Monday, September 1, 2014

DOING DISHES: Chicken Parm at Valente's Restaurant

If you are a little superhero, or a little superhero wanna-be, then you will want to try the atomic supersized dishes of Italian food at Valente's in Watervleit. Yes, it's near the armory.

My friend BLT is tired of my Italian food reviews, but all that discussion about red sauce earlier this year on FUSSYlittleBLOG presented a challenge, and you all know Zena is always up for that. Foodie Friend and I are promoters of local, sustainable eating, which includes supporting family run dining establishments. With my Groupon costing $20 for $40 worth of food for two Sunday through Thursday except Mondays when they are closed which I found out the first time I went because it's not anywhere on their web site that I can tell, even with my xray vision, four of us wound our way out to dinner earlier this week, with yours truly ready to try another round of chicken parmesan.

We were seated promptly by our hostess, with menus but no wine list, which took some time to get as there seemed to be only one "real" waiter who finally came to our table. Wines were moderately priced, with bottles starting as low as $15.95; almost half of their offerings were available by the glass. Jag and I each had a glass of Chardonnay Unoaked Ruffino from Tuscany. It was very nice - cold, buttery ($7.95/ea). Quite a few Italian reds and whites (including three Pinot Grigio's), and a nice selection of California reds.

Okay the menu was predictable then it had some strange choices mixed in there. The usual appetizers, including fried calamari and mussels; nine veal dishes; fifteen pasta dishes, chicken dishes, Italian specialty items like ravioli; and a crumpled list of specials, leading with three Mac & Cheese dishes which are decidedly not Italian (their Mac & Cheese won prizes three years in a row at the Table Hopping MAC & CHEESE BOWL) and ending with Fried Haddock Parm (just like it sounds) being just on the edge of edgey. And potato skins and fried chicken and burgers and sandwiches and a kids menu and pizza. Hmmmmm. But dad (who is also a superpower, at least in my estimation) always said, "Never order spaghetti in a steak house", so we stuck to trying their Italian offerings.

Meals all started with a house salad and a basket of pretty bland crustless bread that might have been better if it had been heated before serving.

The house dressing (the only one made in-house) was simple, vinegary, and bright, but the salad was just iceburg and one little tomato cut in half and two cuke slices. Jag had the balsamic, served on the side. I picked two large brown lettuce leaves out of my bowl and placed them on the side dish. None of the servers seemed to notice, which they should have. They timed the delivery of our main courses just right. Jag and I also got an order of vegetables, which I didn't order (I think I would have ordered the broccoli instead), but those two dishes of zucchini were simply steamed and flavored with a bit of garlic and olive oil. Very nice, actually.

The servings were HUGE. Nuclear almost! I was SURE we would all leave there with amazing new powers IF we could finish what was put before us. Jag ordered the Eggplant Rollatini, which included fresh ricotta cheese, provolone, and prosciutto ($18.95). It had a slight char from being under he broiler to melt the cheese on top, but could actually have been served a bit hotter. There was breading on the eggplant, which I didn't really like, but the eggplant had a nice texture/not too gushy. She did NOT finish her dinner, so she did not end the evening with any new superpowers, but she will always be a superpower in my estimation. (:

Foodie Friend ordered penne pasta with white clam sauce ($15.95). The clams (supposedly fresh chopped littlenecks) were chewy and salty and sandy. It was supposed to be a white wine sauce but it tasted like butter and flour and garlic. FF also did NOT finish her dinner, and, sadly, also did not end the evening with any new superpowers in addition to the ones she has already (she is still my favorite tomato). She ate well but personally I didn't like this dish.

I ordered the chicken parmesan ($15.95), and it was DELICIOUS. The best ever so far in this series. The chicken was big, about 3/4" thick, perfectly cooked, tender, and fresh, with a slight browned flavor that was subtle but lovely. Too much sauce, but the sauce was great. Complex, herby, cooked long enough to meld all the flavors but still bright. It was wonderful on the parm dish and also with the plain, al dente linguine served on the side. We all shared bits of our meals but I still brought home more than half of what was given. I could have eaten a mushroom cloud of that pasta, to be honest. I retained my superpowers, FYI, but also did not leave with anything new to add to my arsenal.

