Friday, August 1, 2014

Save the Dates!!! Foodie Events Coming Up This Late Summer and Fall

Here is a selection of foodie events I found by nosing around on the google and they're coming up in and around the Capital Region.  Work up an appetite and go!! Let us know how it went and who the best producers are in the area.

I combed through this many times trying to make sure there are no or minimal typos and have put a website link for each event (if it has one) in hopes that you'll go to the website to confirm dates and times.  My apologies if there are mistakes regarding the event you want to attend!

Hudson Valley Bounty annual dinner  August 4 in the evening, Chatham Co. Fairgrounds


Chef's Night out Dinners at the Longhouse Barn, weekends in August, Rensselaerville
Chef's Night Out Brochure


New York State Food Festival, Empire State Plaza, all day til 9pm August 13, 2014 - no link for this separate event but it's part of the Summer at the Plaza series


Hudson Valley Ribfest at the Ulster County Fairgrounds in New Paltz, Aug 15-17


Spa City Farmer's Market Farm to Table Dinner - National Museum of Dance, August 26, 2014 

Granby, MA tomato festival August 23, 2014


Cheese Tour, Washington County September 6 -7, 10- 4 p.m.


Saratoga Wine & Food Festival, Saratoga County September 5-7 The Saratoga Performing Arts Center 


 Hudson Valley Food and Wine Fest Sept 6-7, 2014 Dutchess Co. Fairgrounds


Capital Region Apple and Wine Festival, Albany County September 13 -14, 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. Altamont Fairgrounds


Berkshire Grown Harvest Supper, Great Barrington (Ski Butternut) MA Monday Sept. 15, 6-8pm


FarmOn! Friends of the Farmer Hudson Valley Food Lovers Festival Sept. 27, 2014


Chefs and Vintners Dinner September 18, Glen Sanders Mansion, Benefit for the Regional Food Bank

Hudson Valley Garlic Fest Sept 27-28 Saugerties


6th annual Local Harvest Festival Washington Park, Albany,  October 4 12:00 - 4:00 [here's the 2013 site:  ]


Annual Apple Festival and Craft Show at Goold Orchards, Rensselaer County October 12 -13, 9 a.m.- 5 p.m.


Troy Chowderfest, Rensselaer County October ? Riverfront Park  check the website for the 2014 date


Franklin County Cider Days Nov. 1 -2 Shelburne Falls, MA

Cider Week Hudson Valley Nov. 14-23 2014

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tesoro Italian Restaurant: The Chicken Parm Adventure, Agin'

The preacher said to the congregation "Do the best you can". REALLY, isn't that the problem? Isn't it OK just to be OK at some things?

Yeah, yeah, I get what he was saying - give it some effort and don't be discouraged and you will be rewarded. But we make ourselves nuts trying to get A's in school, working 80 hours a week to get ahead, pushing ourselves to run further/faster/better.

After about 20 years of thinking about it (no one said superheroes were supposed to be smart), I have come to believe that if all that effort is all about you, then give yourself a break. Who cares if your house isn't the neatest because you prefer to spend your time playing fetch with the pooch instead? So what if you suck at some things? If you are a Type A a gin and tonic may also prove very useful. You know - remember to stop and eat the roses, or something like that.

But, if you are a superhero, you really DO need to do the best you can. I know that the problem with the world is everybody else, but if what you do is in the service of others, then NO, it's definitely NOT okay to be just OK. And that includes restaurants, especially if they are striving to be a fine dining establishment.

Puppy Sweet Cheeks treated me to a birthday dinner on Monday night at Tesoro Italian Restaurant, tucked away in the corner of the 20 Western Mall in Guilderland. There is a patio area to the left as you enter that didn't seem very appealing - sort of cramped and dark, and the tables weren't dressed - but that's for another blog series, I think. Anyway, we headed in, looked over the specials listed on the chalkboard, admired the simple elegance and gently lit decor, and were seated right away in the main dining room. It was early (before 6:00 p.m.) and there were just a few other tables already enjoying a meal. Ice water quickly appeared and we took our time looking things over and just generally talking a lot. We finally each ordered a glass of Pinot Noir - one from Bolla ($8.00), and another from Mark West ($8.25). They were very similar and pretty good. Overall I would describe the wine list as a selection of mostly inexpensive wines that are good value - Cavit, Simi, Woodbridge, Ruffino, Ravenwood, BV, etc. - if you buy them at a liquor store, since here we were looking at about a 200% markup by the glass. Not a terribly thoughtful selection but OK. Just OK.

