Tuesday, December 9, 2014

First Taste of Slidin' Dirty's New Restaurant in Troy

I find myself very rarely eating at food trucks.  I just never happen to be near these trucks, and seeking them out at festivals, where I'd end up standing in line for a while only to then have to eat my meal standing up, doesn't ever sound particularly appealing.  But that's my problem.

Among Capital Region-area food trucks, Slidin' Dirty was always one near the top of my radar.  The slider menu was somewhat enticing, the side of avocado fries particularly intriguing.

So when I heard they were opening an actual restaurant on First Street in Troy, I knew it wouldn't be long before I'd finally try their food.  While I think there's promise in this restaurant, my first impression--albeit fairly soon after their opening and at a somewhat busy time--is that there are some things Slidin' Dirty needs to address in order to make sure their customers head home satisfied.  Here are ten observations:

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Namu Korean BBQ in Colonie Exceeds Expectations

It's been quite some time since I posted here on the blog. There are a number of reasons for this, but one of the main ones is that I was tired of writing negative reviews and then having to justify such an opinion. I wanted instead to be able to find something legitimately good that I could rave about here.

That place has just opened within the past month in a nondescript strip mall off of Central Ave. in Colonie: Namu Korean BBQ. I've been hopeful about a few different Korean restaurants here in the Albany area, starting with Kinnaree, which, after that first experience, slipped to mediocre or worse. There was also Kabuki in Latham--mentioned in that previous post--which became Seoul, which we've tried multiple times and don't intend to bother with again. Overpriced, underspiced, and so on. Not worth writing about. And yes, there's Mingle, which does make some good food, but with the fusion concept and prices of their dishes, it doesn't fit in the same category.

So when K and I heard about Namu opening in early November, we approached it with a combination of hopefulness and trepidation. We're both clearly fans of Korean cuisine and, having tasted it done well in locales as diverse as southwest Missouri and northern New Jersey, hold it to a high standard.

Namu exceeded our expectations. Multiple visits in its first month open yielded a variety of delicious, authentic food at reasonable prices in a surprisingly hip and comfortable atmosphere.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Trying the new Sadudee Thai Restaurant in Watervliet

I understand the feelings of many area residents that we don't exactly need more Thai restaurants here in the Capital Region, but the fact that a new one just opened up in my neck of the woods is pretty exciting.  I've only been to Sadudee Thai Restaurant in Watervliet once so far, and would prefer to check out more of the menu before writing about it, but judging from the emptiness of the space on a recent Saturday night, I figure it's flying under the radar and could use some good word of mouth.

Because this one experience showed that Sadudee might be right near the top of the list of area Thai restaurants.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Thoughts on food criticism in Albany--a response to a Jonathan Gold interview

I like Jonathan Gold.  Of course, right?  He's a Pulitzer Prize winner, one of the best food critics (or food writers in general) in America.  I've been familiar with his work for some time because I went to college in Los Angeles at a time when he was writing for the L.A. Weekly paper; even though I was far from a "foodie" back then, I do remember reading many of his pieces with interest and hitting up a couple of his finds, like some dive taco joint in Santa Monica that was, unsurprisingly, fantastic.

More than anything, I regret spending four years in that city and not following his leads on a weekly basis, particularly because I can't foresee myself living there again.

But I mention him here because I just came across an interview he did with Eater, and some of his comments got me thinking about the role of food criticism in a city like Albany and my (albeit small) role in that.  Compared to other cities I've lived in or near, Albany is a place in which tough criticism doesn't flourish.  There are reasons for that, though; Gold hit on some of them, and after I parse his comments, I want to elaborate a bit since I've been pondering this issue lately while mostly taking a little break from my own food writing.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Burnt Ends and More at Bar-b-qsa in Saratoga

When I stepped down from doing the Eat This articles for All Over Albany in March, necessitated by the busyness of teaching full time and preparing for a wedding (not to mention trying to slim down for it), I still had a couple restaurants on my list of hopefuls that I hadn't yet gotten to try.

Fortunately, I still have this blog (even if it has been in hibernation lately), so I can still talk about PJ's Bar-b-qsa in Saratoga, which might now be my favorite barbecue joint in the area, thanks especially to an old favorite of mine, burnt ends.

