Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Olde English Pub and Pantry

Not having grown up in pubs or bars in the US, I had no idea that I'm a  sucker for pub and bar food. So when I've made my visits to Quackenbush Square I've looked forward eagerly to those intense flavors that are made to go with beer and cider at Ye Olde English Pub and Pantry.

Now that summer is over the extensive garden will have to wait for a few months, but it looks lovely and comfortable with cheery umbrellas. There's loads of parking in back if you drive through the alleyway between Olde English and the Albany Pump Station brewery, so you don't need to worry.

I was surprised at the dark wood and funky pub atmosphere. Having wiled away many an hour in British pubs while visiting there I'd say the feeling is right to a certain extent.  There are North American people inside, so it can't quite be the same no matter how it looks. There's a small dining room behind the bar and a bigger room upstairs with plenty of board games and other entertainments made for long afternoons or evenings with friends.

I ordered this wonderful pickle plate of nuts and pickles to get started on the night I had the cheese plate  for supper.  The pickles were superb!

I think they call it the ploughman's lunch but if one man can eat all that cheese I would be very afraid of that man.  It's cheese and bread for several people with a salad in the middle. Share with friends or plan to take half the cheese home with you.

I'm not going to try to talk about all the beers and ales because you can go online and see their menu here.  I tried the Sir Jerry pear cider (yum) and a few different beers and found them all delightful.

It's not fine dining,  that's down the block, but it's got a variety things you want to eat and drink when you're out with friends for a nosh or going to a show in the theater district.  Shepherd's pie and meat pie both make an appearance. Wings are probably among the most familiar items.   I sampled the colcannon croquets and was appropriately blissed out. There are not too many ways you can do something like colcannon badly. The beef Wellington bites were also a guilty pleasure. The burgers are good, according to my companions, and there are soups, salads and dinner entrees.  It's not an extensive menu. but enough variety so that all in a party should find something tasty if not the most elegant food around.

LorreBob sez: check it out, my love.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Doing Dishes: Dining at the Diners - Gateway Diner

Diners can be such tacky affairs, but in a good way. Like me, Mom, FYI.

Shiny, red vinyl, chrome, and neon: diners are iconic NYS family run businesses that operate 24/7, where you can always get a burger and a shake or an egg sandwich for not too much money and probably bump into someone you know and where the servers know you by the third time you dine. Those 10 page plus plastic menus that are bigger than the Post would take you forever to consider seriously so you usually order the same things over and over again, but there's always bad coffee delivered quick and hot and kept topped off if you need time to think about it.
Red and Pony outside the Gateway Diner
Gateway Diner, near the Westgate Mall on Central Avenue, has been a part of Albany's food scene since 1971. Greeks in the kitchen are always a good thing, although the menu here doesn't do that heritage much justice. Spanakopita, a Souvlaki or a Souvlaki Salad (of all things), Gyros with beef, pork or chicken rolled up with pita or served as a dinner are about all they have, although there was "hometown Greek dressing" in an Athenian wrap that had some feta - that sounded tempting. The rest of it was the comforting, reassuring usual: pancakes and eggs for breakfast, liver and onions, fried everything (especially for apps), something like 15 burgers to choose from, lots of sandwiches including that hot turkey mess with the gravy on the white bread, and a selection of large but standard Amerkin salads (the "California" has cottage cheese - why do I think that's funny???).

Pony went for the meatloaf, again: Baked Meatloaf, served with brown gravy (or marinara - really???[$11]), it was served green-free - a pile of gray meat enough to feed your younger brother for a week, sliced and heated on a flattop with a cafeteria scoop of mashed on the side, both heavily coated in a rather bland gravy, and although the meat had a nice texture the presentation (serious lack of color) and balance (pas de legumes) this is a dish I would only recommend to you at 3:00 a.m. if you are drinking and need some salt and protein to sober up.

What can I say that the picture doesn't say for itself???

Red ordered a Tuna Melt ($8.00) on wheat, served with a side of overly sweet coleslaw and big thick pickle slices. It was a hearty deal, lots of tuna (the fishy kind) and greasy in a good way, but she was left wanting a bit more of that drippy Amerkin cheese. Surprisingly, it was not served open face.

Crunchy and buttery, this is a grilled tuna with cheese NOT a "Tuna Melt". 
Foodie Friend has been trying the salads, going for that Souvlakia Salad ($11) this time but with the pork instead of the chicken listed on the menu. Lots of fresh crunchy lettuce, no skimping on the feta, pepperoncini, cuke, green peppers, tomatoes, onion and lettuce with a lovely lemony dressing that was sharp but not too garlicky, and some good olives. The marinated pork was tender with a touch of char with a nice lick of oregano. I took a piece from her plate and, when she wasn't looking, I used my superpowers to take another one without getting caught. It was, in all ways, a very good Greek salad.

