Better Than Krispy Kreme Doughnuts

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I’ve mourned the loss of our local Krispy Kreme for years. The husbear jokes that I probably kept them afloat for an extra few months with my frequent trips in. Now I get my fix when I visit states that are so lucky as to have Krispy Kremes. But I may have a fix. Actually, I think I have something even better.

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These Wanna be Famous Doughnuts from From Cupboard to Cupboard are phenomenal. They are airy and tender, and seem to melt in your mouth. They disappear in an instant.

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This recipe yields quite a few doughnuts, and works just fine with powdered milk, which is all I seem to ever carry in my pantry. The best part is the glaze. It really is just like Krispy Kreme. That soft, yet hardened shell. And a buttery sweetness encasing the delicate fried dough. I wound up doubling the glaze, as mine were really coated in it.

Much poof.
Much poof.

Bring these to a party. You’ll make some friends.

CNY at Hong Kong Bakery and Bistro

Gung Hey Fat Choy! I kicked off my Chinese New Year Festivities at Hong Kong Bakery & Bistro with a bevy of local bloggers. Daniel B. organized the dinner to try the set menu featuring two dishes he’d never tried before. Set Menu A was on our hit list.

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Seafood & Fish Maw Soup was up first. A nice light fishy soup with egg white bits, thickened with cornstarch. If you’re wondering what fish maw is, it’s the gas bladder that helps the fish go up and down in the water. It’s pretty flavorless. Overall, good light start to the meal.

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Next up was the fabulous salt and pepper PLATTER. My family usually gets salt and pepper shrimp, so this was a real treat. It featured (from bottom clockwise): tofu, squid, bait fish, ribs, and in the center… jellyfish. Oh man, I want this platter all of the time! It was great! Salt and pepper tofu makes tofu automatically delicious, even if you’re not a tofu fan. Salt and pepper squid is an automatic win (though these were  bit small so they got a teeny bit overcooked/chewy). Salt and pepper bait fish. This was delicious, and not something I see very often in Cantonese/Hong Kong cooking. IMO very under-utilized because these tasted fantastic – briny and simple. Just tell squemish people that they’re fish strips, nuggets, or more squid. They won’t be able to tell.
Salt and pepper ribs. Where have you been all my life? Man, if there was a star, this was it. Crispy exterior, savory interior. Yes. Total win.
Jellyfish is a CNY mainstay dish, and it was nice to try the s+p riff on it.

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Abalone course. Abalone slices over bok choy and shiitake mushrooms. Abalone is another popular Chinese New Year dish because it’s expensive and symbolizes prosperity. But overall it doesn’t have a lot of flavor going on by itself, so it picked up a lot of the shiitake flavor. I wasn’t crazy about the thick brown sauce over it, but I liked how tender they got the abalone. This stuff can be prepared differently, and I’m not a fan of the texture when it’s rubbery and not cooked as much. This provided a lot of give. You know it’s a traditional dish when it’s expensive and the best you can say is that it wasn’t tough.

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Lobster, my love! Gotta love double ginger scallion lobster. Coated in a light cornstarch startch ginger scallion sauce, this fried lobster is another mainstay, and I was surprised to hear that Daniel B. had never tried it before. I’ve failed him as a friend! This was a great preparation of the dish. The lobster was juicy and succulent, and chopped up to dig out easily. “Easily” is probably a relative term, as part of the fun of this dish is getting messy eating it!

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Crispy Chicken is another traditional dish. This was covered in a garlic sauce, but the garlic flavor was pretty mild overall. Mmm, adorned with garlic crispy bits, too. This is a great dish any time of the year. Juicy plump chicken, crisp skin, simple chicken flavors. It’s a real crowd pleaser.

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Ultra blurry pig feet dish. Another first for Daniel B. This preparation was a bit tougher than other versions I’ve had. I prefer softer versions, but overall the flavor was good. Rich and meaty without getting too funky. The pieces were chopped up into easy to grab bits to gnaw on. There’s a lot of gnawing in Hong Kong/Cantonese Chinese food culture. 20160209_203636

Dessert time! What a pretty fruit platter!

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Red bean and tapioca soup  for dessert part two to end it on a sweet note.

Toronto – 100th Birthday Party

Bday Party 1 Pig Roast Whole

I went to Toronto last month. Why? Well, that’s a great question with a long answer that starts with my dad. When my dad was a kid in Hong Kong, there were these families with kids the same age who he’d play with. After many decades, my dad reconnected with one friend, who immigrated to Toronto along with the rest of those families my dad knew as a child. This man and his siblings were throwing their dad a 100th birthday party, and, as my dad explained, he was practically family, so just consider him “Uncle”. And you know how Chinese parties are – BIG. You invite all of your family and close friends (and their families).