Red had the baked lasagna ($15.95), which I thought was the best dinner on the table. Loaded with cheese, tender ground sirloin, and Italian sausage flavored with fennel, it was dense but not heavy; all the flavors - the cheeses, the meat, the sauce - were nicely balanced. We each got A BITE but I noticed, as we wound down, that she had, again, quietly eaten the whole thing. I'm not sure exactly what her new superpower will be, but she should be on the alert for anything unusual, like the ability to walk 10 miles a day to and from work come rain or shine until she's 100 years old and her ankle won't bother her anymore.

The leftovers were wrapped but the table wasn't cleared, and the waiter in a fly-by looked over his shoulder and said "Coffee and dessert"? No, but I did want to see the dessert menu. If I wasn't so full I would have liked to try one of their gelatos (hazelnut, pistachio, spumoni - always good). Maybe next time I will go splits on a plate and save room for sweets.

So the place was pretty busy. Definitely a family restaurant, cozy and simple. The July OurTown flyer in Colonie featured Valente's, established in 1958, with Chef Jack serving as the third in line to create their "original" (my quotes) recipes, and that is what friends and neighbors who frequent neighborhood establishments are often looking for. The food was mostly good - no surprises. The service was friendly but maybe not as attentive as it could have been. But we liked the feel of the joint - folks even saying "hi" to each other in the parking lot. And since no one seemed able to finish their plates at the tables and booths around us, and there were no apparent forces of evil lurking in the area, Zena enjoyed an easy night out with friends.

Dinner for four, including three glasses of wine, was $93.25 including the tax, plus tip.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

 PS: Did anyone watch any of those back-to-back episodes of the Simpson's these past two weeks? Speaking of challenges, some of Homer's best advice was "Can't do it son? Don't try." Leftovers work for me.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Doing Dishes: Lettuce Entertain You! Opening Entry

No, we're not the Chicago based restaurant enterprise, but we like a good pun when we're trying to think of a jazzy title for our Doing Dishes series.

When you're having lunch with a Goddess of Fire in general it better be good or very cold. I learned on this trip that if you make sure there's a variety of things for tasting you can distract an incendiary goddess and nothing gets flash charred, if you get my drift...

We're thinking that since it's summer and all with fresh produce and tomato season, it's time to try salads.

We want to explore salads as dishes that are representative of the season and we have a slate of take out salad outlets across the region. At first we thought of restaurants but frankly restaurants in our region seem to have a salad section on their menus as an afterthought, or as an obligation.  We haven't given up on the idea but we think that the salads in deli cases across the region offer a much more exciting group of dishes, and we want adventure! excitement! fresh!  cool! deliciousness!

We have both been curious about the Market Bistro by Price Chopper store design in Latham and so we've started the series there.  We went for lunch and the place was buzzing! Nobody noticed that the Goddess of Fire was right there in the store, so you know they were concentrating on lunch.

 About half the store is given over to prepared foods and at lunch on Friday that is where all the action was.  There might have been a dozen customers in the regular store part of the store. I went back on another day during the late afternoon and there were many more regular store customers.

The store has a layout that includes hot food/fast food counters that look like a food court and a dining area in the center.  Then we realized that the rest of the counters had broad categories such as Italian and Jewish - like a megadeli.  We definitely want to go back and taste our way through the 20 or so sausages in the Italian counter, but that will be another story for another day.

On our visit we had to concentrate on salads while being tempted by those gorgeous platters of prepared meats, fish, veggies and more. MOAR!!!

"Salads" are not a category but a sub-category in the Market Bistro by Price Chopper and so spread out over a huge territory within the megadeli.  We started at the far end from the front of the store and worked our way around the area a couple times because we settled on finding ten salads. First we looked for things we had not seen, so we selected

Grilled Fennel
Tuscan Lentil

That was when we realized that we had to go beyond the Italian counter and move our way across the long row of cases. We found another cache of beautiful and colorful bowls of goodness so we selected

Crunchy veggies
Tomato cous cous
Superfood kale

In order to complete our stash of ten we circled the olive bar and selected Feta/olives.

