Sunday, October 23, 2011

Can it be? An Avenue A Reincarnation?

Steve Barnes' blog, Table Hopping reports that former chef, Un-Hui Filomeno, of the former Avenue A (home of some fantastic and creative dishes, not to mention a stellar wine list), will be the chef-owner of "Mingle".
The new restaurant will be housed in the old Avenue A location (544 Delaware Avenue in Albany) and is scheduled to open in November (my fingers are crossed).
Un-Hui Filomeno will run the new operation with her son Jose, who also played a major role at Avenue A. According to Steve's blog, Jose will be cooking at the restauarant on Mondays and Tuesdays, when the menu will feature organic, raw, gluten-free and vegan specials (can I say Yay?!!). Overall, the menu is reported to include an expanded selection of Korean food - its about time Capital Region...
Now if only we can wait another few weeks until the opening...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Recipe of the Month: Banjan Borani

Banjan Borani: Eggplant with Tomato and Yogurt

After my recent visit to Kabul Night in Schenectady I decided to re-create a fantastic dish I had there - the Banjan Borani - simply, eggplant that's been broiled or fried, then sauteed until sweet and tender with onions, tomatoes and red peppers, and of course, a little spice... delicious!

Vegetable spray
1 medium yellow onion sliced thin
1 tsp. turmeric
16 oz. canned crushed tomatoes
6 oz. (1 small can) tomato paste
salt & pepper

1 green or red bell pepper, cored, seeded and sliced
4 oz. plain yogurt
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium eggplant, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
2 Tbs. crushed dried mint

Heat vegetable spray in a large saucepan until hot. Add the onions and sauté them, stirring occasionally, until light brown, about 20 min. Sprinkle in the turmeric and stir to coat the onions. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring often to prevent the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning, until all the water evaporates and the mixture thickens, about 30 min. Keep the sauce warm while you proceed.

Whisk together the yogurt and garlic in a bowl, add about 1 tsp. salt, and set aside.
Broil the eggplant: brush the rounds with oil and arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Broil until browned and soft on top, flip them over, brush with more oil, and brown the other side, about 4 min. on each side. Put the cooked eggplant in the tomato sauce. When all the eggplant is in the tomato sauce, hold the handles of the saucepan and shake the pot from side to side until most of the slices are covered with sauce. If you like, remove the pepper. Keep warm over low heat.

To assemble the eggplant, spread one-quarter of the yogurt mixture on the bottom of a deep, flat serving dish or platter. Using a flat spatula, dish out the eggplant and sauce mixture and spread it over the yogurt. Drizzle the rest of the yogurt mixture on top. Sprinkle the dried mint over the yogurt and serve.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Greek House: Another notch in downtown Troy’s belt

My latest restaurant review is out in the September issue of Capital Region Living magazine. This month I review a neighborhood joint - a great homestyle Greek place in downtown Troy.
I don’t know if you’ve been to downtown Troy recently, but I would highly recommend you plan a trip in the near future. There is a true resurgence taking place…read on here...

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Special Occasion? Make the trip to one of the area's best restaurants: the Black Watch

The Black Watch, Glens Falls, NY: Erudition, Refinement and Polish without Pretension

Overall rating on a scale of 1-10

Service - 9 Food - 9 Ambiance - 9 Price - $$$

Glens Falls may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of a highly sophisticated culinary experience. You are forgiven, while clearly this town is full of charm and history, it has not always been the home to upscale and innovative dining establishments.

You just got lucky. Enter The Black Watch. Having just opened in May of 2010 in the center of town at 21 Ridge St., this restaurant fills a need in the city for an upmarket steakhouse with impeccable service and an inventive menu featuring local produce and locally raised beef from Washington County.

On a lovely early spring evening, friends Hilary and Mike joined me to make the trip to Glens Falls and investigate what all the recent buzz has been about surrounding The Black Watch. The small storefront brick building is charming with a decidedly historic feel. The space is small, without being confined. The restaurant opens at 5:30 for dinner, and we got there shortly after it opened to find several tables and stools in the bar already occupied. A friendly hostess greeted us and led us past the stairs to the second floor dining area, through the narrow bar area to the main dining room in the back of the building. The décor was impeccable and if first impressions mean anything, we would be in a for a memorable evening. Everything about the space said “classic”, the wood tables and wainscoting, the crisp white and taupe linens, the exposed brick wall and the racks of wine bottles along the wall. The environment could be stuffy, but the modern touches like the framed black and white photography on the walls lightened things up and gave the space a ‘modern classic’ vibe.

This classic part of this vibe was echoed in the service we received from our wait person. From our first drink to the time we left, we experienced a level of service absent in most restaurants today. Our server was helpful, polite, friendly and above all, professional. Our server started by guiding us through the classic cocktail menu and wine list, making winning recommendations. With her assistance I ordered a glass of Isabel Mondavi Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon ($8). Mike decided to test the claim that the bartender made the very best Sidecar ever ($10), a concoction of Cognac, Cointreau, lemon juice and simple syrup. Hilary went old school with a twist, ordering the “Mitch-hattan” ($10), consisting of a house-made cherry/whisky syrup and two types of aromatic bitters along with whisky and sweet vermouth, (and yes, you guessed correctly, the bartender is named “Mitch”).

My wine was delightful, medium bodied, fruit forward and slightly earthy, Mike had to agree, his Sidecar was one of the best he’s had, not too sweet, mixed to perfection, and Hilary enjoyed the rare addition in her drink of Peychaud's Bitters, popular in New Orleans, which is sweeter and floral than the more common more Angostura bitters.

Nothing sets the tone for a meal like the service and a good drink – so naturally we were all encouraged and ready to contemplate the menu. It was a concise and well thought out compilation of appetizers, salads and soups, followed by entrees and side dishes. Resisting the urge to order the crab cake (as I always seem to) I chose instead the Classic Caesar Salad ($7) with white anchovies. Always adventurous I had to try this anchovy variety from Spain, which are milder and have a lighter texture than conventional anchovies. (Plus, they’re salty, and who doesn’t love that?) Mike and Hilary started their meal by sharing the Chilled Root Vegetables and Goat Cheese ($8) with fennel vinaigrette and hazelnuts.

When our first course arrived I thought I had died and gone to food porn heaven. These were some of the most exquisitely plated and presented dishes I had encountered. I’m talking front cover of Bon Appetite here… the plating was breathtaking. We almost (almost) didn’t want to disturb the beauty by plunging our forks into this mini-masterpieces. Well, that didn’t last…

I wasted no time going straight for a forkful of intense yet pleasing white anchovy. I think I could eat these delicious little fishes on dry toast and be happy (note to self, good idea for midnight snack). The salad itself was a testament to the classic Caesar salad, no bacon bits, not drowning in cheese and not overly dressed. The crisp leaves of Romaine lettuce and the homemade croutons were delicately tossed in a delightful roasted garlic vinaigrette and modestly topped with shavings of pungent parmesan cheese.

If this wasn’t a pleasing enough way to start a meal, it turns out the real showstopper turned out to be Mike and Hilary’s root vegetables with goat cheese. It’s hard to get this excited about a vegetable dish – unless it’s this extraordinary. The vibrantly colored cooked spring vegetables: fennel, carrots, parsnips, and beets, were gently coated in a citrus dressing and tossed with bites of creamy goat cheese and crunchy toasted hazelnuts and topped with crispy fried parsnip strips. The level of sophistication in this dish was mind blowing. It was a perfect balance of delicate vegetables, tangy cheese and toasty nuts. And the fried parsnips were the hit of the night – unbelievably tasty and as addictive as potato chips, none of us guessed what vegetable they were made from and had to ask. These could have easily stood on their own as a bar snack. Something for the chef to think about! Although, as Hilary perceptively pointed out, you’d have to call them something else – who would actually order a basket of fried parsnips with their pilsner?

It was hard to imagine the meal getting any better, The Black Watch had set the bar very high and we were all eagerly awaiting to see if the entrees delivered. The menu offered included standards like steak, pork and seafood, but all with an innovative twist: an exotic sauce, an imaginative preparation or unexpected ingredient. I was drawn to the Butter Braised Haddock with basmati rice, lemon fried shallots, and wilted greens ($19). (Sure I love seafood in all forms, but regular readers will know that I picked the dish solely because I am a sucker for “wilted greens”). Hilary chose one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, the New York Strip Steak ($21) and Mike had the very interesting sounding Cider-Brined Pork Rib Chop ($19). The steak, unlike the other entrees, does not come with side dishes; instead diners choose from a selection of a la carte items, including a variety of potato and vegetable sides. Hilary ordered the Brussels sprouts with bacon and the homemade gnocchi, all sides are $6.

Dinner arrived with much excitement. Just as with the appetizers, everything was plated expertly and was centerfold-worthy of any major food publication. The haddock was tender, moist and flaky, in other words, cooked perfectly. The filet was surrounded by a lovely spring-green olive oil drizzle and a rich buttery sauce. The greens, turned out to be baby bok choy, and were nicely “wilted”. However, overall the dish was a little on the mild side for me, not showcasing any intense flavors. While every component was executed satisfactorily, I do wish the greens were of a darker variety, offering more of a contrast to the mellowness of the fish and rice. A little acidity in this dish would have also helped to heighten the other flavors and brighten the dish up a bit.

Hilary’s steak was generally a very nice cut of meat, but a little grisly, (however that is not the fault of the restaurant). It was seasoned well, had good flavor and was cooked as she ordered it (steak lovers will know sometimes this can be an issue). However, it was the sides she ordered that stole this show. Sure, Brussels sprouts are fine, but cook them with olive oil until they’re slightly caramelized, and add some bacon and you’ve elevated them to a whole new level. Even those who don’t like this sometimes bitter cabbage-family veggie would be happy with this side. The gnocchi were even better. Not only were these little potato pillows homemade, they were deep fried. You heard me. And you thought gnocchi couldn’t get any better. We had to take turns physically restraining each other from wolfing down the whole bowl. First the deep fried parsnips and now the deep fried gnocchi. I guess it’s true that you really can fry anything – and it’ll be delicious.

Mike probably had the most sophisticated, imaginative dish of all of us. For a pork dish the meat itself was remarkably “pretty” and delicate looking on the plate, surrounded by a swirl of roasted apple sauce, and another of walnut polenta, with some red onion chutney on the side. This is one of those times I wish I had my digital camera with me. I would have forgone any amount of embarrassment to capture this dish on film. The best part? It tasted as good as it looked. The pork was brined, which means it sat in a nice bath of apple cider vinegar before being cooked, not only making the meat tastier, but tender as well. In addition to the roasted apple sauce and walnut polenta, there was a helping of maple spiced carrots. All three were perfect matches to the pork. Apple is a traditional companion to pork, so of course it worked well and the walnut polenta, although something new and unexpected, was divine in its nuttiness. And cooked carrots never tasted so good – they were like candy, but with enough spice to avoid being cloying. And then with the introduction of the red onion chutney you have a sharp, tangy-sweet flavor. This dish didn’t skip a beat, it had it all. Hopefully it will stay on their menu for others to enjoy, and devour happily.

Not wanting the evening to end, we decided to “look” at the dessert menu. Yeah, you know what that means; dessert was never really in question, based on the exemplary meal we had all experienced so far. Our server sealed the deal when she mentioned that all desserts were made in-house. Great. No turning back now.

We decided on the Carrot Cake and simply for balance, the Triple Chocolate Torte too, both were $6. To accompany dessert I ordered a glass of the refreshing Brut Mionetto Prosecco ($8), Hilary tried the Irish Coffee ($4) and Mike had a cup of deaf coffee ($2).

We shouldn’t have been surprised by the exquisiteness of the desserts, yet we were. The carrot cake was better than any I’ve tried. It was rich as expected, but the flavors were varied complex and yet all worked in harmony. The cake had lovely spice notes and was not overly sweet; it didn’t need sugar to fall back on with the cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg enhancing the intense carrot. Even the homemade whipped cream sprinkled with spiced walnuts was out of this world.

The triple chocolate torte sounded richer than it was. We were pleasantly surprised by its light and airy quality. This also meant we could finish it with feeling was light! But being light didn’t mean it lacked chocolate intensity, for it did not. This dessert is for serious chocoholics who can appreciate the intense concentration of chocolate without the bother of flour or other ingredients that might hinder its essence. And just in case the torte wasn’t enough for you, it came with vanilla ice cream garnished with those delectable spiced walnuts.

Everything about this dessert was smooth, rich, creamy and decadent. I highly recommend it. The light, dry Prosecco was a nice accompaniment to both desserts and by all accounts, Hilary’s Irish coffee used a good quality Irish whiskey and was not unnatural neon green color, this is a plus.

For a restaurant in a town not known for sophisticated, inventive cuisine I found this dining experience to be a pure joy. The food is classic, but pushing the envelope of flavor combinations. It is by no means typical. I personally applaud The Black Watch for their professional service, pleasantly progressive menu, meticulously made cocktails and plating and execution worthy of a restaurant anywhere.
The total cost for two cocktails, three glasses of wine, two appetizers, three entrees, two desserts, and two coffees (excluding tax and tip) was $120.54.

The Black Watch is located at 21 Ridge Street in Glens Falls, NY. They can be reached at (518) 792-5225 or online:

Hours of operation are for Lunch: Wednesday - Friday, 11:30 to 3. For Dinner: Wednesday - Saturday, 5:30 to 9:30. Cocktail hour begins at 5 p.m.

Monday, April 18, 2011

333 Cafe: Where Everyone Knows Your Name (Or Will)

Ever had one of those days where you all you want to do is collapse into a chair, have someone pour you a glass of wine you’ll love, and make you a meal so delicious and comforting that all the day’s stresses seem to disappear? Yeah, me too. Lucky for me I found 333 Café a few weeks ago on an evening when all I had energy to do was eat.

Now it’s not hard to find a restaurant in the area that offers good service, but to find a place that takes it one step farther is unusual. A place where your happiness is the utmost priority and no amount of attention is too much. A place where the staff knows the names of its patrons and makes a genuine effort to create a comfortable, relaxing and welcoming environment. 333 Café is that place.

Housed in an historic building at, yes, you guessed it, 333 Delaware Avenue in Delmar, this restaurant has been co-owned and run by chefs Chris Dangerfield and Libby Thomas since 2007 (but they both originally came on board back in 1999).

Entering the restaurant is like walking into someone’s home. The warm, maroon painted walls, the dark wooden tables and chairs, the bookcase lined walls filled with bottles of wine and there’s 1940’s music playing in the background – it’s all very inviting. And that’s before Libby gets to you. Reputable area pastry chef? Yes. But accomplished front of the house welcome committee? Absolutely. A resounding and friendly greeting awaits all who enter. Libby is talkative, funny and a fantastic host. After taking the coats of my dining companion Tina, and I, we are allowed to choose our table. We decide on a cozy corner spot allowing us a nice view of the dining room and the open kitchen.

Libby is quick to attend to us, immediately offering us the wine list (how did she know?) and menus which featured a special “March-Tober-Fest” selection of German inspired appetizers and entrees in addition to their regular menu. There was Pickled Herring with Sour Cream and Beet Slaw, Beef Rouladen and Jager Schnitzel among Bavarian specialties offered. Tina and I decided to play along, and in celebration of the special menu start by sharing an order of Potato Pancakes with Homemade Apple Butter and Sour Cream ($9). While waiting for our appetizer we ordered wine: the Coppola Chardonnay ($6.50) for Tina and for me, the Red Guitar Tempranillo ($6.50), a reliable Spanish red that’s lush and full-bodied with notes of chocolate and ripe dark red fruit. Unfortunately Tina was not impressed with her wine; it was a little too light, without enough depth. But no worries, Libby happily brought Tina a sample of a Chardonnay she thought she’d like better, the Laboure Roi Pouilly Fuisse. This was a winner, a more complex wine what was rich and buttery, but still dry. When I looked at the Wine List later in the evening I noticed this white was not offered by the glass, but that didn’t stop Libby from offering something she thought a customer would enjoy.

Soon after we got our wine selections straightened out, our potato pancakes arrived. They looked beautiful, large golden brown discs of crispy crunchy goodness, we dove right in.

Regrettably, the cakes didn’t quite live up to our expectations. They weren’t as hot as they should have been, perhaps during the wine swap they sat a little too long because they seemed to be lacking crunch as well and were consequently a little soggy. The flavor was nice, pretty much what you’d expect, but I think being only lukewarm really hurt the flavor and texture.

Not to worry though, as it turns out, the best parts of the meal were yet to come.

The menu on the whole is concise, but I think its quality that matters and not quantity, and there was enough diversity to satisfy most palates. All options ranged in price from $17 to $28 and included Braised Lamb Shank with Fried Shallots & Zinfandel Jus, Chicken Cutlet with Crispy Goat Cheese Raspberry Demi and Seared Scallops with Mustard Supreme Sauce, to name a few. Tina continued her Bavarian journey with the Beef Sauerbraten ($25) and I chose the Tagliatelle with Broccoli, Spinach, Basil, Radicchio and Walnuts ($19).

As we awaited our entrees Libby brought out the salads that accompany every dinner. Not only did 333 Café recover nicely here from the subpar potato pancakes, they knocked it out of the park. How good can a salad be you might ask? How about pretty amazing… as in I’ve been trying to recreate this salad at home ever since-amazing.. An eclectic mix of baby spinach, cucumbers, carrots, apples, and shredded cabbage was dressed with a curry infused oil and a sweet roasted beet gastrique (a French style sauce made by reducing wine or vinegar and adding fruit). Somehow it all worked beautifully together, the spice of the curry, the crunch of the apples and cabbage and the sweet and sour gastrique. If this salad was on the menu as an a la carte item, I would certainly order it.

The restaurant was now starting to fill up with what appeared to be mostly regulars, Libby and Chris addressing people by their first names and mentioning new menu items that might interest them. It went from a relaxed, comfortable place, to a relaxed, comfortable and friendly place. I had the feeling I could sit there all night and be quite content enjoying good food, a homey atmosphere and tapping my foot to the classic 40’s tunes.

Dinner came out looking like it had a lot of potential, nicely plated and so inviting. My large bowl of homemade al dente pasta was abundant with crunchy walnuts, fresh, bright broccoli and pungent basil tossed in garlic and olive oil and topped with shaved Parmesan. Aspects of this dish were like a deconstructed pesto sauce, it was a wonderfully thoughtful and nicely executed dish. Everything was perfectly measured resulting in a well-balanced meal where all the ingredients had center stage. My favorite part was the use of the walnuts, the flavor and texture was a perfect complement to the richness of the rest of the dish.

Tina’s Beef Sauerbraten was tender, moist and full of flavor. The rich brown sauce was not overly sour, and overall this was a very savory and hearty dish. For the most part this traditional dish, happily, stayed true to its origins, evident even in the accompanying side, red cabbage.

