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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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!


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

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.

CBH 001 Drink
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.

CBH Course 2 Charcuterie2CBH Course 2 Charcuterie3

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.

CBH Course 4 Wild Boar2

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.

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!).

Last Bit of Toronto Recap


Ah, Toronto. You’re going on my list of places to return to. Jimmy’s Coffee on Baldwin was around the corner from my Air BnB rental. Albany John found them and they were a favorite morning stop for us. They even made me a really tasty decaf cappucino (I was on a decaf kick for a while there). They also had a pretty tasty pecan butter tart, which makes for a fabulously decadent vacation breakfast.


Since I was staying in the heart of Hipsterville, Toronto (Kensington Market), I decided to check out one of their many unique food offerings. Bunner’s Bake Shop on Augusta Ave was just a skip away from my rental. The storefront itself was minimalist once inside, with an open plan so you could peep everyone making goodies in the background. They have a vegan soft serve which I had to try just out of curiosity. It was a small cone, about 3-4″ high for around $3. We’d probably call this kiddie-sized here in the Capitol Region.
Overall it wasn’t really my thing. It was icy, had a bit of a lingering aftertaste that was parts cloying and bland. I think it was an almond-milk based plain vanilla cone that tasted mostly of almond milk, which is to say, not much. Hard serve vegan ice cream has a better texture and flavor to me. It was fairly icy because of the milk used (coconut milk, with its higher fat content, would yield a creamier confection). If I were vegan, this would rock my world because I hadn’t seen vegan soft serve before. But since I’ve been eating dairy-based ice creams all summer I found this gritty and generally unsatisfying.


But thankfully Bunner’s is right next door to Dolce Gelato. Someone tipped me off to their pistachio gelato, and I had to get in on that (left). Oh man, was that ever delicious. They use real pistachios, and the flavor just shines through. This rich, toasty pisatchio gelato just hit the spot for a creamy, rich dessert. The pink grapefruit on the right was also a winner – tart, sweet and perfectly nailing grapefruit in frozen form.


And then I got a cold, because what else do I do on vacation? Albany John and I walked around downtown Toronto as much as I could (not much). We came upon a street fair and watched some buskers perform. That was cool. This guy was great, too. He really knew how to work the crowd and heckle rude audience members.


More walking called for some banh mi. Not as good as Montreal or NYC, but better than we have in Albany.


And a disappointing falafel wrap back in Kensington Market for dinner.

We grabbed some Montreal-style bagels at NuBugel on our way out. I like the size. They are a little more dense than NY bagels, smaller, and sweeter. Good for what it is, and something I’ll grab if it’s around, but not something I’ll go out of my way for.

I still hate crossing back into the US. The guards in Toronto were more aggressive than in Montreal. I wish the US guards would take a note from our neighbors to the north. The Canadian guards are nothing but polite, convivial, and generally nice people. The US border guards in my experience are usually aggressive and combative, as if they assume that you’re doing something illegal and want to catch you. The last time I had a positive interaction with US border patrol was over a decade ago. I just don’t see the point in the current mentality. Dude. I didn’t buy anything. I just went to Toronto for the weekend to see family and tourist around. No I didn’t buy anything. No, really, I’m not bringing anything over. Ok, did I buy anything? Yes, I bought dinner last night. And some chips at duty free. Which you should see since I have to give my license to check out at Duty Free. We could really be doing a better way of policing our border without coming off as stereotypical American bully types, you know? When I was at the 100th birthday party dinner everyone else spoke of how much they disliked crossing into the US because of how rude the US border patrol was. I am embarrassed as an American for this to be the first interaction someone may have when crossing the border, for this to possibly be their first interaction with an American.
The silver lining to this is that while the border patrol agents are more aggressive at the US/Toronto border, the line also moved much faster than Montreal, where I’ve usually had a 45 minute wait to return on a good day. Toronto was about a 20 minute wait. So I guess if I have to pick, I’ll go with ruder but faster border (ugh, one time I waited 3 hours in line to return to the US from Montreal. People were getting out of their cars and playing football on the side of the road).

