Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Rocco's (rak-ōhz)

I hate November. It's dark out and getting darker and it's been unbelievably cold and I get cold in these dumb tights and there's been snow and one minute your sitting on your back porch "getting outside" with a cocktail and the next we're scraping ice off the windshield. Even the dark forces of evil are hibernating already, and even though zombies have been out since late October, they're no fun. Bored bored bored. Sigh. I guess you should know this: even superheroes get the blues.

What better remedy for Zena than to go on an adventure and eat out!!! Foodie Friend got out the Mini and we fought our way along trafficky roads into a sea of oncoming headlights like two salmon moving upstream (in our case, upstate) to try dinner at Rocco's, located at the corner of Main Street and Longkill Road in Clifton Park, NY. The parking lot was almost full at 5:30 on a Thursday - a good sign for a new restaurant (only open since October 2014). We raced inside, out of the wind, to a warm and warmly lit sanctuary of small tables and low laughter. Not at us, I don't think - everyone seemed to be enjoying neighborly conversation, and a couple of good drinks at the bar. Reservations a must (the dining area filled up quickly as the evening came on), we were welcomed at the side entrance (by a zombie - I can tell) and promptly seated away from everyone at the dozen or so tables that make up the dining area and put on display like a couple of mannequins in a shop window under bright lights near the front of the restaurant. Not easy to be cool and blogging undercover but good for taking pictures and notes. Kinda odd, that front space. And did I mention I also look better in low light???

Our waiter was attentive, sort of green but not a zombie, I'm not sure what though, a bit sweaty, but good at his job. We looked over the wine list and found about 13 by the glass. The list was organized "by style" - e.g., "Full Bodied", "Sweeter", "Full Bold Rich Flavors", etc. Very weird but it could by typical of Zombie organization. There was a lot of California wines, a few from Italy, France, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina, but no NY wines. Tsk tsk. Oh, and ALL the bottles were $30 each. OK not sure what that was about - maybe trying to appear affordable (which it is!)??? FF was driving and opted out, so I ordered a glass of the Spellbound Merlot ($7.00) - a generous pour was delivered in a big crystal glass. The wine was rich, smooth, not complex, tasting of dark fruit (cherries), a bit of oak, and with a sharp edge that I really loved - very nice.

Water is served in a Ball Mason jar (left from the last business?) next to the lovely wine glass. The decor is confused but still comfortable. 
Our server returned and gave us the rundown on a few specials, including Veal Oscar (topped with crab, asparagus and hollandaise [$22.95]), a pasta dish of rigatoni, sausage and roasted cauliflower ($18.95), and a crab rangoon appetizer that didn't appeal (I think they are crunchy and greasy and overrated as food). Other starters (10 total, including a House and a Caesar salad) included mussels (on our night out served with a vanilla basil cream sauce), clams, crab cakes and arancini, as well as a butternut squash soup topped with candied walnuts.

FF decided to try the just four oysters ($1.75/each), which were varied in size and all smooth, perfectly tender, and mild. The mignonette sauce had serious bite (vinegar!), but the bit of fresh horseradish was amazing. 

We ordered our main courses and were asked, at one point, if we wanted more bread. I pointed out that we hadn't gotten any yet, so with an apology our server whooshed out and someone soon brought over a basket of the loveliest bread I've had in a while - chewy but not tough with a good crust that wasn't so hard that it cuts - served with a mixture of sweet ricotta, flavored with lemon peel and black pepper. A little too sweet for me, but a nice surprise - I liked the taste of the salty bread with that spread.

We didn't feel rushed but also didn't wait overly long for dinner to be served. The menu, which promises to change with the seasons (this was their FIRST menu, FYI), offered up five pastas (including Tagliatelle and Meatballs and a Orrichiette di Rocco's for the meat lovers, and House Made Cavatelli with spinach and caramelized onions for the vegetarians out there), and on the back of the menu were seven entrees, featuring dishes with sole, duck, lamb and pork, each with sides that weren't all the same for everything (thoughtfully put together) ($21.99 to $28.99). Something for everyone but there were not a lot of choices, which I think is a good thing, as I suspect in such places that the few dishes they do are usually done well. I would have liked to know more about their sourcing - are they local? can they credit the farms if they are? that sort of thing.

