Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Impressions of a new neighborhood spot - The Grille at 138

This establishment has opened on Washington Avenue near Dove Street in a neighborhood that's got a high concentration of restaurants, so it faces a lot of competition, but I think it has a niche.  It's a good place.  I like the lack of pretense and cherish the consistently good food.

I had a very interesting comparison test after the first time I visited, because I ordered the linguini with white clam sauce.  It's not a dish that I have had very many times, and the night I did I happened to be exhausted and famished and in need of a nice quiet dinner. The chef and I agree on exactly how linguini should be prepared and the fresh clams in a delightful lemon sauce hit the spot.  The next night I went out with friends for a review dinner and had linguini with white clam sauce and it was not even the same concept. With such a close comparison, it was easy to tell that the Grille at 138 was on top of the game and the neighborhood Italian place was calling it in.

The dining room is currently in the basement and nicely appointed.  Tablecloths, cloth napkins and real flatware keep it classy and the sound track is cool jazz and easy listening.  The lunch crowd is bigger than the dinner crowd at this point, and so  the dinner staff is attentive and very friendly. There is a bar area at the front looking out on to Washington Ave. where Wayne, longtime bar tender at Elda's, presides with a kind and gentle countenance.

The Ga138 has settled on an old school menu and offers a nice variety of fish and seafood, chicken, beef and pork.  Burgers and other sandwiches round out the dinner menu so that it accommodates a range of budgets. When I went on a weekend night and saw that they offer prime rib on Friday and Saturday, I  ended up having the best slice of prime rib I've ever had and see why people enjoy it. The versions I've had at conference banquets had turned me off from that particular  beef dish, and I'm glad I gave Ga138 a try. On the night I asked a companion to come along, his impression was the same - solidly good in a neighborhood that could use another good dinner spot, what with several restaurants having recently given up the ghost and others letting their game slide.

If one's appetite is not big, there are several small dishes that will suffice.  The night I had chili it also was something the chef and I agree on.  This is not flashy or pretentious food, but good food. A hearty olive bread comes with the table and has real butter, not silly olive oil for dipping.  That's the sort of first old school touch I noticed. Then as I skimmed through the menu the old fashioned dishes such as beef stroganoff and seafood Newburg were apparent.  I intend to try all of them.

When I decided to try their burgers I chose the chianti burger with what turned out to be some fantastically delicious marinated onions. They made the burger rise from good to extraordinary.  I could go on, but I will suggest that  you go and see for yourself.

The brunch is the most recent offering I've tried, and they don't disappoint, yet they don't get ridiculous. They present a good range of breakfast and lunch choices and offer a handsome space to enjoy a leisurely Sunday meal. They put the menu online so you can see what is up:  http://www.thegrilleat138.com/sunday-brunch-buffet-menu.php  I especially enjoyed the pork hash, which was perfect, and the scalloped potatoes.  And they had a dessert crepe that was like dying and going to heaven.

There's always room for improvement in any restaurant's life and while I've mostly had praiseworthy fare I've also been served a corn on the cob side dish that had been brutally murdered, and at brunch I trimmed the dirty-looking bases from the brussels sprouts  - something that any amateur cook would notice and do for her guests.  But when a place is hitting it out of the park on most days I can cut them some slack and just ask that they keep up diligent attention to what's going out of the kitchen.

So check out the menu links and see if it's a place you'd like to try.  Let me know what you think!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Tasting Olive Oil with the Head Cowgirl

Five little sampling cups of oil with numbers, apples, water and a jellybean were waiting on our place mats at the Longhouse Revival as we entered the busy barn kitchen/theater with the giant round table on Sunday morning. I plunked down my backpack and was joined by Rose,  herself with long hair, diminutive form, and eyelashes that wouldn't quit. When our tasting guide, Mr. Singletary, told us we'd be doing things with olive oil that we had probably never done before I raised my eyebrows silently at Rose and pretended to snort the oil.  The eyelashes sort of fluttered a bit and then we were both distracted by our chatty companion who joined the table.  Companion brought up the cookbook conversation that she and Rose had apparently begun earlier in the weekend.

When I discovered that the cookbooks have to do with Rose wanting to have a large and famous cookbook library my librarian instincts caused my attention to snap to her. I had lots of questions.

But there was an olive oil tasting going on so we all turned our unruly attention to Mr. Singletary.

Bob Singletary took over the floor, and proceeded to walk to us through the history of olive oil and a description of the operations of the California Olive Ranch. Harvesting with a grape harvester to collect the fruit at its peak, they organize their operations so that they can get the olives harvested for the most fresh, mostly fresh, and everyday oil that's merely ok.

Then it was time to take the capped sample cups into our hands and begin the four S's of tasting.

First up was


to warm the oil and get the molecules to waft around.

Next was taking off the little cap to give the oil a


to get the smell sense attuned to what was wafting.

Next up was


necessitating a specific ridiculous embouchure and quick breath intake that lets the oil slide across the tastebuds on the sides of the tongue and bounce around in the back of the throat so that it can be lifted up into one's nose.

What with the peppery qualities of fine olive oils and everything some oils are categorized by the number of coughs one experiences in the slurp.  Some Spanish oils are so-called 4 cough oils, for example.

After this assault on the senses one then at last exercises the final S of olive oil tasting, the


Analogous to another deeply sensual experience?   Go get your olive oil and decide for yourself.

Apple and water were for cleansing the palate and a bit of tasty recovery between oils. We had to wait until the end to find out, but the jellybean served quite an important purpose.  Bob instructed us to really get a good pinch on our noses so that nothing could go through it, then pop the jellybean into our mouths and chew while holding them. After a few chomps he said to let go of our noses.  WOW. It was an instant and powerful demonstration regarding how much of our experience of taste involves our sense of smell.

Bob Singletary is Head Miller for California Olive Ranch and he does a very lovely presentation that's both educational and amusing.

Their post on the 4 S's http://www.californiaoliveranch.com/our-olive-oil/tasting-olive-oil

Their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CaliforniaOliveRanch?fref=nf

After all that tasting I wanted to let Rose know that I organize collections in exchange for food and lodging.  That snapped Rosebud's Tripple R Ranch attention to me. She gave me her card, which read:

Rose Rajokvic    Head Cowgirl    Rosebud's Tripple R Ranch

When I told her I didn't have any cards along with me at the moment she said: "get in touch with me" and included one of those looks which meant that she is serious.  I'm serious too.  Getting a cookbook library together for the Head Cowgirl of the Triple R Ranch sounds like something right up my alley. Santa Fe, here I come!

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Washington County Cheese Tour

I enjoyed the Cheese Tour so much last year that I couldn't wait to do it again in 2014. The best part was the cheese, but petting baby Cossayuna Nubian goats is a close second. That's my sister making them bleat. 

We left Albany on what promised to be the last really hot, disgustingly muggy buggy day of summer and headed north out of Albany, starting at Sweet Spring Farm in Argyle, NY. I got there late last year, and they only had one cheese left for me, so they were first on my list this year, and we were one of the first to arrive. We parked in grass that was thigh high, got out the ball caps and mosquito repellent, and headed up the hill to the farm. Chevre and feta heaven! I love their plain chevre, but I also enjoyed the one coated in Herbes de Provence, and another with just black pepper. But the best cheese for me was the Pheonix, a meltingly smooth blue made with goats milk cheese that I gobbled up just yesterday with my friend M&M, and I should have taken a picture because looking at my pictures from the tour two weeks ago I see there are NO pictures of the cheese at Sweet Spring Farm, which is my old phone doing tricks on me again, cause I KNOW I took pictures.  Bleat!!!

