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CBH 001 amuse popcorn

“Hey m’dear, any interest in going to a whiskey tasting dinner tomorrow night at City Beer Hall  (in collaboration with The Speakeasy)?”

There’s something to be said for good friends who bring you food when you’re sick, generally check in on you while conquering the world, and take you as their date to a whiskey dinner. Deanna Fox is one of those friends and then some. *swoons at succinct offer of one of my favorite brown liquors*

City Beer Hall’s chef Dimitrios Menagias and Robert Mack, the man behind the Speakeasy’s cocktail program, teamed up to pair food with drink from Brown Forman (an American owned spirit and wine business). It was a good night.

We had a popcorn amuse atop a truffled mousse with mushrooms. Paired with the fun amuse drink below whose name I’ve forgotten because this happened a week ago and I have the memory of a fly.

CBH 001 Drink
CBH Course 1 Drink Indian Candy Corn cocktailCBH Course 1 Drink Woodford White Corn Bourbon

Course 1: Indian Candy Corn cocktail (left) featuring Woodford White Corn Bourbon (neat, on the right).
The bourbon itself had a strong caramel scent, and was a real kicky type bourbon. The cocktail was equally punchy.

CBH Course 1 Winter Salad

Course 1: Winter Salad. Grilled prawn, carrots, starfruit, napa cabbage, persimmon nuoc chom. A few kernels of freeze dried corn on the right that paired very well with the meal and bourbon. This made me realize how underutilized napa cabbage is in its raw, salad-y form. A great winter salad with bright notes from the persimmon nuoc chom.

CBH Course 2 Charcuterie

Course 2: Charcuterie. My notes on this dish are covered in hearts. Duck pastrami, foie gras mousse, venison, sweet corn mostarda, pickled green tomatoes. I was talking with some folks recently who said they just didn’t “get” foie gras, and I had to reconsider our friendship for a moment. It’s fat, rich, and delicious. What’s not to like? Duck pastrami was deliciously smoky, aand was great paired with the pickled green tomatoes. The sweet corn mostarta also contained some toasted corn.

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I just couldn’t help but take  bunch of pictures of this plate. There was so much to love!

CBH Course 2 Drink Lion's Tail

Course 2: Lion’s Tail with Old Forester 1870 (which I forgot to take a picture of, and the cocktail picture isn’t much better. sigh). I LOVED the Lion’s tail it was tart and smoky with clove flavors. More hearts drawn around this cocktail. The Old Forester 1870 is the founding brand. 90 proof, spicy, and burns just a tad when sipped neat.

CBH Course 3 Intermezzo

Course 3: Intermezzo, with a cocktail reprieve. Pomelo sorbetto, aperol, candied pomelo peel. Dimitrios knocked this out of the park. The skill alone in candying the pomelo peel deserves respect. They were so thin, and so perfectly candied. Covered in sugar, and not too dry or too chewy. One of our table mates wasn’t familiar with pomelo, and remarked that it tasted “kind of like weed smells”, which is actually kind of accurate with its dank tartness and pungent citrus oils. It’s great to see this citrus featured front and center, especially as a plate cleanser.

CBH Course 4 Manhattan

Course 4: Manhattan with Old Forester 1897, where I have clearly crossed over from sober to jovial as I’ve forgotten to take another shot of the bourbon in its neat form. This may have been my favorite to drink neat or with a few drops of water in it, despite my forgetfulness. It had a tart nasal note, a bit milder than the white corn bourbon in the first course, with what I can only describe as having  great spicy afterburn. Definitely something to warm you up on cold winter night. The Manhattan was also expertly executed, using charred bitters and rhubarb vermouth. And that cherry. Or as my notes read “Oh my god, that brandied cherry”. It’s juicy and delicious and I love saving it to chew with the last few sips of the drink at the end. I think I could just load that Manhattan up with those brandied cherries and be a happy woman.

CBH Course 4 Wild Boar

Course 4: Wild Boar. Smoked corn relish, spaetzle, baby kale, red pepper oil. The corn was smoked over apple wood, the spaetzle was made with parsnip and mustard seed which added a lightly sweet and vegetal note to the spaetzle. All of this worked wonderfully with the boar, and sipping the Manhattan along with this dish made me feel like a very lucky woman to be eating such a fine dish, and to have a friend who’d invite me along to even try this.

