Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tomo Asian Bistro for a sushi lunch

In the wilds of Slingerlands is just where a casual sushi joint is needed. And to be fair, this really is more of an Asian Bistro than a sushi joint, with an extensive menu ( use the link below to see it on the web site).  I happened to be taking some vacation recently and so I had the time to mosey out to Slingerlands and enjoy a late sushi lunch. The decor uses dark colors and lots of wood and was put together with care to provide a bit of an upscale atmosphere, so it's a lovely place to enjoy a leisurely lunch or dinner.




There are often dishes that we use to judge the qualities of a restaurant, and for Asian restaurants, mine is the age tofu appetizer.  It's just fried tofu, so the chef has the opportunity to make it something special if they wish to do so.  This is the nice presentation with flavorful scallion and bonito garnish at Tomo. A lot of places just toss it on the plate, so the little extras and pleasing arrangement here told me that I was in for a nicely prepared meal.

I had chirashi because I like to see what chefs do with it - there are many different styles because the name basically means "scattered" and conveys the idea that the fish and the rice are not formally shaped. Until recently chirashi was most frequently served to me in a bowl, but now the trend seems to be to put it on a plate.  I like it best as a sushi preparation because it allows me to combine the amount of rice I like with each piece of fish.  And there are always delightful condiments and vegetables or mysterious (to me) things that are new and tasty.

Although the chirashi plate was for the most part delicious, I wasn't happy to see the problematic "white tuna" as one of the fish.  I haven't gotten into the habit about asking whether it will be there or not, so I simply didn't eat it this time and will continue to try to remember to ask first.

Service at Tomo was attentive and friendly. The staff checked in a number of times to check on drinks and how things were going.

There were takeout orders the whole time I was there, indicating to me that Slingerlands has caught on to their closest Asian location and like it enough to drive all the way to the Price Chopper Plaza to pick up their orders.

The full menu and hours are on their website:
http://www.tomoalbany.com

LorreBob sez: go have a nice Asian dinner in the suburbs!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

DOING DISHES: Wrapping it Up for the Lettuce Entertain You Series: Salads from Fresh Market

Here is our final entry of the series.  The three other  ones are:

We thought we'd find salads at The Cheese Traveller, but by the time we got there for the series, they had decided to stop offering them for lunch.

This is the dish on our trip to The Fresh Market in Latham.


We're still taken aback at the sheer amount of candy that takes up a huge amount of real estate in the store. All that sugar in a store that has a name like Fresh Market makes a little cognitive dissonance for the Goddess and myself.


But they got salad.


In a case of great looking food that makes a hungry Goddess and her Foodie Friend companion want to take home a few delicious dinners are nestled the salads on offer.





Back in our perfessional tasting lab, we employed some of our analytic acumen to these samples.

Aren't they great colors? I think that is a good deal of the fun in salad.

Artichokes, tomatoes, green peppers,  feta, olives and fresh onion - this has a good olive oil dressing and is balanced well between bright flavors and more mild savory ones. The feta was less than optimal - the chef should use a better quality.
  
Broccoli cranberry: although a little on the bland side it has a good balance of cranberries, almonds and broccoli, and everyone likes the crunch. This was everyone's favorite.

Cucumber and onion with tomato.  This was a favorite and will go well with any dish - a light dressing makes it refreshing and fresh veggies make it crunchy and delightful.

Shrimp salad: expensive blah.  This was displayed on a separate stand with some other similar salads and gets a "looks pretty" but there's just not much there in the way of flavor, especially at $11/lb.  

Edamame: an odd combination of feta, cranberries and tasty little soybeans - no one could taste the feta, so we were curious about how it lost all its flavor.  Maybe the beans soaked it up after a few hours in the case.

In the lab we happen to have a small cadre of amateur tasters as well and the above is a summary of all the tasting notes.

