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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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It’s been a while since I’ve been to Van’s Vietnamese Restaurant. Seems like every time I’m on that stretch of Central Ave, I inevitably wind up going to Taiwan Noodle, but this time I managed to resist that siren call as my sister called for a dinner at Van’s Vietnamese on account of their menu having a good selection of vegan and low gluten/maybe gluten-free dishes (I’m not really sure about the gluten-free part, but the sister unit says they are and I don’t have a gluten issue so if she’ll eat at a restaurant with lots of dishes like Van’s then I’m not going to argue).

For some reason I don’t remember the portions being as large as they are! Holy cow, these crappy camera phone pics don’t do the size justice. These dinner plates were like hubcaps.

Above is Banh Xeo Chay (Vegetarian Vietnamese Crispy Pancake) – $17.99 which has tofu that is textured like meat! I seriously thought that we accidentally got a chicken or duck one, but nope – just tofu. The yellow pancake is crispy, true to its name. This is kind of like a Vietnamese dosa in that you’ll be breaking bits off to eat with the filling. Seriously, it’s a massive size portion and comes as a dinner, though we split it as an appetizer for our table.  0

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Another vegetarian/vegan-approved meal we ordered as an appetizer was Bun Cha Gio Chay (Fried Vegetarian Spring Rolls over Vermicelli) – $12.99, which seems like a much more reasonable price to me. Also, it’s freaking DELICIOUS. Great texture contrast between the soft and pliant rice noodles and the crispy, crunchy vegetarian spring rolls covered in nuoc mam chay, mint, peanuts, scallions, and carrots. I’ve gotta get more mint on in my savory dishes.

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Canh Ga Tom Chien (Fried Stuffed Chicken Wings) – $8.99 for the meat eaters at the table, because how can you resist trying deboned chicken wings stuffed with crab meat? Overall, okay, but I think I prefer regular chicken wings. Kind of overwhelmed the crab flavor, IMO. Still, gotta admire those skills. No way in heck can I debone a chicken wing and leave the skin intact like that.

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Okay – one meaty main for me! Ca Hoi Nuong (Grilled Salmon with Ginger) – $15.99. How is this less than the banh xeo  chay? Our waiter laughingly told me how he’d ordered this dish for a month straight because it was so good.
This dish worked for me – light tasting but satisfying, and tons of veggies! Even a few spears of asparagus in the winter. The veggies all were lightly steamed and still had a firm texture, which I liked. I wound up bringing half of this home because it was so much food and I’d gorged on the above mentioned appetizers.

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One of my friends also got the duck, Com Vit Quay Dzon (Van’s Own Crispy Roasted Half Duck) – $19.99, which was quite tasty, though not very crisp. More taught and roasted but still quite enjoyable.

Any way, sorry to be vague about the gluten-free and vegan attributes of this restaurant. I get that it’s a concern if those are your dietary needs, though they’re not a need for me. Food has always been an issue with me and my sister, so I’m always happy when we can go out to a place where we’re both happy eating (and if you ever find out that the above definitely-vegetarian dishes aren’t vegan please don’t tell me so I can keep going here with my vegan sister, hahaha!).

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What’s not to love about duck? So much skin, so much fat. Husbear carved up a duck I picked up at Ga Ga Lok/Jia Jia Liu/Asian Supermarket on Central Ave. It was mostly fat, but now my duck fat stores are back up. And the duck rinds were delicious. They last in the fridge for a few days if you can’t manage to eat all of a duck’s skin in one sitting.

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Chinese New Year 2014, The Year of the Horse, has been one festive year so far! I began celebrations with friends at Ala Shanghai. After seeing their specials for Chinese New Year, I couldn’t wait to get in!
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Xiao long bao (soup dumplings) were a must to start with. And these were perfect!
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The skins were so thin you could see through them!! See how it bulges a bit on the left? It’s because the skin is so thin! So much soupy goodness. Yum, yum, yum.

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Wine soaked cold duck appetizer.
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Scallion pancakes, always a treat.
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Wontons in a spicy peanut sauce. Good balance on the peanut/sweet/spicy.
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And now for the mains! Double Happiness special entree ($19.88) in the front – salt and pepper fish fillets and squid. LOVED this! The salt and pepper coating was perfect – crispy (not fluffy or beer-batter-y) and not the least bit greasy or oily.

Pork with fava beans in the back. Yum, yum, yum. Big fat fava beans with tender slices of pork.
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Squid and fish heaven!
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Hands down my favorite dish of the night was the Golden Duo ($23.88), which was soft shell crab & whole shrimp coated in a salted preserved egg batter and fried. Ala Shanghai has a soft shell crab-only version of dish on their normal menu, so thankfully this goodness is available year-round.

