CNY at Hong Kong Bakery and Bistro

Gung Hey Fat Choy! I kicked off my Chinese New Year Festivities at Hong Kong Bakery & Bistro with a bevy of local bloggers. Daniel B. organized the dinner to try the set menu featuring two dishes he’d never tried before. Set Menu A was on our hit list.

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Seafood & Fish Maw Soup was up first. A nice light fishy soup with egg white bits, thickened with cornstarch. If you’re wondering what fish maw is, it’s the gas bladder that helps the fish go up and down in the water. It’s pretty flavorless. Overall, good light start to the meal.

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Next up was the fabulous salt and pepper PLATTER. My family usually gets salt and pepper shrimp, so this was a real treat. It featured (from bottom clockwise): tofu, squid, bait fish, ribs, and in the center… jellyfish. Oh man, I want this platter all of the time! It was great! Salt and pepper tofu makes tofu automatically delicious, even if you’re not a tofu fan. Salt and pepper squid is an automatic win (though these were  bit small so they got a teeny bit overcooked/chewy). Salt and pepper bait fish. This was delicious, and not something I see very often in Cantonese/Hong Kong cooking. IMO very under-utilized because these tasted fantastic – briny and simple. Just tell squemish people that they’re fish strips, nuggets, or more squid. They won’t be able to tell.
Salt and pepper ribs. Where have you been all my life? Man, if there was a star, this was it. Crispy exterior, savory interior. Yes. Total win.
Jellyfish is a CNY mainstay dish, and it was nice to try the s+p riff on it.

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Abalone course. Abalone slices over bok choy and shiitake mushrooms. Abalone is another popular Chinese New Year dish because it’s expensive and symbolizes prosperity. But overall it doesn’t have a lot of flavor going on by itself, so it picked up a lot of the shiitake flavor. I wasn’t crazy about the thick brown sauce over it, but I liked how tender they got the abalone. This stuff can be prepared differently, and I’m not a fan of the texture when it’s rubbery and not cooked as much. This provided a lot of give. You know it’s a traditional dish when it’s expensive and the best you can say is that it wasn’t tough.

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Lobster, my love! Gotta love double ginger scallion lobster. Coated in a light cornstarch startch ginger scallion sauce, this fried lobster is another mainstay, and I was surprised to hear that Daniel B. had never tried it before. I’ve failed him as a friend! This was a great preparation of the dish. The lobster was juicy and succulent, and chopped up to dig out easily. “Easily” is probably a relative term, as part of the fun of this dish is getting messy eating it!

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Crispy Chicken is another traditional dish. This was covered in a garlic sauce, but the garlic flavor was pretty mild overall. Mmm, adorned with garlic crispy bits, too. This is a great dish any time of the year. Juicy plump chicken, crisp skin, simple chicken flavors. It’s a real crowd pleaser.

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Ultra blurry pig feet dish. Another first for Daniel B. This preparation was a bit tougher than other versions I’ve had. I prefer softer versions, but overall the flavor was good. Rich and meaty without getting too funky. The pieces were chopped up into easy to grab bits to gnaw on. There’s a lot of gnawing in Hong Kong/Cantonese Chinese food culture. 20160209_203636

Dessert time! What a pretty fruit platter!

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Red bean and tapioca soup  for dessert part two to end it on a sweet note.

Van’s Vietnamese – Albany, NY

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!).

Mother’s Dumplings (Toronto)

Mother's Dumplings

Toronto was such a great city to visit. I’m still happily remembering my trip for my Uncle’s 100th birthday celebration. I’d heard Toronto had a big Chinatown with lots to see and do, and wanted to stay nearby. I booked an Air BnB reservation in the heart of Kensington Market, which was basically like a little hipster neighborhood in the middle of Chinatown. A microcosm in a microcosm (also, holy wow on hotel and rental prices in that neighborhood). It was cute and a great place to stay while on vacation. There was a ton of stuff to see in just a 1/4 mile radius, and even more to walk to within 5 kilometers.

