Whiskey Dinner at City Beer Hall

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“Hey m’dear, any interest in going to a whiskey tasting dinner tomorrow night at City Beer Hall  (in collaboration with The Speakeasy)?”

There’s something to be said for good friends who bring you food when you’re sick, generally check in on you while conquering the world, and take you as their date to a whiskey dinner. Deanna Fox is one of those friends and then some. *swoons at succinct offer of one of my favorite brown liquors*

City Beer Hall’s chef Dimitrios Menagias and Robert Mack, the man behind the Speakeasy’s cocktail program, teamed up to pair food with drink from Brown Forman (an American owned spirit and wine business). It was a good night.

We had a popcorn amuse atop a truffled mousse with mushrooms. Paired with the fun amuse drink below whose name I’ve forgotten because this happened a week ago and I have the memory of a fly.

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CBH Course 1 Drink Indian Candy Corn cocktailCBH Course 1 Drink Woodford White Corn Bourbon

Course 1: Indian Candy Corn cocktail (left) featuring Woodford White Corn Bourbon (neat, on the right).
The bourbon itself had a strong caramel scent, and was a real kicky type bourbon. The cocktail was equally punchy.

CBH Course 1 Winter Salad

Course 1: Winter Salad. Grilled prawn, carrots, starfruit, napa cabbage, persimmon nuoc chom. A few kernels of freeze dried corn on the right that paired very well with the meal and bourbon. This made me realize how underutilized napa cabbage is in its raw, salad-y form. A great winter salad with bright notes from the persimmon nuoc chom.

CBH Course 2 Charcuterie

Course 2: Charcuterie. My notes on this dish are covered in hearts. Duck pastrami, foie gras mousse, venison, sweet corn mostarda, pickled green tomatoes. I was talking with some folks recently who said they just didn’t “get” foie gras, and I had to reconsider our friendship for a moment. It’s fat, rich, and delicious. What’s not to like? Duck pastrami was deliciously smoky, aand was great paired with the pickled green tomatoes. The sweet corn mostarta also contained some toasted corn.

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I just couldn’t help but take  bunch of pictures of this plate. There was so much to love!

CBH Course 2 Drink Lion's Tail

Course 2: Lion’s Tail with Old Forester 1870 (which I forgot to take a picture of, and the cocktail picture isn’t much better. sigh). I LOVED the Lion’s tail it was tart and smoky with clove flavors. More hearts drawn around this cocktail. The Old Forester 1870 is the founding brand. 90 proof, spicy, and burns just a tad when sipped neat.

CBH Course 3 Intermezzo

Course 3: Intermezzo, with a cocktail reprieve. Pomelo sorbetto, aperol, candied pomelo peel. Dimitrios knocked this out of the park. The skill alone in candying the pomelo peel deserves respect. They were so thin, and so perfectly candied. Covered in sugar, and not too dry or too chewy. One of our table mates wasn’t familiar with pomelo, and remarked that it tasted “kind of like weed smells”, which is actually kind of accurate with its dank tartness and pungent citrus oils. It’s great to see this citrus featured front and center, especially as a plate cleanser.

CBH Course 4 Manhattan

Course 4: Manhattan with Old Forester 1897, where I have clearly crossed over from sober to jovial as I’ve forgotten to take another shot of the bourbon in its neat form. This may have been my favorite to drink neat or with a few drops of water in it, despite my forgetfulness. It had a tart nasal note, a bit milder than the white corn bourbon in the first course, with what I can only describe as having  great spicy afterburn. Definitely something to warm you up on cold winter night. The Manhattan was also expertly executed, using charred bitters and rhubarb vermouth. And that cherry. Or as my notes read “Oh my god, that brandied cherry”. It’s juicy and delicious and I love saving it to chew with the last few sips of the drink at the end. I think I could just load that Manhattan up with those brandied cherries and be a happy woman.

CBH Course 4 Wild Boar

Course 4: Wild Boar. Smoked corn relish, spaetzle, baby kale, red pepper oil. The corn was smoked over apple wood, the spaetzle was made with parsnip and mustard seed which added a lightly sweet and vegetal note to the spaetzle. All of this worked wonderfully with the boar, and sipping the Manhattan along with this dish made me feel like a very lucky woman to be eating such a fine dish, and to have a friend who’d invite me along to even try this.