Good salad as things get Greekier
Well there's a locally pretty famous blogger who poked fun at me recently (NOT A GOOD IDEA TO POKE GODDESSES AND YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!!!) for trying the calamari everywhere I went for several months on end (and I still like the stuff), but I'm doing it again by having the Greek Gyro with chicken ($8.00), basic chicken souvlaki, at all these Greek diners, as it kind of levels the playing field AND, hey, it's a Greek diner and Dad told me as a very little Greeklet never to order spaghetti in a steak house, and though I don't generally listen to anyone, in this case, he's right.

This gyro had loads of grilled marinated chicken breast chunks that were pretty good, though not nearly as tasty as the pork, with tomatoes and onion rolled up in a fat, warm, soft white pita and a generous scoop of tangy tzatziki (which I asked for on the side). Good but not well constructed, with all the onions and tomatoes at the bottom and all the meat sitting on top. Still thought it was the best thing on the table, and I ate it all, including the chips and the pickle.

I think if the tzatziki was inside the bread like it should have been if I hadn't of asked for it on the side it wouldn't have fallen apart the way it did and make a big mess all over my plate and the universe at large. 
The staff were all very pleasant, easily answering questions like "Where does soft pita come from?" (A: Restaurant Depot on Warehouse Row), serving up our meal quickly and checking in as we ate, remembering to ask if we wanted dessert or coffee, and dividing up our bill without a blink. The room was clean and bright, and to complain because I do that alot these days, the menus were a tad tacky (sticky tacky). As we paid up and headed back to our day jobs it was also fun to run into an old colleague that retired a few years back. It felt like home.

The staff wished us a good day as we headed out the door. The desserts also wished us a good day. 

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: Why is there a $1.00 "to go" charge??? I recommend you go in, sit down, order your food, have it delivered to the table, ask to have it boxed, and leave the dollar for the waitress. Sheesh.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Doing Dishes: Peppered Steak

I don't claim to be anything more than a middle aged, middle class, middle manager that occasionally (only occasionally, mind you) shares my middle finger or "number 11" with idiot drivers. That's by day.

By night (or very very early in the morning) when I eat out or cook or kick butt at the gym or run around saving mortals in the Capital Region from the forces of evil, then I claim to be Zena, Goddess of Fire. So you may think that's awesome, and it is, but yesterday another driver gave me the "number 11", and although I'm sure in no way was it deserved, I had a taste of what it's like to be dissed and I didn't like it, and believe me, I did everything I could not to cause their car to disintegrate in thin air with a wave of my tiny fist.

Recently I dissed the B&B's Steak au Poivre as burnt (even past a fire goddess' standards), with no sauce to speak of, and no pepper neither. It was "pas ici". And they were nice to me about it, very grown up, but I'm sure in secret they wish I was mortal. So, to make amends for this and for being a food blogger with no credentials beyond after hours superhuman capabilities, I went and got me some good rib eye and decided to share my peppered steak recipe because, like me, this is awesome.

Yes, all I had was Courvoisier. 

Zena, Goddes of Fire's Peppered Steak for More than Mere Mortals

Four six-ounce 1" thick rib eye steaks, at room temperature (or two 12 ouncers, as pictured)
Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt, to taste (be generous)
4 tablespoons of sweet butter
3 tablespoons of green peppercorns, finely chopped
4 tablespoons of cognac (more for drinking)
1/3 cup heavy cream

Press 2 tablespoons of the green peppercorns, salt and pepper into both sides of the meat. In a large cast iron pan set over medium heat, heat the butter until brown then pan saute your steaks, 4 minutes on the first side - do not disturb - then flip and cook on the other side 4 minutes longer approximately, depending on your preferred degree of doneness. Set aside and keep warm. While the meat is resting, lower the heat and carefully, unless you are a fire god/ddess, deglaze the pan with the cognac, then add the heavy cream and remaining green peppercorns and simmer until reduced and heated through, approximately 5 minutes longer.

The sauce should hold its own and not take over the bottom of the plate.
My apologies to B&B - I only wish you the best.

Love, Zena

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Innovo Kitchen: ECHO Echo echo

After a really really really annoying day there's nothing better than getting together with a couple of good friends for a good nosh instead of a good cry.

Is there an echo in here???

October 19th through October 25th, 2015 was restaurant week in Colonie - fixe prix three-course menus for just $20.15. The Chamber of Commerce did a nice job of listing the 20 participating restaurants and their menus; most were ramping up to offer diners something new at bargain prices, so this was a good time to try something new, and speaking of new, Innovo, which had just opened on October 2nd, was on the list.
Innovo Kitchen is at front of a new strip mall where there used to be a bowling alley
Located at 1214 Troy-Schenectady Road in Latham (Route 7), Innovo Kitchen is, on the inside, a big, cavernous, wide open space reminiscent of renovated old buildings where they keep the structure and the structure is visible and then the old stuff is fixed up to shine and you've got this nice balance of times past and present, only it's not an old building, it was just built, albeit with some of the hardwood from the old Bowlers Club, supposedly, so it struck me as kind of affected. I found the noise level really high and it seemed like there was an ECHO Echo echo resounding throughout the space, which Batman might have liked, but not Zena, Goddess of Fire. However, it was rather attractive, if not a bit cold and industrial.

