It IS mild and firm for something slimy looking, and that's also very good. 

But is it delicious? Versatile? How in the name of Zeus are we even going to whittle down this long list of places that serve it down to something manageable? We couldn't so we started with what was in or around downtown Albany and worked our way out.

This is what we found, with a score as follows:

5 - Excellent (Laughing Squid)
4 - Very Good (Baby Squid)
3 - Ordinary (WTF Squid)
2 - Poor (Is that a squid in your pocket?)
1 - Inedible  (Dead Squid)

Garden Bistro 24: Friday November 7, "happy hour" - A normal size appetizer ($10) of Crispy Calamari tossed in a tarragon chili aioli over a bed of lettuce. It was NOT served on a bed of lettuce, rather garnished with a sprinkle of microgreens, and we didn't taste any tarragon, but it was delicious. The squid (hand cut in-house, including tell-tale-tentacles) was crisp, with a nice tasty batter, and the sauce had a good balance of sweet and hot. My lips were tingling and greasy at the same time - divine. The sauce was VERY rich - a bit overwhelming maybe - so it was good to go splits on this one.  Next time - and there will be a next time! - I'll ask for the sauce on the side.  SCORE: 4.5 - Great but too much sauce.

NEXT TIME: I went back a second time on Friday December 12 with a couple of my favorite Bar Babes to ask them to "deconstruct" this dish for me. Alone this deep fried squid was flavorful, (especially with an added dash of salt), and very crisp and rich. The batter was a bit more traditional/heavier than many others I've had in the area. The dish was better this time because it wasn't drenched in that delicious sauce. Oh, and this time there was a bed of greens underneath.  SCORE II: 4.75. TBB pointed out that the crust was thicker than she might like.

Crispy Calamari with tarragon aioli at Garden Bistro in Colonie, NY - November 7
The same dish at Garden Bistro "deconstructed" with the sauce on the side - December 12

Tesoro's Italian Restaurant: Sunday November 9 "happy hour" - A generous antipasti of Calamari Fritti ($8.95), freshly prepared in a batter of (just milk and flour) served with a gravy boat of simple marinara sauce on the side. The squid was very plain but nice and crunchy, and the sauce was bright (almost lemony) and not too thick or gooey. The dish was served hot with a large fresh lemon wedge on the side. A classic. SCORE: 3.75 - Very good but the fish could use a bit more salt/other seasoning.

Calamari Fritti at Tesoro's in Guilderland, NY

Barcelona Restaurant: Monday November 10, lunchtime - From the Great Beginnings part of the lunch menu, this was a generous serving of Fried Calamari ($7.95 though it's listed online at $6.95). The batter was delicate and a very light golden brown but not as crispy as we would have liked. It was perfectly seasoned with salt and a sprinkle of fresh herbs. The sauce was thick and smooth, and served warm (which we loved!). We noted there was a "Special Salad Barcelona" that offered up fried or sauteed calamari so we may go back and try it. SCORE: 3.5- Nicely done but we wanted it to be crispier.
Fried Calamari at Barcelona Restaurant on Western Avenue in Albany, NY
Creo' Restaurant: Monday November 17, lunchtime - Kung Pao Calamari is on their list of small plates ($12.00), "crispy calamari tossed with a Thai sweet chili glaze". Having learned our lesson with the squid in sauce at Garden Bistro the first time, we asked for the sauce to be served on the side, which didn't do anything to pull this dish together with all it's disparate parts, but it did let us try the sauce separately from the fish. Good thing we did. The calamari (lots!) was nice and tender but flavorless; at least it wasn't greasy. The calamari was presented on a bed of those white fried rice noodles (the puffy ones) with a sprinkle of scallions, chopped tomatoes, and black and white sesame seeds - very pretty. But the sauce was way too sweet, barely spicy, and somehow on the cheap, so I asked the waitress to ask the chef was was in it and this was the reply: sugar, water, pickled red chili and garlic powder. After all that work to use a sauce like this is the type of crime I am here to save the world from. SCORE: 3.0 Work on that sauce!!!!

