Monday, March 28, 2016

Fast and Hot and Beautiful: Ala Shanghai

No, this is not a sex thing, but maybe I've got your attention. Ala Shanghai is one of the best Chinese restaurants in the Capital Region, which may not be saying much, most of them are dreadful, but this little spot off of Latham Circle is truly worth battling traffic and crazy drivers to get to. 
Not pretty. Don't keep up with traffic. Slow down, stop and eat well.
There's a nice selection of very modestly priced lunch specials ($7 to $9, served with white or brown rice, soup a bit extra - the hot and sour was very good, not as spicy as I would have liked, sneaky with heat, lots of mushrooms and tofu). Red enjoyed the Wonton Soup - it had a mild broth and a dense, flavorful filling. 
Wonton Soup (for an extra $1.50 with a lunch special) - delicious!

Hot and Sour Soup - thickened just enough to make it feel rich and satisfying, but not hot enough for Zena
The Kung Po was good - tender chicken with crisp peanuts and celery, a bit on the sweet side but tamed with a splash of vinegar. Everyone enjoyed the Beef and Broccoli, with tender slices of meat and plenty of greens. 
Kung Po Chicken - don't eat the little red things

Beef and Broccoli - we all LOVED the sauce

The traditional menu is extensive - fish/seafood, poultry, beef, pork, Chef's Specials, Dim Sum. Seasonal specials were a bit more daring, with squid, eel, pork belly and intestines if you are so inclined - this made me think the chef/s must know what they're doing.  I was not disappointed. The Wonton in Spicy Flavor ($7) was decidedly not spicy but rather mild, scented with peanuts, rich and soothing. The Pork and Crab Soup Dumplings ($8) were a beautiful burst of flavor, slippery and salty. The dough, in both dishes, was perfectly tender. The Beef Chow Fun  - wide rice noodles with slices of tender beef -  was a big greasy dish that you must plan to share.
Lovely soup dumplings. Wait until they cool. Eat in one big bite. You've been warned

Wonton in Spicy Flavor - not spicy but packed with flavor (and pretty, too)
Beef Chow Fun. This was a very large, heavy duty dish that you should plan on sharing

Don't forget your greens. The Chinese Broccoli ($7) was fresh, slightly bitter, garlicky and shiny with oil, with a perfect texture. Everyone enjoyed the Sauteed String Beans - charred just a bit, a punch of garlic, and naturally sweet vegetables - this was a simple but lovely addition to our feast. 
Chinese Broccoli - bitter and heady with garlic
Sauteed Green Beans - you need some

The best dish was the Peking Duck, crispy yet tender, it was carved and plated table side onto pillowy steamed bread and laced with scallions and hoisin. 

A decadent addition to a wonderful meal
Overall the flavors are at Ala Shanghai are pleasant, a bit on the sweet side, not too spicy, crafted yet not complex. The best part of enjoying Chinese with a bunch of your buds is the chance to try more of what's on the menu all at one time, and I did my best to get more than my fair share.  

Lunch for 5 (no beverages besides tea) - nine dishes (including three lunch specials) was $85.32 plus tip. 

It's hard to eat slow when the food is coming on fast and hot and beautiful like a fire goddess on a mission, but I tried. 

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Heavenly Fried Chicken on South Pearl Street

After reading the I Like Food post about Soul Kitchen and Stephanie Gaddy's  fried chicken I was curious but frankly not very hopeful.  Since Hattie's seems to be the gold standard for fried chicken in this region I have maintained very low expectations regarding the dish, counting on trips back to the regions that do it well for my indulgence.

Move over Hattie's, Soul Kitchen has arrived.

Don't get me wrong, Hattie's is not evil or anything like that, but here's the thing:  Hattie's chicken has a crust.  It seals in the juices by becoming impervious because it's so thick.   Yes, it's flavorful, although always fried to a degree (in my opinion) that brings on a bitter flavor.  The inside of the crust has always left me with an impression of slight sliminess.

