Rodizio

My Mother and I planned a little girls’ night out and decided on going to Turning Stone casino past Utica on I-90. And what had I heard tell of? A Churrasco – a Brazilian steak house type place where you get meat on swords. Let me reiterate that – MEAT ON SWORDS. They meats are carried around by servers who carve it table side for you. You have a pair of tongs to grab the meat with. We were excited.

When we walked in the casino, smoke was the first scent that hit us. Oh, right… Indian reservation… smoking allowed. But we found out way to Rodizio, the churrasco, very quickly. The seating is very open – it’s sort of fenced off from being just an open space within the casino, but you can see the rest of the casino if you’re sitting in the right spot there.

Rodizio is decorated with tones of soft burnt orange/peach. It’s a very homey feeling, and I was excited when we walked past the bar (no booze) and saw all the soft, fluffy chairs. The funny thing was, there was no one else on the night we went. Well, there were probably 8 other tables there, but I was expecting a packed house… That should have been a sign.

The service was very good. From the carvers. Our waitress, Rose, got our drinks for us and put down some cheese bread – was very nice when we first sat down… and then… she kind of disappeared until a little later when she brought over some mashed potatoes and broccoli… and then disappeared until we started talking to the manager, and brought out some more tea for my mother’s dessert.

Wait, talking to the Manager?!

Yes. You see, I’m a bit of a germaphobe. The whole service was fantastic, however, they serve the salmon and prime rib carved tableside. And the servers lovingly place it on your plate, touching the serving utensil on the bottom of your plate. Your plate that already has food on it, and they’ve probably touched the bottoms of everyone else’s dirty plates. I almost hurled. It first happened with the salmon… I tried to just maybe flake off some of the top and ignore it(since, you know, it only touched the bottom)… but I couldn’t manage to do it. And then I thought it was a fluke, so I asked for a clean plate and – Oh! Prime Rib! Yummy! And the same damned thing happened with the prime rib. Sweet baby jesus, that’s disgusting. It would be a great presentation of you had clean plates when they did this, but all I could see and think of was germ transfer. It completely ruined my night. And then my mom felt bad, so she just ordered dessert so we could leave sooner.

The manager was very helpful and she discounted my meal to the child’s price. $19.50. My mother’s meal was the full price – $37.50. We had thought she said she would discount both of our meals, but evidently we misheard something. At that point we wanted nothing more than to get out of Rodizio, so we didn’t say anything.

The salad bar – if you couldn’t tell, I was incredibly excited about the sushi. And then I see 3 different kinds of rolls sitting on three different plates. Super. All the rolls were made out of what looked like cooked food. Two of them had sauces to cover them up entirely, and one looked like a mini futomaki. That was a huge disappointment. Their website really pimped out the sushi. Hell, the website really pimped out everything, and everything was rather mediocre. The rest of the salad bar was blandly forgettable as well.

The meats were… rather bland. I’d list all of them on the menu on the website but they all tasted like this – Okay, kind of dry, overly seasoned, and too salty. When I say something is too salty, please take my word on it. The level of salt in it may knock you into a salt coma. Or make you incredibly thirsty, thus needing more than one beverage. Pray your server pay attention to your table.

I was pretty sad about the entire evening. It would have been doable were it not for my abhorrence to germs. I know I’m a pain in the ass, but I really can’t stand the thought of getting someone else’s germs transferred onto my plate. It’s a huge health problem too (can’t you see an easily communicable disease spreading quickly this way?). But more importantly, the food was definitely not worth the price. The server wasn’t that attentive at all, and didn’t even refill our drinks or come over during the course of our meal (seriously, we saw her a total of 4 times). The food wasn’t great, most of it was overcooked. *sigh* I should have known it was entirely too good to be true.

