Van’s Vietnamese – Albany, NY


It’s been a while since I’ve been to Van’s Vietnamese Restaurant. Seems like every time I’m on that stretch of Central Ave, I inevitably wind up going to Taiwan Noodle, but this time I managed to resist that siren call as my sister called for a dinner at Van’s Vietnamese on account of their menu having a good selection of vegan and low gluten/maybe gluten-free dishes (I’m not really sure about the gluten-free part, but the sister unit says they are and I don’t have a gluten issue so if she’ll eat at a restaurant with lots of dishes like Van’s then I’m not going to argue).

For some reason I don’t remember the portions being as large as they are! Holy cow, these crappy camera phone pics don’t do the size justice. These dinner plates were like hubcaps.

Above is Banh Xeo Chay (Vegetarian Vietnamese Crispy Pancake) – $17.99 which has tofu that is textured like meat! I seriously thought that we accidentally got a chicken or duck one, but nope – just tofu. The yellow pancake is crispy, true to its name. This is kind of like a Vietnamese dosa in that you’ll be breaking bits off to eat with the filling. Seriously, it’s a massive size portion and comes as a dinner, though we split it as an appetizer for our table.  0


Another vegetarian/vegan-approved meal we ordered as an appetizer was Bun Cha Gio Chay (Fried Vegetarian Spring Rolls over Vermicelli) – $12.99, which seems like a much more reasonable price to me. Also, it’s freaking DELICIOUS. Great texture contrast between the soft and pliant rice noodles and the crispy, crunchy vegetarian spring rolls covered in nuoc mam chay, mint, peanuts, scallions, and carrots. I’ve gotta get more mint on in my savory dishes.


Canh Ga Tom Chien (Fried Stuffed Chicken Wings) – $8.99 for the meat eaters at the table, because how can you resist trying deboned chicken wings stuffed with crab meat? Overall, okay, but I think I prefer regular chicken wings. Kind of overwhelmed the crab flavor, IMO. Still, gotta admire those skills. No way in heck can I debone a chicken wing and leave the skin intact like that.


Okay – one meaty main for me! Ca Hoi Nuong (Grilled Salmon with Ginger) – $15.99. How is this less than the banh xeo  chay? Our waiter laughingly told me how he’d ordered this dish for a month straight because it was so good.
This dish worked for me – light tasting but satisfying, and tons of veggies! Even a few spears of asparagus in the winter. The veggies all were lightly steamed and still had a firm texture, which I liked. I wound up bringing half of this home because it was so much food and I’d gorged on the above mentioned appetizers.


One of my friends also got the duck, Com Vit Quay Dzon (Van’s Own Crispy Roasted Half Duck) – $19.99, which was quite tasty, though not very crisp. More taught and roasted but still quite enjoyable.

Any way, sorry to be vague about the gluten-free and vegan attributes of this restaurant. I get that it’s a concern if those are your dietary needs, though they’re not a need for me. Food has always been an issue with me and my sister, so I’m always happy when we can go out to a place where we’re both happy eating (and if you ever find out that the above definitely-vegetarian dishes aren’t vegan please don’t tell me so I can keep going here with my vegan sister, hahaha!).

Northeast Dumpling House


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:


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


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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 :

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!

Parivar Chaat


Want to know a great place to go out for a meal with a group without breaking your budget? Parivar! Parivar the grocery store on Central Ave also has a kitchen/cafe in the back where you can order a bunch of Indian dishes made to order.

I went with a bunch of folks, and not only was it a breeze to order, but they even will break up the bill however you want and accept credit cards. It’s counter service, so no need to worry about tipping, and you pay at the register for the grocery store.

I got a pista falooda ($4.99) to enjoy with my dinner – it’s like dessert in a cup, or an Indian version of a milkshake. So good. It’s a rich milky drink with sweet noodles and nuts. So thick, and a great complement to the food.

Pictured above is Pani Puri ($3.99) which are super awesome and fun to eat if you’ve never had them – They’re crisp round shells that are stuffed with awesomeness and slathered in a mint sauce with tamarind sauce on the bottom of the plate. They are one-bite affairs and best eaten quickly.


Next up was a fried bread dish. Fried bread stuffed with things, then fried, and mint and tamarind sauces for dipping!


Closer shot


DOSA TIME! $7 for a massive masala dosa, and the entire crepe was wonderfully crisp and tender. It’s filled with potatoes and served with masala sambar (the big cup on the right – seriously, so much sambar), and mint and ginger chutneys on the left. The ginger chutney was no shrinking daisy – that was SUPER hot. Woah.


Onion Uttapam ($5.99, which reminded me of scallion pancakes, but way more tender because they are made of rice flour batter.


And then we got a paneer paratha. Oh, so good (but really, what doesn’t paneer go with?).


And then we tried Indian Chinese! Gobi Manchurian. It was like an Indian take on General Tso’s, haha! This was SUPER salty, which is saying a lot since I love salt. But I liked the crisp texture of the cauliflower, and how it wasn’t too cloying. This was a fun dish to try that I’ve only heard about and not seen in any restaurants locally. At dinner, one of our friends said that this is the only place to come for Indian home-style cooking, and most of the sit-down restaurants in the area are a more formal/heavy/banquet type restaurant.

We ended dinner on a bit of a dud with gulab jamun. They tasted more like fried dough balls in syrup than milky gulab jamun. Could just be their recipe, but I’ll skip this in the future in favor of more savory dishes.

Our group wound up paying about $14 per person for all of this food. It was awesome to try so many dishes, and all of them were vegetarian. Man, this is vegetarian food done right – so much flavor and seasoning and awesome cooking that it enhances the veggies (and if you’re a carinvore like me, you don’t miss the meat one bit). Great for kids, great for groups, great flavors, great for the celiac/gf friends in your life – grab some friends and get over to Parivar!

Green Tea Bread Pudding

P1030032I usually suck at making bread pudding. But for some reason I lucked out with this iteration. Something like 2 cups of milk, 3 eggs, splash of vanilla extract and about 1/2 c of sugar all whisked together. Then toss in some unsweetened shredded coconut, and pour all over your cubed bread.


I let them all sit together overnight, then popped it in the oven until it all set. About 350F for something like 30 minutes (covered).

I think the overnight soak is what helped nail this. It gave the bread enough time to absorb all of the liquid. Also, use a lot of liquid. I think in the past I’ve been skimpy with the liquid, which resulted in not-really-bread-pudding crunchy results.

The loaf I used was a green tea swirled tea cake. It was okay as it was, but better as bread pudding.

Phoenicians Restaurant


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Celebrating A New Milestone at Ala Shanghai. Twice.


Husbear and I just closed on a house, and the only way I could think of celebrating was enjoying a meal at Ala Shanghai the very night we closed. Seafood Siu Mai (shrimp & scallops $6). A little spongy, but nice bits of scallops in the mix.


Albany John got the spiciest dish he’s tried yet at Ala Shanghai – M14 Sliced Pork in Spicy Broth ($14). Slices of pork and napa cabbage on top of vermicelli noodles, swimming in a flavorful and very spicy broth. I could only manage a few bites! I like the flavor, but I could only tolerate a little bit!


It’s such a gigantic bowl, we were relieved that there was a pile of vermicelli noodles underneath. They were also great for sopping up the spicy broth.


Gai Lan (Chinese Broccoli, $11) for a veggie. This was amazing! So fresh and gently cooked. If you are craving something green, this is the dish to get. The stalks are my favorite part, and these were cooked perfectly for me: lightly cooked through so they still retained a bit of a crunch, but were also just a little bit of fresh sweetness. This is the way I wish I could cook them at home.The flavor was pure gai lan and garlic, nothing else. Simplicity. Perfect veggies.


I thought a whole fish would be a good dish to get to celebrate this big, new step in our lives. One steamed whole flounder ($24) with ginger, scallions, and light soy sauce It came out whole.


