Kuma Ani – AYCE

20151005_193834[1]AYCE (All You Can Eat) is an interesting concept. Pay one price, eat as much as you want. We’ve got a few sushi restaurants in the area with caveats that you eat what you don’t pay for, which is nice from a waste mitigation perspective. One of my friends has a theory that you should check out AYCE restaurants in the Albany area when they open and are serving the best/highest quality fish until they realize that people in the Capitol Region will settle for less. Which is kind of disheartening, but an interesting theory that isn’t exactly outlandish.

I recently went to Kuma Ani with 3 other people, and we went for the $20.99 all you can eat dinner option. They’re still fairly new and haven’t been open a year yet. LorreBob over at Albany Dish has a review of their AYCE and non-all you can eat options, and Susie Davidson Powell has a great write-up over at the Times Union of their meal options, too. The AYCE menu is a little smaller than other places in the area (no sashimi), but it’s also a few bucks cheaper than other places, too.

We arrived to a restaurant at about 20-30% capacity. A few tables, but overall fairly quiet on a weeknight. It took us about 2 hours to get two orders, with priority given to non-AYCE dinner options. We waited about 30 minutes from when we placed our 2nd order to when we received it.

We got a little bit of everything for nigiri – roe in the background, octopus, mackerel, eel, white tuna, yellowtail, salmon, and tuna. Nice presentation, but the salmon, mackerel, and probably the tuna should not have been served – They tasted fine initially but finished with a very funky flavor at the end, especially the mackerel, which had a strong note of ammonia in its finish. Not at all like a pungently briny mackerel should be. This was unpleasantly disappointing. The eel was good, but it’s cooked fish. White tuna was also fine.

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Most of the specialty rolls were very rich affairs with kani/imitation crab salads, fried, and heavy on mayonnaise or rich eel sauces. We got every specialty roll we ordered, but a few of the normal maki rolls were skipped with each order.

The cooked/non-sushi appetizer options are small portions, except for the imitation crab salad, which is comically large when compared to every other portion size. It’s like a meal-sized salad of fake crab salad! I don’t like imitation crab so this dish didn’t really work for me, but the others in our party enjoyed it. One dish was the grilled squid, which were small pieces of squid with a heavy coating of old pepper – pass on that one. Also pass on the sashimi salad, which are end pieces of fish and not very pleasant tasting.

Overall it seems like Kuma Ani is ready to give you a challenge for your AYCE experience. Overall I found the experience a bit drawn out (who wants to have a 2.5 hour dinner on a weeknight?), and the food was really hit-or-miss, with more misses than hits to go back for AYCE. The regular dinner menu gets great reviews, so if I go back it’ll be to order off of the regular menu.

Sushi from Sake

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Sake is pretty close to us for sushi in Latham (it’s right off of 87 exit 7). It’s one of those hibachi & sushi type places, but Albany John and I have gotten sushi from there a few times and it’s been solidly satisfying if a bit on the pricier side.

I got a Naruto roll (left). It’s salmon, avocado, and salmon roe wrapped in cucumber instead of sushi rice and nori. It’s tasty, but I’m not sure it’s really worth the $11 price tag.

The salmon and tuna rolls on the right were $5 each, and the eel + avocado roll is $7.

Overall, it was about $30 for 4 sushi rolls. . The more I type it out I think it was fine, but I guess it’s more of the convenience factor.

Sushi Tei

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The New Year is almost here and I’m ready for it. 2013 had a few ups, a whole lotta downs, and well, let’s just get on with it, right? But with all the downs, I firmly believe we must continue to believe in the power of positivity, and striving to better our own selves.

It was nice to be able to grab some Sushi Tei when I was out in Guilderland this month. One last fix before the year is out. Two roll lunch special ($8.50) for me with salmon + avocado as one roll, and spicy tuna as the other. Plus two orders of ika. I am loving salmon roe lately. The pop of the briny little bubbles. So satisfying and pungent.

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Albany John went with a 3-roll special ($11.50). Salmon, Eel + Avocado, and Yellowtail + Scallion. Both of the specials also come with a can of soda if you want it. I personally just pass on the soda.

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But that sushi is something else.

Yoshi Sushi

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Went to Yoshi Sushi for dinner one night. Latham. Sushi. One of my girlfriends likes it, so figured we’d try it out. It’d been a while since I’d been there last.