I would really like to say I think the servers are wonderful people. Whenever we needed something (like a drink) they would get it for us. I know they were just carving meat, but I got a sense of everyone helping out everyone else. Which was a good thing for us, since we sure couldn’t find Rose ANYWHERE to even flag down (I know, it’s a no-no, but seriously, we were thirsty as heck!) to help us out. They were all very professional and really made the evening for me. The gentlemen carving were charismatic and were the real highlight of my evening. I would have liked to say thank you again, but I think they might have hated our table at that point for complaining (you all know I’ll never complain, but my Mother will talk to the manager at the drop of a hat) and probably getting them into some kind of trouble. I truly hope they didn’t. I don’t fault them at all. I’d say it’s Rodizio’s fault, though, for not changing the plates enough.

Tai Pei

Albany John and I went for a drive in Clifton Park this lovely weekend. The weather is just starting to chill, and the sun was shining brightly. Late in the afternoon we started getting hungry. We passed a few chains, notably Red Robin, but nothing really peaked our interests. Then we saw a handsome little restaurant. We weren’t quite certain it was open, but as we drove in, we saw it definitely was.

When you walk in, you will be able to tell the restaurant is obviously a remodeled house. However, it is well decorated and very bright. There was a woman waiting for carry out when we came in, and we waited in the doorway for about 5 minutes before anyone came out. The carry out menu contains pretty standard fare, and I was a little hesitant to eat in, if such a well decorated placed only offered Chinese take out.

We were seated in the back, and were the only ones in the restaurant. The waitress brought out a pot of tea and wonton noodles and spicy mustard and sweet and sour dipping sauces. It’s a little hokey, but we were really hungry, so we ate them.

Their actual restaurant menu is pretty authentic, and it also has a few Thai dishes. I’m usually pretty skeptical of places with more than one type of food, but there weren’t any fusion dishes here, and the dishes they had weren’t quite a stretch to see.

Albany John decided on a spicy coconut vegetable soup ($3.75). Out came a large bowl with a milky broth and a few drops of spicy orange oil. There were also a few green and red vegetables peeking out of the top of the broth that made it rather picturesque. Albany John thoroughly enjoyed the soup. It’s a great value too – it’s a huge bowl of soup. I was expecting about a cup of soup, but it was closer to three cups!

Albany John also opted for red curry sweet potatoes($8). They had a nice kick to them, and were very soft and filling.

I was torn between ordering the roast duck platter ($16) or some seafood, when I saw the noodles – Fun, to be specific. I have an unhealthy love for pan fried rice noodles, otherwise known as Chow Fun ($7.95). You can request either beef, pork, shrimp or chicken for no extra charge. For some reason only truly authentic places can get chow fun correct. I’ve seen it at the take out joints, and they always come out full of celery, and no rice noodles. WTF? The beef chow fun I ordered at Tai Pei, however, was amazing. Slightly greasy, hot beef noodles with shreds of carrot and bean sprouts. It’s minimal, it’s comforting, it’s delectable.

An older Chinese couple came in for dinner as well. They were instantly given chopsticks, so remember to ask for them if the restaurant doesn’t give them to you right away. Evidently I need to dress a little more Chinese, or something, since we had to ask for the chopsticks. However, they ordered the roast duck, and it looked amazing. And was gone in a matter of minutes. I think it’s a pretty good sign when fellow Chinese go into a place and wolf down a plate before the rest of their plates. They had ordered another meat dish and a noodle dish as well.

Tai Pei is a rather authentic Chinese/Thai restaurant. Their dishes are priced at what I’m used to seeing in a restaurant (nothing too pricey) and the plates are huge. If you’ve never been to a place like Tai Pei, order 1 meat/entrée dish per person, and one platter of noodles and/or veggies to split between 2-6 people. It’s all a TON of food. I’m not exaggerating. You’ll get separate plates for each person, and you take a little bit of food from each platter. Chinese meals are normally shared family style and no one gets just one set plate, as would happen if you went to a diner or other restaurants.

Now I can’t complain there aren’t enough places here that serve authentic Chinese food, but I still really wish they’d serve salt and pepper pork. Oh! And Tai Pei says they have Dim Sum as well!!!

