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beef

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My big Christmas present from Albany John was dinner at The Crimson Sparrow. The Crimson Sparrow has a frequently changing tasting menu with the occasional Asian influence. It’s headed by owner John McCarthy, and the experience was thoroughly satisfying. We were there for a little over two hours – the meal was paced so well we didn’t even notice how late it was once we left!

To note, the lighting in the dining room is a bit low, and I’m still trying to figure out how to work my new macro lens, so I’ll include a link to Crimson Sparrow’s IG account with much better pictures of these dishes.
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First up was the smoked octopus on uni puree, lardo, and shiso micro greens (Insta Pic). This was a two bite affair and I could have easily done with a plate of this. The octopus was perfectly executed – smoky, tender and meaty, and the uni puree was a deliciously rich pairing. Just an outstanding dish.
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Brussels sprouts with snails, charred leek, miso, honey, cashews, and parsley (IG Pic). The brussels sprouts were deliciously crispy and nutty, and a welcome vegetal dish. I couldn’t discern any snails, but didn’t realize it until I was done with the dish. I really enjoyed this, just didn’t pick up on all of the flavors noted.
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Sunchoke soup! (Instagram Pic) Sunchoke puree with date, chestnut, hazelnut, pickled cauliflower, black truffle. Oh. My. Gosh. Truffles. I go gaga for truffles. Albany John, not so much. This was a rich and creamy puree of sunchokes. One where, if you made it yourself, you’d be hesitant to serve seconds. The cauliflower, dates, and pickled cauliflower were judiciously portioned out in a wee mince beneath the shaving of black truffle. The black truffle added a lovely rich earthiness to the soup. So wonderful, Albany John even enjoyed the truffle aspect. And darn, I was hoping to get an extra slice of truffle from his portion – tee hee. Just kidding – I’m happy he has found one iteration of truffle that he enjoys.
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Scallop on top of salsify puree with masago (IG Photo is slightly different, but you get the delicious idea). Yet another dish that I could have very easily eaten a lot more of. A perfectly seared scallop, still soft and briny, and hugged with black masago.

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Pork belly with white beans, fennel, bay, mustard, rye (IG Pic). I heard fennel and my ears perked up. Uh oh. I’m not normally a fennel fan. But however this was made – yes. I am a fennel fan. The pork was meltinly tender, and the beans were a nice contrast.

Main Course time! Salmon and beef were the two main course options, so we got one of each.
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Skirt steak with broccolini and black bean peanut sauce underneath (No IG photo). This was one the only *womp womp* dish on the menu. The black bean and peanut sauce was just too much – the fermented black bean too present, and oddly out of whack with Crimson Sparrow’s normally judicious portioning. The beef was well cooked, but compared to the rest of the menu this seemed, well, just too normal.
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King salmon on a bed of black lentils, with bonito, sweet potato, maitake, sweet fern, and rock chives (IG Photo). Oh, sweet heavens, yes. Yes a thousand times over. The salmon was so wonderfully (minimally) cooked. The crisp maitakes were a nice textural contrast while also acting as a meaty complement.

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And then there was my favorite of amouses – the dessert amouse. Mulled spice anglaise, red currants, pistachios (IG Pic). What a nice surprise! It was a sphere of mulled spice anglaise, which had me wondering how I could recreate this flavor at home. Maybe reduce some mulled cider and mix it with anglaise? J
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Dessert also featured two courses, and Albany John went with the cheese course – a sheepsmilk soft cheese, I believe, with Bonfiglio bread and some honey on the side.
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I went with the sake lees ice cream on top of green tea cake mountains with some preserved fruit. I realized after ordering that I generally don’t care for sake, so this ice cream on its own didn’t quite sing to me, but as it melted, it made a nice sauce for the cakes to sop up. The cakes were a bit dry and dense and seemed intentional to resemble parts of earth. Admirable to look at, that’s for sure.

Each tasting menu is $75, with wine pairings available for $55. They also have brunch on the weekends, and Sunday Supper (a paired down and more casual tasting menu for $45). I can’t wait to return to try brunch and supper.

 

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Beef Chow Fun! It isn’t dim sum with my family without an order of beef chow fun. However, I wasn’t with my blood relatives when I had this beef chow fun at Hong Kong Bakery & Bistro for dim sum with some of my local “family”.
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I also hope you like cheong fan, because when left to my own devices, I will order literally all of the cheong fan options available. Hong Kong Bakery makes their cheong fan fresh, and it’s hard to resist that slippery-chewy, tender-stretchy quality freshly steamed rice noodles have.
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The shrimp and duck fillings are two of my favorites (favorite favorites?) – very well executed.
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The seaweed and octopus salad was on the specials menu for $9.99. The picture probably looks larger than it was, but these were baby octopus on a small plate. I wasn’t a fan of this one –  served iced cold out of the fridge, well – it didn’t do the octopus any flavors. The seaweed salad underneath was nice, though.

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What better of a way to celebrate one year of being in the house than smoking up a brisket for friends?
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I picked up a whole Naturewell beef brisket from Restaurant Depot for about $3.50/lb. This about about 13-15 lbs, as I recall.
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And barely fit on the meat cutting board.
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I measured it and realized it wouldn’t fit on the Weber grill, so I sliced it in half, trying to get the flat and the point separated. I did a pretty shitty job of it, but well, the cut was made.
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Just did a simple salt, pepper, sugar rub, maybe a bit of paprika and cumin. Rubbed it the night before, wrapped it, and let it sit before getting ready to smoke.
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Trimmed out the hunk of fat from the middle of the point section.
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Then also rubbed and wrapped.
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Cutting it in two made it a lot easier to store in the fridge, at least.
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And then, well, I woke up around 4/5 AM to start the coals, topped with apple wood chips, brushed every few hours with apple cider, and… I must have started it a bit hot because it hit temp around 10/11 AM! I was expecting a 12 hour smoke. I was pretty sure I’d effed it up, and hard, but I wrapped it in foil and held it at 190/200F in the oven until it was ready to serve.
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It didn’t turn out too bad. I’d realized I picked the most difficult type of beef to smoke for a large crowd with no experience in smoking it before. Not a great idea on my part, but it turned out okay. Not dry, and pretty smoky! I’m happy about that for a first try. It also went surprisingly fast, so it must have been pretty acceptable to my crowd, too.

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I couldn’t wait to get back to Shwe Mandalay for a second go-round after my first visit. This second visit didn’t go as smoothly – we were the only table in there on a Friday night and service was slow and a bit disjointed. The food is still fabulous, though I’m worried about how little business I’ve seen in Shwe Mandalay. Please, people – get in the doors of Shwe Mandalay. It’s delicious, cheap, and a new realm of flavors for the Cap Region!

Another order of fried squash above. Bu Tee Kyaw $5.
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Southern Shan Sausage, $5. Perfect little beef & pork sausage balls.
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Fried sliced onion, $5. I love the batter at Shwe Mandalay – very light, like a combination of beer batter & tempura. Great for frying. Light and crunchy.
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Side dish of dried salted fish, $7, which I think is mostly an Albany Jane love. I ate most of this dish. They changed the presentation from the first time I had this – instead of flat strips the fish was broken up into more bite-sized or smaller pieces.
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Butter Rice & Chicken Curry, $7. All this for SEVEN DOLLARS! Super rich rice with a hearty chicken curry.
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La Phat Thote. Tea leaf salad, $6.50. This time it was covered in dried shrimp, which was unfortunate because one of the folks in our party had a shellfish allergy. The shrimp itself were tasty – crunchy and not too salty or briny, though the salad didn’t really need it.
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Rice & Tea Leaf Salad $6. This was more of a rice dish than a salad type dish, but tasty all the same.
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Black Curry, $8. Pork curry with black bean paste (this is Chinese-style fermented black beans, not black beans). This was a rich dish, but so good (also came with large plate of rice).
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Coconut Chicken Noodle Soup, $6.00. A light, but filling broth with a lightly boiled egg (the yellow is from the yolk).

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I found some corned beef on super-clearance at Hannaford. Hmm, it’s not corned beef season, but it is grill season, which means pastrami/smoked corned beef was on my menu.

I smoked it for a few hours on a grill with apple wood scraps from when the tree was trimmed earlier this year.
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Let it cool & chill overnight, then started slicing. The eating happened quickly. “Mmm, this is good. Wait. Must get picture.”
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Albany John made up a sliced meat platter.
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Pastrami!

Mountain Man came for a visit from Colorado for a few weeks. Albany John and Mountain Man went to SUNY Albany together, so he’s familiar with Albany, but it has changed since he went to school here. Thankfully, he likes eating and being outdoors, so we’re in good company. The bar for good food is pretty low where he lives in Colorado. Between most things getting trucked in and the elevation, there isn’t a ton of fresh/good food or variety where he lives.

