Thursday, December 29, 2016

Trying to be Perty at Slidin' Dirty

I love a good gushburger. The kind that demands that mortals and superpowers alike have to fight the bun and grease and toppings into your mouth without allowing it to take control and dribble all over your face and hands. Please pass the napkins.
Street parking. Casual crowd, with men at the bar watching sports on TV and doin' the daytime drinks.

The food is at Slidin' Dirty in downtown Troy is amazing. We started with a full order of Fravos ($10) - panko encrusted avocado fries with a spicy smokey creamy chipotle dipping sauce - hot, with a gentle burn, crispy on the outside, squishy on the inside. The battle over the last few was intense, as we licked our fingers, loving the decadence of fried fatty food. Delicious.
Fravos - cripsy fried avocado, potentially healthy

Pony went for a "dirty duo" with a Buffalo Chicken and a Pig Roast Taco ($9) - a generous serving, pretty before she crunched into it, loving the fresh crispy corn wrap and the tender meat. Standard "buffalo sauce" but very good. The Pig was even better, topped with black beans and corn and salsa with a crunch of red cabbage. She will totally come back and get this one again....
Pig on the left, Buffalo Chicken to the right

Red had one beautiful little Crab Cake Slider, a spicy combo, the cake boasting loads of lump crab meat topped with avocado, tomatoes, arugula and horseradish sauce. Again, perfect in all respects.
A pretty, perfectly constructed and delicious Crab Cake Slider

The Divine Ms. M went for a pair of sliders. The Dirty Yankee ($5, with the burger - chicken breast or black bean burgers also available) - perfectly cooked little patty drenched in fried onions and sauerkraut, kicked up a notch with pastrami and provolone. Um FIVE STARS for sure.  The Dirty Po Boy ($6) had some heat in the sauce, tempered by a fresh slaw and tomato with delicious little fried shrimps.
Two potentially gushy sliders, Dirty Yankee left and a Dirty Po Boy

We all shared a Classic Mac & Cheese ($4) - a deal for the size of the serving - good, no surprises, peppery - it wasn't baked but it didn't get gluey as it cooled. We ate it all.
OK Mac & Cheese, this was a good dish to share

I had an Arugula Side Salad ($4) - sort of a Caesar, lemony, with tender bitter leaves, lots of parm, and light crunchy croutons. Next to that I took on The Hangover Slider ($5), topped with cheddar and bacon and their signature chipotle cream sauce, and a fried egg. The brioche bun, slightly sweet and toasty, lost the battle, and so did I, with egg dripping all over, the sandwich disintegrated as I daintily did my best to chow down without wearing it back to work, but OMG it was good. Slippery, salty, and totally tasty, no doubt even better if you've had a few too many the night before.
The Hangover Slider and an Arugula Side Salad

Slidin' Dirty is noisy, the music is funky, and the vibe is friendly and hip. Ten beers on tap, five from good ol' NYS. Next time I will wear my jeans, plan on a brewski, and ask for extra napkins, AFTER work, so I don't have to try so hard to be perty at Slidin' Dirty.
Tryin' to be perty at Slidin' Dirty

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Magic of Manicotti: Tesoro Restaurant

I love this time of year. Magic is in the air.

So is the smell of roast pork and wood smoke, and little white fluffy things that fall from the sky. After a cold afternoon in Altamont, exploring the charming downtown during the Annual Victorian Holiday Celebration, eating all the free cookies I could find, begging for roast pork samples at Mio Vino, buying a raffle ticket at the Altamont Free Library, and doing a little shopping, Cookie and I buzzed back towards town and an early dinner at Tesoro Italian Restaurant (located in another attractive strip mall in Guilderland, NY).
Brightly lit, attractive exterior in 20 Western Mall
The restaurant is actually quite lovely, and the staff gracious. We sat at the bar and each enjoyed a glass of wine - Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc for me ($9.50/glass, overpriced, but it also has magic), and Kendall Jackson Chardonnay for my friend ($9.00/glass, ditto). Okay, we had more than one, but that's another story...
Early on it was quiet except for a party in the back room full of lively jokesters

Comfortable bar - they do a brisk takeout business
Cookie went for the Calamari Fritti app ($9.50) - a generous serving of tender battered squid served with a boatload of delicious marinara. It needed a bit of salt, but that was easily remedied. I've never met anything fritti that wasn't a magic moment and a guilty pleasure at the same time.
Calamari Fritti - lots of crispy fried bites

A simple salad with house Italian started my meal off right. I forgot to take a picture - one cherry tomato, one slice of cuke, shredded carrot, canned black olive slices, and really fresh chopped Romaine - it was just the right size, nice dressing, predictable but still enchanting.