Cheesecake Factory

I used to love the Cheesecake Factory when I lived down south. I’m not kidding. When that place opened up in the North Star Mall in San Antonio, TX, throngs of crowds would be there at any given point of the day. Who could blame them? The bright, high domes attracted people there like moths to light. The wait finally let up to about only 1.5 – 2 hours after they’d been open for well over a year. I don’t even want to know what it was before that. I was amazed when I first walked in by the marble tables, high ceilings, chandeliers, and gigantic menu. They had a little bit of everything. Kind of like the world’s fanciest diner. Only diners don’t serve ahi tuna carpacio. I was also tickled with the taste. This was also when I loved the Olive Garden (please don’t judge me). My mother’s main seasoning in any dish was salt, so seasonings were a whole new ballgame to me then.

Imagine how excited I was to hear last year that a Cheescake Factory would be opening up in Colonie Center?! I was elated, to say the least.

A few weeks back I decided to meet a friend out for lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. Steve Barnes of the Times Union has reviewed it and gave it some shining remarks – pretty impressive for someone who usually doesn’t review chains. I knew there would be a wait, but I was told the wait times averaged about 20-30 minutes for food. Which was fine, since I’ve got an hour for lunch and I get really bored after about 15 minutes.

We glanced at the large-print menu outside for a minute, then decided to go in and wait in line. It was pretty harried when we went in – tons of people waiting in line and just a sea of people in general. Combined with the high vaulted ceilings and chandeliers, it was pretty disorienting. And loud. The volume in there was insane!

Once you do get your bearings, you’ll see a counter on the right with cheesecakes on display. And possibly a line. My friend and I waited a good 30 minutes in a line of about 5 people to place our orders. FIVE PEOPLE!!! By the time I got up there, I wanted to make sure that I’d be able to get food within 30 minutes… But there was a 45, possibly 50 minute wait for food. Oh. Okay.

We decided we’d at least try the cheesecake. I ordered a peanut butter white chocolate truffle concoction($6.95). And then was told to go wait. What? But I seeeee the cheesecake. It’s right there! I was later told by a friend who works there that there’s a system for getting cheesecakes. You put the order into the computer, the computer will pop out a ticket at another spot on the counter telling the counter folks to get your slice of cheesecake. If a lot of people are ordering cheesecake… Well, you get it. You could be waiting for a little while for some cheesecake. One. Lousy. Slice. Of. Cheesecake. After about 5-10 minutes I got my slice of cheesecake. It was okay, but I had really been hoping for some real food for lunch. The slices look like thick, dense triangles of cheesecake. Honestly, it is a lot airier and lighter than the slices look, and overly sweetened. Don’t eat these on an empty stomach – eat some crackers or something before hand, or else you’ll O.D. on all that glucose.

I was less than thrilled with the whole experience, so what’s a girl to do? I wrote an email to their customer service people explaining why I was dissatisfied with my visit, and I received a apologetic letter in the mail, with a $15 gift certificate. Wow, go Cheesecake Factory!

I went back later this week. This time I smartened up, and placed my order over the phone. I went for the Fish Tacos ($15.07 after tax). When I walked in to pick it up, I was expecting to battle a line of people at the to-go counter. I thought I would have to explain a million times ‘no, I’m not cutting in, whoops, sorry, oh, no, I’ve already placed my order and I’m here picking it up. No, I’m not cutting ahead of you. My food’s up there!’ and so on to other people. But I didn’t. Not even once. There wasn’t even a line. Cue Twilight Zone music. Eh? No one? I was out in less than 5 minutes. Now that’s awesome. Yet oddly chilling for a Cheesecake Factory.

