Category Archives: Food

City Squire Ale House

#sillyandwillyreunited

Friday night, after far too long of a separation, my friend Will and I reunited for an evening of fun and food. Initially I thought we were going to hang in Albany for First Friday, but he felt the need to check out a friend’s new spot on Union Street in Schenectady since he been away when they celebrated the grand opening. Our night could not have been better.

The space, from what I understand, is a complete new build on what had previously been a tavern sort of place, the original City Squire. From the charming front porch, which blurs the line between indoors and outdoors with its floor to ceiling doors which open wide, to the upstairs deck, the building was simply beautiful. The color palette, the floors, the attention to detail, everything about the place combined to make a really pretty setting for what became an indulgent and prolonged meal.

We started at the bar with 3 items from the menu and drinks. Making selections was a challenge because so much sounded good, but we went with the Mexican cauliflower (a recommendation from the owner), a dozen steamers and the fish tacos which were made with fried shrimp on that particular day. Our bartender, Kevin, was great making sure we were comfortable and well taken care of, and went as far as to have other guests at the bar shift over to provide us with seating. Nice.

The cauliflower, served in a cast iron casserole dish, was fantastic. Florets of cauliflower, corn kernels, scallions and queso fresco came together perfectly in a flavorful array of textures. Ordered with a salad, it would make a dynamite and satisfying meatless meal. The clams were lovely – fresh and clean lacking only a vessel in which to place the quickly emptied shells. The tacos were a tremendous portion – 3 soft shelled beauties bursting with shrimp and assorted shredded vegetables served in a perfectly designed holder. We probably could have stopped there, but were joined by our third guest and moved to a table to sample a few more items.

Mexican cauliflower heaven

Clams, butter, crostini simplicity

Fish tacos – outstanding!

Will opted for a salad and a beef entree, while Raj selected two more small plate options – the Korean wings (spicy with a Korean chili garlic sauce) and the grilled flatbread a bruschetta-y sort of prep of naan, tomatoes, chicken and mozzarella. I sampled everything at the table and found it all to be well prepared and nicely seasoned. It is a casual place with paper napkins, yet the dishes and glasses were thoughtfully selected and our server was attentive to our needs.

As we wrapped things up to take home, we were joined by the chef, who actually oversees all four of the restaurants the family owns. While we didn’t order dessert, his enthusiasm and joy in being part of this project, as well as the others, was a super sweet way to end a meal. There is a real sense of family and teamwork that I really appreciated seeing. So many industry folks struggle with cynicism, but without exception, everyone we encountered was positive and upbeat. I was a guest of my friends and don’t know our total for the night, but can’t imagine it was out of line for the quality of the experience. Can’t wait to go back!

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Dinner, drinking, Eating, favorites, Food, friends, Happy Hour, Local, Recommendations, Restaurants, Schenectady, Spring, Uncategorized, upstate New York

Restaurant Navona

Last night my guys and I had dinner to celebrate middle son’s birthday. His birthday was actually on Monday, but he requested a Tuesday dinner because he felt that he would have more options from which to choose since many places are closed Mondays. This is what happens when you raise foodie kids.

We arrived on time for our 6:30 reservation and were seated after a couple of confusing moments. I’ve only been to Restaurant Navona on one other occasion and last night there seemed to be an event taking place which made it less than clear to me who to approach for seating. Once seated we were given menus, followed by water a few minutes later.

We were all hungry and made quick work of the menus selecting 3 starters followed by 4 main courses. Our server was very capable, but it seemed that she had quite a few tables and placing our order wasn’t accomplished until almost 7:00. We weren’t served bread or the glass of wine I had ordered for what felt like a long time, with the wine barely beating the appetizers to the table and the bread served after we were midway through our first course.

