Tag Archives: Recommendations

Tulips and kisses – Albany love

Unexpectedly, I found myself with the evening free last night. Since I had been mourning a lack of opportunity to visit the park on a sunny day and the evening was stellar, I grabbed Jeter and headed down with my Nikon for a walk. I parked on South Lake and meandered along the “lake,” making my way towards Moses and the tulip beds, passing folks fishing and families strolling and runners, feeling perfectly content with exactly what I was doing.

The air was wonderfully fresh and scented by blossoming trees. Jeter was better behaved than usual despite the unfamiliar surroundings and the dozens of people roaming around. I took pictures, reminding myself with each shutter snap how much I’ve missed taking photos with my camera, instead of my phone. As I glanced around, I was surprised by two things – how few people I recognized and how wonderfully diverse Albany was becoming.

Everywhere I looked I saw people with skin in a rainbow of shades. Folks were dressed uniquely and children, particularly little girls, were wearing their spring finest posing among the flowers for family photos. There were no harsh voices and everyone seemed to be enjoying time spent outdoors after a spring that was a long time coming. It was lovely and left me feeling so happy and proud of my adopted city.

I’ve got two recommendations for you – get there if you can.  The tulips should be blooming for at least another week, I imagine. My second suggestion? When you find yourself with some spare time, fill it doing something that gives you joy.

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Filed under Albany, beauty, favorites, Flowers, Gardens, Local, Observations, Recommendations, Spring

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.

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

Girls’ Getaway – Manchester, VT

It isn’t always easy to find a couple of consecutive days that work for four busy and opinionated individuals. Sometimes, though, we need some recharging of the fun batteries and nothing works better than two days spent in an unfamiliar place with longtime friends. With that in mind, last week we headed to Manchester, a place I haven’t visited in probably close to 15 years, for a mini vaca.

When you’re dealing with four left handed women, organizing a getaway can be a challenge. Everyone has preferences and ideas about where to stay and what to do, but after close to 40 years of friendship, we have mastered group travel. I took charge of our accommodations and we did really well with Hotels.com landing a two night stay at the fairly new Hampton Inn for a total of $340. Divided by four, it was a real bargain at $70 each, including breakfast.

Speaking of bargains, the shops in Manchester were full of them! We did some fun and productive shopping at the outlets and each walked away with a few new items purchased at deeply discounted prices. Personally, I replaced my worn out Kate Spade wallet with a beautiful new aubergine clutch/wallet, picked up a navy blue down vest with a hood that I’m obsessed with at the Bass outlet and scored an adorable black and white print skirt from J.Crew. I also filled in a couple of gaps in my kitchen utensil collection with a new masher, sink sponge holder and some grips for opening jars, something with which I increasingly struggle. Not very exciting, admittedly, but I’m a practical girl at times and I really like buying everyday items when I’m away from home. Somehow it makes the daily seem a bit more exciting, you know?

For eating, we went with recommendations from folks who visit Manchester with more frequency than ourselves. Our first night we opted for a late afternoon drink or two which turned into an early dinner at Gringo Jack’s. Their chips had been described to me as “crack” and I’d have to agree that it was difficult to stop shoving them into my mouth eating them. My shrimp tacos were good and my margaritas were great and we left there completely satisfied.

img_4696For a light lunch we stopped in at Mystic, a wine bar cafe that was absolutely lovely. I went with the soup of the day, a flavorful broth with lamb meatballs and middle eastern spices, and it was perfect. Friday night, on a friend’s recommendation, we dined at Bistro Henry a cozy spot a couple of miles out of town. The menu presented a dilemma because we wanted pretty much everything! Ultimately we chose to share 3 appetizers, 2 salads (one large, one small) and two entrees, a decision that satiated all of us without leaving anyone too stuffed for an after dinner drink at a different spot. Particularly strong were the foie gras and the classic preparation of Steak au Poivre. A note about Bistro Henry – the wine list was filled with reasonably priced and thoughtfully selected options. We were driving  (and only two of us are winos) so we passed, but definitely consider a bottle with your meal if you go. Thanks, Dora!

After dinner we went to Mulligan’s, the only place in town that was purported to have any nightlife. Well…I suppose if you consider a bar that is open after 8:00 p.m. to be the definition of “nightlife” you might have been impressed, but we really weren’t. And that lack of evening entertainment is, to me, the only real drawback to a couple of nights in Manchester. It’s not as if we’re hardcore, late night women, but it would have been fun to go out to hear some live music or to get silly and dance and we couldn’t find an option for either of those activities. Would I hesitate to go back? No, probably not. It’s a pleasant enough drive, and a cute spot for shopping and dining, but if you’re looking for a place to cut loose and hear music, this is not the right village for you. Go to Manchester for a wholesome and reasonably priced good time.

