Wednesday, November 6, 2013

My Grandmother's Ravioli: Not Your Average Food Show

I've been meaning to write about food-related TV programs since I started this blog, but here we are, more than a year after I started the thing, and still nothing on that front.

Until now.  I'm happy to say that I was inspired to finally write about a TV show because I found one--new to me, though now in its second season--that I've truly fallen for: My Grandmother's Ravioli, hosted by Mo Rocca, currently airing both new episodes and reruns on Wednesday nights on the Cooking Channel.

I knew Rocca from his Daily Show days and his appearances on NPR's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!, which seems a bit of an unusual path to food TV.  Nevertheless, he slides seamlessly into this role.

My Grandmother's Ravioli is a show that's full of both humor and heart.  The premise is that Rocca "learns to cook and discover[s] treasured family recipes and stories from grandparents in their kitchens across the country."  This certainly is a different concept than what we see across the Food Network and Cooking Channel's typical programming (they're both Scripps-owned and share shows and talent), which is an initial plus.  It doesn't feature some loud-mouth host pigging out in restaurants, there isn't some creepy and seemingly fake "stake-out" going on, and nobody is competing with anyone else.

It's just Rocca and a rotating cast of elderly folks who, from what I've seen so far, are sharp, sweet, and laugh-out-loud funny.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Heavyweight Fast Food Burger Battle: In-N-Out vs. Shake Shack

I know it's just fast food, but I'll admit, I can be something of a snob when it comes to fast food burgers.

I've ranted about disappointing and overpriced local burgers on the blog before, I've dropped bits of praise for North Carolina chain Cook-Out, and I'm not shy to admit that as a California native the In-N-Out burger chain has always been tops for me.

The issue with In-N-Out is that its locations are confined to California, Nevada, Texas, Arizona, and Utah.  And while I've been living in the eastern half of the country over the past decade, I haven't found myself able to make too many trips back home to the west very often.  This summer, though, K and I flew out to visit her family just outside Las Vegas and I made a quick trip north to see a few members of my family.  Of course getting my hands on some In-N-Out wasn't my top priority, but let's just say that I was pretty determined to make that happen at some point.

I did get to In-N-Out on that trip, and it was still as good as I remembered it--better in some ways, in fact.  But I also recently made a weekend jaunt down to New York City and got my first taste of Danny Meyer's praised and popular Shake Shack burger.  And I have to say, those were some good burgers, too.  In the end, my heart still rests with In-N-Out, though not fully because of the food itself.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


When the organizers of Chowderfest in Troy decided to hold the event in mid-October, I'm guessing part of the idea was that these cups of chowder would serve as a way to warm the attendees standing outside in the crisp fall air. Instead, here we were with yet another day with temperatures around the 70 degree mark.  I'm pretty sure no one's complaining about that, and it sure made for a nice day to wait in long lines in Riverfront Park.

This was my first Chowderfest, and it really was something to see how many people came out for this event--I saw figures estimating attendance at 20,000.  For those who haven't attended (you might be in the minority now), several area restaurants--this year 17--set up tents and cooked their own special version(s) of chowder for the event.  Four ounce cups chowder could be purchased with tickets (one ticket per cup of chowder), which were bought for $1 each prior to heading to the tents.

While it's a pretty fun concept--shown by both the crowd and the fact that this is the seventh year of the event--I also noticed some problems with the execution of Chowderfest that made attending it fairly frustrating.  Below I'll lay out some of those issues, and recap a handful of the chowders I tried this year.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Sampling of Sierra Nevada's Many Offerings

As a Northern California native, I always feel like I should be more of a Sierra Nevada guy.  The brewery, located in Chico, was one of the major brewers behind the craft beer surge of the past couple decades.  I remember in college hearing excitedly from a couple friends how Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was on tap at some nearby bars and restaurants, yet I just kind of ignored that information.  Beer sucked, at least in my narrow-minded point of view.

Eventually I learned otherwise, but it wasn't when I was in California, where Sierra Nevada is fairly ubiquitous.  Living primarily in the east and midwest since really discovering my love for good beer, I haven't often seen Sierra Nevada on tap in bars--if it is, it's usually the Pale Ale, which I fear I've kind of underrated or overlooked over the years--and when buying six packs or singles, I tend to go for more local beers or ones I deem, for whatever reason, more exciting than the Sierra Nevada available.

