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.

Awash Ethiopian Restaurant

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I love Ethiopian food. It’s something that we have absolutely NONE of in Albany, so whenever I’m near a place with Ethiopian food, I will always choose Ethiopian. Whenever I’m in NYC I can never manage to get away to Manhattan for Ethiopian food. But on my most recent visit I managed to convince my Dad, his girlfriend, and uncle to try Ethiopian food at Awash on the Upper West Side.

We drove there from Flushing in about a half hour, found (free) street parking after paying for parking (of course), and were seated immediately. The interior is gorgeous. Very romantic and lots of low lighting.
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Here’s the injera and freebie sides that came with what we ordered. Since we were so many people they spread out our meals across two plates.
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Plate two.
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So what did we order?

Starting at the red stuff on the left, we got:
Key Sir Afcha (carrots, beets, and potato)
Awash Tibs (grilled beef)
More Key Sir Afcha
Gomen Besiga (lamb, collards, onions)
Free cabbage and carrot dish
Free lentil dish
Shiro (chickpeas and split peas with tomato and onion)
Center: Awash Chicken

We all LOVED the Gomen Besiga. That was just a fantastic combination of flavors. Lamby goodness, collards, and onions with delicious Ethiopian butter and false cardamom. Mmm. Just fantastic. It was all good, but this was a standout dish.

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I also had to order the kitfo (raw beef), which was also good, if a bit heavy on the butter.

The injera was soft and spongy, but not too moist or sour. It was definitely a good intro injera to folks new to Ethiopian food. I’ve had it more sour than this preparation, but really it’s all about the texture for me and this was great. Soft with a little bit of chewy pliancy to it, but not tough or hard.

We had a few leftovers that we took with us. Their menu is a bit out of date. Prices are a few dollars higher per item than listed, and their physical menu touts a vegan meal available as well.

All that plus three glasses of Ethiopian wine was $160 with 20% post-tax gratuity included.

Northeast Dumpling House

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Want fresh handmade dumplings? Northeast Dumpling House is your bet for freshly made squidgy dumplings. I think they still have some kinks to work out, but overall they’re a nice new addition to the Chinese food scene in Albany. Here are my experiences on two recent visits:

First visit:

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Woodear and cucumber on the left (aka cucumber & black fungus $5.99) and boiled dumplings on the right.

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I went with about 6 other people on this first trip – you want to bring a large group when you go to Northeast Dumpling House because there are 15 dumplings to each order. It’s kind of a crazy-large amount and it’s kind of weird that there isn’t a smaller amount available. Boiled dumplings are $7.99-8.99 and fried are $8.99-$9.99 per order. There’s beef, pork, and lamb options, and they are all pretty solid. I think my favorite so far are the pork and chive boiled dumplings.

 

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We got an order of the spiced potato and special pancakes on Jeff’s recommendation from All Over Albany’s Eat This article. They didn’t ask us how we wanted the potatoes done (hot or cold) and they came out hot. Eh, they were okay, but they tasted pretty bland to me, even with the occasional pepper slice in there to jazz things up.

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BAOS. BAOS. Get the baos when you go here. We got several orders (2 per order, $2.99) of beef baos and lamb baos. These buns were nice and squidgy (squidgy is very good when it comes to baos and dumplings), tender, fluffy soft baos, and there was a bit of juice inside each bao. They also weren’t stingy with the meat inside! I hate it when you get a big bao, and you’re all like “YEAH, bao!” and then it winds up being 90% bun with a dollop of meat inside.

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You also really, REALLY want to get the Spicy Sauce & Squid ($6.99). Most of their side dish items are cold, and this is no exception. Hot pepper slices, chili oil, chili flakes, and perfectly cooked squid.

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The fried beef dumplings were some of my favorite fried dumplings. I think the meat in the dumplings is a little smooth for my liking, but this is just my personal preference. I generally prefer coarse grinds of meat.

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2nd Visit:

Daniel B. came up for a weekend away from New Jersey and had Northeast Dumpling House on his list. Albany John, Jon in Albany, Chef Brian Bowden and his gal, and another pair of friends joined us on a Saturday night for a festival of eating.

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Daniel wanted to try the spicy potato & special pancake. I passed since it wasn’t my jam the first time around. The pancakes are cool, but I’m just not down with the potato.

