Monday, December 28, 2015

Doing Dishes: The Caribbean Series - Dutch Pot

Dutch Pot appeared on the scene in recent years,  describing themselves as Jamaican and setting up shop near the corner of Madison and Lark in a small storefront. There are a dozen or so chairs, so eating in the restaurant is an option, and takeout is also common here.  They offer online ordering from the website, which makes takeout very convenient, and they also offer delivery.

Service is prompt and friendly at the counter. The staff is helpful regarding making selections if you're not familiar with Jamaican dishes. I've been tasting my way across the menu by ordering chicken dishes and patties as well as the oxtail and I've never been disappointed.

Once the staff at the Hot Spot turned me on to red plum Nantucket Nectar I've been drinking it with my Caribbean food, but there's a nice variety of juices and other soft drinks on offer at Dutch Pot.

The storefront windows offer a view onto Madison Ave.

The mac and cheese here is not made with sauce, but melted cheese and herbs, which makes it dense and full of flavor. The oxtail falls off the bone, as it should, and has the deep brown gravy that calls my name.  It has an intense beef flavor with thyme in evidence and the mellow sweetness of carrot and onion. The spiciness is a very mild background flavor.  I'm only guessing that other veggies may be involved, but the slow cooking process blends everything into the divine intense stew and makes individual flavors hard to identify. With rice and peas as the perfect food for soaking up the gravy, you can most often find me in that pensive mood that truly comforting food brings to the forefront while I relish the sheer homely goodness. Their sweet plantains are also a typical side dish and I prefer them over the mac and cheese. 

The Dutch Pot jerk chicken is lively, tender and moist, also perfectly accompanied with peas and rice. The stewed chicken is full flavored and simmered until completely tender. A fellow customer was emphatically singing the praises of the curry goat, so it's on my list of dishes I must try. 

I am a sucker for the patties for the same reason I love the oxtail.  It's just some of the most straight up meat and onions wrapped in pastry savory flavor. If you like spicy patties they're always an option too.

So LorreBob sez: check them out, mon!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Doing Dishes: the Caribbean Series - First Choice Up First

After enjoying Clayton's lunch buffet years ago, then trying Kenneth's, I began to get a bit of a sense of Caribbean food in Albany, but other interests have caught my attention in the mean time.  Lately I  can't help but notice that we have a nice list of Caribbean restaurants in our region now.  So of course it's time to start checking them out to see what is up.

As I've been doing some research and tasting I've come to understand my affection for oxtail.  So oxtail will be my dish of choice through the Caribbean series.  This isn't to say I won't try some alternatives, but that deep rich beef flavor will be my mainstay as I work diligently to review our local places.

First Choice in Troy sits on Fulton Street and has a sunlit bright scarlet dining room due to the huge windows facing the street. I've found that ordering at the counter is common in our local spots, and takeout is a good portion of each of the businesses.

Oh yas.  Much of the fun of Caribbean food locally is the pepper sauces, in my humble opinion.  Each one has its individual flavor and adds that special zestiness to the dishes.

Oxtail isn't very mysterious, although it's a popular dish so every cook has a personal preference when it comes to flavors.  The dish requires patience. The common flavors include onion, thyme,  garlic and carrot.  It's going  to have a very mellow sweet overtone from the carrots and onions and the delicious herbal aroma from the thyme. The oxtail is to be cooked until it is falling off the bone, so the flavoring and the meat are gloriously mingled and a rich gravy is formed from the softened veggies and bone marrow and connective tissues. In my mind the peas and rice are a perfect foil for the gravy.  Their mellow undertones blend well with all that sweet and savory deliciousness.

At First Choice I detect a tomato element in the gravy and it is well-balanced while adding a special unique touch that stands out among other gravies in our area. Allspice along with the thyme gives a lovely overtone of complexity.

First Choice oxtail does not disappoint!  All my favorite elements are present and make this ultimate comfort food a very satisfying dish. The scotch bonnet sauce adds a little extra combination of flavors and I prefer that specific pepper over others, so I am glad to see the sauce on the table.

Although I have found the food to be satisfying, the service can be uneven. One day, for instance, I asked for oxtail and got oxtail with peas and rice.  Another day I asked for oxtail and got oxtail, cabbage, plantains with peas and rice.  Perhaps it's a mystery of the universe. The First Choice dining room is spare, with the obligatory tv tuned into a sports channel.

The menu includes several styles of chicken, Ackee, Callalou, Curry Goat, patties and other Caribbean favorites.  Prices are low enough to allow you to taste all the way through the menu.

LorreBob sez: check it out and get the red plum Nantucket Nectar.