The dining room is attractive but kind of noisy. The room with the windows is available for private parties.
Three of us arrived in time for happy hour at the bar (uh, happy 2.5 hours, from 400 to 630 daily - a very happy thing....), featuring $4 glasses of select wine and beer. I had two, poured out my woes and brightened up a bit. The special wines weren't anything special but the price was nice and so was our barkeep. Stretch and I each had two, while Puppy enjoyed a delicious Cosmo before we were seated in the dining room.

The bar was well staffed and the staff were all very friendly
Sometimes you just NEED a Cosmo
The Innovo fixe prix offered plenty of options - four first courses to choose from, five entrees and two desserts. Flatbread (not housemade) served with a white bean dip was offered gratis as a starter; the dip was a bit bland but still creamy and satisfying.  Puppy ordered the Duck Meatballs, two nice size tender morsels served kind of chi-chi with 3 different "sauces" - a bitter celeriac, a salty gravy and a sweet cheery moutarde. Good, but it didn't taste like duck. Stretch went for the Crunchy Kale Salad - also sweet and salty and savory, with a nice crunch  from the addition of roasted almonds and croutons. The greens were tender and mild, and the dressing was light handed and delicious. I went for the Five Onion Bisque (red, white, scallion, garlic and shallot and chive oil drizzle which equals six so I screwed something up). Anyway, this one was not for the faint of heart (of course, I was fine): creamy and garlicky, served hot, topped with a tasty crunchy goat cheese crouton. We liked this one best of the three - intense and delicious. Also the table was given a basket of soft, fluffy, molassesy oat bread, as well as some fresh semolina bread that were so good they didn't need anything to jazz them up. A great start.
The flatbread was not housemade, but the white bean dip was. 

The 5 Onion Soup with a simple slice of warm homemade semolina bread
Two little duck meatballs are overwhelmed by the sauces. 

The kale salad was perfect

By now the restaurant had gotten very busy, with just a few empty tables. We ordered the wine special, Insurrection ($32), an Australian CabSav-Shiraz blend that we quite enjoyed - fruity and spicy.

Our entrees arrived and we settled into sharing bites. Puppy ordered the Steak, Potatoes and Vegetables, a grilled tri-tip with pan charred brussels, carrots, onion and green beans, with a cup of hot hot hot thick cut cubed potatoes. The meat was perfectly cooked and beefy (it might have been tough if cooked much longer), with a side sauce reminiscent of A-1, and it was a generous portion to boot. Stretch had the Salmon, served with white cheddar grits and stewed tomatoes topped with charred leeks. Very nice, especially the grits - these were rich and OMG creamy. The fish had a nice crust and tasted fresh and clean. Taking a bite of a bit of everything all at once I thought that the flavors came together beautifully, but the leeks alone were a little too burnt, even for the likes of a fire goddess. I decided on the Pan Fried Pork Chop "Saltimbocca", with sage and country ham, served with mashed, spinach and red eye gravy. It was OK, not very attractive, pretty darn salty, and the spinach was bitter (kids can hate spinach and this is an example of why). But we all enjoyed the meal and took leftovers back with us, and the chop was still good on the reheat.
The salmon and grits. I just wanted a big ol' bowl of them grits. OMG.

Not a lovely presentation - mashed with spinach topped with the chork pop and gravy. Good, not great. Salty!!!

This was a lovely plate - a generous serving of veg, meat and potatoes. 
Two desserts ended the evening. The Cannoli Chips were a bit odd, with soft "chips" reminiscent of the NYS fair that could have been crisper fer sher, but the ricotta, blended with pistachio and chocolate chips and served to the side, was delightful. The Cookie Platter was wonderful wonderful wonderful (there's that echo again!) - homemade pecan sandies that were nicely crumbly, not too sweet, Milanos with raspberry, and chocolate chip classics that were crisp on the edges and chewy in the middle. I think we ate them all.
The cookies were awesome

French press decaf was a nice touch, alongside the Canoli Chips. 
The choices were varied, the servings were generous, and the staff were hustling - I was glad to see this new spot doing so well after being open only a few short weeks. I appreciated the little things - the barkeep checking that the glasses were spotless, being given the Restaurant Week menu without having to ask for it, an attentive server who managed ours and many many many other tables without missing a beat, and the chalkboard of specials in the bar (check before you are seated!). I left Innovo feeling like all smiles, and my two dear friends echoed that.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: Unlike Yelpers who want to be "firsts", I prefer to wait a while to let a new place get in their groove, but these guys all seem to be doing just fine already.  Bravo!