We also got to try the pork & pickled veggie soup. That was really rockin’ soup, and I’m willing to bet the noodles are hand made since they’re making the dumplings to order. They were tender, but still had that delicate chew fresh noodles get. The broth was also solidly porky and balanced, although a jab of sriracha didn’t hurt.


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Cucumber & dried tofu ($5.99). This was sheet bean curd, and I think this should be easy to recreate at home. Basically just tofu sheet, cucumber, carrots, chili flakes, and a dash of chili oil and vinegar. Pretty refreshing to me, but meh to others.

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The beef omasum ($6.99) was another awesome dish from their cold side dishes menu. The tripe was very well prepared  with just enough heat to make it interesting (I wouldn’t really call it spicy. Yes, there was a little heat occasionally, but nothing that had me reaching for the tea). The texture was both tender and chewy, if that makes any sense. Sometimes tripe can be chewy almost to the point of being like chewing gum, but this was not like that. This had something more of a tendon amount of chew to it.

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The fry job on the dumplings was pretty heavy this time, lots of slick oil on the plates. We pretty much ordered one of each dumpling this time.

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More spicy squid!

Another new thing we tried was the shrimp and egg boiled dumpling, which I enjoyed. The egg was pretty muted, it was more like a shrimp and veggie dumpling.

NE Dumps (my nickname for them) is still in the “new” phase. Both times I went in they were pretty dead. Which is kind of crazy for a weekend.

Here’s some areas for improvement:
Customer service – both times we had to flag down the waiter to order, then to get the checks. Tea refill on the first visit was inattentive on the first visit, and nonexistent on the 2nd visit, even though I did the “move the lid” trick to signal that we were empty. This slowness in service is also mind boggling to me, because Chinese service is usually quick, quick, quick. The dishes came out quickly once we ordered, this seems to just be a FOH issue. I’m guessing they are new to owning a restaurant and still learning the ropes as service was a little better on the 2nd visit.

Some specials listed only in Chinese. I am a “bad Chinese” and can’t read most characters, so like many of their other non-Chinese customers, I have no idea what the specials are on the board.
Consistency. The fried dumplings on the first visit were much less greasy than on the 2nd visit. The baos on the 2nd visit weren’t quite as tender as the first visit, and there was no soupy goodness inside.

Dumpling orders in quantities of 15. Orders of 8-10 would be easier for smaller groups of people to try more variety. The “Bull Paddywack” aka beef tendon is already crossed off the menu.

Cool Stuff they have going on :
BYOB

No huge rush, which is different from the “turn-n-burn” style most other Chinese restaurants have, so you’ll be fine to linger at the moment.

Some really delicious dishes on the “Side Dishes” menu that aren’t on any other menu in the Captial Region. I’ve never been much of a tripe fan, but NE Dump’s take on tripe (omasum) will bring me back here to try it out.

Cheap. If you go with a group, you can order most of the menu and still walk out for under $20 per person with tip.

Hand made to order dumplings!

How To Roast Rack Of Lamb

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I saw a rack of lamb for about $10 at one of my local grocery stores. Fresh/never frozen, grass fed, antibiotic-free lamb from New Zealand. Sure, I’ll give it a whirl. I did a pretty decent job. If you get a thermometer, it makes it easy to make. I just set the thermometer at 140F and let it sit 15 minutes to rest after it reached that temperature. 140F renders a medium lamb.

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I seared the outsides of the rack of lamb in a pan on the stove, then slathered it with some dill mustard. To be honest, I preferred the lamb flavor without the powerful kick of mustard.

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I roasted this at about 400F for much longer than I thought I would have to. About 30 minutes.

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But whatevs, this gal made some pretty decent rack of lamb!

Mask at New World Mall Food Court

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After my 24 hours in NJ, I headed to Flushing to see my Uncle. We hung out for a bit, and then headed to the food court at the New World Mall for a bite to eat. Flushing mall food courts are freaking awesome – they’re stalls for single businesses. Which means a huge selection of cheap eats! Mask is one of the newest restaurants in the food court, and they are running a special – $9.99 for your own personal hot pot (chicken, beef, lamb, fish, or vegetable) plus a drink. That is so crazy cheap.

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Mask has their own special hot pot tables set up near their stall at the food court. Here’s what they look like before you get your hot pot set up.

