Monday, January 26, 2015

DOING DISHES: Take Away Meals - U Mundu E Ca

One of the stupidest excuses other singles have for not cooking is that they can't be bothered with it for just one person, even when that one person is YOU. If you are anything like Zena, you are the center of the universe, and you don't have to be a goddess or superhero to appreciate how special you are. Ask your dog if you don't believe me.

You don't have to cook to eat real food.  You could easily make yourself a tuna sandwich if you are organized enough to have bread and mayo and a can of tuna around the house (and you can share your repast with the cat, who may not appreciate you, but they do like it when you feed them). Red's go-to on a lazy night or during an overly busy time is popcorn. Both go quite well with cardbordeaux (that's wine in a box in case you didn't get it), and while it ain't fine dining, it's certainly better than fast food. Or you can eat out somewhere decent, solo is fine, if good food and the world is what you need.
Parking is better on the Wolf Road side of this strip mall.
But apparently "The World is Here", which is what U Mundu E Ca supposedly translates to in English, although the closest I got online was underpants something. Anyway, this is an Italian specialty store with a small grocery selection, a well-stocked deli where you can order by the pound, a fabulous selection of sandwiches and take-away meals. Everything is homemade with best quality ingredients: these treats are totally worth stopping in for any day of the week, whether it's lunch or dinner for numero uno, or just you and a friend, or a family of four. Mundu is hidden away in a strip mall in the Hannaford's Plaza on the corner of Wolf and Sand Creek Road in Colonie. Happily, they post their daily creations and specials every single day on Facebook so you can plan accordingly (and if you LIKE Albany Dish on Facebook you will get their announcements as part of our news feed).

Always watching my nickels because I need what little I have to invest in saving the world from the forces of evil (and believe me, a new cape ain't cheap), I've been lucky enough to snag a few DoubleTakeOffers deals over the past few months for $20 worth of goods for only $10 at Mundu. So don't tell me that fast food is cheaper. It isn't. Ain't. NOT. On Friday night Foodie Friend and I stopped by for a procured meal to bring back to Chez Zena's. For $8.95 plus tax each we ordered Chicken Parm with ziti (no surprises there, if you've read our posts before) and a special dish of Crab Lasagna, each served with garlic bread and a salad, bringing us in just under our $20 coupon, so I bought a candy bar for dessert and handed over an extra $0.14 as we headed out the door. I win.  (:

They will heat your meal or package it for reheat in a microwave or conventional oven.
They can heat your meal or package it for reheat in a microwave or a conventional oven. We opted for aluminum and oven reheat at home (we replaced the plastic lid with foil before drinking anything), and sipped on the first of two bottles of beaujolais that would start our weekend off right. An hour later at 350 degrees F we split the main courses and set ourselves a nice table. The garlic bread, wrapped tightly in foil at Mundu and which we only heated for 10 minutes or so, was toasted to just the right color. The bread was dense and chewy and buttery, although I'm not crazy about the taste of garlic powder/salt when fresh is always SO much better. Speaking of which, the salads were very fresh, with carrot, grape tomatoes, pimento stuffed olives, and mixed greens (including a healthy dose of romaine), served with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette packaged on the side. It was very tasty.
Two lovely side salads with a homemade balsamic dressing on the side.
The ziti, even with an oven reheat, was the perfect texture (toothsome but not tough), telling me it wasn't Prince spaghetti night. The sauce was bright, tart and generous with the flavors of black pepper and garlic. The chicken cutlet, topped with the sauce and a few thin slices of provolone (?) was tender and juicy, a bit crispy still, and the whole dish held together nicely. But the Crab Lasagna was the show-stopper: rich, creamy, cheesy, and totally decadent, and if I could take myself out on food (defying other forces of evil) this would be the way to go. The crab flavor was subtle in a totally decadent ricotta filling layered between perfect pasta. The texture was so lovely I closed my eyes and groaned with pleasure. Not out loud, of course, maybe a slight woo woo sound or something, but I'm afraid it was still audible.
The Crab Lasagna was delicious. Next time I'm not sharing it.

