Friday, September 28, 2012

Weekend Drink Pick: Long Trail's Double White Imperial White Ale

Yes, he is this creepy in real life.
According to weather forecasts, today will be my first day in the Capital Region in which the temperature won't make it into the 60s.  More than any other season, summer is often distinct in how swiftly it's whisked away, how quickly it becomes a distant memory, something to pine for.  Some of this might be related to our recollections--recent or otherwise, as student or teacher--of returning to school in late summer.

I mentioned briefly in my first post for this blog that this is the first year in several that I'm not teaching any classes come fall.  And if you count grad school for the three years prior, this is the first September since 2003 in which I won't be ensconced somewhere within the walls of academia.  And that, along with the lovely weather we've enjoyed for much of this month, has me feeling somewhat adrift.  Where am I?  When is it?

Earlier this week I was thinking of doing a "passing of summer" post centered around the fine soft-serve ice cream at On the Farm (logical, considering how many times I've enjoyed it since moving here).  But in many ways it feels more appropriate to mourn summer's passing with a beer review for Long Trail's Double White Imperial Belgian-Style White Ale.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

When Bad Service Trumps Good Food: A Conundrum with Ali Baba in Troy

A take-home dessert from Ali Baba
I want it to be all about the food.

I'll work hard to make it that way.  I'll make excuses for lousy service, pretend the wait for the food only seemed that long.  I am aware that such behavior on my part can be annoying.  But I can't help it--usually.

Ali Baba, a Turkish restaurant in Troy that serves some very good food, pushed me over that edge the last time I dined there.  This was our second visit; the first was shortly after moving here, when K and I drove her mother down that row of dilapidated housing on 15th Street.  Our expectations were modest considering the neighborhood and that I got myself flashed at and hollered at by a Troy cop while parking (for not signaling early enough; I assume the officer noticed my North Carolina plates).  Yet the lavash bread and the phenomenal ajuka to go with it all made the trip more than worthwhile.  My future mother-in-law, who knows her food, was still talking about it weeks after returning to Las Vegas.

So when K's Turkish friend, F, visited from Boston a few weeks ago, of course we had to take her to Ali Baba.  But while the food still mostly stood up to the tastes of our first visit, the service was so off-putting that K and I aren't likely to return anytime soon.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Korean in the Capital Region: Kinnaree in Albany and Kabuki in Latham

There's something inherently fun about the dining experience at a proper Korean restaurant.  Proper, at least in my mind, starts with a generous serving of banchan, which are basically a variety of side dishes/appetizers served prior to your entree and included in the price of your meal.

An example of banchan
It's a safe bet that there will be some kimchi--the item most associated with Korean cuisine--as part of your banchan.  And that's a good thing; I'll often forget just how much I love that fermented cabbage until I have some put right in front of me.  But there are a lot (trust me: click on that link) of different dishes that can be part of banchan, which is part of the fun.  Sharing them, you can basically have a complete meal--from the mung beans to the always-delicious sweet soy-braised potatoes--if the restaurant dishes out eight or more small plates of banchan. The best we ever had was in Springfield, MO, of all places, at a restaurant named Soo's, where the banchan was plentiful and delicious and the servers would come by and ask if you wanted seconds.

So when trying out a pair of Korean restaurants (or, I suppose, to put it properly, Asian-fusion restaurants serving Korean food) in the Albany area, Kabuki Korean Restaurant in the Peter Harris Plaza in Latham, and Kinnaree Asian Restaurant on Lark Street in downtown Albany, it's hard not to start rating the experience based on the quantity and quality of the banchan.

But in this case, the banchan wasn't so special at either restaurant; it was the entrees that allowed one to stand clearly above the other.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Weekend Drink Pick: Smuttynose "Finestkind" IPA (with a bit on the Montague Bookmill)

The IPA is a beer style for all seasons, really, but sometimes I wonder what season it's best suited for.  Some of the heavier, higher-ABV versions can be nice and warming on a chilly spring or fall night.  But maybe just because I drank more IPAs this summer than ever before, I think the IPA is a brilliant alternative to some of the lighter beers associated with steamy afternoons and stuffy nights: the wheat beers, the Belgian whites.

This especially goes for a pleasantly, but not overly-hoppy, IPA with some citrusy overtones, like the Smuttynose "Finestkind" IPA, which I tried for the first time in early August on tap at the Montague Bookmill's Lady Killigrew Cafe, and for the second time by bottle earlier this week (where it still fit nicely against the backdrop of cooler temperatures).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Home and Away: The Splendid Table's Yam Tamarind Curry vs. Shanghai Grill's Thai Red Curry

I've mentioned previously how I was kind of sheltered as an eater for the first, oh, two-thirds of my life.  Stuffed cabbage was exotic.  Enchiladas were super-exciting.  This was small-town life in the '80s and '90s, and I didn't know anything different.