Then went back to the Italian counter for Italian Veggies. 

I wanted to sample the whitefish because I adore it and then we decided to try just plain chicken for the protein and for the sake of trying their "regular" offerings.

There are several interesting nooks, patios and inside places to sit and enjoy your selections in and around the store.

So here's the score after we took all the samples to a table in an undisclosed location and invited some colleagues to give their opinions:

The "grilled fennel" was a miss for three of us, and one of us liked it.  We thought the idea was good, with fennell, mozzarella, orange, red onion and parsley.  The execution pretty much took all the flavor and goodness from each ingredient. I was not able to distinguish any particular dressing flavors.  Maybe the dressing was forgotten that day.

The "Tuscan lentil", with marinated artichokes, red peppers, olives, feta, and red onion got mixed responses. We thought the lentils probably seemed soft when warm but when chilled they revealed their slightly underdone tough texture.

"Crunchy veggies" salad was a hit with everyone. The broccoli, cauliflower, sunflower seeds and red onion plus raisins and dried cranberries dressed with a slightly sweet mayo make for a delicious cool bite.

The "tomato cous cous" salad has a little bit of screaming chili pepper that I found unbalanced the flavors along with cous cous that was kind of oily and old, like it was prepared Tuesday and still on offer Friday. One person liked it - she likes spicy.

"Superfood kale" had blueberries, dried cranberries, walnuts and was another hit with everyone.  We felt the kale was baby kale and was chopped well so that it didn't overwhelm the other delicate sweet and tart flavors and it has the perfect dressing.  It's a great lunch salad!

"Quinoa" also had grains of questionable texture, so the basis of the salad was off even though the feta and dressing could have made a lovely salad.

Feta/olives - what can you say about a classic?  It's good eats.

The "tomato and cucumber" salad from the Italian case is the perfect summer salad, when made with very fresh veggies - we knew that we hit it the day it was made and that's important.  I hope they sold out, because this salad needs to be at its peak in order to be really good.

Whitefish - fish and mayo, another classic, although I'm not sure you can call fish and mayo a salad.  I prefer the fish to be a bit less pulverized and I like a little pickle or red onion or even celery, but that didn't make me hold back from schmeering it all over the rolls and woofing it. Others in our group were just getting introduced, so they were a bit more subdued. In my trip back to the store on another day I picked up half a whitefish and made my own salad. I'm glad they offer the fish as well as the salad!

"Rotisserie chicken" salad was a safe chicken salad with minimal ingredients like onion and parsley, which is a shame since there are so many possibilities to make it a lively salad within arm's reach right there in the store.

So if someone would actually taste all the salads daily and have the guts to toss the ones that just aren't good, this could be a sensational place to get salads.  As it is, it's pretty much what one comes to expect in our region: ok, with some bright spots and some duds.

With all this great food on offer we're convinced that no one should have to go for junk food at lunch time.  This good food is just as quick and provides a much better variety of the sort of stuff that keeps you healthy rather than making you unhealthy.

Zena, Goddess of Fire sez: "listen honey,  next time you leave work to go get some lunch, steer clear of the burgers and fries and hit the local deli counter for some great eating!!!"

I just know she's going to save the world once again.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Save the Dates! Fall Foodie Events in the Capital Region

Here's a selective list of fall evens around the Capital Region.  I've tried to provide accurate dates and times, but please check the event website for details to assure accuracy.

And most of all - go and have a good time!!!   Let us know how it went!

Troy Craft Beer Week  - 1st week in September and
Troy On Tap Beer Festival taking place Saturday September 6, 2014 in Riverfront Park, and


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 District Community Gardens "Autumn Evening in the Garden" September 11 6pm


All Over Albany Farm Tour, September 13, meet in Rensalaerville and board the bus at noon,


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


EAT x NE Burlington VT September 19-21


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


Chatham Farm & Art Tour - September 27, 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.


