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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!).

Mother's Dumplings

Toronto was such a great city to visit. I’m still happily remembering my trip for my Uncle’s 100th birthday celebration. I’d heard Toronto had a big Chinatown with lots to see and do, and wanted to stay nearby. I booked an Air BnB reservation in the heart of Kensington Market, which was basically like a little hipster neighborhood in the middle of Chinatown. A microcosm in a microcosm (also, holy wow on hotel and rental prices in that neighborhood). It was cute and a great place to stay while on vacation. There was a ton of stuff to see in just a 1/4 mile radius, and even more to walk to within 5 kilometers.

One such place was Mother’s Dumplings on Spadina Ave. If there’s one thing I love it’s a good dumpling. Most reviews touted Mother’s as a must-try. The hardest thing was deciding on only two types of dumplings to try for Albany John and myself. We decided we’d get an order of 12 boiled dumplings and 10 pan-fried dumplings. Ah, the perils of being but two diners in a city full of treats to try.

They were out of lamb shu mai, so we went with a dozen pork and dill boiled dumplings. I never see this combination, so it was a must-try, and I’m really glad I did. I usually think of dill as an Eastern European flavor, but it went incredibly well with juicy pork and Chinese spices. Even soy sauce. I’ll definitely be making pork and dill dumplings of my own in the future. Seriously – a  nice bright punch of dill leaves really counterbalance the rich juiciness that good pork dumplings possess.
Mother's Dumplings fried

 

Oh. My. Glob. Yes on those pan fried dumplings.
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DO YOU SEE THAT GLORIOUS LACEY CRUST ON THOSE PAN FRIED DUMPLINGS??? DO YOU?

I almost couldn’t even. But then I could.
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We got the pork and shrimp dumplings for our pan fried order. Juicy pork meatball with bits of shrimp inside, made even more texturally appealing by crisping up one edge of the dumpling. These were well executed – each skin was nice and crispy without being greasy. Oh, that fine lace edge was just divine, too. The skins on both the boiled and pan fried dumplings tasted the same – a  nice and hearty, thick dough that complimented the rich flavors inside. Held up well to boiling and pan-frying.

If you’re in Toronto, this is the place to check out. Cash only. Condiments at the table. Fast serivice.

2015-Logo NYS Fair New Your State Fair

It’s summer, which means that it’s time for the New York State Fair in Syracuse! The fair will be August 27th – September 7th. There’s a ton of stuff to do and see. Did you go to fairs as a kid? What was/is your favorite thing to do? When I was little I LOVED the rides. and the NYS Fair has discounted tickets for $20 for a day pass to ride all you want (available here), which is a pretty good deal if you plan on riding more than 3-4 rides.

And FOOD. Let’s talk food. There’s butter sculptures to see, a ton of food to eat, and cooking competitions.

Did you know there’s also a parade every day at 6 pm? I didn’t. That’ll be cool to check out.

There are also special fair days like :

8/28 Pride Day
8/31 Dairy Day
9/01 Beef Day
9/02 Women’s Day9/03 Armed Forces Day (free admission with ID for active duty and veterans)

Want a pair of tickets to attend the NYS Fair? The New York State Fair is giving me a pair plus a parking pass, and a pair of tickets and parking pass to you, too! Add a comment down below about what you’d like to do at the fair! Use a valid email address, and be comfortable sharing your address over email. Contest closes Thursday, 8/13.

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I know of no better way to start off a meal than with fried yucca and chicarron. Flores Family Restaurant is one of the few places you can get this fab appetizer.
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You can also get a papa rellena, which is a massive fried disc/oval of mashed potato stuffed with ground beef for $2.99. Seriously – share this. It’s great, but you’ll fill up on it if you order it for yourself, and there is so much more to eat. Creamy mashed potatoes filled with seasoned ground beef, the entire exterior crisped up.

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ALL OF THE PUPUSAS. Cheese, bean and cheese, and loroco greens. The loroco greens are incredibly mild and blend in well with the cheese. And who doesn’t love a soft corn exterior before giving way to any filling?
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Whole fried tilapia is another menu bargain at $10.99 and more than enough for two people to share. I happily crunched on the especially fried tail and fin bones.

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Ayelada is the newest frozen yogurt shop in the area. I was excited for their arrival as they tout using local ingredients as often as possible. They use the same dairy as the Cowbella line of yogurt as a main supplier (though it appears other farms supply them as well), and all of their froyo is made from scratch.

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In the first few weeks, I’d heard that Ayelada was a bit on the expensive side, and I suppose they are compared to the other fro-yo shops in the area, but it’s also a bit of a different format. This is not self-serve fro-yo. You order at the counter, and there is a toppings bar similar to the self-serve fro-yo, but you just tell them what you want and they add the toppings. In my opinion, the toppings are what add up the bill pretty quickly. The picture above was $7 for a 5 oz small ($3.50 + $1 for 1 topping) and a 3 oz mini ($2.50). I thought the portions seemed really small on this visit, and found it a bit on the expensive side for the portion (this seems to have been part of the opening kinks), but the FLAVOR. Man – that is some good frozen yogurt. It’s kind of tart initially, then has this creamy finish. It’s really a pleasure to savor the original.

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Second visit! The mini seems to have doubled in size almost, and they put the fro-yo on a scale. They also ask you if you want to leave room for toppings, and presumably fill it less. Since the frozen yogurt is the real star, I suggest skipping the toppings and focusing on the main event. I was able to snag the tropical punch (mango, pineapple, toasted coconut) which was a real treat – the flavors were well balanced and the fruit flavors complemented the tart and creamy yogurt.
There is also a free toppings area by the registers which feature some honey, caramel sauce, cinnamon, and cocoa powder. How nice! But again, that fro-yo is where it’s at.

I really recommend you try Ayelada. They’re a unique and delicious addition to the frozen dessert scene in Albany, with weekly rotating flavors. Their facebook page updates their flavors in addition to their website: This week currently features lavender honey, chocolate coconut, and triple berry.

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A few weeks ago the innovators at TC Paris Bakery in Saratoga Springs, NY debuted a new menu. They invited Daniel B up to see the new menu creations, and I tagged along for the pictures (and the delicious goods).

New menu items are beignets, Le Mosaic macaron, and … salted caramel.
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The beignet. What’s not to love? It’s a light and eggy dough fried, and packed to the gills with raspberry. So good. I bought a few more on my way out, and they were just as stuffed as these. And guess what? They keep very well until the end of the day, which is impressive for anything fried.
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Le Mosaic is a new macaron – pistachio shell on top, branded Morello cherries, and a white chocolate shell underneath. Delectable! While I love making my own macarons, TC Paris is on another level, and are so inventive with their flavors.
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And guess what? Lunch is now on the menu! A Croque Monsieur made with Niman ham, bechamel, imported gruyere and Pan de Compagne. It’s a hearty sandwich that I want to eat entirely too much of. Saratoga, call in your lunch orders now. This is an amazing treat.

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Salted caramel! This is lovely – It’s firm enough to retain its shape, but pliable enough to yield to a bite. TC Paris once again manages to perfectly push their caramel to the burnished side, developing rich caramel flavor. This is no one-note saccharine caramel.

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And any time Daniel is around, the lemon tart must make an appearance. This was another one of my purchases on the way out that kept very well until the end of the day. That is, if you can fend off everyone who sees a TC Bakery box.


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When Deanna Fox asks you on a date, you say yes. And maybe you put on something nice, and brush up on your table manners. Deanna asked me if I’d like to accompany her to one of Heather Ridge Farm‘s Supper Clubs and this beautiful golden orb of butter was greeted us at the table when we sat down. This could have been my entire dinner. It was so delightful – Rich cultured farm-fresh butter.
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If you can’t tell, I’m still working on my photography. But here’s a shot of the menu we had for dinner. Dinner is served at a trio of communal tables seating about 16 people in total. The chairs even have soft fuzzy pelts draped over them.
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Hello darling. While the butter was a darling of dinner, really, you should get to Heather Ridge Farm for a meal, because everything was just so deliciously thought out and prepared.
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First up was a rosemary infused seltzer with blood orange garnish. Delightful, and a nice refresher to accompany dinner.
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Everything at the supper club was prepared on site, with as many ingredients coming from the farm or locally as possible.
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Butternut squash soup with with Heather Ridge Farm’s own lamb merguez and harissa infused yogurt. Wow. I never get excited about butternut squash soup, but this was great. Hearty without being heavy, this soup brought a bowlful of rich flavors – the harissa and moroccan spices added depth and complexity to the butternut squash, which brought it closer to the savory side. Great harbinger of flavors to come.
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Warm winter salad of potatoes, parsnip, sauerkraut, Heather Ridge pancetta, and some lightness from parsley. The potatoes could have been a touch longer, but this was overall a great salad for a cold winter night, and the parsley was a nice punch of greenery and contrast. I was surprised by how much I really liked the parsley in this dish (normally I think it’s good for countering garlic in its raw, chopped form, but this was just so good on its own).
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Charcuterie plate! Farm made weisswurst, pork liver pate, red wine gel, honey mustard, raw milk cow’s cheese. Ciabatta crisps were also served on the side (which I may or may not have loaded with a bit of that delicious butter at a few points).

Let’s talk pate. For me, not all pates are equal. My ideal pate is smooth, maintains a bit of lightness while still feeling rich and creamy. Heather Ridge’s pate fit the bill nicely for me and paired well with the wine gel as a contrasting sweetness to the richness of pate. The weisswurst were also lovely with the honey mustard and raw milk cheese. Not too smooth, and a nice bite from the casing .
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Sorrel is a highly underused ingredient in upstate NY. I normally think of it as a summer drink for its tart, refreshing flavor. Heather Ridge Farm made a Spiced Caribbean Sorrel beverage, that tasted closer to a mulled winter beverage. It was great to try a different execution on this dish. And also a great way to clear the palette before eating…
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Root beer braised short ribs served over polenta, with roasted endive and leeks. This is a dish that is sure to beat the winter blues. The root beer flavor added a supporting sweetness to these hearty beef ribs. The portion was also incredibly generous for grass fed beef. I was expecting about half as much (yet somehow I managed to finish every last bite).
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Dessert was honey caramel panna cotta – what made this special was that the panna cotta was based on egg whites in a nod to how panna cotta was made before gelatin was as widely used as it now is. And wow, was this delightful. It was a rich dish that left me incredibly full, and yet wanting more. the chocolate shortbread on the side was also great – like a crumbly sable, it was a great accompaniment to the honey caramel panna cotta.

Heather Ridge Farm also has breakfast/brunch on the weekends. Their prices are incredibly reasonable (and dare I say, just a wee bit low?) for the quality they serve. The dining room is small, but worth a wait and drive.

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