Sunday, March 30, 2014

Creo Restaurant

Do our eyes deceive us? Banh mi AND poutine under one roof? The two dishes we live and die for were both on the lunch menu at Creo Restaurant. It's like they were meant just for us. I was always intimidated by Creo, thinking it was too stuffy to be part of our dining scene.  We frequent Mr. Fuji Sushi and The Meat House on a regular basis but for for some reason or another, we always bypassed Creo at Stuvesant Plaza. Setting our prejudices aside, we set off for to try a new experience. The menu had our names written all over it; how could we pass up on two of our favorite meals?

Our search for poutine in the Capital Region has led us to various interpretations, from The City Beer Hall to Capital City Gastropub, with little success in replicating the flavors and squeakiness of this French Canadian delicacy. They both deserve honorable mentions for use of quality ingredients but the magic is in a certain cheese curd and execution of the dish. It's hard to impress this Canadian-Vietnamese. Thus far, the only place that has been able to perfect the ratio of unmelted cheese curd to crispy fries and gravy has been The Montreal Poutine food truck. The cheese curd I look for has a particular flavor and texture that local cheddar curds here just don't have. Oddly enough, Montreal Poutine truck aside, the only other cheese curd with the exact flavor profile can be found frozen in Trader Joe's version of poutine but the fries and gravy that come with it are atrocious. It's difficult to describe what I'm looking for exactly in terms of flavor but it's almost a cross between mozzarella and cheddar and the texture and squeak of halloumi. So how does Creo's poutine fare? 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Olde English Pub Brunch

Brunch for us has been a streak of disappointments lately. It was only natural to be skeptical of a new experience. Bombers isn't known for any culinary feats unless you count bbq tofu fries. But brunch at its sister restaurant, The Olde English Pub, more than surprised us. J has been looking forward to trying The Albany Distilling Co.'s barrel-aged rum since our tour back in December. We saw a Facebook post for a drink special at OE and had to stop by. We're big fans of Crabbie's ginger beer so a Dark 'n Stormy was right up our alley. It did not disappoint. J picked up on some smoky notes but we both loved how smooth the rum was and it really is a perfect pairing with spicy ginger beer. 

We're late risers so lucky for us brunch hours are from 11am to 3pm. The menu is small but covers your basic sweet and savory classics and some unique twists like a sweet potato and black bean breakfast burrito and Banana Bread Ale whipped cream on french toast. But how could we pass on something like the Breakfast Burger. You all know how much we love The Hollow Burger, so naturally we had high expectations for OE's version made with chuck and short rib meat, avocado, and fried egg. Even though the burger came out more toward the medium side rather than rare, the meat still tasted delicious. The burger was well- seasoned and the creaminess from the avocado and richness from the runny egg yolk made everything come together. They even seasoned the egg! Even the shoe string fries were delicious; perfectly crispy and salted. If it weren't for the The Hollow Burger's habanero ketchup, we'd say this burger is a pretty good contender for our top 518 favorites. 

As for me, the specials board was calling my name. My go to brunch item is usually eggs benedict but housemade pastrami hash with hollandaise sauce with an over easy egg sounded just as good. It was a combination of my favorite benedict elements with another breakfast favorite. The potatoes had a nice crisp and the hollandaise was tangy and creamy, just the way it's suppose to be. I can't tell you how much I appreciate a well-seasoned dish. The pastrami was remeniscent of Montreal smoked meat and while a bit tough, had great flavor. Plus I finally got toast that wasn't stale nor heavily buttered! What a bonus that it was rye toast too, one of my favorites. 

The brunch fairies have finally smiled down upon us. The Olde English Pub is more than the little house with beer in it. We've got to get down here more often. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Reel Seafood Co.

Our one and only visit to Reel Seafood Co. was more than three years ago. Our meals weren't terrible; they were just forgettable. Ever since J mastered the art of shucking oysters, our outings for seafood has been limited to trips to fin-your fishmonger for our own stay-at-home feasts. But with recent news of renovations, new chef and owner, and renewed efforts to source sustainable seafood and local seasonal ingredients, we were willing to jump back on board Reel Seafood Co. We don't typically go out on Friday nights but it was a chance for us to observe a busy dinner service. 

