Category Archives: Restaurants

Whole hog at The Purple Pig

img_0489One of the best parts of being a runner is the license it gives one to eat. Believe me, pushing through a ten mile run is a lot easier when you know that the evening’s meal is a reward worth working towards. My second Chicago run led me along the lake, north of the Navy Pier and then back down Michigan Avenue and finally, to my hotel. I was in no rush and genuinely enjoyed the experience, wrapping things up with some time in the sauna and a relaxing shower.

Ready to eat, I headed up town to The Purple Pig, planning to make my way to the bar in a restaurant that I imagined would be busy during prime time on a Saturday night. Once again, I got lucky and scored a prime spot (at the far left of the bar – a lefty’s dream) within minutes. The interior was a bit more casual than The Girl and the Goat and the style of ordering was also different. My server suggested ordering a single course at a time, which offered more flexibility to change my mind as I caught glimpses of dishes being served around me. Menu in hand, I consulted with the bartender about how hungry I was and for what I had a hankering.

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fullsizerender-2Breaking with expectations, I ordered a bottle of Clos Normand Brut cider from Normandy rather than wine. It was the perfect accompaniment to my meal and gave me a pleasant buzz without the fogginess that I get when I drink more than two glasses of wine. It was particularly tasty with my first course – a liver pate served with crostini and a small mound of greens on the side. The cider cut through the creamy and delicious fat and danced on my tongue with happiness as the flavors reminded me of my time in France last year. It was the ideal way to start my meal.

fullsizerender-3I followed the pate with Patatas Bravas, the Pig’s take on tater tots. These were really good, but didn’t give me the same level of joy that the potatoes at Brava in Lenox had provided a couple of months ago. I think I’d try a different veggie next time, especially if I was going to revisit the octopus which is served with fingerling potatoes and green beans. The octopus was beautifully charred, smoky and tender and matched with a salsa verde that radiated freshness. It was a stellar preparation and I absolutely housed that plate. Fantastic.

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fullsizerenderBecause a meal out is incomplete without dessert, I indulged myself with their version of a lemon bar and was thrilled with my plate. Tart and refreshing with a wonderful texture, it was truly memorable and went surprisingly well with the last of my cider. Dinner, including tip, was a $100, which I found reasonable for the quality of the meal and service. If I lived in Chicago I could see myself becoming a regular at this spot, like the man who sat next to me at the bar. Just like the city itself, there were lots of things on that menu left to explore. I can’t wait to go back.

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Filed under Chicago, Dinner, drinking, Eating, Recommendations, Restaurants, travel

The Girl and the Goat and I

img_0454Heading into Chicago I had only a few intentions – to run, to eat and to nap, all on my own schedule. Knowing that the city had no shortage of great restaurants, I decided to do my best to make it to a couple of them, without making reservations or arrangements in advance. I didn’t want to be pinned down to a specific time, preferring to satisfy my appetite when it demanded attention, and I was fairly confident that as a single I’d be able to belly up to the bar for a meal without too long of a wait. It worked.

I made my way uptown to the Girl and the Goat on the train, deciding my nearly 11 mile run was enough exercise for the day. Upon arriving, I was greeted and shepherded to the hopping bar area. As I prepared to order a drink, my veteran restaurant eyes assessed a soon to be open seat and I quickly swooped in to grab it. Seated in less than 5 minutes, I settled in with menus and consulted with a bartender to come up with an order. alsace

After determining that I was free to take any remaining wine with me, I selected an Alsatian Gewürztraminer, a wine that I enjoy and find to be food friendly. With my server’s guidance, I selected a number of items from the menu, ordering everything at once as is the preference in the restaurant.

sweetFirst up were the blue cheese sweet potato pierogis accompanied with a mushroom ragout, mushroom crema and fried capers and finished with microgreens. The flavors were beautifully balanced – earthy, pungent, salty and sweet and the texture of the pierogi was firm in a way that reminded me of samosa more than pasta. Delicious.