Ms. Gaddy's batter is light, and while sealing in the moisture so that the chicken is perfectly tender, it doesn't form a crust that can be easily broken away from the meat, it forms something like a tempura coating.  She and I agree perfectly on what the seasonings should be and I'm happy for them to remain secret. Between the balanced seasonings that harmonize with the chicken and the light and crispy coating that sort of shatters into flakey goodness when you bite, it's some heavenly chicken. It's been fried to a classic golden with maybe a teensy bit of brown here and there but no bitterness, only savory wonderfulness that adds a j'nais c'est quoi to the dish I have not found in this region before.  

This is a photo from the Soul Kitchen website - I think it captures the golden color beautifully.

The sides are classic accompaniments: yams, mac and cheese, cabbage, collard greens - I'm amenable to all of them, but I go for the chicken.

If you know what I'm talking about, get yourself to South Pearl, just a few doors south of the corner of Madison and Pearl.  As soon as you get inside the mini mall there you'll have no trouble following the aroma to the chicken. 

Right now it looks like carry out  only -- I'd love to see a table or two set out in the center of the building so that we could enjoy a dine-in experience.

I'm tasting my way through the menu and have never had room for the banana pudding yet, which I suspect is a sublime experience.  I might have to make a special run.

Monday, March 14, 2016

As they say in Guilderland: Bon Appetit!!!

Sometimes the start of the weekend is on a Wednesday. Life is good.

We took Puppy Sweet Cheeks out for her (mon dieu!) 60th birthday last week, choosing Provence because it is elegant, slightly beat up, sedate and charming, like us (non!). Located in the upscale Stuyvesant Plaza it's a lovely place to wine and dine, and has been since it opened in 1999.
Objects in mirror are closer than they appear
The bar is small but often crowded comme les sardines, so my special powers are very useful when it comes time to fighting a way out towards the dining area.  Noisy, but friendly, it's a foule de fantaisie enjoying a fine wine selection and some very good cocktails. I loved the Chamisal Vineyards 2014 un-oaked chardonnay ($8), and Puppy took on a Moscow Mule (ginger beer, vodka and lime) while we waited for K2 to join us. They offer a small selection of $5 wine and drink specials from 3:00 to 7:00. Monsieur, that is MY kinda happy "hour".
Dining areas are dark, cozy and comfortable, but Zena needed a booster seat on the banquette 
In addition to their regular menu (which, if you haven't been in de nombreuses années, is much improved, with lighter choices, more small plates, and some hearty salads) they take the trouble to print off a small menu of daily specials, which I usually avoid, thinking someone is trying to unload aging ingredients, but this list was trés trés intéressant. Puppy loved the soup du jour of the day, Potato and Corned Beef Soup ($7) - simple, not too salty or thickened with thickeners - and a salad laced with cranberries and walnuts with mixed greens ($11).
A thoughtfully prepared dinner-sized salad with a cup of the soup du jour of the day
I enjoyed the Poisson - pan seared striped bass (perfectly cooked, simply seasoned), served with garlicky broccoli rabe and fingerlings ($26) - plain but in the spirit of the paysans - the quality of the ingredients was allowed to shine.

The poaching liquid, or nage, is beautiful and delicious
K2 won with the Kurobuta Pork Tenderloin ($25), one of their regular entrees, a rich winter delight of super tender pan-roasted pork, dried fruit, pecans and bacon with a side of braised cabbage. We all appreciated that the greens and potatoes with these two dishes were different.
Light whipped mashed, tender pork and perfectly prepared green beans were a delight.
Nous avons mangé tout. Then we celebrated la vie by sharing an Apple Tarte Tatin ($7.5) - generous for just one! - a nice combination of tart cooked apples, vanilla ice cream, caramel and whipped. A perfect way to end the day in the company of friends.
Bon anniversaire, Puppy Sweet Cheeks!
Dinner for three, including three drinks (in addition to the ones we had at the bar!) was $122 plus tax and tip. As they say in Guilderland: bon appetit!!!

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Loving Our Local Brewers at the Craft New York Brewers Festival

I 'm impressed, as I hope you are, with the burgeoning craft brew industry in New York. There are some truly fine brews in our back yard, and a great deal of tasting to be done in order for us to sort out our favorites. So in the spirit of exploring the craftsmanship of our local brewers Saturday I struck out in search of good beer. Luckily for me this past weekend was the 3rd annual Craft New York Brewers Festival at the Desmond Hotel, with two tiers of tickets.  I chose upper tier, which also provided access to the food catered by a couple dozen or so local caterers, restaurants and pubs.There were also a group of  rare and one-off beers reserved for the VIP tier*.