6th annual Local Harvest Festival Washington Park, Albany, Sunday  October 5 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


Taste of the Hudson Valley, November 2, Grandview in Poughkeepsie, NY


Cider Week Hudson Valley Nov. 14-23 2014

Honest Weight Food Coop has a regular schedule of events
Whole Foods Market Albany has a regular schedule of events
The Cheese Traveler has a regular schedule of events

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Chicken Parm at Grappa' 72 Ristorante

It's been a full year since Zena had lunch at Grappa' 72 Ristorante and did one of her first reviews for AlbanyDish. What took me so long to return?  Maybe I missed my friend the fly.

Red and Pony and I took a seat in the outside patio area despite another one of those annoying little rain squalls whipping up. Fresh herbs were growing in the planters and the sights and sounds of the parking lot were happily subdued by lovely surroundings, including music. Nothing like a classy lunch out to make you glow.

Last year there wasn't any greenery around the fenced off patio section. August 2013
August 2014
The lunch menu is sort of an abbreviated dinner menu; both seemed designed for the meal to be served in courses. Minestra e Insalata held no surprises (all $10 and under) - classic salads, soups, calamari, etc.; the house cured salmon looked interesting.  Seven pasta dishes, or Farinacci ($10-$13), were listed, including a special ravioli made with four cheeses topped with artichoke hearts and sun dried tomatoes in a garlic cream sauce. The selection was nicely varied. Three Risotti offerings ($13-$15) were also listed (one with scallops that looked terrific), followed by about 10 or so Piastra Calde - or Secondi dishes ($8 for the omelet of the day, to $14 for a dish with veal scaloppini and mushrooms). Warm bread and tapenade were served while we made up our minds what to order (we had this last year and remembered enjoying it then as well). Very garlickly, not chopped up too fine. Delicious. Pony was hungry and dug in quick before I had a chance to take a virgin photo!

She ordered the ravioli special, which turned out to be generous, very creamy, served in a lovely deep bowl. She thought the sun-dried tomatoes made the dish, which was very good, but wondered if maybe some of that basil growing on the patio would have brightened the flavors just a bit.

Red ordered the Salmone alla Grillia, a simple preparation (perhaps underseasoned) - and one of the few on the menu served with seasonal vegetables. It was a nice size portion and the yellow squash, zucchini and asparagus were very flavorful. Her meal was nicely balanced by the bread service.

20 points if you can guess what Zena ordered???

If you said "WINE" that would be incorrect.  We had to return to work after lunch. (:

NO, I ordered the Pollo alla Parmigiana!!! It was very good. The red sauce was heavily laced with parmesan or Romano cheese, something I wasn't expecting, so it was salty, clingy and thick, yet still very tasty with the flavors of garlic and herbs. The chicken was served nice and hot - tenderful and toothsome, but not crispy like I want it. The only downside was the dish carb heaven - tons of ziti - and yes, thank you, I ate them all. I would have preferred half that portion of pasta and a small side salad instead.
We finished up by sharing a serving of tiramisu - sweet and creamy; the texture of the lady fingers was nice and gooshy. Service slowed down a bit after our meals were brought out, but the staff were professional and kind in all respects. Oh and I had a decaf as well, since going back to work was low on my list of things I really wanted to do after such a nice meal. What's another 10 minutes, right???

Keeping in mind that the three of us were celebrating birthdays (not that superheroes age, FYI), AND I had one of those MetroMarket $40 gift certificates that I got for $20, AND it was turning out to be a beautiful day, AND we were all hungry, none of us were feeling all that extravagant. Most of the plates on the menu as it is now (compared to last year, if I remember right) seem to be lacking in something - usually vegetables - that would make a single order what I would call a well-balanced meal (carbs, protein, vegetables). So if that's important to you, this "eating right" stuff, it will bring the cost up to what I suggest is beyond the kind of "casual eat out regulars" daily lunch budget, so just keep that in mind.