Just like my first bite of legit pastrami was a come-to-Jesus moment, so too was my first taste of Thai curry.  I remember it pretty clearly.  This was eight years ago to the month: I was in Pittsburgh, my first couple weeks of grad school, wandering through Oakland with a few of my new "colleagues," if you will, before attending a reading.  It started raining, and I, the foolish boy from California, was woefully unprepared.  I ended up sloshing my way into Lulu's Noodles, a cheap and decent Asian fusion place in between the Pitt and Carnegie Mellon campuses.

It was the perfect time to try a bowl of curry for the first time, and I seriously remembered thinking this was the best thing I'd ever eaten.  You know how some websites have "What's your favorite food?" as a security question?  Yeah, I had a new answer.  I assumed back then, and a long time after, that curry was impossibly complicated and difficult to make.

I was wrong.  Whether you're making the curry paste yourself or getting a good one out of a jar, it's not really that hard.  Which is why it feels particularly egregious when you get a lousy one out at a restaurant.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Cheese Tour Addendum, or The Orange Ball

I mentioned this briefly in my first Cheese Tour post, but K and I weren't the only ones to come away with something splendid from our visits to the farms last weekend.  Mr. P (aka Peanut Aloysius J---) may not have partaken in our cheese eating (he prefers the low-fat cheddar sticks or string cheese from Trader Joe's), but he did get a new toy from the fine folks at 3-Corner Field Farm

And oh, what a toy it is.  Made from the wool from their lovely sheep on the farm, I knew this would have the smell, the taste, the texture that would drive Peanut wild.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Weekend Drink Pick: Woodchuck Private Reserve Belgian White Hard Cider

One of the best things about moving to a new place--and actually staying in that place a while--is having the little eccentricities of the area unfold gradually before you.  Now, I don't know that I'll ever spend enough time in Vermont to learn what it's really like up there, but I get the sense that it's a place with some real character.

The most recent example of that for me?  Reading on the website for Woodchuck Hard Cider that the name of the brand came about because "the Vermontiest of Vermonters are sometimes called 'woodchucks,'" and that seemed a fitting name for their small-batch, Vermont-based cider.  Two things: 1) I kind of like the idea of being called a woodchuck, and 2) What does it mean to be Vermonty?

We'll see if I ever learn the answer to that question, but for now I'm enjoying some of the fine products Vermont has to offer: to go with some of the Vermont-based cheese I picked up from the Washington County Cheese Tour, I drank a bottle of the Woodchuck cider.  And not just any cider of theirs, but a bottle of their "ultra-limited edition" Private Reserve Belgian White.  Sounds awfully special, eh? 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Lunch Box Special: Sushi Tei in Guilderland

It hasn't even been two months since we moved here, but K and I are already thinking about where we might live next.  Still in the Albany area--we're happy to finally settle into a place--but maybe not in an apartment complex like the one we're in.  It'd be nice to have a yard of our own again; I know Mr. P misses all the acquaintances he made, from the comfort of his condo, while in the Appalachians last year: the groundhogs, the chipmunks, the possums.  Those were the days!

But it also struck me while thinking about this piece that we've now found a second restaurant in the Guilderland area that we enjoyed, Sushi Tei (after we were already impressed by Nosh Delicatessen).  So I was thinking, even though we're dealing with a particularly small sample size here: is it outlandish to take into account a neighborhood's dining options when considering moving there?  I admit, this sounds like one of those crazy demands someone might pose for the realtor on House Hunters, but it is nice to have good options nearby.

Sushi Tei, at least as a lunch spot, fits that bill. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Washington County Cheese Tour, Part II: The Cheese

Yes, that's a lot of cheese.  And we only made it to three farms!  But this post, as The Essex Green sang, isn't about farm life.  I got to that yesterday.  This post is all about the cheese (and yogurt, and cheese crisps).

Three of us went on the Washington County Cheese Tour together on Saturday, visiting 3-Corner Field Farm, Consider Bardwell Farm, and Sweet Spring Farm.  It's hard not to leave with a lot of product when stopping by places on the tour; you often meet the cheesemaker, see the animals (maybe even pet them), and taste the cheeses--and they're good! 

Now that I've tried all the products we came home with, I want to do a little review of them.  There's so much good stuff to be had from these cheese farms; no matter your personal preferences when it comes to cheese, you'll definitely find something to like.