Kuma Ani – AYCE

20151005_193834[1]AYCE (All You Can Eat) is an interesting concept. Pay one price, eat as much as you want. We’ve got a few sushi restaurants in the area with caveats that you eat what you don’t pay for, which is nice from a waste mitigation perspective. One of my friends has a theory that you should check out AYCE restaurants in the Albany area when they open and are serving the best/highest quality fish until they realize that people in the Capitol Region will settle for less. Which is kind of disheartening, but an interesting theory that isn’t exactly outlandish.

I recently went to Kuma Ani with 3 other people, and we went for the $20.99 all you can eat dinner option. They’re still fairly new and haven’t been open a year yet. LorreBob over at Albany Dish has a review of their AYCE and non-all you can eat options, and Susie Davidson Powell has a great write-up over at the Times Union of their meal options, too. The AYCE menu is a little smaller than other places in the area (no sashimi), but it’s also a few bucks cheaper than other places, too.

We arrived to a restaurant at about 20-30% capacity. A few tables, but overall fairly quiet on a weeknight. It took us about 2 hours to get two orders, with priority given to non-AYCE dinner options. We waited about 30 minutes from when we placed our 2nd order to when we received it.

We got a little bit of everything for nigiri – roe in the background, octopus, mackerel, eel, white tuna, yellowtail, salmon, and tuna. Nice presentation, but the salmon, mackerel, and probably the tuna should not have been served – They tasted fine initially but finished with a very funky flavor at the end, especially the mackerel, which had a strong note of ammonia in its finish. Not at all like a pungently briny mackerel should be. This was unpleasantly disappointing. The eel was good, but it’s cooked fish. White tuna was also fine.


Most of the specialty rolls were very rich affairs with kani/imitation crab salads, fried, and heavy on mayonnaise or rich eel sauces. We got every specialty roll we ordered, but a few of the normal maki rolls were skipped with each order.

The cooked/non-sushi appetizer options are small portions, except for the imitation crab salad, which is comically large when compared to every other portion size. It’s like a meal-sized salad of fake crab salad! I don’t like imitation crab so this dish didn’t really work for me, but the others in our party enjoyed it. One dish was the grilled squid, which were small pieces of squid with a heavy coating of old pepper – pass on that one. Also pass on the sashimi salad, which are end pieces of fish and not very pleasant tasting.

Overall it seems like Kuma Ani is ready to give you a challenge for your AYCE experience. Overall I found the experience a bit drawn out (who wants to have a 2.5 hour dinner on a weeknight?), and the food was really hit-or-miss, with more misses than hits to go back for AYCE. The regular dinner menu gets great reviews, so if I go back it’ll be to order off of the regular menu.

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.
Mother's Dumplings fried detail


I almost couldn’t even. But then I could.
Mother's Dumplings fried 2


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.

Toronto – 100th Birthday Party

Bday Party 1 Pig Roast Whole

I went to Toronto last month. Why? Well, that’s a great question with a long answer that starts with my dad. When my dad was a kid in Hong Kong, there were these families with kids the same age who he’d play with. After many decades, my dad reconnected with one friend, who immigrated to Toronto along with the rest of those families my dad knew as a child. This man and his siblings were throwing their dad a 100th birthday party, and, as my dad explained, he was practically family, so just consider him “Uncle”. And you know how Chinese parties are – BIG. You invite all of your family and close friends (and their families).

So I drove up to Toronto with Albany John and my little sister, for this “Uncle’s” birthday party. Hey, Toronto has one of the biggest Chinatowns, food’s gotta be good right? And I was also just a wee bit excited to meet these people my dad had known as a child. Everyone was so nice, and we got to sit with one of the “kids” in our generation at the table. And then I met her sister, and my dad goes “Wow, you two look alike!” and we both did a double take since we actually did look pretty similar in the face (I’m a little bigger than her since I’m only half Chinese). And her Chinese name is one letter off of mine. You know, I’m usually in the minority any where I go, and I guess it’s just something I’m used to. My siblings and I look a lot alike, but we don’t really even resemble our cousins on either parent’s side very much. So it was a very different feeling for me to see someone who looked like me. A new kind of fuzzy, if you will.

Okay, they do not mess around with 100th birthday parties in Toronto. The first course was crackling suckling pig. Each platter marched out on parade by a server, with sparkler and glowing LED maraschino cherry eyes.