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I had to use every ounce of willpower to resist picking up the bone and sucking every bit of delicious cartilage and tendon off of the bone.

CBH course 5 Jack Daniels Howard St. Scaffa

Course 5: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, Barrel Proof (left); Howard St. Scaffa (right). Wow, barrel proof. 130.8% alcohol. Holy caramel smell, with a subtle note of cinnamon. “Drinkable fire” someone noted at our table. Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” was playing in my head drinking this, in very enjoyable way. The Howard St. Scaffa featured a mellow cointreau noir and one drop of Angry God ghost pepper bitters. A definite way to turn up the heat.

CBH course 5 Stuffed Figs

Course 5: Stuffed Figs. Harbison, pecan, Shiva’s wrath bitters, dark chocolate. Harbison cheese stuffed into a Greek dried fig which was reconstituted in cointreau noir. The pecans were toasted and tossed in Shiva’s wrath bitters. This was a delightful way to end the dinner on a high note. The Harbison was creamy (a triple cream to be exact) with grassy, funky, rich notes that worked well to counter the heat of the drinks and complement the sweetness of the fig.

Way to end dinner on a high note. Mic drop Dimitrios and Robert.

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Ah, Toronto. You’re going on my list of places to return to. Jimmy’s Coffee on Baldwin was around the corner from my Air BnB rental. Albany John found them and they were a favorite morning stop for us. They even made me a really tasty decaf cappucino (I was on a decaf kick for a while there). They also had a pretty tasty pecan butter tart, which makes for a fabulously decadent vacation breakfast.

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Since I was staying in the heart of Hipsterville, Toronto (Kensington Market), I decided to check out one of their many unique food offerings. Bunner’s Bake Shop on Augusta Ave was just a skip away from my rental. The storefront itself was minimalist once inside, with an open plan so you could peep everyone making goodies in the background. They have a vegan soft serve which I had to try just out of curiosity. It was a small cone, about 3-4″ high for around $3. We’d probably call this kiddie-sized here in the Capitol Region.
Overall it wasn’t really my thing. It was icy, had a bit of a lingering aftertaste that was parts cloying and bland. I think it was an almond-milk based plain vanilla cone that tasted mostly of almond milk, which is to say, not much. Hard serve vegan ice cream has a better texture and flavor to me. It was fairly icy because of the milk used (coconut milk, with its higher fat content, would yield a creamier confection). If I were vegan, this would rock my world because I hadn’t seen vegan soft serve before. But since I’ve been eating dairy-based ice creams all summer I found this gritty and generally unsatisfying.

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But thankfully Bunner’s is right next door to Dolce Gelato. Someone tipped me off to their pistachio gelato, and I had to get in on that (left). Oh man, was that ever delicious. They use real pistachios, and the flavor just shines through. This rich, toasty pisatchio gelato just hit the spot for a creamy, rich dessert. The pink grapefruit on the right was also a winner – tart, sweet and perfectly nailing grapefruit in frozen form.

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And then I got a cold, because what else do I do on vacation? Albany John and I walked around downtown Toronto as much as I could (not much). We came upon a street fair and watched some buskers perform. That was cool. This guy was great, too. He really knew how to work the crowd and heckle rude audience members.

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More walking called for some banh mi. Not as good as Montreal or NYC, but better than we have in Albany.

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And a disappointing falafel wrap back in Kensington Market for dinner.

We grabbed some Montreal-style bagels at NuBugel on our way out. I like the size. They are a little more dense than NY bagels, smaller, and sweeter. Good for what it is, and something I’ll grab if it’s around, but not something I’ll go out of my way for.

