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Two new doughnut shops in just a few months. Nibble, Inc. opened in Troy recently, and Cider Belly Doughnuts opened in Albany. If you’re one of those “I don’t cross the river” type folks, well, then good – there are new doughnut shops on both sides of the river. The hype machine is going strong for these two new shops, with love for both doughnut shops throughout the blogger community. The Fuj has much love for Nibble, Inc. I wish I shared his enthusiasm for these doughnuts, but they don’t light me up. While Fuj finds them to have a crisp exterior and light/fluffy interior, I’ve found them to be on the dense and tough side. Nibble’s doughnuts are unlike any other doughnut in the area, in that they use potato in the mix. I suspect that Nibble is the doughnut shop for folks who don’t like traditional doughnuts, as one of the owners says she wasn’t a fan of doughnuts before trying this type of potato-dough doughnut in Portland, ME.

Nibble doughnuts don’t hold up well to time, getting denser and denser as the day goes on. Conversely, if you like dense doughnuts, then they hold up very well. The density is what really gets me with the Nibble doughnuts, and isn’t really my thing – my ideal doughnuts are light, ethereal things. Albany John picked up this mixed dozen (missing one, hee hee – couldn’t help myself), and they were a real jaw workout come nightfall and the next morning. They were very nicely fried and non-greasy, though, and I think they’d make a fine doughnut-based bread pudding. I’m looking forward to seeing what non-doughnut offerings Nibble has coming up in the future – they definitely have promise.

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Cider Belly Doughnuts is on South Pearl Street in Albany and is sadly only really open to walk-in traffic during M-F hours, with some Saturday morning hours open for pre-orders. I tried this doughnut during meatball fest one weekend in Albany, and OMG, it was love at first bite. They kind of reminded me of Krispy Kreme in that they had a nice crunchy shell, and the icing had a good crisp exterior, and the interior was very light and poofy. I went in a bought several more doughnuts – they even have “Belly Flops” pre-bagged on the counter, which are discounted frankendoughnuts that don’t quite make the cut (ie, imperfect in shape, but still perfectly tasty). The doughnuts I bought stayed light and crispy into the evening. I really like these doughnuts, especially with the different glazes (maple is really well executed).

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

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

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Finally managed to check out Athos in Guilderland! A lot of their main dishes seemed a bit big for dinner in the summer, so Albany John and I just ordered a lot of appetizers to share. 3 dips for $10. We got Melitsanosalata, Fava, and Tarmosalata. They also served a freebie dish of olive tapenade. I think the dips could have been saltier, but overall they were pleasant. Also, not enough pita for the dips. We probably could have used 2x the amount of pita for the dips given. Which is crazy, because it looks like it’s a lot of pita when you get the basket, but the slices are not that big.
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Sagnaki – cheese flambeed table-side. How can I not love this?

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Grilled octopus was okay. Came out chopped into small pieces.
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Not really sure if I’d get this again. I think I overhyped this in my mind, mainly because I love octopus and I don’t know of too many other places in the area that list a whole octopus leg on the menu.
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However, the calamari ($10) will totally bring me back. It comes with a spicy citrus oil or marinara, which we noticed after putting in our order. There is no default, though when we asked our server, he said he put in the citrus order.

The exterior was shatteringly crisp, and the calamari meat inside was buttery and tender. So easy to eat lots of it. And the citrusy oil was a very nice contrast of bitter lemon (though not at all spicy).
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Island Kefetethes, $8 – zucchini, feta, onion, and dill vegetable patties. The accompanying yogurt sauce didn’t complement it and masked a lot of the delicate dill flavor.

The main dishes seemed a bit too heavy for me, at least during the summer time, so a dinner of appetizers was right up my alley.

The service I experienced was perhaps a bit too casual and chatty for the atmosphere. It was pretty dead when we were there, and I had to remind my server about my drink order, and the check was dropped without offering dessert (which I could have asked for, but eh, once the check is dropped, I tend to just want to pay the bill and leave). There was also a request for email addresses for their mailing list, which just seems more on par with a restaurant that doesn’t seem as… upscale? My favored way to interact with restaurants via social media is either on Facebook or Twitter, and don’t worry – I’ll find you.

So. Overall, I’d probably go back to the bar and snack on calamari.

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Grab 5 of your friends, and get a table for 6 at Shwe Mandalay. Six is the perfect amount of people to try a significant amount of Shwe Mandalay’s menu without taking up half of the restaurant. Albany John, Daniel, Chopsticks Optional, and 2 other friends made up our table of 6. It’s right on Central Ave next to Taiwan Noodle, and as I remember: “The old Hong Kong Bakery space”.  There’s a small parking lot for a few cars. The service is polite and efficient.

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Bu Tee Kyaw. Fried squash. This had a great shell  – like tempura meets beer batter. Very light and airy, and so crisp.
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Bayar Kyaw – fried lentil balls with onions & curry leaves. I’m pretty sure frying makes everything delicious. I’m not an enjoyer of dal in any form other than fried. This were nice and crispy little nuggets.
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Southern Shan Sausage. Adorable little sausage balls filled with a mix of beef/pork and rice. Served with a whole lot of super hot chili peppers (they’re in the back, there). These were great! A nice texture to them. Kind of like Vietnamese sausages, or boudin.
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Some dishes come with a simple beef soup (free). Nice, light little soup.

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Chicken Biryani, filled with deliciousness. Cinnamons, raisins, cardamom pods, and Burmese chicken curry. This was fantastic.
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Chicken Curry in the back there. We also ordered pork curry. The curries come with sides of veggies and condiments. And massive plates of basmati rice. The curry bases are really enjoyable (not too much turmeric for me). The chicken was mainly white meat, so I’d likely skip it in the future and go for the fattier pork curry.
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Samosa triangles. Tasty triangles. They seasoned a touch lighter than Indian samosas. While potato was a large part of the filling, there was also a nice amount of cabbage (and the lightness the cabbage lent).
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Hey, pork curry and massive plate of basmati rice!
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I think this was the Mom’s taste salad. Oh, those crunchy peanutty bits. So good. Along with everything else in there.
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Now, this dish. this could be a very polarizing dish. This is the dried salted fish dish. Fried, dried salted fish. It’s like salty fish jerky and I love it. If you’re not a fish person or have issues with sodium, then this dish isn’t for you. But if you love fish & salt like I do… well, you are in for a treat!
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Another polarizing dish was the tea leaf salad. This was another one of my favorite dishes, though others at the table didn’t feel as much love for this salad as I did. It didn’t taste like you were eating raw/crunchy tea leaves. They had a texture that went well with a salad, kind of like blanched kale.
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Pe’ Paratha. A flaky coconutty-tasting paratha with a very large bowl of vatana puree. Holy flakiness, in that paratha.
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Mandalay Myee-Shay salad. Fat rice noodles with pork/chicken, pickled mustard leaves, and bean sprouts.
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This was a soupier noodle dish, which I’m blanking on right now. Thick noodles with some pork, greens, beans, and carb-y sliced bits on top. Nice, but we got these at the end of our eating spree, so they probably didn’t get the full appreciation from our table that they deserved.
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Dinner for 6 for $85 before tip! Can’t beat that!

So this was my first time eating Burmese food, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It’s a delicious combination of a lot of aspects of subtle Indian & Chinese flavors. I can’t wait to go back and try some of their other dishes, like the paratha salad.

 

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

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

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

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

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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 Fuj mentioned some new dishes on Taiwan Noodle‘s menu over the winter, and after the third or so mention, I asked him and Elise to meet Albany John and me there for a meal recently, and they kindly obliged.

First up: Spicy Shredded pork stomach ($3.95) on the left, 5-Spice Beef Shank on the right ($5.95). Hefty portion of beef in that dish. Served cold like deli meat, still very meaty. The pork stomach is served over a bed of peanuts. It’s can taste a touch gamey, but if you order the fried pig intestines it tastes mild by comparison.
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The onslaught of shareable plates. Wood ear in the fore front, adding in the fried pig intestine (the red stuff top left) and scallion pancakes. Woah, the pig intestine was some stuff yo’ A-ma or Yeh-Yeh would be eating. That stuff was intense. Albany John is an old man at heart and he loved them (thank god, because the rest of us were not into them).
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Squid rings! These had a nice breading and chew on the squid. I could eat a plate of these on my own. They had a side of seasoned salt, which was already in the batter. They said it wasn’t really necessary, and it wasn’t, but I guess they’ve had enough people ask that they now just bring some out.
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Wonton soup on the left, and a dish from a new part of the menu – baked rice. This baked rice was seafood. It was a gravy type dish over rice. Kind of like baked fried rice, but with gravy. I’m not a huge rice fan, but I was really into this dish.
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Pretty sure I ate close to half of this on my own.

Oh wait, did we also get Xiao Long Bao? I think we did, but I must have been too busy gobbling them down! Haha.

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