Bday Party 1-2 Pig Roast SkinBday Party 1-2 Pig Roast Skin 2

The skin was so good. The exterior was crackly and delicate, yet substantial. The fat underneath melted away as you bit in. I haven’t had a suckling pig this good in years, if ever.

Bday Party 2 Shrimp 2 ways pan broccoliBday Party 2 Shrimp 2 ways fried

Next up was shrimp two ways – fried in a sweet-and-sour style, and pan-fried with some broccoli and garlic. Plump, briny shrimp. The sweet-and-sour preparation wasn’t my favorite, but the vermicelli basket was novel.

Bday Party 3 Fish cakes stuffed with scallop, asparagus, and roe 1Bday Party 3 Fish cakes stuffed with scallop, asparagus, and roe 2

This dish was a first for me, and one I quite took a liking to. It looks like a fish patty, but stuffed inside is a tender scallop. The briny roe made it pop with salinity, and man that asparagus was a great supporting character.

Bday Party 4 Birds Nest Soup

Bird’s Nest Soup – Yay! Not shark fin soup. Very progressive. Usually for a party like this shark’s fin soup would be on the menu.

Bday Party 5 Sea Cucumber

The womp womp dish of the night that wasn’t so much a dud, just a very… uh… traditional food that no one really seemed as interested in. If I’m trying to conserve stomach space, I’m going to give a little less to sea cucumber. Sorry, sea cucumber, but that’s just how it works. This was actually one of the better preparations – the sea cucumber was stuffed with fish paste, so it added a bit of flavor and a slightly firmer texture. I don’t think anyone at our table finished this one.

Bday Party 6 Crispy Garlic ChickenBday Party 6 Crispy Garlic Chicken 2

Crispy garlic chicken was a big hit at the table – succulent chicken with crisp skin – what’s not to like?

Bday Party 7 whole fishBday Party 7 whole fish piece

Whole steamed fish! One of my favorite dishes ever. This was great – the fish was cooked perfectly, and that salty sauce compliments the sweet flavor of the fish so well.

Bday Party 8 fried lobster

Ginger fried lobster – this is where most of the table started tapping out from all of the different courses. And where I ate 75% of the lobster our table was served. Oh my gosh, it was so good. Chopped into easy-to-eat chunks, covered in that delicious ginger-scallion sauce.

Bday Party 9 soup

And then I started tapping out once the wonton noodle soup came out. Fresh noodles, gai lan, and shrimp wontons. I had a wonton because, hello, seafood.

Bday Party 10 11 Fried Rice and Cake

Oh yeah, then fried rice, and then some of the birthday cake. Stuffed. Absolutely stuffed.

At some point in the night, my dad was talking with one of the Aunties, and it turns out that we were all related, and we were all cousins of some sort. Even more of a fuzzy! The connection requires a flow chart to explain, but the gist is that there’s a connection from 3 sisters from the same village. They’d previously thought that when the sisterhood was talked about, they used “sisters” meaning they were in Hong Kong from the same village on Mainland China. But nope, turns out they were sisters and most of us were related by blood at the party, and the birthday boy is actually my Uncle!

BurgerFi Latham – Sneak Peek

BurgerFi Storefront Latham NY

BurgerFi opens tomorrow at 11 am on 860 New Loudon Rd (Rt 9), Latham, NY. I was invited to a menu preview this afternoon. Overall I think it’s a good new addition – they’re a chain that sources from Meyer Ranch, which provides antibiotic-free beef that was never given additional hormones, grass raised and grain finished (best of both worlds, IMO), and none of the beef is ever frozen. I think this is a great direction for a chain to head, and one I see other chains embracing as well. Ethics aside (which is a weird phrase), the food is competitively priced and enjoyable.

BurgerFi Latham interiorThe interior is set up casually – order at the counter, pay, grab a table and wait for your food. They also have beer and wine, and it looked like some MMA style fights were on the TV when we were there. It’s easy for me to imagine biking over for a burger, beer, and a match if they wind up broadcasting fights.

There were some other local members of the media at the tasting. BTW, it’s really a thing of beauty to see Angelo Mazzone and Bill Lia walk over and talk to Steve Barnes, who curates the Tablehopping blog for the Times Union. If you want coverage, his blog certainly has the most readership/exposure. Also, he’s a nice guy with good taste, and someone pretty much anyone would want to talk to. Any way, social peeping aside, let’s get down to the food!

