Category Archives: drinking

Sipping from Siro’s Cup

With Dominick and Carolyn Purnomo.                            Photo by Joe Putrock, Special to the times Union.

Last night I attended my first Saratoga “event,” the 21st Annual Newton Plaza Siro’s Cup.  I was thoughtfully included in a friend’s group and during a very busy week, it was the thing for which I was most excited.  What to wear? Could I forsake peer comfort with foot comfort and wear flats? Accessories were key and I wanted to feel put together from head (day 2 hair, flat ironed and sprayed) to toes (freshly pedicured in a gorgeous shade of pastel sea foam).  I knew I needed to feel confident in my appearance and went with a whole Goddess of Reading look.  I think it worked.

The showers through which I had driven in Albany had completely disappeared and the air in Saratoga was fresh and comfortable.  The fancy cars, Maserartis, Rolls Royces and my dream car, a 2 door Porsche, were parked on display and the whole thing felt about as swanky as you can get when you’re essentially walking barefoot from your own wagon parked in a grassy field.

Inside the party there was an almost overwhelming sense of stimulation.  People were ON.  The multiple bars set up attracted what seemed to be the most outgoing cliques of friend – there was a definite (and deserved) sense of holding court.  The clothes, the makeup, the hair…there was so much to absorb.  Fashion-wise, it seemed that anything went.  Naturally, there were Nantucket Reds, seersucker and linen adorning the guys and dresses in every length and color on the women.  There was a lot of jewelry, along with a fair amount of serious suntan.

A constantly flowing river of attendees were carried on a current of cocktails. People seemed happy and there were many outbursts of laughter to be heard.  The “first party of the season” feel to it made for an excellent vibe.  It was fun.  I loved seeing my favorite Pirate Girl and am so psyched the she has taken up residence for the season, like the ballet or the writers of Yaddo.  There were other hospitality folks there – the generation II Purnomos, Matt Baumgartner, Michael Cocca.  It was nice to see them being on the receiving end of hospitality for a change.

Many familiar faces were in the crowd.  I mean, I’ve worked in local restaurants for long time and have probably served thousands of people. I had a couple of moments, though, of feeling mildly out of place amongst a crowd who have far more lucrative investments than merely budgeting carefully and buying consigned clothes.  A couple of times I greeted attendees I knew from one restaurant or another and I wasn’t recognized without giving my name or context.  Do I look that different?  Am I invisible as a server?  Have I gained weight?*  Am I aging poorly? It was a little awkward to navigate.

Gnocchi and shaved truffles

Gnocchi and shaved truffles

The scene, though, was captivating.  I could have walked, marveling under the star-filled sky, for even longer, but my belly demanded food and I don’t like eating standing up.  I headed to 15 Church and got exactly what I was looking for – something delicious and indulgent to eat and sip and the welcome of friends I’ve worked with over the years.  I wish Saratoga was closer.

Burrata, tomatoes, basil

Burrata, tomatoes, basil

*no charge for that peek inside my head.

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Filed under drinking, Eating, Events, Food, friends, Local, Restaurants, Saratoga, Summer, Wine

Come on in my Cucina

See that post title above?  I have a confession about it… I seriously almost used  a more, shall we say, colorful homophonic version of the word “come,”  but chose not to because I was afraid it might be interpreted as vulgar.  I may be salty at times with my language choices, but crass is something I do not want to be.

So – why the temptation to use a word with carnal connotations to describe a dining experience?  Well, because Cucina, located at the north (east?) end of town in Woodstock, is a very sexy restaurant.  From the wide porch which offers dining al fresco during the warmer months, to the painted plank floors and the understated decor, to the menu which invites exploration and sharing, this place is hot.

