Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Albany Just Might Be Ready For This Place

Tonight was my fourth visit to the recently opened New World Bistro Bar on what's becoming a transformation of Delaware Ave. in Albany - and thank god - it couldn't have come at a better time... well, maybe it could have come sooner...

Anyway I'm always excited to go here - this restaurant's arrival to the area is like the cool kid arriving at the party - and Albany is the party - and in real need of some coolness.. It's a Tuesday night, and at exactly 5:03, as I'm waiting for my friend T. to show up I witnesses a sudden stream of cars into the parking lot - has no one told these people it's Tuesday??? In Albany?? But I'm not complaining, mind you, I was just a little thrown..

T. arrives and it's a good thing she does, because the crowd continues to grow and the hostess isn't confident she could seat us - but after a second look she manages to find a table for two in the bar area. We gladly take it.

The first thing you notice when walking in the door is the palpable energy - of the staff, the patrons, the walls, the tables and the chairs... perhaps a long-forgotten feeling for diners that eat out regularly in the Capital District - but again, I'm not complaining - it's a welcome change. And the food is good too..

We start off sharing the deviled eggs appetizer - which may seem an odd choice, except that these are made so well, I'll likely order them every time. The filling is spicy - probably the result of the addition of some good Dijon, and they're topped with some fish roe - giving that perfect added texture to what is otherwise a soft and creamy bite. And they go perfectly with my house sparkling wine - a great summer choice, light, dry and crisp. It's listed on the menu as a Paul Cheneau Cava, from Spain. I highly recommend it.
For dinner T. tries the "Evita Peron" pizza - and I have to admit I'm jealous after seeing it arrive to the table - this ultra thin, almost cracker like crust is topped with crumbled “Morcillia”, mozzarella, onions, tomatoes, parsley - and again, makes another fabulous summer menu choice.
As you may have figured out after reading previous blog posts, I'm a sucker for tuna - so I opt for the arugula, beets, manchego and sunflower salad topped with blackened ahi tuna, cooked rare. Terrific.. the greens, tossed with an ultra light vinaigrette, are peppery and light, the beets add some substance and the sunflower seeds provide a nice crunch. And don't even get me started on the tuna - fantastic.. pretty much raw inside, the outside with it's crisp blackened crust is a perfect contrast.
Not only was the food a joy, but the service was attentive without hovering - we were left to enjoy our meal and chat for almost 3 hours - even as we watched people lining up to be seated.
So don't miss this place - it's the shot in the arm Albany's been needing for a long time, and I can only hope that it's success creates an environment where more new, bold and exciting restaurants feel they can make it here, in Albany, home of the chain restaurant. And I think we can handle it.. I really do..

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sleepless in Seattle Maybe, But Never Hungry

A recent trip to the opposite coast brought a whole new opportunity in dining experiences - ahhh Seattle.. I think I could live there.. at least for a while.. So sit back and get comfy, this East Coast girl is going to take you on a mini-eating tour of Seattle... so enjoy!
My first night in town, my faithful travel guide and host, D. took me to one of the few places he could think of that served dinner after 10:00pm - hey - it's a long flight in from the east coast - and I was starving! So he took me to a place called The Five Spot in the Queen Anne part of Seattle. It was cozy, comfortable and down right delicious - what a perfect choice for a light dinner. The restaurant apparently has a theme that changes every 3 months - this includes not only the decor but also the menu! When we arrived it must have been "Under the Sea" or something of the sort -fabulous seafood dishes made up the menu and giant paper fish and other sea creatures hung from the ceiling. We started off by sharing an order of fried sardines - served with a horseradish sour cream-type dipping sauce that perfectly balanced out the saltiness of the sardines. This may have been my favorite part of the meal - next I had a smoked salmon (hey, it's Seattle, right?) salad - delicious, intense and fresh - it was like no salmon I had ever had on the east coast - All in all a great late night dinner - it was a playful and truly enjoyable atmosphere ...
The next highlight was dinner the following night at a soul food place called The KingFish Cafe - mmmmm - this entire experience was so satisfying... probably my most memorable meal in Seattle.
D. and I started off by sharing what could of been a meal in itself - the crab and catfish cakes with a homemade tartar sauce. These cakes were incredibly rich and packed with seafood, peppers, spices and just a few lonely breadcrumbs to hold the whole thing together! Anticipating a problem trying to eat my actual dinner, I held back and didn't finish my crab cakes...although it was a tough choice... Which brings us to the next part of the meal - for his dinner D. orders something "light" - Down Home Mac & Cheese - a huge mound of macaroni and 2 cheeses, baked up with peppers and mushrooms... ! This is the true definition of sinful - and anyone with a less forgiving metabolism would of seen the effects of eating such a decadent dish almost immediately - but, sigh... some people are just lucky..

