Saturday, February 21, 2015

McGuire's is Baaaaaaack

Black Manhattan

If I were Queen of Everything I would order all the folks in the Lark Street neighborhood to go to McGuire's now that they are done with their 2014/15 renovations. Steve Barnes has kept close to McGuire's in his blog Table Hopping, so if you want background do a search on the restaurant name. I think people should go and  try this new incarnation and see what they think.  I wouldn't have painted the ceiling black, but there's no accounting for taste.

Of course the bar is always going to be fun, because of its unique view of Lark Street.

It's a "new concept" with a new menu, but I did not become familiar with any of their old menus, so I'm not the one who is going to write a comparison review. I have tried several of their dishes and enjoyed them. Here are my impressions:

The small plates are where all the flashy stuff is.  Combining a small plate and a salad could make a good light dinner. The salads are given some attention and are thoughtfully composed.
Further down the menu, the tried and true entrees of beef, pork, foul and fish look solidly good - unless the cooks are clods they will be reliable staples.

I had the delicious frisee salad with blueberries and candied nuts.  It was fresh and a refreshing start to my dinner on the night that I had the sliced steak. I love steak and fries, and this one really hit the spot.  It was small and sauced nicely.  So next time I'm in the mood, I know where I want to go. I had the key lime pie that night and both the wait person and myself thought it was cheesecake.  But pie, cake -- no matter, it was a great creamy citrusy finish for the meal.

Bread and a nut butter come with the table.  I'll go for any sort of butter over olive oil, which I consider to be an unhappy aberration in restaurant trends, and the nut butter makes a good spread.

The bread also served as a nice alternative support for the chicken liver mousse with fig and mustard.

The cute mason jar service with jelly on top and a sprig of thyme was entertaining for about a minute, then I realized that having to go back to the jar and scoop out each dip of mousse is tedious, so once I scooped it onto the plate I got into serious tasting of various combinations of flavors.  I could go on eloquently, because I save chicken livers for special occasions, and the mousse was nicely done. The low-key sweetness of the figs and the sharp mustard are truly excellent condiments to this treat.  This dish and a salad also make a great light meal. 

The night I tried the fish was also a happy night.  The combination of Asian flavors was wonderful on the perfectly tender and moist mahi mahi. I got a spoon for the broth and used it well. The noodles were an overcooked loss - something a 15 yo would know better than to do, but I didn't even care. 

To sum up the food, there are probably going to be things you like about the place and things you don't like, but I highly recommend trying what they are offering and making up your own mind.  I happen to like it and will return.

To finish up I have a few things to say that I would like to tell all restaurant managers and owners, like when I write pleas to floor managers who allow their staff to spray everything with cleaner spray:  don't conduct your business in the dining room.  I'm sure it's comfortable, probably more comfortable than your office,  so renovate or redecorate or get yourself an office where you can do business.  I don't want to hear it while I'm trying to enjoy my steak.

And if you're going to admonish an employee, don't do it in the dining room(s).  Just don't. Don't make a bunch of phone calls to confirm reservations for a special holiday night. I want to hear the music and the dishy conversation of my near neighbors and I don't want to keep hearing you tell everyone that it's a $xx dinner with x courses. That is a definite drag and I hope the manager gets the word on this: take it to the office.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Pizza Love: DeFazio University

Back in December Zena's online superpowers made her a winner of a little contest with All Over Albany to attend DeFazio University for a pizza or pasta class for four. Saving the world from the forces of evil is fun, but not nearly as much as playing with food. And eating it. And loving every greasy, salty, happy blimpifying bite in order to graduate.

DeFazio's Imports in Troy, NY
Which I did, with honors, during their pizza workshop last weekend because our instructors at DeFazio's Pizzeria in downtown Troy were such an amazing team. Rocco DeFazio and his son Matt are passionate about their work (two time winners of the Capital Region's Tournament of Pizza, which I understand won't be continuing for some reason but probably because DeFazio's is hard to beat), proud of their family's history establishing DeFazio's Imports back in 1951 (and their pizzeria in 1991), honored at being a part of their neighborhood, and excited by the prospect of expanding their business in a nearby property to include a restaurant/bar, banquet hall and a real culinary school.  But nothing says love more than being in that original, cozy pizzeria, it's story part of every nook and cranny that surrounds you, a space imbued with the smells of yeast and tomatoes and wood smoke, laughing with friends, and listening and learning from the experts how to make these dishes at home. Which I did. Later in this blog. Wait for it.