My number one advice for planning your meal at Cucina is this: go with people you love because you’re going to want to share your food. Until the dessert course, of course, but we’ll get to that…

My home(town)girls and I selected Cucina for our “midway” dining date based upon recommendations from the Wine Bar & Bistro Chef, Nick, and the prior experience of one of the girls. We had 7pm reservations, but arrived a little early since most of our usual shopping destinations are still on winter hours and had closed by 6pm. We began at the bar, an open, well-lit area, and perused the creative cocktail list. I struggled with personal responsibility wanting to order one of everything, gin drinks aside. Because of our mutual appreciation of wine with dinner, Ginny and I elected to share the Orient Old Fashioned as an aperitif and it was a revelation. Spicy from the ginger syrup, smooth from the Bulleit, refreshing and piquant, I easily could  have gulped this down in record time.

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squid – two sauces

The dinner menu came with its own impressive array of temptations, but as a party of four we were in a good position to try a number of items.  I took charge (imagine!) of how many dishes we would have and collectively we agreed on what each course would contain.  We started with two appetizers – the crispy squid and the shrimp and white beans.  Neither dish broke any new ground in terms of composition, but the execution was exceptional.  The squid was lightly battered and virtually without greasiness, while the shrimp were perfectly cooked and accompanied by beans which retained the ideal amount of firmness.  Great start!

shrimp, white beans, tomatoes

shrimp, white beans, tomatoes

We followed the appetizers with two salads and a special pizza.  The asparagus, snap peas, endive, etc salad was creative and capitalized on ingredients which are coming into their own, seasonwise.  What can you say about roasted beets, Coach Farms goat cheese and balsamic vinegar other than yum?  Exactly.  Our beautiful pizza, topped with a riot of green veggies, including some banging jalapenos, on the thinnest of crusts, was a spicy delight.

pizza

pizza – baby spinach, jalapenos, red onions

We finished our savory experience with two pastas – the spinach and ricotta filled ravioli with brown sage butter and an evening risotto special with scallops, shrimp and saffron.  The portions aren’t tremendous, but the flavors are and we were very content with the quality and amount of food we were served.  Speaking of served, our server was terrific.  No complaints at all , start to finish.  With our meal we enjoyed a bottle of Abbazia di Novacella Kerner, 2010, a wonderful food wine which I am familiar with from the Wine Bar & Bistro on Lark.  Perfect.

MY dessert - no sharing

MY dessert – no sharing

When it came time for dessert, I was done with sharing and insisted that it was every woman for herself.  My choice, the butterscotch budino, was off the hook, crazy delicious.  Butterscotch, caramel, toasted coconut and sea salt put together in ideal proportions to make a dreamy pudding-esque climax to a wonderful evening.

Yeah, I’ll come on in Cucina any time.

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Filed under Dinner, drinking, Eating, Food, friends, Recommendations, Restaurants, road trips, upstate New York

Reflections after 2 days of being Wined and Dined

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Me and “my” Sis

I was lucky enough to shoot photos at two related events this past weekend in downtown Albany.  In case you are one of the few residents of the Capital District who I didn’t run into (and have been living under a rock), this weekend was the 5th annual Albany Wine and Dine for the Arts, an outstanding culinary event which is rapidly growing into the highlight of what can often be a grey month in upstate New York.

I began the weekend with Friday evening’s Grand Tasting.  This event is truly a terrific way to start a three-day weekend and people really seemed to be enjoying themselves.  The sizable crowd was wonderfully diverse with couples, both young and old, as well as groups of friends, meandering around the ballroom carefully balancing tasting plates of food and adult beverages.  If you’re someone who is intimidated by “haute cuisine,” this would be a perfect opportunity to expand your culinary horizons in a completely low-key fashion.

As I roamed, snapping photos for a Seen gallery, I was able to make connections with old friends and new faces.  In all honesty, I didn’t eat or drink because I was working planning to take an evening run and didn’t want the excess ballast.  If I had been indulging, the offerings from Cafe Capriccio, Bake for You and Javier’s all would have attracted my fork and, while I didn’t transition to the Slider Slam, held at 90 State, it looked like quite a party!  Next year, for sure.