One such place was Mother’s Dumplings on Spadina Ave. If there’s one thing I love it’s a good dumpling. Most reviews touted Mother’s as a must-try. The hardest thing was deciding on only two types of dumplings to try for Albany John and myself. We decided we’d get an order of 12 boiled dumplings and 10 pan-fried dumplings. Ah, the perils of being but two diners in a city full of treats to try.

They were out of lamb shu mai, so we went with a dozen pork and dill boiled dumplings. I never see this combination, so it was a must-try, and I’m really glad I did. I usually think of dill as an Eastern European flavor, but it went incredibly well with juicy pork and Chinese spices. Even soy sauce. I’ll definitely be making pork and dill dumplings of my own in the future. Seriously – a  nice bright punch of dill leaves really counterbalance the rich juiciness that good pork dumplings possess.
Mother's Dumplings fried

 

Oh. My. Glob. Yes on those pan fried dumplings.
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DO YOU SEE THAT GLORIOUS LACEY CRUST ON THOSE PAN FRIED DUMPLINGS??? DO YOU?

I almost couldn’t even. But then I could.
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We got the pork and shrimp dumplings for our pan fried order. Juicy pork meatball with bits of shrimp inside, made even more texturally appealing by crisping up one edge of the dumpling. These were well executed – each skin was nice and crispy without being greasy. Oh, that fine lace edge was just divine, too. The skins on both the boiled and pan fried dumplings tasted the same – a  nice and hearty, thick dough that complimented the rich flavors inside. Held up well to boiling and pan-frying.

If you’re in Toronto, this is the place to check out. Cash only. Condiments at the table. Fast serivice.

NYS Fair (and Ticket Giveaway!)

2015-Logo NYS Fair New Your State Fair

It’s summer, which means that it’s time for the New York State Fair in Syracuse! The fair will be August 27th – September 7th. There’s a ton of stuff to do and see. Did you go to fairs as a kid? What was/is your favorite thing to do? When I was little I LOVED the rides. and the NYS Fair has discounted tickets for $20 for a day pass to ride all you want (available here), which is a pretty good deal if you plan on riding more than 3-4 rides.

And FOOD. Let’s talk food. There’s butter sculptures to see, a ton of food to eat, and cooking competitions.

Did you know there’s also a parade every day at 6 pm? I didn’t. That’ll be cool to check out.

There are also special fair days like :

8/28 Pride Day
8/31 Dairy Day
9/01 Beef Day
9/02 Women’s Day9/03 Armed Forces Day (free admission with ID for active duty and veterans)

Want a pair of tickets to attend the NYS Fair? The New York State Fair is giving me a pair plus a parking pass, and a pair of tickets and parking pass to you, too! Add a comment down below about what you’d like to do at the fair! Use a valid email address, and be comfortable sharing your address over email. Contest closes Thursday, 8/13.

Fin for Lunch

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My BFF & sister-in-law Maka was up for a girls’ weekend while Albany John and his brother CVS went to Dippikill for a guys’ weekend. I took her to Vent Guilderland (aka the best Vent at the moment) for a spa day of sauna and massage table. Afterwards we went to Fin, which is right next door to Vent, for lunch. I grabbed a salmon cake on a croissant for like $8. I’m not sure where they’re getting their croissants from (they had a bunch of bread for sale from Bread & Honey in Albany), though it was a nice option for a bun without an additional upcharge. The croissant itself was tough and not very flaky.

The salmon cake itself was great. They had sold out of most of the salads for the day, but the sandwich came dressed with plenty of green, so it was almost like a salad with a croissant on the side. It also came with some garlic aioli, and while I usually detest mayo, it was so good I just pretended it was some magically delicious sauce that didn’t contain mayo.
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Maka got shrimp cake salad, which she thought was great. I also snagged a bite and really liked it. So good.There are some long communal tables at the front of their store, and we ate right there.

We both were incredibly pleased with the value of the lunches, too. We both had satisfying lunches with sustainably sourced seafood for under $9 per person! Who says sustainable has to be expensive?

