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The Good Morning Cafe is expanding to become Good Night Noodle, a pho-centric Vietnamese restaurant.

They had a gathering of local bloggers one night to try out some of the the dishes that Good Night Noodle would feature.

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I’ve been following Good Morning Cafe for a while, but never managed to get up there (as I am a horribly late person and I just don’t leave my house early enough to get to breakfast places). This was also an awesome chance to learn more about GMC and their commitment to buying locally, easily summed up by their motto of “eat good * do good * feel good”.

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It’s a clean, open space with plenty of tables. Now, breakfast is always problematic for me, but dinner is much easier to add to my calendar. Good Night Noodle is projected to open in April 2014.

The Capital Region as a whole doesn’t have too many Vietnamese places – there’s Kim’s, & Van’s in Albany (and I know, I know so are My Linh and Pho Yum, but both of sit on the high side of menu pricing), Saigon Spring in Clifton Park, and soon Good Night Noodle in Ballston Spa. And it’s worth the drive.

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Shrimp Summer Rolls – with the addition of red bell pepper for a textural crunch.

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Vegetarian summer rolls also with red bell pepper. Good Night Noodle prepares Vietnamese food a little bit differently than most traditional Vietnamese restaurants. There is more of a focus toward using local produce and meats, and 95% of the menu will be gluten-free (and that 5% will mainly be dessert).

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Perfectly wrapped spring rolls!

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Pho condiment platter of hoisin sauce, Thai basil, cilantro, limes, jalapenos, and bean sprouts.

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Quick pickled veggies in apple cider vinegar.

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Chicken meatball pho. This was an awesome broth. Actually, all of the Good Night Noodle broths are awesome. Full bodied and warming but not too rich or heavy, which tends to be my broth preference. This was rich with chicken flavor. This bowl would be considered a small and will retail for about $7 per bowl. There will be large options available as well for $10-12.

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The bowls from the Good Morning Cafe were a bit on the shallow side, and Good Night Noodle has an indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the start-up and initial operating costs of setting up Good Night Noodle. This will include deeper bowls for more broth in their pho, among other kitchen upgrades/purchases.

The chicken meatballs use toasted rice flour, coconut oil, and aminos (aminos in place of soy sauce). It’s a great spongy texture – kind of like a fish cake, but chicken-y. It’s an awesome addition to pho – delicious on its own, but also great for soaking up a bit of pho broth. Once Good Night Noodle is open there are also plans of a chicken meatball sandwich.

Ok, more on the broths – the veggie broth is SO rich, thick, and delicious I’m going to have a hard time picking which soup I’d want – veggie, chicken, or beef. Normally I’d just brush off the vegetarian broth and likely go for beef, but this vegetarian broth really gives the other broths a run for their money.

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Dessert! Orange Blossom Cupcakes, and the best vegan cookies I’ve ever had.

Creo wants to help make your Valentine’s Day that much sweeter and is giving away dinner for two! All you have to do is comment below and the winner will be picked tomorrow night (aww).

From Creo:

-Executive Chef David Gibson will create a 3-Course Tasting Menu for 2 people, customized to the winner’s personal tastes

-Bottle of Wine Included (if over 21 years of age with valid ID)

-Reservations Required
-Must be redeemed within 30 days of announcement of winner

To be eligible, please use a valid email address in comments (only used to notify winner and make reservation arrangements).

 

 

Last weekend I drove down to Flushing to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family. It was our first year celebrating without Yeh-Yeh, our family’s patriarch. That didn’t really hit me until shortly before my drive down, but for me simply having these traditions with family keeps us together and that is what is important.

The drive down was a breeze (when I drive to Flushing from Albany I go: 90E > Taconic > 84E > 684S > 678SHutchinson River Pkwy> Whitestone Bridge. It’s about 15 minutes more than taking 87S down, but it saves on the tolls up until the Whitestone Bridge ($7.50) and breaks up the drive into smaller chunks so I don’t get bored. It also probably seems more complicated to hop off of the Taconic onto 84E, but it’s a much smoother drive with better drivers than taking the Taconic down all the way (you avoid where the road narrows, and all of the crappy drivers on it).
I got in shortly after 5, and figured I’d have to drive a while for parking, but found free street parking within 30 minutes! Woo hoo! I didn’t have to move the entire time I was there. I don’t know about you, but when I head down to NYC, I like to park and just leave my car until I’m ready to head back home.

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For dinner we went to Jin Cheng Restaurant, which I protested because last year we had a pretty craptacular experience at the kid’s table, and I thought we went there more for its close proximity to Yeh-Yeh’s condo than the quality of the food. I’ve since discovered they are better at lunch, or when they’re not busy, so they’re not a total lost cause, but I had prepped myself for a less-than-awesome Chinese New Year dinner because Chinese New Year Weekend in Flushing = every Chinese Restaurant is gonna be mobbed.

I was pleasantly surprised with how GOOD dinner was. Maybe it’s because we were a smaller group and not two big tables. (Maybe Yeh-Yeh was in the kitchen yelling at the chefs for me ;) ) It was my dad, his best gal, my uncle, Albany John, and me.

We started off with Beef and gai lan. Great wok hei on the beef, and super tender.
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Honey-walnut-mayo prawns with broccoli on the left. Plump and fat shrimp, no complaints there. Fresh crispy skin chicken at the top, and the same beef on the right (after initial decimation)

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Lobster Cantonese-style with ginger and scallions. We got two big lobsters. So perfectly cooked. I would say this is one of my favorite ways to eat lobster. This way, or just steamed.
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Whole steamed flounder. Mmm. It looks big, but it’s easy to eat a lot of. So light and good.

Albany John and I went for a little walk after dinner to digest. Naturally we wound up at Tous Les Jours, a French-Asian bakery.

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Like most Asian bakeries, there’s a bunch of goodies laid out for you to pick yourself, plus refrigerated things behind the counter.

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I wanted to keep walking, so we had a late-night (for Flushing, i.e. 9 PM) picnic on a bench near the police station (I know romance).

I usually love the stuff Tous Les Jours makes, but man this was mixed bag. The vanilla milkshake was really unpleasant – lots of large chunks of ice, and cheap vanilla ice cream. Bleh. And $4.50 to boot.
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Here was the statue we noshed at, right in between the hubbub of traffic.
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Macarons: skip. Red velvet on the left and Oreo on the right. Red velvet had no notable red velvet flavor, and used a pasty vanilla buttercream as the filling. The black “Oreo” macaron also bore no flavor of its namesake, and was equally pasty. Disappointing. I should have avoided from the start because while these were not cracked, they had some cracked macarons on display, and if they took pride in their macarons, the cracked ones would never be up for sale.
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Albany John got a cream cheese pastry. These are epically delicious in an it’s-so-bad-for-you kind of way. I’m pretty sure I could hear one of his arteries start to clog. They don’t skimp on the cream cheese.

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I had a backup pastry which was tasty – a soft and fluffy bun filled with sweet potato filling and covered in almond flour/meal. Yum. Stick with the baked goods you can pick yourself and you’ll be good.
The next day we kicked off the day eating (of course).

Joe’s Shanghai to start for breakfast. We got there right when they opened at 11 AM and had no wait.

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Bready, soft scallion pancakes.
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Big steamer full of 8 Pork & Crab Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings). If you go to Joe’s Shanghai, you absolutely must get xiao long bao. The tongs are kind of unnecessary, and the teeth on them can pierce the skin of the dumpling, and there goes all of your soupy goodness. Their skins were good (but Ala Shanghai’s are thinner!), but the broth is where these dumplings shine. Each soup dumpling contains a glorious broth. Each dumpling is a treat, and if I think just a bit, I can relive those flavors for just a moment. The broth is thick and rich, with hearty flavors from both the pork and crab, but neither standing out over the other and instead combining to make this magical soup that you can’t get enough of.
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Shanghai style rice cakes, with some veggies and meat. Nice softness and wok hei.

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Two big bowls of soup. I think their soups are a bit on the bland side, at least after eating the xiao long bao. Beef chuck on the left, pork and veggies on the right. Noodles are okay, but they need a little salt or something. I think the soups at Taiwan Noodle are better though (deeper broth flavors and better noodles).