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I followed with some vegetables – green beans with a fish sauce vinaigrette and cashews. I’d say these were the most perfectly cooked green beans I’ve ever had in my life – firm, yet with an easy give, the bowl disappeared into my mouth with barely restrained haste. Again, the textures were spot on and the portion size was generous.

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My final savory course was the crispy pork shank, which was served on an individual cutting board along with a buttermilk dressing, grilled spring onion kimchee and naan. There was also a hot sauce and pickled carrot ribbons rounding out the plate in a cheeky nod to Buffalo style chicken wings. As I was still finishing up the green beans (I’m a slow eater!), the pork was placed slightly to the left of my bar space and after a few moments a server came by and “cracked” my shank open to reveal the moist and tender insides of my meat course. I was starting to slow down a little, but managed to eat nearly all of the pork appreciating the server’s instructions to use the naan to make mini sandwiches. I think I scarfed down 3 or 4 before deciding I really needed and deserved dessert.

dessertThe caramel corn and malt balls – vanilla malt gelato, popcorn caramel and chocolate magic shell, was one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. There was crunch in abundance along with sweet and buttery sensations which had my mouth popping – fantastic!

Service was attentive without being invasive and my wine was kept chilled with my glass never empty. The view of the kitchen added to the meal and I enjoyed watching the kitchen crew working through what appeared to be a perennial slam. Satiated, without being stuffed,  my remaining wine (nearly a half bottle) was bagged and I happily paid my check ($120 with tip and a $44 bottle of wine) and called for an Uber. Well done, Chicago.

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Filed under Chicago, drinking, Eating, Food, Recommendations, Restaurants, travel, Wine

Is Chicago my kind of town?

image: Flicker by ph4nn1 Chicago Skyline Panorama

image: Flicker by ph4nn1 Chicago Skyline Panorama

Last summer I made plans to go to Niagara Falls and Toronto with my kids for a few days. We’d never been and it seemed like a cool and economical getaway. I made hotel reservations and enthusiastically crowd sourced for some tourist recommendations. Then my two older sons got jobs. Plural. Not one to complain about employed children, I cancelled the trip and instead took my youngest down to NYC for a couple of days. That slacker doesn’t have a job, but I suppose he is only 11. Soon enough, little man.

A few weeks after the change in plans, I ended with both a Southwest voucher and a credit on my credit card, a situation which I immediately interpreted as a sign from the universe to buy a plane ticket. I reached out to my posse of friends, a number of whom were also celebrating a milestone birthday this year, to gauge interest in taking a weekend trip somewhere. While there was interest, it didn’t translate into action, so I decided it was time for me to take my first ever multiple night solo – Chicago, here I come!

So, I’ve got three nights in Chicago coming up in a few weeks and I’m a bit overwhelmed by all of the things there are to do! The luxury of traveling alone means I can do whatever I want, whenever I want to, which is pretty amazing. Knowing myself, I see my days being structured kind of like this:

  • Wake up, get out and do something.
  • Go back to the hotel for a nap.
  • Take a run.
  • Take a shower.
  • Go out and eat something tasty.

I imagine there will be alcohol involved, at times, too.

The two things I definitely want to do are the architectural boat tour and an art museum or two. I know there are a million places to eat, but I’m most interested in places where I can eat at the bar.

What can you tell me about Chicago?

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Filed under art, drinking, Eating, ideas, Recommendations, Restaurants, travel, Uncategorized, vacation, Wine

What I’ve learned from owning a business

facebook-profile-icon_lark-and-lily-07I know that sugarcoating reality is often considered positive behavior, but you know that I’m not one to claim to see unicorns and rainbows when it simply isn’t true, so let me tell you how things really are…

On October 20th, 2015 I picked up my liquor license and officially opened for business as Lark + Lily Wine Bar and Kitchen. On some days it doesn’t seem possible that a year has already passed, other nights, when I toss and turn, unable to sleep, it feels like this business has taken years from life.