Lunch for three with one dessert and one coffee was $48.87 with tax. A pretty good value.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: I didn't miss the fly, but I did miss the veggies. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

First Impression of Texas de Brazil

After Steve Barnes mentioned the new Texas de Brazil restaurant in Table Hopping and received a long series of comments regarding chain restaurants I became curious. So recently I made my trip to Crossgates Mall, where I go less and less frequently, and finally recalled where the Macy's store was, sort of in the middle of the "old" part of the mall (yes, I'm going way way back to those days in the 1980s). The walk to the restaurant space involves a corridor between the restaurant and the Lord & Taylor's department store, which is brand new.  So one walks from the middle walkway toward the outer wall of the mall for 50 or 60 feet, then it's necessary to go all the way to another outer wall with a door to the parking lot - another 50 or 60 feet.   In downtown terms one has to go almost around the block to find the door to the restaurant.  I'm a bit puzzled about why they chose to do that, but it does give everyone a sense of the sheer size of the place - it's big.  There is a dining area outside the restaurant walls, which are mostly glass, that gives the impression of a patio, or dining alfresco. The entrance doors are huge.  So at this point one is impressed with (big) size.  The floral ornament on the salad area is about 8 feet high. The walls are about 20 feet high.  That in combination with the dark wood and dark red fabrics gives a feeling of unrestrained sense experience. And that is the point of the whole scene.  I sort of drew back, but then gave way to the pleasures of the place, and there are many of those.

As I was lead to my table I was recalling all the negative comments from the Table Hopping entry, and I know why people make those comments.  I've made just about all of them myself.  I loathe chain restaurants for the most part because corporate food is mostly just crappy food, and corporate restaurant service is usually mediocre at best - in other words, there's no soul in chain food.

A lot of the service in these early days for Texas de Brazil is just explaining how things work.  So the first questions must be: "have you been here before?" Since I had not, I was given good explanations of the peculiar service protocols: the salad area is a serve-yourself buffet with an enormous variety of foods. The meats are grilled by a staff of about 10 people who prepare them in the open grill area (which I found fascinating), and then they are served by that same staff who carry the skewers to the tables and provide custom cuts of what they have.  One is given a paper token to  indicate whether one is ready for a meat service or not.

So once one becomes introduced to all this, and drinks are ordered, one is in control of one's meal.  I ordered the Brazilian soda, which was a great blend of cherry and ginger and a few other fruit flavors. I really like it. I bounced over to the salad area and walked around the 15 x 8 "table" with a side board for soup, beans and rice, and potatoes.  I cannot even recall what I saw there was so much. What I do recall is that there was clearly attention to detail and an impressive selection that was more than one cut above the normal idea of chain restaurant salad bar.

 Unrestrained luxury is what it's all about.  I decided to make myself a tasting plate and took teensy servings of several things that looked more delicious than the others at that moment. I had an attentive server who catered to my every whim and was very enthusiastic about the food.  I was too, so we shared breathless reactions now and then as she came to the table to see if I was having a good experience. I took my time in checking out each of my samples.  Each one was indeed a delight, and the adorable little special cheese bread that was brought to the table complemented the cheese and capicola perfectly.

As always, it's difficult not to select  more of a first course than one needs, but I had practiced iron-fisted discipline about not taking too much for my first plate.  I turned my paper token to "green" for "go" and a server approached my table immediately with a top sirloin skewer.  He gave me exactly the size I described, which was less than 2 oz. - a taste. Before I could think about much, very attractive lamb chops were there on offer, poised on my table.  I took one, which again, was about 2 oz.  I remembered my token, turned it over to "red" for "stop" and spooned some of my mashed potatoes onto the plate.

The steak and lamb matched the best I've had anywhere. I think it's because of the grill setup and how much care is taken to sear and then let the rotisserie process take over, maintaining the juices and keeping them at perfect temperature.  If you are interested in these things you should definitely go and take a look. That and all the grill dudes wear great costumes.

But I digress.  Everyone is given fried bananas that act as an aspic, unless they are refused.  I enjoyed the novelty of it.  So I was humming along with the tasting process and turned my token back to green.  Immediately I was visited by filets wrapped in bacon - about 2 oz pieces.  Following that were the little Brazilian sausages, so I took one. I turned the token back to red.

