Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bonefish Grill, Colonie

Ms. Garlic and I were fortunate to be invited to the new Bonefish Grill on Wolf Road.  Obviously, there are certain limitations to this kind of event.  It's not really possible to evaluate the service an ordinary diner will receive, and presumably the kitchen is likely to be on its best behavior.  On the other hand, we were able to sample a much wider range of food than would otherwise be possible for one or two visits, and everything we sampled was available to all diners and prepared as stated on the menu, so in that way it would be representative of a typical visit.

With however many grains of salt you would like to add, what did we think?  Well, overall I would have to say that it exceeded my expectations substantially.  Two of the dishes we tried were outstanding.  And by this I don't mean "better than I would expect from a chain" but just flat-out good, something I would be pleased to be served anywhere.  The first knockout was the Ahi Tuna Sashimi:

This was a good dish to evaluate the kitchen because it's going to rise or fall on the quality of the ingredients, and it was superb -- the tuna was indeed sashmi grade, beautifully rich, and the sesame and pepper crust nicely complemented the fish without overwhelming it.

Almost as good were the crab cakes. They were dominated by an unusual taste so rarely found with any strength in crab cakes served in restaurants: crab.  These weren't the typical "fried bread with some flecks of crab that might as well have come from a can if they didn't" discs that typically pass for crab cakes.  These were mostly high-quality crab prepared correctly with a nice remoulade, and I'm looking forward to having them again.

The third appetizer -- the Indoesian calamari -- we can't really evaluate properly. By the time we were seated, the other diners at our table had already sampled the platter, so most of the hot peppers were gone and the remaining calamari -- which were perfectly good -- were no longer hot.  A couple people at our table were raving about the fresh version but we can't really say one way or the other ourselves.

None of our samples of main courses stood out quite like the tuna and crab cakes,  but everything was at least decent.   We tried a variety of fishes with a sampling of five sauces -- mango salsa, Asian glaze chimichurri, lemon butter, and Newburg.  The salmon Newburg (prepared with spinach blue cheese) was the class of the group, and I very much liked the Trout Chimchurri.

I'll leave it to Ms. Garlic to evaluate the sampled cocktails, which were well done for what they were but since I'm a cranky traditionalist not really my thing.  (If we go for a drink before a movie I'll make sure to report back on the quality of the Manhattan.)  My favorite of the drink samples was the Sokol Blosser Evolution, a lovely white Oregon blend paired with the appetizers.  The dinner pairing was Menage A Trois, a familar California blend of Zinfandel, Cab. Sav. and Merlot which is quite good for the price but wasn't an ideal pairing with the generally citrus-accented dishes I was trying.  As is generally the case with chains, the wine list consists mostly of wines available in virtually any wine shop, although within that limitation it was quite well-selected.  (Bonus points for having Louis Martini, the very good California cab we chose to serve at our wedding.) 

Emily says: The cocktails we sampled were: "The Bee's Knees Martini", which according to the menu is a "1920s Prohibition era throwback. Made with honey + lemon" and gin.

I think Scott liked it ok, but thought it was much sweeter than anything he'd normally want to drink. I say that gin is delicious enough on its own, don't try to cover the flavors up too much. I had a "Fresh Apple Martini", which I thought was pretty good. It was very appropriate for fall and I really liked the spice sprinkle. It consists of vodka that has had apples soaking in it for three days and is finished with an apple garnish and some cinnamon and sugar.

With dessert they brought out a drink called "Espresso Martini". I think everyone at our table liked it, but didn't really want any more to drink at that point. They smelled great, they looked great, and they were very tasty. I guess the thing is that I am usually not going to order a sweet drink with a dessert. It is pretty much either/or type of situation, but if you were in the mood for this type of thing I think it'd be great to have again. This drink consists of vanilla vodka, kahlua, creme de cacao and espresso. It comes with a raw sugar and cocoa dusted rim which was very tasty. I think everyone at our table especially liked the rim garnish. I think overall its a cool space too. I like the classy outdoor furniture, all square, lounge-like and comfortable - straight out of your Pottery Barn catalog. The space is neither loud nor pretentious, so that's cool.

Scott continues: Because of my allergy limitations (which they accommodated in a very friendly manner) I skipped most of the deserts, but the creme brule I was able to sample was very good.

Overall, based on our visit we would have to say that it's a valuable addition to the area; it's certainly one of the best dining options if you're on a trip to TJ's or the Colonie Center.  Given the quality of the appetizers and the large comfortable bar area, it seems like an especially good place for a drink and apps before or after a movie.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Towne Tavern, Averill Park

I've been out dogsitting quite a bit lately in North Adams on the weekends. I've been watching these dogs for almost four years, which seems crazy. This has meant marathons of David Tutera and Bridezillas and the sort (last night was the last episode of Bridezillas ever, how is that even possible? End of an era!). It has also caused me to feel incredibly nostalgic for my old job. What is nostalgia really? How are you nostalgic for things you chose to leave behind? Are you nostalgic for parts of yourself you seem to have lost, or some rosier version of life that never really existed? An important ingredient for nostalgia to exist is time - enough time gone by to forget negative aspects of things. One thing I know is that the more ambitious you are, the more difficult it is to feel grateful for what you have, so there's that.

Anyways, so I've been meeting my husband at The Towne Tavern in Averill Park because it is a good halfway point. We've been exploring different aspects of the menu over multiple visits now. Sometimes when a menu has a lot of different things on it, you wonder what the place does well or what you are supposed to order. Like the Cheesecake Factory menu that is bigger than the Bible, too big of a menu seems to communicate something negative about the place. But at the The Towne Tavern, the menu has a lot of variety and everything we've tried has actually been really good. The BBQ dishes are very tasty. They have a variety of sauces (my sister liked the maple bourbon one the best and I liked the Jack Daniels one when we asked to sample them all), and you can just tell the BBQ is going to be great from the strong smoky scent that fills up the parking lot. We've now also tried the pizza bianco (a small one makes a delicious appetizer), and the pretty brilliant picante onion soup (like a southwest inspired French onion with pepper jack cheese on top). I also really like the jalapeno appetizer where the peppers are stuffed with cheese and sausage and baked (insider tip though, the raspberry sauce competes with the other flavors too much, and pairing the dish with marinara sauce is way better).

Today I had the Averill Park Warrior burger (which has carmelized onions and mushrooms), and it was very delicious. The burger had a great char and the bun was really fresh with a light texture. Check it out:

Scott had the BLT which is simple but fresh and satisfying. They make the chips there themselves.

Oh and they have some nice local beers, and some other good ones like the Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, which I enjoyed very much.

We never know what to order when we sit down here, and I think it is because everything we've tried has been really good. It is hard to even decide what genre to have because they do it all well - pizza, burgers, sandwiches and appetizers.The food is all quite a bit better than it needs to be.  The staff is all really friendly, there's some crazy taxidermy all over, and today we were noticing some other cool decor objects such as vintage license plates and a collection of vintage bottle openers.

I'll be happy to go home, but its nice to explore things out this way too. The fall foliage is definitely breathtaking.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Let's talk about breakfast again

Years ago I wrote a post about breakfast. What I think is funny is my tone that I actually knew anything (calling it a guide, for example) and then not really seeming to like any of the options I could think of except for carbs. What I also think is funny is that I was mentioning the very recipe I just sat down to type out right now because I was telling my mom about it on the phone today. If you are still thinking about a recipe three years later, you were pretty much meant to make it.