Being a small business owner is beyond challenging. The expenses involved with maintaining a cozy wine bar sometimes overwhelm me – between payroll, rent, utilities, trash collection, alarm services, draft line maintenance and insurance, we’re talking a minimum of $4000 a week in expenses. Did you notice I didn’t even mention food, liquor or wine? Yeah, that’s a whole ‘nother nut.

I am the lowest paid person in the restaurant, by a long shot. That is honestly ok, even factoring in that my 17 year-old son makes more money than me, because I have a career which provides me with an adequate salary, but if I, or my brother, were dependent upon this project for an income, we’d be completely and utterly broke.

My motivation for being in the restaurant industry remains the same – I have a sincere interest in creating an atmosphere where guests feel welcome and well taken care of. I want to provide a space that lends itself to enjoying a glass of wine or cocktail, a light meal, dinner or dessert, be it with friends, family or that special someone who makes you want to snuggle closer in the make-out booth.

At a year in I’m gaining confidence in my ability to conceive and execute a special event. I trust my instincts a little more now and I am not hesitant to prepare a dessert or orchestrate a continental brunch. I know that I’m not capable of cooking a full menu to order and leave that to the professionals who grace my kitchen (thank you, John, Zach & Ben), but I definitely have some fun pop up events in my head that I’m excited to give a whirl. I’m thinking about themed Sunday suppers or other fun gatherings in conjunction with some of Lark Street’s activities. Sign up for our mailing list for first notice on those!

There are days when I am so proud of Lark + Lily and what we are trying to do – they far outnumber the times when I feel frustrated and stressed. That being said, if I didn’t have a staff of hardworking professionals (Trudy, Jammella, Griffin & Jackie) understanding family and friends (who know who they are) and wine running, I’d be done. The pressure on me (mostly from me) is intense.

To the people who, through their patronage, have become my friends, I am so appreciative. I sincerely hope that I don’t ever fail to convey my gratitude for you and your continued presence at Lark + Lily. I feel fortunate to have met so many other small business owners who are purveyors and as such provide us with the wonderful and local fruits of their own labors. There are, joyfully, too many of them to name. Take a peek at my menu or beverage list to see them all. I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention the media who, despite what Donald Trump might claim, have been unremittingly kind and generous to us in their acknowledgement of our efforts.  Thank you!

While I’ve come to understand that it isn’t possible to please everyone, it remains our ultimate goal and we can only improve with honest feedback and constructive criticism. And if you haven’t been in, I hope you will consider stopping by and checking us out, maybe even Thursday night. I hear there might be some celebrating going on.

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Filed under Albany, Events, Lark Street, Local, Observations, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Wine

Chinese delivery

imageI think I may have mentioned in the past that my youngest son is a bit obsessed with Asian food. What can I say? He was born on Chinese New Year. This school year began with his new lunch box, more specifically a Bento Box, which he tasked his father and I with filling with various Asian noodles, sliced beef or chicken, scallions and some kind of sauce – hoisin, peanut or kecap menas. The first few mornings of school were not easy with his culinary demands, but we figured things out and he happily ate his gourmet lunch, with chopsticks, natch.

Our favorite soup dumplings.

Our favorite soup dumplings.

 

On our last trip to NYC our itinerary completely revolved around where we would eat. We started at Joe’s Shanghai for soup dumplings, moved to a small Japanese place for ramen in the evening and wrapped up with Korean bar-b-q for lunch the next afternoon on our way to Penn Station. It was a good time, but his hunger for dumplings remained unquenched. Luckily, we found a local source for affordable, convenient and tasty dumplings – Northeast Dumpling House on Central Avenue Some friends turned me on to this place and I’ve dropped in a few times since to pick up frozen dumplings (pork, lamb and cabbage) to stash in the freezer for a quick meal. At $13-15 for 30 dumplings, this is a killer deal and genuine lifesaver on a busy day.