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I had to use every ounce of willpower to resist picking up the bone and sucking every bit of delicious cartilage and tendon off of the bone.

CBH course 5 Jack Daniels Howard St. Scaffa

Course 5: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, Barrel Proof (left); Howard St. Scaffa (right). Wow, barrel proof. 130.8% alcohol. Holy caramel smell, with a subtle note of cinnamon. “Drinkable fire” someone noted at our table. Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” was playing in my head drinking this, in very enjoyable way. The Howard St. Scaffa featured a mellow cointreau noir and one drop of Angry God ghost pepper bitters. A definite way to turn up the heat.

CBH course 5 Stuffed Figs

Course 5: Stuffed Figs. Harbison, pecan, Shiva’s wrath bitters, dark chocolate. Harbison cheese stuffed into a Greek dried fig which was reconstituted in cointreau noir. The pecans were toasted and tossed in Shiva’s wrath bitters. This was a delightful way to end the dinner on a high note. The Harbison was creamy (a triple cream to be exact) with grassy, funky, rich notes that worked well to counter the heat of the drinks and complement the sweetness of the fig.

Way to end dinner on a high note. Mic drop Dimitrios and Robert.

Last Bit of Toronto Recap

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Ah, Toronto. You’re going on my list of places to return to. Jimmy’s Coffee on Baldwin was around the corner from my Air BnB rental. Albany John found them and they were a favorite morning stop for us. They even made me a really tasty decaf cappucino (I was on a decaf kick for a while there). They also had a pretty tasty pecan butter tart, which makes for a fabulously decadent vacation breakfast.

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Since I was staying in the heart of Hipsterville, Toronto (Kensington Market), I decided to check out one of their many unique food offerings. Bunner’s Bake Shop on Augusta Ave was just a skip away from my rental. The storefront itself was minimalist once inside, with an open plan so you could peep everyone making goodies in the background. They have a vegan soft serve which I had to try just out of curiosity. It was a small cone, about 3-4″ high for around $3. We’d probably call this kiddie-sized here in the Capitol Region.
Overall it wasn’t really my thing. It was icy, had a bit of a lingering aftertaste that was parts cloying and bland. I think it was an almond-milk based plain vanilla cone that tasted mostly of almond milk, which is to say, not much. Hard serve vegan ice cream has a better texture and flavor to me. It was fairly icy because of the milk used (coconut milk, with its higher fat content, would yield a creamier confection). If I were vegan, this would rock my world because I hadn’t seen vegan soft serve before. But since I’ve been eating dairy-based ice creams all summer I found this gritty and generally unsatisfying.

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But thankfully Bunner’s is right next door to Dolce Gelato. Someone tipped me off to their pistachio gelato, and I had to get in on that (left). Oh man, was that ever delicious. They use real pistachios, and the flavor just shines through. This rich, toasty pisatchio gelato just hit the spot for a creamy, rich dessert. The pink grapefruit on the right was also a winner – tart, sweet and perfectly nailing grapefruit in frozen form.

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And then I got a cold, because what else do I do on vacation? Albany John and I walked around downtown Toronto as much as I could (not much). We came upon a street fair and watched some buskers perform. That was cool. This guy was great, too. He really knew how to work the crowd and heckle rude audience members.

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More walking called for some banh mi. Not as good as Montreal or NYC, but better than we have in Albany.

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And a disappointing falafel wrap back in Kensington Market for dinner.

We grabbed some Montreal-style bagels at NuBugel on our way out. I like the size. They are a little more dense than NY bagels, smaller, and sweeter. Good for what it is, and something I’ll grab if it’s around, but not something I’ll go out of my way for.

