Saturday, July 12, 2014

Another Fork in the Road, Dutchess County

We used to take the Amtrak or drive to Poughkeepsie to take the Metro-North to visit NYC. In more recent times though, we've discovered the charm of driving. Insane Manhattan traffic you say? Take the BQE. Expensive parking you say? My mother-in-law spotted a place in Brooklyn that costs $7 a day. And there are benefits too - flexibility of timing, being able to buy stuff there and cart it back (no one wants to crush their pretty Paper Source loot or One Girl whoopie pies in a backpack), and in the case of my job being able to move artwork around. The Taconic State Parkway is also beautiful and incredibly civilized to drive on. You feel a bit like Don Draper dropping Sally off at boarding school. You can imagine all the old timey road trips taken on that very strip of asphalt. I drove down for work a little while ago, fought through traffic in the Bronx, got to a spot near Hudson on the Taconic and experienced the most beautiful view. It was all fresh air, arm-stretching space, and a real reminder of how happy I am to have left the city (5 years ago now!) and made upstate NY my home.

The Taconic is great. Another benefit is when you drive on the Thruway you feel like you just popped out of The Sopranos episode "Pine Barrens", or at least we do when we can't stop saying "Shoulda stopped at Roy Rogers". The Taconic turns out to have much better food options, and since there's no toll, there's no hassle in getting off and on.

We stopped in Dutchess county to look for a lunch place. We drove a very short distance down the road and stopped in at Another Fork in the Road. What a great find! It was completely adorable and decorated exactly the way I strive for in my own house: a bit of farm-yard chic mixed in with Etsy humor and retro charm.

The food was fabulous, and much better than anything you could reasonably expect stumbling along off the highway. Its a diner if one served locally sourced seasonal dishes in a new American style. Scott had the banh mi sandwich with watercress on it which boasted amazingly flavorful meat and a crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside roll. I had the smoked salmon club, which had some great thinly sliced cucumbers and radishes, really tasty local greens and crispy bacon. The portions were not huge either, which is a good thing for a traveler who wants to save room for their fancy NYC dinner reservations.

I can't wait to head back here next time I'm driving to the city (or if you were doing a Hudson Valley day and were head to the FDR Museum or something it'd be right on the way to that too). Its really great to have some good eating when you least expect it.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Anniversary Dinner At Angelo's 677 Prime

Ms. Garlic and I haven't been to what is frequently cited as Albany's best restaurant in a long time, so for our anniversary we decided to go. It still has many pleasures to recommend, but at least one main course was crucially flawed. To start with the high points, the service was friendly, efficient and polished. Our "lobster cocktail" appetizer (served with roasted corn pico, cilantro, crisp rice pearls, smoked maize, and a chili crema) was superb. The by-the-glass wine list is unparalleled in my experience in the city -- I had an excellent 2005 Barolo for under $15. The atmosphere is nicely romantic. I'll let Ms. Garlic tell you about her salmon, but it was very good. But -- apart from this, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play -- there was my steak. Not that it was bad, not by any means -- it was a high-quality, generous piece of meat that came with a pleasingly charred exterior. But given a very high price for steak that isn't advertised as and doesn't taste dry-aged, the execution has to be perfect. Rather than the requested medium rare, it was cooked to medium or a bit beyond, a temperature that would have been acceptable (if not optimal) for a rib eye, but for my leaner New York strip it rendered the meat a little tough. (I had a $23 shell steak at our surprisingly good hotel restaurant in Rochester that was tastier at half the price because it was properly cooked.) Readers may ask why I didn't send it back, a fair question. The server first asked before I had had a chance to taste, and in the extremely dim lighting distinguishing medium rare from medium would have been impossible. By the time she came back, I had eaten too much to be comfortable sending it back. I should have thought to use the flash on my phone right off the bat:
The salmon, also requested medium rare, came out even further past medium, although for a that dish it wasn't fatal. I'll turn things over to Ms. Garlic...
The highlight of the salmon was the delicious brown sugar tomato glaze, and I also really liked the tasty tomato salad accompaniment. The portion size was perfect. I really enjoyed the flaky texture, and it was a great anniversary entree. When we went a couple years ago I ordered the ridiculous sounding burger served on a croissant, and this time I was secretly disappointed I couldn't order that again (but maybe that's the type of thing one shouldn't make a habit of ordering, so that's alright).
Comparing 677 Prime to The Bear's, I would give Aneglo's the nod in terms of the appetizers, the accompaniments, and the drink options. But in terms of steak, I would say that The Bear's offered steak of similar quality, better prepared, at a substantially lower price point (especially when you consider that The Bear's includes vegetables and starch with the main course, whereas at Prime entrees are a la carte.) I would go back to Angelos for drinks and apps, or to sample other parts of the menu, but on the rare occasion when I want a steakhouse experience we're likely to head for Duanesburg.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

We Shall Return, And the Surprisingly Good Dining Options at the Price Chopper Plaza

As Ms. Garlic's recent post indicates, we promise to be back imminently with some discussions of dining here (home and out) and downstate. In the meantime, allow me to endorse the positive TU review of Tomo Asian Bistro. The lunch specials, in particular, are among the better dining deals in Albany. (Another one, incidentally, is against all odds in the same Slingerlands strip mall -- if you're able to make it on a weekday, the salad-and-small pizza lunch at Bellini's is excellent.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

My husband went out of town last week, and I decided to make all the things he doesn't really like. I had a whole bunch of eggs from a lady at my great new job who raises these kinds of chickens that produce different colored eggs. Aren't they beautiful?

I was browsing at Penzey's at Crossgates where I spotted some spearmint and thought making some mint chocolate chip ice cream was a great idea (both of our sets of parents can't get enough of it, and he's always saying how he doesn't get why people love the flavor so much). I have to say that I really really love Penzey's, and I love that they came to our area. I really want to support them. I love that you can go and stick your nose on into all their spices. I love their cocoa powder for making cakes. I love their green goddess salad dressing base. Their staff is always really friendly, knowledgeable, and often inspirational ("Hey, you like tacos? I will tell you what to try!"). Also, their catalog is good reading. I have actually made recipes from their catalog that turned out great - like a carrot cookie recipe that was moist and healthy. In their current catalog they have a west Texas theme which includes chili served on top of a savory waffle. You can always count on some weird sounding recipe in their catalog offered up by a real live home cook that just might be delicious if you give it a try. You may not think that spices matter that much (or the freshness of your spices - try to tell me you don't have something in your cupboard you brought from the city you lived in before this one, or unfortunately for us, things my husband had from the city he lived in 2 before this one - "Your sister just made ice cream out of chai powder I bought when I lived in Seattle?!!"). But once you start getting really tasty and fresher spices there is no going back. I love the cinnamon - they have like four kinds, but I like the Vietnamese the best. The dried peppers are great, and this time I also bought some "Sandwich Sprinkle" which has garlic, oregano, and many other things which I am sure will really knock a sub from Roma Foods out of the park. Anyways, I love it, and I think we are lucky to have a Penzey's in our area. They do a great job.

So I came home to mix on up a custard to make the ice cream. My recipe was from Ad Hoc at Home. You've got 2 cups of milk and cream that you simmer over a medium heat which you throw 1/2 cup of mint leaves into. You let it sit off the heat for 20 minutes. You strain the milk into a fine mesh strainer, add 2/3 cup sugar and whisk over medium high heat to dissolve the sugar.

You whisk 2/3 cup sugar and 10 egg yolks (I know its insane, but really delicious - also egg yolks stabilize the ice cream lessening the chance of developing ice crystals), until slightly thickened. Slowly, while whisking, add about 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture to the yolks, then whisk in the remaining milk mixture. Strain the whole mixture in a fine mesh strainer again into a saucepan. Prepare an ice bath. Put the mixture over medium heat, scraping it with a wooden spoon constantly until steam rises, and the custard thickens enough to coat the spoon. Strain the mixture, place the bowl in the ice bath, and let it cool completely stirring it occasionally. Refrigerate the mixture until totally cold, then put it in your ice cream maker for half an hour adding the chocolate chips in the last five minutes. I deviated a little from the recipe in that I added green food coloring cause I am sure that made it taste better than it would have if it stayed a weird light colored seaweed color. I also added in some white chocolate chunks, which I think were a nice touch. In my experience, it is really important that your mixture be really cold and the middle part of your ice cream machine be rock hard frozen in order to get a great final texture.

It turned out I didn't get around to actually putting it in the ice cream machine until Scott came back, and he had some and said it was delicious. That was a surprise. If only I can get him to say the same thing about pineapple on pizza.

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!