I still agree with that first paragraph in that post about not really knowing what to eat for breakfast. But I have also tried a few new approaches lately that I can elaborate on.
  • For a long time I was going with the idea that protein for breakfast would make me feel full longer than carbs would. I got really into cooking hard boiled eggs and tried many different recipes to find the perfect way of doing it. The best way of doing it turned out to be Jacques Pepin's, and here it is: "Put the eggs straight from the refrigerator, in a saucepan large enough to accommodate them without crowding. Add enough warm tap water to cover the eggs by at least a generous inch and set the pan, uncovered, over high heat. Once the water begins to show signs of reaching a rolling boil (212 degrees on a thermometer), keep it as close to this temperature for 8 minutes. Then plunge the eggs into cold water at once to stop the cooking." 8 minutes at 212 made perfect hard boiled eggs every time. You can make a whole bunch on a Sunday, peel them, and store them separately by how many you plan on eating each day. They also go great on salads, and as a breakfast option they are cheap, nutritious and low in calories. The problem is, let's face it, hard boiled eggs are not exciting. If I was a ballerina, sure, and then my lunch would consist of a grapefruit ok. But despite the obvious benefits of this as a breakfast option, and despite having done this for a good 7 months straight, I seem to be just past this phase in my life. I tried to carry on the protein for breakfast option for a while afterwards by eating roasted turkey slices from Trader Joe's, but somehow that got boring too.
  • As with my current enjoyment of Melrose Place (not even the newish one, the one from 1992-1999), I've continued the trend of getting on the bandwagon of 1990s trends many years too late by getting seriously into smoothies. Smoothies are brilliant, I thought to myself over the summer, you get so many nutrients, you can customize them to no end, and you will never get bored. I was going to the Troy Farmer's Market and buying peaches, and going to Trader Joe's and buying super cheap frozen pineapple. I was adding honey, vanilla beans (expensive but such a lovely luxury in the morning - and also pretty reasonably priced if you buy them at the Christmas Tree Shop in Colonie Center), ginger, cinnamon and making them so delicious. I was filling up 5 mason jars at the beginning of the week and I was all set. There is also something really great about yogurt in the morning - it soaks up any acid that might be in your stomach from too much Mexican food or whatever the night before. Why did I stop making them? I don't know, maybe partially because of the reason I've barely eaten any fruit at all for most of my adult life - fruit and fancy Greek yogurt are actually kind of expensive. And just with the seemingly brilliant breakfast ideas that came before it, maybe familiarity breeds contempt. 
  • Sometimes when I drop my husband off at work we go to the McDonald's on Hackett near New Scotland. We used to go to the Panera Bread there, but they were so so slow and would actually forget the egg in the egg sandwich. The egg is the whole point - without the egg it is just toast. So we've been going to the McDonald's there for a while, and it has gotten kind of weird. First of all, the price is different almost every time, and we order the same thing. Second, no matter how busy it is there is only one person on the cash register. The manager will walk in and barely look at the enormous line and ask the cash register person if they filled up the ice cream machine for later and do they know there is a huge order at 11:00? Meanwhile, you are thinking you are going to be late for work if your order isn't ready soon and that you could have driven to the grocery store, bought eggs, and come home and made it in the time it takes for them to put a piece of ham, cheese, and egg between two pieces of English muffin. We may not continue this little breakfast ritual of ours. It seems especially silly because we have a whole bookshelf filled with cookbooks. Which leads me to my last point.

  • I was totally obsessed with this recipe this tomato season. Americans just don't eat many vegetables for breakfast and why don't they? The Silver Spoon cookbook has a lot of recipes that involve vegetables and eggs, including asparagus and eggs as well as this great tomatoes and eggs recipe.  Tomatoes from the farmer's market are seriously one of the best parts of late summer in upstate New York, and you really don't want to waste them by not using them up before they start to go bad. This is a delicious way to use them. Also, this recipe requires so little labor you can be putting together your outfit between steps: "Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Brush an ovenproof dish with olive oil. Cut the tops off the tomatoes and scoop out the seeds and some of the flesh. Sprinkle the insides with a little salt and place upside down on paper towels to drain for 10 minutes. Season the insides of the tomatoes with oregano and pepper and divide 2 teaspoons olive oil among them. Place the tomatoes in the prepared baking dish and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven, break an egg into each tomato, return the dish to the over and bake for a further 5 minutes (in my experience a lot more, but just until your egg appears as much cooked as you want it to be). Garnish with parsley and serve".   
There, I leave you with a fancy, easy option for breakfast, which is a lot less depressing than a Special K protein shake. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Beer Snobs Rejoice!

Important breaking news for craft beer fans in the Capitol Region.  I saw at Oliver's today that later this month the superb Kalamazoo, MI brewery Bell's will be making their beers available in New York later this month. Strongly recommended!  And the Michigander half of this blog will be especially happy...