The menu is lengthy with 15 or more Antipasti dishes, soups, vegetable side dishes, pasta dishes, as well as Secondi Piatti that are served with a side salad, bread and butter, and a side of pasta or Italian potatoes. We were encouraged to see that there were gluten free options available, as well as wheat and fresh pasta. A symbol for "vegetarian" was a bit odd, since we could only find it next to one selection, so I wondered why they would bother.  In addition, there is a July Special: $22.95 for a choice of 3 appetizers (Caprese salad, fried mozzerella, or Fettucini Alfredo), an entrée (Pollo Francais, Pesce al Forno, Bocconidi Bitello [veal and peppers], or Chicken Parm), and a choice of Dolce - chocolate mousse or tiramisu. Puppy ordered the Pollo with the chocolate mousse for dessert. I ordered off the main menu - Pollo alla Parmigiana ($20.75). 

Only once the order was placed were we offered bread at the table. It was warm, crusty, light, and flavorless - kind of cheap and commercial. It was served with butter and margarine as well as a nice dish of olive oil laced with roasted garlic and parsley that was very good.

Puppy was served her Caprese Salad - small, simple, maybe could have used a bit more basil in there - but we agreed it was tasty; the tomatoes were firm and delicious. The plate was plunked down sideways not in front of Puppy but off to one side. Kind of casual as far as the service goes.

We both got a side salad with our meals. There was a choice of the usual (like creamy peppercorn, ranch, raspberry vinaigrette, blue cheese, Italian, Russian), but only the last three were house made. WHY? Is it so hard to make salad dressing? Why not make three and leave it at that?  I went with the blue and Puppy did Italian. More wine was ordered. The salads were small but enough for us little superheros, but very predictable, with those awful black olives out of a can that taste like, um, can. The dressings were both very tasty. 

The restaurant by this time had 8-10 tables - not bad for a Monday night, mostly an older crowd. It was quiet; there wasn't even any music playing in the background. Our entrées arrived. The Pollo Francais is battered and pan sauteed with garlic and lemon - it was tender and smooth, not very pretty to look at, but better than what she had at Jack's Oyster House the weekend before.  I liked it too and watched Puppy, like a hungry puppy, eat the whole thing. (:

My Parm was a thin cutlet, slightly crispy on the edges, tender (easily cut with the side of my fork), with salty, herby undertones and genuinely flavorful, but drowning in sauce. The sauce was very good but tasted too much to me like canned tomatoes; the thickness was just right. I thought it was almost tart in some ways. 

I had asked about the fresh pasta - gnocchi, ravioli, cavatelli - they aren't made in-house, but that's OK. The up charge was $2.00, but I think it was worth it. I am falling in love with cavatelli. Tender and tasty. Here the sauce tasted very canned tomatoey to me - it was a sauce better suited to the Parm dish. For a change there was actually grated parmesan cheese in one of those little containers on the table, something wanting in my previous parm escapades; fresh grated would be even better. I ate only half of what I ordered and was comfortably full.

We wrapped up - me with a cup of decaf and two spoons for the mousse, which was light and tasty. 

OK so we talked a lot and the waitstaff seemed busy (there were two in the room by the end of our meal with a few more tables than earlier), but the service after our main dishes were delivered seemed slow, with no coffee refills offered. The leftovers were bagged up and when they were brought back to us I asked if I could have the bread, and the waitress said I could take it if I wanted it, but didn't offer to package it for me. If you've read this blog in the past you know I don't like to over-order and I don't like waste, either. The bread should have been offered, in my opinion, and properly packaged to go. 

So dinner was pretty good, but not great, and I guess I expected more knowing the chef had come up the ranks in several good restaurants, including Lombardo's in downtown Albany (a place I have eaten at more than a few times and been underwhelmed by). It could have been better - better bread, nicer salads, home made dressings, real freshly grated cheese, a more thoughtful wine selection. And since dinner was not exactly cheap (although not pricey, either), I think these are improvements well worth making. It was a lovely evening out - very relaxing - and nice in many respects to dine out not so far from home, so I will probably return, but maybe later rather than sooner. 