The portions at 333 Café are hungry-man sized, but who doesn’t like leftovers when the meal is this good? Tina and I both had the remainders of our dinners wrapped to go. We had no choice, after all, Libby Thomas’ reputation as an incredibly gifted pastry chef preceded her – it was our responsibility to see what all the fuss was about. We made sure to save room.

Dessert selections were presented on a chalkboard at our table. All were between $4 and $6 and included a nice variety; Key Lime Pie, Dark & White Chocolate & Raspberry Truffle Cake, and Citrus Cheese Cake, among others. Talk about your tough choices… We did settle on the Key Lime Pie though, after Libby promised us it was sufficiently “limey”. Libby delivered. Although the pie was sweet, enough of the lime flavor prevailed to make this a standout dessert, and far better than most Key lime Pies I’ve had which are also sweet, but lacking in the limeiness. The crust was a joy as well, a crumbly mix of butter and sugar; it reminded me of the addictive Bordeaux Pepperidge Farm cookies. The pie was topped with light and cool homemade whipped cream. Tina and I tried to be sophisticated, casual, act like this was any old dessert, but we lost that battle. Not a crumb was left on the plate. It was a decisive victory for the pie.
Overall the 333 Café is a pure pleasure, that rare mix of comfort and sophistication, with no pretention in sight. It’s a place where they aim to please, and are successful at it. Chris and Libby are truly a dynamic culinary duo – skillfully turning out diverse home-style dishes with a refined flair, and making you feel at home while they do it.
I imagine that after our second or third visit we too, would be referred to by name, as if we were walking into Cheers, among friends.

333 Cafe is located at 333 Delaware Avenue in Delmar, NY. They can be reached at (518) 439-9333 or online:

They are open Tuesday –Saturday, 4pm – 9pm.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Warning for Vegetarians

So here I was, on a typical weekeday at work, eating my microwaved Campbell's Select Harvet Light Vegetable Pasta soup... It's low cal, full of whole wheat past noodles and vegetables.. and not bad tasting either..
All was right with the world.. or so I thought...
In a moment of boredom, I picked up the container and start reading, and to my horror I notice on the ingredients list, number one, top ingredient.. is Chicken Broth????

Whaaaa? Wait a minute!
This vegetarian almost fell off her chair in surprise... Why? Well, I have been so committed in the past year and a half to sticking, successfully I might add, (or so I thought) to the vegetarian thing (ok, so pescatarian really.. but still). I felt a little betrayed. There are limited options as it is for us non-carnivores, this just ruined my day.

So - here's a warning to all of you vegetarians - don't assume that the vegetable soup, or French Onion soup, or even Manhattan Clam Chowder, is made with vegetable stock.. you could find yourself falling off your chair, and what your  mess your spilled soup would make... trust me...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cheap Eats Anyone?

Mussels Frites at Garden Bistro 24
When you eat out as often as I do, and are not independently wealthy, you learn to search out the good deals, the lesser known, the independently-owned, the consistently delicious. And if you’re really generous, you share those great finds with others. I am feeling generous, so follow this link to read a  few thoughts on some of my favorite “cheap eats” in the capital district. All will satisfy and none will break the read on...and get eating!

Friday, January 14, 2011

New Restaurant Review: Two for One!

Two (more) reasons to eat out on Lark Street
The Wine Bar and Bistro on Lark
Jewel of India

Most of us that live in the Capital Region don't need to be told how lucky we are to have Lark Street and all the quality local businesses located there. But that doesn't mean we should take this unique neighborhood for granted; instead we need to continue to show our appreciation and support these diverse restaurants, gift shops and other businesses. After all, Lark Street is one of the places that helps define our area and make it special.

I'm not boasting or anything, but I truly am a regular patron of many of the bars and restaurants on Lark. The reason? Variety, quality and a friendly community-feel that is hard to come by elsewhere. My two most recent trips to Lark Street involved visiting an old favorite and trying out a brand new spot.

Read the entire review here....