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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Low Beat Albany

At my other place, I briefly reviewed the spectacular show put on last night by the brilliant Cincinnati-based band Wussy.  Suffice it to say that they're one of my favorite bands, and the show was better than I was expecting.  Of more relevance to the subject matter of this blog, however, is the venue.

The Low Beat -- on Central and Quail -- is the new club run by the former owner's of Valentine's on New Scotland. And it's worth noting that they've done a terrific job with it. Not only because they brought a great band that hasn't played a lot of the country's major urban centers yet to Albany and have good taste in general. (Had I known Johnathan Richman was playing there in time, my first visit would have been earlier in the month. I really need a good "coming shows" app or something.) But not only does it look good, unlike so many music venues they didn't neglect the beverage choices. The taps included generally excellent selection of craft brews (including the Elysian Pale, which is pretty rare in New York state) as well as the excellent local dry 9 Pin cider. So it's not only a serious music venue, it's also a place to grab a beer if you're catching a show at the Linda or are otherwise in the area. It's a terrific addition to the city, and I can't wait to see who they'll bringing to town the rest of the year.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Boca Bistro Bachelorette Party

My friend Jessica's Bachelorette Party was this weekend in Saratoga. It was a fabulous time. I couldn't believe how many really nice ladies she's friends with. I really love the movie "13 going on 30", and I watched it recently while out in North Adams dogsitting. I've probably seen it more repeat times than any other movie the last few years. I really love the pitch she gives on how to change the magazine. While her rival character gives the pitch to make the magazine more cynical, darker, more anorexic, the Jennifer Garner character says she wants to feature real women who are smart and pretty and happy to be who they are. Everytime I see that movie, I just love that scene so much. And so what a pleasure it was last night to meet so many interesting, accomplished ladies all in the mood to have a great time.


We started out at Boca Bistro. Our friend Tiffany did a fabulous job organizing it for such a large party, and $30 per person for three courses was a great price point. They made a special menu for us and made it a very streamlined experience. My friend Robin and I shared a bottle of Glenora Brut which was dry and refreshing. Good for them for offering a New York state sparkling! It was delicious. Then they served us appetizers family style.

We had the:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ugly Rooster Cafe, Mechanicville

Yesterday we checked out the Ugly Rooster Cafe in Mechanicville. We tried it once last year too. It is a cute, old school looking place that feels very much like it fits in with the town. People all seem to know each other, a whole big group was huddled around a tv tuned to the local news at the counter, and the employees are all super friendly. They have an extensive menu with a lot of inventive things I'd still like to try, including: the omelette with asparagus, crab, and hollandaise sauce, the BLT with fried green tomatoes, and the southern style breakfast sandwich which sounds over the top (fried egg, cheddar, fried green tomato, on a buttermilk biscuit is what the menu online says but I'm pretty sure the menu there had added bacon and gravy inside the sandwich). Its hard to decide what to eat when so many things sound so good.

Scott had the Huevos Rancheros, which were very delicious:


I had a chicken sandwich (The Mechanicville Special) with bacon, ranch, and avocado and a side of sweet potato fries:


The chicken was nicely moist and marinated, it was served on a tasty hard roll, and overall it was a really solid sandwich. 

Also, it turns out that they are getting ready to move to another space around the corner at 312 North 3rd Ave, Mechanicville . Their current space is going to become a bakery ran by a guy who currently sells cakes out of a space next to the cafe. The waitress said that their new space is going to be really nice. I can't wait to check it out!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Life Lessons / Philosophy in the Bathroom at The Point

I had a real Smallbany moment at The Point on Thursday night. It was really funny. It turned out that our server Lauryn (the best), who had been our server starting 5 years ago at Provence, was the babysitter when she was a little kid of a server we know from the Pourhouse who was there at The Point as a customer and came over to talk to us. It was the funniest thing because they hadn't seen each other since Lauryn was the babysitter.  I never get tired of weird coincidental connections between people, so much that it gets hard to explain sometimes or so far removed its not even interesting. Like... my new coworker's husband is in the Albany Symphony Orchestra, and I have a friend (who I met at the All Over Albany party 3 years ago) who also is in the ASO and so they know each other... my new worker's daughter is friends with a friend of someone who did a reading at my wedding, who I was introduced to by someone I went to grad school with in NY. Is it interesting? Are we sorted off in terms of age and interest so it isn't that crazy? Who knows, but I have to say I have never experienced this Smallbany phenomenon in other places I have lived, and my friends in Michigan say they don't regularly encounter this type of thing - like when I invite a bunch of people over my house who I know separately, and they already know each other in other ways.  Fascinating!

Then, Lauryn and I got real philosophical in the bathroom of The Point. It was too good not to share.