Four Fat Fowl

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Four Fat Fowl is one of the new kids on the local cheese block. And oh my gosh, do you ever want to play with this kid. So far they’ve got one new toy on the market, and it’s a luscious triple cream called St Stephen. And 8 oz plop will set you back about $12.50, and let me tell you – it is well worth the price.
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Four Fat Fowl had a sampling of their cheese at The Gingerman a few weeks ago. The Simple Treat has a great writeup of Four Fat Fowl and what they’re trying to do. They’re still trying to raise a bit more scratch to make small-scale production viable and have a kickstarter campaign going on.
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Veggie & cheese sliders/mini sandwiches. Albany John liked these.
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Smoked salmon canapes with St Stephen cheese, radish and basil oil. I loved this combo, though Albany John thought the salmon blasted the delicate flavor of the cheese. I thought it was richness-on-fat goodness.

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Cheese, in its pure form. Carbs entirely unnecessary, though nice.
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This was awesome – a few different ways to try the cheese. A variety of honeys, some fruit, some veg.

I cannot underscore how lovely and creamy this was. And how fresh! It is easily my new favorite cheese, and I’m kicking myself for not picking up a wheel right then and there. You’ve got to try it. They’re currently being stocked at The Cheese Traveler and the Honest Weight Co-Op, though call ahead to see if they have them in stock as they’ve been selling very quickly.

 

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.

Pizza & Pasta at DeFazio’s

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It’s probably not a good idea to let me order for a table when I’m at DeFazio’s. There’s a good chance I’ll over order. Between 8 or so of us, we split a chicken pesto antipasto salad (SO good). For $11.95, this was great for a group and super satisfying.

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They had a special of white pizza with cherry tomatoes and balsamic glaze. So much yum. I can’t get enough of that delicious crust – so poofy, tender, and flavorful.
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And a clam pizza. So good, check out that charring on the edge!
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Pesto linguine ($12.95). How can you not love pesto + anything? So good.
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Spinach and garlic linguine ($12.95). Yum.
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Fettuccine Rosario ($12.95) was the only clunker. The sauce was good, but the fettuccine was a little undercooked and clumpy.

There was also a gluten-free pizza tossed in there. For 8 people this was a bit too much food, but super awesome to try so many different things. I think part of the charm of DeFazio’s is their inconsistencies. Today the pizzas were perfect, but the fettuccine was a bit hard. But the service is always friendly, warm, and welcoming.

 

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.

Parivar Chat

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Ah, Parivar. One of my favorite casual spots for a quick dinner. No need for reservations, and you can pick up ingredients from the grocery store part of the store on your way out. Pista Falooda ($4.49) is a great way to have dessert with dinner.
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Samosa chat ($4.99) on the left, Idili Sambar ($3.99) and Dahi Vada (4.99) on the right. The Samosa were fine samosas, which came with a big bowl of chickpea masala.

The Idili are delicately steamed rice cakes, and the dahi vada are fried lentil-based doughnuts. Yet despite being fried, they taste deceptively light. Coconut chutney rounds them both out.

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Some DIY Pani Puri ($4.99) on the left, and a bowl of tokri chat ($5.99) on the right.
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Paneer Dosa ($8.99!) I love the gigantic dosas here. But make sure you bring a bunch of friends to share like I do! I loved the texture and flavor of the paneer in the dosa. So good.
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Full meal ($7.99) two of the prepared dishes from the bar in front (okra and.. some other veggie dish I forget now) with a hefty side of basmati rice, dal, two parathas, one dessert, and spicy pickle and yogurt sauce on the side. The only clunker here was the dessert. A little overly soft, and the flavor is a little oily. Desserts seem to be Parivar’s weakness. Their savory dishes are a treat, but I’ve never really enjoyed their desserts.
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One of the Indian Chinese dishes. These tend to be really salty, and that’s coming from a salt lover. It is fun to have a little bit of, but so overwhelmingly salty that I would probably not order this as a single item to eat solo.
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Bread pakodas ($1.50 each) stuffed slices of bread and deep fried.
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Gobi Indian Chinese on the left, another delicious dosa!