All in all we have felt in our tasting across all the salads that the deli chefs should up their game, watch how long the salads stay in the fridge to avoid bland old worn out flavors, and everyone should take part in making sure that the same ingredients aren't used over and over in all the salads.  Mix it up!  Certain ingredients may be zesty for the first day, but change to meh over the succeeding days in the case.  We recommend continual tasting for quality and not letting salads slide into mediocrity or worse.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Lucas Confectionery: Wine and Nibbles

A few years back a wine bar was born in downtown Troy. They are even open on Sundays. Go figure.

I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon at the Troy Music Hall last weekend with Carol Jantsch of the Philadelphia Orchestra playing tuba with the Albany Symphony Orchestra. I never imagined the tuba could be so amazing (so now I think she's in fact a superhero, too). Despite pressure from the large lady to my left, who was very nice, and the hard seat which aggravated me even more, it was an amazing concert. I closed my eyes and let it take me where I wanted to be, and, my friends, that was to be a light dinner at Lucas Confectionery, just a few skips away, following the performance.


We had a reservation for 5:30, but it wasn't needed. I couldn't help wondering why this place wasn't packed with post-musica artsy-fartsy doctors and lawyers.  It doesn't look like much on the outside, and maybe those regulars have their routine and Lucas wasn't on their radar yet. Zena, Goddess of Fire, and friends, ventured in.

We asked to be seated with feet on the floor; many of the tables in the front of the house had barstools, so they put us on the end of a long table in the "garden", which was absolutely lovely. Twinkly lights, exposed brick, rough hewn tables, little candles, simple unmatched small plates and napkins - very homey and romantic.

I ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc (Loire Valley, France, $8), Jag asked for a glass of the Chardonnay (from Split Creek in Napa, $9), and FF wanted a glass of Nine Pin Cider Signature Blend (a six ounce pour, $4). The menu was mostly wine and beer (uh, yes, I get it, it's a wine bar). The food offerings were really just nibbles, including a short list of cheeses (many noted prize winners), charcuterie, a few dips, and small dishes like salmon with cabbage and caper aioli. There wasn't a whole lot on the menu that was fresh, or vegetable, or fruit for that matter.


Our evening repas was slow in coming. I was a bit hmmmmmm'd that we were already being asked for a second drink order when our food had yet to hit the table. It finally started with a slaw of shaved brussels sprouts flavored with horseradish and hazelnuts, a bright, tasty salad with a touch of sweet and salty to even out the bitterness of the raw veggies. We were hungry, and managed to put away a little bowl of sliced baguette in record time, but the friendly staff were quick to offer more. The bread was chewy and tasty and not too crusty and a must under everything we enjoyed that night.


We ordered 3 for $13's: 3 charcuterie items and 3 cheeses. These included the Country Pate from Three Little Pigs (Washington D.C., I think) - holding your attention with an intense porky goodness, herbs and onion in a spread that wasn't at all greasy; the Finocchiona from Molnari & Sons, a fennel salami that could only be described as smooth and mellow; and Smoked Duck Breast (also from Three Little Pigs) - tender and delicious. Our cheeses (each a 1.5 ounce portion) were the Middlebury Blue from Blue Ledge Farm in Salisbury, VT (with a side of candied walnuts), which I thought was slightly rubbery, stinky, grainy then smooth, and really quite delicious; a tart and creamy Cremont goat and cow cheese (Websterville, VT) topped with sweet, crunchy cocoa nibs; and Invierno, a raw sheep and cows milk hard cheese from Vermont Shepherd, this one sided with candied ginger. We tasted and talked and smiled and gushed. Delicious. Every bite was worth savoring - special, divine, memorable.


What I can't understand, with bread and cheese and wine and spreads and pickles and dips and smoked fishes abounding, why Lucas isn't offering anything a bit more substantial to it's guests, like a gorgeous sandwich creation. Me thinks they are more intent on liquor sales, but I could be just being bitchy, which happens, even to superheroes. But the food WAS amazing, and I intend to return. 

Make a date at Lucas. Put it on your radar. If you love to nibble on a few guilty pleasures and sip on a nice glass of wine, then trust me, you won't be disappointed. 

