Sunday, February 23, 2014

La Mexicana Grocery & Restaurant

Between all the buzz around Lettucegate and the Times Union review, how could we not check out La Mexicana Grocery & Restaurant. Lettuce aside, what was really on our radar were the beef tongue tacos. J has become a pretty adventurous eater with recent introductions to chicken livers, pigs feet, and balut. I on the other hand am no stranger to offals; it's always been part of my culture growing up and it's fun sharing these experiences with J now. 

For the most part, a lot of our Mexican dining experiences take place at the family restaurant at Leon's up in Saratoga Springs. But not all Mexican dishes are made the same so our lunch trip didn't quite seem like we were cheating on Leon's. Don't expect a fine dining experience at La Mexicana; it's a run-of-the-mill joint in appearance but with down-home authentic Mexican flavors. The menu is small and simple and remarkably affordable. How can you pass up on $2 tacos?! At such a steal, J and I decided to go for a flight of six tacos--one of each kind--with a pork tamale for good measure (another steal at $2.50) accompanied by a glass each of horchata and tamarindo agua fresca (also $2 each!). Horchata is a specialty drink made with rice, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla; think iced chai latte. Tamarindo is made with tamarind (a pod-like fruit also used in Asian cuisine and a very familiar flavor to me). This light, refreshing sweet and sour drink was the perfect accompaniment to our tacos. I'd come back just to have a gallon of this stuff. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Umana Brunch

Neither two feet of snow nor snow emergency could stop us from Sunday brunch. It's been awhile since J and I have ventured out for a late weekend morning outing. Our last brunch trip to New World wasn't up to par to our norm so we decided to give Umana Restaurant and Wine Bar a go. Umana also happens to be open later than most brunch places (11:30am-3:30pm) and perfect for us since we usually get a later start to our day than most people. 

I drive by Umana almost everyday and have been intrigued by it since its renovation days. Umana's menu is inspired by global flavors and just what we needed to brighten our day from this dreary winter weather. Its brunch menu is small but spans many breakfast standards including fritatta, quiche, french toast and crepes all with an international twist. You'll find sweet fillings such as spiced mango chutney and cardamom honey sauce and savory ones like African spiced shrimp and salt cod in the egg dishes. Two brunch items stood out to us the most: the hash duet and pork belly omelette. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Saigon Spring

It's no surprise that J and I are pho-natics. While Kim's Vietnamese is usually our go to for pho noodle soup, Saigon Spring excels at other classic Vietnamese dishes. My parents weren't able to come down for Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, so I wasn't able to get my share of homemade traditional foods. I had a hankering for bun thit nuong (grilled pork with rice noodles) and they make the best version of this dish up in Clifton Park. The pork is a great balance of sweet and savory with fragrant flavors of lemongrass, fish sauce, and garlic and grillled til there's a nice fatty char. Nothing is more disappointing than dry, overcooked pork but here it is juicy and mouth-watering good. But at the last minute, I had a change of heart and decided to celebrate New Year's with something more decadent. 

Another favorite dish that I use to get as a kid but haven't had in ages was mi xao don aka crispy noodles. While this dish is mostly Chinese influenced, it is a popular dish at Vietnamese restaurants and would be a special occasion dish to order. What better way to celebrate a holiday that is shared among Vietnamese and Chinese cultures alike. Saigon Spring's version is a seafood medley called do bien xao xa made with a lemongrass sauce. A bed of crispy noodles is covered in an array of giant plump shrimp, scallops, and mussels sauteed in sweet and spicy sauce with hunks of peppers and onions. It's a messy dish as you try to maneuver getting shards of crispy noodles into your mouth but the sauce softens some of the noodles creating a fun mix of textures. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Cheese Traveler

For whatever reason, growing up in Canada the only kind of cheese that was around my house were wedges of Laughing Cow cheese spread. My parents didn't grow up with cheese products in Vietnam nor did they ever develop a taste for it here.  It wasn't until we moved Stateside that I got a taste for grilled cheese sandwiches.  As a kid I marveled at the grilled cheese of my friends' childhoods: gooey bright orange slices of Kraft singles melted between buttered slices of Wonderbread. I've since graduated from American cheese and have discovered grown-up variations. 

There's something magical about perfectly toasted bread and melty cheese. Add gourmet ingredients and grilled cheese is taken to a whole new level. After this weekend, I'm pretty sure J and I have found the grilled cheese sandwiches of our dreams at The Cheese Traveler. We're no cheese connoiseurs but you don't need to be to stop by here. The staff are very knowledgeable about their products and happy to educate you about the nuances and origins of the various cheeses. As purveyors of all things delicious, it's no surprise that you'll find a quality grilled cheese sandwich here. All the ingredients are found right in the store. Here you'll find the finest of ingredients from bread to cheese, to charcuterie and even fruit spreads and chocolate bars. 

There are two grilled cheese menus at The Cheese Traveler: the front board is reserved for the day's specials while just around the corner, you'll find the full regular menu overlooking the olive bar and case of cured meats. Anything with duck confit usually calls our name so we got one sandwich from the daily menu (a duck confit and rippleton cheese with cider jelly) and one from the regular menu (The Spicy & Smoky). It's not just the bread or just the cheese that makes each and every one of these grilled cheese sandwiches special but the unique pairing of ingredients.