Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Royal Treatment at The Palace - Phoenicians of Albany

I put on my crown, grabbed my sword and my scepter, and entered the Palace along with my knave Onion. All were at my service with grace and smiles, welcoming me inside. I looked around and I approved. 
The sign is small and hard to see - The Palace is in another scenic strip mall on Fuller Rd. between Railroad Ave. and Warehouse Row

Then I ate.

"The Palace" has plenty of promise - Phoenicians (formerly on Central Avenue in Colonie) is just one part, still offering their wonderful Lebanese fare. The space is enormous - still under construction but open -  it will soon include a banquet space for 300! Casual, colorful, yet cavernous - with partitioning it could become much more intimate as this newly combined Mediterranean marketplace unfolds. There are promises of a baklava bar, an Italian deli and a Kosher deli coming soon. And a wine bar??? Oh, and did I mention the jewelry store (also once on Central) is in there too? You can buy me something pretty while you wait for your meal. It's just a suggestion, anyway.
The main dining area - there is table service

Now a coffee bar until they get their license - soon to be the Wine Bar
I love the cozy room in front - a great place to relax and enjoy your morning joe and watch the peasants through the large plate glass windows commute to work down Fuller Road. It's kind of a Starbucks room full of comfy chairs - throw in some good coffee and free WiFi and we're all set. They are offering what looks like standard breakfast fare from 7:00 to 11:00 a.m., which is interesting - that Med theme is lost there, but who knows. With so many possibilities I'm pretty sure what works stays and what doesn't will get dumped the moat where it belongs.
Coffee lounge 
Knave Onion and I did take-out for the Goddess' Ladies. I went for a Meza Sampler, which wasn't quite on the menu but was on the old one, and they were happy to put it together for me. I love their hummus (best in the city!): smooth, creamy, just the right hit of salt and garlic with lovely slightly sweet homemade pita. The pita alone is the most amazing pita I've ever had - what a wonderful addition to their offerings. The baba ghanouj was also fab - fresh eggplant and a hit of lemon, royally delicious. The tabouleh salad was sans bulgur and oniony and lettucey, but very fresh with a hit of vinegar. Even the stuffed grape leaf was amazing, with a nice mush factor. Finally a surprise of moujadara - lentils and rice, savory and satisfying. En garde - an excellent foil to the rest of the plate!!! 

The current menu is all wraps as the space is still under development but there are goodies to be had, like this Meza Sampler ($12.99)

Hummus to go, $5.99

And do try the falafal - a bit salty but the texture is perfect, mildly spiced, crunchy on the outside, smooth inside, like me. 

Falafel Appetizer, $5.99
Falafel Wrap, $7.99 - this was a deal!

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Monday, November 21, 2016

Zena Gets Spicey at Dharani Southern Indian Restaurant

I like hot spicy food, and hot spicy men, but when they are too hot and spicy and I risk farting fireballs life quickly gets dangerous for mortals and zombies alike.

That's why the gods created Mango Lasse, FYI.
Dharani, in another scenic strip mall in Guilderland, NY
Dharani South Indian Restaurant is one of many that are part of the Altamount Restaurant Group - a small chain - with locations across the U.S., including another future site planned in Latham.  The menu clearly sets apart the vegetarian from the non-veg - which is wonderful, with plenty of appetizers, snacks and breads, curries, biryani, tandoori, and Indo-Chinese dishes to choose from.

I can't say much good about the decor: I like the linen and it's spacious but stark, with all the dining space dedicated to simple seating and tables - no plants or barriers or booths or art on the walls or decorations or flowers or candles - to me feels a bit too wide open and less than intimate, but that too might shift with time. 