But this summer, that changed, in part thanks to my trip out to the west coast in June.  K's family had visited the Sierra Nevada brewery just prior to our visit to their home outside Las Vegas, and had generously saved a few bottles for me to try while out there in the desert.  Those, along with one I picked up at a Total Wine back home in Northern California, and one I grabbed shortly after I returned to Albany, made for a fine and wide-ranging sampling of some of Sierra Nevada's more unique beers.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What's in a name (and a logo)? The new Jugs and Mugs makes me wonder

First, the background: Steve Barnes ran a short piece in his Table Hopping blog last Friday discussing the concerns expressed by the city of Albany over the name and logo for the soon-to-open restaurant/bar called Jugs and Mugs, which will be located at 849 Madison Ave., just down the street from St. Rose.  The city apparently is worried that the provocative name and logo are harbingers of trouble--rowdy late night partying, that sort of thing.

That's all speculation.  I'm more concerned with the name and logo and what they represent for Jugs and Mugs in concert with the type of restaurant the chef and general manager, Chick Hawksley, is going for.  In the Table Hopping piece, Hawksley says, "This is not a college bar; things are not going to suddenly go crazy at 9 p.m."  Barnes goes on to say that the restaurant expects to feature compelling food--the kind that I say is missing from most pubs and casual restaurants in the Capital Region (in favor of unimaginative Sysco stylings)--including New Orleans shrimp, pork belly and manchego tacos, fried chicken, house-made corned beef.  None of it will be frozen, and the shot of chicken wings included in the article makes the food look promising.

So what's the problem?  I say this as a non-prude, someone who doesn't care that places like Hooters--or even Nite Moves--exist and are popular.  I may not frequent such places, but unless a place is bringing real problems to an area, I don't see a reason for the government to step in and stop it from opening or shut it down.  The problem is that the name and logo for Jugs and Mugs don't seem to jibe with the type of restaurant Hawksley is going for.  In one fell swoop, the restaurant has effectively eliminated a significant portion of their potential clientele.  And that just seems like bad business to me.

Friday, August 9, 2013

A West Coast Beer Sampling, featuring Deschutes Obsidian Stout, Port Brewing Mongo IPA, and Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine

As I go through everything I meant to write over the past two months but didn't find the time for, here's a post highlighting some of the best stuff that came back with me after a quick trip to the west coast earlier this summer: the beer.

It's kind of sad to think that, as a California boy, I didn't really get into craft beer until I was long gone from the state, and I've since discovered that there are some really great west coast beers that we don't have access to on the east coast.  I would have liked to have gotten my hands on some Pliny, but there wasn't any available in the areas I traversed--except for the Davis Beer Festival, where Russian River had a tent and was pouring out some Pliny the Elder.  I got a small taste, and yeah, it was very good, but I'd need a bottle to savor at home to really get a sense of how it compares to so many other great double IPAs out there.

But I can't really complain.  I got to try a ton of great beers at the festival, and the beers I was able to try while there--and bring back with me to New York--were varied and all quite good.  I can't talk about them all here (and I'll have a post coming soon highlighting a variety of just Sierra Nevada beers and another on saisons), so I'll pick the three that stood out to me the most.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Good Granola from Gatherer's

While I was up to my knees in papers (this seriously isn't much of an exaggeration) over the past month for a summer program I was teaching for at UAlbany, there was a campaign afoot that I nearly missed out on publicizing--the Kickstarter fund for Gatherer's Granola baked locally in Schenectady.

I learned about Gatherer's earlier this summer when they found my little blog and asked if I'd be willing to review their three granolas.  An offer for free granola?  That was an easy answer.  I'm a sucker for granola, though usually it comes from Trader Joe's or Target (on their Archer Farms label).  Or, if I'm especially lucky, homemade and neatly packaged as a Christmas gift from K.

I'll admit I like all those mentioned above, and K's still reigns as my favorite, but Gatherer's three different varieties--Chipmunk's Choice, Squirrel Bait, and Fox's Fancy--are creative and tasty, all while featuring high-quality ingredients.  And that's something I'd be willing to say even if Gatherer's hadn't sent me those three bags.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Going Local: Sampling the Fare at Ted's Fish Fry and Gus's Hot Dogs

I've mentioned before that we've lived in a lot of places over the past decade.  There are a lot of drawbacks to doing all that moving, but one of the fun aspects is getting a sense of local cuisine in several cities and towns.

Some of these are obvious: Pittsburgh's known for a number of local specialties, with the loaded sandwiches of Primanti Brothers being at the top of that list.  Of course we tried their sandwiches loaded with fries and coleslaw--and yeah, they were good, though I'd still prefer my fries on the side (and no coleslaw at all, sorry).  But some local traditions, like chipped ham, I don't think we ever sampled.  Probably not the biggest loss. 