So I drove up to Toronto with Albany John and my little sister, for this “Uncle’s” birthday party. Hey, Toronto has one of the biggest Chinatowns, food’s gotta be good right? And I was also just a wee bit excited to meet these people my dad had known as a child. Everyone was so nice, and we got to sit with one of the “kids” in our generation at the table. And then I met her sister, and my dad goes “Wow, you two look alike!” and we both did a double take since we actually did look pretty similar in the face (I’m a little bigger than her since I’m only half Chinese). And her Chinese name is one letter off of mine. You know, I’m usually in the minority any where I go, and I guess it’s just something I’m used to. My siblings and I look a lot alike, but we don’t really even resemble our cousins on either parent’s side very much. So it was a very different feeling for me to see someone who looked like me. A new kind of fuzzy, if you will.

Okay, they do not mess around with 100th birthday parties in Toronto. The first course was crackling suckling pig. Each platter marched out on parade by a server, with sparkler and glowing LED maraschino cherry eyes.

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The skin was so good. The exterior was crackly and delicate, yet substantial. The fat underneath melted away as you bit in. I haven’t had a suckling pig this good in years, if ever.

Bday Party 2 Shrimp 2 ways pan broccoliBday Party 2 Shrimp 2 ways fried

Next up was shrimp two ways – fried in a sweet-and-sour style, and pan-fried with some broccoli and garlic. Plump, briny shrimp. The sweet-and-sour preparation wasn’t my favorite, but the vermicelli basket was novel.

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This dish was a first for me, and one I quite took a liking to. It looks like a fish patty, but stuffed inside is a tender scallop. The briny roe made it pop with salinity, and man that asparagus was a great supporting character.

Bday Party 4 Birds Nest Soup

Bird’s Nest Soup – Yay! Not shark fin soup. Very progressive. Usually for a party like this shark’s fin soup would be on the menu.

Bday Party 5 Sea Cucumber

The womp womp dish of the night that wasn’t so much a dud, just a very… uh… traditional food that no one really seemed as interested in. If I’m trying to conserve stomach space, I’m going to give a little less to sea cucumber. Sorry, sea cucumber, but that’s just how it works. This was actually one of the better preparations – the sea cucumber was stuffed with fish paste, so it added a bit of flavor and a slightly firmer texture. I don’t think anyone at our table finished this one.

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Crispy garlic chicken was a big hit at the table – succulent chicken with crisp skin – what’s not to like?

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Whole steamed fish! One of my favorite dishes ever. This was great – the fish was cooked perfectly, and that salty sauce compliments the sweet flavor of the fish so well.

Bday Party 8 fried lobster

Ginger fried lobster – this is where most of the table started tapping out from all of the different courses. And where I ate 75% of the lobster our table was served. Oh my gosh, it was so good. Chopped into easy-to-eat chunks, covered in that delicious ginger-scallion sauce.

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And then I started tapping out once the wonton noodle soup came out. Fresh noodles, gai lan, and shrimp wontons. I had a wonton because, hello, seafood.

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Oh yeah, then fried rice, and then some of the birthday cake. Stuffed. Absolutely stuffed.

At some point in the night, my dad was talking with one of the Aunties, and it turns out that we were all related, and we were all cousins of some sort. Even more of a fuzzy! The connection requires a flow chart to explain, but the gist is that there’s a connection from 3 sisters from the same village. They’d previously thought that when the sisterhood was talked about, they used “sisters” meaning they were in Hong Kong from the same village on Mainland China. But nope, turns out they were sisters and most of us were related by blood at the party, and the birthday boy is actually my Uncle!

Lay’s West Coast Truffle Fries

Lay's West Coast Truffle Fries BagI’m not much of a potato chip eater lately, but I a few of the new Lay’s flavors got me interested. I’m such a sucker for anything truffle, so I figured I’d give these West Coast Truffle fries a whirl. I always wonder how they really pick a winner. The way odds go, it’s likely multiple people submitted the same combination of flavors.Lay's West Coast Truffle Fries Potato ChipAny way, the chips were fine. They tasted more like sour cream and onion chips with less tang and a little extra something. Not really the earthy funk of truffle, but something a little more. Eh, what do you expect for $2.50?