Dinner for two, plus five drinks since Puppy was buying, was $96.06 plus tip.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: Also, plastic plants. I checked.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Dan Barber's The Third Plate - a MUST READ

The Third Plate

I'm recommending that you read this book because I can't stand over you and demand that you read every page, which is what I really want to do.  Fortunately Barber is a good story teller, so it's not like I'm asking you to eat Twinkies every day for a  week.

Since Dan Barber is fairly local we should read this book in the spirit of supporting our home town boys, but there is a deeper reason. He's really got a perfect sequel to The Ominvore's Dilemma, not only in terms of the two books, but in terms of where food culture could go next. Pollan laid the groundwork for us to think about our food system being based on monoculture agribusiness and the dangers that underpin our current mainstream agricultural practices. Barber, a chef, discusses in fascinating ways the role of the chef (and I would emphasize also home cooks) in making diversity and organic methods in agriculture truly sustainable.

His thesis is that we've selected (he means chefs, but I think we're all culpable) a narrow range of foods and flavors as attractive and thus forced our  organic and sustainable producers into throwing away everything else or not bothering to produce foods that are unfashionable.  Small farmers have to make money too. He argues that our attempts to turn the ocean liner of modern agriculture around and into a system that will create sustainable food systems won't work unless we re-think what we are eating once again. We have to increase the variety of foods that are considered good, cool, hip and worth buying in order for our landscape to continue to be healthy. Diversity is essential to viable ecosystems. He especially charges chefs to take the lead and make unfashionable foods that are flavorful and nutritious into popular and attractive dishes.

For this book, he selects a few men (ahem)  who are basically dedicated fanatics. Each has taken the landscape, or perhaps more precisely, the ecosystem into consideration and with their full attention on flavor (something no large agribusiness corporation takes seriously) they have carefully cultivated and produced food that maintains a viable hearty ecosystem while producing food that Barber considers to be the world class standard of its kind in terms of deliciousness. The stories are engaging while being educational.  I bow to his knowledge and willingness to present his case.

Many of the stories involve farmers and producers who have looked back in time to older traditions and older varieties of foods, but a few involve modern breeders who are using contemporary techniques to produce varieties that are based on older stock, but that are essentially  new, expressing characteristics that have not been seen in the past.  Each man works with nature rather than attempting to dominate nature.

I think New York State is ripe for Barber's ideas. I hope the country will at least hear out his argument, although I know the power of huge agribusiness, and it's not like they are going belly-up any time soon. I hope you will see what he has to say, go to his restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York, and start looking around for food that is grown sustainably, tastes great, and helps your local farmers sell the diversity of products they need to grow to keep our food landscape viable.

I've only captured a small portion of the valuable thinking in Barber's book.  So go buy it from a local bookseller and give a copy to all your friends.

Friday, July 25, 2014

We're baaaaaack

Dear readers, what with all that saving the world stuff that Zena, Goddess of Fire does and my couch potato   vacationing the blog fell to the bottom of both our lists of Things That Must Be Done. But now we are committed to getting back to our food writing and we have some great dining and posts lined up for your reading pleasure in the coming weeks and months.

My latest sushi adventure with the Albany Sushi Meetup Group was at Blowfish, a new all you can eat sushi place in Guilderland, at Johnston Road and Western Ave. in the Town Plaza. They have taken over some of the space for what used to be a Chinese buffet and started a small Chinese buffet and Blowfish.  The new Chinese buffet had just closed and is apparently undergoing a re-structuring according to the signs we saw as we entered Blowfish.

The advantage of the sushi meetup is that the host of the the meetup usually negotiates for a nice price, since the group can literally fill the restaurant for the evening. At Blowfish we had 42 group members and completely filled the tables in half the dining room plus three or four more in the other half.

It became apparent early on that the Blowfish staff and chefs didn't grasp the situation and had not thought out how to handle so many people at one time, so we had fairly spaced-out service to say the least.  Our table didn't get sushi for 90 minutes. Thank heaven that the company was excellent.  Both my outings with this group have been blessed with very pleasant company, and to me that is at least half of why I value a restaurant experience.

The service for the all you can eat choice involves filling out an order sheet that has two parts, one for the appetizers and one for the sushi. The staff brings out more sheets as they become aware that you have eaten most of the sushi on your plate. This way you can enjoy the meal at your own pace, which is what I like.