In Ohio, we sought out some slightly interesting and disgusting nearby food institutions, and in Boone, NC, probably the most interesting regional "food" we found was the very popular "shrimp sauce" served and bottled at local hibachi restaurants.  Mayo-based and not at all shrimpy, I think it might have been an annoying import from Florida, not unlike the terrible-driving summer tourists heading to the mountains.

So after spending several months here in New York's Capital Region, I was pleased to find that there were some local delights we could try--specifically the area's unique take on fish fry and the Watervliet/Troy mini hot dogs.  We headed to these two places not only to sample some unique area specialties, but to get a brief glimpse into a city's or neighborhood's past, a look into restaurants that, for whatever reason, have been able to persist and succeed over the course of several generations when most of their peers fell off the landscape.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ala Shanghai, Latham's Gem; Red & Blue, Still a Ways to Go

I've had this post in the hopper for a while, but seeing the results of the Times Union's Best of 2013 poll, I was inspired to come back to it from a different angle.

You see, I was initially just going to write about how we tried out Red & Blue, the new Asian restaurant in Troy, and, like so many of our dining experiences in the area, were left underwhelmed.  But then I saw the Times Union poll results and realized that despite the good things people have written about Ala Shanghai, the excellent Chinese restaurant in Latham and my write-in vote for best restaurant, it clearly is still under the radar of many folks in the Capital Region.

It's not like Ala Shanghai really needs my praise or any poll victories; the place is consistently packed, and with the wasteland of restaurants that I'm surrounded by in the Latham/Watervliet area, we don't really need to be increase the fight for seats at one of the few decent-or-better restaurants in the area.

But before I get to that, and look at how Red & Blue stacked up to Ala Shanghai on our first visit, a few thoughts on the ridiculous Chinese/Japanese/Korean category in the Times Union's poll.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Bad Role Models

One of the hazards of doing a food and beer blog is that, through eating and thinking about food and beer all the time, it's kind of easy to develop a bit of pooch around the waist.  I know it's not good for me, and it's something I need to work on eradicating, but it sort of comes with the territory.

On the flip side, I also like to spend some of my free time watching sports.  Now, sitting to watch isn't exactly good for my waistline, but you'd think that watching athletes in prime physical condition run and skate across my TV screen would serve as visible motivation for me to get in better shape.  These guys could be considered role models, in a way.

I was a 13-year-old sports obsessed kid who read Sports Illustrated but didn't have cable TV when Charles Barkley made his famous role models remarks: "I'm not paid to be a role model.  I'm paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court."  I might have been naive or uninformed about a lot of things in my middle school days, but I'd heard the stories about Barkley--the bar fights, the spitting incident, the on-court fights (those were the best; I was really just a future hockey fan, as it turns out).   So his comments gave me something to think about.

Now, as an appropriately-jaded adult, I don't really have any delusions about athletes being role models--not for their off-the-playing-surface behavior.  But on-field, it's hard not to be impressed.  The current athlete is in better shape than ever before in sporting history: lean and muscular, ripped and toned, fast and strong.  But then I look at my baseball team, the San Francisco Giants, winners of two of the last three World Series, and what do I see?

Bellies.  Big, round, bouncy bellies.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Unsolicited Advice for Japanica Grill in Troy

Hearing last week that the new Japanica Grill in Troy was serving actual ramen, K and I didn't want to wait around and see what others had to say about this place--we wanted to just get in there and try it for ourselves.

Here's a not-so-secret bit of information: we both really like ramen.  Many people may associate ramen with poor students living off their pocket change packages of Top Ramen.  But real ramen can be a delicious treat, the varieties of broth capturing a wide range of flavors, the noodles at once both delicate and chewy.  We've tried some of the great ramen available in little shops in New York City, and can even attest to the quality of some packaged ramen available in Asian groceries and even some supermarkets.

So the ramen is what drew us into Japanica Grill.  We expected others to be checking out the new restaurant, but when we visited last week for dinner, there were no other diners present (another pair came in while we ate).  The location is tucked away on 6th Avenue on the ground level of the new City Station multi-development project, which has a few additional storefronts but mostly will serve as graduate housing for RPI students.

Maybe the construction on 6th Ave. is hurting business for now at Japanica, but I'm afraid that's not the only problem we noticed on our initial visit.  While they are doing a few things well, there are problems we encountered that make our return doubtful, and, I think, the overall success of the restaurant questionable.

I may have no business dispensing advice on how to make a restaurant successful, but I can't help it: a place like Japanica Grill has so much potential, but I'm afraid it's all going to be squandered.  So here are some thoughts we had after our initial meal there and how things can be improved.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Trader Joe's Snack Attack: Dried Kimchi and Inner Peas

Considering my post on the Kale Chips from Trader Joe's has--by far--brought the most hits to my blog, I figured I should do a few more of these posts.  Not that I need to be gorging on snacks all the time, but I do like that TJ's comes out with some new, interesting items every once in a while, and these snacks aren't always that bad for you.