Linen is lovely but the space is very utilitarian otherwise
We started with the Samosa (3/$6.99), stuffed with peas and potatoes and spice - wow! these were very peppery, with a shatteringly crispy crust, sprinkled with salt. It was a lovely plate, and I appreciated the cabbage to help cut the heat.
Big crispy peppery samosa

Chilli Chicken Appetizer made my lips tingle
The Chilli Chicken appetizer ($11.99) was a large plate of small battered bites blanketed with a serious fire, a touch of sweet, red onions and peppers. Both dishes left me blowing hot air, lips tingling. I'm no candyass, but I needed a bit of yogurt or something to cut through the heat at this point, so I ordered that Mango Lasse ($2.49), then dipped into the curries.
Lasse saved the mortals and zombies from fireballs

Peshawari Naan ($4.99)
The Shrimp Varutha ($15.99) boasted lime juice and onion and coconut cream (very southern), but all we tasted was fiery hot spice (chili!!!), and the shrimps were small and not exactly plentiful. The Lamb Vindaloo ($15.99) was excellent, more of a ragu than I'm used to, with a few potatoes, boneless meat (mostly tender). At this point I had to blow my nose: my tongue was numb and on fire. Moreso than usual, anyway, for a Fire Goddess. Next time I'll plan to order Mild, not Medium - Medium was SO spicy we all had to cut the food with rice and naan - but the food was still delicious. A little color to the rice would also have been nice.

You will need the rice if you order Medium..... Lamb Vindaloo (above) and Shrimp Varutha Curry
The prices seem a bit high, so next time I'll watch for that promise of a buffet. They have this huge area set aside and as yet no information except "Mega Sunday Buffet Second Sunday of Every Month". I understand a lunch buffet ($10.99) is coming. Personally, I love buffets - I get to try lots of things in small amounts and balance the spicy with other (milder) flavors and find out what I like.

The buffet is HUGE and holds much promise. 
Being the patient, cool, all-knowing all-seeing Goddess of Fire that I am I know that they will just get better. And busier.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

P.S. At this point, our Guilderland location has only been open for a week or two, so though they have a liquor license the bar is still under construction (though water will be your friend), and the grill isn't working yet. FYI.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Heaven is as hot as hell: Restaurant Navona

I found heaven on earth, and it's located on New Scotland Avenue in Albany, NY. And it's as hot as hell. Hot, like in baby, this place is HOT!!!  Smoke. Flames. Fire. Ash. Heat. Pizza. Beer. I looked around when I came in and I didn't see any other gods, but it was still early.

The pearly gates
The menu is limited but has real depth, much of which is taken to new heights by a sexy wood fired oven. Roasted bone marrow, charred eggplant, roasted veg, fire blistered tomatoes, and fire-kissed kale. Fire-kissed kale??? Baby, that's smokin'.

The back gets busy on weekends 

Heaven is where the god/s hang out, but it was still early
Our server brought us some charred, warm crusty bread flavored with olive oil and pepper and plated with fresh ricotta, liberally sprinkled with salt crunchies - too salty perhaps, but it was, all in all, feverishly good.
Crusty bread with ricotta
So let's cool it off just a bit. I went for a pint of Flower Power IPA ($7.50) out of Ithaca, NY. OK, yes, I had two by the end of the meal. Slightly cloudy, very hoppy and fresh, a nice pairing with their classic Spicy Sausage and Fennel Pizza ($13). Not too spicy (actually I would have liked it a bit spicier), with the perfect amount of toppings, cheese with real pull, and tender chewy yeasty pillowy crust charred to perfection on the bottom. It was a generous pizza for one, so I saved back half for later. Red hot delicious.

Spicy Sausage and Fennel Pizza - love those bubbly black bits!
Mistress of the Hounds also started cool, with the Autumn Salad ($12), loving the slightly bitter, incredibly fresh baby arugula with bits of gorgonzola, crunchy toasted almonds and crispy apples, tossed with a slightly sweet cider vinaigrette, plated with cranberry jam. We decided someone in the kitchen loves salad. Anyway, from there she tucked into a modest serving of Sea Scallops ($24), one of many daily specials, with roasted slices of sweet fingerling potatoes and brussels sprouts. A glass of Malbec (Bodega Sottano, Argentina, 2013, $9) was a rich treat.

Fifteen craft beers on tap, 8 from NY, plus Nine Pin cider - supreme bliss - as well as a thoughtful wine selection all available by the glass (except the bubblies) - all under $32/bottle so very reasonably priced as well.

A few service problems were followed up with heartfelt apologies and a bit of gratis on the bill. Excellent customer service all the way around, lovely decor - classy, light woods, comfortable lighting, clean - and excellent food licked with fire and creativity. What's not to love???