A very pretty presentation at Creo
Reel Seafood: Tuesday November 25, 6:00 pm - Three of us barely escaped traffic and entered the newly renovated space with a sense of awe and delight. The bar and dining room are really lovely, classy, and a welcome respite from the holiday rush. The Cantonese Calamari ($13) appetizer was another take on that fried squid tossed with a sweet/hot sauce that by now is getting to be old school. This one would be tossed with a bottled sauce called Mae Ploy: pretty tasty but still, to my super-senses, overly sweet and syrupy, so again I was glad that I asked for the sauce on the side. My dish, like at Creo, came "de-constructed" - with finely sliced purple cabbage and a bit of fresh pineapple presented in their own bowl. Alone the calamari (a very generous serving!) was tender but nicely brown and crispy - perfect actually, with a slightly heavier batter . No salt. (Wondering by now if the chef doesn't think to season calamari if it is being served "plain"). Together the combination was splendid. The fresh crunch of the cabbage, the juicy bright taste of tropical fruit, the heat from the sauce and the tender crisp calamari all came together and made me glow. SCORE: 4.0. A bit of salt is needed when a sauce is served on the side. Please, make your own sauce.

Deconstructed calamari at Reel Seafood.
Next: Milano Restaurant, located in Newton Plaza on Route 9 in Latham, NY. This was the first area restaurant that boasted an "open kitchen" - one where you can actually watch the chef do his magic from the dining room - and the layout is still true today, more than 20 years later. This time it was lunch on a cold December 8 (Monday) - not busy but enough tables to make it worth their while. I was seated so I could see some of what was going on with the cooking process. I heard the squid go down in the saute pan with a nice poof of steam, and I saw it being decorated with the fresh herbs, and then I watched it sitting there for our absent waitress for several minutes before being served- thankfully it was still nice and warm. This was Calamari alla Diavola, an appetizer-sized appetizer (for a change) - sauteed, not breaded and deep-fried, and for the first time I wanted the serving to be larger ($9.50). This was the most creative dish of calamari so far on my wild squid expedition, and instead of wrestling with it, I gave it kisses. Sweet, tender squid that tasted like squid, not batter, dressed with Kalamata olives and capers and topped with a nice handful of fresh basil, served with a side of warm Kalamata and caper infused marinara sauce that was spicy but not "hot" hot. Excellent!  SCORE: 4.75. Next time I hope I get a larger portion!

Calamari alla Diavola at Milano Restaurant
OK that's (6) and since I started this there haven't been any new reports of squid attacks (nothing major, anyway), so this must be working! I'm still concerned about the explosive squid population here in Capital Region restaurants,  so please know that I'm still fighting the good fight. I'll go try the calamari six more times in six more places and I'll do another entry, assuming none of those squids takes me out in batter. I mean battle.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

P.S. If you have a FAVORITE place for calamari please comment!!! We'll add it to our list and hope to get there eventually, unless of course it's an emergency, and then we'll get on it ASAP. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Crab Stick: Asian Tea House Sushi Meetup

The only thing I hate more than fake superheros is fake food, and I don't mean those plastic grapes that the people I work with would eat if I put a bowl of them in the break room.

No, I mean stuff like Crab Stick - pulverized fish (usually Alaskan pollack) that is reformed with "meat glue" (transglutaminase - an enzyme that reforms the puree into a solid), and maybe starch from wheat and tapioca or corn and vegetable oils and MSG and salt and it's dyed red and then shredded to have the texture of crab. It's the Chicken McNugget of sushi, and is decidedly a cheaper alternative to real crab (or real fish for that matter), which is why we often see it being served in our sushi restaurants. And it's crap.