But let me say the goats were totally cute and friendly, and like a family pet adored all the attention they were getting from the visitors. That tells me that the owners, Jeff Bowers and Milton Ilario, love their goats and treat them well. And I think that's probably what makes the cheese taste so wonderful. Their dogs were also funny, frolicking with the kids. It was a lovely farm visit that reminded me again about the earth and the animals and how much there is in life, and in food, to be appreciated.

Happy with a few purchases, including some goats milk soap from the farm and some maple syrup from one of the guest vendors, we jumped back into the car and away from a swarm of gnats and wound our way to nearby Longview Farm, which I didn't visit last year (I'm not sure they were on the list). Anyway, Homestead Artisans at Longview Farm, which started up in 2004 just two years after Sweet Springs, also specialize in goats milk cheeses, but they do some cows milk varieties that we also found out were wonderful.

I especially enjoyed the Saratoga Sunflower, a sturdy, grassy tasting cow's milk cheddar cheese. Other products included fresh chevre, aged goats milk parmesan (wow!), feta, and Goatgurt, which BigSis bought for her afternoon snack. There were other tents set up with educational offerings, and we got in on part of a history of cheese seminar and tasting, which was very interesting; I wished I hadn't missed the start. We made a few more purchases, talked to a couple of their French Alpine goats, and buzzed off to the last of three farms that we would visit this season.

Last stop: Argyle Cheese Farmer, which I spoke about at some length last year, mostly because their yogurt was so amazing. This year they had a Chocolate Mousse Yogurt that was pure heaven. We enjoyed the nice variety of offerings in their tent, but skipped the tour. My favorite was the Caerphilly, so I bought a chunk to take home, along with a quart of their whole milk plain yogurt, which was delicious as is, but also when tossed around with some salt and white vinegar and onions and cucumbers. The most AMAZING (and remember, I AM a superhero!) was their Amazing Grace, the oldest of three Grace gouda cheeses made from raw cows milk - this one was aged for 18 months!. It was full of little zingy crystals and had an excellent, sharp bite. There wasn't a single product that didn't make our eyes roll around and make us say goofy things like "YUMMY".

It was wonderful to get out of the city and into the country and to drive the back roads and eat cheese and yogurt and talk with my sister, whom I love and miss and wish I saw more often, and commune with the animals and meet our neighbors working so hard to bring us truly outstanding artisan dairy products. Thanks to all the sponsors, and look for some of these local gems at places like The Cheese Traveler, Whole Foods, The CoOp, and area farmers markets. Eat well, be well, and maybe you, too, will grow up to be a superpower. 

Zena, Goddess of Fire

P.S.: I am sorry about the sacrifice of many insect lives on my windshield that made this cheese tour possible.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Looking Back and Saying Goodbye to Longhouse Revival 2014

So why did I post all those teensy  posts?  To try to give a sense of in the minute experience of a quite interesting foodie weekend from Rensselaerville. [To see all the teensy posts click on the Longhouse Revival 2014 tag below]

So isn't the only foodie experience in Rensselaerville to be had at the Palmer House Cafe?


If you watch for it, the Longhouse Revival is an event that's a little difficult to pinpoint, but if you stare at a few websites and rub your eyes and read and have patience, the Revival will appear. Cook N Scribble or One Big Table are the folks to watch. You'll have to figure it all out for yourself on the website(s). I can't pretend to understand all the layers of what is going on, and that's most of what I like about its genius.

So I don't know exactly what happened this weekend, but I know that it had to do with food producers, chefs, food writers and media professionals gathering in the back of nowhere to tell stories, to make stories and to have some great food. It seemed small, but it was big.  The stories are powerful stories about producing good food in our interesting times. Plus, we had landjaeger in our swag bags.  Oh yeah.

The rustic setting is what it always is: charming, beautiful, away from city life and a pain in the ass. The chill and rain on Saturday afternoon threatened to dampen spirits, but being foodies, the wise organizers brought out the cheese and bourbon just in the nick of time. Nine hours of sitting downwind from the fire pit caused a sinus rebellion in my poor cold aching body, so I headed back to Albany before the reward of the slow cooked dinner. Returning to sun drenched fields today (Sunday), my spirits were back in place and I was drawn into the stories told by the articulate and sophisticated participants.

The Twitter hash tags are #lh2014 and #cooknscribble - see what others have to say about this wonderful oddball event.  Is it a conference?  a festival?  a symposium?  a circus? a chance to mingle with stars of the foodie world and eat the food of top chefs? Yes.

Bob Singletary providing oils at the Longhouse

Award winning mill owner and Master Blender

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy Note® II

Olive oil tasting up next at the Longhouse

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Longhouse Revival cocktails begin!

Fresh apples marinated in bourbon, Dragon's Milk ginger beer

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Afternoon workshop at the Longhouse Revival

Food writers need social media too

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Lunch in the Dining Barn

The wood fired pizza got drowned but the pita was perfect!!

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Fred Bueltman and Oz

Oz as an indistrialized world of food and drink.  Which is the bubble - the industrialized system of 70 years, or the artisan crafts of raising and cooking foods that have existed for thousands of years?

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Ari Weinzweig and Zingerman's

A man who wants his business to stay ethical and sustainable. What is work, what is pleasure? Good work is a pleasure.

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Recipes from a random cart

Amy Thielen, Shannon Kansella and Katherine Alford improvise and talk about cooking philosophy and experience after they cook a midwestern dinner from a cart of random ingredients.

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Pig tonight!

From the Longhouse roasting pit

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Coffee at the Longhouse

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

DOING DISHES: Chicken Parm Time Warp Again at Petta's

I ate at Petta's last week for the first time and it was a total time warp. I think their chicken parmigiana needs to go back in time as well.

Madness takes its toll, and with a Groupon that cost me $15 for $30 worth of fine dining I dragged Cookie out for another night of Italian food in deepest darkest Schenectady. The parking lot for Petta's is big, and newly paved, and swept clean, but the area is pretty run down/sucked. The restaurant's exterior was less than inviting, but I was curious. Petta's is one more of our family run Italian restaurants in the Albany area that we should never tire of, established in 1951 and now run by Mike Petta, grandson of the original owners. So with a jump to the left, and a step to the right, we wound our way past a take out window and a bar full of regulars to a seat in a very large dining room with musack that probably doubles as a banquet hall.

This is as busy as it got but it was Tuesday
Seating and service were quick, we asked for a wine list, and noted it was adequate but very limited. We ordered a bottle of Mirassou sauvignon blanc, a crisp, cold, reliable summer wine that was served up right in a lovely marble bottle cooler ($21.95/very affordable). In another dimension, we looked over the menu while our server delivered a basket of bread. It was everything bread should be - homemade every day, soft with a chewy crust and a nice yeasty flavor. It was so dreamy.   (:

Cookie looked at me and said "I love this bread!"
So far so good. Salad or soup, along with a side of pasta (or potato and veg) were served with all the main courses. The salad was generous, with a bit more variety that most, if not all, of the family Italian places I've been to these past few months. Petta's makes their own Russian, Italian and blue cheese, but I went with the regular Italian. It was light and vinegary. Everything was fresh and crunchy except for the cherry tomatoes, which were squishy and overripe. They really drive you insane, with your hands on your hips: in September in Albany there are AMAZING tomatoes to be had. Why the cruddy duddies???

Anyway, Cookie had the soup, a generous serving of White Bean Fagiole (a Chicken Pastene was also on for the day) that could have been dinner all by itself. It was dished up nice and hot, the beans were smooth and delicious, garlicky for sure, but not too much, with a bit of Swiss chard in there, maybe chicken broth and some sage. A touch extra S&P was added at the table. You're into a time slip when food is that good - you just want to close your eyes and savor every bite.