If you’ve never had an egg-yolk coated dish, you must try it. It’s so rich, salty, and good! The egg yolks are preserved in salt, then mashed up to be part of a batter coating. It adds a whole new dimension of flavor to a dish.
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Also had to add some veggies to the meal. Yum. Chinese broccoli is my favorite – nice and crunchy stalks and tender greens.
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Rice cake with pork and capsella as our starchy/rice/noodle dish (always gotta have one at a big meal). What’s not to love about chewy rice cakes?
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Crispy beef coated in a sweet-ish sauce. The beef still stays crispy! I thought I ordered this spicy, but it came out plain/non-spicy. Good, but I think I like the kick of heat to even out the sweetness.
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And (free) dessert because of Chinese New Year! What a pretty plate of fruit. Great way to end the meal.

There were 6 of us, and we wound up at about $20 per person before tip for all that food. There’s still time to grab a few friends together and try some awesome specials to ring in the Year of the Horse. Gung hey fat choy!

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I know it’s almost the end of January, but how was your new year?  Mine was spent up in a cabin at Dippikill, the campground SUNY owns up in Warrensburg, NY. Since NYE was on a weekday, we got the White Pine cabin at a steal – $270 for a night! We split it so it came out to something like $20 per person, which is a cheap way to spend New Year’s eve with all of the friends you like.

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But first, there was dim sum at Hong Kong Bakery & Bistro before we left with Amanda M. and her guy, plus another friend. We feasted well, and ended up getting out of HK Bakery for $12 per person with tip included!

Turnip cakes on the left, stuffed tofu-skin on the right.

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Veggie & shrimp-filled rice flour dumplings, I think that’s ribs on the right.

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Har Gow. These were massive. Not as good as Ala Shanghai or Taiwan Noodle, but freshly made. The skins were a bit thick and gummy.

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Endless plates of cheung fan with shrimp and duck, and steamed pork buns on the right. Such a good way to kick off a relaxing day. I am SO, so, so happy to have a place in the area that makes their own cheung fan! So quivery, tender, and good.

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Then it was time to hop on the road! White Pine is able to handle 25 people. What I didn’t realize about this cabin is that there is lodging attached for staff in the back. But they didn’t seem to mind our noise. This is also one of the few cabins with parking right on site. No hiking in!

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It was cold when we got in. We never got it to sauna-level like we did with the last cabins, despite loading the fire up with logs.

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I made some crostini – focaccia (made with this recipe by Julia Zeigler-Haynes on Vice) was awesome, then I topped it with some ricotta and sauteed gai lan (in place of broccoli raab). Gai lan is a bit lighter and not so bitter when cooked, and it shows in this application. Eh, okay, but broccoli raab would have been better.

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And lots of cookies, because who doesn’t like cookies. Cacao nib eggnoggy sables in front, green tea sables and coconut-lime cookies in the back.

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Fire. Lots.

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Pulled pork in banana leaves with pickled onions. So good!

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I foisted cooking a duck off on one of the guys, and yum!

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Just ducky.

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We hung by the fire most of the night, drinking and playing a few board games. I haven’t been drinking much lately, so two shots took their toll on me. Man, late 20s = even less of a tolerance than ever.

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Champers at midnight.

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Cheers!

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And then Twister until the wee hours of the morning. I’m sure you can guess which one of these three I am, hee hee.

Resto Week @ Druthers

 

Restaurant weeks in the Capitol Region can be disappointing. Generally, it’s 3 courses for a set price in the $20-30 range. Oftentimes, restaurants post menus they wouldn’t normally serve to meet a price-point, or just for the sake of participation. When I saw Druthersmenu for Saratoga Restaurant week, I thought “Hey, these guys are doing it right.” Their menu was 3 courses for $20, and all of the items on their menu seemed like plausible dishes to make their menu. DSCF4982

Danika of Garnish Marketing and her hubs, one of our other girlfriends, and Albany John joined me for dinner one night.
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Albany John tried a Druthers Manhattan. Our waitress was friendly, although when she dropped it off she mentioned that while the cherries seemed ugly, they were the best cherries she’d ever had. Kind of an odd comment, but the cocktail was well balanced and enjoyable ($10). DSCF4985

I went for the lobster bisque for the appetizer. Huge bowl of lobster bisque, and an enjoyable toast to the roux base of the soup. I was quite surprised with this portion on a restaurant week menu. I hope they add it to their regular roster of soups, because this was great. Not only was the roux well-toasted, but the lobster and cream were well balanced  with a sherry finish (I couldn’t pull a tarragon note, but sherry in lobster bisque = awesome) and this wasn’t over-the-top rich.