We don't see each other very often, and yet we've now known each other a really long time. 5 years. That's half a decade. She said that I look different but the "inner spark is the same". You can't believe how time passes, how people come in and out of your life, how things that were once so routine get completely forgotten. Does it seem like who you are is formed when you are very young and mostly stays the same, or is it that you are continually formed by your daily experiences in ways you don't comprehend at all until much later? Of course, something's lost but something's gained in living everyday. Lauryn was talking about how time passes, and yet people don't change, whatever people originally liked about each other is still there. Its a great thought, and I mentioned how my friend who I met in 7th grade math class and I are going to see Britney Spears in Vegas in September (woo woo). Its motivation to protect the parts of yourself that you feel are most important to you, and when you are in a situation that doesn't make you feel like who you are or who you want to be, you should change that situation.  Because of course, we've come too far to give up who we are.


I was unhappy in my last job in a really epic way. So much so that it made me realize how lucky I've been in the entire rest of my life to have consistently felt so happy. I had a really structured, high achieving childhood in a nice Midwestern suburb. I lived in NYC (most of it by myself) without really getting jaded at all - I didn't get mugged or attacked or anything. I moved to Albany with high hopes of finding a job I'd like and succeed at, and finding friends we'd have things in common with. We were then lucky to meet so many interesting people, and for me to find any opportunities at all in a time of severe economic downturn. The lesson I took from my first job here was that often your coworkers become important people in your life. It doesn't matter, Monday morning 9am, snow, rain, whatever, coworkers are a constant presence in your life. They see you more than your own family, and those people become really important whether you realize it or not. Sure, the people on the American version of "The Office" were ridiculous, but what viewer didn't feel at least a little affectionate towards even Dwight by the end of the series?


When a part of someone's life is just wrong though, its a little too much to expect them to put it out of their mind and focus on other things. When you are unhappy you don't have the energy to do other things. I really feel like the only thing that can be done is to change your situation. When you are happy though, you naturally do have the energy for all the things that interest you and make you feel fulfilled. For instance, we're talking about getting the craft fair band back together, and I'm thinking about making some retro kitchen inspired embroidery pieces like these (the fact that I don't know how to do embroidery will soon be rectified).

There are things in life you have to get through on your own. Also, when things are hard you can take comfort in knowing you were happy for the most part the whole rest of your life and that to feel awful is the unusual part - just because its not ok doesn't mean it won't be. Its nice to feel a lot more like myself. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Irving Farm Coffee Roasters

On one of our super fun day trips to the Hudson Valley last fall we discovered the small town of Millerton near the CT border. Its a cute town, like a mini Hudson - there's a handmade glass place, a cute vintage store that sells the kind of lingerie from the 1940s that can help you pretend you are some kind of old Hollywood starlet (I just wish I had this Pier 1 mirrored vanity as well), a well-curated wine store that offers weekend tastings given by friendly staff members, and Oblong Books.



For my point of view, the best part of Millerton is the solidly outstanding coffee shop, Irving Farm Coffee Roasters. Like all really delicious coffee places, they really pay attention to where the green beans come from and sell the roasted beans as close as possible to when they were roasted. You really want to make sure you grind your beans as close as possible to when you brew the coffee for best results. All that combined is pretty much the formula for an amazing cup of coffee.

At the cafe in Millerton they sell food too, like pot pies, sandwiches, salads, and this really lovely raspberry oat bar:


I really love coffee of such high quality that it demands your full attention. It forces a thoughtful break in your day - a moment for you to just exist in your life. I believe that great coffee has that power. This is the attractive looking latte Scott had last time:


Last time I was there I purchased a bag of the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe. I made it in a French press today after lunch at my fabulous new job inside while it blizzarded around us like a lively snowglobe, and it was so intense and full-flavored with a bit of spice to it. I'm not sure anything is better than the Irving Farms coffee made in a French press. I'm pretty sure I purchased the Costa Rican coffee before too, which was lighter and brighter but also smelled and tasted amazing.

 One thing we continue to enjoy about this region is that there are so many different cool day trips to take and secrets to discover. I can say that this little place is a real gem.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Belhurst Castle

I was lucky enough to receive a gift certificate to Belhurst Castle in Geneva, NY from my in-laws as a birthday gift! We stayed in the Chambers in the Castle, in which each of the rooms is unique and charming. We stayed in the Garrett Room, which was the only one vacant and not the most luxurious, but still great. It is a completely relaxing place with a really fascinating history. We're talking architectural beauty, pure class, insanity, gambling, and finally tourism and incredible hospitality. Scroll down here for the history - its a great read. There are complimentary chocolate castles, a wine spigot that spits out unlimited red wine free with your room (!), free slippers, a super comfortable bed, and incredible lake views. There's also something about lake front air that has a really fresh taste to it. There's also a great lounge, Stonecutter's, and fabulous restaurant, Edgar's. Oh they also have a spa and sell and offer tastings of their own wine. What more could you ever want in a weekend getaway? Needless to say, they do a lot of weddings.