But can these snacks be the complete package, with good flavor and good value on top of the not-terrible nutritional content?

I tried Trader Joe's Dried Kimchi and their "Trader Joe's Contemplates Inner Peas" to find out--and came to the conclusion that one of these snacks satisfies more than the other.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Eating Boston, Part II: Burritos, Beer, Brick Oven Pizza--and Toscanini's for Dessert

Harvard Bridge into Cambridge

While it was fun exploring the many corners of Chinatown during our recent trip to Boston, circumstance dictated that we move out of that comfort zone for a few other meals during our trip.  That's not a bad thing, even if it meant not getting one of my beloved Chinese roast ducks.  And though I haven't seen them hanging in windows, at least I know I can get roast duck here in Albany.

After three nights in Back Bay, we relocated for the weekend to Le Meridien in Cambridge.  This hotel was smaller, not as nice as the Revere, but conveniently located just off of Massachusetts Ave. near MIT.  One regret we have is that we didn't make it to Baraka Cafe in Cambridge; we'd walked from the T station north of Harvard all the way down Mass Ave. on Saturday and had to stop for sustenance before we got as far as Baraka Cafe.  That meant not having room for some good Moroccan food.  Next time, eh?

But when you try as much good food as we did over the course of the week, you can't really complain.  Here are the rest of the details of our eating adventures in Boston:

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Eating Boston, Part I: Chinatown

It's been impossible not to have the city of Boston and its people on the mind the past couple weeks.  I don't need to rehash everything that went down there, and I wasn't more personally affected by the bombings than the average person.

But just a month before the attacks, K and I were in Boston, walking along Boylston between our hotel and the Hynes Convention Center where the AWP Conference was being held.  I remember walking past the library, the Marathon Sports store, in front of which these bombings occurred, and still get such an awful feeling about what happened there--how such an innocent spot could be so suddenly transformed into a war zone.  It's unreal to think about, and I can't imagine what residents of Boston, or Watertown, or anyone more directly connected to the attacks, must feel after it all.

My memories of Boston are, as usual, fond--it's a city I've loved every time I've visited over the years.  The conference?  That drives me crazy, being surrounded by more than 10,000 writers and academics and wanna-bes and nutcases (though admittedly I probably fall into more than one of those categories).  It was nice, though, so see a few people from the writing community that we know, attend a fine reading and talk with Richard Russo and Amy Bloom, and in general just enjoy the city and its food.

Yes, the food.  We ate lots of it, skipping out on much of the conference to enjoy ourselves, and my goal is to recap this part of the trip, because it was pretty memorable.  Enough to cover two blog posts.  Here, then, is part one, in which I detail our adventures around Boston's Chinatown neighborhood.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Yes, but... (or, I eat at Juicy Burgers and am sent on another rant about value)

It's funny.  I'm a big burger guy, but I haven't found myself talking about them much on the blog.  And for a while, I don't think I even ate many around town after moving here.  One at City Beer Hall, one at Five Guys.

But then I had one at Ruby Tuesday, and it was good.  I'm not one to advocate chain restaurants, typically try to avoid them, but I can appreciate quality and value when I get it.  And for $9.99, Ruby Tuesday offered a properly-cooked "handcrafted burger" with two sides (I chose mashed cauliflower and grilled string beans from an extensive list).  Service was good, the Sam Adams Alpine Spring beer wasn't bad, and all in all K and I left as a couple of well-fed, satisfied customers.

Since then, I also finally got out to Guilderland to try a cheeseburger I'd read a bunch of good things about, the one from from Juicy Burgers.  I won't deny that Juicy Burgers can make a tasty burger, but my feelings after eating there are complicated and leave me wanting to dig a little deeper into the whole idea of "cheap eats" in this area, and why I think that concept is flawed on so many levels.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Why I Like Healthy Living Market in Saratoga

I'm eager for the day (year?) to arrive when Whole Foods finally opens its doors in the Colonie Center.  But until then, I'm happy that a similar type of market has emerged at the Wilton Mall in Saratoga: Healthy Living Market

From where we reside, Healthy Living Market's not exactly convenient--it reminds me of when we lived in Ohio and would drive about 40 minutes to Akron and pick up stuff at Mustard Seed Market.  We'd always try to make a day of it, shop and work in a cafe and walk/hike on a trail that wouldn't leave us too sweaty for the rest of the day, and I imagine that might be what we do once in a while with Healthy Living Market.