Saturday, though, was my night to indulge and I do believe I did justice to the fabulous offerings.  I had originally planned to attend an old friend’s party in Troy, but the sloppy weather prevented me from making the trek.  I like to ski on snow, not drive.  I consoled myself by finagling a spot at one of the Gala’s tables and tucked into pretty much every course which came my way.  Oh, and there was wine, too!  Lots of tastes of lots of wines, including an ’81 Chateau Margaux and a ’66 Talbot.  What an evening…

Vintage '66 for both me and the wine!

Vintage ’66 for both me and the wine!

I wish I had been more disciplined about taking notes about the individual courses along with the wine pairings, but Friday had been the time for discipline.  Saturday was all about dining with friends and filling my mouth with tastiness.  And taking pictures, of course.

There was one aspect of the event which left me a bit disgruntled… This event would be impossible to pull off without the tireless efforts of the committee, the chefs and all of the professional hospitality industry employees.  Prior to the start of meal service, there were a number of honors, awards and recognitions which needed to be presented.  Unfortunately, there were quite a few tables which lacked appropriate decorum during this time and it was often difficult to hear the individual presenters and recipients.  There was no lack of food or beverage served during the one-hour cocktail reception prior to the commencement of the sit down portion of the meal and it would have been nice if the attendees could have closed their mouths for just a short while.

Mark your calendars for mid-January 2015  – this event is going to continue to be the premier food and wine event in the Capital Region and you’ll want to be there.

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Filed under Albany, Dinner, drinking, Eating, Events, favorites, Food, Local, Recommendations, Restaurants, SEEN, upstate New York, Wine, winter

The evolution of the girlfriend getaway

DSC_0036It started with a couple of stolen hours.  We’d pick a date that worked for all of us, crossing our fingers for no last-minute work emergencies, sick children or childcare cop outs.  Our rendezvous destination was generally somewhere in the middle – north for them, south for me.

On the given day, as I put miles between myself and the responsibilities and demands of home, I recall becoming aware of my breath. It was almost as if I had been holding my breath, neither inhaling or exhaling with any depth, for what seemed like days.  Those couple of hours shared with my girlfriends reset my heart, my lungs and my mind.

As our lives have progressed, our opportunities to get together have also grown.  A quick shared meal evolved into an occasional overnight in NYC, complete with dinner and drinks. On one occasion, as I packed to leave Albany for 2 nights in the city, I realized that I was borderline sick and in desperate need of a nap.  I also knew that my chances of actually getting a nap (and being taken care of) were better in the city with the girls than at home with the guys.  I went.

We’ve explored new neighborhoods as we allowed Hotwire and Priceline to determine where we stayed, economizing on accommodations to allow for some shopping as we attempted to bring some of our peace of mind home.  We’ve got restaurants and cocktail bars which we consider to be “ours” and have had some wonderful trips making memories to last a lifetime.

We’ve just returned from our most ambitious girls’ trip ever – 5 nights in New Orleans.  I can’t tell you how many times I said “Can you believe how fortunate we are that we are able to do this?” during the trip.  The fact that we have come to a place where we have the resources and time to pull off a get away like this impresses me to no end.  I don’t know when we got to be such grown up women, but I like it.  A lot.

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Filed under aging, drinking, Eating, Events, friends, NYC, Observations, relationships, travel, vacation

It’s all about the presence…

photo(155)…not the gifts. Although, they’re lovely and thoughtful and it can be so fun to unwrap surprise packages. Most of the time, that is. But, when all is said and done, it is truly all about the people with whom we are lucky enough to spend time.

For countless years, I feel as if I have had the best birthday ever, each year. How incredible is that? I’ve said it before, and I’m not ashamed to admit that it remains true – I am a simple person. I do appreciate daily luxuries like great soap and delicious coffee or a pair of Frye boots that I can wear for 20 years. But, truly, stuff isn’t all that important to me however, people…well, now you’re talking.

Friday night my favorite running friends spent the evening easing me into my birthday weekend. We laughed and ran under a big moon, and talked.  Then we cleaned up, went out and toasted our strength, our good health, our years of life.