Our main courses arrived and this is where we brought our knees in tight. Cookie ordered the Eggplant Parmigiana ($17.95), layers sliced about 1/8" thick and stacked up. We liked the presentation, with only half the dish covered in sauce (choice is good). We decided that the flavor was pretty bland. It tasted like, uh, eggplant, but don't get me wrong, I like to taste the veg but that's all we were tasting, that and something metallicky, which was probably the red sauce; and the "parm" was totally absent. This dish was barely okay, and time is fleeting. Cookie moved on to her homemade cavatelli with the red sauce and decided the sauce tasted really tinny, she didn't much care for it, but the pasta itself was very good.

I ordered the Chicken Parmigiana ($17.95), which was served up plain. It had just a touch of sauce between the cutlets and the cheese. A gravy boat of red sauce was served on the side.  As you might remember, I'm always complaining about the work we go through to make those crispy cutlets, then we drown them in sauce, so this caught my attention. I had a few bites of the meat, without extra red sauce, and let me tell you, this was hands down the worst chicken parm I've ever had, anywhere. It was so greasy I almost couldn't eat it, and it tasted like old oil, and wasn't at all crispy. We looked at the cut cutlet: there was a very thin layer of chicken-colored chicken in the middle; the rest was decidedly gray. Frozen meat? Cold, old oil that had soaked into the meat? Microwaves? I don't know what they did to screw this one up, but I think Let's do the Time Warp again, and go back to what the grandparents did, because no way almost 65 years later would Petta's still be here if the food was that bad at the start. What a disappointment, BUT, I think, remedied with a bit of time and attention in the kitchen.

The linguine was good, but I, too, didn't like the sauce. It was smooth, and thick, kinda like jarred (but it wasn't, I don't think). To my tastes it was almost harsh, "canned", and really needed some garlic, herbs, sweetener, something. There was a lot of food on the table at this point in our meal, but nothing I wanted to eat (except the bread!). We had to-go boxes packed up and, I admit, I trashed the leftovers (except the bread!). Even my superpowers couldn't save this one.

So the menu was the usual, the service was friendly and personal (I liked her), and we think we should go back some day just for the homemade spumoni. I may return for another taste test, but it won't be anytime soon.

Dinner for two, including tax, was $62.48 minus the $15 we saved using the Groupon. 

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: Going back in time is NOT one of my best superpowers, so a bit of critique will have to suffice before I go out later to save the world from the forces of evil. May it save the food at Petta's.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

DOING DISHES: Lettuce Entertain You! - Whole Foods in Colonie, NY

Last week Foodie Friend and I scooted over to Whole Foods in Colonie, NY to do a lunch of their salad offerings. It was a very virtuous outing.

There are (2) salad options: make your own, or buy something that's been prepared already. If you wear a really bright halo, or don't want cilantro in anything, then make your own by all means! Either way it's $8.49/pound, and that's a lot of arugula if you ask me.

For the make your own crowd there was a beautiful and amazing selection of vegetables to choose from (including radicchio, peas, green garbanzos, tomatoes, onions, and on and on), as well as cubed meats, artichoke hearts, stuffed grape leaves, giant beans, etc. We counted 16 prepared dressings (including blue cheese, carrot ginger, pomegranate vinaigrette, and sun dried tomato), as well as six different vinegars to choose from. The colors were dazzling and everything looked very fresh. Staff were attentive to keeping the area well stocked and clean. There were no stray ingredients left lying around near the serving trays, which I appreciated. Actually, it was immaculate. 

But we went there specifically to try their creative selection of prepared salads. We had a good look around but the only containers were salad bowls or large cardboard take-out boxes that almost assumed we would be buying a lot of one thing, or that we didn't mind our flavors getting jumbled together.  We went to the deli counter and the server graciously gave us a bunch of small plastic tubs with lids (which FF virtuously took back with us to wash and re-use). There were some salads in there that we thought were worth trying as well, like the Caribbean Shrimp Salad and a Summer Squash, Ricotta and Pasta salad that was very pretty.