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And here’s what they look like after. Woah food. I got the lamb slices on the left, and a huge basket of veggies on the right. The lamb slices were frozen. I’m wondering if they pre-portioned them out. The lamb flavor itself was a little on the gamey side, but added nice flavor to the weak bone broth my Uncle and I both got. They also had a spicy kim chee based broth and one other broth I forget at the moment. I didn’t feel like being all that adventurous with soup flavor with the drive home looming in front of me.

There were so many veggies in that basket – a bunch of crunchy green lettuce leaves, sweet potato slices, tofu, one weird wedge of tomato, sweet potato noodles, enoki mushrooms, and tons of bok choy quarters. It was a great way to cap a weekend of dietary indulgence.

There’s also a make your own sauce bar. My uncle made me his blend, which was way on the garlicky side and something my sister would have loved. I mean, if she ate meat or any of the other components of the sauce.

But this was an awesome find in Flushing. If you pay in cash they don’t charge sales tax. Cheap, super filling dinner for $10. This is especially good for the people who don’t like sharing food, germs, or both with traditional hot pot.

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Dessert time! This place had a bunch of mango desserts, and was definitely a younger type of place. They even had dine-in where you tipped inside. Interesting, and lots of young people on dates here.

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I got a mango pancake. It’s an eggy pancakey wrapper over whipped cream and mango. Super yum. Something like $4-5 for two big squares.

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My uncle got this mango soupy pudding thing for dessert. Something like $6 for a big bowl. This is probably one of the pricier places in the food court, if that tells you anything.

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Mango pancake interior. So full of yes.

What a good weekend filled with food, friends, and family. I really like solo road trips every now and then. Not every weekend, but once every month or two they’re great for clearing my head. The freedom of the open road, driving my very own car, blasting my favorite crappy tunes, going off to have edible adventures and seeing people I care about that bring me joy.

Phoenicians Restaurant

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Go to Phoenicians Restaurant with a group. Seriously. 8 people and you’ve got yourself set up for quite the meal. Of course, it also helps if the main meal organizer is a charismatic and the owner loves him right off the bat.

Luscious labneh on the left, and creamy hummus on the right. Both topped with olive oil and paprika. I like how thick the labneh is – it’s kind of like a hung curd yogurt, but it’s less tart while still being light.

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Here’s where our group got adventurous – Kebbeh Nayeh. Raw beef tenderloin with some bulgur and onions, topped with olive oil. These plates were massive – larger than a forearm. And note I said plates – we got served two of these gigantic platters for 8 people for $29.99. We made some good progress, but wow, if we had known we were getting so much, I would have just skipped ordering an entree.

Texture-wise, it’s smooth. Flavor-wise, it’s actually quite mild. This might be due to it being filet mignon, which is pretty flavor-lite when compared to other cuts of the cow. It’s quite different from beef tartare, which is the only other ground/minced raw beef dish I have to compare this to.

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One of our group of 8 was a vegetarian, so the plates of raw meat were off the menu for him. When the owner heard that there was a vegetarian at the table, he brought out vegetarian cheese made from coconut milk. It was topped with zatar and olive oil. The coconut made it just a bit sweet, kind of like a dryer and less tart cream cheese.

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I tried an order of fatayer ($4.99), which are baked spinach pies. The pastry was more bread-like and a bit tough than a flaky pie crust. Spinach filling was good, though. This was great slathered in labneh, or paired with some of the raw kibbeh.

And then evidently I entered a photo coma and forgot to take a picture of my lamb shawarma ($7.99) with cous cous. Which I managed to eat about 3/4 of because of all of the raw kibbeh nayeh I had eaten. I swear I had at least 1/4 of that plate of raw beef.

Any way, the shawarma was good – tender lamb slices wrapped in a pita with some veggies and just a few dabs of garlic sauce. Yum.

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And then it was dessert time. They already had the crepe cooking for us – it was a special of the day, filled with bananas and hazelnut. Cute presentation. I’m not a huge banana dessert fan, so I just tried a nibble.

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Oh, and then there was the coffee, which was much less bitter than Turkish coffee, but boy is it ever full of caffeine. I had about 1/3 of a small cup, and I was up until about 2 am (but that was a productive housework night).

Word of warning – if the owner likes you, you are gonna get fed to death. I’m not even sure what we were charged for or not charged for because we ordered so much food and the bill just comes out as a bunch of line item charges without detailing what they’re for. But we all got out of there for under $40 for all of the food we ate.