I still hate crossing back into the US. The guards in Toronto were more aggressive than in Montreal. I wish the US guards would take a note from our neighbors to the north. The Canadian guards are nothing but polite, convivial, and generally nice people. The US border guards in my experience are usually aggressive and combative, as if they assume that you’re doing something illegal and want to catch you. The last time I had a positive interaction with US border patrol was over a decade ago. I just don’t see the point in the current mentality. Dude. I didn’t buy anything. I just went to Toronto for the weekend to see family and tourist around. No I didn’t buy anything. No, really, I’m not bringing anything over. Ok, did I buy anything? Yes, I bought dinner last night. And some chips at duty free. Which you should see since I have to give my license to check out at Duty Free. We could really be doing a better way of policing our border without coming off as stereotypical American bully types, you know? When I was at the 100th birthday party dinner everyone else spoke of how much they disliked crossing into the US because of how rude the US border patrol was. I am embarrassed as an American for this to be the first interaction someone may have when crossing the border, for this to possibly be their first interaction with an American.
The silver lining to this is that while the border patrol agents are more aggressive at the US/Toronto border, the line also moved much faster than Montreal, where I’ve usually had a 45 minute wait to return on a good day. Toronto was about a 20 minute wait. So I guess if I have to pick, I’ll go with ruder but faster border (ugh, one time I waited 3 hours in line to return to the US from Montreal. People were getting out of their cars and playing football on the side of the road).

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J’adore Quebec, J’adore Montreal. It’s such a wonderful place, full of great food and generally friendly people. I was introduced to Cantine Relais 202 by the lovely R at Chopsticks Optional. I also learned a new way to go across the border at the Champlain, NY exit, which I will use from here on out. It was great! We breezed through on our way in to Montreal, and only had a 10 minute wait on our way back to the US. I still always find the Canadian side of the border to be more friendly and welcoming. The US side tends to be very grilling and aggressive compared to the Canadian side.

Any way, Cantine Relais 202 is a great first stop across the border for poutine!

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We got a small with curds and cheese, and ZOMG, it was great to eat the squeaky curds! This dish truly is something that we NY-ers just can’t seem to replicate. While Cantine Relais 202 is about 5-10 minutes from the border they predominantly speak French. I was expecting a bit more English so close to the border and ordered “Hi, I’d like a small poutine, please,”, but was met with “Quoi? Eh, Quoi?” so I fumbled into my godawful broken French, which got the job done.

Quebec/Montreal tip: While the province is bilingual, they prefer French and you’ll be better received if you begin politely in French if you are greeted only in French. Some folks will do “Allo/Bonjour” as a way to differentiate, but this is mainly in very touristy areas. I had a lot of success with a very heartfelt “Desole…”. I mean, think about it. You’re a guest, go with what your “host” prefers with if you can.

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Stopped for coffee and wifi at Kitsune, a cute little hipster cafe that would have fit in perfectly in Brooklyn. Great latte.

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We settled in to our Air BNB rental in Little Italy, and were delighted to find Bixi bikes around the corner! It was a great space to stay – two balconies, and 1.5 blocks from Marche Jean Talon!

We parked the car on the street and left it, choosing to rent bixi bikes for the duration of the trip. It was a great way to get around and I highly recommend it. $7/24 hours or $15/72 hours. You’ll get smoked by road bikes, but it’s great for going a few miles here and there, and a good way to build up the appetite between meals.

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When we stopped for coffee, we noticed this tartare bar, Marche 27 on Prince Arthur. So we grabbed our bikes and headed down. There’s a Bixi station just across the street! This was probably the most expensive outing of our trip. Not sure it was really worth the price-tag, but I went with American price points, and most restaurant prices in Montreal are a bit higher than US prices. Makes me wonder about US subsidies, and all that.

Any way, here is what we ordered. Above is the small ahi tuna taratare bowl ($22). Noodle salad with some veggies, and topped with tartare.

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Darn, I wish I took a better photo of this salad. These are all of our dishes. The blob in the center was this great grilled kale salad with beets, chevre, and corn nuts over frisee ($12). The corn nuts were smashed into bits, so they added a nice crunchy and salty texture to the salad. Albany John and I both loved this dish. The charred kale flavor, the cooked yet-still-firm beets. The textures and flavors were all fantastic together.