Upon our first visit there, we were also reminded a lot of a similar market, Earth Fare, which was about a 10-15 minute walk from where we lived in North Carolina last year.  I sure miss that convenience, I'll admit: taking a leisurely stroll around the curvy, hilly roads of our neighborhood, and then stopping by Earth Fare for some cheese, snacks, or prepared foods.  Sure, we had to then basically climb a mountain with our bags in tow to get home, but it worked out well and limited how much we could buy in one trip.

But enough on that; this post isn't about nostalgia for Boone--I'm saving that for another day--it's about the many little things about Healthy Living Market that make it a fun place to stop when in the area.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

In Need of Some Pancakes to Go with that Maple Syrup

So I've had maple syrup on my mind a lot lately.  I interviewed a couple local sugarmakers for my recent maple syrup article for All Over Albany, which I recommend reading if you haven't already not just because I wrote it, but because these two guys I talked to were so generous with their time and had a ton of interesting stuff to say.

I not only talked to these maple syrup experts, but I also read a little about sugaring so I didn't come off as a complete rube when it came to the process and science of it all.  And when it was over, I'd restocked my pantry with a nice jug of Grade A medium amber maple syrup from Bulson Road Natural Sweeteners (this is the product made and sold by Mark Cipperly of Capital Agway).

I was ready to try that syrup, and while there certainly are ways in which you can use syrup that don't involve breakfast, for me there's no better way to enjoy it than on pancakes.  And that's especially the case with the best pancake recipe I've ever tried, one K introduced me to and which comes from a somewhat surprising source: Bruce Paltrow, the late film and television producer and father of actress Gwyneth. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Battle Double IPA: Firestone Walker Double Jack vs. Mission Shipwrecked vs. Lagunitas Sucks

In the article I wrote for All Over Albany about a month ago, a sort of "most wanted" list of beers for the Capital Region, I ended up leaning heavily on the Double IPA as a prized type of beer.  From Bell's Hopslam to Russian River's Pliny the Elder, many of the top-ranked beers out there (but not available here) fall into the Double IPA category. 

And for good reason.  These beers take regular IPAs--always popular in their own right--up another level.  Bigger hop profile, higher ABV--I get the sense that the top craft brewers in the country use this style as a sort of measuring stick against each other.  And it's not just about how bitter they can make a beer, or how strong; it's a question of how to include these elements while making a complex, drinkable beer.

So after all that time spent thinking about Double IPAs while researching the article, I couldn't help but pick up a few to take home.  And after I had one, I thought, Why not have these over a few nights and compare what each brewer is doing?  So that's what I did, and here are the results.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Maybe the Best Food Deal in the Capital Region: Lunch at Tara Kitchen in Schenectady

K and I recently spent parts of five days in Boston for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference (AWP), trying to avoid being sucked into a vortex of hipster creative writers.  That's part of the reason for my recent hiatus from blogging here.  The other part is the mutant virus I caught while there, maybe exacerbated by the wicked ugly blizzard, as I believe some might say in Boston, that we walked through for a few days.  It was a fun trip despite those nastier elements, and we managed to eat our way through the city in a pretty satisfying manner--I'll be documenting some of those adventures soon.

But one food-related regret from our time in Boston is that we didn't manage to get to Baraka Cafe in Cambridge, even though we spent our final night only blocks from the restaurant and had a high recommendation of the restaurant from K's brother, who went to college just a few blocks away.  We'd eaten already during a stroll down Mass Ave. and simply couldn't pack one more meal into our bellies.  A shame, though being only a few hours away from the city tempers some of that regret.  We'll eat there eventually.

Another thing that makes it easier to forget missing out on Baraka is the presence of Tara Kitchen in Schenectady.  I know this restaurant, which opened just about a year ago, has gotten some rave reviews and good publicity already, but I noticed it missing in Metroland's Readers Poll results.  And after having lunch there just once so far, I can say that its exclusion is at least a small shame.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Lunch at Mingle / Reevaluating Korean Choices and Dining Costs in Albany

Sometimes, K and I wonder if we get ourselves too excited by a restaurant on our first visit simply because they do a decent job with food that we haven't had--or had in decent form--for some time.  Revealing this excitement is a risk of reviewing a place after just one visit.

Fortunately, I can do whatever I please here on this little blog of mine, and I think it's only fair to return to restaurants and update how I find things with more context and more meals under my belt.  And that's what I'm doing today with Kinnaree Asian Restaurant, which I wrote about pretty glowingly back in September.