I still hate crossing back into the US. The guards in Toronto were more aggressive than in Montreal. I wish the US guards would take a note from our neighbors to the north. The Canadian guards are nothing but polite, convivial, and generally nice people. The US border guards in my experience are usually aggressive and combative, as if they assume that you’re doing something illegal and want to catch you. The last time I had a positive interaction with US border patrol was over a decade ago. I just don’t see the point in the current mentality. Dude. I didn’t buy anything. I just went to Toronto for the weekend to see family and tourist around. No I didn’t buy anything. No, really, I’m not bringing anything over. Ok, did I buy anything? Yes, I bought dinner last night. And some chips at duty free. Which you should see since I have to give my license to check out at Duty Free. We could really be doing a better way of policing our border without coming off as stereotypical American bully types, you know? When I was at the 100th birthday party dinner everyone else spoke of how much they disliked crossing into the US because of how rude the US border patrol was. I am embarrassed as an American for this to be the first interaction someone may have when crossing the border, for this to possibly be their first interaction with an American.
The silver lining to this is that while the border patrol agents are more aggressive at the US/Toronto border, the line also moved much faster than Montreal, where I’ve usually had a 45 minute wait to return on a good day. Toronto was about a 20 minute wait. So I guess if I have to pick, I’ll go with ruder but faster border (ugh, one time I waited 3 hours in line to return to the US from Montreal. People were getting out of their cars and playing football on the side of the road).

Parivar Chat

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Ah, Parivar. One of my favorite casual spots for a quick dinner. No need for reservations, and you can pick up ingredients from the grocery store part of the store on your way out. Pista Falooda ($4.49) is a great way to have dessert with dinner.
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Samosa chat ($4.99) on the left, Idili Sambar ($3.99) and Dahi Vada (4.99) on the right. The Samosa were fine samosas, which came with a big bowl of chickpea masala.

The Idili are delicately steamed rice cakes, and the dahi vada are fried lentil-based doughnuts. Yet despite being fried, they taste deceptively light. Coconut chutney rounds them both out.

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Some DIY Pani Puri ($4.99) on the left, and a bowl of tokri chat ($5.99) on the right.
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Paneer Dosa ($8.99!) I love the gigantic dosas here. But make sure you bring a bunch of friends to share like I do! I loved the texture and flavor of the paneer in the dosa. So good.
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Full meal ($7.99) two of the prepared dishes from the bar in front (okra and.. some other veggie dish I forget now) with a hefty side of basmati rice, dal, two parathas, one dessert, and spicy pickle and yogurt sauce on the side. The only clunker here was the dessert. A little overly soft, and the flavor is a little oily. Desserts seem to be Parivar’s weakness. Their savory dishes are a treat, but I’ve never really enjoyed their desserts.
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One of the Indian Chinese dishes. These tend to be really salty, and that’s coming from a salt lover. It is fun to have a little bit of, but so overwhelmingly salty that I would probably not order this as a single item to eat solo.
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Bread pakodas ($1.50 each) stuffed slices of bread and deep fried.
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Gobi Indian Chinese on the left, another delicious dosa!

518 Coffee Collective – Coffee Tasting

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The Capital Region Coffee Collective had a brew method exploration at the end of January at the Learning Center of the Healthy Living Market. It was a great event in a great space, and was a fun, educational way to see (and more importantly, taste) a few different brewing methods and find what your preferences were in a cup.

I forget the coffee we tried, but it was a freshly roasted blend from Gimmie Coffee.
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The first method was a simple pour-over with a filter. This is how I’ve enjoyed my Blue Bottle coffees, and I figured this would be my favorite for the day, but I was surprised that it was not! It was good, but wow, let me tell you, the differences between brewing methods were very noticeable.

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The second demonstration was the Chemex. This was one of my favorite ways of brewing. It cut a lot of the acidity and was a really smooth, rounded cup of coffee. Being able to try the Chemex method immediately after the pour-over method was great, as I was able to see how much smoother the Chemex was compared to the pour-over (which ordinarily I’d think was just dandy)
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French press was next. This was a bolder cup of coffee in terms of flavor and acidity.

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The Aeropress was next.
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The aeropress is probably the easiest coffee making method of the bunch, and is best for single serve cups of coffee.

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PUSH the water through the coffee. I thought this lent a lot of acidity and bitterness to the coffee, which I didn’t care for. Other people really liked it, so it was a fantastic learning experience to be able to have different opinions on brewing methods and open up dialog with other attendees about what you liked or didn’t like and why.
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The Moka Pot. I think of this as the espresso coffee maker because a few friends use these to make, well, espresso. Also a pretty easy and compact brewing system to use.

