Lay’s West Coast Truffle Fries

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

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!

Parivar Chaat

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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.

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

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Closer shot

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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!

Euro Deli and Market

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Since moving to Latham, one of Albany John’s favorite new food spots is Euro Deli and Market at 106 Wade Road Extension. The staff are super friendly, helpful, and always so sharp looking.

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When you first walk in there are rows of dry goods and shelf-stable groceries on the left. Pickled things, candy things, tea things, giant wafer discs.

There are freezers in the back with some breads (they have a few fresh loaves of bread, too) and vareneky and pierogi.

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There’s a deli counter to the right of the store with a bunch of cured meats, cheeses, and sausages. You can get them sliced or made into a sandwich. They also have hot food options that they prepare very quickly. Their food is so cheap! All of the food we ordered in this post came to about $20, and we ordered a ton of food.

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Even further to the right of the deli was a small dessert counter with paczi they brought up from a bakery in NYC (the person behind the counter couldn’t remember the name). Filled with prune and mixed berries.

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One grilled kielbasa (they split it horizontally) with hot sauerkraut and toasted rye. This is something crazy like $4.

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This is their big combo platter and it might be $7.99 (I kind of forget the prices of everything, just that all of the food we got was about $20.

It’s 4 pierogies (so tender and… pillowy perfection with a little crisping on the exterior), one grilled and horizontally split kielbasa, bigos, and a stuffed cabbage. Albany John loves stuffed cabbage, so he loved this. I thought it was a little heavy on the rice, and but then again I’ve never been much of a stuffed cabbage fan.

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Pancakes of potato with sour cream. So, so good! Crispy exterior, creamy interior.

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Borscht. A gigantic tub of borscht. Beets, carrots, and I think broad beans. Light, earthy/beety & peppery flavor to the broth.

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Paczi. We bought one of each of the flavors. These were likely a day old, so they weren’t that great. Kind of heavy, tough, and stale tasting. Still good with a cup of tea, but pretty dense things on their own.

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And a Maciek chocolate bar to wrap things up. I thought this was like a caramel filled bar, but it was kind of like honey with just a hint of anise/fennel/licorice at the end. Albany John liked it, though.

Wolf Rd Diner

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Went to the Wolf Rd Diner on a Sunday morning, at a rather busy time for them. It’s the diner closer to the airport on Wolf Rd (219 Wolf Rd, Albany, NY 12205). Coffee is fine for diner Coffee. Our waitress was forgetful and overall not that great. You’d think she’d try to remember our orders and get it right the first time she forgot something, but after a while we gave up trying to remind her about the stuff she forgot because she’d apologize, say she was going to get it, then get distracted with other tables and never bring us the thing she forgot.

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Any way, they use real butter on their toast (yay, not margarine) and do a pretty decent fry-up on the home fries and hash. The eggs were a properly runny over easy.

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Challah french toast with ham. Wow, that was super yellow. No maple syrup, only breakfast syrup. But plenty of butter, so that was good. If you get there before 11 AM (I think) you can do a breakfast combo where your meals also come with coffee/tea and juice. Grapefruit juice was good – not too tart or sugary.

I still prefer Bob‘s over the Wolf Road Diner, but in a pinch, this wasn’t too bad.

Easter

ShopRite had beef rib roasts on sale for Easter – $4.88/lb with the card (so this 5+ lb roast was <$30)! I got a bunch of groceries delivered to my door using their Shop at Home program, oh man do I love it. I'd ordered a 3 lb roast, but got a 5.5 pounder, so I decided to volunteer it for Easter dinner. And dry roast it. (Thanks for the advice, tweeps!)
Rib roast pre-fridge. I came into ownership of a small humidity controlled wine fridge. I’ve mostly got it stocked with lychee juice & coconut water, so I used the bottom half of it to dry out the roast. Yay, no funky flavors getting picked up! It sat for about 1.5 days before…
Salting. The exterior was dry, so I had to use a touch of oil to coat it was kosher salt. Then I tried using the prime rib recipe from Serious Eats. Low and slow for a few hours until it reaches 120F, rest, then blast at 500F for 15 minutes.