We've eaten there a couple times since that initial visit, and I'll get into those visits shortly.  But what also prompts this reevaluation of Korean food in Albany is the visit K and I paid to Mingle, a restaurant on Delaware Avenue in Albany that makes some seriously good Korean food to go with an interesting assortment of what might be called American cuisine.  That's what I mean in saying "more context."

I hate to say it, because they seem like nice folks at Kinnaree (and I'm sure we'll be back in time), but eating there within a couple weeks of having lunch at Mingle only served to amplify the differences in quality and execution at the two restaurants.  And it's funny--this change of heart comes right after Metroland published a laudatory review of Kinnaree (and less than a year after the Times-Union did the same, calling it "a bargain," which inspires some grumpiness from me at the end of this post).  I swear I'm not just trying to be contrary.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

More Stouts: Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro and Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout

A week after talking about a pair of very good stouts, I'm back with more.  And I'm not talking about these stouts.  Not this time, at least.  They are adorable, though, aren't they?

The stouts I want to talk about this week are a pair I've had before: the Left Hand Milk Stout (though never before in Nitro form) and Brooklyn's Black Chocolate Stout.  It's not like they're unusual or haven't been talked about by a million or so people on the internet before, but I don't care--they're both pretty great, and the Nitro looked so nice when poured that I just had to share some pictures.  Like the one above.

And take one look outside.  It is definitely still stout weather.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Some Thoughts on Guacamole (Including Trader Joe's Reduced Guilt Chunky Guacamole)

I've been on a big guacamole kick lately.  I'm not about to try to explain it--it's not like it's related to the Super Bowl (didn't have or attend a party, didn't even watch much of the game, yet we still had some guacamole).  I suppose you could say it's somehow a physiological thing--my body craving all that avocado fat here in the cold of my first Albany winter.

Whatever it is, I think we're done with all the guacamole binging for now.  It was a fun little ride, experimenting with levels of lime juice, jalapenos versus cayenne, that sort of thing.  But last week, just after we'd sworn we were done with guacamole for a while, we returned home from a trip to Trader Joe's and I discovered that K had picked up some of their Reduced Guilt Chunky Guacamole, made with Greek yogurt.  Color me intrigued.  (I'm not sure what color "intrigued" actually is--probably somewhere close to fuchsia on the Crayola spectrum.)

Before I get to yet another Trader Joe's product review, indulge me--or don't; scroll right down to the pertinent information--as I pontificate momentarily on guacamole.

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Dark and Strong Duo: Great Lakes Blackout Stout and Otter Creek Russian Imperial Stout

As I write this, the wind chill here in Albany is currently -3 degrees.  In other words, it's still the season for stouts--maybe imperial stouts, to be specific, with their warming, high-ABV booziness.

By this time next month maybe I'll be making my transition toward lighter beers, enjoying a few Irish red ales around St. Paddy's Day before that natural downswing toward IPAs and eventually witbiers and the like.  But I still have a few stouts left to help myself through this long final stretch of winter, and I'd be remiss to not make a couple recommendations from this batch.

When it comes to Russian Imperial Stouts, I use Bell's Expedition Stout as a measuring stick.  I finally had this beer on tap a year ago and was blown away by its complexities.  So, how do Great Lakes' Blackout Stout and Otter Creek's Russian Imperial Stout stand up to the Bell's?  Pretty well, I must say.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What Might Have Been for St. Joseph's and Ravens Head: Remembering Pittsburgh's Church Brew Works

Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh (left); St. Joseph's in Albany (right)
This might initially seem like a negative post, and in a way it is.  But positives first: Ravens Head Brewing, which had a lengthy dalliance with St. Joseph's Church in the Ten Broeck neighborhood of Albany, has settled on what seems like a great space for their brewery and restaurant--the Cohoes Armory.  So anyone looking forward to tasting Ravens Head's beers in a unique location in the Capital Region can rest easy--we might be able to do so before the end of this year.  And that's a great thing for this area.

But in my typical backwards way of doing things, I want to spend a little time thinking of what could have been, not what actually will be.  And I like to think I have some justification for doing so, in that I lived for a few years in Pittsburgh, where Church Brew Works operates a brewery/restaurant out of a gorgeous old church, and I can speak first hand to just how awesome an experience it was to go there for a meal and a beer.

Here's a disclaimer before I get in too deep: I'm new here, I don't know much about all the politics that govern the Albany area, and I can understand the concerns people had about St. Joseph's being turned into a brewery/restaurant considering what seems like a residential location.