Which is why the Crab Stick-in-my-throat overload at the Asian Tea House last week was such a disappointment. I was with a group of over 50 people organized by the Sushi Lovers Meetup here in Albany, NY - a lively group of folks who actually LIKE eating sushi with others that LIKE eating sushi and we don't need to listen to your weird "bait" jokes. We arrived and were seated at 6:30, and had our first dish at 7:15 - (45 minutes to chew on fried won tons): a lovely bowl of Hot & Sour soup. It was a bit gooey for my liking but warm and dense with mushrooms, egg, water chestnuts and tofu. It had a sneaky heat and was actually slightly sweet - a first for my tastes - but good.

The hot and sour soup was rich and tasty
Then came the first crab-attack. This dish they called their "house specialty" - Sushi Pizza. It was triangular nacho chips covered in Crab Stick "salad" (tossed with mayo and chili oil [I'm guessing] so it was bright orange), topped with fried panku flakes. It was pretty and also pretty disgusting.

Sushi pizza was pretty and pretty disgusting
Next came a platter of pan-fried spicy won tons filled with chicken. These were salty and garlicky, served with a warm, slightly sweet chili sauce laced with curry powder, which was kind of weird but OK.

Fried won tons filled with chicken
Next was another round of fried things - pork filled dumplings that were really chewy and cold and tasted like garlic. So were filling up on fake crab and fried things. Where's my sushi???
Fried dumplings filled with pork
Two salads arrived at the table - seaweed standard laced with sesame oil and topped with cucumber (actually very tasty) and more of that Crab Stick salad mixture (the salad was exactly what came on top of that "pizza" served earlier), and also topped with fried panku. Yuck.

Above - seaweed salad, and below the "crab" salad. The plates themselves were very attractive.
Aha! Finally a platter of sashimi - tuna (albacore), creamy salmon, red snapper (this was the best of them), yellowtail, and something they call "white tuna". This was NOT tuna, IS NOT tuna: this was Escolar, tasty, greasy, and one of the reasons you might want to avoid it is because it makes you want to go poo. It is cheap fish and not something you want to eat too much of.  Note it is banned for sale in Japan because it is considered toxic. A fish they won't eat but we will??? OK that's a new one.

Red snapper (front) and then from left to right: tuna, salmon, "white tuna" and yellowtail
This was promising, but the next platter was not sushi as I had hoped, but a plate of "rolls", and there was more of this Crab Stick in or on everything. I thought the mortals we were sharing the table with were more discerning about their sushi, but they dove into this stuff with gusto. Or maybe they were just really really hungry. By this time I'm picking out the Crab Stick. I asked myself, Self: what were they hiding under those mounds of Crab Stick salad??? It's like Uh-merican food buried under cheese. The presentation was shoddy and gooky looking.

Crab stick in the roll on the left and mounded on top of the rolls on the right. Who knows what's under there.
Then "jalapeno shots" - a bit of raw tuna, fresh jalapeno, vinegar, sweet. I liked it very much.

The next platter was........................ and we waited over a half hour for it.............................wait for it.....................  was more of what we just got (see the ones with the little dots of sriracha pepper sauce?), and a shrimp roll with avocado and Crap Stuck Crap   Crab Stick that was bready and even had a fried won ton in the middle, and bland, and weird. AND, TAAAAAAAA DAAAAAAAA --  FINALLY, 12 sushi (which is plural of sushi) also on this platter. The 6 of us at our table quickly devoured these and were left wishing there was more.
Weird shrimp roll had more of that Crap Stuck Crab Stick in it.
And we waited and waited and another platter of sushi eventually arrived and it was very good. Thick pieces of red snapper, silky smooth salmon, earthy yellowtail. No tuna. Nothing fancy. The rice was decidedly sweet but properly prepared. I would LOVE to have eaten more but we had now been there almost 3 hours, we were tired and I still had the forces of evil to deal with overnight, and we were hungry when we arrived and ended up filling up on fillers, and it was time to go. 
The sushi, when it finally came, was delicious
Bottom lines: the service was friendly but way too slow, and there certainly wasn't enough help to manage the room properly (dirty dishes were left lingering, water jugs needed filling, etc.). We were told that the restaurant was overwhelmed with such a large group (even though we were expected, albeit a few more than originally planned), but I am suspicious that maybe the long wait for the sushi and the cheap eats beforehand ensured we were full and too tired to eat much more than the sushi that was offered at the end. OR it could be they just didn't have enough fresh fish to go around. Or both. Anyway, they're bottom line goes chi-ching with cheap eats and fillers and long waits ($25 per person including tax and tip IS a deal, but that still doesn't meat I want to eat junk food). My unasked for advice?  Go and try the sushi and sashimi in the dining room proper but be wary if you are planning a group event.