The prosecco I ordered was very sweet making me think I had perhaps been poured the asti spumante rather than what I requested. I drank it anyway. You would have too had you been out with my crew, believe me. Our first course was nicely presented and delicious. The evening’s special of grilled octopus served with beans, fennel and capers was perfectly cooked and tender. My Caesar salad was generously portioned and the bruschetta presentation was unique with the fresh ricotta, peperonata and tomatoes each being served on the side of a stack of very thinly sliced, crisp bread. The bread service was great – warm and oily focaccia with a smear of fresh ricotta and olive oil on the plate. It may have been the best focaccia I’ve had since I visited Genoa more than 20 years ago. I’d happily go back to Navona just to order that again.

Our main course followed very quickly behind our appetizers. The birthday boy had the pork chop, one of the night’s specials, which was accompanied by creamy spinach and roasted potato coins which he found lacking in salt, but I found perfect. The chop itself was beautifully cooked and of high quality but we both agreed that the spice rub was more a detraction than an embellishment.

My oldest son went with the evening’s fish special – roasted cod, faro, and greens. This was a simple dish and the quality of the ingredients and the skill in preparation was evident. My youngest had the Navona pizza with sweet Italian sausage added and he was quite pleased with his choice. The large dinner plate sized pizza was thin crusted with tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil. We all sampled it and agreed that it was a really nice pizza.

I had the gnocchi de pepi which was a risk knowing that it would never reach the level of the cacio e pepe that I fell in love with when I was in Rome. This preparation had the addition of “crispy artichoke hearts,” which I thought were unnecessary to the dish. (Also, they weren’t crispy by any stretch of the imagination.) I would have happily seen them replaced with more cheese and black pepper to suit my own personal taste. I ate about half of the dish, saving room for dessert and today’s lunch.

We finished with two orders of the carrot cake and a coconut cream tart. The carrot cake was an individual-sized loaf with plenty of piped frosting and praline pecans on the side and it was really outstanding. The tart was also very good, but didn’t quite reach the level of the one at Mio Posto although the crust was excellent. Desserts were served on rectangular slate “plates,” a choice we found to be consistent with some of the other unique decorative touches such as the plethora of clocks and pottery scattered about the restaurant. It seemed a little overdecorated to us, but we’re simple people.

Overall, we were impressed with the food, but would have preferred a bit more attention in terms of service. The table where we were seated was less than ideal with lots of traffic continually going back and forth. I think I’d be inclined to return for a bite at the bar or perhaps a table less in the middle of things. The food really was delicious, though, and judging from the crowd that was there last night, they’re doing well and I couldn’t be happier for them.

2 Comments

Filed under Albany, birthdays, Boys, Dinner, Eating, family, Food, Local, Restaurants, Spring

Deliver this love letter to 15 Church

I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I had dinner last week for the first time ever at 15 Church. I’ve been there a number of times for drinks or something to eat on the patio, but as for sitting down and getting the full 15 Church soup to nuts treatment, well, this was my maiden voyage. It was so worth the wait.

We arrived at about 8:30, a little late for most places on a weeknight but 15 Church was still jumping. We were welcomed, ushered to a comfortable booth and given menus as well as a verbal recitation of the evening’s specials. So many delicious sounding options!

As we considered the offerings, the fella sipped his Paper Plane cocktail, adorably garnished with a tiny paper plane. A well-made bourbon cocktail really is a wonderful way to start a meal.

After a few minutes we came up with a plan – 2 appetizers, a salad of sorts and a single entrée to share. The fantastic warm bread service and amuse bouche of beef tartare provided a lovely start prior to our first official course, the fried oysters and an evening special of gorgeous tuna. I’ve had fried oysters, even really, really good fried oysters before, but these were on a whole other level. I would consider them to be a PhD dissertation in texture, flavor and presentation. Fantastic. The tuna was remarkably fresh with interesting accompaniments including charred pineapple. Personally, I would have preferred the tuna to be sliced thinner, but that’s just my preference, not a flaw by any means.

We were graciously served an unexpected midcourse of pasta with a flavorful ragu of rabbit and mushrooms. Surprisingly, this was the third time in a month that I’ve had a similar dish, the other occasions being while I was in Rome and more recently at MezzeNotte in Guilderland. All three renditions were perfectly seasonal and delicious, this particular plate contained the largest pieces of rabbit loin and, Easter bunny be damned – I’d eat this dish all year long.