This is not flashy or exotic shushi, but will serve when your appetite for the delicacy is primed. I  appreciated their care in preparation, especially since they were under a lot of pressure, and I also appreciated that they didn't skimp in any way with the rice. For me, the rice doesn't complement the fish if it is too cold, or too dry, and they consistently take the time to make good rice in delicious combinations. The pieces were on the small side, which I prefer. They also take great care in design and presentation with each plate, even when they've got a full dining room, so I give them my admiration for not buckling to pressure and just throwing the sushi around. I'm not one to be hankering after more and more exotic sushi combinations, so Blowfish is a good match for my idea of a good sushi dinner that allows you to order a little, then order a little more, and then maybe a final couple of pieces.

The dining room is both very new and furnished in a minimalist style with light colors, so I kept expecting Hello Kitty to pop up at any moment on accessories or plates.  I like that sort of bare but cheery style, however others consider it a bit austere.

 Their facebook page shows menu items that are not sushi, so I will be heading back to see how they prepare and present other foods on the menu.

LorreBob sez check them out, then come back here and comment.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Bake for You

The DelSo neighborhood is one to be encouraged due to the number of really cool businesses that are opening there.  So I’ve been trying to alter my routine pathways through the city and swing by DelSo every couple weeks, especially for cheese and sausages and other delights from The Cheese Traveler.  So when I noticed that a baker moved next door at number 540 a while ago I was very happy.  Unfortunately that baker folded not too long afterwards.

But now there’s another baker next door:  Bake for You. It’s between The Cheese Traveler and Mingle restaurant.  It has five small tables and a fridge for cold drinks and a coffee service station. 

I don’t often go into bakeries, but when I do I expect cases filled with baked goods. I was suffering from a bit of shock due to the talent of the photographer who manages to make the items look dramatic and flamboyant when they are posted in Facebook.  This was a very modest display of the most unflamboyant and ordinary of baked items.  It sort of looked more like a bake sale table. I kept looking around, thinking, "This is it???" but it becomes clear quite quickly that yes, this is it. The room is small. It was on a Saturday morning and there were around a dozen kinds of goodies on display, and not a single one of them was one of the flamboyant items shown in their very good photography. There are no signs labeling anything, and so conversation with the staff is required to understand what is on offer. After negotiations I selected a strawberry scone, cinnamon bun, a baked doughnut and a croissant. There were no savory items that day.  

The prices are very reasonable at around $2-3 per item, give or take a few cents.

The coffee experience in my visit was a complete disaster. The main flavor seemed to be dirty socks.  Once I was at the table I thought perhaps  more sugar would disguise this flavor, but having mistaken the open jar of white crystals on the table for sugar, I completely destroyed the whole cup with a large dash of salt. Perhaps that was for the better anyway.  

There was a hum in the air as discussion of the upcoming opening of Whole Foods and the placement of Baked for You goods in the new store was explained to friends and family that dropped by.

The baked doughnut was first up and it came across as a tough muffin.  It has very little or no salt, and my tastes don’t run that way, so I managed to down a couple bites with no coffee and went on to the cinnamon “bun”.  It was made with extremely flakey pastry instead of a normal bun dough, so it shattered into large flakes with every attempt at a bite.  But, having salt and all the requisite sweet flavors the taste was delightful.  After that things took a distinctly upward turn when I bit into the strawberry scone.  Wow.  With large chunks of berry and biscuit-y scone dough with a very fine crumb it was a lovely morsel and one of the best scones I’ve had in the Capital Region. Too many bakers in the region have settled for something just slightly more tender than hard tack, and this scone was tender as well as full of genuine strawberry flavor.  I heated it a bit at home and it was doubly wonderful.  Finally I stuffed the croissant with a bit of ham at home and had another lovely treat.  The dough sort of missed the mark on flakey texture but made up for that with a beautiful sweet yeasty flavor that perfectly complemented the ham (well, actually it was fancy-schmancy capicola from next door).

On a return visit I selected a different flavor of scone and a cookie. There were even fewer items on display and it looked even more like a modest bake sale.  The cookie was another item with very little salt, and that sort of sweetness is not the kind I favor.  The scone was underdone to the point that it was gooey, and although I find it hard to tolerate hard or tough scones, gooey is not what I prefer as an alternative.  So, it's hit or miss for me at Bake for You.  Are people coming in before opening and carrying off the goods in large bags?  Is the catering service the mainstay of the business? I think this is possible.  And now much of what is baked will go to Whole Foods, so you will be able to try what they make at that location.