BurgerFi Cry Fry

Up first was the Cry Fry ($5.47) – a combination of their fries and onion rings. This is a regular order. You definitely want to share this with 1-2 other people. The onion rings are massive and massively delicious! Theyre beer battered in Coors Light. The breading is very light and crisp, giving way to large rounds of onion underneath. The fries are fried in peanut oil, and get the perfect balance of fluffy/poofy/creamy interior and crisp exterior.

BurgerFi Urban Style Fries 2

Up next were the Urban Style Fries, and I believe (hope) that these were the large portions. Because dear god, they were massive. There are two servings pictured above, and 3 people could barely put a dent in one of them. Urban style fries  are their regular hand-cut french fries with parmesan cheese, herbs, and garlic aioli. I’m not normally a mayo/aioli fan, but these were delicious. Just the right amount of garlicky creaminess atop the fries (they weren’t swimming in it), and a nice sprinkling of parmesan that stuck to the fries.

BurgerFi Urban Style Fries

Seriously massive, right? But also seriously good.
BurgerFi CheeseburgerAnd then it was time to try the burgers! First up was the BurgerFi Cheeseburger, which is two patties, american cheese, lettuce, tomato, and BurgerFi sauce. This reminded me of a ShackBurger. Actually, when you first walk in, you’ll probably notice some similar vibes from Shake Shack and BurgerFi.

The meat was good – the patties are just under 4 oz (pre-cooked weight), and cooked all the way through. They maintain a good amount of moisture and flavor while being cooked all the way through. Texture-wise, the grind is a pleasant medium or small/medium (depending on how you look at it).

BurgerFi Breakfast All Day Burger

The Breakfast All Day burger is one patty, American cheese, hickory bacon, maple syrup, a fried egg, hashbrown patty, grilled onions, and ketchup. I love that runny egg. It’s really nice to see a chain restaurant not cooking an egg yolk all the way through before it goes on a burger so you get that golden goodness all over the burger.

This wasn’t my favorite type of burger, but if you’re a bacon-on-everything person you’ll like it. For some reason I just prefer my breakfast as breakfast and not on other stuff. Oh, and the maple syrup wasn’t too cloying. Very subtle.
BurgerFi The Twenty-Eight BurgerThe Twenty-Eight is the burger you want to order if you can only try one thing. Oh my gosh, so good. And I’m glad they saved this for last. It packs a mighty whollop of umami in the very best way. The burgers on the Twenty-Eight are from brisket dry aged for 28 days. The patties have a little more funk, just the right amount of blue cheese in between the burgers, and the pickles are add a great crunchiness.
BurgerFi VegeFi BurgerWe also tried the VegeFi Burger. It’s made of quinoa, lentils, and veggies, and topped with cheddar cheese, tomato, and BurgerFi sauce with a lettuce “bun”. The whole patty is fried, so it pretty much tastes like a big pakora/lentil fritter. The lettuce are squares of iceberg lettuce.

BurgerFi Chicago Style Wagyu Beef Hot DogChicago Style Wagyu Beef The hot dog itself has a nice little snap/pull to the case and a good beefy flavor. This is a little different than your typical Chicago style hot dog – the pickle and tomatoes are in slices instead of wedges, which makes for a different kind of chew/bite.
BurgerFi Red Velvet ConcreteDessert! We tried the Chocolate Shake (not pictured) which had a lot of dark chocolate flavor and wasn’t a complete sugar bomb. A very grown up shake.
We also tried Red Velvet Concretes, which are very thick vanilla custards with layers of red velvet cake. You’ll want to split your concrete with at least 1-2 other people. They are incredibly delicious and rich. The vanilla custard is really good. Lots of rich egg yolk flavor and vanilla. Frozen custard is more popular in the south – it’s nice to have a place nearby to grab some.

Overall, I think it’s a good addition to the fast food options in the area. It’s family friendly, cares more about animal welfare than other mainstream chains (change has to start somewhere), and has a tasty product. Hopefully the quality I tried today holds up to the test of time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go patronize another Lia-owned business and put some of this food to use!

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.


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.