BurgerFi Latham – Sneak Peek

BurgerFi Storefront Latham NY

BurgerFi opens tomorrow at 11 am on 860 New Loudon Rd (Rt 9), Latham, NY. I was invited to a menu preview this afternoon. Overall I think it’s a good new addition – they’re a chain that sources from Meyer Ranch, which provides antibiotic-free beef that was never given additional hormones, grass raised and grain finished (best of both worlds, IMO), and none of the beef is ever frozen. I think this is a great direction for a chain to head, and one I see other chains embracing as well. Ethics aside (which is a weird phrase), the food is competitively priced and enjoyable.

BurgerFi Latham interiorThe interior is set up casually – order at the counter, pay, grab a table and wait for your food. They also have beer and wine, and it looked like some MMA style fights were on the TV when we were there. It’s easy for me to imagine biking over for a burger, beer, and a match if they wind up broadcasting fights.

There were some other local members of the media at the tasting. BTW, it’s really a thing of beauty to see Angelo Mazzone and Bill Lia walk over and talk to Steve Barnes, who curates the Tablehopping blog for the Times Union. If you want coverage, his blog certainly has the most readership/exposure. Also, he’s a nice guy with good taste, and someone pretty much anyone would want to talk to. Any way, social peeping aside, let’s get down to the food!

BurgerFi Cry Fry

Up first was the Cry Fry ($5.47) – a combination of their fries and onion rings. This is a regular order. You definitely want to share this with 1-2 other people. The onion rings are massive and massively delicious! Theyre beer battered in Coors Light. The breading is very light and crisp, giving way to large rounds of onion underneath. The fries are fried in peanut oil, and get the perfect balance of fluffy/poofy/creamy interior and crisp exterior.

BurgerFi Urban Style Fries 2

Up next were the Urban Style Fries, and I believe (hope) that these were the large portions. Because dear god, they were massive. There are two servings pictured above, and 3 people could barely put a dent in one of them. Urban style fries  are their regular hand-cut french fries with parmesan cheese, herbs, and garlic aioli. I’m not normally a mayo/aioli fan, but these were delicious. Just the right amount of garlicky creaminess atop the fries (they weren’t swimming in it), and a nice sprinkling of parmesan that stuck to the fries.

BurgerFi Urban Style Fries

Seriously massive, right? But also seriously good.
BurgerFi CheeseburgerAnd then it was time to try the burgers! First up was the BurgerFi Cheeseburger, which is two patties, american cheese, lettuce, tomato, and BurgerFi sauce. This reminded me of a ShackBurger. Actually, when you first walk in, you’ll probably notice some similar vibes from Shake Shack and BurgerFi.

The meat was good – the patties are just under 4 oz (pre-cooked weight), and cooked all the way through. They maintain a good amount of moisture and flavor while being cooked all the way through. Texture-wise, the grind is a pleasant medium or small/medium (depending on how you look at it).

BurgerFi Breakfast All Day Burger

The Breakfast All Day burger is one patty, American cheese, hickory bacon, maple syrup, a fried egg, hashbrown patty, grilled onions, and ketchup. I love that runny egg. It’s really nice to see a chain restaurant not cooking an egg yolk all the way through before it goes on a burger so you get that golden goodness all over the burger.

This wasn’t my favorite type of burger, but if you’re a bacon-on-everything person you’ll like it. For some reason I just prefer my breakfast as breakfast and not on other stuff. Oh, and the maple syrup wasn’t too cloying. Very subtle.
BurgerFi The Twenty-Eight BurgerThe Twenty-Eight is the burger you want to order if you can only try one thing. Oh my gosh, so good. And I’m glad they saved this for last. It packs a mighty whollop of umami in the very best way. The burgers on the Twenty-Eight are from brisket dry aged for 28 days. The patties have a little more funk, just the right amount of blue cheese in between the burgers, and the pickles are add a great crunchiness.
BurgerFi VegeFi BurgerWe also tried the VegeFi Burger. It’s made of quinoa, lentils, and veggies, and topped with cheddar cheese, tomato, and BurgerFi sauce with a lettuce “bun”. The whole patty is fried, so it pretty much tastes like a big pakora/lentil fritter. The lettuce are squares of iceberg lettuce.

BurgerFi Chicago Style Wagyu Beef Hot DogChicago Style Wagyu Beef The hot dog itself has a nice little snap/pull to the case and a good beefy flavor. This is a little different than your typical Chicago style hot dog – the pickle and tomatoes are in slices instead of wedges, which makes for a different kind of chew/bite.
BurgerFi Red Velvet ConcreteDessert! We tried the Chocolate Shake (not pictured) which had a lot of dark chocolate flavor and wasn’t a complete sugar bomb. A very grown up shake.
We also tried Red Velvet Concretes, which are very thick vanilla custards with layers of red velvet cake. You’ll want to split your concrete with at least 1-2 other people. They are incredibly delicious and rich. The vanilla custard is really good. Lots of rich egg yolk flavor and vanilla. Frozen custard is more popular in the south – it’s nice to have a place nearby to grab some.

