Whiskey Dinner at City Beer Hall

CBH 001 amuse popcorn

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

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

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

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

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

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

CBH Course 1 Winter Salad

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

CBH Course 2 Charcuterie

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

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

CBH Course 2 Drink Lion's Tail

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

CBH Course 3 Intermezzo

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

CBH Course 4 Manhattan

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

CBH Course 4 Wild Boar

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

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

CBH course 5 Jack Daniels Howard St. Scaffa

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

CBH course 5 Stuffed Figs

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

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

Friday Night Cookouts at The Cheese Traveler

The Cheese Traveler to Host Friday Night Cookouts

Where: The Cheese Traveler, 540, Delaware Ave, Albany

When: May 30th, and subsequent Friday evenings

Cost: Priced according to menu between $4-$10

The Cheese Traveler, a cheese shop which opened in Albany in September 2012 and was recently named Best New Specialty Food Shop in Hudson Valley Magazine, will host Friday Night Cookouts over the summer beginning May 30th.

The menu will rotate every few weeks and feature locally raised meat, seafood, and seasonal vegetables. The Cheese Traveler sells organic beef and pork from Tilldale Farm, Fish from Fin, and developed many relationships with great producers when they sold their cheeses at farmers markets over the last three years.

We want to consistently host events in the neighborhood to bring people together. We couldn’t think of a better way to enjoy summer than with the grill. It gives us an opportunity to feature Tilldale Farm and other small producers of local meats, some of the great products we sell, and Ryan Skrabalak, our chef, whose talent we believe is one of the gems of our shop.” said proprietor Eric Paul.

***Squee! I’m so excited for this! I love being able to grab a casual burger in the Del So and just hang out. I’m not much of a burger-making gal myself, but I will totally swing by when someone else is making them.– Albany Jane***

Druthers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat

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Most Friday nights this one cute couple I know hosts Shabbat dinner at their house. They don’t drive, and they leave a lot of lights on, and they fill the whole house up with love (and the occasional scholarly debate). And food. Oh boy, is there ever lots of food.

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Bread is a big deal, and the Mrs. usually makes the bread from scratch. This was an Amish sourdough bread.

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It was a little on the sweet side for all of us (a good breakfast bread), but oh my gosh, that crust was shatteringly crisp and divine. Love.

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Do you see all of the goodies on my plate? I didn’t even try everything! Salad, the best kugel I’ve ever had (gobs of cream cheese, juicy raisins, and plump apricots), lentils, roasted potatoes, and brisket in wine.

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So much deliciousness. I love being part of a family tradition, even if I don’t understand a lot of what’s going on.

Ladies Meat Night

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I’m normally not a “girls night” or “Girls Only” kind of person. But one of my friends is, and she wanted to have a ladies only dinner at her place. Steak dinner. Well, heck yeah. I’m in.

I decided to make steak tartare. I went to Roma right before going to her place and asked the butcher what the freshest cuts of beef he had were. They’d just gotten in some eye of round that day, so I got about a pound of that, plus capers, anchovies, parsley, and onion.

The mincing of the beef was what took so long. My hands are so hot, I had to make sure that the beef was properly chilled. But otherwise it was a pretty easy affair, and now I think I’m going to start making steak tartare more often (when there is beef fresh enough). I liked the lean cut of beef – minced up it was tender, and quite beefy.

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We had strip steaks for the main event (also from Roma – $11.99/lb). They were 10-12 oz each. They seemed so big when we unwrapped them.

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I wound up cooking the beef. A bit of salt & pepper rub, and my friend has a great cast iron griddle that was perfect for 4 big steaks. Seared on the sides for a few minutes, then baked for about 6 minutes to medium rare. If you can’t tell, we were more than okay with rare beef. I would probably cook them for less time in the oven (maybe 4 mins next time) to get a rare center.

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Danika made this rad grilled radicchio salad. It was great! I had never had radicchio before, but immediately put it on my grocery list after trying this deliciously bitter veggie. It was great grilled up as a salad. Smoky & charred with that bitterness, but still having a toothy chew to it. Man, that was awesome.

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We managed to wait a whole 5 minutes before cutting into our steaks. Near the end I realized that I should probably take a picture of the done-ness level. This was also before I got a new camera, so these were just on my phone, and eh, I didn’t do such a great job of it. But it was tasty. I think I like strip steak over ribeye now. Still meaty and delicious, but less fatty.

We also finished our steaks. Like ladies.

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Dessert! Papaya, almonds, some kind of cream, agave nectar, and strawberries.

Oh, we also had this red wine which was AWESOME and I totally regret not taking a picture, because it paired so perfectly with the steak. Wine & steak both complemented each other & didn’t interfere or overwhelm the other (sometimes I think the tannins in reds can seem to sharp when paired with a steak).

You know, I might just be down with these ladies nights if it means interacting with 3 other awesome chicks and feasting like royalty. And getting quality meats in is way more frugal than going out for dinner.

