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veggies

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

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I love Ethiopian food. It’s something that we have absolutely NONE of in Albany, so whenever I’m near a place with Ethiopian food, I will always choose Ethiopian. Whenever I’m in NYC I can never manage to get away to Manhattan for Ethiopian food. But on my most recent visit I managed to convince my Dad, his girlfriend, and uncle to try Ethiopian food at Awash on the Upper West Side.

We drove there from Flushing in about a half hour, found (free) street parking after paying for parking (of course), and were seated immediately. The interior is gorgeous. Very romantic and lots of low lighting.
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Here’s the injera and freebie sides that came with what we ordered. Since we were so many people they spread out our meals across two plates.
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Plate two.
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So what did we order?

Starting at the red stuff on the left, we got:
Key Sir Afcha (carrots, beets, and potato)
Awash Tibs (grilled beef)
More Key Sir Afcha
Gomen Besiga (lamb, collards, onions)
Free cabbage and carrot dish
Free lentil dish
Shiro (chickpeas and split peas with tomato and onion)
Center: Awash Chicken

We all LOVED the Gomen Besiga. That was just a fantastic combination of flavors. Lamby goodness, collards, and onions with delicious Ethiopian butter and false cardamom. Mmm. Just fantastic. It was all good, but this was a standout dish.

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I also had to order the kitfo (raw beef), which was also good, if a bit heavy on the butter.

The injera was soft and spongy, but not too moist or sour. It was definitely a good intro injera to folks new to Ethiopian food. I’ve had it more sour than this preparation, but really it’s all about the texture for me and this was great. Soft with a little bit of chewy pliancy to it, but not tough or hard.

We had a few leftovers that we took with us. Their menu is a bit out of date. Prices are a few dollars higher per item than listed, and their physical menu touts a vegan meal available as well.

All that plus three glasses of Ethiopian wine was $160 with 20% post-tax gratuity included.

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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.

 

 

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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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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Husbear and I just closed on a house, and the only way I could think of celebrating was enjoying a meal at Ala Shanghai the very night we closed. Seafood Siu Mai (shrimp & scallops $6). A little spongy, but nice bits of scallops in the mix.

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Albany John got the spiciest dish he’s tried yet at Ala Shanghai – M14 Sliced Pork in Spicy Broth ($14). Slices of pork and napa cabbage on top of vermicelli noodles, swimming in a flavorful and very spicy broth. I could only manage a few bites! I like the flavor, but I could only tolerate a little bit!

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It’s such a gigantic bowl, we were relieved that there was a pile of vermicelli noodles underneath. They were also great for sopping up the spicy broth.

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Gai Lan (Chinese Broccoli, $11) for a veggie. This was amazing! So fresh and gently cooked. If you are craving something green, this is the dish to get. The stalks are my favorite part, and these were cooked perfectly for me: lightly cooked through so they still retained a bit of a crunch, but were also just a little bit of fresh sweetness. This is the way I wish I could cook them at home.The flavor was pure gai lan and garlic, nothing else. Simplicity. Perfect veggies.

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I thought a whole fish would be a good dish to get to celebrate this big, new step in our lives. One steamed whole flounder ($24) with ginger, scallions, and light soy sauce It came out whole.

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…And the bones were removed table-side with lightning speed. This both fillets the fish efficiently, maximizing the amount of fish available, while leaving the whole fish intact.

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The flounder was soft, tender, and cooked just enough. It had a clean salinity to it, which was complemented by the light soy sauce. I want to stress that this was a light soy sauce, and not too salty or overpowering for this delightfully delicate fish. The meat was downright buttery, especially with some of the soy sauce.

And don’t forget to nibble on the tail, head, and all of the fins! There is tons of flavor in those sections, you just have to spit out some small bones. Trust me, it’s worth it.

So that was the first night we bought the house. For me it was a nice, hearty yet healthy celebration dinner. I mean, I had mostly the dumplings, flounder, and veggies.

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A few days later, my home repair instructor (Dad) came up to teach me some new skills. He’s pretty cheap as far as a teacher and plumber go – meals and a lodging. He even bought me a few tools. The night he came up we went to Ala Shanghai again for a quick dinner when he heard how close our new house is to Ala Shanghai. Yes, Albany John and I are now Living La Vida Latham. Spicy 8 Jewels as a freebie appetizer.

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Crab Xiao Long Bao ($8). Very soupy, and very thin skins. Joe’s Shanghai – eat your heart out.

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My dad has enjoyed all of Ala Shanghai’s dishes, but he has an especially fond place in his heart for their soups. He got the smoked fish soup ($8), which serves up a really hearty portion of smoked, bony fish. The smoked fish is quite the Shanghaiese dish. It’s very smoky and sweet for Cantonese palates, which are used to… some may say “blander”, but I will say “simpler” flavors, hee hee. Dad wasn’t a fan of all of the bones in the fish, and thought it was a lot of flavors going on. But those noodles and that soup broth – just perfect.

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Bok choy for dad’s veggie choice of the night! Again, like the gai lan above, just perfectly cooked. Little bit of crunch, little bit of fresh sweetness, and very refreshing.

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