U Mundu E Ca is one of those little hidden gems that are worthy of attention. They are busy, and, I hope, they will just keep getting busier. They deserve the repeat customers more than anyplace I've been to in a long time. It smells DIVINE in there, and the staff are genuinely friendly and seem to care deeply about what they serve. I'll keep an eye open for more of those groovy coupons, for tonight's special, for this and other ways of being good to myself, and for cars zooming through the parking lot as I head home with my booty.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

P.S. Let me make a suggestion, if you value your Batmobile or whatever vehicle you are driving these days - park on the Wolf Road side of the parking lot. The Sand Creek side, in front of Mundu, is on a busy through road in the mall and it's hard to pull out without feeling like getting T-boned is in your horoscope for the day. Just saying.  

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Lunch out at Treviso by Mallozzi's

I've been at the University at Albany for almost 14 years (by day I'm a librarian), and never ONCE has Treviso bleeped Zena's superpower radar as a lunch option, even though it's only a few miles up the road. Like a good night's sleep, I've clearly been missing something for a very long time. No wonder I'm cranky.

The unmarked entryway and shabby awning shouldn't discourage you from venturing inside.
Located at The Italian American Community Center on Washington Avenue Extension, Treviso is one of five eating establishments managed by Mallozzi's. The exterior is a bit stark and uninviting, but with cold snowy weather we hussled inside hoping for warmth and good cheer. We were NOT disappointed. The entryway to the dining room is glowing and homey, and the staff were bright and happy to welcome us. The air was heavily scented with garlic. OOOOOOOH. Nice start.

Coming in from the cold the reception area is warm and inviting.
My first visit was in mid-December, just before the holidays, and the dining room was packed. How did I miss this place? One thing to know - Treviso is only open on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for lunch, and a reservation is recommended if you are going with a larger party (something they seem to do very well, as there were more than a half dozen large tables being served that afternoon). Luckily there were only two of us, and even without a reservation we were promptly seated and attended to. The booths are very popular - big, deep red upholstered things, but the tables are also sturdy and large, and red linen is everywhere. 

The decor is elegant but homey - all the walls are plastered with vintage photos.

The mid-day menu is limited but includes soups, salads, and sandwiches, as well as a choice of eight Italian classics. Jaguar ordered a Pesto Turkey Club ($8.95) and I asked for the Veal & Peppers with ziti (capellini was another option - $9.95). A basket of warm garlic bread sprinkled with parsley was delivered with our club sodas (no wine on these visits - gotta be a good Goddess and achieve amazing feats at work during the afternoon). The bread was good but tasted distinctly of garlic powder - not so good, but crunchy and buttery. The Club was huge - at least 3" thick - mounds of freshly roasted moist turkey thinly sliced on a lovely ciabatta roll, a few slices of perfectly cooked bacon, tangy cheddar cheese, and a flavorful sauce that complimented the whole. A side of parmesan fries were decidedly light and not at all greasy, and they didn't overwhelm the plate either. Less bread might have been better, practically speaking, as I watched my friend try to take a bite without opening her mouth like she was at the dentist to have a molar extracted. But she loved the dish so much she took half home to enjoy later, in private.

The bread was toasted and garlicky.
At 3" thick, Jag's sandwich required superpower heroes to bite into.
I was happy too. The Veal & Peppers, topped with freshly shaved parm, had lots of big pieces of freshly roasted red peppers, the meat was incredibly tender, and the sauce rich and luxurious, sporting garlic and wine and spices. Th textures were fleshy and sublime. And not too much pasta for a change. Half of this dish came back to work with me where one of my co-workers generously agreed to try it for the Dish. She was also wowed by the veal and the tasty peppers. Very nice. Well considered and presented.

Veal and Peppers topped with freshly shaved parmesan cheese.

The dessert menu offered up tiramisu, tartufo, gelato and cheesecake, among others ($3.95 - $5.95) but we were full and then some, despite holding back on cleaning our plates, which was pure willpower, trust me, because everything was delicious. Lunch for two, including two sodas and two cups of coffee, came to only $30.65 plus tip. The waitstaff were well tipped on this one, and they deserved it. Everyone smiles and is not playing by rote. Excellent service from start to finish.

In early January I returned, this time with Red, Pony and Foodie Friend to try Treviso's menu again and see if the food was as good as the first time. My friends remarked that the space had the feel of a family living room, and with that I agreed. Though not as busy as during the holiday rush, the room was still well occupied and lively, but not noisy by any means. We ordered simple beverages and each asked for different dishes so we could taste more of the menu. Our garlic bread arrived promptly, and it was relished by all while we waited for lunch.