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The Syphon. This was the most impressive looking brewing method, for sure. It’s a 2-stage coffee brewing system. you put the water in the bottom pot, and the coffee + filter in the top pot (which also has a glass tube that leads into the glass pot below. Once it comes to a boil, the water is siphoned into the top pot to brew, then goes back into the lower pot when done.
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Wow. That was really awesome to watch. And it also made a great cup of coffee for me. Tied with the Chemex due to its rounded flavors and low acidity/bitterness.
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Now here is the only down side – my two favorite methods of brewing were also the two largest and most difficult to clean if I want them at home. Chemex = big glass vase that the cat will probably declare a mortal enemy and try to break, takes up a lot of space and will need to be stored somewhere to protect it from the cat and my own clumsiness. Syphon = TWO pots to clean, and that pot with the siphon tube will need to be cleaned almost immediately after brewing; plus protective storage from Rambo cat and clumsy oaf owner. I’ve decided to order these out when I see them, like at Tierra coffee roasters (they have Chemex for $4 a pot).

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P1030858Thanks to the 518 Coffee Collective for putting together this educational public event! It was truly fantastic to be able to compare different brew methods side-by-side. I’d likely never really be able to tell the differences (or seek them out) otherwise. It was energizing to be in a room full of passionate people sharing their craft.

Princeton, NJ

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Sometimes you need to get away from it all. Sometimes the location is important, but sometimes it’s the people that help you reset. Fall 2013 has been one heck of a doozy for me. Being an adult is a wonderful thing, but sometimes responsibilities and things like that toss in a few complications. I’d been planning on visiting Daniel in Princeton, NJ for a few weeks, and by the time I got there it was exactly the mental reset I needed. You can read his account of our adventures here.

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I left Albany Saturday morning, and by the time I got through all of the craptacular NJ traffic (seriously, it was smooth sailing until exit 17 on 87S, then a bunch of eye rolling until I got to Princeton) it was time for lunch. Greasy and so-bad-but-so-good sounded good to me, so Hoagie Haven it was!

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I loved the interior – one big open space with a menu and chips on the left, and the ordering line up front. You could customize any order you wanted, and they had a cute menu of their own custom sandwich combos.
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Daniel suggested we go with sandwich halves, which was a good call. Like, a really good call. Each half was about the size of my forearm. Dan and I split a Sanchez (fries, chicken cutlet, mozzarella sticks, cheese, special sauce) and a Wakeup Call, which is more of a breakfast sandwich that Dan customized as eggs, bacon, cheese, pork roll, .hash browns, and mozzarella sticks (mozz sticks in place of their “steak” slices). And we also got fried mac and cheese. The kiddos split a half sub which was a Sanchez, but with marinara sauce in place of the sweet sauce we got.

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Overall, the kids deemed the mac & cheese better than their sub, which I have to agree with. Those were freakin awesome fried triangles of mac and cheese. Just the right amount of crunch exterior and creamy interior. Get the mac and cheese bites from Hoagie Haven.
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We paired the subs with River Horse Hop Hazard beer.
The Sanchez. Meh. Not my thing. The sauce was way too sweet, and the fries were too heavy and didn’t add anything to the sub. The chicken cutlet was okay because it was meat, and how do you not like meat? But overall, just “meh” in terms of sub. Thank goodness Dan also got the wakeup call so I wouldn’t forever judge his select sub shop with a raised eyebrow. The wakeup call was pretty freaking awesome. Hash browns are a way better sandwich choice than fries at Hoagie Haven. If you see fries, just swap them for hash browns. But no, the pork roll, bacon, and eggs were pretty tasty. I didn’t think the mozzarella sticks added much flavor on either sandwich, which was pretty disappointing and weird that they didn’t add much flavor.
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After lunch, the food coma started to set in, so Dan made some of his super sugary Cuban coffee for me.
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The mixing of the espresso with some sugar, turning it into a creamy fluff of sorts.
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The pour

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Bam, energy shot in a glass
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And then, get this, we went for a WALK after coffee time! I know! The Veal of People wanted to go for a walk. I am so happy for the exercise addition in his life!

