Sunday, September 28, 2014

2014 Downtown Albany Food Fight: MeatBall Edition

The Downtown Albany BID hosted a Meatball Food Fight competition featuring 15 local restaurants. Each establishment had their own spin on a meatball. Some bites were great, some were atrocious but overall a fun outing. Here's a rundown of our picks vs. the judge's picks




























The Hollow Bar + Kitchen (Best in Show; Best Vegetarian; Most Unique): The best bite of the afternoon goes to a non-meat entry. As major carnivores, this mozzarella stuffed veggie quinoa ball surprised us. It was the most flavorful and well-executed dish of the afternoon. The quinoa ball had a crisp exterior and the shavings of nutty asiago, tangy and garlicky marinara, and swirl of olive oil complemented the "meatball" very well. It was also the only vegetarian entry but the most flavorful and one of few "meatballs" we'd go back for second helpings of. 










Jack's Oyster House (Best in Show 2nd): It it weren't for the quinoa ball, this chicken and veal parmigiana meatball would be a top pick. Not only was it deep fried to crispy perfection but oozing with stuffed mozzarella. Topped with a generous spoonful of pomodoro sauce and parmesan, it was a great twist on a traditional meatball. Jack's Oyster House was overall People's Choice winner.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Taiwan Noodle



Until the Capital Region gets its own ramen joint, we'll settle for Taiwan Noodle. It's not the chew we're still dreaming about from our ramen trip to Portland's Pai Men Miyake but a bowl here is cheap, filling, and definitely better than the instant ramen packet sitting in your cupboard. At $6.95 it's a steal for this stewed pork belly bowl with bok choy and soy egg. The broth is light and clean, without being too heavy. It's not heavily spiced or as complex as a pho or ramen broth but a spoonful of this stuff is welcomed with the cooler weather rolling in.
For a different take on a noodle dish, try the spicy noodle bowl with meat. Think of it as the Taiwanese version of spaghetti bolognese. It was a little on the bland side this time but there's something about the textural contrast between the bean sprouts, noodles, and sweet and spicy meat sauce all mixed together that's enjoyable. Don't forget the small bowl of broth that comes on the side. I have no idea if you're suppose to slurp alongside or add to your noodles but a few spoonfuls of this oniony broth in between bites broke up some of the heat. 

Taiwan Noodle has a number of sharable small plates too. You'll find typical dim sum items like soup dumplings and scallion pancakes but I convinced J to try the pig ear. You gotta love weird textures to like this. My love of this stuff comes from my childhood memories of my mom making homemade headcheese with pig ears. Served cold, it's fatty, gelatinous, and slightly crunchy from the cartilage but packed with flavor from being stewed in five spice seasonings. If pig ear isn't your thing, there's also pork stomach and stewed pig feet. Don't be afraid of these cuts; they're some of the most delicious bites! 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Nine Pin Cider and Sides



The summer season flew by and we missed our chance to check out "Cider and Sliders" at Nine Pin Cider Works with Slidin' Dirty. Lucky for us it has reincarnated to "Cider and Sides" for the fall season featuring more local food trucks and expanded to every Thursday, Friday, Saturday in September and October starting at 4pm. 


Food truck rotations have so far included Slidin' Dirty, The Hungry Traveler, Capital Q Smokehouse and introducing the latest addition to the Capital Region food scene, Sweet Mama Mia. We love the chance to try something new!


We were skeptical of limited menu choices but one bite of this delicious pastrami sandwich turned us to converts. Thinly sliced cuts of smoky, well-seasoned meat was generously piled between two soft slices of rye topped with sauerkraut. Each bite was so flavorful and reminiscent of my beloved Montreal smoked meat. Fries were well-seasoned but could've used some more fry time. The pastrami far outshined the sides.

A flight of Nine Pin was the perfect pairing as we enjoyed our outdoor happy hour on the colorful loading dock. We've stopped by the tasting room a few times now and love the rotating variety but we always come back to our favorite, the Signature. It's dry and crisp without being cloyingly sweet and the refreshing apple flavor comes through very well. Blueberry apple cider comes in a second favorite. We're looking forward to tasting upcoming small batch flavors especially with apple season in full force! Not to mention more food truck eats! Keep up with the latest Cider and Slides news on Facebook

Thursday, September 11, 2014

currently snacking on...

...French breakfast radishes from the Farmers Market with a good smear of Kriemhild Meadow butter and Beekman 1802 hickory smoked salt. C'est bon!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Tara Kitchen



So I have to admit, I haven't managed to write anything in a while.  Well, yesterday I experienced a meal that basically forced me out of exile for this one post.  You see, even though I work in Schenectady we have yet to really dip our toes in the culinary scene of that area for whatever reason (probably the 30 cent toll.  Seriously thruway authority?  It could've been a quarter, but that'd be too simple so let's throw the extra nickel in cause why not). 


Well having tried almost all the treasures the Albany/Troy region has to offer and craving something new, we decided to visit Tara Kitchen, a Moroccan restaurant just off of Erie Blvd in downtown Schenectady.  Oh my goodness, was it the right decision at the right time.

I gather the food at Tara Kitchen isn't so much a meal as an experience, or maybe a journey.  We started with the spicy grilled shrimp, served with a freaking divine Harissa sauce that managed to be both super spicy and super flavorful.  I could barely feel my face for the fire, but I was in heaven with those first few bites. A few sips of honeyed mint green tea tamed the heat just long enough to dive in for more.


We also got the grilled fish seasoned with ras-el-hanout which you may think sounds like a boring sideshow to that shrimp, but somehow, despite lacking the assertiveness of the Harissa shrimp, it managed to be one of the best cooked and seasoned pieces of fish I've ever tasted and proudly stood beside its spicier costar. Then the main course arrived. My god.

I confess I have no prior experience with Moroccan food, so I have no basis by which to call this authentic.  Frankly, I also don't care.  I ordered a lamb tagine with saffron, preserved lemon, and something called smen (which made me chuckle because I am 10, but turned out to be a salted, fermented butter).  R ordered a chicken and artichoke hearts tagine with a spicy date sauce.  They came out in heavy ceramic pots still boiling from the stove, and continued boiling for several minutes.

R loved her dish, and I confess the date sauce was both creative and very well executed, hitting those spicy sweet notes that had so impressed us in their appetizers.  What stole my heart though was my lamb.  It was easily the most tender, fall apart in your mouth meat I have ever enjoyed.  The combination of butter, lamb, and preserved lemon somehow created this intensely rich but somehow incredibly refreshing experience.

As I said, eating at Tara Kitchen is a journey.  by the middle of the meal I was covered in sweat and dizzy, somehow exhausted but at the same time incredibly fulfilled.  A pilgrimage of meat.  Though it's a small and inconspicuous space, this is not casual dining.  This is a place to go if you're in need of a revelation.  I'm pretty sure I had visions while finishing the last forkfuls, but that may have been one of the secret ingredients.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Saigon Pearl

As the weather cools down, there's nothing more satisfying than a hot bowl of pho. A few weeks ago, we were dead set on satisfying a craving at Kim's but to our surprise, it was closed for renovations. One week later we saw an Instagram from Bread and Honey that they were testing banh mi bread for a restaurant called Saigon Pearl located at the very same location as the former Kim's Vietnamese. Timing was perfect this weekend as my parents were in town and Saigon Pearl was officially opened for business. 

The newly renovated space was a scene out of Restaurant Impossible, with modern furnishings and a vibrant glass water fountain upon entry. We weren't quite sure whether it was an upgrade for Kim's until we tasted the pho broth. Each Vietnamese chef has their own unique recipe and much to our dismay, the broth was not the same. Leave it to my mom to find out that it was indeed under new ownership. Seasonings and spices were weak and the soup lacked the distinctive flavors of classic pho. While there were generous cuts of eye round, brisket, and meatballs, the soup was missing that rich, beefy flavor we always look for. Granted it was only day two of a brand-new restaurant, we're chalking it up to grand opening kinks.

Even though my parents just brought down Montreal banh mi sandwiches for us, we were too curious to pass up on the $5 Saigon Pearl banh mi. As a grand opening special, sandwiches were two for $5 and we went with choices of Vietnamese meatballs and bbq pork. I suspected that the bread was not quite Bread and Honey's as it was too short for a banh mi, not crusty like the usual loaves, and the crumb too soft. It's no Montreal banh mi but the filling was spot on. Both were very flavorful and the meatball in tomato sauce (xiu mai) was a welcomed banh mi option around here. We have high hopes for bun thit nuong noodle bowls with these kinds of flavors. As for banh mi, while it's not the bread we were hoping for, it's a good enough option for Albany. At least the pork banh mi still had familiar flavors with a schmear of pate with crunchy pickled veggies. A little toasting could go a long way if they're sticking to this bread but perhaps the perfect bread is still in the works. 



Whether it was a complimentary grand opening treat or not, I liked the basket of fried shrimp chips (banh phong tom) a la chips and salsa at Mexican joints that came before our entrees. We also got complimentary fried egg rolls and these were on par in flavor to my mom's and were quite tasty. Although we're sad to see Kim's go, it's nice to see another Vietnamese option in the Capital Region. I think Albany is ready for real Vietnamese flavors without muting authentic flavors. Here's to hoping the restaurant makes some adjustments. 


Monday, August 25, 2014

Shwe Mandalay

Shwe Mandalay (Albany, NY) I love the opportunity to explore new flavors, especially when it's right here in Albany. Not too long ago we joined Albany Jane for a Burmese feast at Shwe Mandalay. What exactly is Burmese food? It's a unique blend of flavors with Indian and Chinese influence with its own distinct flavors. I've never encountered such unfamiliar but delicious tastes. It's definitely a new cuisine that I wanted to introduce my parents to on a return visit.






Bu Tee Kyaw: This Burmese squash dish is fried in a light and crispy batter and served with a tangy tamarind dipping sauce. It's a great contrast of textures reminiscent of zucchini fries and one of my favorites dishes. 




Southern Shan Sausage: A beef and pork sausage stuffed with sticky rice and vermicelli. Another return favorite, these were fun bites to share. The chewy, soft texture caught me off guard at first but the more I ate, the more I liked it. 




Moh Hinn Khar: Simply described as Burmese Favorite soup, it was enough to pique our interest. It's a savory and pungent (in a good way!) rice noodle fish soup with a mix of aromatic herbs, lemongrass, garlic, ginger and additions of hard boiled eggs and most uniquely fried chickpea fritters. Like most other dishes, the textural contrasts between the crispy fried bits with the rich broth was a delicious combo. Sadly this soup is only available Monday thru Wednesday only.