Others in our region had the same idea and the event was completely Sold Out.  Wonderful!  People are getting hip to the fact that New York does good beer,  ale and stout.

The Desmond organized the event very well and of course they have excellent exhibit space so that brewers and caterers had plenty of room to serve up their finest wares.  Since the VIP ticket holders knew that we had an hour to enjoy the food and drink with a smaller crowd we were pretty much all at the door by 4pm. Everything was set up and ready for us, and so we all played out our various strategies for enjoying as much as possible of what was on offer.

Since the VIP tickets were issued to a smaller group, there was plenty of time to talk with brewers and get the inside story regarding the beers and other aspects of their brewing.  That's a lot of the fun for me, since I'm discovering that brewers are sort of half business people and half artists.  And all around they seem to be a jolly bunch.

One of the first people I met was a man who grows hops in his yard as a hobby and is starting to make connections with breweries who like what he produces.  He had some hops in a box and I was curious regarding exactly what the taste of a hop is.  So I munched it.  I mean, what is a festival for if you're not going to try things you'd never think of trying? It was sort of  mind bending and I now understand what the hops contribute to the overall brew.

The food was very good and complemented the beer.  The beer was superb.  I'm no beer snob, just learning about what is out there but I had all delicious and intriguing beers that had yards and yards of flavor.  The prize for the most weird was the Peanut Butter Porter  - oh yeah, I know how it sounds.  It took me awhile to wrap my head around it, but it holds a place in my heart.  Another superb example was the Water Street Brewery Strong Ale.  That one was a pleasure I will seek out again.

I'm not sure how long this link will last, however a run down of the breweries and caterers is here:

As good as it was, I'm happy to know that this annual festival is only one of lots and lots of festivals and other opportunities to get out there and try some wonderful brewskies. Go and support the people who work hard to produce the most delightful beers possible.


*VIP Tickets included the following rare on one off beers: Farmhouse Brewery –The Sour Evangelist, Sour Tomatillo Gose, Upstate Brewing -Double IPA, Empire Brewing Company –Two Dragons, CH Evans – Rum Barrel Aged Poor Soldier Porter, Olde Saratoga Brewing – Saratoga Kolsch Aged in Chardonnay Barrels, Crossroads Brewing – Black Rock Stout, Saint James Brewery – Bottled Conditioned Apple Ale “Pomme” Made with apples from Long Island, Erie Canal Brewing – Amber Waves of Grain American Pale Ale & Locktender IPA, Shmaltz Brewing Co – Funky Jewbelation, Coney Island Brewing – MerMAN Imperial Pilsner, Saranac – Barrel Aged Imperial Rye Porter, Four Mile Brewing – Reap Series featuring all NYS hops and malts, Greenport Harbor Brewing– Cuvaison 2015 and Canard Noir (Black Saison), Browns Brewing – Barrel Aged Imperial Brown Ale,Wolf Hollow Brewing Company – District 6 IPA with a special “trifecta” addition of local hops from RockinHops: Chinook, Centennial, and Columbus, Prison City Brewing – Passion Fruit Sour,Binghamton Brewing – Xocolatl Aztec Porter, Good Nature Brewing – Bier De Marc, Communtiy Beer Works – Smoke Rauchbier, The Brewery at CIA/Rare Form Collaboration – Ludicrous Speed Winter Pale Ale – an unfiltered golden pale ale brewed with lemon peel and juniper berries, Southern Tier – Grand Arbor – a limited release Belgian Style Farmhouse Ale brewed with Local NYS Maple Syrup,Wolf Hollow Brewing –  District 6 IPA Cask with a fresh Centennial hop from “Rockin Hops” a local hop grower, Adirondack Brewery – Firkin of Ryan’s Irish Red with wood chips soaked in irish whisky, Rushing Duck – Dog’s Bollocks, a barrel aged barleywine from 2014, Lake Placid Pub & Brewery – Imperial Smoked Porter, Brooklyn Brewery – Improved Old Fashioned the latest barrel aged BQE Series,