Then Albany John and my uncle split off to do their own thing, and Dad and his gal and I were off to have more adventures. I was SUPER excited because I was planning on going to Sunrise Kitchen & Hardware Supplies (4205 Main St, Flushing, NY). This place is awesome for all of your Asian kitchen gadget needs.

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Sadly for me, they took the week off for Chinese New Year. No cheap and awesome kitchen supplies. Next time. Sigh.
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Saw some lions on the street.
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Went to Rose House for an English-style tea break. Overall, I’d say it’s a nice place if you want to get away from the loudness and crowds in a pretty atmosphere and comfy seats, but that’s about it. All of the teas seemed to taste the same, and they were on the expensive side – $9.00+ per small pot.

Service was weird. A server initially told us there was a 2 hr sitting limit because it was the weekend (which was fine and totally reasonable), but then after being there for a total of 40 minutes the same server took away our tea warmers and started checking the pots. There were no crowds waiting for a table, either.

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Their butter cookies were decent, and despite finding a hair in the rose hips jam after I spooned some on a cookie it was freaking DELICIOUS.

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I broke off to explore on my own and found Pho Hoang on Kissena Blvd.

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There are tables, but order here at the counter for to-go orders. It also shares space with a Chinese butcher further near the front of the store. It’s not the cleanest looking space, but $4.00 for a banh mi was calling my name.
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Hello gorgeous. A nice baguette tucked into a parchment sleeve.

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SO GOOD! Look at that bread. It’s deliciously perfect little baguettes with a crisp exterior that gives way to a soft, squishy interior. Great for banh mi and stuffing with julienned veggies, pate, meat, and cliantro. Yum, yum, yum.
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$4.00 for all of this, versus $6.50 (to start) for a small banh mi at Pho Yum in Albany that doesn’t even use the right bread.

I wound up going to a friend’s that night.

The next morning we went to Jade Restaurant for dim sum with one of my aunts and some cousins.

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More lions!

The wait wasn’t too bad, but my aunt saw a friend of hers who was a manager, and we got whisked off to a side room that I’ve never seen before (that was opened up to handle the Chinese New Year crowds). That was awesome – less loudness and craziness, all of the carted dim sum goodies.
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Food, food everywhere. So good.

We hung out for a bit, but soon it was time to hit the road.

But not before hitting up Pho Hoang one last time since Albany John was back.
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And there was a DRAGON group that came in!
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I got a regular banh mi ($4.00) & a duck banh mi ($6.00).
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They withstood the drive up pretty well – the bread stayed crisp and the interiors didn’t get soggy.
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Duck on the left, regular banh mi on the right.

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We both thought the regular/standard banh mi was better than the duck banh mi. Better flavor overall. The duck was good, but man, the veggies and meat are just SO good!

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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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Want fresh handmade dumplings? Northeast Dumpling House is your bet for freshly made squidgy dumplings. I think they still have some kinks to work out, but overall they’re a nice new addition to the Chinese food scene in Albany. Here are my experiences on two recent visits:

First visit:

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Woodear and cucumber on the left (aka cucumber & black fungus $5.99) and boiled dumplings on the right.

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I went with about 6 other people on this first trip – you want to bring a large group when you go to Northeast Dumpling House because there are 15 dumplings to each order. It’s kind of a crazy-large amount and it’s kind of weird that there isn’t a smaller amount available. Boiled dumplings are $7.99-8.99 and fried are $8.99-$9.99 per order. There’s beef, pork, and lamb options, and they are all pretty solid. I think my favorite so far are the pork and chive boiled dumplings.

 

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We got an order of the spiced potato and special pancakes on Jeff’s recommendation from All Over Albany’s Eat This article. They didn’t ask us how we wanted the potatoes done (hot or cold) and they came out hot. Eh, they were okay, but they tasted pretty bland to me, even with the occasional pepper slice in there to jazz things up.

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BAOS. BAOS. Get the baos when you go here. We got several orders (2 per order, $2.99) of beef baos and lamb baos. These buns were nice and squidgy (squidgy is very good when it comes to baos and dumplings), tender, fluffy soft baos, and there was a bit of juice inside each bao. They also weren’t stingy with the meat inside! I hate it when you get a big bao, and you’re all like “YEAH, bao!” and then it winds up being 90% bun with a dollop of meat inside.

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You also really, REALLY want to get the Spicy Sauce & Squid ($6.99). Most of their side dish items are cold, and this is no exception. Hot pepper slices, chili oil, chili flakes, and perfectly cooked squid.

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The fried beef dumplings were some of my favorite fried dumplings. I think the meat in the dumplings is a little smooth for my liking, but this is just my personal preference. I generally prefer coarse grinds of meat.

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2nd Visit:

Daniel B. came up for a weekend away from New Jersey and had Northeast Dumpling House on his list. Albany John, Jon in Albany, Chef Brian Bowden and his gal, and another pair of friends joined us on a Saturday night for a festival of eating.

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Daniel wanted to try the spicy potato & special pancake. I passed since it wasn’t my jam the first time around. The pancakes are cool, but I’m just not down with the potato.

We also got to try the pork & pickled veggie soup. That was really rockin’ soup, and I’m willing to bet the noodles are hand made since they’re making the dumplings to order. They were tender, but still had that delicate chew fresh noodles get. The broth was also solidly porky and balanced, although a jab of sriracha didn’t hurt.


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Cucumber & dried tofu ($5.99). This was sheet bean curd, and I think this should be easy to recreate at home. Basically just tofu sheet, cucumber, carrots, chili flakes, and a dash of chili oil and vinegar. Pretty refreshing to me, but meh to others.

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The beef omasum ($6.99) was another awesome dish from their cold side dishes menu. The tripe was very well prepared¬† with just enough heat to make it interesting (I wouldn’t really call it spicy. Yes, there was a little heat occasionally, but nothing that had me reaching for the tea). The texture was both tender and chewy, if that makes any sense. Sometimes tripe can be chewy almost to the point of being like chewing gum, but this was not like that. This had something more of a tendon amount of chew to it.

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The fry job on the dumplings was pretty heavy this time, lots of slick oil on the plates. We pretty much ordered one of each dumpling this time.

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More spicy squid!

Another new thing we tried was the shrimp and egg boiled dumpling, which I enjoyed. The egg was pretty muted, it was more like a shrimp and veggie dumpling.

NE Dumps (my nickname for them) is still in the “new” phase. Both times I went in they were pretty dead. Which is kind of crazy for a weekend.

Here’s some areas for improvement:
Customer service – both times we had to flag down the waiter to order, then to get the checks. Tea refill on the first visit was inattentive on the first visit, and nonexistent on the 2nd visit, even though I did the “move the lid” trick to signal that we were empty. This slowness in service is also mind boggling to me, because Chinese service is usually quick, quick, quick. The dishes came out quickly once we ordered, this seems to just be a FOH issue. I’m guessing they are new to owning a restaurant and still learning the ropes as service was a little better on the 2nd visit.

Some specials listed only in Chinese. I am a “bad Chinese” and can’t read most characters, so like many of their other non-Chinese customers, I have no idea what the specials are on the board.
Consistency. The fried dumplings on the first visit were much less greasy than on the 2nd visit. The baos on the 2nd visit weren’t quite as tender as the first visit, and there was no soupy goodness inside.

Dumpling orders in quantities of 15. Orders of 8-10 would be easier for smaller groups of people to try more variety. The “Bull Paddywack” aka beef tendon is already crossed off the menu.

Cool Stuff they have going on :
BYOB

No huge rush, which is different from the “turn-n-burn” style most other Chinese restaurants have, so you’ll be fine to linger at the moment.

Some really delicious dishes on the “Side Dishes” menu that aren’t on any other menu in the Captial Region. I’ve never been much of a tripe fan, but NE Dump’s take on tripe (omasum) will bring me back here to try it out.

Cheap. If you go with a group, you can order most of the menu and still walk out for under $20 per person with tip.

Hand made to order dumplings!

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Daniel B. was in town for 24-ish hours from NJ and couldn’t help but arrange a mini tour of Disco Fries (fries, cheese, gravy). Chopsticks Optional also joined us! I was surprised by how many places use a cheesey sauce with their disco fries, and found out I am more partial to places that use just shredded cheese.

Our first stop was Junior’s, which I tend to find pretty “meh” and these fries lived up to that reputation. They started off looking pretty decent, if a bit sparse on the gravy (which was fine, because it tasted like jarred Heinz gravy).

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But closer inspection revealed cheese sauce underneath. Felt kind of like a cheeze dupe. Hey, here’s shredded cheese. Just kidding! Here’s some sour-tangy cheeze sauce. This was my least fave.

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Bomber’s was our 2nd visit, and my 2nd favorite.
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Hill Street Cafe had two gravy options – beef and turkey. So we obviously chose both. Holy neon cheeze, batman! This was the beef, which I thought tasted pretty made-from-powder-y.
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Turkey gravy fries were more of my preference. The fry job was really awesome on these fries, and they were the only location on the tour to use steak fries. But they stayed crispy the whole time! The gravy and cheeze also blended into its own thing. Kind of interesting. While these disco fries weren’t my favorite, the fry job is going to pull me back to try more stuff at Hill Street.
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The Ruck! These were my favorite, but I pretty much love everything at The Ruck. The fries got majorly soggy, but the gravy was the best of the bunch (it tasted like real gravy instead of instant gravy), and the pepper jack cheese was also a really awesome touch.

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I did find the one thing at the Ruck I really, really don’t like, and it’s their Bloody Mary ($6). They took my twiticism (criticism via twitter) well and let me know it was from BP Brewing mix. Here’s why I didn’t like it: I asked the bartender for a Bloody Mary with extra horseradish and there was no visible horseradish in my drink. It was spicy, but the notes were a peppery heat and not the awesome nasal heat that horseradish brings. I’m surprised by this service blip from The Ruck – I expect better from them. This not the norm for service at the Ruck, which is why it stood out for me. Not for a bartender to hear “extra horseradish” and translate it to “spicy”. The BP Brewing Bloody Mary mix also has a strong celery flavor, which I really hate. So if you like celery and pepper, then this is the bloody mary for you, but for me it was pretty much full of all of the flavors I don’t like. I could only manage a few sips of this before throwing in the towel.

However, BBQ hot wings made everything better. Crispy skin, and that BBQ hot sauce is awesome. What? We had people there who had never been to the Ruck and tried their wings. And I have poor impulse control. Also, more people means I can order wings and they can help me eat it. Also The Ruck.
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The final stop on the tour was O’Toole’s, which has a Sunday special of 1/2 off all appetizers (which disco fries don’t fall under). These seemed to be covered in nacho cheese sauce, and a sparse amount of bay leaf & thyme flavored turkey gravy.

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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.

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The New Year is almost here and I’m ready for it. 2013 had a few ups, a whole lotta downs, and well, let’s just get on with it, right? But with all the downs, I firmly believe we must continue to believe in the power of positivity, and striving to better our own selves.

It was nice to be able to grab some Sushi Tei when I was out in Guilderland this month. One last fix before the year is out. Two roll lunch special ($8.50) for me with salmon + avocado as one roll, and spicy tuna as the other. Plus two orders of ika. I am loving salmon roe lately. The pop of the briny little bubbles. So satisfying and pungent.

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Albany John went with a 3-roll special ($11.50). Salmon, Eel + Avocado, and Yellowtail + Scallion. Both of the specials also come with a can of soda if you want it. I personally just pass on the soda.

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But that sushi is something else.

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Want to know a great place to go out for a meal with a group without breaking your budget? Parivar! Parivar the grocery store on Central Ave also has a kitchen/cafe in the back where you can order a bunch of Indian dishes made to order.

I went with a bunch of folks, and not only was it a breeze to order, but they even will break up the bill however you want and accept credit cards. It’s counter service, so no need to worry about tipping, and you pay at the register for the grocery store.

I got a pista falooda ($4.99) to enjoy with my dinner – it’s like dessert in a cup, or an Indian version of a milkshake. So good. It’s a rich milky drink with sweet noodles and nuts. So thick, and a great complement to the food.

Pictured above is Pani Puri ($3.99) which are super awesome and fun to eat if you’ve never had them – They’re crisp round shells that are stuffed with awesomeness and slathered in a mint sauce with tamarind sauce on the bottom of the plate. They are one-bite affairs and best eaten quickly.

