Monday, January 26, 2015

DOING DISHES: Take Away Meals - U Mundu E Ca

One of the stupidest excuses other singles have for not cooking is that they can't be bothered with it for just one person, even when that one person is YOU. If you are anything like Zena, you are the center of the universe, and you don't have to be a goddess or superhero to appreciate how special you are. Ask your dog if you don't believe me.

You don't have to cook to eat real food.  You could easily make yourself a tuna sandwich if you are organized enough to have bread and mayo and a can of tuna around the house (and you can share your repast with the cat, who may not appreciate you, but they do like it when you feed them). Red's go-to on a lazy night or during an overly busy time is popcorn. Both go quite well with cardbordeaux (that's wine in a box in case you didn't get it), and while it ain't fine dining, it's certainly better than fast food. Or you can eat out somewhere decent, solo is fine, if good food and the world is what you need.
Parking is better on the Wolf Road side of this strip mall.
But apparently "The World is Here", which is what U Mundu E Ca supposedly translates to in English, although the closest I got online was underpants something. Anyway, this is an Italian specialty store with a small grocery selection, a well-stocked deli where you can order by the pound, a fabulous selection of sandwiches and take-away meals. Everything is homemade with best quality ingredients: these treats are totally worth stopping in for any day of the week, whether it's lunch or dinner for numero uno, or just you and a friend, or a family of four. Mundu is hidden away in a strip mall in the Hannaford's Plaza on the corner of Wolf and Sand Creek Road in Colonie. Happily, they post their daily creations and specials every single day on Facebook so you can plan accordingly (and if you LIKE Albany Dish on Facebook you will get their announcements as part of our news feed).

Always watching my nickels because I need what little I have to invest in saving the world from the forces of evil (and believe me, a new cape ain't cheap), I've been lucky enough to snag a few DoubleTakeOffers deals over the past few months for $20 worth of goods for only $10 at Mundu. So don't tell me that fast food is cheaper. It isn't. Ain't. NOT. On Friday night Foodie Friend and I stopped by for a procured meal to bring back to Chez Zena's. For $8.95 plus tax each we ordered Chicken Parm with ziti (no surprises there, if you've read our posts before) and a special dish of Crab Lasagna, each served with garlic bread and a salad, bringing us in just under our $20 coupon, so I bought a candy bar for dessert and handed over an extra $0.14 as we headed out the door. I win.  (:

They will heat your meal or package it for reheat in a microwave or conventional oven.
They can heat your meal or package it for reheat in a microwave or a conventional oven. We opted for aluminum and oven reheat at home (we replaced the plastic lid with foil before drinking anything), and sipped on the first of two bottles of beaujolais that would start our weekend off right. An hour later at 350 degrees F we split the main courses and set ourselves a nice table. The garlic bread, wrapped tightly in foil at Mundu and which we only heated for 10 minutes or so, was toasted to just the right color. The bread was dense and chewy and buttery, although I'm not crazy about the taste of garlic powder/salt when fresh is always SO much better. Speaking of which, the salads were very fresh, with carrot, grape tomatoes, pimento stuffed olives, and mixed greens (including a healthy dose of romaine), served with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette packaged on the side. It was very tasty.
Two lovely side salads with a homemade balsamic dressing on the side.
The ziti, even with an oven reheat, was the perfect texture (toothsome but not tough), telling me it wasn't Prince spaghetti night. The sauce was bright, tart and generous with the flavors of black pepper and garlic. The chicken cutlet, topped with the sauce and a few thin slices of provolone (?) was tender and juicy, a bit crispy still, and the whole dish held together nicely. But the Crab Lasagna was the show-stopper: rich, creamy, cheesy, and totally decadent, and if I could take myself out on food (defying other forces of evil) this would be the way to go. The crab flavor was subtle in a totally decadent ricotta filling layered between perfect pasta. The texture was so lovely I closed my eyes and groaned with pleasure. Not out loud, of course, maybe a slight woo woo sound or something, but I'm afraid it was still audible.
The Crab Lasagna was delicious. Next time I'm not sharing it.