…And the bones were removed table-side with lightning speed. This both fillets the fish efficiently, maximizing the amount of fish available, while leaving the whole fish intact.


The flounder was soft, tender, and cooked just enough. It had a clean salinity to it, which was complemented by the light soy sauce. I want to stress that this was a light soy sauce, and not too salty or overpowering for this delightfully delicate fish. The meat was downright buttery, especially with some of the soy sauce.

And don’t forget to nibble on the tail, head, and all of the fins! There is tons of flavor in those sections, you just have to spit out some small bones. Trust me, it’s worth it.

So that was the first night we bought the house. For me it was a nice, hearty yet healthy celebration dinner. I mean, I had mostly the dumplings, flounder, and veggies.


A few days later, my home repair instructor (Dad) came up to teach me some new skills. He’s pretty cheap as far as a teacher and plumber go – meals and a lodging. He even bought me a few tools. The night he came up we went to Ala Shanghai again for a quick dinner when he heard how close our new house is to Ala Shanghai. Yes, Albany John and I are now Living La Vida Latham. Spicy 8 Jewels as a freebie appetizer.


Crab Xiao Long Bao ($8). Very soupy, and very thin skins. Joe’s Shanghai – eat your heart out.


My dad has enjoyed all of Ala Shanghai’s dishes, but he has an especially fond place in his heart for their soups. He got the smoked fish soup ($8), which serves up a really hearty portion of smoked, bony fish. The smoked fish is quite the Shanghaiese dish. It’s very smoky and sweet for Cantonese palates, which are used to… some may say “blander”, but I will say “simpler” flavors, hee hee. Dad wasn’t a fan of all of the bones in the fish, and thought it was a lot of flavors going on. But those noodles and that soup broth – just perfect.


Bok choy for dad’s veggie choice of the night! Again, like the gai lan above, just perfectly cooked. Little bit of crunch, little bit of fresh sweetness, and very refreshing.

Flushing Lunch


I had to go down to the city for a friend’s graduation party. I kind of didn’t want to go, but you know. Social obligations and all. Albany John said I’d be a dick if I didn’t go because it was a big deal to the graduate. I feel like the older I get, the less I connect with a lot of people (or maybe, the more I disconnect with people), and I’m fine with it, but other people. Well, less so. I don’t know. I just don’t feel like there are all that many things I really get worked up about lately.

Any way, I wanted to go to Flushing for to check in with my Uncle and see how he was doing after Yeh-Yeh’s passing before going to this grad party. Well, I thought it was just going to be my uncle, but it turned out to be a lot of my family! That was such a nice surprise. He called my aunts, and one aunt brought my cousin and her husband (my uncle), plus there were two family friends, and it was great to see so much of the family there. My dad was on vacation, so it was awesome of my Uncle to reach out to the rest of my family when he heard I was coming.

Soy skin snack above.

We went to Jin Cheng for lunch on Saturday. That place is a ghost town on the weekend mornings, I’m guessing because they stopped doing dim sum. They still do lunch specials, but no dim sum. And oh my gosh, they are a million and one times better when they don’t have any guests than when they are busy. They also have a free parking lot – no hunt for parking. It’s definitely starting to grow on me.


Albany John wanted mapo dofu. Sqidgy, soft tofu pieces in a fairly mild (but flavorful) sauce.


Whatever the hell this dish is, I want two of ’em the next time I’m there. It was a simple, flavorful dish: rice cake slices (the chewy kind) with some preserved veggies and salty egg. Funky, salty, savory. Definitely a dish I can get down with.


Moar dishes.


Crispy Skin Chicken! So good we ordered a second half! It comes with this rockin’ garlic & scallion sauce on the side that you don’t want to mix. Kind of like Chinese chimichurri, except it probably has MSG in it.

Party was okay. Didn’t get much face time with the graduate, but the grad seemed to be happy we came. I think I am just quickly becoming curmudgeonly and not getting “kids these days”, even when they’re about my own age.

