Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What is a ROUX???

FF and I dined on a lovely June evening on the patio at Roux, a new restaurant that opened early this spring located at the end of a strip mall just a hop off 85 onto Vista Boulevard in Slingerlands.  The dining room was dark and welcoming, clean and tastefully decorated, but the outdoors beckoned. Their patio dining area was nicely shaded and protected from the wind by the building. Along with sturdy tables there was an upholstered sectional that looked very cozy and comfortable, but it was occupied when we arrived so I didn't get a chance to try it.  There were already a few guests enjoying the ambiance when we arrived, just before 530 on a Thursday night. Over the next couple of hours it was clear that the outdoor seating area was very popular.

Roux, Rustic American Cuisine in Slingerlands, NY
A cozy bar may be worth a try in hotter or colder weather

A view of the back deck with a view of the parking lot and highway

Service was relaxed, not exactly slow.  FF started with one of their signature cocktails ($10 each), Albany's Manhattan, made with smokey (local!) Ironweed whiskey and topped with one of those bright red dye #2 high fructose corn syrup maraschino cherries which she wouldn't eat. Very nice - not too sweet - just the kind of drink that will make your cheeks pink even sitting in the shade. Especially if you have two, which FF did because I was driving my Zenamobile that night. Trying to stay local I ordered a glass of the Glenora Reisling ($9) from the Finger Lakes region. I have enjoyed this standby many a bottle before - ever so slightly sweet, kind of fruity, very refreshing and good with most anything. Bottles run $26 to $50 each with wines from California, Oregon, South America, NZ and Australia predominating. All were available by the glass except for the champagne, and there are some good choices. A basket of forgettable bread accompanied by a delicious herb butter with lemon zest and a roasted red pepper spread arrived a bit late, but we were happy and talkative and finally got around to ordering our meal. 

Forgettable bread with lovely herb butter and a roasted red pepper spread
We tried to select "Rustic American Cuisine" because that's what Roux advertises. However, I don't think that should include Bolognese, but you can comment on our blog if you think I'm wrong. 

We tried one small plate, the Pork Belly ($3), laced with sage and served with a bourbon syrup. Two bites but very tasty, with just a hint of sage.

A pork belly small plate - tender, greasy and delicious
Then we had a Mac & Cheese appetizer ($8).

Q:  What is a roux? You know, a ROUX, like in the name of the restaurant???

Is it: (one answer only)

A. An attitude
B. A small kangaroo
C. The way Scooby says "you",
D. A basic white sauce, or
E. Milk mixed with Velveeta cheese.

The correct answer is D, a basic white sauce. You get 5 points. 

If you answered E. Milk mixed with Velveeta cheese, you would be incorrect (B and C are almost right, but no points - sorry). Anyway, believe it or not, THAT'S what Roux's "homemade M&C" was all about. White shells, milky squidgy flavorless liquid, not baked, no real cheese, and topped with panku flakes instead of what was supposed to be a Parmesan crust.  It was down to nothing the worst thing anyone has tried to serve me in a restaurant anywhere ever, and I'm a superhero and the forces of evil are ALWAYS trying to find ways to take me out, so slipping me awful food has been a popular choice over the years, but I digress. 


The Scallop dinner on their new spring menu was also disappointing, and again, not up to what they SAID they were serving. The saffron risotto was bitter and clumped and resembled pilaf more than a creamy risotto. Where did that bitter flavor come from??? The roasted broccoli was steamed and served cold, laced with the usual garlic and red pepper flakes. The scallops (4 medium size pieces) were good, flavored with a gentle citrus glaze, but it was a pretty chintzy serving. This was NOT a $28 entree, but we appreciated that they split the plate for no charge and that the plate was balanced (no need to order a la carte to get them greens).  The Green Goddess green beans ($3) that we ordered on the side were definitely a winner - perfectly cooked, laced with a mayonnaisey dressing and a touch of chili oil. The Green Goddess is a good goddess. 

A shared entree of sea scallops and some Green Goddess green beans
The dessert menu had a nice variety, including cookies and milk to which you could add bacon for $1 extra (rustic American or what!???) - but it was dominated by after dinner drinks. The desserts, we were informed, all are homemade, and the cheesecake is made from Grandmother's recipe. We didn't indulge but their rich temptations looked very good indeed.

Dinner for two (but really could have served one), with TWO cocktails, one glass of wine, one small plate, one side, one appetizer, and one entree, came to $76.68 plus tax and tip. We saved a little bit of money with a Local Flavor of Albany coupon ($15 for $30 worth of food), which is good. In sum, not great food all in all, perhaps a bit overpriced, kind of underwhelming. I think they need to work on what's coming out of the kitchen. Otherwise the space has a lot going for it and the staff were all very friendly and professional. 

And the patio is really a lovely place to hang.  

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Monday, June 22, 2015

Muza in Troy: Old School European

Muza took over a corner on 15th St. in south Troy some years ago and step by step the owner is building a very interesting spot. The before and after photo in the dining room shows what everything looked like at the start and it has undergone quite a transformation and it looks like there may be more to come.  There are some very promising terraced spaces outside that I'm eager to see finished and in service. 

Once inside one can see a special dining room for a large party to the left, then the foyer, and dining room to the right.  To my mind it all seems very old style and I like it.  The dining room has two levels and has a golden amber ambiance.  There are nice large windows looking out over the street which add natural light, but they are heavily draped so that the sun can't become overwhelming. It's not exactly homey, but has few pretensions.

Service has always been polite, efficient and attentive.

But indeed the food is what has drawn me back. I come from the midwest where eastern/northern  European cuisine was very common due to 19th century immigration, although it is less so now. 

At Muza it's meat and potatoes cuisine, with noodles, cabbage, onion, carrots, mushrooms, a little this and a little that. These are very rich well-cooked flavors that end up blended in delightful ways.  But I'm rhapsodizing because this is what I grew up loving.  I'm genetically bonded to these flavors. Others may find them bland or unexciting, but for someone who needs expertly made stuffed cabbage, kielbasa, sauerkraut and potato pancakes every now and then, I think Muza will not disappoint.

I took this photo of the Muza Feast, which seems to me to have the most variety of their sampler dishes. However, most of the plates served here are going to look very much like this one. 

It's sturdy fare. The sauerkraut is tender and mild, with a good sour bent rather than sweetened with apple or sweet onions. I've seen fragments of dill and there are sprinkles of parsley for an herbed pungency. The golombki are right in my range for "perfect" with a great balance of rice and flavoring ingredients, cooked until the rice is completely tender but not mush (let me see….where are those leftovers again…).  And the tomato sauce is light and also slightly sour so that it adds the right level of brightness but doesn't take over. 

I'm not a pierogi specialist, so those of you who are should go and review them.  I simply woofed them and smiled a very big smile. There's not much to say about kielbasa and mashed potatoes - at Muza they are done expertly so that they are wonderful complements in a musical composition of well-balanced and mild herb and vegetable flavors.

It's hard to surprise with cuisine like this, and those like me who want it because it's just like it was back home don't want surprises. Because of my upbringing I have expectations for very common flavors and textures and Muza delivers on every item. I find myself swooning as I sit before a plate of rich beef and egg noodle goodness.

The crowd is mixed with all ages.  There are couples and families of all kinds.

The beer and wine lists are simple and I can't help but think that Muza could team up with some local breweries to pair beer with the cuisine and step up the game without getting outside the borders of what they are doing. Maybe that will be coming up since they are describing themselves as European-American Dining and Beer Garden.  I will keep hoping.

And while I wish that the sour cream and applesauce condiment dishes were crockery instead of plastic, I suppose I can't have everything I want.  I'll go back anyway.  At least until I've had every single thing on the menu and many dishes several times.

LorreBob sez: go and be happy that someone is still making this delicious food.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Albany Dish Goes on the Road to "Slow Living Summit: Food, Mindfully"

This week in Brattleboro the Strolling of the Heifers has given life to a Slow Living summit of a 175 or so people who are interested in many issues surrounding food.  The brief list below gives a sense of the talk contents.  The summit format was a chance to have an intense immersive couple of days talking with like-minded food producers, chefs, sustainability gurus and community/foodie activists.

Turning the Tide; Healthy Food for All?
Alisa Gravitz
CEO of Green America
Alisa, an economist and sustainability wonk, says the good news is that we can grow enough organic food to feed everyone.  Studies show again and again that organic farming yields are just as high as factory farming yields.

Food for Mind, Body and Soul
Dr. Michael Finkelstein

Think about what you're eating and feed yourself what you really need. You can unpack that for two hours.