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They wound up giving us soups and salads for free. Maybe because it was the end of the night? Miso soup leaned more toward the red miso type than the sweet yellow miso, but still light overall.

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I’m just not super crazy about sushi from Yoshi. It was fine, but not super flavorful.


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I got a salmon skin roll with salmon on top and a caviar roll. The salmon skin wasn’t crispy inside despite being cooked/toasted, and the salmon on top didn’t have a noticeable salmon flavor, mainly texture. The rice wasn’t very sticky and the rolls had a hard time staying together.

Overall, it’s fine to scratch a sushi itch and I’ll go here with friends, but I will likely not go back here for sushi on my own.

Serivce was very nice, friendly and accommodating. Which is kind of what kills me – it’s hard to get good service in the area sometimes. Service is incredibly important – poor service and great food can drive away customers. But great service won’t pull customers when flavor falls flat.

Sushi Tei

DSCF5321 Went out to Sushi Tei in Guilderland with Albany John and a friend one chilly evening. Albany John was craving sushi & suggested Sushi X, but I was not feeling a buffet, so I suggested the more relaxed and cozy Sushi Tei.

DSCF5320 Some rolls – a philly, a spicy tuna, a salmon skin, and a regular tuna roll. Yum. DSCF5319 And SOoOOUUuuuPPP, delicious soup! I love the soups at Sushi Tei – so flavorful, rich, clean, and simple all at once. I got tempura soba ($12.50). Albany John got a few rolls and a mini udon ($5.50) in the background. DSCF5318 We also got a few apps – Tako yaki above ($6.50). It’s dough balls baked, filled with octopus, and topped with bonito flakes. I’m not sure if I’m a huge fan of bonito flakes on their own (or perhaps only in very small quantities), which is kind of odd because I normally love all things intensely fishy. But overall I enjoyed the salty/savory octopus balls. Heh. Octopus balls.

DSCF5315I forget what this was called, but it was so good! They were cucumber & mango wrapped in raw salmon and in a sweet/tart soy sauce. I didn’t think I’d like them, what with the mango (coz I don’t really like to combine fruit + savory things) but it was younger mango so it was firm and wasn’t too sweet. The only problem I had with it is that there were only 4 to split between the three of us. I could have eaten about a dozen of these on my own!

I love the service at Sushi Tei – it’s like going over to your best friend’s house. Everyone is casual, nice, and serves at a relaxed pace.

Our total was something like $46 before tip.

 

Sushi X Night

Went to Sushi X with a bunch of my incredibly good looking and funny friends. Namely JoJo, Ray, and their new bundle of cute; Sebastien; Daniel B.; and a bunch of other enjoyable people of all walks of life.

Dinner is $19.99 per person M-Th (before tax and tip), and for a group of 6 or more, they tack on 18% for you. It was just a hair over $25 per person for the buffet itself. Thursdays are also ladies nights, where they have $2 girlie drinks.

I really enjoy this place for groups. They only take reservations within a few days of your date/time (max 1 week) and don’t really seem to care about taking them to begin with (not the “You MUST have a reservation or we won’t seat you” BS). And they also will split checks individually in large groups no problem. Wow! Some restaurants in the area refuse to split checks, or add a fee to do so. There’s plenty of seating at tables throughout the restaurant.

Apps and sushi for $25 per person? If you eat sushi like I do, this is a steal.
ROCK SHRIMP! Our table got three of these, and I’m pretty sure I ate 95% of each order. So crisp on the outside and perfectly cooked on the inside.
Round two of sushi! I was so excited about the first round that I must have forgotten to take a picture. Sashimi is even included! How awesome is that? Now, it’s not Nobu freshness or quality, but it’s good for what it is.

Thanks all for coming out! We will have to do Sushi X 2: Electric Boogaloo very soon.

Sushi X

Have you been to Sushi X Lounge yet? I was talking with a girlfriend I hadn’t seen in years, and she mentioned that she was going to Sushi X in Latham with some friends one night and that I should join them. HECK YES!

It’s where a Chinese buffet used to be (710 New Loudon Rd, Latham, NY), and they too have an All You Can Eat theme. However, you can also order items ala carte, if you’d so desire. For weekends it’s $21.99 per person, and $19.99 on weekdays for the AYCE option. It looks like they are part of a small chain in the northeast, with three other locations in New England.