Love, Zena, Goddess of Fire

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Tomo Asian Bistro: Putting the "zen" back in Zena

Patience and Zena: officially now in the same sentence, but only this once.

Deep breath as I entered Tomo, located in another attractive strip mall in Slingerlands. It smelled good. The place was busy, and got busier, a surprise early on a Tuesday night. Once seated I gingerly turned over a few grungy menus and ordered hot tea, which came quickly but not with the sugar and a spoon I had asked for. I waited to see our server again, and I asked again, and waited, and asked again, and finally got what I wanted but by now the tea was lukewarm, but then again, so was the next refill. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr...............

Close your eyes. Center your ch'i.
Busy sushi chefs
The Hot and Sour Soup ($2.50) was rich and delicious, with lots of variety (mushrooms, tofu, scallions, etc.) and a gentle hit of heat - it a generous serving at that. It thought it needed more sour so I asked for extra vinegar (eventually) when I got the server's attention. I'm sure by this time she must have found me quite annoying (she was busy working the whole dining room solo) - most people do, but I digress. Two deep breaths. Focus on the soup.

Regular Rolls special with miniature wasabi

Now where was I. Right - food. On Tuesday you get (3) rolls for $10 - a real deal. The Spicy Salmon, California and Tuna rolls ended up being a lot of food, and mostly very tasty. True to form, I took three deep breaths, impatient to eat more, and had to ask for more wasabi, once I had someone's attention, but it came quickly. Zena loves heat, FYI.

Thai Curry with Beef - colorful!

FF loved her Thai Curry with Beef ($11) - baby corn, mushrooms, snow peas, carrots, water chestnuts - nice variety, nice sauce - nice balance of heat and sweet and salty. Jaguar enjoyed her Panang Curry with Beef ($12), a different curry, lots of broccoli, peppers, and coconut. Both were presented in large bowls - very attractive. So we recommend the curries - brown rice is available for an extra $1, which we appreciated.
Panang Curry with Beef - lots o' broccoli
Tomo seems popular with the locals, and is very affordable. I think the food is really good. Sigh -  (three deep breaths) -  the waitress was lovely and patient, unlike yours truly, but she could definitely have used a hand. That is NOT enough, though, to keep me away next time I'm in the food desert known as Slingerlands. (:

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Gratis pineapple chunks finish the meal 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Who needs a hug??? - Dinner at Il Faro

Eating great food and writing good reviews about really nice restaurants where you have absolutely no complaints is so sickly sweet I'm still reeling from this sugar high of good will and happiness and I'm now SO ready to hug everyone and genuinely love them too.
Outdoor dining in better weather - parking lot on the right
 Yes, this is really Zena. Now back off.

OK where was I. Oh, right - Il Faro, located just a couple of miles from downtown Albany in Menands, is small and family run, with experienced NYC Chef and Co-owner Christian LoFaro working side by side with General Manager and Co-owner Jennifer Lamoreaux, who is running the house. The space is open, dark, romantic and softly lit, a contrast to the artless exterior. Coming inside is like being enveloped in warmth - a perfect spot on a cold October night.
Romantic setting
The menu is traditional, appealing to most of what the locals find good about Italian food - better yet, it's in the neighborhood. But be prepared to enjoy your dinner just a bit more than you expect - no bottled dressings and cheap wine and rollatini still cold in the middle. The food is stepped up a notch - or I'd say two.  Think veal and pasta and calamari and lasagna, but with fresh pasta and really good bread and thoughtful ingredients and careful preparation, there to embrace your palate and your soul. The house white, Stella Pinot Grigio is only $5 at happy hour, even in the dining room. The hugs get longer with glass number 2.  
A simple salad to start
Red and I started with a House Salad that could have fed three ($8) - soft greens, red onion, tomatoes and olives tossed with a light vinaigrette - I could do without the canned black olives but it was simple and tasty. This, along with fresh warm rolls that were salty and sweet and yeasty with just a bit of chew was a lovely beginning. 
Fresh, warm yeasty rolls
Red almost polished off a generous serving of Penne Vodka ($14) - a dish I can almost always hate - but this one was smooth and rich and light on the tomato. Others can be harsh, or underseasoned - this offering was like the perfect cuddle - love in every bite. 
Penne Vodka - servers brought grated parm to the table
Yes, I had the Chicken Parm ($17) (now you KNOW it's really me!). A bit heavy on the sauce, but the taste of the breading came through with its parmy saltiness, lovely crisp edges, just the right amount of cheese on top - excellent. The red sauce was clingy but not thick, the tomato was bright but mellowed with cooking. The side of house-made capellini was amazing (with just a bit of water on the plate). I almost destroyed it as I clasped it to my bosom, slurping up every bite - delicious.
Chicken Parm. Yep, that's Zena alright!

