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Hey cool cats – check out what’s in store for the Soul Cafe (Albany Edition) tomorrow night!

Soul Café Albany
Monday, September 29, 6-8 PM
Westminster Presbyterian Church
parking lot access at 85 Chestnut Street
Albany, NY
$3 suggested donation
Pizza! Why read any further?
The Soul Café Albany community meal is at it again on Monday, September 29 from 6-8 PM at the Westminster Presbyterian Church (parking lot entrance at 85 Chestnut Street) in Albany. There is a suggested donation of $3 for this volunteer-run dinner (no one will be turned away). The Honest Weight Food Co-op and other generous area businesses donate culled produce for the cooks to prepare. Vegan and vegetarian options will be available.
All are welcome! We are looking forward to working together to break bread in the community.
+ For more information, contact soulcafealbany@gmail.com.
+ More information can also be found on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/soulcafealbanyny

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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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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.

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Ah, the joys of the swine. I picked up a ~10lb package of “Kurobuta” pork baby back ribs for $3.65/lb. What a steal. And while there is a high amount of bone in baby back ribs, 10 lbs of baby back ribs is a lot. 10 lbs is a great amount for a party.
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Once the package thawed out, I separated the ribs into two containers to season and marinate.

 

 

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Guess what’s really easy to make? Galbi marinade. You can use bosc pear if you can’t find Asian pears. Super yummy, and not as dark as the store-bought kind.
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Half of the ribs got slathered in galbi (which wound up being very mildly flavored, but did a great job for tenderizing).
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The other half got rubbed with rib-a-licious spices. You know – some sugar, some paprika, some chili powders, some salt, some black pepper, some mustard… a little of this, a little of that. And generously packed on each rib section.
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Then they sit (covered) in the fridge overnight. The fridge will smell amazing.
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Then it’s time for grilling! A rib rack is really awesome and fairly necessary for a grill when making baby back ribs. They’re so thin and small that you don’t really want them to lay flat on the grill. And a rib rack saves space, you can cram more ribs on the grill to cook at the same time.
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All lined up.

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I used the “cowboy” style charcoal, and let the ribs sit for about 60-90 minutes, covered.

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Hello, darlings! The meat retracts while cooking, the rib bones pop out a bit, and a nice lacquer forms on the outside of each rib.
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Done.
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Now I’m just hoping Albany John and I finish our never-ending living room renovation project so we can have a big housewarming party and serve up some of these ribs.

Check it out, Soul Cafe is expanding from Troy to Albany. Their first shinding is next Monday, June 30th! I went to the planning potluck, and this is sure to be an awesome time (plus there’s parking!).

-AJ

Soul Café Albany
Cuban Night with Chris Faraci (Carmen’s Café, Troy)
Monday, June 30, 6-8 PM
Westminster Presbyterian Church
Albany, NY
$3 suggested donation
The first Soul Café Albany community meal will take place on Monday, June 30 from 6-8 PM at the Westminster Presbyterian Church on 262 State Street (parking lot entrance at 85 Chestnut Street) in Albany. There is a suggested base donation of $3 for this volunteer-run dinner (no one will be turned away). Denison Farm, the Honest Weight Food Co-op, Placid Baker, and other businesses donate culled produce for the cooks to prepare.
This month’s theme is Cuban Night, with a menu created by Chris Faraci of Carmen’s Café in Troy.
We are looking forward to working together to break bread in the community.
For more information, contact soulcafealbany@gmail.com.
More information can also be found on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/soulcafealbanyny
Carmen’s Café: http://carmenscafetroy.com/
Honest Weight Food Co-op: http://www.hwfc.com

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My BFF & sister-in-law Maka was up for a girls’ weekend while Albany John and his brother CVS went to Dippikill for a guys’ weekend. I took her to Vent Guilderland (aka the best Vent at the moment) for a spa day of sauna and massage table. Afterwards we went to Fin, which is right next door to Vent, for lunch. I grabbed a salmon cake on a croissant for like $8. I’m not sure where they’re getting their croissants from (they had a bunch of bread for sale from Bread & Honey in Albany), though it was a nice option for a bun without an additional upcharge. The croissant itself was tough and not very flaky.

The salmon cake itself was great. They had sold out of most of the salads for the day, but the sandwich came dressed with plenty of green, so it was almost like a salad with a croissant on the side. It also came with some garlic aioli, and while I usually detest mayo, it was so good I just pretended it was some magically delicious sauce that didn’t contain mayo.
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Maka got shrimp cake salad, which she thought was great. I also snagged a bite and really liked it. So good.There are some long communal tables at the front of their store, and we ate right there.

We both were incredibly pleased with the value of the lunches, too. We both had satisfying lunches with sustainably sourced seafood for under $9 per person! Who says sustainable has to be expensive?

 

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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