The Fish Tacos were made of albacore tuna – plenty of generous chunks of tuna in each taco, too. There were three tacos with two layers of corn tortillas wrapping each one. I thought it was a little odd – but there is so much filling, you can turn one taco into two. The two layers of tortilla help a lot, especially if you’re using the guacamole or salsa they provide you. I was impressed with both toppings. They tasted very fresh and went very well with the tacos. There was also a side of rice and black beans. I wasn’t too thrilled with these, so I didn’t bother eating them. Overall, the fish tacos were good. The fish was meaty and moist (too many restaurants cook their tuna until it’s dry as a bone), and the toppings were outstandingly fresh, as if they’d been made in the kitchen that very day.

Don’t go to Cheesecake Factory expecting the world. It’s been hyped up quite a bit, and I think it’s only a good choice if you have some picky eaters in your group for the pages of variety in their menu. They do make some of their dishes very well, but I’ve always thought them to be a little overpriced for what it is. You’re going to be paying for ambiance. It’s a good place, don’t get me wrong, just lower your expectations a wee bit before you go and you’ll have a pleasant experience.

Totem

As Chirag has pointed out a few times, I usually opt for take out when I get food, even if it’s from an upscale restaurant. A LOT of people think me wierd for this, so I’ll let you in on what makes me tick and why I tend to get take out more often. (In no particular order)
1) I’ve had a lot of less-than-stellar servers in the past. See the entry on Casa Dominica for that. I know it’s rare in the industry, but I seem to be the magnet for servers who’ve had a bad day (or are just not nice to me for some reason). I usually don’t go back to places where the service has been bad, even if the food was amazing.
2) Sometimes I’m really broke but can’t afford the 20% tip. I don’t feel bad about getting take out. The house still gets money, and I get my food.
3) The servers are succubi. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but I get extremely, extremely, uncomfortable if I feel the server is really cow-towing to me to up their tip. Sure the service was okay, but I can tell when someone is being overtly facetious. And that whole sucking up thing really runied my atmosphere.
4) I like dining in extreme leisure at home. When in a restaurant I feel the need to eat and get out. There’s also other stuff to do at home. I get bored easily, okay? I also like to be able to munch a little here and there, since I’m a habitual snacker and not too fond of huge meals.

But I went out to Totem with the full intention of enjoying a nice glass of wine and some food. And then I had that stupid cold. Okay, so no glass of wine. Fiiine, immune system, just be like that and ruin my Friday night. The wine list at Totem (as you can see on their website) is rather extensive. They also have plum wine and a variety of sakes. I find myself prefering the selection of wines at Totem to those at Antica Enotica, just down the street – they seem to have had more care when choosing what wines to serve.

The little bar will fill up quickly, but that’s okay – their tables are comfortable and very gorgeous. The decor is simple, wooden, clean, and they have fresh flowers in vases. There are little tea lights, and the lighting is soft, but visible.

I ended up trying the lobster tempura($9). It was more like a battered and fried lobster. There weren’t any panko crumbs that I could see or taste, but it wasn’t bad either. I prefered to eat the breading and then the soft, warm lobster beneath it. They were also very generous with the amount of lobster given. I was expecting a claw, but was plesantly surprised with half a tail and a few claw pieces over a bed of rice. Even though I wasn’t a fan of the breading, I was exstatic to find that they knew how to cook this lobster to perfection. It was still soft and gave slightly as you bit into it. Too many places overcook their seafood and all you get is rubbery crap. This, oh, try it if you love your shellfish cooked to an opaque done-ness as I do.
I also got the Z Roll – lobster, cucumber, crab, avocado, and tobiko on top ($11). It had the same tempura lobster inside – eat this one as soon as you get it. It tastes better when it’s fresh and you don’t give it any time to cool off. This is one roll I’d have to always eat in for. However, you do notice the crab is imitation at the end when it gets cold. It’s a nice compliment when the roll is still warm, but cold lobster and imitation crab just don’t go together; the flavors really just enhance the faux crab…
X2C Roll – Scallop, scallion and A-MAY-ZING!!! Oh, man this was good. I think it was my favorite roll of the night. The scallop went so well with everything in the roll. This is going to be my new favorite way to eat scallop and sushi. I usually find it too mushy to eat on its own, but… oh baby, try the X2C roll.
Eel roll – a good simple eel roll. My dining partners ate more of this. Chock full o’eel. You can’t really go wrong with an eel roll.
Philly roll – smoked salmon, creamcheese, cucumber. This was a good roll. I always forget that they have smoked salmon in it and ask for regular sake (salmon) instead. I completely forgot to do that this time. I normally can’t stand them made with smoked salmon, but this was a good flub on my part. The salmon was very lightly smoked and delicate. It went very well with the rest of the roll and wasn’t overpowering as it tends to be in other rolls at other restaurants (*cough* every other Sushi place except Saso’s *cough*). If you like philly rolls, you’ll love the one at Totem. I myself am still not a huge smoked salmon fan, but this was a nice change of pace (I tend to order the same 3 rolls where ever I go).

I also want to note that the rolls (8 pieces per roll) are of managable size. Also, I really, really like the atmosphere in Totem. I have to admit, it’s got the most welcoming air to it. Much more so than any other sushi restaurant in the area. Saso’s is great, but the atmosphere can vary from welcoming and funny to kind of stoic and stiffled. Look, this is a lot for me to be admitting all at once. Just trust me that Totem is one of the top sushi restaurants in the area. It’s also really affordable and worth every penny. And everyone there is super nice! That really means a lot to me.

My Linh

After a brief stint outside Friday night, I was starting to feel the chill in the air. Man, I love it when the seasons change. Albany John and I went into My Linh for some take out pho. Yes, I finally got to try pho.

My Linh is an upscale vietnamese restaurant on Delaware Ave. It’s probably an odd spot for such a nice restaurant, but Delaware Ave will surprise you. It’s also home to Nicole’s, The Spectrum, and Bagel Bite (and soon a tapas place!!). It’s right next to a KFC/Taco Bell, but My Linh makes you feel like you’re in a faraway kingdom once you step inside.

There are a lot of upscale earthy tones. Wood floors, clean wood and white walls. I really liked the dressy minimal decor. Maybe not so minimal, but it was simple and elegant. I ordered the beef pho for two ($9.50) to go. It was a little late when we got there, and I all I really wanted was the soup, but the moment I stepped in, I knew I’d be coming back to sit in. It’s just gorgeous.

We were told we could wait at the bar for our order. This is also preferable, since there isn’t a lot of space in the front by the podium and we would have been in the way if we continued to stand there. If I hadn’t driven I would have ordered something – the bar is well stocked and the bartender was very nice and had the cutest asian styled top on. She also didn’t get pushy or change her attitude at all when we said we were just waiting for take out.

It took about 15 minutes for our order to come out – a total of $10.30 with tax. I gave them exact change, and they gave me a genuine thank you. Oh! So refreshing! My Linh was exactly what I needed after Casa Dominica. They weren’t bending over backwards to accomodate me(something that makes me extremely uncomfortable), and they genuinely appreciated my patronage. I really appreciate that in a restaurant. I mean really appreciate.

So how was the pho? (Did you know it’s pronounced ‘Fuh’?) It was a new experience for me. The broth was very light and beefy. There were about 4 thin pieces of beef in the broth with rice noodles and scallions. On the side were thai basil, bean sprouts, jalapenos, lime, sriracha sauce and a plummy flavored sauce. I opted to leave out the jalapeno and sauces. I was a little skeptical about the lime, but it adds another dimension to the flavor. A fifth, limey dimension. It actually didn’t taste like lime at all. It just added to the depth. Albany John opted for a little bit of the sauces as well, which gave the broth a spicy, Tom Yum kind of flavor.
I’m not a big fan of uncooked bean sprouts, and I’ll add less next time. They defininely added an earthy flavor, though. I’m really glad I tried My Linh for my first pho experience – it was a nice earthy and simple soup that really brought out all of the flavors in a delicious medley.