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Creme brulee for me. Not bad, pretty decent brulee and a rich custard underneath that was just barely warm (yum).

We also ordered a rice pudding, and haleweh (aka halva). So many sweet delights.

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And here is a sure sign of my sugar high – this blurry photo of mhallabiyeh. Mhallabiyeh is a milk pudding layered with pomegranate syrup, rose syrup, pistachios, roasted coconut, and honey. That rose adds just the right amount of lightness, and the pomegranate, and the…. oh, just order this. It’s rich, sweet, and such a great way to end your meal.

Dutch Barn Farm

Here’s a little promo love to a local farm, the Dutch Barn Farm:

We sell veggies and hops. But when autumn rolls around our main product is just about ready – pasture reared lamb! This year, we are showing our support of the Eat Local movement by taking $50 off the price of a whole lamb for folks in the counties including and adjacent to Montgomery County.

2013 Price List*

Whole lamb price: $400
Half a lamb price: $250

* All prices subject to change.  Please confirm the price before you order. 

* Cost of cutting and wrapping is included in the price.

 Availability

We are now taking orders for 2013 pasture reared lamb.  Meat will be available starting in October.  Orders are filled on a first come first served basis, so contact us now to reserve your order.

How to Order

We do custom butchering only and have no inventory to choose from. You can order by phone at (518) 993 4983, by filling out the order form below, or by e-mail ( info@dutchbarnfarm.com ).  Your order will be cut to your specifications, vacuum wrapped, labeled, and frozen. I will forward you a list of cutting options when you order. 

Ribstravaganza

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Ribstravaganza has been a long time in the making. When Daniel B. heard that SexyBeast had made his own smoker, he tried instigating a BYOR (Bring Your Own Rib) party at Chez Phairhead & SexyBeast. This was delicious instigating at its finest.

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Albany John and I had a rack of lamb ribs we’d gotten from CelinaBean. The lamb she gets is great – lamby without veering into gamey territory. We rubbed it with Penzey’s Galena St Rib Rub, some cumin, salt, & pepper a few days before Ribstravaganza.

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Picked up the Fussman, then headed to Ribstravaganza. Here’s SexyBeast loading several racks of ribs on to the smoker. Be still my heart. There were many other grills in use for Ribstravaganza, too!

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The Fussmeister with his sack of ribs. Also lamb, and also from CelinaBean. He did his all fennel pollen like.

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The heart of the smoker (bottom barrel). And now for some brevity:

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Smoked goat shoulder. This actually smoked up a bit tough for some reason.

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Beef ribs! These were like Fred Flinstone ribs! My picture does not do them justice for how big they actually were! They were so tasty, but like a small loaf of bread for each rib! I ended up jacking Daniel’s rib because I wanted some of a rib, but not an entire one. And there were so many other ribs, he didn’t really even protest my rib stealing (too much).

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See what I mean? This was the first round of ribs off of the smoker, getting sliced up (we later learned plastic knives do very little for cutting ribs).

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Dr. Pepper ribs!

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Even more ribs! The cumin & whatever is in the Galena rib rub was super tasty on the lamb ribs, and I didn’t even mind the fennel on Daniel’s ribs. The rest of the ribs were porcine goodness. So many ribs, so many beautiful rings of pink smoke everywhere.

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Daniel B. was basically a mess of grease & rib leavings. Check out those fingers! I jokingly asked “Hey, can I lick your fingers?” and he responded “No! Those are my rib fingers and I get to lick all of the grease off of them!”

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Oh, and then guess what? Someone broke out the deep fryer and made…

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Can you guess? They look like doughnuts, but infact, they were CRONUTS. But we renamed them doughsants because it sounds cuter.

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And candied bacon.

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Doughsant dough.

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Cronuts/doughsants complet.

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EVEN MORE RIBS COMING OFF OF THE GRILL!

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And one family brought GALBI!

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Zero was incredibly excited to be a part of Ribstravaganza and hoped to get a few bites and was very friendly with everyone who could hold a rib.

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Oh, and there was BACON ICE CREAM. So good.

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SexyBeast: “That dog’s got the pork sweats,”

T’was a grand day of gluttony and camaraderie. Let’s go for Ribstravaganza Part 2!

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

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.