I went for the Manicotti with Marinara ($15.95). Perfect al dente pasta sheets wrapped around sweet creamy fresh ricotta filling, with a delicious bright marinara on top. It wasn't baked, no mozz on top, no parm at the table, merely combined on the plate and served simple and hot. I watched the wine disappear, again, and my dinner. EXCELLENT ENTREE. I ate the whole thing...........

After, just like magic!!!
Manicotti, like Christmas, is magic and has superpowers. It's also warm and comforting and rich, but at the same time zesty.

Just like me.

Happy Holidays!!!  xxx Zena, Goddess of Fire

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Royal Treatment at The Palace - Phoenicians of Albany

I put on my crown, grabbed my sword and my scepter, and entered the Palace along with my knave Onion. All were at my service with grace and smiles, welcoming me inside. I looked around and I approved. 
The sign is small and hard to see - The Palace is in another scenic strip mall on Fuller Rd. between Railroad Ave. and Warehouse Row

Then I ate.

"The Palace" has plenty of promise - Phoenicians (formerly on Central Avenue in Colonie) is just one part, still offering their wonderful Lebanese fare. The space is enormous - still under construction but open -  it will soon include a banquet space for 300! Casual, colorful, yet cavernous - with partitioning it could become much more intimate as this newly combined Mediterranean marketplace unfolds. There are promises of a baklava bar, an Italian deli and a Kosher deli coming soon. And a wine bar??? Oh, and did I mention the jewelry store (also once on Central) is in there too? You can buy me something pretty while you wait for your meal. It's just a suggestion, anyway.
The main dining area - there is table service

Now a coffee bar until they get their license - soon to be the Wine Bar
I love the cozy room in front - a great place to relax and enjoy your morning joe and watch the peasants through the large plate glass windows commute to work down Fuller Road. It's kind of a Starbucks room full of comfy chairs - throw in some good coffee and free WiFi and we're all set. They are offering what looks like standard breakfast fare from 7:00 to 11:00 a.m., which is interesting - that Med theme is lost there, but who knows. With so many possibilities I'm pretty sure what works stays and what doesn't will get dumped the moat where it belongs.
Coffee lounge 
Knave Onion and I did take-out for the Goddess' Ladies. I went for a Meza Sampler, which wasn't quite on the menu but was on the old one, and they were happy to put it together for me. I love their hummus (best in the city!): smooth, creamy, just the right hit of salt and garlic with lovely slightly sweet homemade pita. The pita alone is the most amazing pita I've ever had - what a wonderful addition to their offerings. The baba ghanouj was also fab - fresh eggplant and a hit of lemon, royally delicious. The tabouleh salad was sans bulgur and oniony and lettucey, but very fresh with a hit of vinegar. Even the stuffed grape leaf was amazing, with a nice mush factor. Finally a surprise of moujadara - lentils and rice, savory and satisfying. En garde - an excellent foil to the rest of the plate!!! 

The current menu is all wraps as the space is still under development but there are goodies to be had, like this Meza Sampler ($12.99)

Hummus to go, $5.99

And do try the falafal - a bit salty but the texture is perfect, mildly spiced, crunchy on the outside, smooth inside, like me. 

Falafel Appetizer, $5.99
Falafel Wrap, $7.99 - this was a deal!

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Monday, November 21, 2016

Zena Gets Spicey at Dharani Southern Indian Restaurant

I like hot spicy food, and hot spicy men, but when they are too hot and spicy and I risk farting fireballs life quickly gets dangerous for mortals and zombies alike.

That's why the gods created Mango Lasse, FYI.
Dharani, in another scenic strip mall in Guilderland, NY
Dharani South Indian Restaurant is one of many that are part of the Altamount Restaurant Group - a small chain - with locations across the U.S., including another future site planned in Latham.  The menu clearly sets apart the vegetarian from the non-veg - which is wonderful, with plenty of appetizers, snacks and breads, curries, biryani, tandoori, and Indo-Chinese dishes to choose from.

I can't say much good about the decor: I like the linen and it's spacious but stark, with all the dining space dedicated to simple seating and tables - no plants or barriers or booths or art on the walls or decorations or flowers or candles - to me feels a bit too wide open and less than intimate, but that too might shift with time. 