A light meal for three, including 5 drinks, came to $76.68 including tax plus tip.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: Lucas is not a good choice if you are avoiding coffee, sugar, alcohol, gluten, meat, salt, or dairy. Just saying.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

McGuire's is Baaaaaaack

Black Manhattan

If I were Queen of Everything I would order all the folks in the Lark Street neighborhood to go to McGuire's now that they are done with their 2014/15 renovations. Steve Barnes has kept close to McGuire's in his blog Table Hopping, so if you want background do a search on the restaurant name. I think people should go and  try this new incarnation and see what they think.  I wouldn't have painted the ceiling black, but there's no accounting for taste.

Of course the bar is always going to be fun, because of its unique view of Lark Street.

It's a "new concept" with a new menu, but I did not become familiar with any of their old menus, so I'm not the one who is going to write a comparison review. I have tried several of their dishes and enjoyed them. Here are my impressions:

The small plates are where all the flashy stuff is.  Combining a small plate and a salad could make a good light dinner. The salads are given some attention and are thoughtfully composed.
Further down the menu, the tried and true entrees of beef, pork, foul and fish look solidly good - unless the cooks are clods they will be reliable staples.

I had the delicious frisee salad with blueberries and candied nuts.  It was fresh and a refreshing start to my dinner on the night that I had the sliced steak. I love steak and fries, and this one really hit the spot.  It was small and sauced nicely.  So next time I'm in the mood, I know where I want to go. I had the key lime pie that night and both the wait person and myself thought it was cheesecake.  But pie, cake -- no matter, it was a great creamy citrusy finish for the meal.


Bread and a nut butter come with the table.  I'll go for any sort of butter over olive oil, which I consider to be an unhappy aberration in restaurant trends, and the nut butter makes a good spread.

The bread also served as a nice alternative support for the chicken liver mousse with fig and mustard.


The cute mason jar service with jelly on top and a sprig of thyme was entertaining for about a minute, then I realized that having to go back to the jar and scoop out each dip of mousse is tedious, so once I scooped it onto the plate I got into serious tasting of various combinations of flavors.  I could go on eloquently, because I save chicken livers for special occasions, and the mousse was nicely done. The low-key sweetness of the figs and the sharp mustard are truly excellent condiments to this treat.  This dish and a salad also make a great light meal. 


The night I tried the fish was also a happy night.  The combination of Asian flavors was wonderful on the perfectly tender and moist mahi mahi. I got a spoon for the broth and used it well. The noodles were an overcooked loss - something a 15 yo would know better than to do, but I didn't even care. 

To sum up the food, there are probably going to be things you like about the place and things you don't like, but I highly recommend trying what they are offering and making up your own mind.  I happen to like it and will return.

To finish up I have a few things to say that I would like to tell all restaurant managers and owners, like when I write pleas to floor managers who allow their staff to spray everything with cleaner spray:  don't conduct your business in the dining room.  I'm sure it's comfortable, probably more comfortable than your office,  so renovate or redecorate or get yourself an office where you can do business.  I don't want to hear it while I'm trying to enjoy my steak.

And if you're going to admonish an employee, don't do it in the dining room(s).  Just don't. Don't make a bunch of phone calls to confirm reservations for a special holiday night. I want to hear the music and the dishy conversation of my near neighbors and I don't want to keep hearing you tell everyone that it's a $xx dinner with x courses. That is a definite drag and I hope the manager gets the word on this: take it to the office.





Sunday, February 15, 2015

Pizza Love: DeFazio University

Back in December Zena's online superpowers made her a winner of a little contest with All Over Albany to attend DeFazio University for a pizza or pasta class for four. Saving the world from the forces of evil is fun, but not nearly as much as playing with food. And eating it. And loving every greasy, salty, happy blimpifying bite in order to graduate.

DeFazio's Imports in Troy, NY
Which I did, with honors, during their pizza workshop last weekend because our instructors at DeFazio's Pizzeria in downtown Troy were such an amazing team. Rocco DeFazio and his son Matt are passionate about their work (two time winners of the Capital Region's Tournament of Pizza, which I understand won't be continuing for some reason but probably because DeFazio's is hard to beat), proud of their family's history establishing DeFazio's Imports back in 1951 (and their pizzeria in 1991), honored at being a part of their neighborhood, and excited by the prospect of expanding their business in a nearby property to include a restaurant/bar, banquet hall and a real culinary school.  But nothing says love more than being in that original, cozy pizzeria, it's story part of every nook and cranny that surrounds you, a space imbued with the smells of yeast and tomatoes and wood smoke, laughing with friends, and listening and learning from the experts how to make these dishes at home. Which I did. Later in this blog. Wait for it.