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Princeton’s grounds are beautiful.

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Okay, enough of walkies, let’s get back to food. We went for two dinners, because that’s how we roll. The first place was Papa’s Tomato Pies.

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There was a magician at Papa’s, which the kiddos enjoyed, and was a nice distraction from the relatively short wait until our plain cheese pie came out. From what I can tell from this brief experience, Tomato Pie is kind of like a really thin (crackery) crust pizza with chunky tomato sauce, or chunks of sweet tomato sharing the spotlight with cheese.

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Papa’s crust was nicely thin. Not quite crackery, but quite ephemeral on its own. Papa’s tomato pie had a very short half-life in terms of enjoyability. The first slice was great. The second slice just a few minutes later was firmer and less enjoyable than the first as it cooled off. Still enjoyable, but just not as good as the first slice.
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Our second stop was DeLorenzo’s, which had one hell of a wait, and one hell of an inefficient hostess. The waiters were all taking peoples names and putting them on her list, telling her to seat people quicker. Yikes. And for some reason, she just kept telling the servers to wait, and slowly seating people. It was a weird experience. I’ve never seen waiters so openly tell the hostess they could handle more tables, and to seat more people.

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DeLorenzo’s pie was more of a crackery-crisp crust, which Dan and I preferred. The kids deemed Papa’s pie to be their preference of the two.

Compared to Papa’s the atmosphere at DeLorenzo’s was more chaotic – lots of TVs, bright lights, and not much in the way of noise control. It was a little overwhelming for me. BRIGHT LIGHTS, LOUD SOUNDS, AND PEOPLE EVERYWHERE. Bit the pie was a nice crackery crust, and the tomatoes shone through.

Prices for both of the pies were in the $13 range. Not expensive, but I could see an adult eating a whole pie with ease.

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Then we were off for two desserts for our two dinners. First up was The Halo Pub, which is an ice creamery and not a pub.

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I got a scoop of peanut and cashew praline. The cashew was really good. The peanut, eh. This was only like, $2.50 for the ice cream, though!

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Then it was off to the Bent Spoon. I suppose you could call the Halo Pub an old school institution. Lots of wood everywhere. The Bent Spoon would be like the hipster child of the Bent Spoon. They had banana “ice cream” and more non-traditional flavors than the Halo Pub (but Halo Pub had more selection).

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Wall of hard to read flavors (for old people. I could read them just fine).
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Flavors for the sampling! These seemed more like gelato than ice cream by how they had them displayed.

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I got their Wild Turkey & caramel flavored ice cream, along with the very locally sourced NJ pumpkin and NJ mascrapone ice cream. They were both so good. Expensive, but so good. Something like $4 for this small ice cream. But really good. Like, I couldn’t pick a favorite between the two. They just nailed those flavors.

One of my favorite moments here was when Little Miss Fussy almost started crying. Why? Because she was full and sad that she couldn’t finish her ice cream. So freaking cute.

So then we went and slept off our foodings. To prepare for more foodings the next morning:

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Nino’s Pastry Shoppe for their icing filled donut. Which Dan said was more of a frosting sandwich, so of course I was all in.

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Their portions were enormous. Every good here was gigantic.
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Then it was off to the Eet Gud Bakery. Love those signs.
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Also very large portions.
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Here are the sweets we got from Nino’s: frosting-FILLED donuts, cream puffs, and cookies for the kids. The cream puffs were pre-filled, but maintained crisp exteriors. Nice job.
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We may have gone a little crazy at Eet Gud. So many things just looked so gud, though.
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So here is Nino’s frosting-filled donut on the left, and Eet Gud’s frosting-filled donut stick on the right. Nino’s frosting had more of a buttery feel to the filling, but it wasn’t great butter, so it had a bit of a greasy lingering thing going on in your mouth after you ate it. Not too sweet, either.

Eet Gud’s donut stick was my favorite of the two similar donuts. A slight shell of an exterior on the donut, cushy interior, and a sweet, thick frosting inside. Nice textural differences. Dan preferred Nino’s to Eet Gud’s for those same reasons, haha. He liked the softness of the whole dougnut and wasn’t a fan of the different textures of Eet Gud’s donut.