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

The Confectionery

DSCF5283 The Charles F. Lucas Confectionery is one of my favorite new additions to downtown Troy. I’ve been there a few times already. Go for a platter of their charcuterie. The 3 choices for $12 worked well as a hearty snack for Albany John and me. You can choose between cheeses and charcuteries, but we went with a meaty trio.
Hot smoked duck breast on the upper left corner, boar pate in the center, and duck salami on the right. The boar really hit a high note with my taste buds: can’t wait to order it again. Good texture to the salami, too. I’d probably skip the smoked duck breast in the future. It was fine, but since I’ve started smoking my own meats at home I make things way smokier than other places tend to.

The kalamata olive tapenade is next on my hit list.

DSCF5281The bread was nice – from Placid Baker. This is such a cute date night place, and even when it’s busy they are so nice about seating you and trying to find you a place to stay.

I love the idea of wine from a tap. I got a glass of red, which was drinkable and tasty enough, but didn’t really make me want to order the same one again. Maybe I will try a white next time.

Service was great – our waitress kept refilling water frequently, was pleasant, and knew when to come over just enough.

DSCF5256Here’s a picture from another (more casual) time when we grabbed a table to stand at. I really like that they don’t push you to drink at the Confectionery. Albany John and I were getting over colds when we went here and went for hot beverages instead of wine. No pouting from our waitress or anything.

Oh my gosh, the lattes ($4). So good. So nutty and sweet. No sugar needed, although they have a variety of caloric and non-caloric sweeteners available. The herbal teas are $3, and pretty generous as well. A pot is a bit larger than a mug. The African Nectar soothed my sore throat.

Desserts are from Sweet Sue’s just down the road on River Street. I like the truffles and the macaroons (only $1.50!), but the whoopie pie is a bit dry/crumbly and the filling is a chocolate buttercream. I think your best bet is for anything that generally stays moist and doesn’t risk drying out. I’ve had some of Sue’s other baked cake-goods and they’re normally really moist. But cakes can dry out after a few hours, and if you’re here, it’s generally later at night past when a bakery would be open.

Anyway, the truffles are snacking orbs for $1 each. I liked the white chocolate and lavender. And for real, the macaroon was coconutty and light without being too chewy or as dense as a paperweight.

Now where do I buy chalkboard plates? Those things are adorable!

 

 

Hot Pot

DSCF5189Chinese New Year is coming up, and what’s better than hot pot with friends? Not much that I can think of, especially during these bitingly cold winter nights. I teamed up with Celina Bean for a night at her place with Albany John, Daniel B., and some of Celina’s family and friends. In total, we were about 13 people, and had two hot pots going.

Albany John and I had given our new Rosewill induction cooker a trial run with Garnish and her hubs (it was a spicy and successful run!), and I was eager to test it out again.  I am in love with this induction burner ($59.99). It comes to a boil quickly, maxes out at 450F, comes with a pot, and now Albany John and I don’t have to worry about burning our home down with any other kind of burner.

Oh my gosh, this was a delicious night. Celina went to Fin for the fish. She got so much seafood! It was great! The squid really stood out for me. It was so incredibly fresh & beautifully briny! It held up really well to the hot and mild broths we had going. I will so be going there for more of that dreamy squid.
The shrimp were also awesome. At one point I may or may not have sequestered myself away with the bowl. Okay, there are no maybes about it. I so did.

We also had a mega load of other eats: mussels, fish fillets,  oysters, sliced beef round, sliced lamb, sliced chicken, greens, Fuzhou fish balls (the kind with pork stuffed inside!), tofu, scallions galore, enoki & shiitake mushrooms… oh, it was a glorious night of eating.

Now, there are two schools of hot pot cooking. One is that you dunk some food in and fish it all out eventually with your comrades, the other is that you put in what you want, watch it, and take it out. I like a combination of the two – toss in the foods you know that can cook a while or will take a while to cook – like greens, onions, tofu, mushrooms, or any chunks of stewing meat you may have; and individually dunk and hold in thinly sliced meats and seafood so they don’t overcook. Nothing is sadder than a well-done and squiggly slice of lamb or beef meat. You wanna hold that slice of meat with your chopsticks, dunk it in the bubbling water a few times, and take it out while it’s still got some color to it. Yum!

Sandor’s Party

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When this is the face that greets you as you walk into Sandor’s home, it’s gonna be an awesome night. As I was licking the grease off of my fingers, I couldn’t stop thinking how insanely awesome Sandor is, and how lucky I am that the internet brought our pork-centric minds (and bellies) together.

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This was an End-Of-The-World/Saturnalia party Sandor threw. Cookies ’round a crackling fire and peat make for a cozy and happy Albany Jane.
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One of Sandor’s pals was busy carving up the pig for the beginning of the night. I did my best to help reduce the amount of skin crackling. Like, 4 square feet at least. Sadly, my efforts did little good as there were leftovers. Many. Yum. Oh, but there was more than pork.

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Cured gravlox!

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Oysters! With treacherous styrofoam packaging. Hehe, I forgot their origin.