Rocco DeFazio making Stromboli
Now these aren't cheap seats: I'm not going to share everything I scribbled in my notes, because YOU should sign up and experience DeFazio's yourself. But here's how our afternoon unfolded.

A warm olive mixture with fresh lemons and a plate of Fontinella cheese and smoked meats, as well as freshly made focaccia and smiles from Rocco and Matt greeted the small group of 12 who braved more damn snow to participate. Rocco waxed poetic and told us his story, highlighting the quality of the ingredients and their grandmother's bread recipe (the basis of their delicious crusts), and the importance of their wood-fired oven in turning out wonderful products. Matt demonstrated how to make dough (um, starting with 25 pounds of flour, so it didn't translate well to home cooking), but getting the consistency right, varying how much oil or water you add depending on the weather and what other ingredients (such as herbs) you'll be adding, were critical to success. They did suggest King Arthur high gluten bread flour as a good substitute for what they get from their wholesale supplier. Rocco and Matt went around showing us how to roll up our pizza dough balls. Up with the right, close with the left. Zena got distracted how that move could be used against a giant attacking ball of dough, but quickly refocused as we moved on to our next lesson.

Their traditional white dough ready for portioning. Otherwise it will take over the world. Let your dough rest 24-48 hours before using.

Rocco cooked up their famous red sauce, surprisingly simple, starting with two large cans of tomato products, one called "California Super Heavy Concentrated Crushed Tomatoes". Not available retail but he suggested zapping crushed tomatoes in a blender and cooking it down would be a good start. The CSHCCT was thick like paste, but NOT paste, something they do not use, nor do they use sugar. Spices, a bit more water, cooking for one hour was all it took. Very informative. At the end of the day we all got to take home a pizza kit with the two balls of dough we shaped and wrapped up, a container of that lovely sauce, some Pecorino Romano (their not so secret secret ingredient - sorry about that), and a cool little pizza cutter.

Matt DeFazio making a Calzone
From here our instructors moved on to demonstrate how they make Stromboli, Calzone, and pizzas using their traditional white dough as well as their whole wheat and garlic and herb doughs. I LOVED the spinach and broccoli Stromboli - heavy with garlic and pretending to be healthy - just my style. Shaping the dough, the right amount of filling and topping, and baking in their traditional gas or wood-fired ovens was a real show - beauty in motion - but the best part was trying the different pizzas. The four cheese pizza topped with mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, Fontinella and Gorgonzola was culinary heaven. The traditional crust was crispy but with a nice chew, light, tender and flavorful. I had a couple of rotten pizzas in Chicago a couple of weeks ago with crusts that were hard and tasted like cardboard. The crusts coming out of the ovens at DeFazio's are the best I've ever had, and believe me, I LOVE pizza and eat it everywhere I go, and I can eat a lot of it (another one of my amazing feats). I was SO impressed with what we have just over the fence in our own back yard. What took me so long to finally get to DeFazio's? Even superpowers can be idiots. But let's get beyond it, shall we?
Whole wheat dough topped with walnut pesto, tomato slices and store roasted chicken
We wrapped with a demo on making Deep Dish Tomato Pie and a little reminder that this is a class joint, according to the Jersey Boys, and I agree:  (Frankie: This is a pretty nice place, huh? Mary: Yeah, They don’t sell slices. That’s how you can tell).  They don't sell slices, FYI.

Thanks AOA, Rocco and Matt, for your kindness, your generosity, your upbeat optimism in all things pizza, and for sharing the love with the rest of us. I mean it. You guys ROCK.