Although there is actually a lot of hustle-bustle, what with all those hot skewers and other wait staff and people walking back and forth to the salads, the sheer size of the room mitigates it so that the general atmosphere is cheery and relaxed. After finishing what was on my plate I visited the grill with my camera and watched in fascination as the skewers were deftly moved from low to high and then taken off for serving.

After the little trip to the grill I realized that my appetite was satisfied, and even though I let the new server go through the whole dessert routine with hysterical huge plastic models, I turned them away, and requested my check.

It's definitely an immersion, Disney World type of dining experience, with everything too much.  But it's a way to confirm one's ability to summon luxury when needed. I think Texas de Brazil does that in spades. I don't know if I'll ever go again, but if someone invites me as a guest I'll say yes with genuine enthusiasm, because for me the pleasure was being able to taste a wide variety of things new and things familiar, and to do so in an atmosphere of relaxed pleasure. I didn't have to choose from a narrow menu, and I didn't have to sit passively while the servers brought waaaaay too much food, then packaged what I couldn't eat - something I consider to be a drag.

There is a salad-only choice, and my impression is that one would have a delightful dinner from the salad area alone.

 I recommend that you go and try it for yourself. Post here in the comments about your experience - I'm curious to know if they stay consistently good, if I was wearing rose-tinted glasses about the whole thing, or if you agree that it's a restaurant chain that's trying to break the mold and provide a high quality experience.

LorreBob sez: if you want that big luxury experience for dinner in an expansive ambience, check it out.

Their Albany website for details, prices, etc. :

Monday, August 11, 2014

Tapas at Boca Bistro: Encore!!!

What is better than a few hours at the bar with a good friend and some great tapas? 

Is it

(1) Having a stretch limo and a chauffeur to drive you home;
(2) Winning the jackpot in anything;
(3) A cool breeze on a hot summer day while you lounge around in the shade;
(4) Discovering you have superpowers and that you are now cool; or
(5) Going back to that bar with another good friend and eating more tapas.

I won't profile if you selected any of the first four options. I will say, if you picked (5) - going back and eating more - you are officially a foodie!!!

To me, there's nothing that screams good restaurant experience more than wanting to return, and that's exactly what I did last week, to Boca Bistro in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Looking for a good Happy Hour speaks volumes about me squeezing nickels these days, but BB offers up a great deal. Everyday from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. there are $5 tapas and house mixed drinks, as well as 1/2 price wines, specialty drinks, Spanish cocktails, and draft beer. Both days I visited (Saturday, and again on Thursday after the ballet) there was still plenty of seating in the bar and the dining room, so the space felt open and yet comfortably social.  Yuppies, yes, but friendly ones.

The special wine list was short but thoughtful; I enjoyed a couple of glasses of the Rioja Vega. Foodie Friend tried the Saratoga Lager off a list of ten beers on tap - this one was medium bodied and malty. The draft beer list boasted four NYS offerings, which I was happy to see, including one from the Brooklyn Brewery, and another from the Newburgh Brewing Company. We settled in to decide what to nibble on while we took in our surroundings. The interior was somewhat rustic but still upscale - low lights, stylish accessories, and a few pigs. I liked that the front doors were open to Broadway with the sounds and air and excitement of racing season. I felt almost hip just being there.

We started with Farm Bread and Tomato, listed en Ingles at Boca but as Pan Con Tomate online. The bread was soft, not at all chewy, but dense and perfectly charred. It was topped with a pan sauce of yellow tomatoes then some halved grape tomatoes. Our server, one of many attentive folks behind the bar, offered us balsamic vinegar and olive oil to dress the dish with. A drizzle of the vinegar sprung the flavor of the out-of-season tomatoes and made the dish shine. The tomatoes should improve in the weeks to come. We could have added manchego cheese ($4) or Serrano ham ($5). The portion was generous and with these additions it would have made for a nice little meal in itself. Great olives!

Next we tried the meat plate or Embutidos, a combination of thinly-sliced chorizo (garlickly, smokey, with a taste of vinegar and paprika), a salami laced with peppercorns (intense and greasy in a good way), and fuet (another cured, dry pork sausage which was quite mild and fatty). Everything was delicious, but Foodie Friend and I would have liked some contrast to the selection, like a paté or dried beef, or even some of that Serrano ham. Another little serving of mixed olives scented with lemon peel, garlic, rosemary and bay leaf was a welcome accompaniment.