So since I’m going next door to the bakery to get cheese and sausage on a fairly regular basis I will soon find the items I like best among their selection as I try a few at a time.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Olive Tasting

Early last month Foodie Friend hosted a small Friday night gathering to stoop sit in downtown Albany amid lovely snicker snacks and a few drinks. In addition, Zena, Goddess of Fire, brought a selection of olives to taste and compare and talk about.

The olives came mostly from Cappiello's in Schenectady and from Pellegrino's on Central Ave. in Albany

Q: Is an olive a fruit or a vegetable???
bzzzzzzt TIMES UP
A: A fruit (of the Olea europea tree)

A serving of fruit that can be just terrific with gin!!!?? That's about as perfect as it gets. What more can we learn??????

By day I am a librarian, so let's approach this in alpha order.....

The only olive that we had that came out of a jar, purchased at The Berry Farm in Chatham, NY, were tiny Arbequina olives from Spain. These were very mild, kind of buttery, meaty, very firm, and being so little they made for wonderful nibbles between sips. These olives have one of the highest concentrations of oil and most of those grown in California are used for olive oil production. We had them first at Carmen's Cafe back in February, where they were offered gratis to the table. If you see them buy some and share them with friends. They, too, will be impressed. 

POP QUIZ!!!! (Again? - It's just like seeing another cop car as you zip to work in the morning, isn't it???)
Q: The oldest living olive trees are in Lebanon and are estimated to be 7,000 to 8,000 years old - true or false?
bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt TIMES UP
A: False! They are only 6,000 to 6,800 years old. But that's still pretty impressive. Called The Sisters these are, in fact, Plantae Superheros, helping to save the world from ourselves with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients. Ted Nugent, I hope you are paying attention.

Alfonso Olives

We loved the Alfonso olives from Chile. These are cured in wine, or wine vinegar, so they are nice and tart with that dark purpley color. These were actually sort of sour, and soft, and a bit winey for sure. The flavor really lingered and it was one of our favorites, although one taster wished they were a bit firmer. 

Next it was the Calabrese olives from Italy, which, according to a recent expert self-analysis I did yesterday, is the country that best matches my personality (apparently I am "complex" [as opposed to just generally confused]) - but I digress. These are small, firm olives that have been seasoned with hot peppers, garlic, and fennel. We found them tart and vinegary, very salty, spicy and strongly flavored. I found black Calabreses (as opposed to these small green ones) at Cappiello's. They were good, but we all complained about a bitter aftertaste. Save these for tapenade (which I did - recipe follows!!!).

I had three containers of Cerignola olives - also an Italian cultivar - natural green, cured black and red. These things are very large and very mild. The green ones tasted a lot like those Manzanilla's that are always getting lost in the back of the fridge just when you NEED a martini, but these were SOOOOO much better. Rich, lip-greasifying, and "satisfying like a savory plum" (to quote Foodie Friend), these had no bitterness and a perfect texture. We decided these were the best bet to serve to someone who says they don't like olives. The black ones were plain, soft, okay and forgetful.The Red Bella Cerignola tasted very very salty and were slightly bitter, and maybe even a touch musty at first, but a couple of folks really liked the aftertaste. I later discovered that the intense red color is from being dyed with Erythrosine, also known as Red Dye #3. Um, that's not something I wanted to know. Anyway, they are very pretty and may be a nice addition to a holiday platter if forces of evil are attending your party and you are looking for an easy way to take them out. 

Red Dye #3

POP QUIZ!!! (this is when you get pulled over, right?)
Q: The U.S. has strict import standards on olive oils and is considering adding "Extra Rancid" as one label suggestion - true or false?
bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt  TIMES UP
A: False, and False. It's NY Republicans that are fighting any kind of legislation because it would cost olive oil importers millions. Phooey on you, California. Again.

My favorite olives were the small brine-cured Gaeta (or Gyeta) olives imported from Italy. These were delicate, not overly salty, kind of nutty. Like me............