So OUR halos are a bit rusty, but they definitely glowed brighter after we selected (10) to test as part of our series on take-away salads. First we tasted the Thai Mango Slaw. It smelled like bell peppers, and had way too much cilantro for me (I'm special: like 1/1000 to me it tastes like soap, AND I have superpowers, which maybe goes hand in hand, not sure on that, but I digress). Flavors included onion and vinegar and cuke, as well as a bit of heat. It was lacking in mango and literally had no salt. How virtuous is that? Since I'm the Goddess of "I can't unsalt" my food, I appreciated it.  It was very tasty.

Next was the Cabbage Crunch Slaw - not tart, a bit greasy - it had nut oils in it for sure, but it was a clean, nutty flavor.  No salt. FF started adding at the table. Then we tried the Three Bean Salad (chickpea, white beans, green beans), which was NOT pretty, and the green beans should have been cut down to bite size, but it was delicious. The green beans especially were slightly sweet, crunchy and cooked to perfection, a bit of red onion. Lovely. No salt.

Number 4: Broccoli Salad, with a hint of ginger, sun dried tomatoes, and red chili pepper flakes. This was a bit of a miss but good. Maybe the broc could have used a bit more time marinating. Garlic? Salt needed fer sher, so I reached for a bit at the table, and it was good. OK then we tried the Chicken Quesedilla Salad, which was a great idea - corn, black beans, tender chicken, red onion, chopped tomatoes. It was spicy but it tasted "off", like sour somehow. I'm going to work on this at home.....

Then the Carrot Salad, with currants, almonds, and, er, more cilantro. Very good, not too sweet but sweetened, we thinks, more than just with carrot. Then the Green Garbanzo Bean Salad, which was very strange, with odd textures, mint, just a bit bitter. Even salt didn't help.

Then we tried the Mediterranean Crunch Salad, made with kale (very virtuous), garbanzo beans (which were in almost everything), red onion, red bell peppers (peppers were also in most everything as well), and some kalamata olives. This was one of our favorites, and I'd go back for more. The kale was nice and tender with a pleasant tartness. Then we tasted their Antipasto Salad, made with a nice selection of smokey meats, provolone, olives, roasted red peppers, onion and artichoke hearts. This was very rich and garlicky, and very different from the other selections available to us. The meat was cut to just the right size and it held together well. Not health food exactly, but top quality, and the protein was a welcome addition to our meal.
Thai Beef Salad without the beef because someone picked it all out, Thai Mango Slaw and Antipasto Salad on the right

We finished up quickly because we needed to get back to our "real lives", with the Herb Chicken Salad that had like NO herbs, but it did have tomatoes, red bell peppers, halved cherry tomatoes, and carrots. The chicken was a bit dry, but overall the salad was crunchy and bright. Lots of peppers.

In the end everything started to taste the same, but maybe that's due more to what we selected than what was being offered. I think I would have liked fewer chickpeas and peppers (these were actually hard to avoid, I think), and a few more protein options. Maybe a few different types of legumes would be in order, but that might come as fall/winter approaches. There were NO potato salads, which was interesting, though we didn't miss it. To summarize, everything was very fresh, there was a nice selection to choose from, and it wasn't at all salty, or greasy, OR garlicky. Several were absolutely wonderful. We smiled as we raced back to work.

The eating area was a bit noisy but communal, with worker bees, families, and other mortals enjoying their meals. We thought it was definitely worth returning on a regular basis to see what Whole Foods  can concoct for us. Again, like in our first salad review at Market Bistro, there are NO excuses for that drive-thru burger. There are GREAT options in our many local grocery stores and delis that are good eating, and good for you. Unless, of course, you are trying to take out an arch-enemy superhero, then a burger at Mickey Dees is in order. But, I'm sorry to say, then there will be no halo for you.

Lunch was just over $20, with two bottled beverages.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: Even the shoppers move about with an air of the angelic. Good food will do that to you.

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.