I got it to about 115/120 on my non-instant thermometer. Wrapped it up, then headed to my Mom’s for Easter.
We blasted it in her oven. The exterior looks mighty nice.
BUT EPIC FAIL. IT’S A MEDIUM-WELL (at best) ROASTED BEAST. :< Not the medium rare I was shooting for. So much sadness. Le sigh.

So much room for error:
Too much resting time.
Too much time being blasted in the oven before carving.

Not using an instant thermometer
English heritage coming through for cooking meat

Slightly less grey in the center. Sigh. My Mom was way too nice and kept telling me I did a good job with it, and that it looked very good. Man, talk about a Mother’s love, hunh? The only good aspect of this roast were the crispy bits of fat on the outside. You can never go wrong with crispy fat.

Interestingly enough, most of my mom’s guests were Hindi or vegan/vegetarian, so not too many people other than Albany John & my mom had to suffer through the roast. Although some griping about the grossness of meat was had. And I got to eat some awesome tandoori chicken & egg masala curry. It was a ridiculous amount of food for our group, and so tasty.
My mom made super fluffy mashed potatoes, and some tasty fried chicken wings. Nom! For dessert she made lemon meringue pie – reminded me of what Nana would have made.

Phoenicians Restaurant

Where do bloggers go when they’re near Wolf Road but looking for some place local? I’m sure you’ll all be shocked to hear that Albany John and I were hanging with Daniel B. one night. We got peckish, and I looked at Daniel and asked “So, where are we going for dinner?” When you have a fussy friend, it takes a lot of decision making out of the equation.

We went to Phoenicians – we’d never been and had heard some tasty things. Short story – it was okay, but I’m not sure I’d go back for dinner.

When we were seated, they had this non-alcoholic beer in a few different flavors on the menu – raspberry, apple… I asked our waitress about it, and she said she had no idea what it was. She showed me a display bottle, but it would have been nice to know things like what the beer tasted like, or if it was popular… Not just “Well, you can’t buy it at the grocery store,”
We left the ordering up to Daniel B. We got a bunch of plates to share. These are the tiniest dolmas I’ve ever had. At over $1 each, I was surprised by how tiny and exploded they were. They were about the size of a knuckle. I’ve never seen dolma so tiny before!

They were warm and quite lemony. There was a white sauce with them, but the lemon flavor overpowered it for me.
Daniel B said the baba ghanouj came highly recommended to him by a friend. It was okay – pleasantly smooth, smoky, and creamy; but the pita they served us was stale. The price tag was a little high for the portion, too – $7.99 for an app plate’s worth.
The spicy potatoes were a surprise. The menu listed them as potatoes with garlic, coriander, and lemon juice. What came out were some excellently fried squares doused in Frank’s red hot sauce. The fry job was commendable, but dude – what’s up with that description vs reality? This seemed more like diner food than a Phoenician side dish.

Wraps! With some pretty decent rice on the side. Falafel wrap is on the left, Kafta is on the right. They were kind of skinny.
Again, falafel left, kafta right. The falafel didn’t have much taste. I was kind of like “Hey guys, what did we order for the one that wasn’t meat? I didn’t taste much of anything besides the veggies.”


The kafta was savory, and the better of the two. The pita wraps were, like our earlier pita, stale. Pita delivery in this area isn’t a daily thing, but I wish there was a way to have non-stale pita bread when it’s not a delivery day.

The service was okay throughout the meal – a bit unpolished and kind of awkward. When our server was clearing our plates at the end, she started bussing up bits of rice with her finger tips. That kind of thing can wait for after a table leaves, and is easier to do with a rag/sponge than it is with your fingers.

I’d prefer to go to Beiruit in Troy for similar fare with better service (friendlier, knowledgeable), lower prices, and better food (flavor & portions). The three of us ended up leaving a bit peckish and underwhelmed.