U Mundu E Ca is one of those little hidden gems that are worthy of attention. They are busy, and, I hope, they will just keep getting busier. They deserve the repeat customers more than anyplace I've been to in a long time. It smells DIVINE in there, and the staff are genuinely friendly and seem to care deeply about what they serve. I'll keep an eye open for more of those groovy coupons, for tonight's special, for this and other ways of being good to myself, and for cars zooming through the parking lot as I head home with my booty.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

P.S. Let me make a suggestion, if you value your Batmobile or whatever vehicle you are driving these days - park on the Wolf Road side of the parking lot. The Sand Creek side, in front of Mundu, is on a busy through road in the mall and it's hard to pull out without feeling like getting T-boned is in your horoscope for the day. Just saying.  

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Lunch out at Treviso by Mallozzi's

I've been at the University at Albany for almost 14 years (by day I'm a librarian), and never ONCE has Treviso bleeped Zena's superpower radar as a lunch option, even though it's only a few miles up the road. Like a good night's sleep, I've clearly been missing something for a very long time. No wonder I'm cranky.

The unmarked entryway and shabby awning shouldn't discourage you from venturing inside.
Located at The Italian American Community Center on Washington Avenue Extension, Treviso is one of five eating establishments managed by Mallozzi's. The exterior is a bit stark and uninviting, but with cold snowy weather we hussled inside hoping for warmth and good cheer. We were NOT disappointed. The entryway to the dining room is glowing and homey, and the staff were bright and happy to welcome us. The air was heavily scented with garlic. OOOOOOOH. Nice start.

Coming in from the cold the reception area is warm and inviting.
My first visit was in mid-December, just before the holidays, and the dining room was packed. How did I miss this place? One thing to know - Treviso is only open on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for lunch, and a reservation is recommended if you are going with a larger party (something they seem to do very well, as there were more than a half dozen large tables being served that afternoon). Luckily there were only two of us, and even without a reservation we were promptly seated and attended to. The booths are very popular - big, deep red upholstered things, but the tables are also sturdy and large, and red linen is everywhere. 

The decor is elegant but homey - all the walls are plastered with vintage photos.

The mid-day menu is limited but includes soups, salads, and sandwiches, as well as a choice of eight Italian classics. Jaguar ordered a Pesto Turkey Club ($8.95) and I asked for the Veal & Peppers with ziti (capellini was another option - $9.95). A basket of warm garlic bread sprinkled with parsley was delivered with our club sodas (no wine on these visits - gotta be a good Goddess and achieve amazing feats at work during the afternoon). The bread was good but tasted distinctly of garlic powder - not so good, but crunchy and buttery. The Club was huge - at least 3" thick - mounds of freshly roasted moist turkey thinly sliced on a lovely ciabatta roll, a few slices of perfectly cooked bacon, tangy cheddar cheese, and a flavorful sauce that complimented the whole. A side of parmesan fries were decidedly light and not at all greasy, and they didn't overwhelm the plate either. Less bread might have been better, practically speaking, as I watched my friend try to take a bite without opening her mouth like she was at the dentist to have a molar extracted. But she loved the dish so much she took half home to enjoy later, in private.

The bread was toasted and garlicky.
At 3" thick, Jag's sandwich required superpower heroes to bite into.
I was happy too. The Veal & Peppers, topped with freshly shaved parm, had lots of big pieces of freshly roasted red peppers, the meat was incredibly tender, and the sauce rich and luxurious, sporting garlic and wine and spices. Th textures were fleshy and sublime. And not too much pasta for a change. Half of this dish came back to work with me where one of my co-workers generously agreed to try it for the Dish. She was also wowed by the veal and the tasty peppers. Very nice. Well considered and presented.

Veal and Peppers topped with freshly shaved parmesan cheese.

The dessert menu offered up tiramisu, tartufo, gelato and cheesecake, among others ($3.95 - $5.95) but we were full and then some, despite holding back on cleaning our plates, which was pure willpower, trust me, because everything was delicious. Lunch for two, including two sodas and two cups of coffee, came to only $30.65 plus tip. The waitstaff were well tipped on this one, and they deserved it. Everyone smiles and is not playing by rote. Excellent service from start to finish.

In early January I returned, this time with Red, Pony and Foodie Friend to try Treviso's menu again and see if the food was as good as the first time. My friends remarked that the space had the feel of a family living room, and with that I agreed. Though not as busy as during the holiday rush, the room was still well occupied and lively, but not noisy by any means. We ordered simple beverages and each asked for different dishes so we could taste more of the menu. Our garlic bread arrived promptly, and it was relished by all while we waited for lunch.