The burrata was beautifully presented and a wonderful combination of a salad and cheese course to prep us for our final plate – the pork shank evening special. My fella hadn’t ever experienced a pork shank before and I’m so glad that his first was prepared as masterfully as the one we enjoyed together.  It was a marvel of rich flavor, tender yet with a barely discernible crunch to the exterior, and perfectly accompanied by a marsala reduction and whipped potatoes laced with more butter than I ever want to know about. An absolute revelation.

Our meal was accompanied by a wallet friendly Rioja and punctuated at its conclusion with an order of their famous fried to order donuts with a tiny chocolate mousse on the side. Because – why not? If you’ve made the excellent decision to indulge yourself, you’ve most definitely come to the right place.

3 Comments

Filed under Dinner, drinking, Food, Local, Recommendations, Restaurants, Saratoga, upstate New York, winter

I ate (and drank) everything

(Let’s call this a throwback Thursday post. I started it last week on my final evening in Rome.)

It’s 8:00 in Rome and I’m starting to get hungry. The rain is pouring down, which makes my hope to go Enzo 29 again a bit soggy. I think I may need to stay closer to home on a night when the weather makes the prospect of waiting for a table at the perpetually busy Enzo more than a little discouraging. I’m out of wine so going out is my only option.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But, first, what have I already enjoyed? The cream filled cornetto I had a few days back was pretty spectacular. Actually, all the pastry I’ve sampled have been perfecto. Not too sweet or overly large, but simply created from butter and spectacular dipped into a cappuccino.

I’ve had pasta – a lot. There was with delicate clams in Napoli, and Amatriciana, carbonara and cacio e pepe all from the same wonderful trattoria in Trastevere. Delicate duck filled ravioli and hearty rabbit ragu with paparadelle. Tender prosciutto and bresaola and the best friggin porchetta ever. Cheeses – fresh ricotta, something smoked from the provolone family and a burratta that almost made me cry. I enjoyed pizza margherita in Napoli, but it was trumped by the panini presented to me wrapped in paper and unlike any sandwich I’ve ever had before. There was also pizza in Rome at a special spot recommended by a local (to Albany) pizza aficionado called Bonci. The crust was like eating air.

Don’t worry – I ate my veggies, too, in the form of artichokes (both deep-fried and Roman style), sautéed chicory and other contorno. Oh! I also had zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese and anchovies which were divinely addictive.

I drank the most simple of wines. Falanghina in Naples and the house bianco and rosso in the trattorias where I took my meals. Of course, I sipped prosecco and limoncello to bookend a dinner or two and I tasted amaro and found it to my liking as well. The highlight of my wine consumption came in a single glass of absolutely divine Amarone on my last night in Rome, the night I initially began to write this post just a week ago. My belly, and more importantly my soul, remains full. Te amo, bella Italy.

2 Comments

Filed under drinking, Eating, Europe, favorites, Food, Italy, Observations, travel, vacation

Thoughts inspired by dinner at Enzo29

img_4217-1Americans are always the loudest. They want everyone to hear them but they don’t know how to listen. I want to softly tell the table of 6-Got-SUNY-semester-abroad written all over them, (unfortunately not in invisible ink), that I adore their enthusiasm and excitement but couldn’t they enjoy themselves just as much if they spoke in more quiet voices?

Waiting for a seat in a restaurant that I saved my cacio e pepe cherry for. Sorry if that sounds vulgar. It wasn’t my intent.

The crew here is outstanding. The door guy, smoothly and with a discreet disdain that even Paul McCullough could learn from, was impressive. The servers all served smiles.

This restaurant is at the end of a street named Salumi… Come on.

If I knew how to say it I’d say “I’m so sorry I don’t speak Italian because it is such a beautiful language.,” to every Italian I was lucky enough to encounter.

I just said “no bread.” I had the bread last night and it was delicious. I didn’t need it again, though.