Beef Chuck Roast

I got Albany John sick. I spent most of the months from late fall through early spring in various states of sickness because my immune system sucks, so I’ve kind of gotten used to it. But Albany John comes from hearty stock, so when he gets sick, he gets SICK.

Funny thing about Albany John – he doesn’t really like making roasts. He thinks they are unhealthy, and just too much meat for our small household to have. I usually cook roasts, but from now on I am demanding he make roasts, because this chuck roast he made was AWESOME. He picked it up from Roma, and he happily related that the butcher had to go back and custom-cut the roast from their side of beef for his order.


We just went back this morning to Roma, and the butcher remembered him and we told him how delicious the roast he cut us was. It was under $4 per pound for a chuck roast. Nom. So fall-apart tender and beefy. Chuck is one of my fave beef cuts.

We refrigerated the stew overnight. This morning Albany John was out exercising (the roast made him feel that much better – geesh!). I woke up at the crack of Noon and made myself some hash with leftover baked potatoes cooked in the fat I skimmed off of the roast. Waste not want not. Nom. I also tossed in some carrots and shreds of chuck near the end of potato crisping.

And a sunny side egg to boot. A brekkie Nana might have gotten down with.

Parivar Chaat

What’s better than Parivar Chaat (1275 Central Ave, Albany, NY) for lunch with another person? Parivar Chaat for lunch with more people! Because then you can try more of the menu! Parivar Chaat is the back hot bar area of Parivar Food & Spices, next to Grandma’s. It’s basically like the Indian version of the Hong Kong Bakery hot bar at the Asian Supermarket, except better because it’s got tables to sit at. Met up with my usual lunch buddies, Daniel B. and Little Miss Fussy, and also met up with the same new friend I had dim sum with at Ala Shanghai less than a week ago.

As you can tell, we showed our usual amount of restraint in ordering food (none). Got a dosa, which was a bit thicker than I’d have liked in the center, but fairly crispy on the edges. It had some potatoes and peas in the center. I want a never-ending container of the green stuff – so cooling and refreshing (it wasn’t mint chutney) and I want to slather it over everything I put in my mouth. Now.

We also tried out a “Full Meal” ($7.99 – elevated on the left of the pic, hee hee) because, dear goodness, it is way more food than one person needs. Two vegetarian entree choices, a huge plate of rice, two whole wheat parathas, a samosa, and a soup. Oh, and a dessert. I think the parathas are a little on the soggy and dense side. I’d like ’em a little lighter and crisper, but hey, bread carbs are still fine with me. We got an aloo palak type veg entree and… um, another kind of veg entree. I can’t remember, but they were tasty and had plenty of kick to ’em. No Americanizing of flavors or spices here.

We also started out with some awesome dishes. I totally forget what they are too now (Profussor, hopefully you’ll be kind enough to comment and fill us all in), but they’re about $4.99-5.99 and filled with AWESOME! Meaning some yogurt, tamarind sauce, and magic. The ones on the left are puffed discs that are broken on top and filled with sauces and topped with some crunchies (yeah, really helpful, I know). The flavor combo is awesome. The dish on the right are slivers of crunchy dough (like fried pita chips) and delightfully slathered with yogurt, tamarind sauce, crunchy things, and cilantro. Underneath are red onions and chickpeas. SO AWESOME. It’s nice to have on the side of your meals, because it’s kinda sweet-tart and cooling. A nice foil to the kick of some of the main dishes. But, you still have to eat them kind of quick so you can enjoy them when they’re crunchy and not soggy.

We three did about $35 of damage, so about $12 each. You take the receipt and pay at the register up front. Handy if you want to snack and do some shopping, or just order dinner/lunch to-go while grocery shopping – you don’t have to pay in two different places. I barely needed dinner (I still ate it, but… y’know). I think they’ve improved a lot of the lightness of their carb dishes since the last time I went, and I like that they’re adding different specials to their roster as well.