That being said, if Ravens Head could have turned St. Joseph's into anything like what Pittsburgh has in Church Brew Works, we've missed out on something incredible here in Albany.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Dinner at Mizu Sushi in Schenectady: Maybe the Best Capital Region Meal We've Had Yet

It was a Saturday evening, maybe 5:30 or 6.  The restaurant itself is rather small--around five or six tables and a sushi bar.  One person came in to pick up a takeout order; another called and placed an order for delivery.  Other than that, we had the restaurant to ourselves.  And that, we realized as our meal progressed, was nothing less than a damn shame.

This was Mizu Sushi on State Street in Schenectady, a place that's easy to miss even if you're like Phil Mickelson in that Enbrel commercial and don't blink.  Let me lay it out for you: Mizu is just east of the Barnes & Noble on Balltown, on the right side of the road if you're headed toward Albany, in the Mohawk Plaza.  Even in that little strip mall, it's tucked all the way in the back.

There; now that I've explained how to get there, you have no excuse not to go.  And go you should, because Mizu serves up easily the best sushi we've tried in the Albany area.  I know--there are a lot of sushi places in this region.  Well, forget them.  (At least for a little while; some are pretty good.)  If you like fresh, expertly-cut, generous portions of sashimi, go to Mizu.  If you like tasty rolls (with a weekend special), go to Mizu.

Convinced yet?  They have a commercial.  Let's watch:

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

This is Good Stuff: Kettle Brand Limited-Batch Cheddar Beer Chips

It's a story reminiscent of the Before Sunrise and Before Sunset films; a tale of brief and fleeting embraces that shake your world.  Boy meets girl, they share a brief but meaningful day together--and then they run into each other again (in the sequel) several years later.

Only in my case, it's boy meets potato chip.  Don't judge.

It's been around five years since our first meeting, in a Giant Eagle supermarket (that's Jynt Iggle if you're in Pittsburgh) somewhere in Ohio--Canton or Wadsworth.  Those aren't the details that matter.  What matters is that I stumbled upon a bag of cheddar and beer flavored Kettle Chips.  It was love at first taste.  My whole perception of what a potato chip could be had been altered.

Soon after, I read that Kettle had retired the Cheddar Beer chips.  Just like that--one meeting, and then they were gone.

A few weeks ago, however, I had my own sequel.  I was wandering the aisles of the Wild Oats Market in Williamstown when I turned and spotted a basket of sale items.  In it were the Kettle Cheddar Beer Chips.  Only now, they were labeled as "limited-batch," part of a line of special 30th birthday releases from Kettle.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

21st Amendment Sneak Attack: Not Your Everyday Saison

I had a little discussion about Dogfish Head recently with the fuj in the comments section of FUSSYlittleBLOG.  I defended the brewery for some of their missteps with their more adventurous offerings because I think Dogfish Head has demonstrated their ability to do a really solid job with their standards: the 60/90/120 Minute IPAs, the Indian Brown Ale (one of my favorite brown ales), and their Punkin Ale (love it), to name just a few examples. 

So, go crazy, I say.  I love a little adventurousness from breweries or restaurants.  Is it always going to hit the mark?  Nah--and, to be honest, with some of the high prices of the beers Dogfish Head puts out, I'll pick up the bottle, read the description, and put it back without buying it (and then try to remember to read reviews once I get home).  Sometimes you'll get a beer like the Pearl Jam-tribute Faithfull Ale that just doesn't all come together; other times you'll get the Red & White, a strong witbier fermented with pinot noir juice that, at least the one time I had it on tap, blew me away with its complex layers of flavor.

With that in mind, I was drawn straight to 21st Amendment's Sneak Attack Saison when I saw it on tap at PUBLIC eat+drink in North Adams.  It may have been cold outside just after the new year in Western Massachusetts, not exactly saison weather, but A) I'm pretty much always up for a saison, and B) the description of the beer had me raising an eyebrow (in a good way).

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dinner and Beer at PUBLIC eat+drink in North Adams

A few days after a post in which I wished for more casual, interesting restaurants that also serve good beer here in the Capital Region, K and I made a trip out to the Berkshires.  We'd been offered a couple days at a timeshare up on Jiminy Peak, and since neither of us is a winter sport enthusiast, we didn't spend all day and night on the slopes; we had the time to drive down the mountain for a familiar meal in Pittsfield one night, and took the chance to visit North Adams on our second night, where we had dinner at PUBLIC eat+drink.

I was drawn to Public immediately after looking at their menu online in the days before our trip; this seemed like just the kind of place I wished we had more of in the Albany area.  There were a number of interesting, reasonably-priced dishes on the menu--from flatbreads to fish tacos to falafel--along with a rotating tap list certain to impress any serious beer drinker.  I was sold, and it didn't take much to convince K once she saw the menu and the many glowing reviews of the restaurant.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mission Chinese Food: So Hot (In More Ways Than One)

You know what I haven't done much of over the years?  Eaten out at hot, new, trendy restaurants.  I'm not talking about some falafel joint in Pittsburgh that all the cool kids would flock to.  I mean the kind of restaurant that's getting written about in magazines, reviewed by the Times.

Part of that is simply lack of opportunity--not enough time spent in the kinds of cities where hype machines rage endlessly.  But there are other explanations that offer a slightly deeper glimpse into what kind of person I really am:

1) I do not handle crowds or long lines particularly well.  These often must be negotiated if you want to get seated at some hot new spot.

2) It is hard to find a hotly-discussed new restaurant that is not fairly expensive; this would require spending large sums of money on a meal, which is something I generally avoid doing.

But in the weeks before K and I made a holiday trip to New York City, I don't know how many magazine articles or internet posts I read about Mission Chinese Food, the sort of fusion Chinese restaurant in the Lower East Side that opened up in May 2012.  Mission Chinese was started first in San Francisco by Oklahoma native Danny Bowien, and what struck me in all I read about the restaurant was the way Bowien takes many of the Chinese flavors and cooking traditions I know and love and puts a decidedly 21st century American-kid spin on them.

Kung Pao Pastrami?  Chongqing Chicken Wings?  Tingly Tea-Smoked Chicken?  I could go on and on--almost everything on the menu grabs you by the wrist in a devilish way, begging you to come closer.  Close enough to touch, close enough to smell all that chili oil and Szechuan pepper.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Surprising Sequel: Trader Joe's Providential Belgian-Style Golden Ale from Unibroue

For a few years now, I've eagerly anticipated the annual late fall arrival of the delicious and inexpensive Vintage Ale (brewed by Unibroue) at Trader Joe's.  It's hung around on the shelves a bit longer than usual this winter, with even a handful of bottles there on my last visit to the Albany store a couple weeks ago.  Still--the Vintage Ale is around for two months, if we're lucky.  Then it's always a matter of waiting until November for this great deal on that great beer.

But on that last visit to TJ's, I was in for a very pleasant surprise.  I had to do a double-take--there was a huge display of Vintage Ale in the store once again.  Except it wasn't Vintage Ale.  A closer look revealed a slightly different design on the brown, 750 mL bottle, and a new name: Trader Joe's Providential Belgian-Style Golden Ale.  What a divine little occurrence.

I took home just one bottle, popped the cork on New Year's Eve, and quickly determined I'd need to go back for more.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I'm Calling It "The Jimmer Lee"

To commemorate my first winter in the Capital Region, I wanted to honor a couple of local luminaries (and use up some leftover eggnog) in creating a splendid seasonal alcoholic drink, which I've christened "The Jimmer Lee."

The drink is named after A) Jimmer Fredette, the Glens Falls native who blew the minds of BYU basketball fans and is now riding the pine for my Sacramento Kings in the NBA, and B) Sandra Lee, fabulous Food Network host and girlfriend of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.  (And no, this post is not mean-spirited because I know that Sandy does have feelings.)

Let me get a few clarifications out of the way before we start mixing this drink:

1) I am aware that Jimmer is a Mormon and therefore creating a drink in his honor is somewhat sacrilege, and

2) My tablescape, as seen above, is woefully lacking and in no way honoring Ms. Lee's work (a crate of clementines is no centerpiece).

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Bacchus Wood Fired Pizza: Good Food and Good Beer

It's been five months since I moved to the Capital Region.  In that time of exploring the food and drink scene of the area, one thing I've been disappointed in is the lack of interesting, yet casual, restaurants that also serve good beer.  Something beyond standard pub fare.  This is one of the reasons why, with all due respect, I don't fully agree that this is a great beer town, but extended thoughts on that are best saved for another time. 

Now, I don't want to cast a final, blanket statement on these matters after being here for such a short time; there's a ton I have yet to discover, and would love recommendations on places to find both good food and good beer.  I know City Beer Hall is one strong option, and though I didn't agree in my experience, I've seen enough praise for The Merry Monk to trust that there is probably some solid food being served there.  People seem to like Brown's brewpub all right, and I'm looking forward to trying Druthers up in Saratoga.  But the common denominator with all these options just mentioned?  They're beer places first, food places second.

That's fine, and a check in the "good beer town" column.  But on a Saturday night when K and I wanted to A) get a good meal without driving into downtown, B) eat in relative peace (no bands, no crowds of loud folks at a bar), and C) still be able to drink some good beer, we were left feeling stumped as to any options that would satisfy all those criteria.

But then we stumbled upon Bacchus Wood Fired Pizza in Troy.