DSCF5084Sandor in action, shucking oysters. What a host. He and his lovely lady had been cooking all day, and so many more foods entered all of our bellies. So many cheeses. So many cookies. So many desserts. So much awesome.

The Dark Dinner

Last week I was invited as a guest of the Wishing Well Restaurant in Saratoga Springs along with some of their other close friends to try a new dining concept – The Dark Dinner. Guests gathered ’round for beverages (including a great Cava + St Germain) and passed nibbles before donning blindfolds and eating entirely in the dark. Executive Chef Patrick Longton created a fun menu for adventurous guests to enjoy.

The music for the evening was also curated by Burners UK frontman Jay Yager (you can check it out here on itunes).
Pork belly wrapped kimchi was a great little snack to enjoy pre-blindfolding.
And the ceviche was also a stand out dish. Fresh, great textures. It was almost as good as their luxe & buttery pate. Oh man, was that ever good. I think I had about three of them before realizing I still had a multi-course menu ahead of me.

After this, the waiters led each diner into the sectioned off dining room. It was lit with a few candles, but you had to wear your mask in. It was definitely an exercise in trust to put your hand in someone’s arm and have them guide you around a room. The staff doing so were very patient, though (and didn’t mind my occasional peeking from under the mask en route to the chair).

Bob Lee, the owner of the Wishing Well, and his staff made sure each and every guest was comfortable and addressed everyone by name.

Cheese filled puff pastry breadsticks were a fun starter in the dark. Inside the cups were mustard.
Nomtacular first course – Lobster, corn, & basil risotto on the left, and crispy lobster tempura on the right. It’s really interesting to be without your vision when trying a dish. I thought the tempura was shrimp, and the risotto was something with scallops in it. I might have to rethink my stance on risotto, because I finished all of this.

There were drink pairings with each dish. If you think trying to identify food without vision is tough, try identifying drinks!

A 2010 Tramin Chardonnay was served with the risotto, and Ichishima Silk Deluxe Junmai was served with the tempura. I’m normally not a sake person, but the Ichishima was quite smooth, sweet, and creamy.
The second dish was chicken galantine and linguine with pesto. The chicken was moist, and I found myself enjoying the red pepper flavor (which I usually really dislike). I thought the tomato was more of a grape, though!
Drink pairings were Cap de Faugeres 2004 & Bastianich Friuliano 2010
Lamb slider! One of the biggest “complaints” people had was that there was only one slider on their plate. Seriously, that good. Meaty and lamby – this was a comforting treat. I don’t think my slider had the decorative rosemary sprig. Either that, or I am really not paying attention to what I eat when meat is present. It was so good, I’ve decided that I need to make the trek back to Saratoga Springs with Albany John to try out some dishes at the Wishing Well in the near future.
An Ique Malbec was served as a wine pairing with the slider – robust and big!
Israelei couscous was a cold side dish with this, which was a bit clumpy, but tart and a nice foil to the lamb burger.
Blue Heron Pale Ale was the accompanying beverage with the salad. When everyone was trying it, we all knew it was beer, but what kind? Even the beer enthusiasts were having trouble trying to find the *exact* beer it was. If you can’t tell, these dinners are quite open to conversation with your table mates. You can also blissfully opt out of conversations if you’re the introverted type, because no one can see you or attempt to chat you up. But really, I’d suggest chatting – it’s fun trying to guess what exactly is going in your mouth.

Palate refresher! Peach bellini sorbet, which we weren’t allowed to eat until… Zardetto Proseco di Conegliano was poured atop. I loved this – not only was it a nice change of pace, but when you leaned in you could hear the bubbles fizzing with the sorbet.
The main was a mini beef tenderloin with a cheese potato croquette, and baby spinach timbale. A timbale! That would explain the light flavor & texture! This one was a real stumper – it was custardy soft, so I was thinking it was a mini crust-less quiche, or something eggy. I wasn’t imagining something so green!
The beef wellington was quite savory, thanks to the generous amount of Hudson Valley Foie Gras. I thought it was boar tempura! Haha. Boy was I off on that one!
And that potato croquette? Oh man, so good – very full of deliciously funky cheese.
I was totally digging the 2008 Hall Cabernet that was paired with this dish. It wasn’t so bold, and I thought it was similar to a lot of the gentle qualities that tempranillos have.
Dessert! These were four different kinds of truffles – chocolate & hazelnut, bacon & brown sugar, white chocolate & peanut butter, and POPROCKS!

I was in love with pretty much all of them. The Bottex Bugey Cerdon “La Cueille” was a wine like a hug, and a great way to end a fun meal.

Beverage pairing remnants. Each pairing was a treat, and really complemented the dishes they were paired with. I am definitely going to try some more sakes after this event, and am thinking some blindfolded drink tastings might be a thing in my future.

This was the first Dark Dinner evening, and I certainly hope it won’t be their last.


Photos kindly provided courtesy of the Wishing Well & Toque Consulting.