Food Policy: Can We Talk?
Shouldn't we be discussing a food system revolution?
Rob Michalak

Global Director Social Mission, Ben & Jerry's

Well heck yeah.

Land, Legacy, and Leadership: A food entrepreneur's journey
Allison Hooper
Co-Founder, Vermont Creamery

The food business can be a great adventure and take  you places you never suspected you'd go.

The Emergent Agriculture: A new paradigm for the sustainable future of food
Gary Kleppel, Professor, Farmer and Author

Dr. Kleppel provided a close up look at basic techniques that build biodiversity and sequester carbon.

Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate
Laura Lengnick, Professor Environmental Studies and Sustainable Agriculture
[Organic Agriculture BABE]

Laura's talk title is the title of her latest book, which I highly recommend. She tells the stories of award-wining farmers who are developing techniques to spring back after disasters and mitigate weather extremes along with innovating for transformation.  I have a crush on her.

Seed Libraries and Other Seed Sharing Initiatives
Cindy Conner, extraordinary gardener, teacher and author

Cindy gave us all a very comprehensive overview of seed library services and how to get a seed library started. I want to start one!!! Anybody with me?

Brattleboro Coop - lunch!  The Coop was just across the river from our conference so we made the most of their convenient food bar - a fantastic spread of wholesome delicious foods.

Food as Medicine or An Herbalist's Approach to Food
Betzy Bancroft Celest Longacre, Cheryl Wilfong

"Start with your spice cabinet" was Betzy's advice to those who wish to discover useful everyday herbal remedies for common ailments.

The 2015 Summit was one of the most hopeful meetings I've attended where people acknowledged climate change but have refused to believe that there is no way to address the changes we face. With our food policy being affected by knowledgable professionals like these I am encouraged.  But there is still plenty to do in order to assure food justice, resilient agriculture and appropriate policy to make sure we have the best possible food systems in place for the coming century.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Attack of the Killer Ketchup Burger at SMASHBURGER

Zena, Goddess of Fire, and Pony, did a 20-napkin burger lunch at Smashburger last week. 

In preparation for taking on a Smashburger (known for their aggressiveness) we didn't eat any breakfast, so we arrived grumpy just before noon. We scouted out the enemy (a.k.a. Killer Calories) and placed our order at the counter.

Smashburger on Wolf Road in Colonie
Clearly there were problems at the register and the line grew quickly while we stood there and watched the staff stumble with changes in orders, mistakes in order entries, and making change. But the place was clean and bright and the staff were very friendly and helpful and everyone was working hard.

Zena and Pony scout the place out
I did a 2040 calorie superhero attack on a Classic Smashburger (the big one, since I got a FREE ENTREE from the manager at the Alliance for Women in Media luncheon last month and figured I could beat it), a side of sweet potato fries and a chocolate shake.  NOTE: I did a review for Yelp of Burger21 in Latham recently and the basic burger/shake/sweet potato fries combo is so I can do a little bit of comparing between restaurants. And because I like 'em.  (:

The shake was at least 12 ounces of awesome - an easy fight to put that one away. Made with Haagen Daz and milk and syrup (what's in the syrup I don't know - nothing online, either, as far as ingredients go). But simple and nice and smooth and rich. I liked that it was served in a frosted glass. Like the spoon and metal cup thing. I finished it before anything else in front of me. Irresistibly delicious.
Chocolate shake: 760 Killer Calories (and worth it!)
The sweet potato fries were nice and crispy and not at all greasy or salty - some of the best I've had. Needs no condiment, but I lost that fight. It was a generous serving and I only ate about half of what was in front of me. OK even superheroes are beaten sometimes. Delicious.

Classic Smashburger and sweet potato fries
But that burger (topped with ketchup and pickles and red onion and lettuce and tomato and secret sauce and cheese) wasn't what I expected, and I almost lost the fight.  Stuff was squirting out in all directions. The brioche bun got soggy and fell apart. Pickles plopped out creating panic.  And honestly, though tender, it just tasted like ketchup and onions and pickles. Lots of ketchup. WAY too much ketchup. But I finished it - yeah!!!  Next time I'll ask them NOT to put ketchup on my burger. I can do that at the table. 

Pony did 1540 calories in her good fight: Bacon Cheeseburger, fries, fried pickles, and a Sprite. The pickles were a really really salty but good - the coating was actually stuck to the pickle, which isn't something you see too often. 

