MHA's recent blog post got me thinking. I've been stalking the local blog scene for years since moving to Albany 6 years ago. As a newbie to the blogging scene, I'm inspired by my fellow 518ers, where they eat, and what they have to say about the food scene in the Capital Region. Bloggers like myself might be self-proclaimed "foodies" (that in no way makes me an "expert" in anything nor does it mean that I have a "refined" palette; I just love food!) but taste in food and flavors is so subjective. We all come from different cultural backgrounds that influence our culinary palette. In my case: (a) I was born in Canada to Vietnamese parents but have spent the past 18 years in the States; (b) am engaged to J, an American boy with Irish and Polish roots; and (c) we watch so many episodes of Chopped, and the Food Network in general, that it has truly influenced our approach to the culinary scene. When we started the blog in April, we just wanted to share our personal views with other bloggers and readers.
I didn't go to culinary school (even though part of me daydreams about it at my desk job); I'm not a professional food critic or writer; nor am I am I a chef or have ever worked in a restaurant (well at least J has), but no matter our levels of expertise or how refined our palettes are, food is an experience and adventure in and of itself. The pursuit for epicurean bliss is through personal discovery, and you decide how adventurous you want it to be!
MHA asks what Top 5 restaurants 518 bloggers actually patronize on a regular basis? In no particular order, we frequent:
1. Sushi Tei and Mr. Fuji Sushi: It's no secret that at Chopsticks Optional, we're obsessed with sushi. We're cheating but these two spots are a tie for us.
2. New World Bistro. Brunch here is killer. This is the only place where we have enjoyed excellent food and consistent service, which we usually have a bad streak of elsewhere.
3. Saigon Spring: Vietnamese pho noodle soup cures all ailments. I am also partial to this cuisine but everyone needs to try it at least once.
4. The City Beer Hall. HopChef made us lifetime fans but a revolving seasonal, creative menu keeps us intrigued.
5. Brunswick BBQ: The aroma of smoke in the parking lot lures us in every time.
While we have regular spots, there are countless other local gems that we love and frequent too but we'd go broke if we ate out everyday! These particular ones are our regular spots because it's flavors that we have consistently enjoyed but they're also places where we get the most value out of our meals at reasonable prices. It's a mix of foods that we are comfortable with but places like NWB and City Beer Hall lets us savor unique combinations and local flavors when we want to. Value shouldn't limit our options but sometimes the best eats are the ones we relate to the most through our own backgrounds and preferences. I would love to be able to regularly splurge on higher end establishments like Yono's or Prime 677, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate the creativity that goes into their culinary process because when I do get the opportunity to try bites from those restaurants at taste of events like HopChef, I truly appreciate the nuances and techniques that the chefs use. Like Michelle says, local chefs at all levels of dining are being more and more creative. A good culinary experience isn't and shouldn't be limited to fine dining or five star restaurants; it should be accessible and approachable by all, not just "foodies" or "experts". For a small city like Albany and the Capital Region in general, it's a wonderful thing to experience different culinary points of views AND cultures in this little melting pot of ours.
J and I enjoy discovering new places and experiencing the culinary cornucopia of the 518 and beyond. Whether they are as homely as the mini hot dog (Gus' is on the bucket list) or adventurous as a beef tongue reuben. Not all experiences will be great, but it's about taking risks and seeing and tasting what's out there. It's ok if you like chains and are skeptical to step outside your comfort zone. I'll admit it; sometimes a greasy Five Guys burger hits the spot but that doesn't mean I also don't appreciate a grass-fed artisan burger from The City Beer Hall. The Capital Region has such a rich food scene with innovative chefs, from fine dining to handcrafted ice cream; but regional foods and ethnic eats are just as much part of the dining experience. See what us bloggers think is good and taste for yourself! It's ok to disagree or rave if you do love it. The 518 food scene is yours to discover. Bon appetit! -R
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Sunday, August 11, 2013
I take lunch pretty seriously, especially since I work in Downtown Albany. In looking back at my favorite Downtown Albany lunch spots, I can't believe I totally neglected to mention The City Beer Hall! Sure CBH is great for happy hour and dinner, but it's much quieter and less crowded during the day. With a gorgeous patio space out back, it's a perfect lunchtime getaway break in the summer.
The lunch menu has evolved into a a lighter, fresher one using seasonal ingredients and it's been a nice alternative to days when I've had a 518 burger and felt too stuffed to work the rest of the afternoon. To be fair, it is probably the best burger I've had in Capital Region. Can't go wrong with quality grass fed beef cooked to a perfectly juicy medium rare. Other go to comfort foods that have stayed on the menu (and that I've obviously had more than once) are variations of delicious, cheezy things: truffled mac 'n cheese; gourmet grilled cheese with aged cheddar, pear, and jalapeno jam on sourdough; and the fried chicken sandwich with cranberry goat cheese and arugula. So when I came across the Heirloom Tomato and
Watermelon Salad, it was a nice break from the comforting carbs and for days when I try to eat more vegetables. I've been loving watermelon salads lately and the panko-crusted goat cheese medallion that accompanied the salad was a nice creamy, tangy element to the mix and the basil-mint vinaigrette rounded the dish well. It was the perfect light salad on a warm summer day. My only gripe was that the portion needed to be bigger but I guess it would be a great duo to balance the mac 'n cheese, which is now a smaller portion as well.
The inner french-Canadian in me squealed when I saw poutine on the menu. We all know that I have high standards for poutine. Since I got J hooked on poutine since we started dating, I couldn't have a bite without my partner in crime. We stopped in for a snack today and went all out: poutine with the pulled short rib. I've come to the conclusion that cheese curd here will never taste the same or squeak the same as the ones in Canada, with the exception of the local Montreal Poutine Truck. I'm always disappointed when the curds come melted but alas, this version was pretty tasty nonetheless. The short ribs were super tender and the beef gravy was made with beer which gave the dish another interesting dimension. The fries could have been more crispy but props for using hand cut fries.
Since J and I thought ordering two orders of poutine would be overkill, we got a side of the fish tacos instead, which turned out to be an awesome decision. This taco has an asian flair: pan-seared rare tuna on a corn tortilla with ginger-soy slaw and drizzle of wasabi mayo and pickled pineapple. We love sushi and this dish was right up our alley. Good thing we ordered this dish because it was a light refreshing bite compared to the heavy greasy goodness of poutine. We've been big fans of Chef Menagias since his days at the now defunct Wine 'n Diner and even more so now since HopChef. Still dreaming of those HopChef hanger steak and eggs chef ;) We're happy to see him back on the culinary scene here at the City Beer Hall.
Saturday, July 13, 2013
A giant shout out and thank you to M.H.A. Innovations for picking us as the winners of the HopChef Competition Giveaway. We had a blast at this unique food and beer pairing dinner. Seven Capital Region chefs prepared a dish incorporating and paired with a beer from Brewery Ommegang and the winner gets to compete against the other winning Hop Chefs from Chicago, Philly, and Boston in a finale during Ommegang’s Belgium Comes to Cooperstown event in August. Max London's Mark Graham won the judge's pick and Mazzone Hospitality's Will Brown won People's Choice. More from the judge's perspectives at Table Hopping and Notes on Napkins.
J is more of the beer expert than I am but we enjoyed sampling and critiquing each dish. We channeled all we learned from watching Chopped marathons on Food Network and were impressed by the Chefs' creative and sophisticated dishes. Here's our take on the HopChef creations, starting with our favorite: