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 23, 2014
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.
Labels: agua fresca, al pastor, beef, carne, drinks, horchata, La Mexicana Grocery & Restaurant, lengua, lettucegate, Mexican, pork, rice, schenectady, tacos, tamale, tamarind, tamarindo, Times Union, tomatillo, tongue
Sunday, November 3, 2013
My mom did not pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for my first day of fourth grade. I barely spoke or knew any English when we first moved to the U.S. from Montreal. There I was in the school cafeteria struggling to find the words to translate banh mi cha lua (Vietnamese pork bologna sandwich) to my peers. I did not have a typical American childhood.
My parents were boat people and escaped in the early 80s. I was born and raised in Montreal and spent the latter part of my childhood in New York's North Country. I was the only Vietnamese kid in a predominantly Caucasian community and quickly rose to fame as the kid whose mom made homemade eggrolls instead of cupcakes. Even teachers from other classrooms would stop by to hoard their share at potlucks. My dinners did not include meatloaf with mashed potatoes. Occasionally my mom would whip up her version of goulash and tacos whenever I asked for an "American" meal. Now that I am in my late twenties and am on my own, I find myself more and more nostalgic for the Vietnamese foods that I grew up with and have a much deeper appreciation for it. Dinner for us was as simple as a stewed meat or fried fish with a side of fish sauce and savory soups, all served with bowls of white jasmine rice. On the weekends, it would be a treat to have banh cuon (steamed rice cake) or banh xeo (sizzling pancakes). In fact, Buzzfeed pretty much sums up my childhood eats here.
Sadly my teenage self never paid attention to my mom's cooking. In the past decade, as I've become more engrossed in food culture and exploring culinary eats, I'm finding myself more in touch with my own cultural background. Even more so now that John and I are together. My parents might not be able to communicate that well in English but food is our common denominator. My mom loves John enough to make his own batch of said famous eggrolls without mushrooms and I love being to share with John, my Irish-American boy, the food that I grew up with. So when my mom isn't around, I've learned to make my own version of Vietnamese eats. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I'm slowly building up my repertoire and my mom is only a Vonage phone call away for tips and questions.
Tonight I was craving a very simple dish called tom rim aka Vietnamese caramelized shrimp. It's so simple to make yet I never got around to making it until now. It's a rustic dish that is so comforting especially served with a bowl of rice. Some Googling and a phone call later, I found this random recipe to be closest in flavor to that of my childhood memories. I adjusted the recipe a bit by just throwing everything in one pot after making the caramel sauce and soaking the shrimp in salt water beforehand because that's what my mom told me to do. I also didn't have shallots or scallions on hand but it tasted just fine without and added a thai chili in for some heat. Mom also said don't add ginger per some recipes that I saw but do add plenty of pepper. You don't have to go all out with the head-on shrimp but the ones with the shells really make a difference. The sauce sticks to the shell better and prevents the shrimp from overcooking. I can't recall seeing this dish on the menu from the Vietnamese restaurants in the Capital Region, but if you do see it in your travels give it a try and let me know what you think. If you happen to whip a batch up yourself, good for you! Be prepared, fish sauce has a very strong and pungent smell and taste but mellows out with cooking. Fish sauce is the magical ingredient in every Vietnamese dish :)
Saturday, April 27, 2013
The pressure of the inaugural blog post... Let's preface our first blog post with a disclaimer/introduction: J. and I are by no means culinary experts. We are merely foodies who enjoy tasty treats, love to dine out (even though we have a terrible streak of getting awful service), and we are fanatics of Food Network's Chopped and Restaurant Impossible.
80% of our culinary escapades are to sushi joints. We crave it on a weekly basis and it's only a matter of time before we get mercury poisoning. Sushi isn't hard to find in Albany; the Capital Region is saturated with mediocre places. Hell, even Wal-Mart carries it, *cringe*. Amazing and quality sushi on the hand, can only be found at a handful of places. Here are our regular and favorite sushi spots:
1. Sushi Tei (Guilderland): Blink and you can easily miss this small and pleasantly quiet and quaint place. It is hands down one of our favorite spaces for authentic and delicious Japanese food without the frills of loud weird techno music and glowing gaudiness (*cough* Sushi X, cough cough). Our go to here is a dinner box: your choice of two rolls, fruit, chef's choice of an appetizer (we've had gyoza or seaweed salad) and one of the reasons why we love the dinner box so much is a side of crab salad (crabmeat, panko crumbs, tobiko, and cucumber). Salmon here is top notch when at its peak of the season and one of our favorite appetizers is the tuna dumpling (crab salad wrapped with tuna sashimi) and the raw scallop sashimi, which comes with lemon slices and really elevates the flavor and sweetness of the scallops. Also, try the udon noodle soup at least once. All Over Albany has all the udon details here.
2. Mr. Fuji Sushi (Stuyvesant Plaza): We're always greeted with a smile and have never had bad service here. Our go to is the boat for two. That's right, a boat of sushi. Once in awhile we'll deviate and some stellar standouts include specials like the naruto roll (mixed fish rolled with cucumber instead of seaweed and rice); raw scallop sashimi; and jalapeno yellowtail. J is a fan of the salmon and I think Mr. Fuji hands down has the best white tuna sashimi. Mr. Fuji, whoever he is, also makes spicy rolls that are actually spicy and not too heavy on the sesame oil and breadcrumbs.
3. Sake Cafe (Albany): We come here solely for the Crazy Couple Roll (a spicy tuna and spicy yellowtail roll) that no one else seems to make. Another favorite is an appetizer called Treasure Island (mixed fish in an avocado half with spicy and eel sauces).
Honorable mentions: Sushi Thai Garden (Saratoga & Clifton Park) and Sushi Na Ra (Latham)
On the flop side, one of our worst sushi experiences have been at Sushi X (Latham). At first we were jaded by the "all you can eat" aspect of it. Each time we went back, service was worse and worse (i.e. took 15-20 mins for first round of food to come, long time to get our check, waiter forgetting our drink order) and so was the quality of the fish. It lacked flavor and full of fillers like breadcrumbs and too much rice to fish ratio. We kept going back hoping things would get better but the last time we went, the waft of stinky fish odor that greeted us as we walked in the door was a definite sign for us to never come back.
So we're curious, what are some of your favorite Capital Region sushi joints?
Happy sushi eatings,
J & R