FF ordered the Lobster Mac & Cheese ($22.99), topped with a Ritz Cracker crust. The sauce was amazing - not thick and gooey at all. In fact it was intensely and incredibly rich and silky. The dish was loaded with large chunks of tender, tasty lobster (unlike others we've tried where there are small bits of a bit of lobster lurking in there somewhere). The crackers were sweet and buttery and a fun compliment. She tried to finish it - the bowls are deep (keeping the food hotter longer, methinks) so the servings don't look large when delivered - but despite a valiant effort decided finally to take some home for the next day. One of the best ever lobster mac&cheese dishes EVER!!!

I ordered the pasta special of no particular name - the one with the roasted cauliflower, which sounded weird enough to try since it was married into a traditional pasta dish. That first bite was divine - good enough for ANY superhero, goddess, etc. The cauliflower was cooked up tender but not mushy, the sweetness balanced by just a tad of red pepper. The sausage (not too much - I would have liked more of this and the cauliflower, I think) was hot and spicy. The sauce was really garlicky but delicious and not at all gloppy. My only complaint was the rigatoni was a bit too toothy and really could have cooked for at least another minute. This was also a generous serving that was better on the reheat the next day for lunch (to cook that pasta). 

Rigatoni special with roasted cauliflower and hot sausage, topped by our waiter with a grating of fresh parmesan cheese
There was no printed menu but there were five desserts available - tiramisu, NY style cheesecake, lemon tarts, apple tarts, creme brulee and a flourless chocolate cake. Wait that's six. Anyway, we didn't order anything, but our server brought us two still warm gratis brownies to try and they were tender and chewy and chocolaty and all things good AND I forgot to take a picture, we just dove right in. Everything was special and we were SO glad we decided to try what could prove to be the "go to" destination restaurant for this northern suburb of Albany. It's upscale - not cheap by any means but not overpriced either - Rocco's is approachable, comfortable, and welcoming. It was a very nice night out.

Dinner for two with 4 oysters, two pasta dishes and two glasses of wine (yes, cheri - two!!!) was $68.42 including tax plus tip.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: There may be more zombies in Clifton Park than I was previously aware of. Please keep me posted if there are problems. Thanks.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Pudding Echo from the Tour de Doughnut - er- Donut

Yes, we worked like dogs to determine the Capital Region's best cider donuts last Saturday for the 2014 Tour de Donut. I wanted to avoid the unpleasantness that comes from woofing several donuts so I pledged to only take enough bites of each donut to get the sense of it and bag the rest of it for donut bread pudding. They have been drying during the week so that last night I had some very crunchy dry half-donut pieces. I finally got all the pudding ingredients together and voila!

The perfect fall breakfast

I'm terrible about following recipes, especially since most of the time one can pretty much fudge things by using a basic principle and not being very daring.  The bread pudding principle I followed was: one cup of milk and three eggs + bread + flavorings.

I have a nice little Mexican cazuelas (baking dish) that is about seven inches across, which was right for a total of about two and a half donuts and the custard. I preheated the oven to 350.

Then things got out of hand.  Barely keeping the principle in mind I came upon that little bit of leftover coconut milk that would be hard to use, so I put it in the ingredients area I was assembling. Then I got worried about the amount of volume I'd have, there being so little actual donut material.  My eyes ran across those apples that need baking that are sitting in the kitchen and I selected a nice big one and grated it. So now I had 1/2 cup of coconut milk and a half cup of cow's milk, the three eggs, about a cup of grated apple, and 2 1/2 donuts. I broke up the donuts in the cazuelas and mixed the custard with the grated apple and a half teaspoon of salt, a few dashes of cinnamon, a tablespoon (more or less) of brown sugar and a few  dashes of nutmeg plus a hearty teaspoon of vanilla.  The donuts also had a lot of spice and sugar so there was no use in making the spices and sweetness overwhelming.

The grated apple kept things very moist during the baking, so it ended up being about 50 minutes even with such a small dish. I made a little foil tent at some point and kept it on for about the middle 30 minutes and that allowed the top to carmelize then kept it from burning.