We were joined by one of my oldest friends, a woman who I have been fortunate enough to grow up with for the last 30+ years. She had driven nearly two hours to be with me as I made the joyful leap into a new year. We shared memories and hugs and laughter.

Our designated driver took us to Wolff’s Biergarten and even indulged my whim to go to a second spot, not because I needed another drink, but because I just didn’t want the night to end. The contribution he made to my perfect night should not be minimized. There was thoughtfulness, care and love, none of which can be presented in a package, no matter the size. Me, the reputed “difficult to take care of,” had been thoroughly taken care of.

The merging of three different areas of my life, the active, the established and the emotional was the perfect way to close out my 46th year and herald a new year of living.  No bow  or wrapping required.
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Filed under aging, Albany, beer, birthdays, drinking, friends, love, running

Tortilla Flats aka as the place with a waiter who must have flatlined

The best part of the experience, aside from the company.

The best part of the experience, aside from the company.

We stopped in at a little joint Sunday afternoon down in the West Village, Tortilla Flats, hereafter referred to as the place with the worst service.  Ever.

Our party of three arrived at what I think of as the “shoulder season” of dining hours, around 3:30 or so.  There was a distinct lack of greeting after we entered, but the bartender finally acknowledged us and directed us to the lone waiter, Mr Frazzled and Angry.  Just like his hair.  He agreed to seat us and selected the only unoccupied dirty table.  Naturally, it needs to be bussed and wiped, which he did in between other tasks.  His sense of prioritizing was poor.

We sat and perused the menu, giving the margarita list the bulk of our attention.  We selected a path to tequila awareness (Sauza Hornitos) and waited for the server’s return.  We waited a long ass time, actually.  We waited so long that we finally sent a representative to the bar to place the order directly with the bartender.  In a remarkably rapid fashion, the server brought us our pitcher, with the correct number of glasses salted (2 out of 3) and garnished with limes.  Drinking commenced.

About midway through our first drinks we again flagged the server down to place an order for nachos with sides of guacamole and salsa.  A short time later we received our nachos, which were unlike any nachos I’ve ever been served.  They were flat, looking more like a quesadilla than a pile of crispy chips topped with cheese and beans and whatnot.  For clarification we inquired if we had been served the correct item and to remind the server that we had also ordered a couple of sides and that utensils, plates and napkins would be helpful.  With a remarkable level of surliness for a human being over the age of 16 or so, he retrieved our guacamole and salsa, but no plates or napkins.

At this point we were drinking our second drinks on fairly empty stomachs.  You see, we didn’t have plates or napkins or utensils with which to eat our food.  Even though those are all obviously, to most, considered essential items when consuming food.  Eventually, once the ray of sunshine who was our “server” had cleared a neighboring table (which was unoccupied) and stood at the bar for a few minutes, we received plates and napkins.  Silverware never was provided.  The (finger)food was tasty.

My commitment at that particular moment in time was weighted heavily in favor of the tequila, so I elected to not sit that kid down to painstakingly itemize all of the lapses in service which he had committed.  Our interlude ended on a high note when the waiter inquired how everything was – a question he posed for the first and only time as we paid the check.  We were able to exit the restaurant laughing, a state I don’t imagine he was able to replicate with the paltry, yet still generous, 15% tip we left for him.  At least there’s always tequila, buddy.

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Filed under drinking, Eating, NYC, Restaurants, Summer, sunday

Soap scum and love for the Wine Bar!

image: Joe Keegan

Check out Joe Keegan’s blog over at the TU for some tips on cleaning glass shower doors and his impressions of the Wine Bar & Bistro on Lark.  I had a blast taking care of his party and was tickled to be included in his post.  I’ve been reading his blog, which deals with the painstaking, but not annoyingly so, restoration of the home he shares with his family, for a couple of years and I’m always happy when he posts a new entry.

PS.  I’m not the soap scum of which he speaks.

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Filed under Albany, drinking, Eating, favorites, Food, house, Lark Street, Recommendations, Restaurants, Wine