Tag Archives: restaurants

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.

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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

Sunday dinner out in the DelSo

One of the first images to enter my brain last Sunday morning came to me courtesy of an email from Living Social.  They were offering a deal for Yanni’s Too, a place known for its fried calamari, and the picture accompanying the sales pitch became my obsession and inspiration for the day.  Crispy looking golden brown rings and tentacles… I needed some, but had no desire to drive south and dine riverside.  I explored my options, beginning, and happily ending, in my own neighborhood – Nicole’s Restaurant.  All I had was a 5 mile run to get through first.

Run finished, I quickly called Nicole’s to make sure they still had tables seated at 8:00 on a Sunday.  I never want to be that person who comes in on a quiet night and keeps staff hanging around.  I was assured that they still were doing business and invited to please stop by.  On my arrival I was offered a nice deuce in the front and settled in with the menu and a basket of warm bread accompanied with good quality olive oil and an olive tapenade.
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I was hungry and went a little crazy ordering the fried calamari, the eggplant rollatini and an intriguing sounding Brussels sprouts Caesar salad.  After considering a bottle of wine, with the option to bring home what I didn’t finish, I talked myself down and went with a glass of chianti which satisfied me perfectly.

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The calamari was terrific. It was piping hot, crispy and not oily in the slightest.  The accompanying sauce was different and enjoyable, but I’m pretty simple and would have been equally pleased with a marinara sauce on the side.

eggplantThe eggplant was tender, completely devoid of bitterness and wonderfully smoky from the oozing cheese.  Again, the presentation is a little different with only some roasted red peppers topping the eggplant, rather than the more typical bath of red sauce.  Tasty.

ceasarThe salad was a unique spin on Caesar – a feat that is not easily accomplished, but I didn’t really taste the classic Caesar notes of garlic, cheese and anchovy as I had expected.  The anchovies were white which, in my opinion, gives a sharper, more vinegary taste.  I liked the salad more when I finished it up the next day as part of my lunch.  It seemed to have mellowed out a bit.

cheesecakeI wrapped things up with an indulgent slice of chocolate cheesecake – 5 miles, people.  I had just run 5 miles.  Belly full, $50 + tip lighter, I slept like a well fed baby.  Although I don’t get to Nicole’s often enough, it’s nice to know they continue to offer a consistently creative menu that never fails to provide comfort and quality.

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Filed under Albany, Delaware Avenue, DelSo, Dinner, Eating, Food, Local, Recommendations, Restaurants, running, sunday

I have no words.

Words?  Who needs words?  Behold…

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Ok, here are a few words in case the picture doesn’t tell the complete story.  Pizza Carbonara: Caramelized onion, housemade pancetta, smoked mozzarella, (perfectly cooked) egg, Cafe Capriccio.  Everything you could ever want from a pizza.

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Filed under Albany, Dinner, Eating, favorites, Local, pizza, Recommendations, Restaurants, upstate New York

Saratoga bites

A few months back I bought a Living Social deal for Javier’s in Saratoga. My motivation was to enjoy a night out and sample some of Brian Bowden’s food. Well, you know how that worked out. Nonetheless, Thursday night we hit the Northway and arrived promptly for our 6:45 reservation.

While the downstairs bar was completely empty, the upstairs dining room was close to full. We were shown to a nice table and looked over the recently updated menu. Eventually we decided to start with fried oysters and a pear salad, followed by the duck breast and monkfish entrees. I settled back contentedly with my glass of bubbles and my favorite fellow, prepared for an indulgent meal.

Our meal service began with dense and cheesy “muffins,” accompanied by softened butter garnished with roasted garlic. Nice. Our first course was served and I don’t know which one of us was more crestfallen by the size of the portion. You see, we’re good eaters and the salad, particularly, was shockingly paltry. Seriously – it was about a third of a pear. Maybe. The oysters appetizer was four morsels – a bit of a disappointment if you’re coming from the Rick Weber school of fried oysters, which is more than likely where this rendition originated.* The oysters were tasty but definitely would have benefitted from a touch of salt and a multiplication of two.

The entrees were far more impressive. Both of the portions were reasonable and the plates were nicely presented. The duck was perfectly medium rare, with a touch of sweetness to the sauce and nicely crisped skin. I don’t often eat monkfish, but I certainly would order it more frequently if I was assured it would be cooked as masterfully as the piece I enjoyed at Javier’s. My “poor man’s lobster” was mild, and moist and the accompaniments were a nice foil to the fish. Well done.  I didn’t take any photos of our meals, but you can see the salad and monkfish on this blog.

We had a dessert, some sort of something leche which was simply not my thing, but my dining companion made short work of it. Dinner, before discount, came to just over a $100, pre-tip. Service was capable, but not particularly personable. I’ve met Javier before (and his wife, following dinner) and they are both warm and social. It would be pleasing if the service reflected some of that.