It’s ok cool to be recognized with smiles when you frequent the same trattoria two nights in a row.

There’s a man wearing a lavender, I assume cashmere, turtleneck seated directly in front of me. He isn’t even trying to be ironic.

img_4221-1Holy shit. This cacio e pepe is the best pasta I’ve ever had. Ever. Period. The sautéed chicory on the side is a spicy green vegetable nirvana. Contrasted, yet companionable, to the pasta it all creates something which can only be described as sublime.

img_4222-1This meal is one of those that can be described as “final meal request” material.

I ate my full leaving enough on my plate(s) to prompt a couple of queries to confirm that I had found everything molto bene. Si! I just wanted to save room for dolce.

The tiramisu was worthy of service in this very, very fine trattoria. Bene. Molte bene!

1 Comment

Filed under Dinner, drinking, Eating, Europe, favorites, Food, Italy, Observations, Random, Recommendations, Restaurants, travel, vacation

#solotravel

I’m cozy in my Rome AirBandB with a glass (or 2) of wine and vague plan of taking a hot shower and heading out for dinner. I think I’m going back to the same place I enjoyed last night because I must have the cacao e pepe there. It wasn’t possible to fit it in my belly last night, but, tonight there’s room after a day of walking without a stop for lunch. I mean, if you don’t count gelato as a legitimate meal, that is.

It’s been a wonderful few days – actually I can’t believe I’ve already been in Italy for 5 days. It doesn’t seem possible. My pace has been mostly leisurely, but the days have passed quickly and I’m hyper focused on how many more meals I get to indulge in before I head home. Not enough.

When you travel by yourself, hours may pass with the only conversation you have is with yourself. Getting “lost” means nothing because there’s no place you really need to be. Taking a left instead of a right is ok. Eventually you’ll find your way to where it is you want to be. Yesterday, in Pompeii, I stood in the same spot for more than 10 minutes waiting for the clouds to offer me a peek at Vesuvius. I felt no haste, only gratitude for the luxury of time of my own.

Coming to Italy solo was a big leap. Of course, traveling to what feels like the most romantic city in the world would be lovely with a partner, but to not come alone would be a disservice to myself. Not experiencing this beautiful country, or the world at large, would be regrettable in a way that I’m not willing to know. Time to go shower. It’s almost my dinner time.

1 Comment

Filed under beauty, Dinner, Eating, Europe, Food, Italy, Observations, Restaurants, travel, Uncategorized, vacation

Rome in films

I don’t think I’ve ever been so prepared for a trip before. I’ve been basically packed and ready for almost a week already and I’m actually looking forward to Penn Station because it gets me more near to Newark Airport which makes me that much closer to Rome…

Since time seems to moving at a pace which will surely be acceptable when I’m in Rome, but which I find to be excruciatingly slow while waiting for that to happen, I’ve spent the weekend watching films that are set in Rome. First up was the biggest disappointment – The Da Vinci Code. Truth be told, I saw this movie years ago and I was being way too optimistic to believe that focusing on the scenes set in Rome would be enough to salvage what is essentially a terribly cast adaptation of a book I enjoyed. Lesson learned. Next.

A Special Daya Carlo Ponti film starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni rocked my world with its incredible performances, camera angles and emotion. The Roman background was overshadowed by the wrenching story told, but I am so glad this movie came into my life. The scene on the rooftop with the laundry left me breathless. Thank you, Google search, for such a great find.

The final movie, Eat, Pray, Love was also a repeat for me, yet unlike Da Vinci Code this one did actually offer more for me the second time around. Somehow I had completely forgotten all of the preliminary action which occurred prior to Elizabeth Gilbert’s arrival in Rome, but that’s one of the funny things about revisiting a book or movie, isn’t it? What you take away is directly related to what you bring and that changes as life changes. What most excited me last night while watching this movie was the sense of injesting Rome – the pasta, the gelato, the scenery, the people, the language… I’m hungry and ready.

1 Comment

Filed under beauty, Europe, Food, Italy, Movies, Recommendations, travel, vacation