Sam Won Gak

The last time I saw Yeh-Yeh was when he was in New York Hospital Queens in Flushing, NY. He had suffered some more mini strokes and had an NG tube in. He slept for most of the time I was there, and only started waking up an hour or two before my dad, Albany John, and I left. There were flowers by his b

The time before that, he was in a rehab facility after his first stroke was discovered. He was awake, but didn’t recognize any of us, not that we could really tell. That really freaked me out. It made me anxious to see someone I love not recognize me, or his kids. He couldn’t even talk. After that visit I was probably more edgy, reserved, irritable, and anxious (or all of the above) than normal. It’s hard for me to know I’m unable to do anything to change a situation.


Any way, the last visit. I had stayed up way too late the night before (1 am, 2 am, 3 am?) having a pointless snip fit with Albany John. Later that morning when we woke up, I asked if he’d come down with me. Of course, he said yes. I’m glad I had the company in the car with just a few hours of sleep, and the support while we were there.

We got in around noon, and YehYeh snoozed for most of the time we were there. I found this very comforting. Like he wasn’t sick, and he was just tired. Some family friends/extended family were there, and left a bit after we got there. We had several hours just with YehYeh, and spent a few minutes in our chairs snoozing right next to him. I really liked that. No rush. No fussing. Just some time with my YehYeh.
My Dad & Auntie showed up later in the afternoon. Some time around 4 or 5 the potassium they were administering to him really must have started kicking in, because he started waking up and looking around. He’d look right at you. My Dad had told me earlier how he’d give anything just to have him around for a while just blinking. Man, I had that same feeling when he opened his eyes.

We left a little after that, some time close to 5:30 or 6 pm so my dad and Albany John and I could get some dinner. I kind of didn’t want to leave, especially because he had just opened his eyes, but it had been a hard day, and it was nice to have someone else tell you to do something, or to go.

We wound up at Sam Won Gak in the Murray Hill subset of Flushing. I had mentioned I could go for Korean, we drove around and found free(!) parking outside on the street, and Sam Won Gak sounded pretty good. Turns out, it’s Korean-Chinese fusion. They start you out with some pickled yellow daikon, raw sweet onions, bean paste, and kimchi as the banchan. Not the most plentiful, but not bad.


The waitresses were all older auntie type ladies, who worked together like an efficient military group. Sam Won Gak seems to be a hang out and drink kind of place, at least on a Saturday around 6 PM. Most of the other patrons were middle aged guys or older hanging out and putting away soju like it was their job. No rush, spacious tables, minimal decor. I’d probably like going here a lot if I lived here, because there’s more space than a bar, and it’s much quieter than a bar, too.

I forget what this was exactly called, but it’s basically like a Korean take on General Tso’s chicken, but less greasy/gloppy than the Americanized Chinese dish. But still a bit gloppy. $13 or $16 or something like that. A big plate of battered and fried chicken pieces in a lightly spicy cornstarch sauce with a smattering of veggies. The waitress double checked on wanting it spicy, and I was kind of bummed by the heat level. Didn’t even require a second glass of water. Flavorful, but not very spicy. Even my dad agreed that this was tasty, and not painfully spicy.


My Dad spent a few weeks in (South) Korea this past year. He was in a fairly rural part and couldn’t really get down with the food served in most restaurants because it was usually so spicy. He liked this seafood soup a lot, and said it was really flavorful, and nothing like you’d be able to actually get in Korea. It was something like $8-9 and came with a ton of seafood and veggies. Massive bowl, flavorful and light/non-greasy broth, and tons of seafood. I liked it, too.


Albany John went for the spicy crab soup ($9-10). Oh man, was that also a good choice. Like my “spicy” chicken, it was also not very spicy. Like, probably a 2/10 in terms of heat. Flavorful, though, and also a clean broth. A bounty of seafood, and plenty of real crab – no fake stuff here.

We drove home that night.