Linen is lovely but the space is very utilitarian otherwise
We started with the Samosa (3/$6.99), stuffed with peas and potatoes and spice - wow! these were very peppery, with a shatteringly crispy crust, sprinkled with salt. It was a lovely plate, and I appreciated the cabbage to help cut the heat.
Big crispy peppery samosa

Chilli Chicken Appetizer made my lips tingle
The Chilli Chicken appetizer ($11.99) was a large plate of small battered bites blanketed with a serious fire, a touch of sweet, red onions and peppers. Both dishes left me blowing hot air, lips tingling. I'm no candyass, but I needed a bit of yogurt or something to cut through the heat at this point, so I ordered that Mango Lasse ($2.49), then dipped into the curries.
Lasse saved the mortals and zombies from fireballs

Peshawari Naan ($4.99)
The Shrimp Varutha ($15.99) boasted lime juice and onion and coconut cream (very southern), but all we tasted was fiery hot spice (chili!!!), and the shrimps were small and not exactly plentiful. The Lamb Vindaloo ($15.99) was excellent, more of a ragu than I'm used to, with a few potatoes, boneless meat (mostly tender). At this point I had to blow my nose: my tongue was numb and on fire. Moreso than usual, anyway, for a Fire Goddess. Next time I'll plan to order Mild, not Medium - Medium was SO spicy we all had to cut the food with rice and naan - but the food was still delicious. A little color to the rice would also have been nice.

You will need the rice if you order Medium..... Lamb Vindaloo (above) and Shrimp Varutha Curry
The prices seem a bit high, so next time I'll watch for that promise of a buffet. They have this huge area set aside and as yet no information except "Mega Sunday Buffet Second Sunday of Every Month". I understand a lunch buffet ($10.99) is coming. Personally, I love buffets - I get to try lots of things in small amounts and balance the spicy with other (milder) flavors and find out what I like.

The buffet is HUGE and holds much promise. 
Being the patient, cool, all-knowing all-seeing Goddess of Fire that I am I know that they will just get better. And busier.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

P.S. At this point, our Guilderland location has only been open for a week or two, so though they have a liquor license the bar is still under construction (though water will be your friend), and the grill isn't working yet. FYI.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Heaven is as hot as hell: Restaurant Navona

I found heaven on earth, and it's located on New Scotland Avenue in Albany, NY. And it's as hot as hell. Hot, like in baby, this place is HOT!!!  Smoke. Flames. Fire. Ash. Heat. Pizza. Beer. I looked around when I came in and I didn't see any other gods, but it was still early.

The pearly gates
The menu is limited but has real depth, much of which is taken to new heights by a sexy wood fired oven. Roasted bone marrow, charred eggplant, roasted veg, fire blistered tomatoes, and fire-kissed kale. Fire-kissed kale??? Baby, that's smokin'.

The back gets busy on weekends 

Heaven is where the god/s hang out, but it was still early
Our server brought us some charred, warm crusty bread flavored with olive oil and pepper and plated with fresh ricotta, liberally sprinkled with salt crunchies - too salty perhaps, but it was, all in all, feverishly good.
Crusty bread with ricotta
So let's cool it off just a bit. I went for a pint of Flower Power IPA ($7.50) out of Ithaca, NY. OK, yes, I had two by the end of the meal. Slightly cloudy, very hoppy and fresh, a nice pairing with their classic Spicy Sausage and Fennel Pizza ($13). Not too spicy (actually I would have liked it a bit spicier), with the perfect amount of toppings, cheese with real pull, and tender chewy yeasty pillowy crust charred to perfection on the bottom. It was a generous pizza for one, so I saved back half for later. Red hot delicious.

Spicy Sausage and Fennel Pizza - love those bubbly black bits!
Mistress of the Hounds also started cool, with the Autumn Salad ($12), loving the slightly bitter, incredibly fresh baby arugula with bits of gorgonzola, crunchy toasted almonds and crispy apples, tossed with a slightly sweet cider vinaigrette, plated with cranberry jam. We decided someone in the kitchen loves salad. Anyway, from there she tucked into a modest serving of Sea Scallops ($24), one of many daily specials, with roasted slices of sweet fingerling potatoes and brussels sprouts. A glass of Malbec (Bodega Sottano, Argentina, 2013, $9) was a rich treat.

Fifteen craft beers on tap, 8 from NY, plus Nine Pin cider - supreme bliss - as well as a thoughtful wine selection all available by the glass (except the bubblies) - all under $32/bottle so very reasonably priced as well.

A few service problems were followed up with heartfelt apologies and a bit of gratis on the bill. Excellent customer service all the way around, lovely decor - classy, light woods, comfortable lighting, clean - and excellent food licked with fire and creativity. What's not to love???


Love, Zena, Goddess of Fire

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Tomo Asian Bistro: Putting the "zen" back in Zena

Patience and Zena: officially now in the same sentence, but only this once.

Deep breath as I entered Tomo, located in another attractive strip mall in Slingerlands. It smelled good. The place was busy, and got busier, a surprise early on a Tuesday night. Once seated I gingerly turned over a few grungy menus and ordered hot tea, which came quickly but not with the sugar and a spoon I had asked for. I waited to see our server again, and I asked again, and waited, and asked again, and finally got what I wanted but by now the tea was lukewarm, but then again, so was the next refill. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr...............

