Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I'm Hooked! Brunch at Reel Seafood

Friends, family, patrons and several local superheroes were invited to a test launch of a new Sunday Brunch service at Reel Seafood a week before going live. Oh, yeah, me too.

It doesn't look like much now but a face lift is planned for winter 2015/2016
Owner/manager Aliki Serras and her father LeGrande met us at the door, along with co-owner Faith Takes, with hugs and handshakes and smiles. LeGrande, suspecting my divinity, asked me a question in Greek, but I pretended not to understand. But it was too late!!! I was invited as Zena, Goddess of Fire, and I was caught in the net. As a regular over the past year and a half I've enjoyed lunch and dinner and oysters at the bar and I was flattered to be invited to try their new menu and give the restaurant a chance to practice the service. I was very excited to be there.

A beautiful dining room with blue neon, smiling staff and live music
There have been many excellent reviews since the re-opening about a year and a half ago, but brunch is a new gig, including themed music brunches every other weekend (starting September 20 with Swing Band Sunday). Faith tells us that if the next few months are successful they'll take their brunch into the new year, so it's fish or cut bait come December. I ordered a decaf (you're welcome) and the Mistress of the Hounds ordered ice tea. Both were strong - just the way they should be - and not at all bitter. We stopped yakking for a few minutes and studied the menu.

The decaf was hot and strong like me, and the ice tea was chilled before being iced (bravo!)
Let's look at the "real" drinks first, shall we???  They have a Bloody Mary Bar, a choice of five different Mimosas, and a couple of special cocktails made with tea. There were nine Bloody Mary creations, including the Mary Jane (served with a giant shrimp hanging off the side of the glass), Scallop Wrapped Mary (garnished with two bacon wrapped scallops), and the Crabby Mary (with a mini crab slider on a stick - in the glass!). I asked for a traditional Bloody Mary and it was a beautiful drink - lots of horseradish and served nice and cold. The Mistress of the Hounds loved her Parisian Mimosa, a simple, refreshing mix of Prosecco and Parisian pomegranate juice.

I think the sun was over the yard arm. Not sure.
Breakfast could be neither fish nor fowl. Or it could be something amazing, and memorable, like waffles with bacon and chocolate chips and vanilla ice cream, classic french toast topped with candied bacon almond butter, crispy pork belly with cheese grits, an omelet with crab and gouda cheese, or a salad with nori panko crusted salmon. Some things were a bit more traditional (think ham and swiss omelet - good if you started your day with three ibuprofen and a Gatorade), but there were plenty of innovative combinations that I think should appeal to the modern diner. And hipsters. And superheroes, but I digress.

King Crab Flatbread is better than kippers. Trust me on that one.
Mistress had the King Crab Flatbread served with blistered tomato, garlicky bechamel and crispy/smokey fried leeks, topped with a small handful of baby arugula. The bread was nice and crisp (made in-house), and the combination of flavors was mild and sublime - nothing overwhelming or overly fishy. Luxuriant and satisfying without being heavy, she ate the whole thing.

The Crab Cake Benedict Oscar wasn't perfect but the important parts were amazing
I decided to order the most expensive thing on the menu - the Crab Cake Benedict Oscar: two seared crab cakes on toasted English muffins topped with a poached eggs, hollandaise, sauteed skinny bits of asparagus and nice big lumps of lump crab meat, served with a side of homefries. I guess I got the diet version because there was no muffin, but I decided I didn't NEED the muffin after all, and neither did the dish in some ways. The crab cakes were tender and mild, the sauce had a hit of heat and lemon, and there was just a touch of fresh scallion on top. In the end I could only eat one of the two cakes anyway, it was so rich. However, the home fries (a.k.a. just fried potato cubes) were really boring, which sort of surprised me. Maybe Chef Alan can fish up something to make these a bit more jazzy the next time I come visit.

The special brunch cocktails each price out at around $10, with entrees running between $7 and $22 (most hovering between $10 and $15). Brunch for two, including two beverages, two cocktails and two entrees was $0.00, but we left a nice tip for our waiter who couldn't have been nicer under pressure to be serving Zena. Did I mention this little party was free (for everyone)?