Our next dish was ordered off the Tradicional tapas menu - not the bar specials - a list with what were likely larger, richer selections like meatballs, stuffed peppers, and ham croquettes. We decided to try the Garlic Shrimp ($10), which was served up with warm bread and an even larger serving of olives than the last one. This dish was incredibly flavorful - loaded with roasted garlic slices, with a slight char. The shrimp were so fresh and perfectly prepared they were almost sweet. I thought it was a bit salty (so the olives didn't compliment) but excellent. I was actually getting tired of the olives at this point. Anyway, I caught FF actually eating the garlic from the broth, it was so mellow! When I went out by night to protect the innocent from the forces of evil even the bad guys commented that I was sweating garlic. Not that I sweat, of course.

But I digress. There were a few specials on the board behind us, and we decided to wrap up our little meal with a tapas of Grilled Yellow Watermelon ($12), topped with a blue cheese fondue made from both cow and goats milk cheeses and a bacon marmalade and sprinkled with chili lime salt, as well as a "microsalad" (a.k.a. watercress) and pine nuts. The whole combination of flavors was amazing - nothing took over and even the watermelon held up against the bacon flavor. This was a perfect ending to our meal - not exactly light but a bit of freshness was a welcome addition to the menu offerings. We got away with four drinks and four tapas for $51.90 plus tip, which we thought was incredibly reasonable.

Encore! It was easy to talk Cookie into bar food after the Bolshoi just a few days later. I ordered the Brooklyner Weiss ($3) from the Brooklyn Brewery - it was served nice and cold, and she had a glass of the house chardonnay, Bodega Norton (Argentina) - always a good choice for inexpensive quality wines. With this we ordered two dishes from the special Happy Hour tapas menu - shishito peppers that were simply blistered and sprinkled with sea salt, and the fried potatoes mixed with salsa brava and topped with aioli. The peppers were amazing - a nice char, slightly crisp, slippery and delicious with beer, ahem ahem. The potatoes were good - not spicy like we imagined, and definitely greasy. So far though, no olives, for which I was a bit disappointed.

Then it was Eggplant Fries scented with thyme, flavored with sesame seeds and a honey drizzle, and the Sauteed Mushrooms, which ended up being a beautiful mix of wild ones served nice and hot - ooooh! these were rich and slightly bitter and meaty and really special. The eggplant was a bit bland, I thought, but the texture was good/not too mushy, also flavored with a sprinkle of fresh thyme. No olives again? But I think I'm just nit picking.....

At this point Happy Hour had ended and the restaurant was getting busy, but we decided on one more dish from the Tradicional menu - the Octopus and Beans ($12). Two large tentacles grilled and tossed with butter beans, chopped olives, citrus zest, thyme and a saffron vinaigrette with a little handful of arugula on top. It proved to be a delicious combination of flavors; the octopus was tender and charred to perfection. Delicioso!!! From the two visits I would say the food was creative without being weird or overly trendy. Boca is offering up a beautiful selection of Spanish style foods that really are Spanish style. Tapas2 was $49.35 plus tip - also a good deal.

And the service? Excellent. Everyone on the floor was attentive, genuine, and on their toes - professional and smiling. The turnaround from the kitchen was really quick. I felt very welcome and comfortable being there.

Foodie Friend, Cookie and I were all very impressed by our visits to Boca Bistro, the fourth restaurant to be opened in the area by DZ Restaurants (Forno Bistro and Chianti il Ristorante are also in Saratoga Springs; Pasta Pane is in Clifton Park). This past year DZ took the next big step in local, sustainable, organic, healthy living by starting up their own farm in Galway, DZ Farm. My impression from reviewing their web sites is that they are smart, thinking, growing, interested in good food and good cooking, and that they will be giving much to our community in the years to come. Thank you. I've got your back.
Zena, Goddess of Fire

P.S.:OK if you chose (4) discovering you have superpowers you ARE cool!  (: