20151005_193834[1]AYCE (All You Can Eat) is an interesting concept. Pay one price, eat as much as you want. We’ve got a few sushi restaurants in the area with caveats that you eat what you don’t pay for, which is nice from a waste mitigation perspective. One of my friends has a theory that you should check out AYCE restaurants in the Albany area when they open and are serving the best/highest quality fish until they realize that people in the Capitol Region will settle for less. Which is kind of disheartening, but an interesting theory that isn’t exactly outlandish.

I recently went to Kuma Ani with 3 other people, and we went for the $20.99 all you can eat dinner option. They’re still fairly new and haven’t been open a year yet. LorreBob over at Albany Dish has a review of their AYCE and non-all you can eat options, and Susie Davidson Powell has a great write-up over at the Times Union of their meal options, too. The AYCE menu is a little smaller than other places in the area (no sashimi), but it’s also a few bucks cheaper than other places, too.

We arrived to a restaurant at about 20-30% capacity. A few tables, but overall fairly quiet on a weeknight. It took us about 2 hours to get two orders, with priority given to non-AYCE dinner options. We waited about 30 minutes from when we placed our 2nd order to when we received it.

We got a little bit of everything for nigiri – roe in the background, octopus, mackerel, eel, white tuna, yellowtail, salmon, and tuna. Nice presentation, but the salmon, mackerel, and probably the tuna should not have been served – They tasted fine initially but finished with a very funky flavor at the end, especially the mackerel, which had a strong note of ammonia in its finish. Not at all like a pungently briny mackerel should be. This was unpleasantly disappointing. The eel was good, but it’s cooked fish. White tuna was also fine.


Most of the specialty rolls were very rich affairs with kani/imitation crab salads, fried, and heavy on mayonnaise or rich eel sauces. We got every specialty roll we ordered, but a few of the normal maki rolls were skipped with each order.

The cooked/non-sushi appetizer options are small portions, except for the imitation crab salad, which is comically large when compared to every other portion size. It’s like a meal-sized salad of fake crab salad! I don’t like imitation crab so this dish didn’t really work for me, but the others in our party enjoyed it. One dish was the grilled squid, which were small pieces of squid with a heavy coating of old pepper – pass on that one. Also pass on the sashimi salad, which are end pieces of fish and not very pleasant tasting.

Overall it seems like Kuma Ani is ready to give you a challenge for your AYCE experience. Overall I found the experience a bit drawn out (who wants to have a 2.5 hour dinner on a weeknight?), and the food was really hit-or-miss, with more misses than hits to go back for AYCE. The regular dinner menu gets great reviews, so if I go back it’ll be to order off of the regular menu.

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.
Mother's Dumplings fried detail


I almost couldn’t even. But then I could.
Mother's Dumplings fried 2


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.

Bday Party 1 Pig Roast Whole

I went to Toronto last month. Why? Well, that’s a great question with a long answer that starts with my dad. When my dad was a kid in Hong Kong, there were these families with kids the same age who he’d play with. After many decades, my dad reconnected with one friend, who immigrated to Toronto along with the rest of those families my dad knew as a child. This man and his siblings were throwing their dad a 100th birthday party, and, as my dad explained, he was practically family, so just consider him “Uncle”. And you know how Chinese parties are – BIG. You invite all of your family and close friends (and their families).

So I drove up to Toronto with Albany John and my little sister, for this “Uncle’s” birthday party. Hey, Toronto has one of the biggest Chinatowns, food’s gotta be good right? And I was also just a wee bit excited to meet these people my dad had known as a child. Everyone was so nice, and we got to sit with one of the “kids” in our generation at the table. And then I met her sister, and my dad goes “Wow, you two look alike!” and we both did a double take since we actually did look pretty similar in the face (I’m a little bigger than her since I’m only half Chinese). And her Chinese name is one letter off of mine. You know, I’m usually in the minority any where I go, and I guess it’s just something I’m used to. My siblings and I look a lot alike, but we don’t really even resemble our cousins on either parent’s side very much. So it was a very different feeling for me to see someone who looked like me. A new kind of fuzzy, if you will.

Okay, they do not mess around with 100th birthday parties in Toronto. The first course was crackling suckling pig. Each platter marched out on parade by a server, with sparkler and glowing LED maraschino cherry eyes.

Bday Party 1-2 Pig Roast SkinBday Party 1-2 Pig Roast Skin 2

The skin was so good. The exterior was crackly and delicate, yet substantial. The fat underneath melted away as you bit in. I haven’t had a suckling pig this good in years, if ever.

Bday Party 2 Shrimp 2 ways pan broccoliBday Party 2 Shrimp 2 ways fried

Next up was shrimp two ways – fried in a sweet-and-sour style, and pan-fried with some broccoli and garlic. Plump, briny shrimp. The sweet-and-sour preparation wasn’t my favorite, but the vermicelli basket was novel.

Bday Party 3 Fish cakes stuffed with scallop, asparagus, and roe 1Bday Party 3 Fish cakes stuffed with scallop, asparagus, and roe 2

This dish was a first for me, and one I quite took a liking to. It looks like a fish patty, but stuffed inside is a tender scallop. The briny roe made it pop with salinity, and man that asparagus was a great supporting character.

Bday Party 4 Birds Nest Soup

Bird’s Nest Soup – Yay! Not shark fin soup. Very progressive. Usually for a party like this shark’s fin soup would be on the menu.

Bday Party 5 Sea Cucumber

The womp womp dish of the night that wasn’t so much a dud, just a very… uh… traditional food that no one really seemed as interested in. If I’m trying to conserve stomach space, I’m going to give a little less to sea cucumber. Sorry, sea cucumber, but that’s just how it works. This was actually one of the better preparations – the sea cucumber was stuffed with fish paste, so it added a bit of flavor and a slightly firmer texture. I don’t think anyone at our table finished this one.

Bday Party 6 Crispy Garlic ChickenBday Party 6 Crispy Garlic Chicken 2

Crispy garlic chicken was a big hit at the table – succulent chicken with crisp skin – what’s not to like?

Bday Party 7 whole fishBday Party 7 whole fish piece

Whole steamed fish! One of my favorite dishes ever. This was great – the fish was cooked perfectly, and that salty sauce compliments the sweet flavor of the fish so well.

Bday Party 8 fried lobster

Ginger fried lobster – this is where most of the table started tapping out from all of the different courses. And where I ate 75% of the lobster our table was served. Oh my gosh, it was so good. Chopped into easy-to-eat chunks, covered in that delicious ginger-scallion sauce.

Bday Party 9 soup

And then I started tapping out once the wonton noodle soup came out. Fresh noodles, gai lan, and shrimp wontons. I had a wonton because, hello, seafood.

Bday Party 10 11 Fried Rice and Cake

Oh yeah, then fried rice, and then some of the birthday cake. Stuffed. Absolutely stuffed.

At some point in the night, my dad was talking with one of the Aunties, and it turns out that we were all related, and we were all cousins of some sort. Even more of a fuzzy! The connection requires a flow chart to explain, but the gist is that there’s a connection from 3 sisters from the same village. They’d previously thought that when the sisterhood was talked about, they used “sisters” meaning they were in Hong Kong from the same village on Mainland China. But nope, turns out they were sisters and most of us were related by blood at the party, and the birthday boy is actually my Uncle!


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.

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.


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?

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.


Gung Hey Fat Choy! I spent Chinese New Year in Flushing with some of the family. Eating, obviously. Squid Salad from Cutting Board (37-20 Prince St, Flushing, NY 11354). This place wasn’t super packed despite the CNY weekend crowds, but service was sl-oooowwww and flighty. Salad was ok, except for the tip of the squid which was charred on their gas/propane grill. Bleh.


Ok – main event! Dinner with my whole family! We wound up once again at Jin Cheng (142-38 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing, NY 11354), and no one knows why. When Yeh-Yeh was alive, we would go here because it was literally the closest restaurant to his condo. It’s good for lunch, but they can’t handle a crowd. All of us “kids” bemoaned this like the whiny little food brats we are “Ugh, why are we going back?! Yeh-Yeh’s not here! Why didn’t we make reservations somewhere else?!” to which my frazzled dad (and now patriarch) responded “I don’t know! We just somehow keep ending up back there! Hopefully next year we’ll go somewhere else.”. But we lucked out with a 6 pm (early) reservation, so dinner was surprisingly not terrible.


Ginger scallion lobster. A little rubbery and overcooked in places, but not too bad.


Platters of food. The big bowl on the left had steamed/boiled chicken, shrimp, abalone, and some veggies. Whole steamed flounder, some sickly sweet crispy pork dish, “crispy” skin chicken (not very crispy), beef, and walnut shrimp were also on the menu. Nothing really stood out as great, but we were all happy nothing was as bad as it has been in years past.


Snacks from Tous Les Jours on the way out. Croque Msr, and some baos.

So it was awesome seeing family, but I needed another “good” lunar new year dinner. So once I came back up, I gathered a few friends to join me at Ala Shanghai for Chinese New Year part 2.


Some freebie fava beans as an app when we first sat down. It was bustling when we went on a week night. We even had to wait! I like it when local small restaurants a busy like that.


Scallion pancakes!


Har gow like whaaat?


Salt & pepper squid. I was never super crazy about Ala Shanghai’s salt & pepper batter before (it was a poofier type of batter), but it’s now a thinner batter that I think is just a bit crispier. Mmm.


Spicy beef, too!


Vegetarian pork chops, though I think they taste more like vegetarian fish. Either way, can’t go wrong with battering and frying layers of tofu skin. So good!


From the specials menu: Rice cakes with jalapeno and scallop. Holy moly, they were not messing around with the jalapeno! So good, but so spicy! This was the dish I saw on the lunar new year specials list and thought “I MUST HAVE THIS.” It didn’t disappoint. Chewy rice cakes, scallops, and spicy jalapenos – very good combination.


Tofu noodles, edamame, and salted veggie also a must.


Broccoli with black and white fungus – this was the dish that caught Albany John’s eye from the specials menu, and it was also a hit. Ala Shanghai gets their woodear so tender. All of this covered with a light, clear sauce. I wish this would go on their regular menu – it was so good! Very fresh, with a lot of texture.

Happy New Year! I wish you lots of prosperity!


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.


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

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.

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.


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.

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.

The soups were great. Ginseng chicken in the front, and soondubu jjigae in the background.

Not so great seafood dduck/teock. It was spicy, but also very sweet and gloppy. We didn’t finish this.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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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