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seafood

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My big Christmas present from Albany John was dinner at The Crimson Sparrow. The Crimson Sparrow has a frequently changing tasting menu with the occasional Asian influence. It’s headed by owner John McCarthy, and the experience was thoroughly satisfying. We were there for a little over two hours – the meal was paced so well we didn’t even notice how late it was once we left!

To note, the lighting in the dining room is a bit low, and I’m still trying to figure out how to work my new macro lens, so I’ll include a link to Crimson Sparrow’s IG account with much better pictures of these dishes.
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First up was the smoked octopus on uni puree, lardo, and shiso micro greens (Insta Pic). This was a two bite affair and I could have easily done with a plate of this. The octopus was perfectly executed – smoky, tender and meaty, and the uni puree was a deliciously rich pairing. Just an outstanding dish.
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Brussels sprouts with snails, charred leek, miso, honey, cashews, and parsley (IG Pic). The brussels sprouts were deliciously crispy and nutty, and a welcome vegetal dish. I couldn’t discern any snails, but didn’t realize it until I was done with the dish. I really enjoyed this, just didn’t pick up on all of the flavors noted.
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Sunchoke soup! (Instagram Pic) Sunchoke puree with date, chestnut, hazelnut, pickled cauliflower, black truffle. Oh. My. Gosh. Truffles. I go gaga for truffles. Albany John, not so much. This was a rich and creamy puree of sunchokes. One where, if you made it yourself, you’d be hesitant to serve seconds. The cauliflower, dates, and pickled cauliflower were judiciously portioned out in a wee mince beneath the shaving of black truffle. The black truffle added a lovely rich earthiness to the soup. So wonderful, Albany John even enjoyed the truffle aspect. And darn, I was hoping to get an extra slice of truffle from his portion – tee hee. Just kidding – I’m happy he has found one iteration of truffle that he enjoys.
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Scallop on top of salsify puree with masago (IG Photo is slightly different, but you get the delicious idea). Yet another dish that I could have very easily eaten a lot more of. A perfectly seared scallop, still soft and briny, and hugged with black masago.

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Pork belly with white beans, fennel, bay, mustard, rye (IG Pic). I heard fennel and my ears perked up. Uh oh. I’m not normally a fennel fan. But however this was made – yes. I am a fennel fan. The pork was meltinly tender, and the beans were a nice contrast.

Main Course time! Salmon and beef were the two main course options, so we got one of each.
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Skirt steak with broccolini and black bean peanut sauce underneath (No IG photo). This was one the only *womp womp* dish on the menu. The black bean and peanut sauce was just too much – the fermented black bean too present, and oddly out of whack with Crimson Sparrow’s normally judicious portioning. The beef was well cooked, but compared to the rest of the menu this seemed, well, just too normal.
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King salmon on a bed of black lentils, with bonito, sweet potato, maitake, sweet fern, and rock chives (IG Photo). Oh, sweet heavens, yes. Yes a thousand times over. The salmon was so wonderfully (minimally) cooked. The crisp maitakes were a nice textural contrast while also acting as a meaty complement.

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And then there was my favorite of amouses – the dessert amouse. Mulled spice anglaise, red currants, pistachios (IG Pic). What a nice surprise! It was a sphere of mulled spice anglaise, which had me wondering how I could recreate this flavor at home. Maybe reduce some mulled cider and mix it with anglaise? J
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Dessert also featured two courses, and Albany John went with the cheese course – a sheepsmilk soft cheese, I believe, with Bonfiglio bread and some honey on the side.
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I went with the sake lees ice cream on top of green tea cake mountains with some preserved fruit. I realized after ordering that I generally don’t care for sake, so this ice cream on its own didn’t quite sing to me, but as it melted, it made a nice sauce for the cakes to sop up. The cakes were a bit dry and dense and seemed intentional to resemble parts of earth. Admirable to look at, that’s for sure.