Fried pickles with a side of icky bottled Ranch dressing
The fries were good, shoestrings, crispy, OK. But that burger???  It tasted like ketchup and onions. Yep, not like bacon (two little pieces) or cheese (Uh-merican and flavorless). Again, the toppings took over, sort of like the forces of evil if you let them. The beef may be better quality than "drive-thru" but you'd hardly know it.

Bacon Cheeseburger with a wee bit of bacon and a side of fries
I like the build your own option - I understand it's their most popular - and will try that next time. 

No onions.

No ketchup.

Love, Zena

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Burgermeister Meisterburgers of Albany


Burger and fries at Burger21 in Latham, NY May 2015
Did you know that May is National Burger Month? And that May 28 is National Burger Day???

Me neither. Two more stupid things not to care about.

BUT, let's get really serious for a minute. I do love a good burger, and since Americans eat 50 billion burgers a year (3 per week/per person) I assume there are others just like me (superheroes and otherwise) that love a good burger, too.

Now we can all play Burgermeister and flip a few burgers on the grill. Don't take much lurnin' justa brewsky and some meat and a flipper and maybe some gasoline to getchagoin and a bun and ketchup and let me tell you MAN that first burger you ate off the barbie was delicious, wasn't it?  YES, it's not a work of genius: cheap, quick, tasty, and iconic, especially if you are cooking in flip flops.

Which is PROBABLY the reason (i.e., that it doesn't take a genius) why we have a "new obsession" in the Capital Region with burger restaurants. But we're NOT a bunch of edible dummies around here, and we're getting smarter.

The local chapter of the Alliance for Women in Media therefore organized a panel discussion on May 14, hosted by Steve Barnes of Table Hopping fame, at the Century House in Latham, NY to explore this complex and highly politicized modern gastronomical phenomena: new burger joints opening in Albany. On board were Bill Lia Jr. (franchise owner for the area of BurgerFi [along with Angelo Mazzone, another name that should be familiar to you]), Colleen Pierson (spokesperson for Sonic Drive-In, apparently owned by Patricia Bruder and now hiring, note this especially if you rollerskate), Bobby Mitchell (independent restaurateur and owner of Juicy Burgers), Leo Butera (operating partner of the local Smashburger franchise), and Mike Stygles, franchisee for Burger 21 (along with his partner Bruce Anderson, and owners of the Melting Pot). Steve asked the panel a series of pretty standard questions, and the answers were mostly honest and believable and sometimes funny.  So what kind of amazing things did we learn ???

  • There is not a burger war in Albany. Thank goodness.
  • There are lots of burger joints in the area (duh), so there is competition, but these guys are into quality, tasty food that is not "fast food". 
  • Sonic is a "quick serve" restaurant, not a "burger restaurant". Please update your brain.
  • Juicy Burgers also sells salads, which are good for you (75% of sales, however, are burgers).
  • Burger21 is selling you an experience, not just a burger. I hope yours is as memorable as mine
  • Kids are looking for something fancy because they now watch cooking shows. Really?
  • Sonic in Latham is currently open 24/7 because there are no walls or a roof yet.
  • Sonic should appeal to families because of good value and fast service. They make peanut butter and bacon shakes. OK, let's move on.
  • Smashburger was #6, Americas Most Promising Companies in 2014 according to Forbes. OK let's move on again because that's just boring unless you are an investor.
  • Community involvement is heartfelt, not just another marketing ploy. (I gleaned this; it was not actually spoken in so many words).
  • Saturdays are the busiest days at burger joints to experience a burger at one of these new locations. 
  • Online ordering (with mobile apps especially), take out, and even delivery services can ramp up revenue. (Note: I must get more organized when I have the munchies and start ordering ahead instead of staying "I'm really really hungry let's stop for a burger right now").  
  • BurgerFi will have beer and wine. Thank goodness: a REAL family restaurant where even Mom might enjoy herself for a change.
So the menus are more diverse, the shakes and burgers and "crafted", the fries are hand cut, the cooking techniques are more controlled than using gasoline and briquettes, and these "experiences" are MUCH better than drive-thru (and more expensive, but that's OK - the quality is MUCH better). Whatever the marketing hype, the food is good, even great at times. I WILL go that extra 10 feet to get a better burger. 
I've done Juicy Burger over the years and love them. Burger21 was a joy. I've got a free entree coupon to Smashburger that I will test drive next week, and I look forward to Sonic and BurgerFi opening up. QUESTION: Will any of them move to downtown Albany??? Even my superpowers can't crack that one, but let me tell you, the burbs is burgeoning with burgers. 