And no doubt there were sushi snobs in that room full of Sushi Lovers, but nobody complained about the food, just a bit about the service (and online/later), and they enjoyed each others company. So I kept my big mouth shut, which for me isn't an easy thing, and I saved my valued opinions (HA!) for Albany Dish.

The Sushi Lovers Meetup really is a nice bunch of folks.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: I hate plastic tablecloths except on a picnic table.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


In spite of being cautious and trying a restaurant several times before reviewing it, a writer can write a description of a really nice restaurant experience and then find that the restaurant just can't keep it up the quality. The Grille at 138 was a place that I wanted to be good,  have to admit.  It's a been a new addition in our neighborhood, and it'a always nice to have a place that isn't another pizza and wings joint.

For the second time in the last few weeks I've been sorely disappointed and felt like the service staff have been great, but the kitchen has totally lost its touch. Since I had good experiences with several areas of the menu in my first visits I was curious about the beef stroganoff, the true sixties throwback in this old school menu.  It was terrible. I know every restaurant has an off night, but this dish should never have been allowed out of the kitchen and the person who put it together should be sacked. Anyone over 15 would have looked at the plate and had an "eww" reaction. So … I have to think that things have gone seriously south.

Recently I decided to give the buffet a try to see if the beef stroganoff was a fluke and unfortunately the experience only confirmed my suspicions.  I have to withdraw my previous support of this place, and relegate it to the extensive mediocre-to-bad list of places that plague our city.  All it would take is an effort to get the back of the house on track again, so I'll watch and wait to see what others say about any new developments in quality.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Rocco's (rak-ōhz)

I hate November. It's dark out and getting darker and it's been unbelievably cold and I get cold in these dumb tights and there's been snow and one minute your sitting on your back porch "getting outside" with a cocktail and the next we're scraping ice off the windshield. Even the dark forces of evil are hibernating already, and even though zombies have been out since late October, they're no fun. Bored bored bored. Sigh. I guess you should know this: even superheroes get the blues.

What better remedy for Zena than to go on an adventure and eat out!!! Foodie Friend got out the Mini and we fought our way along trafficky roads into a sea of oncoming headlights like two salmon moving upstream (in our case, upstate) to try dinner at Rocco's, located at the corner of Main Street and Longkill Road in Clifton Park, NY. The parking lot was almost full at 5:30 on a Thursday - a good sign for a new restaurant (only open since October 2014). We raced inside, out of the wind, to a warm and warmly lit sanctuary of small tables and low laughter. Not at us, I don't think - everyone seemed to be enjoying neighborly conversation, and a couple of good drinks at the bar. Reservations a must (the dining area filled up quickly as the evening came on), we were welcomed at the side entrance (by a zombie - I can tell) and promptly seated away from everyone at the dozen or so tables that make up the dining area and put on display like a couple of mannequins in a shop window under bright lights near the front of the restaurant. Not easy to be cool and blogging undercover but good for taking pictures and notes. Kinda odd, that front space. And did I mention I also look better in low light???