Rocco DeFazio making Stromboli
Now these aren't cheap seats: I'm not going to share everything I scribbled in my notes, because YOU should sign up and experience DeFazio's yourself. But here's how our afternoon unfolded.

A warm olive mixture with fresh lemons and a plate of Fontinella cheese and smoked meats, as well as freshly made focaccia and smiles from Rocco and Matt greeted the small group of 12 who braved more damn snow to participate. Rocco waxed poetic and told us his story, highlighting the quality of the ingredients and their grandmother's bread recipe (the basis of their delicious crusts), and the importance of their wood-fired oven in turning out wonderful products. Matt demonstrated how to make dough (um, starting with 25 pounds of flour, so it didn't translate well to home cooking), but getting the consistency right, varying how much oil or water you add depending on the weather and what other ingredients (such as herbs) you'll be adding, were critical to success. They did suggest King Arthur high gluten bread flour as a good substitute for what they get from their wholesale supplier. Rocco and Matt went around showing us how to roll up our pizza dough balls. Up with the right, close with the left. Zena got distracted how that move could be used against a giant attacking ball of dough, but quickly refocused as we moved on to our next lesson.

Their traditional white dough ready for portioning. Otherwise it will take over the world. Let your dough rest 24-48 hours before using.

Rocco cooked up their famous red sauce, surprisingly simple, starting with two large cans of tomato products, one called "California Super Heavy Concentrated Crushed Tomatoes". Not available retail but he suggested zapping crushed tomatoes in a blender and cooking it down would be a good start. The CSHCCT was thick like paste, but NOT paste, something they do not use, nor do they use sugar. Spices, a bit more water, cooking for one hour was all it took. Very informative. At the end of the day we all got to take home a pizza kit with the two balls of dough we shaped and wrapped up, a container of that lovely sauce, some Pecorino Romano (their not so secret secret ingredient - sorry about that), and a cool little pizza cutter.

Matt DeFazio making a Calzone
From here our instructors moved on to demonstrate how they make Stromboli, Calzone, and pizzas using their traditional white dough as well as their whole wheat and garlic and herb doughs. I LOVED the spinach and broccoli Stromboli - heavy with garlic and pretending to be healthy - just my style. Shaping the dough, the right amount of filling and topping, and baking in their traditional gas or wood-fired ovens was a real show - beauty in motion - but the best part was trying the different pizzas. The four cheese pizza topped with mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, Fontinella and Gorgonzola was culinary heaven. The traditional crust was crispy but with a nice chew, light, tender and flavorful. I had a couple of rotten pizzas in Chicago a couple of weeks ago with crusts that were hard and tasted like cardboard. The crusts coming out of the ovens at DeFazio's are the best I've ever had, and believe me, I LOVE pizza and eat it everywhere I go, and I can eat a lot of it (another one of my amazing feats). I was SO impressed with what we have just over the fence in our own back yard. What took me so long to finally get to DeFazio's? Even superpowers can be idiots. But let's get beyond it, shall we?
Whole wheat dough topped with walnut pesto, tomato slices and store roasted chicken
We wrapped with a demo on making Deep Dish Tomato Pie and a little reminder that this is a class joint, according to the Jersey Boys, and I agree:  (Frankie: This is a pretty nice place, huh? Mary: Yeah, They don’t sell slices. That’s how you can tell).  They don't sell slices, FYI.

Thanks AOA, Rocco and Matt, for your kindness, your generosity, your upbeat optimism in all things pizza, and for sharing the love with the rest of us. I mean it. You guys ROCK.