And much of the cheese can be purchased online through the farms' websites and at regional farmers markets, so you don't have to wait for the next Cheese Tour to try some.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Washington County Cheese Tour, Part I: The Farms

In his essay "The Case for Short Words," Richard Lederer writes,
When you speak and write, there is no law that says you have to use big words. Short words are as good as long ones, and short, old words—like sun and grass and home—are best of all. A lot of small words, more than you might think, can meet your needs with a strength, grace, and charm that large words do not have.
This passage, and the sentiment from the entire essay, seems relevant because, in thinking about the three farms I visited on Saturday as part of the Washington County Cheese Tour, I'm taken back to that old freshman writing problem of feeling the urge to use too-large words to get my point across.  How else will people understand just how splendiferous the vistas are at 3-Corner Field Farm?  Or how resplendent the fields at Consider Bardwell Farm once the sun broke through?

I'll see what I can do without all those syllables.  Some pictures might help my case (though that's not a tip for any freshman comp. students out there!)--especially ones featuring adorable farm animals.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Pair of Unibroue: Reviewing Chambly Noire and Trois Pistoles

I remember the first time I saw the name Unibroue.  This was back in Pittsburgh, at a place called D's Six Pax and Dogz, where I'd be spending way too much time now if I still lived in that city.  Then, I didn't know what I had in my backyard; instead I just laughed and made very bad jokes about the name "Unibroue." 

But these days, no more jokes.  Only love.  I discovered Unibroue for real a few years back when Trader Joe's was selling a Taster Pack, featuring 12 oz. singles of four different Unibroue beers.  I've only ever seen it in the Columbus, OH, store, but apparently it's out there at others, which gives me hope that one day we'll see it here in Albany.  Even so, you can find 750 ML bottles of La Fin du Monde at TJ's here, and good beer stores will also sell four packs of single varieties, which is how I got my hands on Trois Pistoles and the less-frequently-found Chambly Noire.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Home and Away: El Loco's Chicken Mole Negro and Trader Joe's Chicken in Red Mole

Trader Joe's Chicken in Red Mole: Tastes better than it looks

 Note: This is the first in a series in which I'll be comparing food I've eaten out in restaurants to similar dishes at home.  Usually, it'll be a comparison to something I've made; in this case, it's between a restaurant dish and a frozen entree.  

 Agree?  Disagree?  Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

There are times when I wish I were a more spontaneous person.  I think it's always been in my nature to be a little nervous, a little squirrelly, when it comes to making decisions.  Just give me a few minutes to think about it!

But this part of my disposition has only increased in recent years, probably corresponding with the increase in reviews at our disposal on the internet.  Moving here and there so much over the past decade has contributed; not since we were in grad school in Pittsburgh did K and I really have go-to restaurants that we could head to on a whim.  These days, this is pretty much how our conversations go when we decide we're in the mood to go out for a meal:

Me: What do you feel like?
Her: I don't know.  ...?
Me: Hmm.  Okay.  (Opens laptop, flips to Yelp.)

10 minutes later.

Me: This place has some good reviews.
Her: Oh, I was just looking at those.
Me: Daniel B. likes it.  That's a good sign.
Her: Oooooookay.  I guess that works.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Basement Discovery: Rick Bayless's Pollo en Escabeche

It's been 25 years since the publication of Mexican food authority Rick Bayless's first book, Authentic Mexican.  I was pretty young back in 1987, subsisting mostly on grilled cheese sandwiches, but I recall that the Northern California town I was growing up in was hardly a hot-bed of interesting food options.  It's not that way anymore.  And in so many other ways, the changes to our food-consuming culture have been swift, not so unlike the advances made in technology over that time.

But have we really seen significant jumps in how we think of and consume Mexican cuisine in America in that time?  In the introduction to Authentic Mexican, Bayless writes, "Most Americans don't even know well-prepared Mexican-American foods.  Their unhappy experience is often limited to some mass-produced takeoff on the Southwest Traditional at a Chi Chi's or El Torito's or whatever the regional chain restaurant is called.  Mexican-American food seems to...have become a near-laughable caricature created by financially-savvy businessmen-cum-restaurateurs who saw the profits in beans and rice and margaritas."

In the last quarter century, I don't think that's changed so much.  Chi-Chi's might have gone bankrupt in the U.S. in 2004, but not for lack of demand.  Taco Bell may be trying to class up their joints by bringing celebrity chef Lorena Garcia into the fold, but it's not like their food is any more authentically Mexican (cilantro: so exotic!)--or, apparently, any better.  More cities are featuring hole-in-the-wall authentic Mexican eateries and groceries, like La Mexicana in Schenectady, but while these places often feature excellent tacos, their menus are generally pretty limited.  More often than not, enjoying food at many Mexican restaurants is related to the amount of margaritas you drink during the meal.