Germania Hall

Last night Albany John and I were looking for something low-key, but out of the house to do. We went over to Germania Hall for their Friday Night Dinner. Germania Hall is a cozy community association centered on German heritage. It’s like going to your German grandmother’s house for dinner (the service is so sweet & caring!). They have some rotating specials on different weeks. This week was Meatloaf & Sauerbraten.

You get the soup & salad bar with your meals. Nothing to write home about, but the soup was Manhattan Clam Chowder, with a lot of clams. Not too shabby.
Soup! Salad! Salty! But tasty.
Albany John got the sauerbraten. Fork-tender piece of beef, that tasted like apple cider vinegar was its main marinade. It was a little on the sweet-&-sour side for me, but Albany John loves apple cider vinegar, so he was really happy with this.
I went for meatloaf & potato pancakes. You can choose between either potato pancakes or mashed potatoes for your carb. Crispy pan-fried potato pancakes were nice. Bigger than my fist, and not oily or gummy.

Meatloaf was pretty decent. Good meaty flavor overall. And how can you say no to gravy? Meatloaf is one of those foods that is generally foreign to me – I didn’t grow up eating it, and I’ve probably only had it a handful of times in my life. I definitely find it an interesting dish.

Oh yeah, it also comes with a veg, and we both chose brussels sprouts. Kinda cooked all the way through and mushy, but hey, I’m not gonna turn down a veggie.
Twenty five bucks & two puddings and some coffee later, we were outta there. They take MasterCard & Visa in addition to cash. Can’t beat that for a three-course meal.

The rice pudding tasted homemade. Vanilla was on the instant/gloppy side of things, but just made me think more of grandma-style home cooking (kinda like the filling my English Nana would use for a pie). Was this a culinary evening to rival any others? No, but sometimes it’s nice to go out for some food made simply & with love. I’ve got a soft spot for cultural community centers because they help preserve customs (and meals!) of yore.

There’s also a breakfast buffet going this Sunday from 9-12. $7 for adults, something like $4 for kids.

New Orleans – Night

Our trip to New Orleans began with fast food take out. Look, I know. But waffle fries. C’mon!
Grilled chicken & waffle fries! Nom. New Orleans is only 3.5-4 hours from Jackson, MS. Not bad for an overnight trip. It’s like going to NYC from Albany, only with a slightly more debaucherous air.
I met up with my Brother-In-Law (in-law?), my sis-in-law Maka’s brother. He lives in New Orleans and picked us up from our hotel in the French Quarter to grab dinner at the High Hat, a fairly new restaurant. One of the benefits of tourism is having people drive you to awesome places.
The high hat had a retro feel inside – lots of wood.
Dinner menu was short and sweet, with a few specials on the menu board. The most expensive thing tops out at $14, so you won’t break the bank here.
Specialty cocktail of the night – Albany John got one. Good stuff. I stole a sip. I can’t remember what it was. My bad!
I got the two cat fish dinner. $13.50 for two whole catfish. So good! And a TON of food for one person, but somehow I managed, hehe. Coleslaw as a side, and greens as another side. Greens were nice – zippy collards.

Albany John got an oyster po’boy with okra and tomatoes as his side. Man loves him some okra. I still think it’s pretty slimy stuff, but he really enjoyed this preparation. I really enjoyed the fried oysters. Mmm.

Afterward, my awesome bro-in-law^2 gave us a tour of the area at night – local colleges, and all that good stuff. It was interesting to see how some blocks would start off looking all fancy-dancy, but have a middle section that was run down.

After that, it was time for SECOND DINNER! Bwa ha! We waited in line at Felix’s for some oysters for a short spell.

Bro & Margarita got a Jester – some kind of specialty frozen drink. There were billboards on the drive in touting it as the strongest drink in New Orleans. I stole a sip – reminded me of alcoholic Ecto-Cooler Hi-C.

I was intrigued by these nearly open air bars. You can walk around New Orleans with alcoholic drinks. It’s kind of like Albany on a parade day, but with less rioting.