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PLATTER OF TARTARE!! Had to get the tasting platter for $40. From front to back: Thai Salmon, Spicy Veal, Italian Duck, Traditional Beef, Japanese Tuna. 50g of each type, for a total of 250 g (a little over 1/2 lb)

The fish dishes were just okay. Not sure if it’s the location, but the fish quality was just “acceptable”. Good to try, but I’d order the beef iterations again. The Spicy Veal wasn’t really spicy. Like, at all. It really tasted quite mild and kind of bland. I really enjoyed the Italian – Parmesan, truffle oil (I know, I know, but it tasted good here), chives, and onions. A nice punch of savory. The traditional french tartare preparation was good, though I though it could have used a little more salt (but keep in mind I am a salt fiend).

We also got some fries ($4), which came with a tasty dipping sauce.

Service was prompt and friendly. The location was a bit clubby/geared for late-night crowds, which was a boon for late-night eaters like us. A cute, cozy little romantic place for dinner overall.

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Here’s a shot of the caffeine station from our rental. Oh man, that was some good espresso.

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The next morning we headed to Marche Jean Talon! It’s a 7-day a week vegetable market. There are a few stalls of folks who purchased from distributors, but they’re fairly obvious. The majority of stalls are occupied by local farmers with beautiful produce.

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There are several rows of stalls. It’s not an all-day type place to visit, but you could definitely kill 1-3 hours there depending on how long you linger.

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Premier Moison! This was a brick-and-mortar building which had the best croissants of the market.

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An inferior croissant, which was much more bread roll-y than croissant-y.

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Love the branding.

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If I lived in Montreal, my version of a farm share would be going to Marche Jean Talon and buying a few bucks off of the discount tables. I couldn’t actually see anything wrong with this produce. No blemishes or anything! It took a lot of control not to impulsively buy it all.

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Beautiful displays.

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A few goodies from the morning haul – fail croissant, gooseberries, tart cherries, cucumbers, and a cantaloupe.

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An awesome sectional couch from the rental.

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Albany John has had the Biodome on his tourist list for years. We finally made it over there, and were… well… I was underwhelmed. I thought it would be bigger, with more stuff to see. There were basically a few large rooms with varying climates you’d walk in to. A few animals (which, BTW, the more I see animals in captivity as an adult, the more depressed I get when seeing them).

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There was a sloth exhibit. One thing I found interesting about the Biodome is how minimal the barriers between exhibits/animals and people were.

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Moar biking. We didn’t eat hear because it smelled like poo inside. Like, serious sewage leak or something.

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This place was probably not much of a better choice. It was basically a Thai version of greasy Chinese takeout that we have in the US (except much cleaner).

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Bar of pre-made stuffs.

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$18 for a 3-choice plate and two rice rolls. Seemed pretty steep for what it was. The 3-choices of meat, veggies, and tofu were pretty greasy and bland akin to most “asian” fast food. But it provided the necessary calories to continue biking all over the city. I think we netted at least 15 miles that day.

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This is from a grocery store. Oh man, I wish Liberte were as cheap here!

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Another Hat Tip due to R at Chopsticks Optional. Marche Hung Phat for Vietnamese food.

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Iced coffee, which was basically like dessert. Mmm, so good. Also necessary after biking all over the city.

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Banh mi!! $3.99 each, and so good! We got a traditional banh mi, and one which also included Vietnamese bacon/pork, which is basically like adding char siu to it, and ZOMG, delicious.

Marche Hung Phat prefers French. I’m not sure if they don’t speak English, or just really prefer French. There was a younger guy there who could speak English, but expect this ordering to be predominantly en Francais.

Languages are so fascinating to me. I’ve got some mental (personal) block over speaking Chinese very well (I’m part Chinese. Why isn’t this coming naturally to me? Oh man, my inflection is totally wrong. I’m pretty illiterate. Why am I not excelling at this?!), despite years of classes. My French isn’t very good either, but I can get by. I have a serious respect for people who speak multiple languages fluently. I’m pretty sure if I came to another country that was bilingual, I’d pick one to do really well (the more commonly spoken), and then put the other one on the back burner. BTW, their French was fantastic.

Okay, personal idiosyncrasies aside…

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Marche Jean Talon was on our way back to the rental, so we picked up some provisions to cook at home.

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Spinach, zucchini, onion, beets, and some pork chops from Porc Meilleur. About $20 overall.

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Bounty!