More information about their brunch, including a schedule for the themed music brunches, is now live and wriggling at

I wasn't the only one taking pictures of the food and drink
Thank you for having us - the air was filled with love and excitement. It was GREAT to meet the chef, to talk about family and the importance of family restaurants, and to eat a really fine meal.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

P.S. I've GOT TO STOP wearing that stupid cape during daylight hours.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Foodie Weekends in the Capital District - Hoptember Harvest Festival Part II

All down the Hudson Valley producers are being encouraged to cultivate hops by legislators as well as the burgeoning craft breweries. This is good.  Local hops encourage local beer. Local beer was on offer in spades at Hoptember Harvest Festival last Saturday along with local ciders and spirits and some delicious food that's perfect with beer.  All that along with a jolly crowd made this festival a true delight.  Put it on your calendar for next year.


Dutchess Hops has built out quite the welcoming verandas - on Saturday they also had the good sense to have huge tents for beer, whisky and food lovers. I swiped this from their website.

There was a little bit of a market at the entrance, but the real action was in the beer tent. Table after table of brewers and volunteer pourers were there to help you discover the local flavors of the Hudson Valley.  Many brewers weren't even into having a banner or flyers - they just brought the beer.

A cigar tent!

I went for the cider and wasn't disappointed!!!

"Just a half-inch, please"  yeah, that's how I was tasting as well.  That's enough to enjoy the bouquet and the unfolding of all those amazing flavors.

No food on toothpicks at this festival - hooray!  They also limit ticket sales so that there were only very short lines.  THIS is very good organizing.

The hops are harvested!!!  Let's have a festival!!!

It was on and off rain, but the tents covered everyone when it was on, so the party wasn't dampened.

There were a few non-beer vendors - this man was offering his syrups for tasting and they were excellent.

Denning's Point was offering a few of their whiskeys and we learned a good deal from side-by-side tastings.

The crowd at this festival was one of the things we enjoyed the most.  It was a mix of ages, so not dominated by any definite kind of response to the beers.  We thought is was exceptionally jolly, but that could have been because we were exceptionally jolly.  I also think it was because of the organization and thoughtful setup of the festival.  It wasn't too crowded.  The food was well made and served - it was easy to have a wonderful time.

LorreBob sez watch for this one next year and get tickets before they are sold out.  Be prepared to relax and taste some marvelous products of the Hudson Valley hops revival.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Foodie Weekends in the Capital District: Longhouse Revival, Part I

Thousands of regional foodies found themselves at various  harvest festivals, beer festivals, special dinners and so on this past weekend.  It's the Hudson Valley's season to celebrate our world class local food and drink. If you are new to the area or never thought about paying attention to all the corny-sounding festivals, don't miss out just because of a name!!! Watch the local news media and follow the foodie blogs and get in on the good stuff. Enjoy the glow of fine  local spirits and delicious locally produced food.

I went to a Hoptember Harvest Festival - Longhouse Revival sandwich over the three days. Yum!

My harvest festival season has begun with trips near tiny communities, or really just out in the boondocks. I drove into the sunset on Friday night until just about Rensselaerville and joined a few dozen invited guests for an evening that was all about olive oils and getting to know each other over dinner at the Longhouse Revival.

The Revival is one of the various educational activities of Molly O'Neill and her band of fellow travelers.  Her One Big Table organization provides instruction and networking activities for food writers through the Cook N Scribble branch, but the Revival is more magical than a mere educational conference. Once Molly starts inviting people to join in, a combination of talent and brains blossoms and creates a certain alchemy that doesn't occur in just any old workshop. The presence of all of the food, produced by rock star chefs, makes a significant difference. That element alone makes it easy to be extremely happy along the course of the proceedings.

For dinner on Friday I settled in beside Michael Twitty, author and blogger at Afroculinaria ( and took up an acquaintance we started at last year's Revival.  The dinner/tasting started by tasting the oils by themselves, then progressed to tasting the oils as they were mixed with foods of different kinds over four courses.

Eryn Balch walks us through our tasting with a background of the perfect upstate sunset.

Chef Alicia Walker designed a menu that would "showcase the differences between three basic styles of olive oil". Eryn Balch from the North American Olive Oil Association shared the stage with Alicia and they added background as well as details about the olives.  My dream of learning about food by tasting it among interesting and delightful people was fulfilled.