Foodie Friend had the special - Shrimp Diavolo ($9.95) -served over a creamy risotto. The shrimps were large, sweet and tender, and there was a very spicy sausage in there laced with fennel. This one had some heat, and the sausage had a dense bite which we enjoyed, with lots of tomato but not drowning in sauce (though the image might indicate otherwise). Decadent and powerful, this was a hit, with more zing than anything else on the table.

Shrimp Diavolo with spicy sausage over risotto.
Red ordered the Eggplant Rollatini ($9.95), which tasted like................wait for it........... eggplant, not at all mushy, with capellini. The filling was a luscious seasoned ricotta, and the sauce was light and aromatic with plenty of herbs to keep it interesting. Perfectly seasoned, this classic was a hit with all of us at the table that day.True to form, Red quietly ate the whole thing. She's a superpower in the making, that's for sure.

Eggplant Rollatini with capellini pasta.
After my own heart, Pony asked for the Chicken Parmesan, a large serving boasting a rather thick cutlet with a crisp breading and a dose of some nice stringy mozzerella on top. The meat was just a bit tough but it was very tasty. We liked the red sauce. It had some complexity and flavor, and the pasta was cooked to perfection. She thought it was one of the best she had had in a long time, and I agreed. Let me point out, too, that the sauces on these three dishes were all different - not just some red sauce dumped over everything leaving the kitchen. Kudos.
Pony had the Chicken Parm
Because FF beat me to the special, and Red beat me to the Rollatini, and Pony beat me to the Chicken Parm, I decided to order a the Classic Caeser Salad (sp.!!! - $7.95) topped with chicken (for another $4.95). This was a disappointment - no croutons (weird - usually I have to push them aside), with a dressing that was dense and garlickly and somewhat bland. I had our server bring me a few wedges of fresh lemon, which helped. The chicken was cold, and garlicky also, and salty, and the whole thing could have done with a bit of freshly ground pepper. Certainly virtuous, a nice "share" for the table, and I finished it, but can't recommend. At $12.90 total, it was a little overpriced for what it was.

 A virtuous salad after the holiday glut.
Lunch for four came to $52.10 for four entrees and two sodas plus tip, so a bargain, considering the stellar service and general ambiance. We felt welcome, appreciated and left feeling happy. So when Zena is feeling cranky from now on everyone is like, "Let's go to Treviso." Good idea. 

Zena, Goddess of Fire

P.S. The entryway sports a cool old motorcycle just beyond the reception desk. Men.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


It's the time to rummage into the back of your cabinets and get out those barely unwrapped gift jars of pickles. They're a fantastic winter time treat and they bring  the idea of seasonal menus to the forefront.

I'm on a campaign to bring pickles back as a celebration of last summer's bounty in a tart and tongue tantalizing incarnation.  This is one way we can keep eating local foods through the most brutal part of our year and the other is freezing (but that's another post).  Yes, it's old-fashioned, but it's also completely in tune with the contemporary spirit of sustainable local food.

Here are my campaign goals:  local pickles featured in restaurant meals as garnishes and side dishes, local pickles in area groceries that do those sorts of things, you and me making pickles out of everything - especially easy pickles like our CSA carrots and those gorgeous diakons at the Asian groceries.

I just opened my jar of The Berry Farm pickled brussels sprouts and gosh darn it, those are some amazing flavors.  My friend Lauren pickled her gigantic pole beans last summer and they are every bit as tasty and summery now with my turkey burgers. I doused my sliced daikon with sushi vinegar and voila - deliciousness on a stick! The pickled beets and pickled garlic in the fridge are looking appetizing too, not to mention the pickled red cabbage, which makes a ham sandwich sing. Pickles wake up sleepy comfort food meals. 

Pickles are a way that restaurants can add the unique touch. I'm remembering the days when Helsinki Cafe in Great Barrington used to serve dilled cucumbers with gravlax and dark rye bread and it was a meal you couldn't get anywhere else within 150 miles. 

They're great for potlucks where you know that everyone else is going to have the main dishes covered. Take the most odd ball pickles you can find and it adds to the entertainment as well as to the widening of people's experience of unique foods. One of my favorites is ocra pickles because they are just SO much better than people think they are going to be.

Pickles!!!  Get 'em, use 'em make 'em.

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.