Each tasting menu is $75, with wine pairings available for $55. They also have brunch on the weekends, and Sunday Supper (a paired down and more casual tasting menu for $45). I can’t wait to return to try brunch and supper.

 

I  don’t know if there’s much more I love these days than being alone. I went down to NYC to hang with my SIL and BFF Maka for a few days and recharge. I didn’t tell anyone else I was coming down except for one of my cousins, who I was super close with growing up. For some reason, I had a bit of anxiety before seeing her, and almost bailed at the last minute, but I’m glad I didn’t because I was very happy to see her. She lives in Midtown close to Korea Town, and I was eager to eat some Korean food, so it worked out really well! That and I didn’t want to move my car and drive to Flushing. Lazy, I know, heh.

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We went to Kum Gang San, which was just okay. Overall, I think I like the homier Korean dishes more than BBQ. It just seems like a better ROI. This platter of meats to BBQ table-side cost us about $60. It came with banchan and lettuce wraps, but still seemed pretty pricey for the (maybe) 1 lb of meat.
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The grills are right in the center of the table. Kum Gang San was pretty ritzy – there’s a store on the first floor, but a piano player upstairs! They cooked the meats a the table for us. We also got some fried meat dumplings, which were satisfying in the way that fried meat dumplings always are.
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The soups were great. Ginseng chicken in the front, and soondubu jjigae in the background.
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Not so great seafood dduck/teock. It was spicy, but also very sweet and gloppy. We didn’t finish this.
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The next day Maka and I did some touristy things, like go see the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall for a Christmas Spectacular. Wow, was it packed! They even had a camel on stage, though I was hoping for more rockette action. It was 50-50 Rockettes-Santa story.
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And then since we were very close to Rockefeller Center, we went to see the tree. I don’t know why, but seeing the Rock Center tree has never really been a big deal to me. Maybe because I grew up in “Upstate” (anywhere north of Westchester to anyone in NYC), and it wasn’t uncommon to see trees this large or larger decorated (though it was usually still planted and in someone’s yard). We went on a weekday, and it was pretty sparse for NYC-standards.
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And HELLO KITTIES!
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For lunch we went to the East Village to Momofuku Noodle Bar! It wasn’t busy at all, which was awesome, and we got seats at the bar right away.
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The menu is simple. About a dozen items: a few apps, a few ramen, and a few sides. I had this pea shoots dish – which was more escarole than pea shoots, pickled daikon cubes, a few carrot shreds, and a spicy dressing. Very tasty and refreshing.
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Momofuku ramen ($16) was everything I hoped for and more, which is a lot of mental hype to live up to. The bowl they serve the ramen in is MASSIVE, and the portion of ramen served is also large. The egg is so amazingly perfectly poached, I almost didn’t want to break it and mix it in with the broth. The noodles were great, and very plentiful (still, I mustered on to finish them). Overall, it was a wonderfully porky broth that even Maka liked (she does not delight in the porcine flavors as I do), and very rich without being greasy and heavy.
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More teock, which are listed a bit confusingly as “rice cakes”. For some reason, both of us were imagining something different, but were pleasantly surprised with this great execution of teock, which made up for the previous nights’ poor dduck/teock.
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And then a quick trip around the corner to Momofuku Milk Bar for a swirl of their cinnamon bun and cereal milk ice cream. The cinnamon bun flavor was INSANE. It tasted like cinnamon streusel crumble. My only regret was being too full to order a slice of crack pie along with the ice cream. Maka and I could barely finish splitting this little cup of soft serve.

And then we went clothes shopping, as one normally does after consuming vast quantities of food. BTW, Trash and Vaudeville is a great gothy/punky store for every day type clothes (well, if you’re into this type of fashion, that is), and their clothes still run true to 90s sizes, even a bit small!

Overall, it was nice to get away by myself for a bit, though for some reason it wasn’t as recharging as I thought it would be.

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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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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.

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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?

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