Foodie Friend had the special - Shrimp Diavolo ($9.95) -served over a creamy risotto. The shrimps were large, sweet and tender, and there was a very spicy sausage in there laced with fennel. This one had some heat, and the sausage had a dense bite which we enjoyed, with lots of tomato but not drowning in sauce (though the image might indicate otherwise). Decadent and powerful, this was a hit, with more zing than anything else on the table.

Shrimp Diavolo with spicy sausage over risotto.
Red ordered the Eggplant Rollatini ($9.95), which tasted like................wait for it........... eggplant, not at all mushy, with capellini. The filling was a luscious seasoned ricotta, and the sauce was light and aromatic with plenty of herbs to keep it interesting. Perfectly seasoned, this classic was a hit with all of us at the table that day.True to form, Red quietly ate the whole thing. She's a superpower in the making, that's for sure.

Eggplant Rollatini with capellini pasta.
After my own heart, Pony asked for the Chicken Parmesan, a large serving boasting a rather thick cutlet with a crisp breading and a dose of some nice stringy mozzerella on top. The meat was just a bit tough but it was very tasty. We liked the red sauce. It had some complexity and flavor, and the pasta was cooked to perfection. She thought it was one of the best she had had in a long time, and I agreed. Let me point out, too, that the sauces on these three dishes were all different - not just some red sauce dumped over everything leaving the kitchen. Kudos.
Pony had the Chicken Parm
Because FF beat me to the special, and Red beat me to the Rollatini, and Pony beat me to the Chicken Parm, I decided to order a the Classic Caeser Salad (sp.!!! - $7.95) topped with chicken (for another $4.95). This was a disappointment - no croutons (weird - usually I have to push them aside), with a dressing that was dense and garlickly and somewhat bland. I had our server bring me a few wedges of fresh lemon, which helped. The chicken was cold, and garlicky also, and salty, and the whole thing could have done with a bit of freshly ground pepper. Certainly virtuous, a nice "share" for the table, and I finished it, but can't recommend. At $12.90 total, it was a little overpriced for what it was.

 A virtuous salad after the holiday glut.
Lunch for four came to $52.10 for four entrees and two sodas plus tip, so a bargain, considering the stellar service and general ambiance. We felt welcome, appreciated and left feeling happy. So when Zena is feeling cranky from now on everyone is like, "Let's go to Treviso." Good idea. 

Zena, Goddess of Fire

P.S. The entryway sports a cool old motorcycle just beyond the reception desk. Men.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


It's the time to rummage into the back of your cabinets and get out those barely unwrapped gift jars of pickles. They're a fantastic winter time treat and they bring  the idea of seasonal menus to the forefront.

I'm on a campaign to bring pickles back as a celebration of last summer's bounty in a tart and tongue tantalizing incarnation.  This is one way we can keep eating local foods through the most brutal part of our year and the other is freezing (but that's another post).  Yes, it's old-fashioned, but it's also completely in tune with the contemporary spirit of sustainable local food.

Here are my campaign goals:  local pickles featured in restaurant meals as garnishes and side dishes, local pickles in area groceries that do those sorts of things, you and me making pickles out of everything - especially easy pickles like our CSA carrots and those gorgeous diakons at the Asian groceries.

I just opened my jar of The Berry Farm pickled brussels sprouts and gosh darn it, those are some amazing flavors.  My friend Lauren pickled her gigantic pole beans last summer and they are every bit as tasty and summery now with my turkey burgers. I doused my sliced daikon with sushi vinegar and voila - deliciousness on a stick! The pickled beets and pickled garlic in the fridge are looking appetizing too, not to mention the pickled red cabbage, which makes a ham sandwich sing. Pickles wake up sleepy comfort food meals. 

Pickles are a way that restaurants can add the unique touch. I'm remembering the days when Helsinki Cafe in Great Barrington used to serve dilled cucumbers with gravlax and dark rye bread and it was a meal you couldn't get anywhere else within 150 miles. 

They're great for potlucks where you know that everyone else is going to have the main dishes covered. Take the most odd ball pickles you can find and it adds to the entertainment as well as to the widening of people's experience of unique foods. One of my favorites is ocra pickles because they are just SO much better than people think they are going to be.

Pickles!!!  Get 'em, use 'em make 'em.