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: Oh, and happy National Burger Day. At least you didn't have to get that card in the mail by Thursday.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sip and Stroll in Saratoga Springs

A fund raiser for Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and the United Way, "The Sip" offered a view of Saratoga establishments that one might easily overlook. Since the town has so many little interesting places to eat and drink that it's difficult to merely see them all, let alone step inside. So my collaborator Zena, Goddess of Fire and I decided to take advantage of a programmed evening and at the same time make a donation to an organization that cares for animals who might otherwise be in vulnerable circumstances.

We picked up wristbands and maps at Gaffneys and proceeded to stroll around the downtown area and survey the scene.

The Bourbon Room offered a wheel of cheese and a peach and bourbon cocktail that was a perfect refreshing starter for an evening.

The Circus Cafe Crown Bar served up popcorn and wine.

The Swedish Hill Winery, in its new digs, was holding a tasting of a lightweight white.

Forno was offering canapes on one of their lovely patios

We skipped Mingle on the Avenue because they were a bit too crowded for our taste, but we both think it looks really gorgeous.

The Parting Glass had a jam session going and a lovely wheat beer.

Henry Street had an outdoor scene happening.

The Goddess had a little bit of evil to vanquish and we were nice and strolled-out by the time we got up to the Lake and Henry Street corner, so we called it a night.

My impression was that the establishments weren't organizing their evening around the event, and that they didn't expect much of anyone to come by.  Most didn't have extra staff and one bar even ran out of glasses (!) within the first hour.  There was no sense that planning had taken place for what would be on offer for the $25.00 wrist band fee on the part of the organizing group, so each establishment thought about and presented what they had for participants in a different way.

That aside, we had an interesting evening in Saratoga and a list of places we'd like to revisit.  You'll see more posts regarding our trips to the northern reaches of the Capital District coming up over the summer months.

Map/Guide to participating places.  Click on the map to get a larger image and see the full list of participating restaurants and bars.

Follow this link and "like" Albany Dish Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AlbanyDish

Friday, May 15, 2015

The On Ramp at Basilica Hudson

How many ways can  ramps be prepared?  This is an excellent question.  I know now that there are many more than 20.  This small local plant that is oniony and garlicky can inspire chefs to reach for the mild, the pungent, the bizarre and the downright floor-banging fantastic.

In the pre-event quiet the 19th century factory is clean and ready for 20 + chefs to unload and display what will be on offer for the fifth annual Ramp Fest. It's located very near the Hudson Amtrak station.

A couple dozen volunteers form the bulk of the staff, and this year I decided to join the crew to see all the action up close and personal.

The biggest crowd yet!

It wasn't all hard work being a volunteer.  There were plenty of opportunities to taste the delicious fare. Some of the beautifully crafted ramp treats were: 

Another Fork in the Road - Ramp and lamb kofta
Ca'Mea - Galatina di pollo with ramp aioli
The Crimson Sparrow - ramp tofu, pork cheek lemon grass, wasabi
The Farmer's Wife - spring chowder of mussels, bacon, ramps and asparagus w/cornbread croutons

and the list went on and on.  Everyone looked delighted as they went down the rows of serving tables and tried things no one had ever heard of before. In the hands of skilled chefs the ramp can be muted or  a highlight.

The one I broke the "one and done" rule for was Gaskins ramp arancini - little crisped balls of rice with the perfect rice texture on the inside and a little garnish of bright green ramp aioli on top, like a little cap.  This is the perfect food as far and I'm concerned and I returned to their table a few times for that scrumptious little bite.

The Fest had its first ever panel discussion, "Ramps and the Food Choices We Make" with Andreas Schneider of Hawthorne Valley, Sara Grady of Glynwood, Jori Emde and Zak Pelaccio of Fish and Game which used ramps as a "metaphor for the future of food."

As the festival wound down people lingered to enjoy the last of the offerings and the diffuse light in the old-fashioned  industrial surroundings.

LorreBob sez:  put the 6th annual Ramp Fest on your calendar and head down to Hudson in the spring next year. Everyone should try it at least once - to get the sense of what this little plant can inspire.

Below is the whole list if you are interested in the participating chefs and restaurants. Click on the image and you will get a size that is more reasonable.