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Raspberry filled donut on the left, “mango” on the right. I say “mango” because that filling seriously tasted like Pez. There was no mango in there, but a whole lotta Pez.

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Pumpkin filled on the left, custard on the right. The pumpkin was awesome. Mixing the pumpkin with their frosting, Eet Gud churned out a donut with a great pumpkin flavor and a mousse-like texture filling. The custard on the right was like a Boston cream, but without the chocolate.

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I wasn’t a huge fan of the custard. It was kind of weak in the flavor department, so this was my wee dreg of donut.

And then I drank an entire pot of coffee, filled up with some cheap NJ gas and was on my way to Flushing, NY to see my uncle.

Saratoga Wine & Food Festival 2013

Here are some photos from this year’s Grand Tasting at the Saratoga Wine & Food Festival. This year there were more non-Ferrari sports cars, still pleasing to the eye.

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And a whole tent of Big Green Eggs from Adirondack Appliance. They had a few sales going on, but said there would be more sales available to the public around December.

Like Ashley Dingeman over at Saratoga Food Fanatic, I also thought the number of vendors seemed lower than in years past, especially food vendors. There were three connected tents (yay, shade!) and the center table seemed pretty empty in the center, with food and wine vendors along the edges, and 1/3 of the front for the silent raffle. I emailed SPAC’s PR to see what was up with that (did some vendors bail? Less turnout than expected? Was it intentionally left empty so people would have more indoor room?) but I haven’t heard anything back yet. Updates as/if they occur.
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Gideon Putnam made some cheesecakes on cookies. Tasty little nibbles.
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Albany John got a kick out of Pavan liqueur, which is kind of like a citrus version of St. Germain. I thought it was like drinking honeysuckle, which was rather pleasant with some sparkling water.

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677 Prime’s display. They were the only vendors that seemed to do an actual display this year.

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Beauty, in porcine form.

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My photographer, Albany John, loved Druther’s food offerings, which were pulled pork sandwiches and ribs. They were the most substantial of the foods offered at the event and very popular.

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The Crimson Sparrow had, hands down, my favorite bite of the day. Restaurant-made nori chip with togarashi, uni, and … oh sugar… I think it was <some kind of delicious fat> with a shiso microgreen. So much umami and textures going on all in one bite. Just great.

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I also caught Zak Pelaccio‘s demo on butchering a whole heritage pig. Check out Burnt My Fingers for some great pics and additional details. Zak was a great presenter – easy to understand, good speaking pace, and fun, informative vibe. Really need to get myself to FattyCue one of these days.

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I also checked out Kevin Zraly’s private wine tasting, which was okay, but not as fun as last year. Perhaps the very real danger of a tornado touching down upped the excitement factor last year. Kevin Zraly was about 15 minutes late (darn, could have caught more of Zak’s butchering demo) and the wines we tasted were wines that were better for buying, storing and tasting in a few years. Kevin mentioned a few times about how some weren’t great now, but would be in a few years. Or maybe that’s just how I interpreted what he was saying and I’m completely off. However, the proceeds from the registration went to supporting the arts and creating grants for children to attend SPAC and (hopefully) continue the appreciation of the arts and music.

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The people watching at these events are always great. You see all different kinds of faces of humanity. Most of the wine vendors aren’t from the vineyard(s) they represent. They’re usually either hired to represent the brand, or are purchasers trying to promote their wines. Some are really good at it. One rep was really overwhelmed by the crowd and it seemed like it may have hurt the brand she was selling. Another rep was so jovial and excited to promote his brand, he was handing out his card in case people saw the wine priced higher than $X amount in a retail setting. There was one woman who stepped in front of me as I was asking a vendor more about the product (no lines) and blurts “Are any of these sweet?” and when the vendor replied that most weren’t super-sweet and began trying to ask her what her tastes were, she made a huge frowning face and goes “Eugh. Eugh. No. No sweet wine. Eugh.” There was the sweet couple I met at the Wine Tasting with Kevin Zraly who knew what cotton mouth was because they “…were children of the 60s. C’mon.”

This year the Grand Tasting sold out, as did the Connoisseur’s private tasting tent, and Kevin Zraly’s wine tasting seminar. This was a great fundraising event for SPAC and the programs they support.