We also tasted Kalamata olives from Greece, something we had all had before - large, black olives that are always salty and tasty and meaty and very flavorful. The pits come out easy, too, which makes them great for spitting whilst sitting on the stoop. We also tried Mixed Greek olives from Pellegrino's - large, soft black olives laced with garlic, herbs and spices - really lovely, as well as their Oil Cured Greek olives.  These are all wrinkly and deeply flavorful, kind of concentrated, and not for the faint of heart - soft and very salty and pungent, but delicious for sure.

Kalamata Olives

Q: Are oil cured olives cured in oil?
bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt  TIMES UP
A: Nope, that would be too easy. They are cured in salt, which pulls out the moisture from the olive, taking away some of the bitterness. They are then coated with olive oil to keep them from becoming too dry.

Wrapping up, we tried the Real Green Sicilian olives from Cappiello's. These tasted nice and fresh, like olives, with a nice bite and not too much vinegar. These olives aren't fermented - they are washed in lye then water then marinated with herbs. So the color is bright, bright green and the flavor is almost sweet. The Sicilian Green Olives from Pellegrino's were meaty, with a big pit and a bitter finish, but we liked these for what they were. These aren't treated with lye, but rather are placed directly into a salt brine, which is changed out a few times to help remove the phenolic compounds, which is what makes olives bitter, and these were still a bit bitter, or was it just me, knowing it was time to go home soon and drink lots and lots and lots of water.

Tapenade: I had some olives left over that were taking over valuable real estate in my refrigerator, so I spent some time pitting them all except the Gaeta's and Arbequinas. I had about 4 cups of chopped olives, and held back one. Three went into the food processor, along with 6 anchovies, about a half-cup of capers (rinsed), a good squirt of lemon juice (1.5 tablespoons would be a good guess), and another 1/2 cup of EVOO. Puree. Then I added the last cup of olives and just went chop chop so there were still bits in the mix. Serve with plain crackers or warm pita, or atop some buttered pasta. Give extras away to your buddies. Make them smile.  

Zena, Goddess of Fire

I loved buying the olives as much as I did sharing them with others. The little lady at Cappiello's that helped me was a genuine sweetheart, as was the cool dude at Pellegrino's. Thank you!!!!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Superheroes at Canali's

UPDATE June 20, 2014: Canali's came in #3 in the Times Union's "Best of the Capital Region" for Italian restaurants! Congratulations!!! Next year we hope you make #1.  (:

Captain Underpants is a lifelong fan of Canali's Restaurant, located on Mariaville Road in Rotterdam, NY, and suggested I try their chicken parm and red sauce as part of a series I'm just starting here on Albany Dish. It had been a crummy couple of weeks for me and a night out was just what I needed. So we gathered up a couple more superhero buddies to check it out (incognito, of course).

I wound my way out there on Curry Road, only getting turned around once, and joined the Captain in the bar for a glass of wine while we waited for the others to arrive. The space was bright and clean, with a few booths in case you prefer to eat here instead of the dining room.The wine list wasn't much, with a few offerings by the glass, as well as a bunch of random house wines at $6.00/glass. Curious, I decided to try a glass of house red; the bartender recommended the Pinot Noir. I asked for a taste first - it was Rex-Goliath - and good thing I didn't order a whole glass because it really sucked, tasting like it had been open since Reagan was in office. I then tasted the Castello di Gabbiano Chianti and decided on a glass, even though it was barely passable.

Magnum this!
Cookie arrived right on time and settled on a glass of Kendall Jackson chardonnay, always reliable. After an email exchange and a missed phone call we were disappointed to find out that Wonder Woman got lost trying to find her way, and ended up doing the rounds of saving the world instead of eating dinner out. That's what happens when we rely too heavily on our superpowers instead of a trusty GPS. FYI if you're in trouble I suggest you shoot some flares so we can find you, especially if you're in Schenectady.

Yes, those are bags of Doritos on the bar....
We moved into the dining room about 15 minutes after our reservation without any problem - the staff were very friendly. The dining room was doing a pretty good business for a Wednesday evening, with a few tables of eight, some families, and a coupla couples enjoying a night out. Our waitress - very sweet - rolled off the specials for us, including Zuppa di Clams Casino, haddock with dill and honey, and an 8 ounce filet mignon with portobella mushrooms. She left us for a few minutes to go over the menu, which boasted all that we would expect in a classic Italian American restaurant - Veal Marsala, Shrimp Scampi, and Sausage and Peppers, as well as steaks and fish & chips. The atmosphere was relaxed if just a bit noisy.