Overall, I think it’s a good addition to the fast food options in the area. It’s family friendly, cares more about animal welfare than other mainstream chains (change has to start somewhere), and has a tasty product. Hopefully the quality I tried today holds up to the test of time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go patronize another Lia-owned business and put some of this food to use!

Afghan Kebab Express

 

Afghan Kebab Express is tucked away in the Chinese-character-ed shopping plaza at 305 Central Ave. One of my friends really likes it, and arranged a casual group dinner.

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Their menu is on the smaller side, which is good. There are some random funny dishes. Not the lamb shank in the background (which is a steal at $12.99, and so deliciously lamby and tender), but the chicken qorma in the center. It’s just on the menu as a side dish for $3.99, so obviously curiosity won out and we had to order it. It was interesting. More tomato based than creamy, and the veggies seemed like they came out of a frozen mixed Birdseye veggie bag, though at least they weren’t mushy. The chicken seems to be leftover kebab chicken since it had a nice char to it. Definitely an interesting riff on quorma/korma and a good way to repurpose leftovers on the cheap.
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Bolani – $2.99 per order. Okay, but not something I’d *have* to get again. Veggie filled fried thing.
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Lamb gyro (thanks for the love in the background, darling!) $5.99.
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Blurry gyro over rice ($6.99) platter.
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Beef kabab ($8.99) which you should really avoid ordering as it’s filet mignon, which is done no favors by cooking over a skewer and drying out by the time the exterior gets a char. They were pretty adamant that “that’s how it’s supposed to be”, but sawdust isn’t a flavor profile that our table was crazy about. After a bit of prodding they took it off the receipt and fired up a second order of …
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Koobideh kabab platter ($8.99). Hello delicious! Now this really shines as a kebab/kabab. Fatty ground lamb and beef charred to perfection over an incredibly large portion of rice. You know I’m not a huge rice fan, but this was delicious. I almost ate all of the rice, which is saying something.

All of the platters come with a side salad (some lettuce, raw carrots, cucumber, tomato).

There are also hot sauces in jars on the table to spice up your dishes at your discretion. Weeknight dinner was pretty dead, and not too many take out orders. Hopefully their business will pick up, but I wonder if the location is a problem. Service was ambivalent and efficient. Go for the fattier cuts and you’ll be very happy you came.

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!

Taiwan Noodle – Updated Menu

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The Fuj mentioned some new dishes on Taiwan Noodle‘s menu over the winter, and after the third or so mention, I asked him and Elise to meet Albany John and me there for a meal recently, and they kindly obliged.

First up: Spicy Shredded pork stomach ($3.95) on the left, 5-Spice Beef Shank on the right ($5.95). Hefty portion of beef in that dish. Served cold like deli meat, still very meaty. The pork stomach is served over a bed of peanuts. It’s can taste a touch gamey, but if you order the fried pig intestines it tastes mild by comparison.
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The onslaught of shareable plates. Wood ear in the fore front, adding in the fried pig intestine (the red stuff top left) and scallion pancakes. Woah, the pig intestine was some stuff yo’ A-ma or Yeh-Yeh would be eating. That stuff was intense. Albany John is an old man at heart and he loved them (thank god, because the rest of us were not into them).
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Squid rings! These had a nice breading and chew on the squid. I could eat a plate of these on my own. They had a side of seasoned salt, which was already in the batter. They said it wasn’t really necessary, and it wasn’t, but I guess they’ve had enough people ask that they now just bring some out.
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Wonton soup on the left, and a dish from a new part of the menu – baked rice. This baked rice was seafood. It was a gravy type dish over rice. Kind of like baked fried rice, but with gravy. I’m not a huge rice fan, but I was really into this dish.
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Pretty sure I ate close to half of this on my own.

Oh wait, did we also get Xiao Long Bao? I think we did, but I must have been too busy gobbling them down! Haha.

Chinese New Year at Ala Shanghai

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Chinese New Year 2014, The Year of the Horse, has been one festive year so far! I began celebrations with friends at Ala Shanghai. After seeing their specials for Chinese New Year, I couldn’t wait to get in!
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Xiao long bao (soup dumplings) were a must to start with. And these were perfect!
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The skins were so thin you could see through them!! See how it bulges a bit on the left? It’s because the skin is so thin! So much soupy goodness. Yum, yum, yum.