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Dinner before our show. Oh yeah, we didn’t go to Montreal strictly for eating, but for the Just for Laughs comedy festival, primarily know as Juste Pour Rire. It’s a pretty big event, with some free shows, and some private events. We saw Kumail Nanjiani & Friends at Cabaret Underworld on Friday night.  I heard rumblings about Seth Rogen being there in the back somewhere. We’d also tried to get seats at Au Pied du Cochon Thursday night, and evidently Seth Rogen was there, too. I’m not much of a celeb stalker (I am incredibly awkward), but I thought it was neat to be in the same place as anyone twice in two days.

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Saturday Morning we headed back to Marche Hung Phat for brunchy good times. I had a dessert beverage cup while we waited for …

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A big bowl of bun rieu ($7.99). The crab soup was okay. A bit light on the broth flavor, but overall a tasty way to start the day.

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I found out that Albany John and I cannot eat 6 croissants in one day before they start to deteriorate in texture. Sadface.

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Two baguettes. Oh man, I wish there were a Premier Moison nearby.

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Baguette & Croissant crumbs.

Albany John can always find graffiti in Montreal. Here are some of his pics:

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Montreal’s food trucks are interesting. The people of Montreal are getting into food trucks, but the regulations prevent food trucks from operating on the street like we have in NY. Instead, they’re primarily seen at festivals where the streets are blocked off, or private events.

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This milk shake was not good. Proof that food truck doesn’t automatically = awesome. Very watery. Like iced milk.

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And then back to Cabaret Underworld for Al Madrigal! Ironically, Cabaret Underworld was a 3rd floor walk up.

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But they had great graffiti/art on the walls of the staircase to look at on the walk up.

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We got to Cabaret Underworld early enough to snag front row seats for Al Madrigal! I even got to say hi at the end when he did a meet & greet with the audience after the show. I was incredibly nervous and awkward “Hi! I’m a huge fan! That was a great show! I was crying at the end, you were so funny!” I seriously fangirled out. Sorry, Al Madrigal.

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Neat art exhibit at a local artist area on St Catherine. These folks also help put on the Under Pressure graffiti series.

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Chibi devil house.

We then roamed the city. It was also the night of a fireworks display, so we headed to a hilly part of Parc Jeanne-Mance, but needed some snacks along the way. I swore I’d avoid Schwartz’s smoked meats, but… well, it was right there.

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No, not there. Somehow we missed going into Cinema L’Amour this time around. But right on the same block is…

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Schwartz’s smoked meats. Now with aggressive panhandlers out front! There wasn’t a long line out of the door when we went, which was nice.

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I got a half pound of fatty smoked meat, and had packed half of a baguette in my backpack. The meat was fine, but I still don’t get the hubbub over this meat. It’s good, but it’s not *that* good. I mean, then again, I smoke my own meat so it’s not like this is the only place I can get my smoked meat fix.

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We had a little picnic and watched the sky explode.

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Sunday was our last day, and so we went back to Marche Jean Talon for breakfast. The last time we went to this creperie was years ago when my friend first introduced us to Marche Jean Talon and the guy working that day was a real douche. I remember ordering some crepe, watching him make it, roll his eyes, then make it again, and handed me/us two crepes mashed together and condescendingly saying “The order is normally not this much, but I messed up the first one, and so I gave it to you for free with this,”. You really had to hear it, since it’s all in tone, but seriously, I’d never heard someone be such an asshole about messing up an order before and acting like what he was doing was an act of benevolence. He rolled his eyes and sighed when I said “Um. Okay. Thank you.”

Oh, and the franken crepe he made was kind of sucky and soft overall. Serious douche canoe.

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Fortunately our experience this time was much better. Service was excellent and efficient.

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Obviously, I ordered dessert for breakfast. Salted caramel crepe. I couldn’t detect any salt, but this was tasty.

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Albany John went for jamon, bechamel, and mushroom, which was probably a much wiser breakfast choice. Great flavors and very hearty.

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I continued dessert-for-breakfast by stopping at Havre-Au-Glaces at Marche Jean Talon.

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FOR BURNT MAPLE SYRUP ICE CREAM!!! CAN YOU EVEN?! It was so delicious. The burnishing straddling the fine line of bitter and sweet so well.

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Havre aux Glaces is primarily French speaking as well, but not to worry if your ice cream ordering skills are rusty (like mine). You’ll get through it just fine.