I'm not terribly fond of bread pudding sauces, so I didn't try to come up with one. But if you need sauce it looks like Deanna Fox has come up with a very lovely one in her bread pudding article.

This was my first attempt at donut bread pudding, and I admit that I assumed it would be way too sweet and sort of yukky.  Since I was able to monkey around with the balance of flavors I think I avoided that and got a rather moist, gooey pudding of apple cider deliciousness, due to the very moist grated apple and the addition of the coconut milk.

If you have a great bread pudding recipe, please share it.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

City Line Bar and Grill: Dos and Don'ts

I have officially visited City Line Bar and Grill and have a short list of dos and don'ts for this new bar, a from-the-ground-up replacement for the old Sutter's Mill pub on Western Avenue opposite the University at Albany entrance.

Do take in the surroundings, which are a welcome break from the usual sort of  cozy but moldering and somewhat sticky ambiance of Albany bars and pubs.  Sutter's Mill was bulldozed and a completely new building has been constructed and nicely appointed. Steve Barnes describes it as: "150 dining-room seats, room for 50 at the bar and another 75 seasonal spaces on the deck."  Did you see that?  Room for 50 at the bar.  75 spaces on the deck, which has a great big stone gas fireplace. The bar takes up half of the entire space and it's the coolest bar to come along to Albany in a while. All the natural light streaming in gives it a fantastic glow as the cocktails take hold. The bar and grill in total is one huge room with a very high ceiling that somehow makes the acoustics perfect. With good acoustics and the music volume low, the atmosphere is very refreshing. The entire back wall is glass panels that fold so that the back can be opened onto the deck. One very mild evening the back was open and for the duration it took to absorb a lovely cocktail after a hard day of work I was in an extremely pleasant place.  For more photos see the All Over Albany photo  spread: http://alloveralbany.com/archive/2014/09/12/city-line-bar-and-grill

Do visit the bar and go for drinks with friends and enjoy the crowd, which has been pleasantly at a low volume so that as you drink you can actually still hear all the people in your party. It's wonderful!!! 

Please, however, do not order any food. I've tried it for research purposes four times.  I've never experienced such consistently bad food in my life, except in a school cafeteria, which is actually what this food reminds me of. Believe me - I'm an education professional, so I've spent over 30 years of my life around institutional food. The names and descriptions sound good, but the food is almost always bad. The turkey burger above was the best thing I tried, but for the life of me I can't understand why the flat bread was rolled up on the left side of the burger and was tough - I mean it was tough to cut it  with a knife.  Was it for cuteness?

I won't go into the strange and inadequate service except to say that service there is a combination of disdainful and nice but bad. The time I went for just drinks my companion and I were treated to indifference, then condescension and finally shown a table in a half-empty area. They served us horrible hummus!!!  How can anyone over 18 years old screw up hummus?  It was watery and I have no idea if they even know what tahini is, not to mention that hummus has lemon in it. Whatever it was they served us didn't.

I was served the wrong meal one of my visits. The final insult was the full entree dinner I decided to try that was described as a steak dusted with peppercorns and set alight when served on a nest of potatoes and kale. It tasted like steak that was grilled and then dunked in cheap whiskey mildly flavored with maple - I mean like if you took the steak off your plate and dunked it in your cocktail. This is not a good combination of flavors. It had a different combination of veggies than was described on the menu and they were poorly prepared - one was overcooked and the other was undercooked. Knowing by that time that I was not likely to get a better meal, I sent it back and paid my check, which did not include the entree - at least both times the kitchen/serving staff completely obliterated my meal they didn't charge me for it. 

My recommendation is that the "grill" half of the place be revamped, meaning that the service staff be trained to welcome customers and serve food, and the kitchen staff be trained to prepare good food.  That would be sort of analogous to bulldozing the building and starting from the ground up, which the owners know how to do.

They have a basic web page with no menu: http://www.citylinebar.com/ and a facebook page with a teeny bit more information: https://www.facebook.com/citylinebar

LorreBob sez: Go and drink then have dinner somewhere that has good food.