Albany John held our place in line, and it had scootched up for us to get a neat view of an empty grenade cup.

Oyster shucking!
Once we were seated, we ordered quickly – Albany John and Margarita weren’t feeling savory, so they split a brick of bread pudding. Don’t put this on your bucket list. Interestingly spongy.
Bro & I were ALL ABOUT the oysters. We got a dozen char broiled. Holy moly! Order these, they’re awesome! $16 for a dozen deliciously briny oysters slathered in butter with some Romano or Parmesan tossed on top.

If you’re in New Orleans – get these, get these, GET THESE. The oysters themselves were lightly cooked, and oh man. So good. Charred and reminiscent of grilled beef – very meaty and savory things, these. Even Margarita liked them, and she doesn’t really care for oysters.

And a dozen raw! Their horseradish is on the table, and it’s got quite an addictive kick. So fresh, and not as pungent as oysters north of the Mason-Dixon line. Southern oysters grow quickly because of the warm waters, but don’t develop as much flavor. If you’re not a fan of Oysters in NY because of their pungency, give these a try. Same great texture, and a lighter flavor profile.

These all had bits of shell in it, though. Mildly annoying, but easy enough to spit out. No issues with shells in the char broiled variety.

It’s drinkin’ time! Felix’s is located right in the French Quarter, so there’s nightlife all over. These cherry bomb shots were $1. Good lord, I think they were made with a combination of tequila, everclear, and rubbing alcohol. Po-tent! Phew!
Here’s a place called the Rat’s Hole. So, story time:
In high school, my boyfriend’s parents liked going to New Orleans. They’d tell me about this place called the Rat’s Hole that was a fun little shop with Rat-themed shirts and souvenirs. They’d stop by when they visited for souvenirs. This is they story they told me.

Yes, they sold some shirts, but they also sold a whole lot of adult beads, and cheap ass drinks. It was neat to see it IRL-sies, and then be like, WAIT A MINUTE. They were out partying!

As it turns out, New Orleans is kind of a mecca for partiers and drinkers of all ages. We were probably on the younger side of the age spectrum, with a majority of people out and about in their late thirties through mid fifties.

Here’s a picture I snagged of their rat-related drink cups.

This was Miss Allison or Alice… something like that. She was directing traffic outside of two gay bars. And actually doing quite a good job of making sure traffic wasn’t completely impeded by pedestrians, and vice-versa.

We stopped in one of the bars for some people watching from the balconies – good spot to people watch from above.
Then We stopped in for a drink at the Tropical Isle.
Grenades! Albany John got a skinny grenade. Blech. Really artifical tasting. These came with ice or without. Wow, without is one potent drink I’d imagine. I went with ice.
I liked this old signage. Very cute. And hey, you can just barely make out our four shadows. We ended up hanging out/dancing in a clubby little bar called Voo Doo something or other. It was on Bourbon Street, but many of these clubs/bars are pretty darned similar – you can walk in with drinks, buy cheap ones there ($3 shots! Although Bro managed to find a beer for $6.50), and just dance around to whatever they have playing. There are… I wanna call ’em “hosts” in these clubs. Basically just a guy on stage that sings along into a mic occasionally with whatever song is playing, and act as host/DJ to keep the crowds interested and lively. The songs are on loop after a while.

I liked this smaller bar over a larger one we went to. At the larger bar the crowd was a little rowdier – one guy walked up and knocked Albany John’s drink all over me for no reason on his way out. Thanks, buddy. This smaller one had a little more character and a whole lot of people watching crammed in. Having one or 17 drinks too many is definitely nothing out of the ordinary in New Orleans.

It was quite a fun night out. We had to leave the day of the first parade, so we missed what I’m guessing would be some really wild nightlife, but still – great time overall. I’m not a big club/nightlife kind of gal on most occasions, but in general, the people were all generally happy dispositions. Your hotel might cost you an arm and a leg in the French Quarter, but you’ll break even on the cheapo nighlife and noshes.