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duck

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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.

Bro, Margarita, and Baby Dubs came up from Mississippi for a bit recently. It was so good to see them! Hard it believe it’s been almost a year since I last saw them!

I wanted to do something special while they were up here, and booked a dinner at Garden Bistro 24 for them, my mom, my sister, plus Albany John and me. Oh, and a toddler.

I emailed ahead of time to partially arrange a special meal for my sister, who’d said she’d eat cooked food. So I requested something vegan and gluten-free. Much to my surprise, John Grizzaffi himself responded! Who ever expects the chef and OWNER of a restaurant to answer your emails? (He’s a peach, btw).

They have old fashioneds!So yummy! So potent!

Albany John got a hangar steak. Yum! Cooked med rare. My mom got a steak too, but no sauce. Not sure if she really liked it, she said it was kind of tough. Ah well. I guess I should have considered the cuts a little more. My mom’s more of a prime rib gal. I was hoping she’d like GB24 because they do simple meals, but I guess I didn’t consider the cuts she usually likes.

I got a duck confit special. Came in an amaretto sauce (but not too sweet). Two legs! Woah man – so much food! Really tasty – can’t get enough of their mustard, either.

My sis-in-law Margarita got a Garden Bistro 24 salad with Chicken. She really liked this.

My brother got mussels with the coconut sauce on them. He was like “These are fucking DELICIOUS!” (only add more cursing and it’s all said in caps). If I hadn’t seen the duck special I would have deffo ordered up some mussels!

Here is the special dish John made for my sister. I don’t think she actually ate any of it, since she ordered a salad instead. I guess she decided to switch back to raw food ’cause she got a salad. It was beautiful, though, and full of ingredients I don’t normally see on BG24’s menu. Freshly grilled seasonal veggies, kalamata olives, and organic polenta. The rest of us picked at it – so flavorful. I don’t know, I just wanted to have something she could/would eat with the rest of us aside from her usual greens, but I guess I screwed that one up along the way. I ordered it any way, since I made such a big deal about special ordering it. At least she was nice enough to take it home in a doggy bag, tossing it, I’m guessing, out of my view.

John – thank you very much for the effort you put in this dish (and vegans, put a rezzie here!).

A pic of Albany John’s steak, the special vegan dish, the salad my sis got instead, and a pic of my mom’s frites, ’cause evidently I didn’t snap a pic of her steak.

Service was great (as usual) – really friendly service, and guess what? Kids are always welcome here!

All done!

I always like going here. I was hoping I’d pick a place everyone would like because I like it so much. You can enjoy the food yourself, but you can’t necessarily force others to like what you do too. Or hope really hard. But you can enjoy the company and let them distract you from bluer thoughts ’cause you’re so happy to be with the crazy family you have.

Hunh, and here I thought I just went here for a meal. Instead I come out with some kind of life lesson.

Last night was Chinese New Year. And I ushered in the year of the Rabbit at Ala Shanghai with AoA Mary and her guy, Daniel B., CelinaBean, Sandor, a new friend, and Albany John.

We had reservations for 8 at 7:30, and by 8 pm, all of us were assembled. The parking lot was paaaaacked! It was a very popular place. Glad I made reservations in advance. Hey, you don’t chance dinner on Chinese New Year.


They even busted out red tablecloths! I had the lucky problem of more people than the reservation wanting to come. I think 8 people was just the right number to come, though, space-wise. It was also an auspicious number, too. And thankfully the people who were unable to make it were also gracious and understanding,too. It’s probably the first time in my life I’ve had more people want to come and I’m very happy for it – it’s a good kind of dilemma to have.

We got the set menu for 8 and some pork xiao long bao for those who’d never tried it at the urging of Daniel B.

We had some pickled cabbage to nosh on while waiting for the rest of our group to show up (center), and then above are two of the four cold appetizers. In the front is a spicy dish with beef and peanuts. The back is aster salad – so yummy and textural. Pork Xiao Long Bao.

Pork Xiao Long Bao – two orders.
Dried beef and mock duck, the other two of the four cold appetizers. The dried beef was very tasty – it’s a Chinese texture that I love – chewy in a tendon kind of way (but not tough), and beefily flavored.

The mock duck was dried tofu sheets filled with vegetarian stuffing. Does it taste like duck? No, but I guess it kind of looks like duck slices. Tasty either way you eat it.

Dinner was at a leisurely pace, which was nice because we all hadn’t seen each other in a while. We closed the place down!

Here is the seafood soup – the squid (or cuttlefish) bits were SO tiny and delightfully chewy! Plus there was tofu, shrimp, scallops, and some egg. Really tasty soup. Light but hearty at the same time. I had three bowls. THAT good.

Here is the shrimp dish, seafood soup, and flounder fillets with seaweed.


The flounder and seaweed was AMAZING! Perfectly crunchy nuggets had me wishing for a pile twice as big just to eat for myself. Lanny Lau, the manager/owner, came over to explain that the seaweed was toasted and ground up and mixed with the flour for a batter to fry the fish in. It was a great savory-vegetal flavor, and the fish itself was moist and tender. It’s something I’d like to try making at home, but I don’t think I’d execute nearly as well. These stayed crisp for the entire duration on the plate (which wasn’t all that long, hee hee) and also had a salt to dip them in. You know the salt I’m talking about – Cantonese restaurants usually serve it with crispy chicken.


The shrimp popped in my mouth. So sweet. Lightly cooked to let their shrimpy glory shine. They were smaller guys, but very tender.

Sea Cucumber! I was excited to try this dish – I’d never had sea cucumber before. It was good. Really good. It came with some shiitake mushrooms and very thin slivers of chicken. Great combo, and had a nice smoky flavor overall.

Sea cucumber was kind like frogs legs, super soft beef tendon, and fish. Really interesting. I liked it. It was very smooth, but not like jelly. Very lightly flavored – delicate, even. I’d say you should try this if you haven’t. It’s not that “weird” of a dish in terms of flavor or texture.


SHANGHAIESE PORK CHOPS! It was deep fried and covered in a sticky-sweet sauce. Like if salt and pepper pork chops had a little extra coating on them. This was quite nomtacular as well. If there’s one thing I love more than pork, it’s pork that’s been fried.
Look at that – it’s like saying “I am a sexily delicious piece of pork.”
The CelinaBean dish! Bok choy and shiitake mushrooms. Perfectly cooked bok choy quarters, and some delightfully steamed shiitakes. It’s dishes like this that make me lurve shiitake mushrooms. It was a good “breather” course…
Before the duck came. One whole crispy duck. So good. And plenty for 8. Sandor was a card and was like “Oh, please, nobody take all of the dark meat… oh wait, it’s duck. It’s ALL dark meat. Bwahaha!”
LOOK AT THAT SKIN!!! Perfectly moist meat, crispy duck skin. What more could I ask for? Delicious.
Fried rice. I’m not normally a rice fan, but this had hints of smoke, and the veggies were nice and firm – really lightly cooked. Some ham and shrimp in there, too. Good stuff.
Dessert time! Steamed red bean buns. I was impressed with how tender the baos were. The dough was very soft and tender. I know they were just steamed, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever had buns this soft before.
Dessert soup! It was a rice ball kind of soup – small mochi balls floating in a sweet egg soup. Albany John was expecting something like red bean soup like we get for dessert in NYC with my family. But that’s a Cantonese thing – this was totally not at all like red bean and tapioca dessert soup. Great way to end the meal. Filling, but like the seafood soup – light yet hearty.

The rice balls were light and chewy – a great texture. And the soup itself was lightly sweet, but you’re not going to get a sugar coma from it. I would have had seconds, but I was so full from dinner, I could only finish my bowl.
Dinner was a little over $20 per person with the XLB added in for tax and tip included. Not shabby at all for all of that food!
Ala Shanghai is running the Chinese New Year special into mid-February, so you could pop over for a group early Valentine’s day dinner and really impress your date. Just sayin’.
My Chinese New Year festivities have only started. I still need to see my little sister to give her laisee, and then we’re going down to Flushing to celebrate Chinese New Year with my Yeh-Yeh tomorrow. Might even see one of my cousins I haven’t seen since I was a little girl! Gung Hey Fat Choy! What are your CNY plans?
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