Two days later, I was back in Saratoga to shoot some photos for the Times Union. The occasion? Chowderfest 2014. This was my first time attending this event and it is a huge deal. I believe there were 86 restaurants participating and, from what I understand, this annual celebration of chowder is second in popularity only to Travers Day. Props to Saratoga for hosting an event, in January, which literally fills their streets and sidewalks with folks willing to wait in line to sample minuscule “cups” of chowder. The crowd was enthusiastic, patient and seemingly appreciative of the offerings, as well as the relatively mild temperature.

My tight schedule prevented me from being able to invest time waiting on the sometimes formidable lines, but I would definitely consider participating in this fun event in the future. Truth be told, finding a reason to visit Saratoga, and a place to have a bite, is never a struggle.

*Brian Bowden worked with Andrew Plummer who worked with Rick Weber and those oysters had Rick Weber’s name all over them.

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Filed under Dinner, Eating, Events, Food, Restaurants, Saratoga, SEEN, soup, 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 Big Easy for little $

Planning for the recent girls’ getaway began months ago.  The topic had been bandied about like a pair of traveling pants, each of the four of us adding her own particular curve to the project.  The criteria was simple: not too far, not too expensive, the simpler the transportation the better.

When I came across a terrific airfare deal (Newark to NOLA $260 r/t) while I was browsing Southwest’s site, on day 3 of my annual two-week vacation with the boys, I immediately sent out a group text.  In no time flat, tickets had been purchased, a time-share had been inquired about and personal calendars had been cleared.  We were a go.

We had 4 months to squirrel away put aside spending money and make some plans.  We investigated what to see, where to go, where to eat, how to get around.  We had a very loose collection of ideas for the trip and reservations for one “big night out” restaurant.  Here’s how we did things…

We parked a single vehicle in Newark at the Parking Spot 2.  Customer service and the price (5 days, $54) were both more than satisfactory.  When we arrived in New Orleans, we took a cab, with a trunk surprisingly large for the vehicle’s size, which came out to about $15 each.
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Breakfast our first morning was beignets and cafe au lait, take-out, from Cafe du Monde.  Barely $20 for four, no table-service tip necessary.  Lunch was a bargain at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, a casual spot where guests order and pay at the bar and a runner delivers your food.  I went with a small Caesar salad with a cup of the chicken and sausage gumbo on the side.  I think it was about $12 with another couple of bucks for a tip.
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On our way back to our accommodations, we popped into a local grocery market and made some purchases, both practical and impulsive.  There was some cheese, a bit of pâté, crackers, fruit, cereal, milk, yogurt and 1/2 and 1/2.  You know, basics.  Breakfast could now be at home.

We did a lot of walking, opting for a cab only a couple of times due to rain or distance.  There’s also a streetcar system which runs 24 hours a day and offers a $3 all day pass.

Using recommendations from friends, along with Yelp, we found our way to a couple of inexpensive spots within walking distance.  Killer Po Boys, located in the back of the bar at Erin Rose’s, lived up to its name and I thoroughly enjoyed my $12 Gulf shrimp Po Boy.   An excellent bloody Mary on the side added only $3.50 to my tab.  Money well spent for sure!

There was a taco truck I had hoped to catch up to but, alas, it wasn’t to be. We did find a terrific nearby taqueria, Felipe’s, where for $40 (including a generous tip), we bought a mess of tacos and soup to go.  Pairing our meal with drinks at “home” made this dinner a tremendous and tasty deal.
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Don’t get the impression that we’re nickel and dimers, because we’re not. Sunday night we indulged in a fantastic meal at Restaurant R’evolution on Bienville.  We had originally considered the $75 per person prix fixe menu, but elected to go a la carte instead so we could sample more items on the enticing menu.  We selected a salumi sampler for 4 (only $6 more than the salumi plate for 2), crab beignets and a beet salad to start.  We were only able to eat about half of the salumi, but it packed up nicely for snacking on later during our stay.  We shared 3 main courses (ricotta gnocchi, beef short ribs, shrimp and cheese grits) and were comfortably satiated even after the heavenly creme brûlée bread pudding and treasure chest of one- bite sweets that followed.  Our 3.5 hour experience, with a cocktail, a $70 bottle of wine and 25%+ tip came to $100 a person.
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We were naturally craving something a little less indulgent for lunch the following day and found a yummy salad and soup in a nearby food court.  Our meals were fresh, creative and a bargain.  I had yellow split pea soup along with a salad with some Asian notes like ginger and soy for barely $10.

Cheap airfare, a friend’s generous offer of their one bedroom timeshare and thoughtful expenditures for transportation, food and beverages made our get away a treat without breaking the bank.  NOLA – I’ll be back.

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Filed under Eating, friends, ideas, Recommendations, road trips, travel