The lineup for the weekend was awesome - chefs, producers, writers, videographers and pretty much all  of them talented at telling stories.  This year's main theme was Chopstick Nation, The Chinese American Experience.

"including: Jonathan Gold (Pulitzer Prize-winning restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times), Da Chen (author of Colors of the Mountain and writer-in-residence), Kian Lam Kho (founder of and author of Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees: Essential Techniques of Authentic Chinese Cooking), Leland Wong (street artist, biker, dumpling maker and photographer), Anne Mendelson (food historian), Michael Twitty (food scholar and historic reenactor), and Lucey Bowen (author and artist), among others."

Cosmic forces in the form of Zena, Goddess of Fire, led me further downstate on Saturday for beer, and what with that ceaseless curtain of rain on Saturday night, I wasn't able to muster the courage to go out on skinny little mountain roads up into the Helderburgs for a late dinner.

So I bounced out of bed on Sunday morning and got myself  back out there by 8am for the opening workshop which was simply mind expanding. Betsy Andrews (Editor at Large Rodale's Organic Life), Jeanne Baron (Broadcast Journalist),  Sara Kate Gillingham (The Kitchn) Amy Halloran (author and Pancake Queen Bee) and Simona Carini (writer, blogger, photographer and pasta magician) devised a presentation of interviews with discussion about how to make interviews into stories. Penny Delos Santos lent her ideas on photographing for stories.  They illustrated technical aspects  of story making in a clear and accessible way for participants, all while being extremely gorgeous.  It changed my life.  Now I hope it can change my writing!!!

After having my mind blown and doing a little wandering through the festival area I was buttonholed by host Molly O'Neill and introduced to Michael Schwartz of BAO Fermented Food and Drink We discussed the unfortunate developments regarding food over the last half of the 20th century and how we need to resume more health-conscious foodways. It's so nice to meet like-minded business people who have found ways to produce not only delicious food, but manage to also maintain the health and productivity of the soils that nourish it. But Michael not only makes good food - he wants to help others do the same, so he's involved in the Organic Food Incubator The incubator helps food entrepreneurs get up and running in a supportive environment.

A rather magnificent breakfast that included Albany's own Amy Halloran's fabulous pancakes gave me time to try to assimilate all that the morning had inspired and to sit quietly in the emerging sun while contemplating the beauties of the rural landscape.

Then I re-immersed into the Revival  for the Food and Flea marketplace and was transformed again and again. Halleluja!

LorreBob sez: foodies, food bloggers,  local chefs, writers, writing students and creatives of all stripes who are into food should be at the Revival next September. Get yourself out there.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Bonfire at Black & Blue

They tore down the Ninety-Nine on Western Avenue before I had a chance to take it out myself.

And over the course of many moons the workmen came and they built and we found out what was coming and wondered "Who spends $55.50 on an 18 oz jumbo lobster tail as an add-on to dinner?", and then we asked, "and are they looking for a date?".

The Black & Blue Steak and Crab opened in June to not alot of fanfare. B&B is in Guilderland, a nice area of the Capital Region where suburbanites and businesspersons can now go to for a pricey meal in a classy setting and slap down those flat rectangular gold things that serve as their special currency. I combed my hair, pushed back my mask, straightened out my cape and tights, and in a sea of flames, zipped over in my Zenamobile for dinner with Foodie Friend. FF was already in the bar enjoying a well made Bombay Sapphire martini garnished with a giant olive ($10) when I arrived. I ordered a glass of Zonin Pinot Grigio ($7.50), a dry selection served nice and cold, and asked for a few minutes before being seated for our 6:00 pm reservation, which they were happy to allow. The bar selection promises 9 beers on tap (4 from NYS) as well as a cider selection, 17 bottled beers, and about 16 wines by the glass ($7.50 to $11.75 - very reasonable and a nice selection). Staff carried our drinks over to the table once we were ready to be seated and added the cost to our tab. Everyone, without exception, was very professional and courteous.

