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Beef Chow Fun! It isn’t dim sum with my family without an order of beef chow fun. However, I wasn’t with my blood relatives when I had this beef chow fun at Hong Kong Bakery & Bistro for dim sum with some of my local “family”.
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I also hope you like cheong fan, because when left to my own devices, I will order literally all of the cheong fan options available. Hong Kong Bakery makes their cheong fan fresh, and it’s hard to resist that slippery-chewy, tender-stretchy quality freshly steamed rice noodles have.
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The shrimp and duck fillings are two of my favorites (favorite favorites?) – very well executed.
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The seaweed and octopus salad was on the specials menu for $9.99. The picture probably looks larger than it was, but these were baby octopus on a small plate. I wasn’t a fan of this one –  served iced cold out of the fridge, well – it didn’t do the octopus any flavors. The seaweed salad underneath was nice, though.

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Happy 1-Year-in-Saratoga Birthday to TC Bakery-Paris! They turned one more than a few weeks ago, and invited a few folks up to celebrate the joyous occasion.
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Our fabulous hosts getting ready. I went with someone who is very particular about getting there on time, so we arrived right when the ball began.
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They put out a few trays of some of their popular treats.
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Like their delicious sandwiches, with baguettes made in-store. So delicious.
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They were also deputing their new Gateau de Reves (dream cake!). I’m not a huge chocolate fan, but this rich and decadent affair was hard not to like. TC describes it is “4 layers of Rich chocolate cake, 2 layers of dark chocolate mousse, and a layer of our whipped salted caramel. A second coat of whipped caramel on the outside of the cake, and glazed with our rich Valrhona Cristal Glaze“. I would also be one happy camper with a piping bag full of whipped salted caramel. Fantastic.
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The shop was also open, so I took the opportunity to buy one of the ispahan macaron ($6.95). A softball-sized macaron is filled with rose and lychee infused buttercream, and dotted with fresh raspberries along the border.
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The deliciousness ROI  is high with this confection.
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I’m also not quite sure what the portion size is on this, but I’m assuming it’s not an entire macaron. Still, I soldiered on.
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The fine folks at TC Bakery-Paris were also kind enough to send a few local food bloggers off with goodie bags. I get such warm fuzzies when I see goodie bags! They remind me of childhood. Except these are filling with artfully crafted treats (and a judicious amount, thankfully).
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Toffee pieces and olive sables! The olive sables straddle savory and sweet in a wonderful way. The dough itself is lightly sweet, and the olives hold up well to the slight sweetness of the dough. The size of the olives also gives just the right amount of salinity without being overpowering.

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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).

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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Saratoga isn’t so far for me, and yet I have a problem with getting to many local businesses during the hours they are open. I was happy I’ve made it to Saratoga at least once for TC Paris!
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Eclair & a Paris Brest. Their pate a choux is fantastic – it stays crisp even when filled with delicious custard and creme. The chocolate on the eclair had a judicious amount of sweetness, and was perfect with their vanilla bean pastry cream filling.
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And the Paris Brest. Oh. A pate a choux circle piped with a candied hazelnut buttercream. I don’t know if one of these circles is a serving, but I ate the whole thing in one go. It was just. So. Good.  It’s like an oversized doughnut, in terms of size. It’s probably meant for at least two. But just eat it until you feel sated. So good.
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Lily bulb with asparagus and ginko ($13) at Ala Shanghai. The ginkos were mild and soft, went well with the asparagus, which still retained some crunchiness.
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Yum – it’s a great dish for summer!

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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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