Dinner for me was a griddled catfish with herbed grits and greens. It was so amazing, so homey and just plain delicious that I tried my best to eat it all, but it so substantial, and anything but light.. that in the end, the food won... So did D., as he got my leftovers.. Honestly I think it was all part of his master plan .. ordering that appetizer was his idea after all... hmmmm. Anyway, all is forgiven, because after all I'm a generous person that believes the dining experience is best when shared, and this was a phenomenal meal I won't soon forget.
Next, after an almost impossible mission to try and find a parking spot, we made our way to B & O Espresso - because after a huge meal what do you need more than a rich dessert? I know - nothing.. ! So we sit down and D. doesn't even bother with the menu - he gets his favorite dessert there: "chocolate pot" - and I have to concede - this was probably the best dessert they offer - it looked amazing, oozing chocolaty goodness all over the plate... and I try the flourless chocolate cake - dense, fudgey and delicious, although I can only manage to get 3 bitefuls into my already over-stuffed stomach... and it was hard, but I decide, trying to maintain a good impression, to stop here - or risk popping a button on my already snug fitting jeans.. I'm pretty sure I made the right choice. (I did, right?)
So after what I've managed to eat so far you're thinking - that's it! There's no more room in your stomach, there's no more desire to try anything else, you're sick of food, can't eat another bite - Ha! You don't know me at all do you? I wake up early the next morning with breakfast on my mind... as usual...
So to satisfy my morning bout of starvation, D. takes me on a lovely ferry ride to Kingston to a little French Crepe joint called J'Aime Les Crepes. Now, I've unfortunately never been to France, but the authenticity of these lovely crepes was not lost on me for a second. The batter was light and airy, the fillings, both sweet and savory options, heavenly. I've never had a crepe on this continent that was as good. I opted for a smoked salmon and sour cream dill crepe. D. goes right for the dark Belgian chocolate and banana (he's okay in my book). The crepes are made to order, and huge... we sit out front and enjoy them in the fresh air, as if in a cafe on some fashionable boulevard in Paris, every last bite brought me back (ok, not "back")... ah, je me souviens... Seattle!

I Said it Before, And I'll Say it Again

If you live in the Capital Region, and you own a car - you need to get to the Mountain View Brasserie - no excuses..
Possibly one of the best restaurants in the Northeast is a mere 45 minute ride from Albany - and if you take Route 32 South - bonus! - it's a beautiful ride to boot - you'll meander through gorgeous countryside of southern Albany county and northern Greene County. There are rolling hills, breath-taking views of the Catskill mountains, and farm animals galore. What more could a traveling gourmet ask for but to see a glimpse of what they may well be eating before they even reach their dining destination?

I'll keep this review short, as I did review it in length last year - and I am happy to report that the high standards have not been compromised in the least. Chef Max offers up an inventive but never pretentious menu of seasonal gems like this afternoon's tomato and watermelon gazpacho which I thoroughly enjoyed before my summer meal.
This soup was an amazingly refreshing blend of both sweet and slightly spicy - it was so good, that my companions and I were literally licking our bowls when the waitress came back to clear the table... slightly embarrassing perhaps - but hey - it's probably not the first time she's witnessed such appreciation of something so simple, so perfectly executed.

Onto the main course - what to choose? It all looks good, from options that included roasted shrimp and vegetable risotto, to pork roast with peach and onion marmalade, to salmon with orange and olive butter.. But I finally decide on a lighter dish, given the warm weather, and my goal of losing 5 pounds in the next 2 weeks (ha, wish me luck!). So I choose the broiled scallops over spinach with a warm bacon sherry vinaigrette. I was not disappointed.

The large scallops were perfectly cooked, tender and sweet and not over-seasoned. The warm vinaigrette was a pure pleasure - I would of dipped my fingers in it if it wasn't considered "uncouth".. The main dish was served with a potato gratin on the side that was nicely crisped and browned - very yummy.. And to drink we shared a bottle of chilled rose called Three Saints - lovely, crisp, dry and not sweet at all... and most importantly, a perfect companion to everyone's dinner.

So I was good - I ate about 2/3 of my dinner and brought the rest home - so that I could sample dessert.. I had to.. but I was good - I split it 3 ways, managing the calories while still getting to enjoy a treat that was as expertly made as the rest of the meal - dark chocolate and grand marnier mousse with homemade whipped cream and orange sections. Yet again my dining companions and I found ourselves licking the plate.. hey - it was dark chocolate mousse - you try to restrain yourself..

So as I end this post by saying this is the best, most consistently excellent restaurant in the area - you owe yourself a trip and the chance to discover how hard it really is not to lick your own plate... I dare you..