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