We took him to Ala Shanghai for some real Chinese food. He told us some pretty horrific “Chinese” food take out stories in CO. He was so happy to have real dumplings, and that fresh whole steamed fish… man. So good.

Evidently the only cheap things in CO are the beer and alcohol, heh.

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Sushi is a crapshoot where Mountain Man is from. He’s in a touristy town and the elevation does something funny to the rice. We went to Sushi X. I know it’s not the greatest sushi ever, but there is something alluring about AYCE rock shrimp, grilled squid, and some fairly decent sushi rolls and sashimi.
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For $25 a person or so, it’s a pretty decent dinner out. Check off what you want on the order slips. Everything is made to order and quality is decent for what it is, and the selection is pretty wide. I’ve noticed that they don’t quite fill your order slips fully. A few orders might get left off, but eh, that’s what round 2 of ordering is for.
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We continued the Albany New Things tour by going to Nine Pin Cider Tasting Room downtown. The day we went was when they also had “Ciders & Sliders”, pairing up with Slidin’ Dirty serving up in their garage.
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The Nine Pin Flight was okay, though they only half-filled two of the flights for no particular reason, which was kind of a rip. We also got a bottle of cider to share and surreptitiously sip on with burgers.
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Sliding Dirty had a long ass line queuing when we got there. For me, the crowd was a bit overwhelming, but thankfully a friend was nice enough to wait in line for me.
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Sliding Dirty will put your burger on a tortilla if you’re celiac/doing the gluten-free thing, though if you are a true celiac their presentation may pose an issue for you, as they didn’t separate the tortillas from the bun-ed burgers, so gluten cross-contamination may be an issue for the very sensitive.

I thought the sliders were okay, but the price point kind of kills me at $4 per slider. You’d need at least 2 sliders for a meal if you’re peckish, at least 3 if you’re hungry, so you’re looking at a good $8-12 to start for sliders. When I think sliders I think “affordable”, and $8-12 to start for sliders isn’t what I really think of as affordable. FWIW, I hear they are trying to move to all local grass-fed beef in the future, which would at least rationalize the price point somewhat. I’m also not a huge fan of the bread-to-meat ratio on sliders in general, so I’m likely not Slidin Dirty’s target market. I’d just rather get a steak to grill at home for $12, or an actual burger somewhere else with a lower bun-to-meat ratio if I’m feeling burger-y. What the hey, lots of folks seem to like them, and they’ve just opened up a physical location, so this is just my curmudgeonly take on the slider fad.
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City Beer Hall was one of the final stops on the Newish In Albany Tour. Mystery buckets and brown liquor to round out a visit.

 

Afghan Kebab Express is tucked away in the Chinese-character-ed shopping plaza at 305 Central Ave. One of my friends really likes it, and arranged a casual group dinner.

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Their menu is on the smaller side, which is good. There are some random funny dishes. Not the lamb shank in the background (which is a steal at $12.99, and so deliciously lamby and tender), but the chicken qorma in the center. It’s just on the menu as a side dish for $3.99, so obviously curiosity won out and we had to order it. It was interesting. More tomato based than creamy, and the veggies seemed like they came out of a frozen mixed Birdseye veggie bag, though at least they weren’t mushy. The chicken seems to be leftover kebab chicken since it had a nice char to it. Definitely an interesting riff on quorma/korma and a good way to repurpose leftovers on the cheap.
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Bolani – $2.99 per order. Okay, but not something I’d *have* to get again. Veggie filled fried thing.
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Lamb gyro (thanks for the love in the background, darling!) $5.99.
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Blurry gyro over rice ($6.99) platter.
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Beef kabab ($8.99) which you should really avoid ordering as it’s filet mignon, which is done no favors by cooking over a skewer and drying out by the time the exterior gets a char. They were pretty adamant that “that’s how it’s supposed to be”, but sawdust isn’t a flavor profile that our table was crazy about. After a bit of prodding they took it off the receipt and fired up a second order of …
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Koobideh kabab platter ($8.99). Hello delicious! Now this really shines as a kebab/kabab. Fatty ground lamb and beef charred to perfection over an incredibly large portion of rice. You know I’m not a huge rice fan, but this was delicious. I almost ate all of the rice, which is saying something.

All of the platters come with a side salad (some lettuce, raw carrots, cucumber, tomato).

There are also hot sauces in jars on the table to spice up your dishes at your discretion. Weeknight dinner was pretty dead, and not too many take out orders. Hopefully their business will pick up, but I wonder if the location is a problem. Service was ambivalent and efficient. Go for the fattier cuts and you’ll be very happy you came.

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