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Albany John got the duck wings in Thai peanut basil sauce with a raspberry puree & basil. Holy moly, these need to go on the menu, like, NOW. The skins were crispy, and the peanut basil sauce didn’t sog it up one bit! The flavors all really worked well with duck meat. Oh man, I want a ton more of these! Again, there were a good four duck drumsticks on this plate – a crazy amount!

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Danika went for the slivered beet salad, which was heavier on the arugula and dressing than beets. DSCF4992

Entrees are where Druthers slipped a bit. Their menu listed the cod as “pan-seared” with a smoked tomato puree, crispy pancetta, and cous cous and tarragon salad. , so we were surprised when they came out battered and fried. A few of us ordered the cod, and we were so confused, we wondered how we could all misread a menu.
We asked the waitress to double check for us, and she brought over a menu and made mention of how she hadn’t read the restaurant week menu and how this was how the cod was prepared all week. She even went to check with the chef, and came back to tell us that it turned out that this was a mistake in printing that no one had caught. She’d said the chef told her that pan searing cod was impossible since it would fall apart, and that this was the intended preparation. She was nice for checking, although her delivery was a little rough at times, asking if we were “going to eat it or not?” or if she’d have to take it back to the kitchen. She came back later, and was more apologetic and more insistent about taking things back to the kitchen. I’m not the most effective vocal communicator, so I can relate to not having a perfect response in awkward situations, but some of my other dining companions were wowed (and not in a good way) at first hearing “Well, are you going to eat this, or am I going to have to bring it back to the kitchen?” in a flat tone.
What was interesting what that this is how the cod had been prepared all week, and our table was the first to notice this (or at least, the first to bring it to the attention of the staff).

The fry job was a bit oily and greasy on the cod, so the thick batter wasn’t the most pleasant thing to eat; I picked all of the cod out of the batter. I didn’t see any pancetta on the plate. Maybe it was left off, or was another misprint. I think pan-seared would have been a much more enjoyable preparation method. Use Real Butter didn’t seem to have any issue with her cod falling apart when pan searing.

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The Duo of Filet Mignons were prepared as the menu stated, however, both of the orders at our table were requested rare…DSCF4995

And came out closer to medium and fairly tough. Aww.

DSCF4996So, while the entrees were a bit of a low note, dessert ended on a high note. Chocolate mousse, peanut butter & chocolate layered cake, and a strawberry sorbet in the back. All of these were great. While I don’t normally order desserts in restaurants, I think I’d order them again at Druthers. I couldn’t even finish the peanut butter & chocolate layer cake – so rich! The vegan sorbet had tons of fresh strawberry flavor, and the mousse was dense at first, but finished lightly.

Our waitress came back during dessert to chat a bit more. There was something about her that I really liked, she seemed like a good person and a good fit for Druthers as a server. She thanked us for being a “cool” table and not freaking about about the entrees earlier because it was a mistake on their part, but was ultimately out of her control (a server can’t control how the kitchen decides to prepare dishes). I just wanted to hug her – you could tell she felt badly about the preparation/earlier interaction (probably more than she should have) – it’s tough being the middleman between diner and kitchen sometimes. I still also think that Druthers restaurant week menu was an example of a restaurant doing Restaurant Week the right way – having dishes that they might be testing out for their main menu, or seem like they’d fit in with their normal menu (i.e.: they didn’t break out raw oysters, prime rib, burritos, or other stuff that wouldn’t fit with their menu).


I don’t know what took me so long to get to Blue Spice (Central Ave, Colonie, NY). It’s an easy location to get to (just off of 87), and the decor inside is bright, warm, and very inviting. There are even tables you can sit at all Asian-style and eat with your shoes off. Looked like it was mostly for large groups, though.
I got 2 soft shell crabs as a meal. I think it was something like $18. Tasty! It came with a salty and peppery sauce and sprinkled with some cilantro. I could probably eat 9 of these, but 2 was a good portion size and price.
Albany John got Drunken Noodles with duck. It was also under $20, and not an overwhelming amount. The restaurant was busy on a weekend night, but our dishes came out soon enough, and I liked the presentation. I think this might be why I hadn’t been earlier – I’m usually not a fan of Thai dishes, but this had a nice balance of spicy/sweet/salty and didn’t lean too much in one direction. Albany John really liked the flavors in this dish.
I liked that the portions weren’t too large, because then I had room for dessert! This was a mango (maybe pineapple? sorry, it’s been a bit since I was there) layer cake dessert. It was so good! $7, and easy to split, or eat by yourself after your better half has seen the look of cake-ly desires in your eyes.

It was around $50 with tax for dinner for two. Not a bad night out, and the location is good for a date night.

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