A lovely dining area, Sinatra on low, attentive service, lots of promise - it wasn't busy on a Wednesday. Zena says Get out to Menands, eat more Italian, and getta hug!  

Oh, and congrats on one year in business - wishing you many, many more.

Love, Zena, Goddess of Fire

P.S. Yes, I have my soft side. Mostly it's inside but it's there, trust me. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Battle of the Buffet Continues: Spicy Mint

Normally I am the picture of restraint as anyone that knows me could tell you - a Fire Goddess, strong and proud, totally cool, not easily tempted into a fight, courageous. Oh, yes, tall and blond, young, 20s even, FYI.

Lots of parking, conveniently located near a head shop and a chapel in Colonie
And then I went to Spicy Mint and I totally lost it. The food was THAT GOOD. Tucked in the back of just another scenic strip mall on Wolf Road (Wolf Road Shoppers Park), the decor is simple with a touch of class. Staff paid attention throughout our meal to make sure that dirty plates were whisked away and water glasses topped. The manager (I think) graciously took the time to explain what some of the dishes were, which was very helpful.

We're off!!!  Oh, the glorious promise of a great buffet lunch. Who would pop first????
At the start of service, the buffet area is clean and well organized

The decor is simple with a touch of class

We all started with a bit of fresh salad (oniony). In addition, I piled on some Vegetable Upma, cooked semolina spiked with spice, including curry leaf, with a bit of tomato and coconut curry sauces on the side, a piece of Tandoor Chicken, the Vegetable Biryani, and a Spinach Pakora (fritter). Every bite was a sensation.  That was Plate #1/5.
From top going clockwise - spinach pakora, salad, tandoor chicken, tomato curry, upma, coconut curry, veg biryani with raita

Red polished off plate #1 before you could blink, but I went back five times, sure I would win.

Pony dared the Curd Rice (mostly yogurt and rice with spice) - kind of odd - hers was a heroic tasting. This little palate cleanser is a savory but it had some hard bits in it that I didn't really like (seeds? dal? - not sure......).

Library Lady smiled quietly and cleaned her plate, seemingly effortlessly.
Masala chai tea (not sweetened), condiments, salad and rice

Chicken dishes, vegetable options, and dal - lots to choose from
Spicy Mint gave us her best - great food, lots of variety, attentive service, and a good price ($9.98/person for lunch). The colors were bright and varied, as were the spices - complex, not too much heat but always there in the background. There were plenty of vegetarian offerings and dal, which is good, and nothing, absolutely nothing greasy or bland. The labeling was a bit inconsistent (some were labeled, some were not), and the post-it note look has got to go back to the refrigerator door where it belongs, but the manager was almost excited to answer all my annoying questions so it wasn't a problem.

The Spinach Pakoras (deep fried fritters with chickpea flour) were the biggest hit - Red ate four or five and just about knocked me out - crunchy, spicy, powerful, almost addictive. The Chicken Tikka Masala was a head shot - creamy sauce, super tender chicken.  I want to go back and just eat myself silly on this dish alone, but they do change their offerings, so don't be disappointed - embrace change!!! I liked that they brought a big basket of buttered naan to the table (delicious!), and that the chai tea was gratis.

Two desserts - mango custard and carrot halvah

Carrot halvah is almost good for you........

Carrot halvah??? Very very sweet, scented with cardamom - this took my breath away with its simplicity - a lovely finish. The mango custard was a bit gluey, and very mild, but a smooth finish to a spicy meal isn't a bad thing.

Red definitely ate me under the table this time, but I fought back with gusto. I'm sure the next time I will demonstrate immense self-control, now that I know what I'm up against.