Druthers

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It’s nice to find a restaurant in Saratoga that keeps their prices sane during track season (i.e. the racing of the horsies). While I didn’t make it up to the track this year, I went up to catch the Philadelphia Orchestra at SPAC one night. It was late evening after the show was over, and the group I went with was looking for a snack/meal. Druthers was our first thought, and it was nice to see that they kept their prices Saratoga-reasonable during track season (i.e. they didn’t change them to jack them up during the busy season).

Albany John went with a sampler of beers ($14) and I went with a light pint.

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Thai chicken wings for me ($11). They weren’t crispy, but the skin was a pleasantly succulent-soft without being soggy and flaccid. What was initially a bummer wound up being really pleasant for a crispy-skin lover like myself. The peanut flavor was on the mild side, and there was just a little kick of heat. It was served with homemade quick kimchee, which had red bell peppers in it (ruining an otherwise pleasant side slaw coz you guys know I dislike bell peppers).

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Albany John got a Druthers burger ($13) with greens on the side. Ordered rare, and received rare. So beefy and juicy. I had to exercise what little self control I have to not eat my good husbear’s burger, too.

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Our friend got the Mac & Cheese ($13), which I’ve seen other people order before, but never had anyone at my table order. It looks big, but once you get it in front of you… woah. It’s gigantic. And comfortingly cheesy, too. Stretchy, creamy cheese with crunchy crumbs on top.

Leisurely dinner for two during Saratoga’s high season with drinks in the $50 range? Not too shabby.

Coming Up: Saratoga Wine + Food Festival 2013

Wine Glasses by Tom Stock

The 2013 Saratoga Wine & Food Festival is in the near future – September 6th – 8th at SPAC.

One of the events you really want to check out is the Grand Tasting on Saturday, September 7th. It’s an entire afternoon of food and wines to sample (and usually a few liquors in there, too). Here’s what last year’s festival was like.

This year, Mo Rocca will be one of the main celebrity attractions. Fish & Game‘s Zak Pelaccio will also be there and giving a demo on butchering a whole heritage pig. Kevin Zraly will also be returning for a wine tasting seminar (I wasn’t sure what to expect from this last year, but he made it entertaining, fun, and educational, all while torrential rain storms were pouring and the tents were shaking from the wind).

Here are some highlights from SPAC’s press release:

GRAND TASTING & CONCOURS D’ELEGANCE | Saturday, Sept 7 – The centerpiece of the festival, the Grand Tasting takes place under large, elegant tents on SPAC’s lawn, and features hundreds of fine international wines, delicacies prepared by the region’s top chefs, wine seminars and extensive silent and live auctions of luxuries featuring opportunities to bid on rare wines, couture fashion, exotic travel, original artwork and more. The festival partners again with The Saratoga Automobile Museum to present a show of luxury collector cars at Saturday’s Grand Tasting including invited classes of Shelby Cobras, Alfa Romeo, Porsche, Lancia, Maserati, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Fiat-Abarth and more judged by Pebble Beach marquee auto specialists.

CULINARY TENT COOKING SHOWS

  • Learning to Cook with Mo Rocca & Mamma Theresa from DZ Restaurants: Inspired by Mo Rocca’s hit Cooking Channel show, “My Grandmother’s Ravioli,” this session pairs the celebrity host with DZ Restaurant’s beloved Mamma Theresa, as she shows him how to make select family recipes and traditional Italian specialties.
  • Heritage Pig Butcher Demo Led by Chef Zak Pelaccio:  Chef Zak Pelaccio of the Hudson Valley’s hottest new restaurant, Fish & Game, demonstrates the finer points of butchering a heritage pig and innovatively utilizing the various cuts of meat.
  • Zak Pelaccio Chef’s Demo: Chef Zak Pelaccio prepares creative dishes using heritage pork and locally sourced produce from the Capital Region and Hudson Valley.
  • Big Green Egg Grill Games sponsored by the Times Union: TU food writer Steve Barnes judges the final round of competition among Capital Region amateur chefs who will each be given a basket of ingredients and asked to create a unique recipe using Big Green Egg Grills.