Zena's Stromboli

I love a good workout, but I've always said that I'd never win anything unless it was something like a hot dog eating contest. Or pizza. Or Stromboli, so I made one at home last Monday when I got trapped at home AGAIN (trapped today as well) because of more damn snow, to see how much I could eat and if I could win without anyone around to watch. Well, I didn't win, but I think I did a pretty good job. 

One 14-15 ounce ball of white pizza dough (you can buy it from DeFazio's and it's also available at the Honest Weight Food Co-Op [as Organic Joe's]) - at room temperature
Semolina flour for dusting
1/2 pound cooked sweet Italian sausage, crumbled (I like the sausage from Garafalo & Co. in Schenectady, if you are willing to put up with surly service, but DeFazio's also makes their own and it is also wonderful)
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh broccoli
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
4 ounces mozzarella cheese
Extra virgin olive oil

Lightly flour your cooking surface and shape your dough into a rectangle. Evenly distribute your toppings. Roll it over three times to make your log and pat it lightly to seal the edges. Transfer to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush with olive oil. Cut 3 or 4 slices into the top so it doesn't explode during baking. Bake at 375 degrees F for 40-45 minutes until golden brown. Slice and serve.
Zena's first ever Stromboli (a.k.a. "garbage bread")
Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: Also thanks to Jaguar, Foodie Friend and the Mistress of the Hounds for a lovely afternoon. And to Pony for supplying our BYO "The Verdict 2009 Shinas Estate Cab Sav" from Victoria, Australia. After pizza and wine it's hard not to love life.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Local Lamb With the Farmer and the Professor

On a recent cold winter night I found my way to Creo to meet with a Goddess of Fire and about 50 other folks who signed up for the 2015 Lamb Dinner. Dee Woessner brought her lamb to Chef David Gibson and we all got to enjoy the results.

As well as eating local I got to drink local since the bar had Hudson Rye from Gardiner New York's Tuthilltown Spirits in a positively lovely Manhattan cocktail.  So by the time we were escorted into our group's dining area I was in the mood for a really great evening.  I wasn't disappointed either.

Dr. Gary Kleppel, the author of  The Emergent Agriculture: Farming, Sustainability and the Return of the Local Economy  biologist and a farmer himself, kicked off the evening by emphasizing the importance of the knowing the people who produce our food, and introduced our farmer for the evening, Dee Woessner. 

Dee gave us a sketch regarding the farm and how the lambs are raised, and Chef Dave gave us an introduction to the first course.

The Lamb Agnolotti  was topped with a bright tomato jam and sat on a bed of white beans.  It was a beginning that promised a skilled hand at lamb dishes. The sauvignon blanc was a bright and crisp complement.

Zena did that goddess thing she does and we sat with Brian White and his mother and two other couples that made up a great table.  Have her use this superpower when you go out with her and you'll be assured of superb conviviality.

After the first course had time to settle and we were ready to try something new the Lamb Loin and Rib Chop course was brought to the table.  Chef Dave wanted us to taste the lamb with no special seasoning, which took the shape of the lolly pop shaped chop, right alongside a marinated loin made utterly delicious with garam masala and dusted with fennel pollen.  All this on a chick pea pancake. A beaujolais  beautifully brought out the savory goodness of the simple and complex lamb pieces.  Zena had to use her super powerful fingers to actually get at the loin, which had tough silverskin that she couldn't pierce easily with a knife.  We have to think that the kitchen overlooked this during  moments of rare carelessness in preparing the  meal.

The final lamb course was Lamb Leg with figs, foie gras, fingerling potato and tarragon jus. Zena's not a fig fan, but I relished the combination of the beautifully tender lamb and the rich gentle sweetness of the figs. The rioja made it the perfect mediterranean course.  By this time we were telling our life stories to each other and enjoying every moment.

The blood orange trifle with pistachio brittle was a light and fitting finish.

Such special dinners are an ongoing series at Creo and are happening more and more frequently at regional restaurants.  They give chefs the opportunity to explore beyond the restaurant's daily menus in a setting that provides diners an opportunity to meet new people while sampling special and unique preparations.

What I hope to see is more nights like this that celebrate our region's fabulous producers and their delectable products!