I am Offended by the TU’s Lack of Editing of Their Taiwan Noodle Review

So, I read the Cheryl Clark’s review of Taiwan Noodle in the Times Union. I’m glad it is getting some positive exposure, because Taiwan Noodle is an awesome restaurant. Tasty foods at affordable prices, what’s not to love? I realize Cheryl was trying to come off positively, and I appreciate that, but I don’t appreciate the editing (or perhaps, lack thereof) of her review.  I am vaguely offended based on the subtleties of the article. On my end, I can see that people may read my blog and be offended at its gruffness and sharpness, so there’s that.

I think, perhaps, a literary criticism would be the best method of analysis/rationale for my taking offense, so here is a lengthy post:

I don’t know if the food at Taiwan Noodle is “authentic,” and I don’t care. [Why is the word “authentic” in parenthesis? In this instance, it comes off as a play on authenticity and underscores the merit of Taiwanese food in Albany. Why does the author care about being knowledgeable about authenticity (or lack of knowledge) and not acknowledging food that food tastes delicious because it has enjoyable flavors? This negativity sets an awkward tone for the article.] I do know if I worked in Albany, I’d eat there every day without fear of boredom or bankruptcy. The spare, bright noodle shop serves the kind of cartilaginous comfort food that is both homey and, in this market, exotic, as well as surprisingly inexpensive. [This is an accurate description of the space] I took one look at the menu, written in both Chinese characters and English, and wanted to say, “One of everything, please.” [For real, everything here looks good]

Even with three companions, we couldn’t pull that off, but we did our best. If our table had had a “Like” button, we would have been slapping it all night. [Hehe, Facebook reference, I enjoy that. Not being sarcastic.] We found the sesame and five-spice pig-ear strips ($3.25) uniquely porkalicious. They were braised to make the cartilage under the thick rubbery skin and sheets of meat palatable, then fried, chilled and sliced. The cartilage itself has more crunchy texture than flavor, but it absorbs the sesame, clove, cinnamon, ginger, star anise and fennel admirably to create an inviting and accessible snack. [Accurate description. The pig ears are very textural over flavorful, and I encourage the use of terms like ‘porkalicious’]

Little bowtie knots of seaweed ($2.95) sported chunks of spicy garlic. I thought the flavors were too strong at first, and then was surprised to realize we’d finished every nibble. [I can see that. The seaweed has just enough texture to be interesting while still having  enough texture to it. But this also doesn’t really describe what the author ate. ] Scallion pancakes ($2.25) were fabulously oily and crisp. A long double tube of “wheat collar” ($1.95) was as much fun as county-fair fried dough. Quartets of steamed tiny pork buns ($2.95) were perfectly sized and formed to spurt steaming gushes of hot broth. [The pan-fried dumplings have awesomely toothy skin and a bit of juice inside (but they are not soup dumplings in casey one might confuse them with XLB)]

Entree prices top out at $8 (the same at dinner and lunch), and we found the portions generous but not gluttonous. Taiwan Noodle’s focus, is of course, noodle soup, and the two portions we sampled were comforting, filling and nicely textured and perfumed. [This is way more of a coherent description than I could ever give this soup. ‘Perfumed’ is an excellent descriptor for their soup] Stewed beef chuck ($5.45) was silky and sweet, cooked enough to gentle the connective tissue but not so long as to make it tough [can you overcook beef chuck?]. The broth was soothing and light, with spring-green segments of baby bok choy. [All of their broths are veggie based. Vegetarian readers would appreciate knowing this.] I appreciated the little bits of fat left on the meat, which added comforting richness. We chose long vermicelli noodles with this dish, which were satisfying but not nearly as brilliant as the classic house-made wheat noodles we selected for the pig feet soup. How do they make them that slippery? [This is a very political way of saying that the vermicelli noodles suck and you should always opt for their resto-made noodles. Because their store-made noodles have the perfect amount of chew, tenderness, and flavor which pale in comparison to their other nood options].

For me, the true fun was ordering steamed rice with ribs and preserved vegetables ($7.95) and having it arrive, sticky [YAY, fun and joy from ribs and veggies] and barnyardy, in a bamboo steamer basket lined with lotus leaves. [Oh. Cheryl. Barnyardy is not a word, and not a word I would consider complimentary. Say ‘pungent’. Say ‘earthy’.  Add another modifier like ‘delightfully’ or ‘awesome’. ‘Barnyardy’, to me, conjures up images of a dairy farm filled with cows, their leavings, and  general unpleasant scents. (Although my buddy Daniel disagrees and considers ‘ barnyardy’ to be a positive term.) In Cheryl and the TU’s defense, mayhap I have too much of a bias with the term ‘barnyardy’ since my mom’s side of the family comes from farming stock.]  It contained just about every flavor, smell and texture that makes me love dim sum. [W00t, dim sum is awesome] Don’t forgo the addition of a funky, pungent Chinese sausage for $1. The simple lap cheong-style dried pork sausages are smoky and sweet with distinct flavors of star anise, rice wine, soy and maybe rose water. [How is it lop cheong-style? It was lap cheong. That’s like saying the croissant you had in Paris was very Paris-y. Sausage is sausage, and there are tons of takes on lop cheong even in Chinese food. Don’t be afraid to assert what the food is.]  It was served with a rich, dark cup of broth and a cup of soy-based sauce on the side. [Did you ask them what it was? ‘Cause they’ll totally tell you what it was. I personally really like the taste of their side sauce for the steamed dishes. It’s dark soy sauce as a base (which is a darker-looking but milder-tasting soy sauce (less salt, more umami) and a bit of sweetness and tartness, which varies between restos coz restos develop their own ratio].

With such adventures available, I was bummed when one of my party ordered something as prosaic as “fried chicken cutlet,” sauce on the side, with white rice. [ Okay, for real. You might expect a Chinese restaurant to be all gongs and exoticism if you’re not Chinese. But if you ARE Chinese? Chinese people aren’t always adventurous. Especially when you have kids. Fried chicken is the same in any culture. Sometimes yo’ kids just won’t eat stuff with a lot of flavor. And c’mon – to call fried chicken ‘prosaic’ is just an demeaning to the deliciousness that is fried chicken.] When it arrived and was neither breaded nor remanufactured, I was grateful. It was plump, moist, cut-with-a-fork tender [yeah, there are a lot of chemicals that make that cut-with-a-fork tender, let’s not romanticize that], flavorful and served with slightly steamed baby bok choy. The dish can also be served with onion sauce or black pepper sauce (one of my favorite Chinese staples).

It seems unsporting to complain about the quality of the paper products in a place where you can get a hearty dinner for $5.45, but the metal box of thin white rectangles was totally insufficient for the sticky gelatin joys of the pork rib and trotter bones. [Fair enough, the ribs and pig feet are pretty messy if you pick them up to eat by hand, which is really the only way to get each delectable bit off of the bone]. By the time we sucked the bliss from the osseus matter, our fingers looked like we’d been gluing cotton ball snowmen. [Hahaha, YES, I totally get what you mean by that. When you really dig it, your manicure is not gonna be pristine]. Next time I’ll bring wet wipes. [This is actually a really good idea if you have kids, or just take a few trips to the rest room for some hand washing]

During the 90 minutes we lingered comfortably over our meal, I only saw one person (waiting for takeout) who was not Chinese, and we were the only ones in the room not speaking Mandarin. [They also speak Cantonese, FYI. I’m sure I frustrate them by switching between English and my godawful Cantonese and Mandarin, but they manage to make sense of me]. It made me wonder where all the clever Anglos were. [“Clever”? Really? Because only the smart white people would be here, right? Or do you mean the Anglos are ‘clever’ because they realize what’s “authentic” even though the piece started off with the author stating how she didn’t know what qualified as authentic Taiwanese food? My “Anglo” side is even offended at this descriptor, because it implies that some Anglos are more discerning and cosmopolitan than others. Can’t we leave race out of it and just accept tasty food as-is?  This is sloppy editing. I realize Cheryl was trying to be complimentary, but “clever Anglo” is such a hot descriptor. I find this as offensive as Clark’s commentary that “Pasta pulling must be a prerequisite to womanhood in Italy, and the septuagenarian sisters have spent long years polishing this simple, joyful art.” in her review of the Appian Way  restaurant in Schenectady.] At this quality and price, there should be a line around the block for this place. [Yup, word, I’m always surprised that this place isn’t jammed to the walls whenever I go in, too] It’s an established location that was home to Saso’s [Oh Saso’s, how I miss you. You set the benchmark for quality sushi in the Albany area! This is a fantastic nod to a former occupant] for many years, and for a shorter time, Kitsu.

A bouncy young server, all smiles and puppy feet [yes, this is an accurate description of the service at Taiwan Noodle. The servers mean so well and are just so… sweet, if a bit unpolished and familial], was busy with several large tables and possibly not yet proficient with English. [English is def a second language at Taiwan Noodle ,and some people may be intimidated with a slight language barrier, so it’s good to include this bit of information] We felt lucky to have been seated near the register by a laconic older man whom I assume is the owner.[Okay, so this is just my musing, but why didn’t the reviewer just ask if the older man was the owner? When Celina Ottoway reviewed for the Times Union she always followed up with the restaurants she reviewed, and I always found this characteristic of her writing to be very charming and humanizing. She’d review anonymously in-resto, but follow up to let them know what to expect as a review and find out more about the restaurant for the piece she wrote] I loved his no-nonsense, efficient style, which would have fit right in at some of my favorite Chinatown haunts in San Francisco and Manhattan. [I appreciate this in they way that the author is trying to correlate Albany as having a legit Chinese resto in its midst] His terse pronouncements were a little hard to follow [Yeah, I can see this. I was raised with family who spoke English as a second language, and some folks just aren’t comfy with it], but he had no trouble understanding us, getting an order with 13 items correct in one try [Dude, this comes off as condescending. “OMG, he’s so well-spoken! He got our order right in one try!”. I find this especially condescending as the author has owned a restaurant and as a former restaurant-owner she should know that menus are set up for buzz words, so no matter what language is spoken your waiter is going to know what the table has ordered just based on what was said by how a menu was set up.]  The brusque, gesticulative [Yeah, this is very accurate for how Chinese people talk. We are not a subtle people] way he advised me to use a spoon to move my rice and ribs from the slatted bamboo steamer basket to a plate before pouring the sauce on it (duh) made me idly wonder how many times in the 11 months the place has been open he’s had to mop soy off the table. [Okay, so maybe you got some ‘white-guy’ service with that. I get the “duh” part in that respect. I totally get that, but get this, my people are only doing it out of love to give you a taste of the authenticity you claim to lack knowledge of. You can not accept this and be just as brusque to them as they are to you, and they will be fine with it and remember who you are and that you don’t want that hand-holding. Some people do want that reassurance] .

Taiwan Noodle does not serve alcoholic beverages, and offers sodas and juices in cans and bottles [Try the cranberry juice tea. It is freaking AWESOME! Tartness + tea = FLAVORTOWN]. The younger man refilled our mugs of dark tea so meticulously I was up until 4 a.m. on a caffeine buzz.

Dinner for four with six appetizer/dim sum plates, four entrees, two teas and two sodas came to $45.60 before tax and tip.

Cheryl, I would appreciate where you’re going with this review. I can see your direction, I just don’t like how it makes Taiwan Noodle seem like this “exotic” place on a pedestal.

TU: The tone of the piece generally seems to imply they want a positive review of Taiwan Noodle. If I were to edit this review, here’s how I would edit this:

Albany Jane’s Edit:

If I worked in Albany, I’d eat at Taiwan Noodle every day without fear of boredom or bankruptcy. The spare, bright noodle shop serves the kind of cartilaginous comfort food that is both homey and, in this market, exotic, as well as surprisingly inexpensive. I took one look at the menu, written in both Chinese characters and English, and wanted to say, “One of everything, please.”

Even with three companions, we couldn’t pull that off, but we did our best. If our table had had a “Like” button, we would have been slapping it all night. We found the sesame and five-spice pig-ear strips ($3.25) uniquely porkalicious. They were braised to make the cartilage under the thick rubbery skin and sheets of meat palatable, then fried, chilled and sliced. The cartilage itself has more crunchy texture than flavor, but it absorbs the sesame, clove, cinnamon, ginger, star anise and fennel admirably to create an inviting and accessible snack.

Little bowtie knots of seaweed ($2.95) sported chunks of spicy garlic. I thought the flavors were too strong at first, and then was surprised to realize we’d finished every nibble. Scallion pancakes ($2.25) were fabulously oily and crisp. A long double tube of “wheat collar” ($1.95) was as much fun as county-fair fried dough. Quartets of steamed tiny pork buns ($2.95) were perfectly sized and formed to spurt steaming gushes of hot broth.

Entree prices top out at $8 (the same at dinner and lunch), and we found the portions generous but not gluttonous. Taiwan Noodle’s focus, is of course, noodle soup, and the two portions we sampled were comforting, filling and nicely textured and perfumed. Stewed beef chuck ($5.45) was silky and sweet, cooked enough to gentle the connective tissue to tenderness. The broth was soothing and light, with spring-green segments of baby bok choy. I appreciated the little bits of fat left on the meat, which added comforting richness. We chose long vermicelli noodles with this dish, which were satisfying but not nearly as brilliant as the classic house-made wheat noodles we selected for the pig feet soup. How do they make them that slippery?

For me, the true fun was ordering steamed rice with ribs and preserved vegetables ($7.95) and having it arrive, sticky and heady, in a bamboo steamer basket lined with lotus leaves. It contained just about every flavor, smell and texture that makes me love dim sum. Don’t forgo the addition of a delightfully pungent Chinese sausage for $1. The rich pork sausages (aka lop cheong) are smoky and sweet with distinct flavors of star anise, rice wine, soy and a balance between savory and sweet. It was served with a cup of  light-yet-full-bodied broth and a cup of soy-based sauce on the side.

I was bummed when one of my party ordered something as seemingly simple as “fried chicken cutlet,” with sauce on the side, with white rice. When it arrived as minimally processed, I was grateful. It was plump, moist, cut-with-a-fork tender, flavorful and served with slightly steamed baby bok choy. The dish can also be served with onion sauce or black pepper sauce (one of my favorite Chinese staples).

It seems unsporting to complain about the quality of the paper products in a place where you can get a hearty dinner for $5.45, but the metal box of thin white rectangles was totally insufficient for the sticky gelatin joys of the pork rib and trotter bones. By the time we sucked the bliss from the osseus matter, our fingers looked like we’d been gluing cotton ball snowmen. Next time I’ll bring wet wipes.

We lingered comfortably for 90 mines over our meal as the tables adjacent to us ordered in Chinese. At this quality and price, there should be a line around the block for this place. It’s an established location that was home to Saso’s for many years, and for a shorter time, Kitsu.

A bouncy young server, all smiles and puppy feet, was busy with several large tables and possibly not yet proficient with English. When  he took our order for 13 dishes, we were impressed with how efficiently he recited our order back to us. He was a little hard to follow, but he had no trouble understanding us. The way one of the staff members advised me to move the ribs and rice from the bamboo steamer onto my plate were fairly obvious, but well-meaning.

Taiwan Noodle does not serve alcoholic beverages, and offers sodas and juices in cans and bottles. The younger man refilled our mugs of dark tea so meticulously I was up until 4 a.m. on a caffeine buzz.

Dinner for four with six appetizer/dim sum plates, four entrees, two teas and two sodas came to $45.60 before tax and tip.

Merry Christmas

Christmas 2012 This is the fastest I’ve posted something in a while, which can happen when your guests are gone, and your husbear is napping on the couch. Merry Christmas.

Christmas at Chez Nous featured my mom & a friend of hers, my sister, and Daniel B. and his kiddos. We had a bunch of nibbles, going for a brunchy type thing. Food, food, lots of food. Last night Albany John and I went to my mom’s for a prime rib roast, which was fantastically rare – her best one yet. So brunch was a nice “light” little dish.

I made some veggie hand rolls because Albany John wanted sushi. Some simmered portobello mushrooms (veggie stock + soy sauce + dash of rice vinegar & dry vermouth), avocado slices, and cucumber.

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Daniel B. brought over a ton of goodies! A gigantic chocolate turtle from the Chocolate Gecko. DSCF5091 Sliced for sharing. Nom.DSCF5092 I nagged Albany John into making a carrot salad. I thought this would be good for my mom since she’s diabetic, but it turns out that carrots make her blood sugar spike. Dang, sorry ma. I thought my sister would be into this, since she’s back on the raw food diet again, but I don’t think she had any of it. It’s tough, I never really know what she’ll eat and what she won’t. Just when I feel like I have it figured out with her diet, something changes. I should probably just care less, but feeding people is very personal, and when people come over you want to make them something they can enjoy, and it’s weird to me when someone comes over and doesn’t eat anything, or only eats food they brought with them. I handed her an avocado and some dates (from the Co-Op, even!) to snack on, but she just put them in her bag. *sigh*
Any whoozle, back to the salad: Just shredded carrots, currants, and some lemon juice. Good roughage type of stuff. One of my favorite non-leafy salads. But not good for diabetics. Why didn’t I look that one up? Yarg.

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Diabetic-friendly peppermint kisses. (Just egg white meringues with some peppermint schnapps in there, plus fake sugar in place of real sugar) I splooshed in a little too much of the peppermint schnapps and they are a little less glossy than I’d like. But super airy and they taste like cotton candy. The bottoms look a little burnt, but that’s just some of the food coloring. For some reason, that was sensitive to the heat, but oh whatever. DSCF5095 My mom made chicken tikka masala. Tasty! Although she tossed in some heat, so it had a spicy end to it.DSCF5098 Oh Daniel. My fantastic food friend. I am totally benefitting from his new don’t-eat-like-a-jerk diet, because he brought over the butter caramels he got from Eric Kayser while he was in Paris! These are delightful. As in, they fill me with delight (no calories, just delight).

Now, these are very different from the caramels Albany John has been making lately (let me tell you, it has been caramel season up in this house all December!). They taste way more earthy – you can really taste the individual components; specifically the butter & cream. So grassy! And such perfect little morsels to pop in your mouth.

My friend, thank you for bestowing these upon me.

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Caramel-coated toasted hazelnuts from TC Bakery. There were also chocolate caramel macarons, which had a very short life. The dark balls are hard chocolate over hazelnuts, which are also some souvenirs from France. I love hazelnuts. So good.
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I tried to make a low-GI dutch baby by using coconut flour in place of AP flour. It worked out pretty well. (8 eggs, beaten until they’re a bit frothy, 1/3 C coconut flour, 1/4 C corn starch, 1 C almond milk. Mix them up, toss in a 9″ X 13″ pan you’ve melted some butter in, then bake at 425F for ~20-25 minutes). Slather with maple syrup (grade B, thanks!)

DSCF5117This year we went light on the presents. What do you really need when you’ve got your family and friends around you? Well, Buttery Nipple shooters, according to my mom. Haha. This was one of Albany John’s presents.

My mom ended up getting me a SuperGirl costume, because over Thanksgiving we were looking at some magazine from the 80s, and it had a picture of SuperGirl pajamas in it, and I was like “OMG, I had that as a kid, and they were AWESOME. I would still totally wear that.” She couldn’t find any proper adult-sized pajamas, so she just bought me an adult SuperGirl costume. Oh my gosh. My mom is freaking hilarious sometimes. The large is fairly large and roomy on me, so they actually fit kind of like adult PJs. Either way, I am now armed with a cape!

She also got my cat a jingly bell collar & a santa hat. The cat hid shortly after people arrived, but now she is out, so if you’ll excuse me I have an animal to dress up.

XO!
AJ

Swedish Meatballs

Swedish Meatballs

Albany John made some rockin Swedish meatballs! He says he followed Alton Brown’s recipe to the T, which is something he rarely does. But it was worth it – these were the best meatballs he’s ever made! (And, hold up – we had bread in the house? We haven’t been eating bread that much lately.) Perfect 1 oz meatballs. So easy to eat entirely too many of these. So worth it.

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Gravy was awesome over mashed potatoes. One of our friends brought them over. So creamy. I’m glad she made ’em. I suck at making mashed potatoes. The meatballs were incredibly tender. Lighter and fluffier than any other ones Albany John had made before. So awesome. I demand all meatballs to be of this texture in the future!

And so started an informal dining group where we try to eat food from a different country with friends on a weekly/wheneverwecan basis.

Druthers Restaurant Week

Resto Week @ Druthers

 

Restaurant weeks in the Capitol Region can be disappointing. Generally, it’s 3 courses for a set price in the $20-30 range. Oftentimes, restaurants post menus they wouldn’t normally serve to meet a price-point, or just for the sake of participation. When I saw Druthersmenu for Saratoga Restaurant week, I thought “Hey, these guys are doing it right.” Their menu was 3 courses for $20, and all of the items on their menu seemed like plausible dishes to make their menu. DSCF4982

Danika of Garnish Marketing and her hubs, one of our other girlfriends, and Albany John joined me for dinner one night.
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Albany John tried a Druthers Manhattan. Our waitress was friendly, although when she dropped it off she mentioned that while the cherries seemed ugly, they were the best cherries she’d ever had. Kind of an odd comment, but the cocktail was well balanced and enjoyable ($10). DSCF4985

I went for the lobster bisque for the appetizer. Huge bowl of lobster bisque, and an enjoyable toast to the roux base of the soup. I was quite surprised with this portion on a restaurant week menu. I hope they add it to their regular roster of soups, because this was great. Not only was the roux well-toasted, but the lobster and cream were well balanced  with a sherry finish (I couldn’t pull a tarragon note, but sherry in lobster bisque = awesome) and this wasn’t over-the-top rich.

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Albany John got the duck wings in Thai peanut basil sauce with a raspberry puree & basil. Holy moly, these need to go on the menu, like, NOW. The skins were crispy, and the peanut basil sauce didn’t sog it up one bit! The flavors all really worked well with duck meat. Oh man, I want a ton more of these! Again, there were a good four duck drumsticks on this plate – a crazy amount!

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Danika went for the slivered beet salad, which was heavier on the arugula and dressing than beets. DSCF4992

Entrees are where Druthers slipped a bit. Their menu listed the cod as “pan-seared” with a smoked tomato puree, crispy pancetta, and cous cous and tarragon salad. , so we were surprised when they came out battered and fried. A few of us ordered the cod, and we were so confused, we wondered how we could all misread a menu.
We asked the waitress to double check for us, and she brought over a menu and made mention of how she hadn’t read the restaurant week menu and how this was how the cod was prepared all week. She even went to check with the chef, and came back to tell us that it turned out that this was a mistake in printing that no one had caught. She’d said the chef told her that pan searing cod was impossible since it would fall apart, and that this was the intended preparation. She was nice for checking, although her delivery was a little rough at times, asking if we were “going to eat it or not?” or if she’d have to take it back to the kitchen. She came back later, and was more apologetic and more insistent about taking things back to the kitchen. I’m not the most effective vocal communicator, so I can relate to not having a perfect response in awkward situations, but some of my other dining companions were wowed (and not in a good way) at first hearing “Well, are you going to eat this, or am I going to have to bring it back to the kitchen?” in a flat tone.
What was interesting what that this is how the cod had been prepared all week, and our table was the first to notice this (or at least, the first to bring it to the attention of the staff).

The fry job was a bit oily and greasy on the cod, so the thick batter wasn’t the most pleasant thing to eat; I picked all of the cod out of the batter. I didn’t see any pancetta on the plate. Maybe it was left off, or was another misprint. I think pan-seared would have been a much more enjoyable preparation method. Use Real Butter didn’t seem to have any issue with her cod falling apart when pan searing.

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The Duo of Filet Mignons were prepared as the menu stated, however, both of the orders at our table were requested rare…DSCF4995

And came out closer to medium and fairly tough. Aww.

DSCF4996So, while the entrees were a bit of a low note, dessert ended on a high note. Chocolate mousse, peanut butter & chocolate layered cake, and a strawberry sorbet in the back. All of these were great. While I don’t normally order desserts in restaurants, I think I’d order them again at Druthers. I couldn’t even finish the peanut butter & chocolate layer cake – so rich! The vegan sorbet had tons of fresh strawberry flavor, and the mousse was dense at first, but finished lightly.

Our waitress came back during dessert to chat a bit more. There was something about her that I really liked, she seemed like a good person and a good fit for Druthers as a server. She thanked us for being a “cool” table and not freaking about about the entrees earlier because it was a mistake on their part, but was ultimately out of her control (a server can’t control how the kitchen decides to prepare dishes). I just wanted to hug her – you could tell she felt badly about the preparation/earlier interaction (probably more than she should have) – it’s tough being the middleman between diner and kitchen sometimes. I still also think that Druthers restaurant week menu was an example of a restaurant doing Restaurant Week the right way – having dishes that they might be testing out for their main menu, or seem like they’d fit in with their normal menu (i.e.: they didn’t break out raw oysters, prime rib, burritos, or other stuff that wouldn’t fit with their menu).

Tour de Mozz and Melba

This past weekend Daniel B. put on a mini Tour de Mozzarella Sticks & Melba Sauce. Read his post for thoughtfulness and insight, picks from each location and some minimal commentary are below:

Tour de Mozz & Melba

TJ’s Cafe was the first stop of the day. 2 orders of sticks (3 pieces per order) came out to a little over $15 with tax. These were big honkin’ slabs and not sticks, with an almost-too-perfect not-at-all-greasy crust. Crisp, like a fish stick, almost.

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The mozzarella was some of the most flavorful and melty of the bunch. The melba was enjoyable, but I may have added a squeeze of lime to it to a little contrast.

FWIW, we also ran into Todd as we were heading out, who was a very genuine guy and mentioned how they really try to stay consistent with their recipes for their customers, down to maintaining the same brands in their recipes. Albany John & I had talked about consistency (and inconsistencies) in dishes and foods earlier in the day, so it was nice to hear the importance of consistency talked about by a local restaurant owner.

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Next up was Ralph’s Tavern just up the road on Central Ave. These were my favorite mozzarella sticks of the tour – salty and greasy in just the right way, with just a whisper of a breading between stick and eater. DSCF4926

Gooey goodness. $6.25 for 6 sticks.DSCF4928

Next up was the Across the Street Pub, which I’d never been to before – it’s the 2nd floor. These were some of the least pleasant of the bunch, which means they were still passable, but you can find them in your grocer’s freezer section. These were the only pre-made sticks of the tour. Kind of a bummer at $6.50. At least they were small.DSCF4931

These had a garlicky breading, so they didn’t go so well with the raspberry sauce. This cheese was also the toughest and chewiest.DSCF4933

Graney’s was next. The last time I was in here was after watching a local rugby game years ago, and there wasn’t much eating going on then. These win for largest sticks of the tour. I forget how much these were, but it was reasonable. DSCF4934

These also had a garlicky breading, so the raspberry sauce wasn’t such a great combo.DSCF4936

So much melty-ness! DSCF4939 The final stop was Beff’s, which also featured some rather large mozzarella sticks. They had the best raspberry sauce of the bunch – it had a citrus/lime note in it to keep the raspberry sauce from being too cloyingly sweet. The breading was fairly thick and crunchy.
They also brought out some of the marinara sauce, but I found it to be tinny & unpleasant.

The sticks were best enjoyed here piping hot – they had a very short half-life.
DSCF4941Woo, pull!

Overall, this was a fun quickie-tour. It was by no means comprehensive, but we covered some good ground, and I’m pleased that so many of these places made their sticks in their own kitchens. I found a few new taverns to visit. I am thinking I will have to stop in to TJ’s Cafe and Ralph’s for some of their other fare as well.

Druthers

What do you do when you’re in Saratoga Springs, NY for a late-ish dinner after the opening of Badger’s Hookah Bar just a few blocks away? You hope Danika at Garnish Marketing says “I’m going to go to Druthers for a drink in a little bit. You in?” Yes. Yes yes yessity yes.

Albany John had a blast taking pics of the Druthers table at the Saratoga Wine, Food, and Fall Ferrari Festival this past September. They were happy, fun, and lively – great energy, and I meant to head around to Druthers to try their fare in-store.

A chill in the air made Albany John crave Chili Con Carne ($8), which lists habanero among its beefy ingredients, but isn’t anything overpowering, or even all that hot. Albany John was a big fan of this chili – very little fat/grease on top, and lots of deep, beefy flavor.

He also got a pint of Fist of Karma Brown Ale ($6), which he thought to be miles above Newcastle (which is one of my favorite beers lately). I dunno. I still prefer Newcastle. This was a bit hoppier & tarter.

Pasta fagioli ($6) for another friend. Vegan, even.

A rare Given My Druthers Burger ($12) for me. Cute Druthers brand on the bread bun.  I got greens on the side (you could also get fries), which were pretty heavily dressed. I’d ask for them naked next time.

Happiness is a bloody rare burger. This was pretty hefty, yet unsurprisingly I managed to finish it all. I didn’t really taste the pickled green onion or pickled shallot that the menu lists, but the chuck, short rib, and smoked pork belly. I’m glad I’ve found restaurant in the area that makes a rare burger rare and not medium-rare or medium.

Danika & her Mr. got the flight of beers on tap, which was $14 for 7 4-oz flights. The waitress was a peach & wrote out all of the beers on tap, too.