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Wine soaked cold duck appetizer.
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Scallion pancakes, always a treat.
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Wontons in a spicy peanut sauce. Good balance on the peanut/sweet/spicy.
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And now for the mains! Double Happiness special entree ($19.88) in the front – salt and pepper fish fillets and squid. LOVED this! The salt and pepper coating was perfect – crispy (not fluffy or beer-batter-y) and not the least bit greasy or oily.

Pork with fava beans in the back. Yum, yum, yum. Big fat fava beans with tender slices of pork.
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Squid and fish heaven!
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Hands down my favorite dish of the night was the Golden Duo ($23.88), which was soft shell crab & whole shrimp coated in a salted preserved egg batter and fried. Ala Shanghai has a soft shell crab-only version of dish on their normal menu, so thankfully this goodness is available year-round.

If you’ve never had an egg-yolk coated dish, you must try it. It’s so rich, salty, and good! The egg yolks are preserved in salt, then mashed up to be part of a batter coating. It adds a whole new dimension of flavor to a dish.
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Also had to add some veggies to the meal. Yum. Chinese broccoli is my favorite – nice and crunchy stalks and tender greens.
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Rice cake with pork and capsella as our starchy/rice/noodle dish (always gotta have one at a big meal). What’s not to love about chewy rice cakes?
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Crispy beef coated in a sweet-ish sauce. The beef still stays crispy! I thought I ordered this spicy, but it came out plain/non-spicy. Good, but I think I like the kick of heat to even out the sweetness.
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And (free) dessert because of Chinese New Year! What a pretty plate of fruit. Great way to end the meal.

There were 6 of us, and we wound up at about $20 per person before tip for all that food. There’s still time to grab a few friends together and try some awesome specials to ring in the Year of the Horse. Gung hey fat choy!

Tour De Disco Fries

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Daniel B. was in town for 24-ish hours from NJ and couldn’t help but arrange a mini tour of Disco Fries (fries, cheese, gravy). Chopsticks Optional also joined us! I was surprised by how many places use a cheesey sauce with their disco fries, and found out I am more partial to places that use just shredded cheese.

Our first stop was Junior’s, which I tend to find pretty “meh” and these fries lived up to that reputation. They started off looking pretty decent, if a bit sparse on the gravy (which was fine, because it tasted like jarred Heinz gravy).

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But closer inspection revealed cheese sauce underneath. Felt kind of like a cheeze dupe. Hey, here’s shredded cheese. Just kidding! Here’s some sour-tangy cheeze sauce. This was my least fave.

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Bomber’s was our 2nd visit, and my 2nd favorite.
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Hill Street Cafe had two gravy options – beef and turkey. So we obviously chose both. Holy neon cheeze, batman! This was the beef, which I thought tasted pretty made-from-powder-y.
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Turkey gravy fries were more of my preference. The fry job was really awesome on these fries, and they were the only location on the tour to use steak fries. But they stayed crispy the whole time! The gravy and cheeze also blended into its own thing. Kind of interesting. While these disco fries weren’t my favorite, the fry job is going to pull me back to try more stuff at Hill Street.
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The Ruck! These were my favorite, but I pretty much love everything at The Ruck. The fries got majorly soggy, but the gravy was the best of the bunch (it tasted like real gravy instead of instant gravy), and the pepper jack cheese was also a really awesome touch.

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I did find the one thing at the Ruck I really, really don’t like, and it’s their Bloody Mary ($6). They took my twiticism (criticism via twitter) well and let me know it was from BP Brewing mix. Here’s why I didn’t like it: I asked the bartender for a Bloody Mary with extra horseradish and there was no visible horseradish in my drink. It was spicy, but the notes were a peppery heat and not the awesome nasal heat that horseradish brings. I’m surprised by this service blip from The Ruck – I expect better from them. This not the norm for service at the Ruck, which is why it stood out for me. Not for a bartender to hear “extra horseradish” and translate it to “spicy”. The BP Brewing Bloody Mary mix also has a strong celery flavor, which I really hate. So if you like celery and pepper, then this is the bloody mary for you, but for me it was pretty much full of all of the flavors I don’t like. I could only manage a few sips of this before throwing in the towel.

However, BBQ hot wings made everything better. Crispy skin, and that BBQ hot sauce is awesome. What? We had people there who had never been to the Ruck and tried their wings. And I have poor impulse control. Also, more people means I can order wings and they can help me eat it. Also The Ruck.
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The final stop on the tour was O’Toole’s, which has a Sunday special of 1/2 off all appetizers (which disco fries don’t fall under). These seemed to be covered in nacho cheese sauce, and a sparse amount of bay leaf & thyme flavored turkey gravy.