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.
Sunday, September 28, 2014
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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
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
...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
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.
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
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.
+ Returning Bites: Banh Mi at Saigon Pearl
+ Returning BItes: Hu Tieu Kho Noodles