Although it felt a bit like being inside an alien spaceship, neon glow aside, the "new" Reel Seafood Co. certainly looks sleek and modern with updated furniture, a wall of aquariums, and bright blue lighting.  We were excited to try the "new and improved" menu. We're more than capable of prepping our own raw bar and escargots has been on J's culinary bucket list for awhile now, so in we dove with snails as an appetizer. This was our first time trying escargots and we didn't quite know what to expect. What we got were underseasoned, butter-soaked bites. The little rounds of puff pastry didn't add much flavor or texture, and I didn't really care for them. A few shakes of salt helped a bit but the herbed-butter was overwhelming. As for the escargots, J liked them more than I did. They were a bit too earthy-flavored for my taste but the texture wasn't as bad as I was expecting; it's almost like eating a chewy mussel or clam. I would try escargots again but prepared differently. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Good Night Noodle Preview

Pho with Chicken Meatball
This isn't the pho noodle soup I grew up with but I'm more than ok with it. It's all pho a good cause. Get it?! Forgive the pho pun. More on the soup. By day it's Good Morning Cafe, and by night owner Nancy Holzman and chef/business partner Linh Sullins are working to flip the same space into Good Night Noodle. Both under one roof, the businesses share a common objective: to bring good, healthy food using locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients with a give-back philosophy. You can read more about their mission and story at Indiegogo. 

Organic, grassfed, and gluten-free are not part of my Vietnamese vocabulary but it does translate into a delicious bowl of guilt-free pho soup. I found a kindred spirit in Linh as we chatted about our Vietnamese backgrounds and how she came about developing her recipe. With Good Morning Cafe's philosophy in mind, Linh wanted to echo those local and sustainable ingredients in her Vietnamese dishes while providing a healthier alternative. That means no MSG, no bouillon, and no fish sauce in the cooking process (gasp! more on that later). During a recent blogger preview, we were served bowls of chicken pho with samples of beef broth and veggie broth. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Mingle's Kimchi Fries

It all started with a single tweet:

Then our fairy godmothers at All Over Albany, derryX, and Mingle Albany stepped in 
and made our culinary dreams come true

The end result is a unique cultural mashup whose introduction to the Capital Region has long been overdue. Kimchi fries have been on the urban food truck scene for awhile now and my only encounter with these loaded fries has been through my television screen as I salivate over the creation. Lo and behold, one and half days later, Mingle came through with a version of their own: "Our Kimchi Fries begin with skin on & baked fries layered with bulgokee chicken & beef, pork belly and kimchi layered with Havarti from The Cheese Traveler."

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Vietnamese Pandan Waffles

No, that isn't a St. Patty's Day waffle. Ever since getting a wafflemaker for Christmas, J and I have been experimenting with an array of sweet and savory waffle creations. Ranging from Korean Pajeon Waffles to Cheddar Bacon Scallion Waffles and the ultimate Liege Waffle, the possibilities have been endless. It was only up until recently that I discovered the use of our waffle iron to make Vietnamese desserts. 

As I've gotten older, I've come to appreciate my culture and its food more and am slowly incorporating Vietnamese recipes into my own repertoire.  My mom tipped me onto a Vietnamese cooking show on YouTube and the recipe below is based on Bep Nha Ta Nau which translate to My Home Kitchen. I came across the waffle recipe from this channel. When my parents came for a recent visit, I knew pandan waffles was something I wanted to make with my mom.

Are pandan waffles a fairly new Vietnamese creation? Mom never came across them during her childhood but we're no strangers to the classic Vietnamese flavors of pandan and coconut milk. No pandas were harmed in the making of pandan extract. Pandan is a floral green grass abundantly used in Vietnamese cooking and has a striking green color when blended. It has a unique fragrant and herby flavor that is subtly sweet and almost vanilla-like. It's most commonly paired with coconut milk in desserts and the marriage of these ingredients is magical. Here's a loose translation of the recipe: