Snacks at Ala Shanghai

DSCF5525

My Dad was in town to say farewell to my sister before she left the state for a few months. We stopped at Ala Shanghai for snacks.

DSCF5526

Noodle soup, xiao long bao, and some other nibbles while we spent some time together. I drove my dad by some houses I liked in the Latham area, and I can’t decide how good/bad it is that I’m giving extra points to places for their proximity to Ala Shanghai.

DSCF5527

Uncle Lanny brought out some siu mai for us to try out. These are all-seafood. Scallops and shrimp. No pork or other meat. Dude, these were awesome – fresh and briny. I’m so getting these again.

Happy Happy, Sandor

DSCF5531Head to shining rainbow for their unlimited/all you can eat hot pot. $20 per person, and $10 per pot. Reason? :: celebrate Sandor’s birthday!

 

DSCF5532Shaved beef, lamb, shrimp on skewers (a bit mineral-y), endless plates of squid, fried tofu (freshly fried!), and fish cakes. Plus peanut, hoisin, and chili sauce in a container ta make your own sauces. It was a good night for gluttony. I think the last 30 minutes were just the rest of the a label watch Albany John and me stuff our faces with food. Squid squids ! So good!

 

And then finish the night off at Wolff’sDSCF5535

Croissants

DSCF5489 I made some mini croissants with some guidance from txfarmer on The Fresh Loaf. Overall, they came out pretty well. I was very happy with the layers, color, and flakiness, but I thought they were a bit tough for croissants and would have preferred them a bit softer/more tender. This was all due to my heavy handedness on this initial croissant endeavor. DSCF5455 Overnight – mix up a dough and let it sit. DSCF5461 Next day – croissant dough!DSCF5459 Knead, roll into a ball, stick in fridge for a few hours. DSCF5472 Dough blob after being in the fridge for a few hours. DSCF5473 Rolled out into some kind of a rectangle. DSCF5474 Butter beaten into a square. I think I could have used about half as much – a lot leaked out during baking. DSCF5475 Butter square placed on dough. DSCF5476 My crappy folding/wrapping skills may also have been an issue with lack of tenderness. DSCF5477
DSCF5478I rolled out & folded the dough a few times.
DSCF5479 Chilled & on the second fold. DSCF5480 Sliced up – look at those layers!DSCF5482 I could have made these larger, but man, after seeing how much butter I put in there, i just decided to make a few mini croissants and freeze some of the dough. These guys are RICH!DSCF5483 Egg washDSCF5484 Egg wash before proofing. DSCF5486 After proofing for a bit with the egg wash. DSCF5487 Poofy croissants. DSCF5488Croissants in their pool of leaked butter. Not perfect by any means, but still pretty darned tasty because buttery carbs are inherently tasty. I will try these again!

 

Pancho’s

DSCF5506I went up to Clifton Park to celebrate a friend’s birthday for lunch at Pancho’s. Um. It was good to celebrate with friends, and one of the good parts of the meal was that they come out with free chips and salsa, and refill them quite frequently until your meals arrive.

I’m glad I filled up on the chips. I got Lunch #1 – a chile relleno, taco, refried beans, and guacamole salad for $5.99. It was a lot of food for $5.99. All three plates above were for my order. Wow. The guacamole salad was a few blops of guac over iceberg lettuce, some diced tomatoes, and sprinkled with shredded cheese. This was the highlight of the meal for me.

DSCF5507Greasy, greasy, greasy. Oil was pouring out of the meat in the taco and chile after a few minutes, and the meat itself tasted a bit funky. I pretty much just nibbled the shell of the taco that had lettuce in it, and the non-meat-covered part of the chile (which was nicely cooked otherwise – cooked through, but still a bit firm). The refried beans started to get a weird tang to them once they started to cool off. Overall, a fairly disappointing meal. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my fats, but I like them when they make the meal taste better.

Chinese New Year – The Snake (Albany)

DSCF5490Albany John and I went to Ala Shanghai with Phairhead, SexyBeast, & another of our pals to celebrate Chinese New Year in Albany. Some tasty nibbles with jelly fish, and aster salad. DSCF5491 Spicy wontons in chili oil. Meaty, peanutty, and silky soft wonton skins. DSCF5493 A present from Uncle Lanny – an order of Xiao Long Bao. Gung hey fat choy, and xie xie!DSCF5494 We got an order of spicy fish fillets on the special Chinese New Year menu (now over). These were great, and I’d love to see it make an appearance on the regular menu. Hm, although you could also probably just ask for it and they’ll make it for you in the kitchen, too. The fish had no breading on it, and was crispy & moist without being the least bit greasy. Nice spicy kick infused in the fish flesh, with the chili peppers adding some extra burn (I could eat a few whole ones, and the mess of hot chili peppers Albany John ate didn’t make him sweat bullets at the table).
DSCF5495 Wuxi style spare ribs – a sweet and slightly tangy sauce over some tender pork ribs. DSCF5496 SOFT SHELL CRAB WITH EGG YOLK! I was looking forward to this dish for weeks. A platter of salty, briny happiness. The egg yolk in the batter makes this a great occasional treat. DSCF5498Some medlar jelly for dessert. Mmm.

Surrounding myself with some great friends was a nice way to gently wean myself away from my family after seeing them at Chinese New Year in Flushing, Queens.

Chinese New Year 2013: The Snake (in Queens)

DSCF5352 Albany John and I went down to Queens to celebrate Chinese New Year with our family. I’m not sure what the Snake year means/holds for non-snake people, but this year has sparked some emotions in me and helped me realize some of my own shortcomings/weaknesses.

One such weakness is, as always, sushi. Haha. The night before Albany John trekked in on the MegaBus and got in a whole lot of cardio (i.e.: a bunch of the lines we normally use close after midnight!). We stayed with my sister & brother Maka & CVS, so the next day during the snow storm we ordered some sushi for lunch.

I ended up going out for groceries later on because I needed a walk, and I like a nice walk in the fresh snow. We spent a glorious day otherwise not leaving their apartment.
DSCF5361 The day after that we went to Lillian Pizzeria in Forest Hills, Queens, NY. Maka called this the “good” pizzeria within walking distance of their place, and ho boy was it ever. They don’t deliver, so in the winter they only walk there.

DSCF5354 A sharing slice for the table. Nice thin crust. A definite take-out contender if they were in the Tournament of Pizza. DSCF5358 I went for an eggplant roll and a broccoli pinwheel. The eggplant melted into the roll, and the crust was super-thin. I never know how places get their dough so thin, crispy, and tender. Mine poof up so much when I try to make anything similar.DSCF5359The broccoli pinwheel was basically a wheel of cheese held together with a bit of dough & some broccoli. What a tasty bite at $1!
DSCF5360 Albany John got a meatball parm sub. Oh man, was that ever good. They slice their meatballs into circular slices. Nicely meaty & tender meat ball. DSCF5368 Later we went to Flushing for dinner with the rest of my family for Chinese New Year. But first I wanted to stop at one of the dumpling joints on Serious Eats’ Essential Dumpling guide. I was pretty let down by White Bear, which everyone seems to love, but when I read that My Sweet Home Dumpling made their dumplings to order… TO ORDER (as in, they roll out the dough, put in fillings, and cook it when you order. Not before)… how could I not? Here’s what it looks like from the street if you’re walking north from the subway. It’s on the same block, so not a very far walk.

DSCF5362 Walk to the end of the bakery & put in an order for dumplings!DSCF5363 Yes, dumplings! They were pretty quick, too!DSCF5364 We got 2 orders. DSCF5365Green Onion & pork dumplings.
DSCF5366 Cabbage & pork dumplings. The cabbage melded with the pork. DSCF5367 HOT SAUCE & SOY SAUCE !!!! I totally recommend My Sweet Home Dumpling. Way affordable, quick, and delicious! The skins were perfectly chewy, and the meat had just the right meaty texture and savory flavor.

You can also order drinks or whatever non-dumpling goods you want from the bakery that’s in the front of this space. Their English was so-so. I got a coffee milk tea, but then they tried giving me coffee. When I tried explaining in English that I wanted coffee milk tea they started going for just tea, so then I just blurted “Ka Fei Cha”, which are the magic words for coffee milk tea (Mandarin), and I was glad I retained at least a little bit of my crappy Mandarin knowledge.
DSCF5372 So part of why we got a dumpling snack before dinner was because my family was meeting at the same place as last year, Jin Cheng Restaurant, which isn’t quite the best place to go for Chinese food in Flushing. I mean, it’s legit, but part of the problem is that they are very easily overwhelmed by a crowd. We got here at 5 PM before they were busy (with reservations) and they didn’t have their seating chart correct, so we had to move tables. When no one else was there yet.

But one of the good things about it is that it is really close to where my YehYeh lives, and he’s been kind of sicker lately so this was within walking distance. It was hard/sad to see him sick and a bit out of it. I mean, he was mentally there and knew all of us and all that, but he just looked really tired and sickly. It’s hard to see someone you love like that.

Any way, on to the food. Shrimp stuffed tofu with abalone and sugar snap peas. Good fry job, not greasy.
DSCF5374 Abalone, I love you. DSCF5375 Shrimp! So here’s where they started slipping. The “Kids” were all sitting at one table (I think the youngest was 20, and the oldest in late 30s if that gives you any idea, hehe), and they brought out shrimp. My older girlie cousin took one, and then about 15 seconds later they came back & took the whole dish away!!! Who does that?! They said they didn’t mean for our order to come out so quickly & it was for another table. That got there after we did. Who takes away a plate of shrimp AFTER SOMEONE HAS EATEN ONE OF THEM?! WTF?? Do not take our shrimp. They took it, hid in the kitchen for a few minutes, then brought it out to the table right next to us. For real? Just make them a new platter!

They took forever to bring out a dish half of that size, and it turns out they screwed that up because our parents told us that we were supposed to get the larger double order size that had originally come out! Ugh!
DSCF5378 Snails. These were a lot of work and not much flavor. Eh. One of my boy cousins and I ate a lot of these just so they wouldn’t go to waste.DSCF5379 Our meager platter of shrimp. Sigh. We yelled when they took the first platter. DSCF5380 Snow pea shoots with shredded dried scallop, shiitake, & dried shrimp. This was a refreshing dish. DSCF5381 Half a crispy chicken. Eh, it was okay, but a tad greasy & light on flavor. DSCF5382 Fail fish. This was a whole steamed fish, and we were all really looking forward to it. Why was it was it a fail fish? DSCF5383 Because of the big gaping hole on the top! They dropped it off without mentioning it, and when we mentioned it, they kept just telling us to eat it. Maybe explain it apologetically when dropped off instead of making us wonder why it looks like there was a bite missing from the fish. I guess it fell/broke when they were moving it from steamer to platter, which is why it looks like there’s a hole in it.

Sadly, the presentation wasn’t the only thing lacking. The flavor was also very muddy and the texture was really water-logged and mushy. Old fish.

DSCF5384 Lobster was good, thankfully!DSCF5385 I ate a bunch of lobster. Yum.DSCF5391 We had a few bottles of wine (BYOB). The adults table had more to drink than the kids, though! They took one of the bottles from our table, haha! And then one of my uncles busted out a bottle of Hennessy and we were all drinking wine glasses full of Henny. Like a bawss. DSCF5401 One of my aunties also made a rice flour red bean cake. Yummy! Like a mochi cake- nice & chewy, but not too sweet. DSCF5402 And Jin Cheng waited until we were about ready to leave before finally bringing out the fried rice. Which looks much better with a pair of pink bunny ears. We thought they had forgotten it, or adults didn’t order it. I tried a bite of Albany John’s bowl & passed.

I was very thankful to have been able to spend all of the time waiting for food catching up with my cousins, though! I don’t see them nearly enough, usually only at Chinese New Year.
DSCF5407The next day we went to Grand Restaurant in the New World Mall for some awesome dim sum. And chow fun. Woah, was it ever packed because of Chinese New Year!
DSCF5408 Thanks for the tea, husbear. I tap my three fingers for you!DSCF5409Veggies
DSCF5412 Taro puff. The good thing about the busyness is that there’s a lot of turnover so food doesn’t sit for long on the carts.

My YehYeh had a bit to eat, but not as much as he used to, and he still seemed a bit tired. I felt like I didn’t get enough time with him, and I didn’t want to burden him if his energy wasn’t up to it. I wish I could speak more than a few words of Cantonese. I don’t know. I am awkward with what little Chinese I know and fairly insecure about my (poor) language capabilities. Even then, what would I say to him?

DSCF5413 After that, we parted ways and Albany John headed back to Albany while I puttered around the city a bit more. $1 peking duck baos before he left. Meh, skin was rubbery, but not a bad $1 snack.DSCF5414 Street snacking in Flushing.

DSCF5415 Oh, we also went to Chatime, which was running some buy-one-get-one special. We realized after we ordered we could have gotten low/no sugar. Ah well, Chinese New Year, right? Coffee milk tea with boba & coffee jelly for me, and sesame tea for Albany John.

I went to Astoria to hang with Sistah after that.
DSCF5416 On my final day Sistah & I puttered around Manhattan for a bit, and went to Food 52 in Korea Town. That place was pretty awesome – a whole bunch of restaurant stalls in one building! I got a half roasted chicken. Not bad, but pretty American. DSCF5417 Sistah got a baoDSCF5418Filled with noodles, meat, and veggies. She loved this. She also didn’t love me trying to pay for everything, so I guess I need to back off on trying to be in control. (But in my defense it was Chinese New Year & she is my little sister, so of course I want to pay for everything!)
DSCF5419 She got the Korean version of General Tso’s, only a little spicier. It was “Garlic Chicken” with miso soup, rice, pickled daikon, and kim chee. Pretty good stuff, actually.

DSCF5420And then I thought I was late for my megabus so I wound up running about 6 blocks to the Megabus stop with green tea tiramisu in hand. I would have had better timing on that run if I wasn’t stuffed to the gills with tasty K-Foods, weighted down with a backpack, or wearing knee-high Doc Martens (my footwear of choice for mucky & wet weather so my tootsies don’t get wet).

Overall, this was a great trip because I was down in Queens for so long, so I got to see pretty much all of my family down there.

This year of the Snake makes me think of how hard YehYeh has worked (for his whole life basically) and if he didn’t sacrifice so much, would I be here? He left mainland China for Hong Kong to look for work when he was 13. 13 years old. That is so young. YehYeh was adopted, you know. Kind of rare to hear about Chinese kids being adopted by Chinese families. During the harder times he even sent cooking oil to his family in mainland China because it was so rationed.  He eventually had a family, survived Communism, and came to the US with his young family. He got help from his mother to get enough money to bring everyone over and never saw her again after he came to the US. He worked a lot, and even became a trusted assistant to a famous sports team owner who had a place in NY (he’d watch the owner’s place when he was out of town & be his assistant when this owner was in NY). My parents even were in the owner’s box/suite at a stadium when there was a local game! He lost his wife, my grandmother, at what I would consider a rather young age. I was somewhere between 4-5 years old, and I think grandma was around 50 years old when she passed. He is now about 80 years old, and we had a big bash for him last year to celebrate. 4 kids, many more grandkids, and one great-grandson.
Thinking about everything my YehYeh has done and seeing him recently has made me think about things of my own: am I working hard enough? Am I doing all that I can? I don’t want to be a waste, and I want to be helpful. I don’t want my family to have to worry over me or my future. I think sometimes I get into my own head too much and get overwhelmed by things that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but really there is no need to because I really don’t have it hard. I have a really good life, and one much easier than YehYeh had at my age. I want to be a generally good person and be able to appreciate everything in my life. I want to try to be good to all of my family members. My relationships with various members of my family can be awkward and strained at times, but I want to always be there for them. I want to be there for anyone that needs me.

Oh, Snake year. You might be the year of introspection and thought.

Wine Bar & Bistro

DSCF5248 My lovely friend Slivia gave me a gift certificate to The Wine Bar and Bistro, a place near and dear to her heart. It took me forever and a week to use it because I am really pretty about about using gift cards, and man, I really should get better at it, because it has been too long since I grabbed some food at the Wine Bar! I started out with a glass of bubbles. Life is worth celebrating, y’know?

Sil saved the makeout booth for Albany John and me. Super cozy, and pillows, even! A great (private) space for the introvert.
DSCF5249 Oh. My. Gosh. Bone marrow ($14). Get yourself some bone marrow at the Wine Bar.So savory and salty. So much umami. Albany John and I daintily started putting little knife-fuls of marrow onto toasted bread, but by the end we were practically licking the bones like wild dogs. Thank goodness for the privacy of the makeout booth.
I was really tempted to text a picture of this fatty, meaty beauty to a friend of mine on a low cholesterol diet, but thought better of it. You know who you are.

Restaurant-cured gravlox on the right topped with caviar and creme fraiche. Another amazing plate. Top just about anything with caviar and I’m a happy gal, especially when it’s cured salmon.

DSCF5251 Mains! Hanger steak with fried gnocchi on the left. Albany John was all about this dish. This also reminded me of the right way to cook steak rare. It was cooked as one piece, then cut into smaller pieces; instead of cooking several smaller pieces over the desired temperature.

The crispy lamb on the right had my heart at first bite. Lamb chops ous vide cooked to medium rare, then flash fried so the exterior got crispy. Oh. Yes. SO lamby and good.

DSCF5254On to dessert: Creme brulee! A lightly warmed brulee with delicate sugar shell. Love – wasn’t too rich or creamy. I paired it with a dessert wine for some extra indulgence. And a little tester of chocolate chip meringue on the right.

Dinner total for all of the above dishes + 2 glasses of wine + 1 beer (the beer selection is small, but quality & very well priced) was just a bit over $100. Something like $109 before tip, perhaps.

I hope that bone marrow never leaves the menu. That’s one of my top favorite foods I’ve put in my mout for 2013 so far.