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Filed under Dinner, drinking, Eating, friends, Recommendations, road trips, Spring, vacation, Vermont

Soaking it in

How do you follow a terrific meal in Saratoga’s finest restaurant? The answer (for me) was an overnight stay followed by a few hours enjoying some of Saratoga’s other assets. First stop – Mrs. London’s for my usual almond croissant and glorious bowl of latte.

Carbed and caffeined, I made my way to Saratoga National Park determined to either ski or run a few miles. Conditions were better than I had originally thought and skiing won out. After parking near the warming hut, I stepped into my skis and spent the next hour exploring the golf course. It wasn’t the most challenging ski I’ve ever had, but it certainly was a great way to spend some time outdoors in the fresh air.

12FD5032-D25B-471B-AE4D-43A08306264AI wrapped things up and drove over to the Roosevelt Bathhouse for my scheduled appointment, allowing for a little extra time to enjoy the steam room. I’ve only ever been to the baths once before, and it was a long time ago, so the experience felt new. The facility is a positive blend of old school classic and new age modern with a comfortable lounge area to enjoy while waiting for one’s bath attendant. After taking about 20 minutes to enjoy the steam room, I relaxed on a chaise with my book until Colleen came to escort me to my personal bath room.

Ok, maybe a bit “The Shining,” but lovely nonetheless.

The room was fairly spacious with an original and deep cast iron tub, a massage table, chair and a curtained window which I was invited to adjust to my preference for natural light. The bath was already drawn and I was given instructions as to how to moderate the water, but Colleen had nailed the temperature perfectly and all I needed to do was relax. The folded towel beneath my head and the plastic step stool placed in the tub for my feet to rest against showed a welcome attention to my comfort.

For 40 minutes I soaked the waters in and allowed them to extract stress, tension and negativity from my body and brain. Thoroughly refreshed, I stepped out of the tub and into a warm towel, got myself dressed and departed feeling like a million bucks. For $45 + tip, that is a far better way of getting soaked than playing the ponies. If you haven’t been – go!

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Filed under breakfast, Exercise, favorites, Local, Recommendations, road trips, Saratoga, stress, upstate New York, x-country skiing

Jeter got jumped

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My good boy looking a bit traumatized

After what felt like an extended time, I finally went for a run last evening. Knowing that the golf course is going to be lost to the golfers again soon, I planned a loop that would include the front 9 and brought Jeter along. He and I plodded up Whitehall Rd and turned left onto New Scotland. As we approached the course, Jeter’s pace picked up in anticipation of getting off leash for a romp. Muni is his favorite place.

We worked our way around the holes counterclockwise encountering dogs and mercifully pausing for play time. At about the half way point, there were 3 or 4 dogs with 2 or 3 people and Jeter greeted everyone with a tail wag. A beautiful silvery gray dog came towards Jeter and I noticed his presumed owner jogging, leash in hand, in her dog’s direction. The gray dog started herding Jeter and Jeter just submissively permitted it. The dog became more aggressive and started nipping at Jeter. Things escalated and quickly became out of hand.

The owner of the other dog did not have control over her dog. He snapped repeatedly at Jeter as I tried to separate the two dogs. I felt really scared and yelled at the woman to make her dog stop and she attempted to grab her dog. Finally, she got a grip on her dog’s collar and was able to restrain him. Jeter came to my side and I got his leash on him without delay. He seemed ok, tail wagging and ready to move on.

I spoke to the woman briefly as she apologized. I explained that animals are animals and that I didn’t blame her for her dog’s aggression, but that if her dog has a history of reacting aggressively, she simply needed to keep him on a leash. Always. She didn’t disagree.

Jeter and I jogged off. A few minutes later, I noticed blood on my hand and jacket cuff. I stopped and looked Jeter over more thoroughly and realized he was bleeding. The other dog had drawn blood along the side of Jeter’s mouth. He really had been roughed up.

31FC4B14-1165-4A25-B467-724535A42EEDDog season at the golf course is nearly over and, generally, it’s been a good one. Lots of skiing, running and walking has taken place during our terrific winter. It’s too bad that this incident has left a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth, as well as a bloody taste in my canine buddy’s mouth.

Folks – if your dog can’t play nice, do us all a favor and keep them limited to leash time. My dog doesn’t deserve to be injured because your dog doesn’t interact with other dogs in a positive way.

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Filed under Albany, Exercise, favorites, Local, Observations, Rants, Recommendations, running, x-country skiing

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.

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

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!

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