Monday, December 14, 2015

THE WINE BAR!!!!!!!!!!! Saratoga Springs, NY

what??? oh, we showed up at happy hour at the wine bar on the main drag in saratoga springs, ny back in early october. the bar was packed. we ordered a glass of wine each (not whiney! wine each!!!) only $5 until 600 pm - santa julian malbec (organic, big, fruity, spicy) and a calcada vinho verde (citrusy, light, slightly slightly bubbly, refreshing). there were 6 specialty  cocktails, 11 beers $4 each with a few NY bottles, and "well drinks" (probably these won't make you sick if you drink too much) just $8. nice happy hour!!!  OH and lots of bottles to choose from ranging from $28 to $408/bottle (with plenty riding $50-60). 

HUH??? WHA? Pardon??? yeah - right on:  $6 apps!!!  included rock shrimp with garlic chilies, mussels with Harissa broth and grilled artichokes. hard to decide. no i'm not trying to hide!!! We shared an olive tapenade with warm pita ($7) - buttery and satisfying, nothing fancy there, no lemons or capers, simplicity itself. itself i said, not it's an elf. sheesh. as we nibbled we admired the lovely view of the street, the clean, neutral decor and the hipster crowd, mostly locals. very friendly and chatty.... oh i ordered more wine - mud house sauvignon blanc 2014 from new zealand - delicious, cool and citrusy ($10).

anyway, the menu isn't extensive but to me that speaks volumes about controlling the quality of food coming out of the kitchen. specials included a pan roasted salmon with porcini mushroom risotto ($24), Moroccan chicken with a fall vegetable tangine (also $24) and a rack of lamb, with turnip mashed and brussels sprouts ($15 for a half and $32 for a full rack). 

I loved my swordfish wrapped in grape leaves - earthy with lots of rosemary ($14 for the small serving). no i didn't say i'm the rose fairy i said rosemary. The plate was finished with a nice contrasting and gentle taste and texture of giant beans, a home pickled caperberry, wheatberries?, and grilled lemon. the flavors were strong - not for the meek of heart or mere mortals, interesting, challenging even.

ff loved her crispy duck leg confit ($25 for 2 legs), with NICE CRUNCHY skin, served with sweet potato and chorizo. the sausage overwhelmed the sublime flavor of the tender dark meet fowl, but it was still an excellent plate. 
met the chef... the chef... no i'm not deaf! i said the chef... and hugged him. it was good. I also liked our waitress - she asked "how is everything tasting?" wonderful!!!

but the ambiance was kind of loud except for that slight lull between happy hour and the after dinner party crowd. at 740 they even cranked the tunes. hence zena does all caps for this review. when i yelped the wine bar yelp for some funny reason removed all the caps. that was very calming.


ZENa, goddess of fire

Monday, December 7, 2015

Scallions: a Nice Substitute for Mingle in Saratoga Springs

We've been saying for months that we want to check out Saratoga restaurants and food scene, but we've been doing a pitiful job of it.  So we screwed up our determination and  and headed up the Northway. We went expecting to go to Mingle but it was closed for a private party. Surprise surprise. So much for relying on restaurants to be open during their normal business hours. I'm getting the point of calling ahead to places that don't have a very convenient place near by in case they're not open.

A note on the web page would have been nice.

Zena, Goddess of Fire and I chose Scallions as our brunch place in Saratoga that day. It's right across from The Parting Glass, at the corner of Henry and Lake.  I have had many a pleasant meal there, including their spot on Broadway, where I recall being very pleasantly startled by their innovative and well-executed dishes years and years ago.  Its very existence as a possibility placed it head and shoulders above Mingle on that pleasant afternoon.

We were greeted by a helpful and knowlegable staff person who let us know that we were right between breakfast and lunch menus and what was and wasn't available.  You can see all the menus here.

I like hole-in-the-wall dives and ethnic restaurants as much as anyone if they have good food, but I really appreciate a nicely appointed dining room.  The huge windows and wittily painted tables makes the dining room a delight.  It's spacious, so even the afternoon I spent with a table of ten a while back was comfortable.

Once we settled in and looked around we studied the menu, which is electic and casual. Zena, GOF claimed her reuben sandwich was the best reuben sandwich of a fire goddess's lifetime - nothing to sneeze at unless you're wearing your asbestos panties. It was well-balanced and yet sufficient to address the appetite of a goddess who has to exert super powers and save the world from the forces of evil.
I had the souvlaki salad on flat bread with unusually delicious tender juicy chicken. We thought it was somewhat remarkable.  I mean really tender, juicy chicken that had not been sitting in the fridge since the night before.  It took on the sauce and made what could have been a mediocre salad something special. The tzatziki sauce was poured over the salad and was soaked up by the flat bread  on the bottom so that the lovely lemon and garlic flavors didn't end up in a puddle that one is tempted to drink by upending the plate. They were there until the last creamy lemony garlicky bite.

Although this isn't flashy food, it's well-crafted and delicious, and as far as I can tell, it has been ever thus at Scallions.  The service was attentive and helpful, but not smothering.  My salad was $13 and Zena's sandwich was $12, so the prices are moderate.

LorreBob sez:  go when you want something that is really good in a colorful and pleasant ambiance.