Oh Montreal. I already can’t wait to return! It was great to spend time checking out the Little Italy section of Montreal, as we normally hub around downtown and St Catherine. But we are getting older and it’s time to try new things. Break out of the comfort zone! Continue the adventures! Also, I’m starting to hate crowds of people and ear-splitting music even more as I get older, so most bars hold no appeal to me. The next place to try is Au Pied du Cochon. I really hope to get there one of these years.

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.

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Ah, Parivar. One of my favorite casual spots for a quick dinner. No need for reservations, and you can pick up ingredients from the grocery store part of the store on your way out. Pista Falooda ($4.49) is a great way to have dessert with dinner.
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Samosa chat ($4.99) on the left, Idili Sambar ($3.99) and Dahi Vada (4.99) on the right. The Samosa were fine samosas, which came with a big bowl of chickpea masala.

The Idili are delicately steamed rice cakes, and the dahi vada are fried lentil-based doughnuts. Yet despite being fried, they taste deceptively light. Coconut chutney rounds them both out.

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Some DIY Pani Puri ($4.99) on the left, and a bowl of tokri chat ($5.99) on the right.
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Paneer Dosa ($8.99!) I love the gigantic dosas here. But make sure you bring a bunch of friends to share like I do! I loved the texture and flavor of the paneer in the dosa. So good.
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Full meal ($7.99) two of the prepared dishes from the bar in front (okra and.. some other veggie dish I forget now) with a hefty side of basmati rice, dal, two parathas, one dessert, and spicy pickle and yogurt sauce on the side. The only clunker here was the dessert. A little overly soft, and the flavor is a little oily. Desserts seem to be Parivar’s weakness. Their savory dishes are a treat, but I’ve never really enjoyed their desserts.
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One of the Indian Chinese dishes. These tend to be really salty, and that’s coming from a salt lover. It is fun to have a little bit of, but so overwhelmingly salty that I would probably not order this as a single item to eat solo.
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Bread pakodas ($1.50 each) stuffed slices of bread and deep fried.
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Gobi Indian Chinese on the left, another delicious dosa!

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The Capital Region Coffee Collective had a brew method exploration at the end of January at the Learning Center of the Healthy Living Market. It was a great event in a great space, and \was a fun, educational way to see (and more importantly, taste) a few different brewing methods and find what your preferences were in a cup.

I forget the coffee we tried, but it was a freshly roasted blend from Gimmie Coffee.
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The first method was a simple pour-over with a filter. This is how I’ve enjoyed my Blue Bottle coffees, and I figured this would be my favorite for the day, but I was surprised that it was not! It was good, but wow, let me tell you, the differences between brewing methods were very noticeable.

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The second demonstration was the Chemex. This was one of my favorite ways of brewing. It cut a lot of the acidity and was a really smooth, rounded cup of coffee. Being able to try the Chemex method immediately after the pour-over method was great, as I was able to see how much smoother the Chemex was compared to the pour-over (which ordinarily I’d think was just dandy)
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French press was next. This was a bolder cup of coffee in terms of flavor and acidity.

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The Aeropress was next.
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The aeropress is probably the easiest coffee making method of the bunch, and is best for single serve cups of coffee.

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PUSH the water through the coffee. I thought this lent a lot of acidity and bitterness to the coffee, which I didn’t care for. Other people really liked it, so it was a fantastic learning experience to be able to have different opinions on brewing methods and open up dialog with other attendees about what you liked or didn’t like and why.
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The Moka Pot. I think of this as the espresso coffee maker because a few friends use these to make, well, espresso. Also a pretty easy and compact brewing system to use.

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The Syphon. This was the most impressive looking brewing method, for sure. It’s a 2-stage coffee brewing system. you put the water in the bottom pot, and the coffee + filter in the top pot (which also has a glass tube that leads into the glass pot below. Once it comes to a boil, the water is siphoned into the top pot to brew, then goes back into the lower pot when done.
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Wow. That was really awesome to watch. And it also made a great cup of coffee for me. Tied with the Chemex due to its rounded flavors and low acidity/bitterness.
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Now here is the only down side – my two favorite methods of brewing were also the two largest and most difficult to clean if I want them at home. Chemex = big glass vase that the cat will probably declare a mortal enemy and try to break, takes up a lot of space and will need to be stored somewhere to protect it from the cat and my own clumsiness. Syphon = TWO pots to clean, and that pot with the siphon tube will need to be cleaned almost immediately after brewing; plus protective storage from Rambo cat and clumsy oaf owner. I’ve decided to order these out when I see them, like at Tierra coffee roasters (they have Chemex for $4 a pot).