While not listed online, the Captain ordered an Italian Specialty from the printed menu, a boneless pork loin in cream sauce with mushrooms ($18.99). All the mains come with a salad to start and either a side of ziti and red sauce, or roasted potatoes and greens. Cookie ordered the Brasciola ($17.99), which apparently I can't pronounce, with homemade cavatelli (made with ricotta cheese) instead of the ziti (accepting there would be an up-charge). Of course, I went for the Chicken Parmigiano ($16.99) and a side of homemade fettuccine.

The house Italian dressing was no surprise and neither was the salad, but it was cold and crispy and generous, including iceberg lettuce as well as radiccio and leaf lettuce and a token cherry tomato. The Captain had the sense to order the dressing on the side - mine was a bit overdressed - and OK but those canned black olives are a loser every time. UGH. Tastes like chemicals. The dressing choices were all the usual and I wondered if they (even just the "house") were homemade or not (most likely not). But it was a pretty nice start.

The bread was awesome - a big basket and we think it came from Perecca's, a local bakery with a great reputation and an even greater local following. It was fresh, soft, yeasty, with a nice char to the crust that was really dreamy. Served with those little butter packets - whipped salted butter from Wholesome Farms - but this time the butter was fresh and sweet. A taste of heaven for us that love to load up on carbs before a night of saving the planet from the forces of evil.

We shared a side of Menestra and Beans before our main course: escarole with garlic, onions, sausage and white beans. It was served nice and hot, and had lots of greens and a lovely, smokey flavor. I think the beans and greens from Ciao Italia was better, but this was still great, not too salty, not too garlickly, and a nice portion for splitting. Oh, and wine refills all around!!!

Dinner was served and none of us were disappointed. The Captain's dish included two thick cut pork slabs, salted heavily, nice and crusty, literally swimming in a very thick rich port wine cream sauce and smothered in mushrooms. The presentation had a bit to be desired (okay, alot!), but this was incredibly decadent and tasty. The greens were like the Menestra dish, sans beans, and nice and velvety, but the potatoes were a disappointment - heavily salted, dried out, not at all worth eating. The Captain said that he'd had better in the past, so we'll have to go back and try these again.

The Brasciola was as big as a guinea pig (no pun or offense meant by that, folks) - made with pork, not beef, and stuffed with sausage, cheese, greens and hard boiled egg. Our server said they run out almost every night! It was divine - tender, spicy, rich and flavorful, and the cavatelli was out of this world - tender, perfectly cooked. The red sauce was delicious, served over both the pasta and the meat: clingy, bright, not at all sweet, herbal but simple and for me, the best part of the meal. This is the red sauce I crave - hearty, with depth, to compliment instead of hide the flavors of what is below.

My chicken parmigiano was also a more than ample serving (it could have served three superpowers, so the next time I return I'm picking up Wonder Woman on the way and we're going splits because three days later I'M STILL EATING LEFTOVERS). The chicken was tender and cooked just right. The sauce was served over on the side of the plate (and not too much of that, either), with an even layer of gooey mozzerella overall. But the chicken, which tasted like chicken, which it should, because it was chicken, was pretty bland and left me wondering where the parm was, and it could have been a bit crispier for my liking. But still very good, as was the fettucini - perfectly cooked, tender, and quite sublime. The sauce didn't overwhelm it at all. Again, no one offered me grated parmesan for my dishes, which sort of surprised me.

Dinner was very good, and as the kitchen packed up our To Go containers we thought about our meal and talked about the decor, which is sort of old fashioned with fancy chairs and popcorn ceilings, a touch gaudy but almost elegant. Canali's has a separate banquet area next door and also caters, so I'm pretty sure besides the restaurant they are busy in the community. The feel was of a comfortable, neighborhood establishment with a loyal following and a welcoming, warm, charming staff. Even with a few shortcomings this place will make you want to go back for more.

Dinner, including an up-charge of $3.25 each for the fresh pasta sides (well worth it!), 3 glasses of wine, three mains and one starter, came to $92.57 plus tip. OH - and our waitress even asked if she could bag the bread to take home and I jumped up YES! I was so excited I almost gave away my secret identity!!! I hate to see it go to waste. I'm glad they asked.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: Wonder Woman - I apologize for not bringing you a Superhero Bag.  Next time make a right. xxx