We got to sit in the VIP area (behind a few strings of lights), and it did foster a bit of privacy. There are also a bunch of tables, and a sushi bar as well. They’ve got a ton of electric lights all over the place, giving it a lounge-y kind of feel. I liked it. Didn’t feel like you were in some cheapie buffet, you know?
There is also a purely bar area up front. A buffet with booze! I don’t see that very often. They were running a buy-one-get-one special for cocktails that night ($9 each), but I had my eyes on the prize: sushi. Maybe I’ll try some drinks next time.

They have a fairly large menu to choose from. Some hot and cold appetizers as well as sushi rolls. You can just order sushi, but if you also order appetizers, it comes out quicker than the sushi, so you’re not starving waiting for them to roll your fish. I was glad I was with a fairly large group, ’cause we pretty much ordered one of everything.

Service was also surprisingly on-point. Mostly staffed/run by Asian peeps, I think a lot were Chinese. Yet all of the dishes were Japanese, and all executed quite well. Better than I thought a sushi buffet would be. It’s all made-to-order. For some reason, I was thinking sushi buffet = so-so fish, and some crappy half-assed-cooked regular dishes. I’ve never been happier to be wrong.

Personally, I liked that you got small plates of appetizers. Meant we could try more. Above are some cream cheese wontons, chicken tempura (good for kiddos), and rock shrimp. You can skip the cheese wontons (unless you’re prego or something and REALLY craving them), but deffo get the rock shrimp. It’s coated in a slightly spicy sauce, but the breading is crunchy and the shrimp aren’t overcooked. We got two orders!
Shrimp tempura and beef ribs (kalbi kind of cut). Tempura were okay, I’d skip the beef ribs next time. Not that they were bad. Nothing was bad, just so many more high ticket and tastier items to order instead.
Spicy yellowtail app. I didn’t even try this – the coins of jalapenos atop the raw yellowfish served as my “Albany Jane don’t eat this or you will ruin the rest of your dinner” warning. But the heat hounds in our group really liked this.

Tuna tartare, and seaweed salad. Woah, I was so surprised by this plating! Yes, I’m sure it’s a resto technique to make you think you’re getting a lot, but it was quite a lot of tuna (even if it had some panko mixed in – GF friends, don’t order this), and the presentation was better than many restaurants I’ve ordered ala carte from.

I ate this by myself – so good! Order, like, 5 of these!

Grilled squid. The tentacles even got a nice crispy char to it. Mmmm!
Seared tuna – this was at least 2 orders. I just liked the effort they put into the presentation! So much on the menu for $21.99 per person!

More apps – some shu mai and dumplings, more rock shrimp and beef ribs.
AND a BOATLOAD OF SUSHI!! BOAT OF MY DREAMS! This friend is one of the ones who turned me into a bit of a sushi addict. We’d never had the boat, so we were so excited to have it!

And guess what? THe sushi was actually REALLY good. Like, way better than some restaurants in the area, good.

There were even some soy paper rolls (the green and pink covered ones above) and you could request your own kind of rolls. But their specialty rolls were cutely named, and well portioned. Not too heavy on the rice or skimpy on the raw fish. Spider rolls (soft shell crab!), salmon sashimi, and nigiri sushi galore!


DIY Sushi

I made some half-assed sushi for dinner last night. Brown rice sushi – even prepared the rice with vinegar and mirin. But the seaweed was being kind of a bitch and not sticking, so after being in the kitchen for a while, I was like “Oh, F this,” and just plated everything for DIY sushi (or conversely, chirashi bowls).

The half-ass rolls look kind of like weird hot dogs. I picked up some trout from the store and cut it into sushi roll cuts and lightly seared the outside just to take off any potential fishiness. Tastiness.
Some slivers of cucumber, too. And tobiko. And toasted black sesame seeds.

I am kind of digging brown short grain rice. It’s got a nice nuttiness and chewiness to it. More interesting than white rice, and not as dry, either.

Oh, and the stuff in the center was a salty veggie and soy bean skin dish. I loved it when I had it at Ala Shanghai and wanted to recreate it since they make their salted veggies in-house and it tastes so fresh. I found a recipe on Food Mayhem for Soy Beans, Snow Cabbage, & Tofu Ribbons that looked like a perfect match. Except I didn’t have edamame. And my bean curd sheets were more like shattered bits. It still came out pretty well, though. Definitely hit the craving for a deeply vegetal and comforting dish. Give it a try – very easy and very rewarding.