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P1030858Thanks to the 518 Coffee Collective for putting together this educational public event! It was truly fantastic to be able to compare different brew methods side-by-side. I’d likely never really be able to tell the differences (or seek them out) otherwise. It was energizing to be in a room full of passionate people sharing their craft.

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Sometimes you need to get away from it all. Sometimes the location is important, but sometimes it’s the people that help you reset. Fall 2013 has been one heck of a doozy for me. Being an adult is a wonderful thing, but sometimes responsibilities and things like that toss in a few complications. I’d been planning on visiting Daniel in Princeton, NJ for a few weeks, and by the time I got there it was exactly the mental reset I needed. You can read his account of our adventures here.

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I left Albany Saturday morning, and by the time I got through all of the craptacular NJ traffic (seriously, it was smooth sailing until exit 17 on 87S, then a bunch of eye rolling until I got to Princeton) it was time for lunch. Greasy and so-bad-but-so-good sounded good to me, so Hoagie Haven it was!

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I loved the interior – one big open space with a menu and chips on the left, and the ordering line up front. You could customize any order you wanted, and they had a cute menu of their own custom sandwich combos.
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Daniel suggested we go with sandwich halves, which was a good call. Like, a really good call. Each half was about the size of my forearm. Dan and I split a Sanchez (fries, chicken cutlet, mozzarella sticks, cheese, special sauce) and a Wakeup Call, which is more of a breakfast sandwich that Dan customized as eggs, bacon, cheese, pork roll, .hash browns, and mozzarella sticks (mozz sticks in place of their “steak” slices). And we also got fried mac and cheese. The kiddos split a half sub which was a Sanchez, but with marinara sauce in place of the sweet sauce we got.

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Overall, the kids deemed the mac & cheese better than their sub, which I have to agree with. Those were freakin awesome fried triangles of mac and cheese. Just the right amount of crunch exterior and creamy interior. Get the mac and cheese bites from Hoagie Haven.
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We paired the subs with River Horse Hop Hazard beer.
The Sanchez. Meh. Not my thing. The sauce was way too sweet, and the fries were too heavy and didn’t add anything to the sub. The chicken cutlet was okay because it was meat, and how do you not like meat? But overall, just “meh” in terms of sub. Thank goodness Dan also got the wakeup call so I wouldn’t forever judge his select sub shop with a raised eyebrow. The wakeup call was pretty freaking awesome. Hash browns are a way better sandwich choice than fries at Hoagie Haven. If you see fries, just swap them for hash browns. But no, the pork roll, bacon, and eggs were pretty tasty. I didn’t think the mozzarella sticks added much flavor on either sandwich, which was pretty disappointing and weird that they didn’t add much flavor.
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After lunch, the food coma started to set in, so Dan made some of his super sugary Cuban coffee for me.
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The mixing of the espresso with some sugar, turning it into a creamy fluff of sorts.
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The pour

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Bam, energy shot in a glass
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And then, get this, we went for a WALK after coffee time! I know! The Veal of People wanted to go for a walk. I am so happy for the exercise addition in his life!

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Princeton’s grounds are beautiful.

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Okay, enough of walkies, let’s get back to food. We went for two dinners, because that’s how we roll. The first place was Papa’s Tomato Pies.

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There was a magician at Papa’s, which the kiddos enjoyed, and was a nice distraction from the relatively short wait until our plain cheese pie came out. From what I can tell from this brief experience, Tomato Pie is kind of like a really thin (crackery) crust pizza with chunky tomato sauce, or chunks of sweet tomato sharing the spotlight with cheese.