Our waiter was attentive, sort of green but not a zombie, I'm not sure what though, a bit sweaty, but good at his job. We looked over the wine list and found about 13 by the glass. The list was organized "by style" - e.g., "Full Bodied", "Sweeter", "Full Bold Rich Flavors", etc. Very weird but it could by typical of Zombie organization. There was a lot of California wines, a few from Italy, France, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina, but no NY wines. Tsk tsk. Oh, and ALL the bottles were $30 each. OK not sure what that was about - maybe trying to appear affordable (which it is!)??? FF was driving and opted out, so I ordered a glass of the Spellbound Merlot ($7.00) - a generous pour was delivered in a big crystal glass. The wine was rich, smooth, not complex, tasting of dark fruit (cherries), a bit of oak, and with a sharp edge that I really loved - very nice.

Water is served in a Ball Mason jar (left from the last business?) next to the lovely wine glass. The decor is confused but still comfortable. 
Our server returned and gave us the rundown on a few specials, including Veal Oscar (topped with crab, asparagus and hollandaise [$22.95]), a pasta dish of rigatoni, sausage and roasted cauliflower ($18.95), and a crab rangoon appetizer that didn't appeal (I think they are crunchy and greasy and overrated as food). Other starters (10 total, including a House and a Caesar salad) included mussels (on our night out served with a vanilla basil cream sauce), clams, crab cakes and arancini, as well as a butternut squash soup topped with candied walnuts.

FF decided to try the just four oysters ($1.75/each), which were varied in size and all smooth, perfectly tender, and mild. The mignonette sauce had serious bite (vinegar!), but the bit of fresh horseradish was amazing. 

We ordered our main courses and were asked, at one point, if we wanted more bread. I pointed out that we hadn't gotten any yet, so with an apology our server whooshed out and someone soon brought over a basket of the loveliest bread I've had in a while - chewy but not tough with a good crust that wasn't so hard that it cuts - served with a mixture of sweet ricotta, flavored with lemon peel and black pepper. A little too sweet for me, but a nice surprise - I liked the taste of the salty bread with that spread.

We didn't feel rushed but also didn't wait overly long for dinner to be served. The menu, which promises to change with the seasons (this was their FIRST menu, FYI), offered up five pastas (including Tagliatelle and Meatballs and a Orrichiette di Rocco's for the meat lovers, and House Made Cavatelli with spinach and caramelized onions for the vegetarians out there), and on the back of the menu were seven entrees, featuring dishes with sole, duck, lamb and pork, each with sides that weren't all the same for everything (thoughtfully put together) ($21.99 to $28.99). Something for everyone but there were not a lot of choices, which I think is a good thing, as I suspect in such places that the few dishes they do are usually done well. I would have liked to know more about their sourcing - are they local? can they credit the farms if they are? that sort of thing.

FF ordered the Lobster Mac & Cheese ($22.99), topped with a Ritz Cracker crust. The sauce was amazing - not thick and gooey at all. In fact it was intensely and incredibly rich and silky. The dish was loaded with large chunks of tender, tasty lobster (unlike others we've tried where there are small bits of a bit of lobster lurking in there somewhere). The crackers were sweet and buttery and a fun compliment. She tried to finish it - the bowls are deep (keeping the food hotter longer, methinks) so the servings don't look large when delivered - but despite a valiant effort decided finally to take some home for the next day. One of the best ever lobster mac&cheese dishes EVER!!!

I ordered the pasta special of no particular name - the one with the roasted cauliflower, which sounded weird enough to try since it was married into a traditional pasta dish. That first bite was divine - good enough for ANY superhero, goddess, etc. The cauliflower was cooked up tender but not mushy, the sweetness balanced by just a tad of red pepper. The sausage (not too much - I would have liked more of this and the cauliflower, I think) was hot and spicy. The sauce was really garlicky but delicious and not at all gloppy. My only complaint was the rigatoni was a bit too toothy and really could have cooked for at least another minute. This was also a generous serving that was better on the reheat the next day for lunch (to cook that pasta). 