Sushi Tei with CelinaBean & Mark

I was lucky enough to have lunch with Celina Bean at Mr. Pio Pio earlier this week, and we had planned on inviting our buddy Mark along. What’s that saying about all good intentions? I don’t know – I’m terrible with sayings, but we forgot to mention it to Mark, so we felt like we should meet up for lunch again. Y’know, get the band back together.

So we went to Sushi Tei for lunch. Celina had mentioned how awesome the soups were when we were at Mr. Pio Pio (hey, when you love food, you talk about all kinds of food). There was a lunch special with salmon don & mini tempura udon for $9.95. Celina & I both went for it.

If that was the mini – wow, what does the regular look like? I could cup my hands around the bowl and still have some room. If I weren’t a glutton, the mini udon probably would have been a satisfying lunch. One large tempura-ed shrimp, some scallions, chewy udon noodles, and a deeply flavored broth.

That broth is some satisfying stuff. And the soup retained its warmth through my entire meal. No icy cold soup here!

One of the reasons I love Japanese food is the presentation. When you dine in you get food served in partitioned boxes, or beautiful containers like this. It looks like a little present.

And the best kind of present was inside! Three long slices of salmon over some sushi rice with a shiso leaf topped with salmon roe. Wasabi and pickled ginger, too.
I thought that the salmon don was going to be the big feature, but the soup was larger than this box. Still, it was a lunch portion in the way Japanese food is generally portioned out – not ginormous amounts where you need a take-out box to bring half of your meal home, but rather a satisfying amount you can eat in one sitting.
The salmon was fresh, nice and fatty like I like it. And man, I’m really starting to like salmon roe. I used to think it was just too intense, but now – it seems like it’s just up my alley.
Overall, a really nice lunch that didn’t leave me feeling like I needed a nap afterward. The company wasn’t too bad either. I never imagined I’d be casually lunching with writers one day, catching up, chilling out. Surreal.

The Tang Zhong Method

I like the idea of Japanese bread. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had it, but whenever I see it in the stores, those perfectly square loaves, I just imagine how good it must taste. Soft, squishy, tender, fluffy. Just right.

I felt like trying to make something like it at home, and found out about tangzhong. So this tangzhong stuff is like a cooked sponge, for those of you who are familiar with baking. It works by cooking a mixture of flour and water together for just a little bit. It’ll add some moisture to your cooking. And best of all? It is cake-tender, but you use AP or bread flour! How awesome is that?!

So I baked up a loaf of bread from Christine’s Recipes using the tang zhong method, and it came out beautifully! And get this – the rise times are only 40 minutes!

Part of the secret is that you knead the butter in after mixing everything together. It really helps everything come together as a solid loaf.

Bake at 350F for 30 minutes, and out came this golden beauty:

Egg washes must be nature’s way of telling us food is delicious, hee hee. It took a ton of patience to wait for it to cool off, but it was worth the wait. The house smelled so good. Even Albany John was looking forward to a slice. He thought it smelled like Hawaiian sweet bread, or Portuguese rolls. I just thought it smelled awesome.

If you can’t tell, I don’t have one of those neato-but-expensive Pullman loaf pans to make perfectly square bread. Doesn’t affect the taste, though!

Tender crumb! It reminded me of baked bao. Kinda sweet, kinda squishy and soft, and allllll good. I definitely want to give baos a try with this recipe.

Albany John has dubbed this “Dessert Bread” because it’s on the sweeter side for him. But he still ate a slice or two after dinner. Heheh, after dinner bread.

I can’t wait to try this out as toast (omg, I’m getting old – I’m looking forward to toast), as sandwiches, and… just shoved in my mouth because it’s soooo good. Give the recipe in the link above a try (I just did it plain, no fillings). So good!

I think it’s crazy how differently bread can come out with just a few minor ingredient amount adjustments. My mom always made bread when I was growing up. It was good on the first day when it was warm, but had a short half-life and quickly deteriorated after that. This though – oh man, I wish we had the internet around when I was a wee kiddo. The same song, just sung a little differently, and oh the difference it makes.