Zena, Goddess of Fire

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Zena is Smokin' at the Warehouse Grill and BBQ

Zena, Goddess of Fire, loves smoke. But you knew that.

The aromas as you walk in the door are amazing - spice, garlic, burnt wood, and meat. Both visits I've made this month I was greeted at the door and promptly seated. The service staff was always very patient taking our orders (as we all tend to talk too much and not look at the menus), plus it can be hard to decide. Should I order something small, or pig out on a platter???

Bright open bar area
There are salads, yes, but even the strongest superhero would be hard pressed to skip the pulled pork in favor of lettuce. The first time through I tried the Warehouse Wings ($10), asking for them "extra crispy" with mild sauce (thanks, Prof. Fussy), and a simple side salad with ranch dressing (heck, it's BBQ territory - ranch, of course! - $5). All the dressings are made in-house, which really shows. The wings were very spicy, could have been crisper, but were big and juicy and delicious. I loved the house BBQ sauce - complex, not "Franks", sticky but not sweet. But the best part was the absolutely delicious, decadent, thick rich blue cheese dip - normally I don't get into this stuff except to taste it. This time, I think I licked the cup clean. Oh, yes, and I ate all my veggies.
Small side salad ($5/ a bit pricey) - fresh!

Hot wings are "hot". Mild are spicy enough, even for me
Big Sis got into a Southern Hash entree ($14) - pulled pork AND brisket, sweet peppers, onion and mashed topped with two sunny-side up eggs. She put a few extra dollops of the house BBQ sauce on at the table and proceeded to eat the whole thing. I was impressed. She has great potential, this sibling: I had to take half of mine home for later.
House BBQ and a mustard sauce table side

Southern Hash - a big plate, gluten free...

Girls night out, two birthdays to celebrate! The second visit I did the Pulled Pork Platter ($16), choosing as my two sides coleslaw and fries (which I asked for unseasoned). I got through half (agin') of that pile of delicious, tender, smokey pig. Delicious sauce - a subtle kick, just a bit sweet but not over the top. The slaw was nice, a bit underseasoned, but fresh, and the fries were good (the seasoned ones that Wonder Woman ordered were very good also, but definitely salty). Oh, and a big hunk o' cornbread comes with every entree - tender, sweet, not crumbly at all - most of which I ate the next day. The platters are generous meals for the price.
That's a pile of pig! The collard greens, bottom right, were very meaty...
TBB asked for a plain burger - no bacon, no cheese, no bun ($10). They were happy to oblige and she got herself a perfectly cooked patty with a nice char. Her collards were offered gratis (she didn't realize she was getting fries and the waitress kindly, and quickly, offered an alternative). These were VERY meaty - beef brisket flavored veg. Cookie thought she could eat a big bowl of it and make that a meal. M&M also loved the Southern Hash, and WW enjoyed her New Porker ($10), a brioche roll piled high with pulled pork and slaw (the slaw made this bite great!).
Just a burger is NOT on the menu but available for the asking

New Porker - pulled pork with slaw on a brioche bun
The only downer was the Pulled Chicken ($15) - white meat chunks, not shredded, with bits of gristle in almost every bite, and the veg of the day side green beans were almost room temp. Stretch's sweet potato fries, however, were amazing - thick, yet crispy on the outside and perfectly tender throughout, lightly salted - nice.
The chicken wasn't a big hit but those sweet potato fries were amazing
They've got a nice beer menu - lots on tap ($7 or $8/pint). I love the Chatham Hop Crop IPA, the De Brabandere white tasted of exotica and not too sour, and the New Belgium Pumpkick Ale was great - definitely not too pumpkinny. They offer a small variety of wines by the glass, including Josh Carr "Josh" Cabernet - a thoughtful selection for sure.

Faux warehouse is noisy
It's noisy with that faux warehouse design and decor, but at least there wasn't also loud music to contend with - just plenty of happy voices and conversation all around. Kid friendly, good quality grub, great service, affordable, NOT A CHAIN, nearby, with large booths as well as tables and a large bar area. Best BBQ I've had in the Capital Region to date. This place is SMOKIN!!!

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Smokin' hot tip: No reservations accepted but if you call ahead they will put you on the call list and you get to jump to the front of the line. xxx