You don't see burnt ends on the menu at every barbecue restaurant, and to many the name wouldn't exactly be enticing.  They're a regional specialty, a staple of Kansas City barbecue, and after spending two years in that area, I was thrilled to see them on the menu at Bar-b-qsa.  Tasting them--and a number of other items at this casual hangout on Rt. 9 just north of Exit 13N on the Northway--was even more exciting.

Monday, March 17, 2014

St. Paddy's Day IPA Roundup: Bell's Hopslam, Brooklyn Blast!, Smuttynose Noonan Black IPA, and Victory DirtWolf

None of these beers are green.  Some of them have some green on the labels.  Is that enough to make this post acceptable for St. Patrick's Day?

It's not like I've ever really subscribed to the notion that one should drink green beer on St. Patrick's Day--I can't recall ever having a green beer, though that might speak more to my social life than anything else.

So for anyone not doing the bar scene today, but still looking to enjoy a nice beer at home, here are a few options, all types of IPAs, all at least good and worthy of trying.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Offensively Bad "New Orleans" Cuisine at Nanola Restaurant in Malta

A few weeks ago I thought I had a brilliant idea for an Eat This article: feature a classic New Orleans dish from the new Nanola restaurant and bar in Malta on Fat Tuesday.  My upcoming piece was to be posted on March 4, the start of Mardi Gras, the perfect day to publish such an article.  I'd been wanting to get out to try out Nanola and figured this was as good an excuse as any.

There were several options that appealed to us, any of which would have been fine to focus on for an Eat This piece.  We ordered the alligator bites as an appetizer, I had the jambalaya for my entree, while K got an oyster po' boy.  And there was the promise of beignets for dessert.

But just as I wrote about a couple weeks ago with my visit to The Capital, my hopes of eating something worth writing about were dashed.  While the failure at The Capital was rooted in brutally bad execution, the issues at Nanola run even deeper.  Not only were the dishes we ordered at Nanola executed poorly, but they were also failures conceptually.  Just wait until you see the picture of my "jambalaya" for proof.

It was so bad, I have to say, that when it came time to think about dessert, we passed on those beignets.  Here--with another first-hand report from K--are the reasons why we came to that decision.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Disappointing Meal at The Capital American Eatery and Lounge

The process of discovery has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing my Eat This! articles for All Over Albany.  Being fairly new to the area, it's given extra incentive to searching the region for good dishes--sometimes at new restaurants, sometimes at restaurants that are just new to me.

But the flip side of this is that there are a lot of restaurants I've checked out that turn out to be mediocre or worse.  Often, these experiences don't warrant mentioning (well, maybe if I had more free time to work on my blog they would)--but when an experience is particularly notable for all the wrong reasons, I think it's worth discussing here.

And that's the case with our recent visit to The Capital American Eatery & Lounge in downtown Albany.  Sure, there was some good to be had--I certainly liked the pint of the Ithaca Flower Power IPA I had--but K and I found such frustration with our food that in a first, she's going to be contributing her own extensive account of what was wrong with her dish.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

My Many Frustrations with Capital Region Coffee Shops

From Rev Coffee House in Hudson
Back in Boone, NC, where K and I lived for a year before moving up here to the Capital Region, there's a coffee shop called Espresso News that we were particularly fond of.  I've been thinking of Espresso News lately because I've been fairly underwhelmed by our local coffee shops.

What was it about Espresso News?  Part of the appeal was the shop's location; it was a five minute walk down the hill from where we lived.  Where we are now, in the hinterlands of the Latham/Watervliet suburbs, there's no choice but to get in a car.

But beyond that, Espresso News was a place that exuded the vibe of Boone itself: relaxed, an open space for everyone from students to professors to business professionals to tourists.  Downstairs was a simple, open room with many tables and outlets, while upstairs--remodeled to include a wine/beer/dessert bar--there were more tables and a number of cushioned chairs.  The coffee, roasted in-house, was excellent.

