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.

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