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Papa’s crust was nicely thin. Not quite crackery, but quite ephemeral on its own. Papa’s tomato pie had a very short half-life in terms of enjoyability. The first slice was great. The second slice just a few minutes later was firmer and less enjoyable than the first as it cooled off. Still enjoyable, but just not as good as the first slice.
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Our second stop was DeLorenzo’s, which had one hell of a wait, and one hell of an inefficient hostess. The waiters were all taking peoples names and putting them on her list, telling her to seat people quicker. Yikes. And for some reason, she just kept telling the servers to wait, and slowly seating people. It was a weird experience. I’ve never seen waiters so openly tell the hostess they could handle more tables, and to seat more people.

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DeLorenzo’s pie was more of a crackery-crisp crust, which Dan and I preferred. The kids deemed Papa’s pie to be their preference of the two.

Compared to Papa’s the atmosphere at DeLorenzo’s was more chaotic – lots of TVs, bright lights, and not much in the way of noise control. It was a little overwhelming for me. BRIGHT LIGHTS, LOUD SOUNDS, AND PEOPLE EVERYWHERE. Bit the pie was a nice crackery crust, and the tomatoes shone through.

Prices for both of the pies were in the $13 range. Not expensive, but I could see an adult eating a whole pie with ease.

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Then we were off for two desserts for our two dinners. First up was The Halo Pub, which is an ice creamery and not a pub.

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I got a scoop of peanut and cashew praline. The cashew was really good. The peanut, eh. This was only like, $2.50 for the ice cream, though!

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Then it was off to the Bent Spoon. I suppose you could call the Halo Pub an old school institution. Lots of wood everywhere. The Bent Spoon would be like the hipster child of the Bent Spoon. They had banana “ice cream” and more non-traditional flavors than the Halo Pub (but Halo Pub had more selection).

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Wall of hard to read flavors (for old people. I could read them just fine).
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Flavors for the sampling! These seemed more like gelato than ice cream by how they had them displayed.

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I got their Wild Turkey & caramel flavored ice cream, along with the very locally sourced NJ pumpkin and NJ mascrapone ice cream. They were both so good. Expensive, but so good. Something like $4 for this small ice cream. But really good. Like, I couldn’t pick a favorite between the two. They just nailed those flavors.

One of my favorite moments here was when Little Miss Fussy almost started crying. Why? Because she was full and sad that she couldn’t finish her ice cream. So freaking cute.

So then we went and slept off our foodings. To prepare for more foodings the next morning:

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Nino’s Pastry Shoppe for their icing filled donut. Which Dan said was more of a frosting sandwich, so of course I was all in.

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Their portions were enormous. Every good here was gigantic.
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Then it was off to the Eet Gud Bakery. Love those signs.
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Also very large portions.
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Here are the sweets we got from Nino’s: frosting-FILLED donuts, cream puffs, and cookies for the kids. The cream puffs were pre-filled, but maintained crisp exteriors. Nice job.
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We may have gone a little crazy at Eet Gud. So many things just looked so gud, though.
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So here is Nino’s frosting-filled donut on the left, and Eet Gud’s frosting-filled donut stick on the right. Nino’s frosting had more of a buttery feel to the filling, but it wasn’t great butter, so it had a bit of a greasy lingering thing going on in your mouth after you ate it. Not too sweet, either.

Eet Gud’s donut stick was my favorite of the two similar donuts. A slight shell of an exterior on the donut, cushy interior, and a sweet, thick frosting inside. Nice textural differences. Dan preferred Nino’s to Eet Gud’s for those same reasons, haha. He liked the softness of the whole dougnut and wasn’t a fan of the different textures of Eet Gud’s donut.

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Raspberry filled donut on the left, “mango” on the right. I say “mango” because that filling seriously tasted like Pez. There was no mango in there, but a whole lotta Pez.

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Pumpkin filled on the left, custard on the right. The pumpkin was awesome. Mixing the pumpkin with their frosting, Eet Gud churned out a donut with a great pumpkin flavor and a mousse-like texture filling. The custard on the right was like a Boston cream, but without the chocolate.

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I wasn’t a huge fan of the custard. It was kind of weak in the flavor department, so this was my wee dreg of donut.

And then I drank an entire pot of coffee, filled up with some cheap NJ gas and was on my way to Flushing, NY to see my uncle.

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