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Next up was a fried bread dish. Fried bread stuffed with things, then fried, and mint and tamarind sauces for dipping!

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Closer shot

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DOSA TIME! $7 for a massive masala dosa, and the entire crepe was wonderfully crisp and tender. It’s filled with potatoes and served with masala sambar (the big cup on the right – seriously, so much sambar), and mint and ginger chutneys on the left. The ginger chutney was no shrinking daisy – that was SUPER hot. Woah.

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Onion Uttapam ($5.99, which reminded me of scallion pancakes, but way more tender because they are made of rice flour batter.

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And then we got a paneer paratha. Oh, so good (but really, what doesn’t paneer go with?).

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And then we tried Indian Chinese! Gobi Manchurian. It was like an Indian take on General Tso’s, haha! This was SUPER salty, which is saying a lot since I love salt. But I liked the crisp texture of the cauliflower, and how it wasn’t too cloying. This was a fun dish to try that I’ve only heard about and not seen in any restaurants locally. At dinner, one of our friends said that this is the only place to come for Indian home-style cooking, and most of the sit-down restaurants in the area are a more formal/heavy/banquet type restaurant.

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We ended dinner on a bit of a dud with gulab jamun. They tasted more like fried dough balls in syrup than milky gulab jamun. Could just be their recipe, but I’ll skip this in the future in favor of more savory dishes.

Our group wound up paying about $14 per person for all of this food. It was awesome to try so many dishes, and all of them were vegetarian. Man, this is vegetarian food done right – so much flavor and seasoning and awesome cooking that it enhances the veggies (and if you’re a carinvore like me, you don’t miss the meat one bit). Great for kids, great for groups, great flavors, great for the celiac/gf friends in your life – grab some friends and get over to Parivar!

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After my 24 hours in NJ, I headed to Flushing to see my Uncle. We hung out for a bit, and then headed to the food court at the New World Mall for a bite to eat. Flushing mall food courts are freaking awesome – they’re stalls for single businesses. Which means a huge selection of cheap eats! Mask is one of the newest restaurants in the food court, and they are running a special – $9.99 for your own personal hot pot (chicken, beef, lamb, fish, or vegetable) plus a drink. That is so crazy cheap.

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Mask has their own special hot pot tables set up near their stall at the food court. Here’s what they look like before you get your hot pot set up.

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And here’s what they look like after. Woah food. I got the lamb slices on the left, and a huge basket of veggies on the right. The lamb slices were frozen. I’m wondering if they pre-portioned them out. The lamb flavor itself was a little on the gamey side, but added nice flavor to the weak bone broth my Uncle and I both got. They also had a spicy kim chee based broth and one other broth I forget at the moment. I didn’t feel like being all that adventurous with soup flavor with the drive home looming in front of me.

There were so many veggies in that basket – a bunch of crunchy green lettuce leaves, sweet potato slices, tofu, one weird wedge of tomato, sweet potato noodles, enoki mushrooms, and tons of bok choy quarters. It was a great way to cap a weekend of dietary indulgence.

There’s also a make your own sauce bar. My uncle made me his blend, which was way on the garlicky side and something my sister would have loved. I mean, if she ate meat or any of the other components of the sauce.

But this was an awesome find in Flushing. If you pay in cash they don’t charge sales tax. Cheap, super filling dinner for $10. This is especially good for the people who don’t like sharing food, germs, or both with traditional hot pot.

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Dessert time! This place had a bunch of mango desserts, and was definitely a younger type of place. They even had dine-in where you tipped inside. Interesting, and lots of young people on dates here.

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I got a mango pancake. It’s an eggy pancakey wrapper over whipped cream and mango. Super yum. Something like $4-5 for two big squares.

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My uncle got this mango soupy pudding thing for dessert. Something like $6 for a big bowl. This is probably one of the pricier places in the food court, if that tells you anything.

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Mango pancake interior. So full of yes.

What a good weekend filled with food, friends, and family. I really like solo road trips every now and then. Not every weekend, but once every month or two they’re great for clearing my head. The freedom of the open road, driving my very own car, blasting my favorite crappy tunes, going off to have edible adventures and seeing people I care about that bring me joy.

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