I mentioned to a Chinese friend that Quinn can’t get enough dumplings and that we’ve been enjoying those from the Dumpling House. It turns out her family is visiting from China and that her mother makes dumplings. Imagine how thrilled I was the other night to get a text from my friend offering to share some homemade dumplings with us. We met Thursday morning and she gave me a bag, generously filled, of pork and vegetable dumplings that we’ll be eating this weekend.

Coincidentally, another friend dropped in to Lark + Lily the same evening to give Quinn a cookbook that she was weeding from her extensive collection: Classic Chinese Recipes. It looks to be a terrific resource and I’m excited to have Quinn pick a few recipes for us to try. The cookbook was accompanied by 4 super cool melamine plates, which I know my boy is going to love, and will pair perfectly with the chopsticks our family thoughtfully brought upstate for us after their recent meal in Chinatown. Talk about Chinese delivery! How lucky are we?

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Filed under Albany, Boys, Cooking, Eating, favorites, friends, Local, NYC, Recommendations, Restaurants

Yoga Brunch

imageOne of the most exciting parts of owning a restaurant, for me, is conceiving and hosting events. The Ladies First party last fall and our New Year’s Day Open House, were two of my favorite afternoons spent at Lark + Lily in the  near year (!) since we opened. Last Sunday I was fortunate enough to add a third such afternoon event to my chain of satisfying and happy hospitality experiences, yoga brunch.

Originally planned for August, but rescheduled for after Labor Day, our introductory yoga brunch had a reasonable attendance on a morning that threatened rain. I definitely went big in terms of food, but I’m pretty certain the menu was well received and enjoyed. It was challenging to know how much to prepare since Albany is such a last-minute town and people don’t necessarily honor commitments made without prepayment. I get that, but next time a deposit might be necessary to better help me have the appropriate amount of food available. Believe me, there was no hardship in taking a dozen bagels home for the Lilly boys and it seemed more than acceptable to stop at the St. James Firehouse on September 11th to drop off an extra dozen donuts.

Because I didn’t want to interfere with the kitchen’s well deserved weekend, I made myself responsible for the prep and kept things fairly simple by creating a spread of bagels, veggie cream cheese (thanks, John!), Cider Belly donuts, hard-boiled eggs, lots of fresh fruit, homemade granola and R&G’s fantastic yogurt and ricotta cheese. I think I’ll keep the format similar, maybe mixing up the carbs a little and keeping the fruit as seasonal as possible. It’s a fun little project for me that I really enjoy.

I didn’t get to take the class, unfortunately, but everyone came back from the park a bit flushed and more than a little livelier than they were before class. There are some great photos taken by Trudy that really capture the bliss of being outdoors on a late summer morning. Be sure to check them out and mark your calendars for our next class led by the wonderful Jammella – October 23rd. Keep an eye on the Lark + Lily Facebook page for more details.

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Filed under Albany, Brunch, Eating, Events, Exercise, Local, Recommendations, Restaurants, Summer, sunday, Uncategorized

Man Crush Monday – Massimo Bottura

imageOver the summer, I did a little more than my usual television watching. It was too hot to do anything else, people. Don’t judge!  I binge watched the entire Breaking Bad series, finally finished Downton Abbey and, on my chiropractor’s recommendation, blew through Grace and Frankie. I don’t regret the hours I spent on the couch with the remote nearby, but I do wish I had devoted more time to another Netflix series, Chef’s Table. I mean, if I had, I could have spent longer mooning over Massimo Bottura…

Despite working in restaurant for decades, I’ve never dated a chef, (hmmm, maybe that’s because I’ve worked in restaurants for decades?) but this Massimo guy is absolutely dreamy. He’s handsome, funny, beyond creative in the kitchen, appreciative of his employees, generous  and madly in love with his wife. Pretty much the ideal guy.

Read this article, preferably with a hunk of good Parmesan-Reggiano and a glass of wine.  I think you’ll like him, too. Do you have a chef crush?

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Filed under Cooking, favorites, Food, Restaurants, television, Uncategorized