Zena's Stromboli

I love a good workout, but I've always said that I'd never win anything unless it was something like a hot dog eating contest. Or pizza. Or Stromboli, so I made one at home last Monday when I got trapped at home AGAIN (trapped today as well) because of more damn snow, to see how much I could eat and if I could win without anyone around to watch. Well, I didn't win, but I think I did a pretty good job. 
 

One 14-15 ounce ball of white pizza dough (you can buy it from DeFazio's and it's also available at the Honest Weight Food Co-Op [as Organic Joe's]) - at room temperature
Semolina flour for dusting
1/2 pound cooked sweet Italian sausage, crumbled (I like the sausage from Garafalo & Co. in Schenectady, if you are willing to put up with surly service, but DeFazio's also makes their own and it is also wonderful)
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh broccoli
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
4 ounces mozzarella cheese
Extra virgin olive oil

Lightly flour your cooking surface and shape your dough into a rectangle. Evenly distribute your toppings. Roll it over three times to make your log and pat it lightly to seal the edges. Transfer to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush with olive oil. Cut 3 or 4 slices into the top so it doesn't explode during baking. Bake at 375 degrees F for 40-45 minutes until golden brown. Slice and serve.
Zena's first ever Stromboli (a.k.a. "garbage bread")
Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: Also thanks to Jaguar, Foodie Friend and the Mistress of the Hounds for a lovely afternoon. And to Pony for supplying our BYO "The Verdict 2009 Shinas Estate Cab Sav" from Victoria, Australia. After pizza and wine it's hard not to love life.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Local Lamb With the Farmer and the Professor



On a recent cold winter night I found my way to Creo to meet with a Goddess of Fire and about 50 other folks who signed up for the 2015 Lamb Dinner. Dee Woessner brought her lamb to Chef David Gibson and we all got to enjoy the results.

As well as eating local I got to drink local since the bar had Hudson Rye from Gardiner New York's Tuthilltown Spirits in a positively lovely Manhattan cocktail.  So by the time we were escorted into our group's dining area I was in the mood for a really great evening.  I wasn't disappointed either.

Dr. Gary Kleppel, the author of  The Emergent Agriculture: Farming, Sustainability and the Return of the Local Economy  biologist and a farmer himself, kicked off the evening by emphasizing the importance of the knowing the people who produce our food, and introduced our farmer for the evening, Dee Woessner. 

Dee gave us a sketch regarding the farm and how the lambs are raised, and Chef Dave gave us an introduction to the first course.




The Lamb Agnolotti  was topped with a bright tomato jam and sat on a bed of white beans.  It was a beginning that promised a skilled hand at lamb dishes. The sauvignon blanc was a bright and crisp complement.

Zena did that goddess thing she does and we sat with Brian White and his mother and two other couples that made up a great table.  Have her use this superpower when you go out with her and you'll be assured of superb conviviality.


After the first course had time to settle and we were ready to try something new the Lamb Loin and Rib Chop course was brought to the table.  Chef Dave wanted us to taste the lamb with no special seasoning, which took the shape of the lolly pop shaped chop, right alongside a marinated loin made utterly delicious with garam masala and dusted with fennel pollen.  All this on a chick pea pancake. A beaujolais  beautifully brought out the savory goodness of the simple and complex lamb pieces.  Zena had to use her super powerful fingers to actually get at the loin, which had tough silverskin that she couldn't pierce easily with a knife.  We have to think that the kitchen overlooked this during  moments of rare carelessness in preparing the  meal.



The final lamb course was Lamb Leg with figs, foie gras, fingerling potato and tarragon jus. Zena's not a fig fan, but I relished the combination of the beautifully tender lamb and the rich gentle sweetness of the figs. The rioja made it the perfect mediterranean course.  By this time we were telling our life stories to each other and enjoying every moment.



The blood orange trifle with pistachio brittle was a light and fitting finish.

Such special dinners are an ongoing series at Creo and are happening more and more frequently at regional restaurants.  They give chefs the opportunity to explore beyond the restaurant's daily menus in a setting that provides diners an opportunity to meet new people while sampling special and unique preparations.

What I hope to see is more nights like this that celebrate our region's fabulous producers and their delectable products!








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.