The Albany B&B follows on the success of locations in Buffalo and Rochester
The attractive bar area has high ceilings, muted tones, lots of sunlight, and offers friendly, professional service

We were settled into the dining area at the front of the restaurant with a view of the street, a bright, airy space that was both spartan and welcoming. Servers were at the table almost immediately with glasses of ice water and a basket of warm semolina bread and salty pretzels aside cold whipped butter. The pretzels were divine, even by goddess standards.  Looking over the menu I would call it American steak and seafood standard - no surprises - the kind of place my Dad would like - safe and straightforward. But I thought there was certainly enough variety to keep everyone happy with lots of fish on the appetizer menu, a couple of salads, meat/chops, fish and shellfish entrees, and a couple of house specialties where they listed chicken because where else would you put it?  

The pretzels were warm and salty and chewy and divine
Our server welcomed us by asking if we had ever eaten there before (A: no), and quite proudly gave us a quick rundown (and we had some questions too) of where they source their meat and seafood. All the B&B's get their fish from Sammy's Seafood on the Gulf coast, promising that everything is caught with a line or a spear, and delivering their products fresh three times a week to upstate NY. (No nets; and we can assume they aren't out there spearing crab [which actually comes from Maryland or Alaska, and the lobster is from Maine/the northeast, and the scallops??? I didn't ask, but I digress]). The oysters are all northeastern coming from anywhere between Maryland to PEI. The beef is from Kansas, corn fed and wet aged, promising lots of marbling. Personally I prefer locally sourced grass fed beef, so I was fighting hard to keep my superpower zingers in check until I had had a taste (see the most recent report from Consumer Reports). We were told they had a 1700 degree oven to cook their meat. Being a Fire Goddess I got kind of randy thinking about all that heat. Oh, and he told us they had not one but TWO sommeliers on site (was one a manager? owner?) that select their wines and train the staff. That impressed me, but I didn't get a wine list, nor was I asked if I wanted to see one.  (Zingers!)
Four oysters served with five condiments: cocktail sauce (sweet and spicy), mignonette (which I never liked), a wee bottle of tabasco, a wedge of fresh lemon, and a mixture of tobiko with wasabi (which was amazing!) 

Dinner was off to a perfect start with a small oyster sampler ($10.95). The oysters were meaty and briney and very fresh. The first one I slurped up with just a bit of lemon, but the second one I topped with their tobiko (flying fish roe) mixed with wasabi - wow!! The flavors sort of exploded in my  mouth with little pops and some serious heat, but that gentle oyster flavor still came through. Wow. Wait, I said that already. 

FF had the Lump Maryland Crab ($31.50) - a warm, generous bowl of sweet tender crab, so simple and delicious - with just a touch of butter and a bit of scallion - what a delight. The wiggles on the plate were a super spicy hot sauce. She selected the Creamy Spinach as her side. It was big enough to serve two, loaded with nutmeg and butter: um, she ate some of it, thought it tasted like what you get at the diner/nothing special. I found it kind of gooey. Why anyone would ever order creamed spinach I do not have it in my powers to understand, especially when they could have had sweet potato dumplings....

That little pitcher had a rich and delicious aioli
I ordered one of their Steakhouse Specialties, the Steak au Poivre described as a 12 oz NY Strip steak with a brandy and black peppercorn sauce, hash brown rosti cake and green beans ($38.50). The green beans were perfect. The potatoes were tasty, but it was actually a big pile of mashed with a fried curly-cue potato thing on top that you couldn't really cut or pick up easily so you were busy digging under it to get to the mashed underneath, at least until it got soggy. The steak was served not medium, but medium well well, and was pretty badly charred on the outside. There was really no pepper flavor and very little actual sauce to speak of, and while not dry at first bite, the meat kind of got that way after a few chews. I wasn't totally disappointed but I think I expected better.

That is not potato rosti. Zena's x-ray vision can see it's a pile of mashed with a fried doodle on top.

We wrapped up by-passing dessert (noting the menu, again, had lots of standards/nothing surprising) but we were served a trio of chocolate truffles gratis that were simple and creamy. A nice way to end the meal.

This is the kind of place I would consider on a special night out. The food is good, kind of pricey, and the service is even better than excellent. And OK OK next time I'll send the steak back if I'm not happy with it. 

Dinner for two with one appetizer, one cocktail, two glasses of wine and two entrees came to $114.43 including tax plus tip. 

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Note to Self: Get dolled up for date night, go back and meet the oven and see if I can't get that little bonfire under control. 

PS: The bathrooms are nice, too.