First, I'll tell you about the Stonecutter's lounge. You walk in to an incredible view of the west side of Seneca Lake and sit down in huge comfortable leather chairs - no slippery bar stools here - the kind of real chairs that make you want to stay the evening. They had an acoustic musician playing covers including James Taylor songs. My dad used to play me James Taylor songs when I was 5 on his guitar to get me to go to sleep, and I tried to call him to tell him but he wasn't in, and I just ended up telling my mom about how every time I typed in "Belhurst Castle" in Google it recommended "Belhurst Castle haunted" and how much the employees didn't find this nearly as entertaining as I did. Scott started with the panko crusted deep fried calamari with sweet and spicy broccoli slaw and sriracha aioli:


It was great, and he really enjoyed the broccoli slaw. I sampled some tasty spirits produced just down the road and across the lake at Finger Lakes Distilling since I was milking my birthday celebration for about a month and celebrating a really awesome new job I started this week. I started with the large black tiger shrimp poached in court boullion and chilled, served with traditional cocktail sauce and remoulade:


I liked how big these shrimps were and that you got the remoulade as well as the cocktail sauce with it. These poached shrimp were a perfect match to the Seneca Drums martini I paired them with.  The girl next to us ordered the cheeseburger chowder (house ground Black Angus beef tenderloin braised with onions, potatoes, extra sharp cheddar and all of the condiments that make a burger so special) and really loved it. I love in the Finger Lakes how friendly people are, and how you can chat with people who are incredibly knowledgeable about wine from as far away as Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Buffalo. The girl who worked at the tasting room in Geneva for Ravines clearly could have written a book on the history of calling things Champagne and Port, and I loved her for her wine nerdiness.

For entrees, Scott had a version of a cobb salad that added crab, and I had a tasty chicken sandwich that had grilled pineapple on it of all things. Scott liked that his salad wasn't drowning in dressing, bacon or avocado and just had enough of each of these things to give a taste but not overwhelm. My sandwich with the pineapple, proscuitto, hot pepper relish,and cheese on it reminded me of Hawaiian Pizza, which is a long standing source of disagreement in my marriage.

So let me tell you about the brunch. Its served in Edgar's, the fancier restaurant in the castle.



So, Saturday and Sundays - $18 a person and all you can eat of many things, including: French toast, bagels with smoked salmon, capers, onions, cream cheese and crab on them, waffles with berry compote, fruit, veggies with dip, couscous and pasta salads, eggs, omelette station, carving station, lunch entrees like baked pollock with spinach and Gorgonzola, meatloaf, bacon, sausage, every kind of dessert and pastry you can imagine, quiches, complimentary unlimited bloody marys and mimosas after noon, every kind of juice, coffee, salted caramels to take with you at the end - my God, I am full just typing all that! In short, amazing, luxurious, relaxing, and a great value if you consider what a salad, coffee, and cocktail would cost you at New World Bistro on a regular Sunday (I love New World, I'm just saying this is an amazing deal). Then you can go wine tasting, and you don't even feel like eating the whole day. Amazing, Delicious food served with knowledgeable and friendly service.

Clearly, Belhurst Castle is the best. Now we want to go back and stay in all the different rooms. Balcony, lake view, in-room jacuzzi you say? Stop, you had me at wine spigot! Gatsby glamour, mixed with 1880s mystery, mixed with modern day wine tourism, topped off with great food and drinks and a relaxing atmosphere? I'm a fan.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Madison Pourhouse: Opening Week





After an aborted attempt at a yesterday, I met some friends and then Ms. Garlic at the Madison Pourhouse, the replacement for Mahar's being opened by the owners of the bar's neighbors Cafe Madison, Junior's, and The Point.  I had some degree of optimism -- Junior's has always had much better taps than you would expect from the collegey vibe -- but also some trepidation.  The extensively renovated space isn't Mahar's for better (much more seating, much better restrooms) and worse (tradition, the beer tour.)  But ultimately it has to be judged on its own merits, and I think there's a good chance that it will rival the Bier Abbey as the best beer bar in the Capital Region, at least on the beverage side. 

The beer selection, which you can see here, is excellent and very fairly priced.  I had an Old Chub and a Founders All Day, while true to her Michigan roots Ms. Garlic had the Bell's White.  It's a nicely balanced list, between styles and regions, and as you would expect from a new place the beer poured beautifully.  My only quibble was that I might like a couple more New York selections -- there was nothing from Chatham or Middle Ages or Crossroads, for example, and only one from Southern Tier and the (admittedly very widely available) Ommegang.  But overall, its beer selection is the class of Albany.

Food-wise, I was told that because of the presence of a lot of nuts in a small kitchen I should probably stay away.   The initial menu is fairly short; Ms. Garlic enjoyed the hummus with beer chips, and my friends seemed to like the nut mix.  But it's definitely a place for beer and snacks as opposed to a place for dinner at this point.

I quite liked the space, although with the memory of Mahar's hanging over the space it takes some getting used to.  The downstairs area is a little cramped, inevitably, although there's not a lot else that could be done with the space.  The upstairs, complete with log-cabin-style fireplace with taxidermy, is a lot more comfy.  One major plus over too much of the competition: the service was friendly, attentive, and efficient, even as new servers were bring trained on the go for opening week.  They're not understaffed and trying to push patrons to order from an overcrowded bar, a major plus in my book. 

We'll report back, but it's an impressive debut.