Rigatoni special with roasted cauliflower and hot sausage, topped by our waiter with a grating of fresh parmesan cheese
There was no printed menu but there were five desserts available - tiramisu, NY style cheesecake, lemon tarts, apple tarts, creme brulee and a flourless chocolate cake. Wait that's six. Anyway, we didn't order anything, but our server brought us two still warm gratis brownies to try and they were tender and chewy and chocolaty and all things good AND I forgot to take a picture, we just dove right in. Everything was special and we were SO glad we decided to try what could prove to be the "go to" destination restaurant for this northern suburb of Albany. It's upscale - not cheap by any means but not overpriced either - Rocco's is approachable, comfortable, and welcoming. It was a very nice night out.

Dinner for two with 4 oysters, two pasta dishes and two glasses of wine (yes, cheri - two!!!) was $68.42 including tax plus tip.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: There may be more zombies in Clifton Park than I was previously aware of. Please keep me posted if there are problems. Thanks.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Pudding Echo from the Tour de Doughnut - er- Donut

Yes, we worked like dogs to determine the Capital Region's best cider donuts last Saturday for the 2014 Tour de Donut. I wanted to avoid the unpleasantness that comes from woofing several donuts so I pledged to only take enough bites of each donut to get the sense of it and bag the rest of it for donut bread pudding. They have been drying during the week so that last night I had some very crunchy dry half-donut pieces. I finally got all the pudding ingredients together and voila!

The perfect fall breakfast

I'm terrible about following recipes, especially since most of the time one can pretty much fudge things by using a basic principle and not being very daring.  The bread pudding principle I followed was: one cup of milk and three eggs + bread + flavorings.

I have a nice little Mexican cazuelas (baking dish) that is about seven inches across, which was right for a total of about two and a half donuts and the custard. I preheated the oven to 350.

Then things got out of hand.  Barely keeping the principle in mind I came upon that little bit of leftover coconut milk that would be hard to use, so I put it in the ingredients area I was assembling. Then I got worried about the amount of volume I'd have, there being so little actual donut material.  My eyes ran across those apples that need baking that are sitting in the kitchen and I selected a nice big one and grated it. So now I had 1/2 cup of coconut milk and a half cup of cow's milk, the three eggs, about a cup of grated apple, and 2 1/2 donuts. I broke up the donuts in the cazuelas and mixed the custard with the grated apple and a half teaspoon of salt, a few dashes of cinnamon, a tablespoon (more or less) of brown sugar and a few  dashes of nutmeg plus a hearty teaspoon of vanilla.  The donuts also had a lot of spice and sugar so there was no use in making the spices and sweetness overwhelming.

The grated apple kept things very moist during the baking, so it ended up being about 50 minutes even with such a small dish. I made a little foil tent at some point and kept it on for about the middle 30 minutes and that allowed the top to carmelize then kept it from burning.

I'm not terribly fond of bread pudding sauces, so I didn't try to come up with one. But if you need sauce it looks like Deanna Fox has come up with a very lovely one in her bread pudding article.

This was my first attempt at donut bread pudding, and I admit that I assumed it would be way too sweet and sort of yukky.  Since I was able to monkey around with the balance of flavors I think I avoided that and got a rather moist, gooey pudding of apple cider deliciousness, due to the very moist grated apple and the addition of the coconut milk.

If you have a great bread pudding recipe, please share it.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

City Line Bar and Grill: Dos and Don'ts

I have officially visited City Line Bar and Grill and have a short list of dos and don'ts for this new bar, a from-the-ground-up replacement for the old Sutter's Mill pub on Western Avenue opposite the University at Albany entrance.

Do take in the surroundings, which are a welcome break from the usual sort of  cozy but moldering and somewhat sticky ambiance of Albany bars and pubs.  Sutter's Mill was bulldozed and a completely new building has been constructed and nicely appointed. Steve Barnes describes it as: "150 dining-room seats, room for 50 at the bar and another 75 seasonal spaces on the deck."  Did you see that?  Room for 50 at the bar.  75 spaces on the deck, which has a great big stone gas fireplace. The bar takes up half of the entire space and it's the coolest bar to come along to Albany in a while. All the natural light streaming in gives it a fantastic glow as the cocktails take hold. The bar and grill in total is one huge room with a very high ceiling that somehow makes the acoustics perfect. With good acoustics and the music volume low, the atmosphere is very refreshing. The entire back wall is glass panels that fold so that the back can be opened onto the deck. One very mild evening the back was open and for the duration it took to absorb a lovely cocktail after a hard day of work I was in an extremely pleasant place.  For more photos see the All Over Albany photo  spread:

Do visit the bar and go for drinks with friends and enjoy the crowd, which has been pleasantly at a low volume so that as you drink you can actually still hear all the people in your party. It's wonderful!!! 

Please, however, do not order any food. I've tried it for research purposes four times.  I've never experienced such consistently bad food in my life, except in a school cafeteria, which is actually what this food reminds me of. Believe me - I'm an education professional, so I've spent over 30 years of my life around institutional food. The names and descriptions sound good, but the food is almost always bad. The turkey burger above was the best thing I tried, but for the life of me I can't understand why the flat bread was rolled up on the left side of the burger and was tough - I mean it was tough to cut it  with a knife.  Was it for cuteness?

I won't go into the strange and inadequate service except to say that service there is a combination of disdainful and nice but bad. The time I went for just drinks my companion and I were treated to indifference, then condescension and finally shown a table in a half-empty area. They served us horrible hummus!!!  How can anyone over 18 years old screw up hummus?  It was watery and I have no idea if they even know what tahini is, not to mention that hummus has lemon in it. Whatever it was they served us didn't.

I was served the wrong meal one of my visits. The final insult was the full entree dinner I decided to try that was described as a steak dusted with peppercorns and set alight when served on a nest of potatoes and kale. It tasted like steak that was grilled and then dunked in cheap whiskey mildly flavored with maple - I mean like if you took the steak off your plate and dunked it in your cocktail. This is not a good combination of flavors. It had a different combination of veggies than was described on the menu and they were poorly prepared - one was overcooked and the other was undercooked. Knowing by that time that I was not likely to get a better meal, I sent it back and paid my check, which did not include the entree - at least both times the kitchen/serving staff completely obliterated my meal they didn't charge me for it. 

My recommendation is that the "grill" half of the place be revamped, meaning that the service staff be trained to welcome customers and serve food, and the kitchen staff be trained to prepare good food.  That would be sort of analogous to bulldozing the building and starting from the ground up, which the owners know how to do.

They have a basic web page with no menu: and a facebook page with a teeny bit more information:

LorreBob sez: Go and drink then have dinner somewhere that has good food.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

“We want people to come in and sit down and eat and be a part of the community.”

It's Albany's Soul Cafe, in Center Square.

In the fellowship hall (that most of us know from our church-going or synagogue-going childhoods if we had one) the evening unfolds. Volunteers have organized the food, the cooking and the serving.  Fantastic aromas are emanating from the bee-hive like church kitchen, there are seats for about 80 people and a long serving table.  It's not fancy, but it serves the purpose.

Suddenly at 6:00 the door opens and there's a line of people at the donation box, contributing what they can.  It's families from all walks of life who want to be together in the atmosphere of community and service.  It's wholesome food for anyone who shows up.  There's raucous donated piano music, trays of food and furor as everyone lines up and chooses what they'd like to try for the evening's supper.

When everyone has been served the group settles in, the children begin to race around the room or go to the play table, and there is conversation of the contented. Those who want to get up and move can join in the zumba. For each person it has a different meaning, and that's the beauty, I mean, besides the generosity and the kindness and the welcome and the community.

Go - I mean it.

Albany Soul Café Community Dinner 
Westminster Presbyterian Church 
262 State Street, Albany 
(Parking and Entrance at 85 Chestnut Street) 
All are welcome! 
Dinners are the last Monday of each month from 6 to 8 p.m. 
November 24 • Harvest Dinner 
Suggested Donation: 
$5 Adults / $3 Kids 
All proceeds go to support the Soul Café.

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