Close your eyes. Center your ch'i.
Busy sushi chefs
The Hot and Sour Soup ($2.50) was rich and delicious, with lots of variety (mushrooms, tofu, scallions, etc.) and a gentle hit of heat - it a generous serving at that. It thought it needed more sour so I asked for extra vinegar (eventually) when I got the server's attention. I'm sure by this time she must have found me quite annoying (she was busy working the whole dining room solo) - most people do, but I digress. Two deep breaths. Focus on the soup.

Regular Rolls special with miniature wasabi

Now where was I. Right - food. On Tuesday you get (3) rolls for $10 - a real deal. The Spicy Salmon, California and Tuna rolls ended up being a lot of food, and mostly very tasty. True to form, I took three deep breaths, impatient to eat more, and had to ask for more wasabi, once I had someone's attention, but it came quickly. Zena loves heat, FYI.

Thai Curry with Beef - colorful!

FF loved her Thai Curry with Beef ($11) - baby corn, mushrooms, snow peas, carrots, water chestnuts - nice variety, nice sauce - nice balance of heat and sweet and salty. Jaguar enjoyed her Panang Curry with Beef ($12), a different curry, lots of broccoli, peppers, and coconut. Both were presented in large bowls - very attractive. So we recommend the curries - brown rice is available for an extra $1, which we appreciated.
Panang Curry with Beef - lots o' broccoli
Tomo seems popular with the locals, and is very affordable. I think the food is really good. Sigh -  (three deep breaths) -  the waitress was lovely and patient, unlike yours truly, but she could definitely have used a hand. That is NOT enough, though, to keep me away next time I'm in the food desert known as Slingerlands. (:

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Gratis pineapple chunks finish the meal 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Who needs a hug??? - Dinner at Il Faro

Eating great food and writing good reviews about really nice restaurants where you have absolutely no complaints is so sickly sweet I'm still reeling from this sugar high of good will and happiness and I'm now SO ready to hug everyone and genuinely love them too.
Outdoor dining in better weather - parking lot on the right
 Yes, this is really Zena. Now back off.

OK where was I. Oh, right - Il Faro, located just a couple of miles from downtown Albany in Menands, is small and family run, with experienced NYC Chef and Co-owner Christian LoFaro working side by side with General Manager and Co-owner Jennifer Lamoreaux, who is running the house. The space is open, dark, romantic and softly lit, a contrast to the artless exterior. Coming inside is like being enveloped in warmth - a perfect spot on a cold October night.
Romantic setting
The menu is traditional, appealing to most of what the locals find good about Italian food - better yet, it's in the neighborhood. But be prepared to enjoy your dinner just a bit more than you expect - no bottled dressings and cheap wine and rollatini still cold in the middle. The food is stepped up a notch - or I'd say two.  Think veal and pasta and calamari and lasagna, but with fresh pasta and really good bread and thoughtful ingredients and careful preparation, there to embrace your palate and your soul. The house white, Stella Pinot Grigio is only $5 at happy hour, even in the dining room. The hugs get longer with glass number 2.  
A simple salad to start
Red and I started with a House Salad that could have fed three ($8) - soft greens, red onion, tomatoes and olives tossed with a light vinaigrette - I could do without the canned black olives but it was simple and tasty. This, along with fresh warm rolls that were salty and sweet and yeasty with just a bit of chew was a lovely beginning. 
Fresh, warm yeasty rolls
Red almost polished off a generous serving of Penne Vodka ($14) - a dish I can almost always hate - but this one was smooth and rich and light on the tomato. Others can be harsh, or underseasoned - this offering was like the perfect cuddle - love in every bite. 
Penne Vodka - servers brought grated parm to the table
Yes, I had the Chicken Parm ($17) (now you KNOW it's really me!). A bit heavy on the sauce, but the taste of the breading came through with its parmy saltiness, lovely crisp edges, just the right amount of cheese on top - excellent. The red sauce was clingy but not thick, the tomato was bright but mellowed with cooking. The side of house-made capellini was amazing (with just a bit of water on the plate). I almost destroyed it as I clasped it to my bosom, slurping up every bite - delicious.
Chicken Parm. Yep, that's Zena alright!

A lovely dining area, Sinatra on low, attentive service, lots of promise - it wasn't busy on a Wednesday. Zena says Get out to Menands, eat more Italian, and getta hug!  

Oh, and congrats on one year in business - wishing you many, many more.

Love, Zena, Goddess of Fire

P.S. Yes, I have my soft side. Mostly it's inside but it's there, trust me.