THE CONNOISSEUR TENT – Master Wine Connoisseur Kevin Zraly hosts this one-of-a-kind culinary and wine adventure for aficionados at Saturday’s Grand Tasting. This separate tasting experience will feature artisan food, wine and spirits including tastings of rare wines from Kevin Zraly’s private wine cellar. This event will be offered in a luxurious, lounge-style space and feature music from a jazz trio.

Wolf Rd Diner

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Went to the Wolf Rd Diner on a Sunday morning, at a rather busy time for them. It’s the diner closer to the airport on Wolf Rd (219 Wolf Rd, Albany, NY 12205). Coffee is fine for diner Coffee. Our waitress was forgetful and overall not that great. You’d think she’d try to remember our orders and get it right the first time she forgot something, but after a while we gave up trying to remind her about the stuff she forgot because she’d apologize, say she was going to get it, then get distracted with other tables and never bring us the thing she forgot.

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Any way, they use real butter on their toast (yay, not margarine) and do a pretty decent fry-up on the home fries and hash. The eggs were a properly runny over easy.

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Challah french toast with ham. Wow, that was super yellow. No maple syrup, only breakfast syrup. But plenty of butter, so that was good. If you get there before 11 AM (I think) you can do a breakfast combo where your meals also come with coffee/tea and juice. Grapefruit juice was good – not too tart or sugary.

I still prefer Bob‘s over the Wolf Road Diner, but in a pinch, this wasn’t too bad.

Hong Kong Bakery & Bistro

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I wen to the Hong Kong Bakery & Bistro for the second time in two weeks. I wrote about my first visit for All Over Albany, and you can check out all of the delicious dim sum goodies I got on my solo visit there.

My dad & My Other Mom were up for the weekend, and after an entire day of picnicking and gorging, we wound up at the Hong Kong Bakery for dinner. We got some of their tea, which is a pleasantly floral jasmine. Very high notes and refreshing crispness. I think they may charge for tea, but free refills on the pot, and what they charge is fairly nominal.

The servers have been great. They’re mostly college-aged girls who speak English and Mandarin or Cantonese fluently (some only speak Mandarin, not Cantonese, but some speak all 3). We had a different main server than last time, but the same girl who I had last time I was in recognized me as the solo diner from a few weeks earlier. I guess a solo lady dining alone and ordering $30 of food kind of stands out, heh heh.

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I was thinking of getting something light and squid-y. I was going to go for sauteed squid, but our server really recommended the salt & pepper squid with chili ($12.99). Good as far as salt & pepper squid goes, and there were fine slices of chili to add a little punch of heat.

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Beef chow fun again, hee hee hee. This wasn’t quite as amazing as the chow fun I got on my last visit from the AoA post – a little less wok hei on everything, but overall it was still a very satisfying dish and a controlled amount of oil.

Beef chow fun is one of the most common dishes my family orders at Chinese restaurants. The beef chow fun at the Hong Kong Bakery & Bistro is especially special to me because the day after my wedding, I went to the Hong Kong Bakery (when it was just a bakery on Central Ave) with Yeh-Yeh and the whole family, and he declared this beef chow fun better than most restaurants in NYC. And Hong Kong Bakery & Bistro has managed to keep this recipe consistent over the years. I love that. A little bite, a little memory.

Still better than a lot of beef chow fun from restaurants in NYC Chinatowns.

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My dad picked grouper fillets with fresh veggies ($14.99), and they were delicate, tender fillets. Chinese broccoli as the green veggie, still nice and firm with a little crunch.

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Food in progress. Salt & pepper shrimp on the left, chow fun top right, and grouper fillets bottom right.

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Baby bok choy as a veggie side. My dad wanted more greenery with dinner, and these were delicious. Lightly oiled, tender greens, and firm but pliable stalks. The garlic was intense – it was ever so lightly cooked, so I made sure Albany John had a few bulbs, too. I want to say that this was “Sauteed Seasonal Vegetable w. Garlic” for $9.99, but our server put the bill slightly closer to my dad, and he snagged the bill right up. Thanks, Dad!

My only regret is that we didn’t go for dim sum, because then I could have ordered ALL OF THE CHEUNG FAN!

Ah well, next time.