That's not to say it was perfect.  Sometimes it was impossible to find a seat because it was so convenient and popular; sometimes there were--how's a polite way to put this?--outdoorsy hipsters of a certain Boone brand who smelled as if they hadn't bathed in a week.  This could be...distracting.  But maybe this was part of its charm; you never knew what you'd see there.  Once we saw a pig on a leash in the outdoor seating area.

Ultimately, Espresso News was just the kind of spot K and I like for a coffee shop.  It was usually a great spot for us to settle in for a few hours and work.  As writers and teachers we both find this to be the most important aspect in a coffee shop.  The place was open late every night, so being, uh, not morning people, we didn't have to worry about the shop closing while we were on a roll.

I understand that there are some places in the Albany area that are making some good coffee and espresso drinks, but as I said, that's not the most important aspect of a coffee shop for us.  Here I want to explore some of the problems I've found in in these area coffee shops, and highlight a place we found in Hudson that we really like (except that it's almost an hour away).

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Glimpse into the Holy Land of Beer, aka Vermont

Heady Topper and Ms. Pac-Man, before The Alchemist brewery closed to the public

A couple weeks ago I detailed the eating portion of my first weekend trip to Vermont, a stroll through Burlington and nearby parts.  Very tasty.  But to be honest, I was looking forward to the beer even more than the food on this visit.  Thankfully, as I mentioned in that last post, there are a number of good restaurants that also serve some damn good beer on tap.

It's interesting: judging from the places K and I visited in Burlington--and the many others I read about online--it seems like a good beer list is just par for the course in restaurants, at least in this part of Vermont.  And why not?  There are so many fantastic local breweries, with residents who seem to appreciate good beer and visitors who are making trips to get those beers, that it only makes good business sense for these restaurants to have good beer on tap.

But coming from the Capital Region, where I've found it challenging to find good beer at restaurants that serve anything beyond standard (or worse) pub fare, it was a real pleasure to find some great beers in restaurants that offered some interesting (and tasty) food items on their menu.  But I've already talked about the food; here I want to talk about the beer--including my first taste of an offering from Hill Farmstead and my successful trip to The Alchemist's brewery to pick up some Heady Topper, just a short time before they closed to the public.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A long post about two days of eating in and around Burlington, Vermont

I've lived here in the Albany area for more than a year now, so I was getting more and more eager to get up to Vermont.  Fortunately, K and I got the opportunity this fall and spent a couple days near Burlington.  It was, of course, the perfect time of year, the fall foliage in full color, the temperatures just right.

I've always subscribed to the belief that Vermont is some kind of uniquely beautiful and special place, and my only fear was having that notion shaken.  Now, it's not like I got the experience of living there, but in our few days around the state (we also headed down to Brattleboro for a literary festival), I found a place that possessed all the physical beauty I could have hoped for, a place where good food and good beer was the norm, and where the arts and creativity seem to be both thriving and embraced, both in the small and large towns of the state.

While I could go on and on about all of that, here I'll focus on the food and beer, especially around the Burlington area.  It was pretty crowded with all the tourists out to look at leaves and some UVM alumni event, but that didn't do much to diminish the experience.  I only wish we had more time to explore: to try out more restaurants, to drink more beer, to hike a little, to take a ferry across Lake Champlain.  But hey, we're close enough--another visit wouldn't be too hard.

Here are some food highlights from this first visit--with a recap of my beer adventures to come soon.

Monday, January 13, 2014

More from Northeast Dumplings House

My latest Eat This article for All Over Albany covers the Spiced Potato with Hot Pepper and Special Pancakes at Northeast Dumplings House. That was a surprising, delicious dish--different than anything I'd previously encountered, and something I'm looking forward to having again.

But it wasn't just those potatoes K and I enjoyed when we visited Northeast Dumplings House. Everything we had was good, and that's not something that can be said for most places we visit, let alone restaurants that just opened two months ago. And this is the kind of little restaurant that seems like a real coup for Albany; to find a restaurant dealing in the cuisine of such an unrepresented area as northeastern China, I figured I'd have to make a trip to Chinatown or Flushing--not Central Avenue.

So with that in mind--and because Northeast Dumplings House is an unknown to most at this time--I figured I'd give an even deeper look into the food served at the restaurant.