Bolani – $2.99 per order. Okay, but not something I’d *have* to get again. Veggie filled fried thing.

Lamb gyro (thanks for the love in the background, darling!) $5.99.

Blurry gyro over rice ($6.99) platter.

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 …

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.

The Tomato Pie Tour

Last weekend Jon in Albany and his two kiddos drove down to Princeton with me to eat as many tomato pies with Daniel B. as we could. The tomato pie is native to NJ. It is a dainty, delicate pizza compared to NY-style pizzas. The crust is incredibly thin, and the main star of the pie is the tomato, which usually plays second or third fiddle to the other components of a pizza (crust, cheese) in NY.

It was a whirlwind trip full of tomato pie goodness. I’m lucky to have such awesome folks in my life who are willing to ditch their real lives and go have foodventures with me.

Jon’s write up is here. Daniel B.’s is here.

A ton of pictures below:


First up was Gennaro’s. This was probably the most upscale setting of the tour. Cloth napkins, and waiters dressed in blacks.

We were some of the first customers of the day. Gennaro’s had the best tomatoes of the day (to me). So freshly sweet without seeming cloying. Jon took an “accidental” detour through the kitchen and saw that they were using canned tomatoes. We would all love to know how they got them to taste so fresh.


Crust was okay. A nice and crackery crust. Overall, this was a solid example of tomato pie and probably my favorite of the day if I had to pick one.

Halo Pub was literally right next door, so we made a stop in. You may have read Daniel wax poetic about this place, and it really is a well-priced gem. I would really love to get a look at their business plan and financials. I am really intrigued by how they can stay in business with the quality they have, overhead, and such low prices.


The Halo Pub van, restocking the ice cream stores from the farm. Golden cow on top. Sadly, I opted against ice cream since I saw they had soft serve, which they make on the farm, but it had just opened so it hadn’t had a chance to freeze and solidify.

Pizza stop # 2 was good old Papa’s.

Daniel and I were able to cross off the (half) anchovy mustard pie off our bucket lists. Mustard pies are a specialty of Papa’s, and well… I was imagining something different in my head. The reality of this pie is a swirl of mustard around the crust, and then the toppings laid as normal. I don’t really see the appeal, or what it really adds to the pie. It was something different to try for certain.

The mustard with anchovy was pretty decent, but the mustard pie plain/just cheese was pretty ho-hum. I don’t need to try it again.

Half sausage, half plain. This came out a bit more burnished than the mustard pie. I brought some home for Albany John, and he declared the sausage very good as well. Papa’s reheated the best out of all of the tomato pie’s.

Corleone’s. Oh, Corleone’s. Clunker. Skippable. Friendly folks, but not very good pies.

Well, okay, their pizza was decent if a bit lackluster. Guess who was in charge of ordering and completely screwed it up and ordered a pizza? (WHAT? I’m from New York! It’s a reflex!).

The deep fried calzone was on the list, though. $6.95, and the fried calzone came out looking like a burnished football.

Daniel B stabs at it to divide it up.


Full of ricotta, and a bit of mozzarella. I could have used a bit more mozzarella, as it was fairly heavy on the ricotta. But the fry job was spot on and deceptively light and ephemeral in an “oh god, this cannot be healthy” kind of way.

The menfolk and the children tapped out after a few bites, so I ate a little over half of a football of fried calzone by myself. What? I love cheese and fried things. It wasn’t the greatest thing in the world, but it was pretty darned good for what it was.

And then the tomato pie came out. Weaksauce. The tomatoes were too sugary-sweet, and the crust had major tip sag (as in, couldn’t even get it flat, so soggy and sad). Very bland, too. This reheated very poorly and when reheated the cloying sweetness in the tomatoes became more pronounced.

But I was drunk on deep fried calzone, and as I bade farewell to the counter dude, he told me I’d be ready for a nap. 10 minutes later I was glad Daniel B was hauling us around.

But thankfully we made a stop at the Yardley Ice House for some water ice. Which is like Italian ice, but with a finer grain.

I went with a “small” key lime pie. I don’t know how people can eat more than a small. It was tart, sugary, and refreshing. Enough to perk me and my growing pizza baby of a stomach up.

The final stop of the tour was La Villa, which served more of a PA-style tomato pie.

Rather garlicky, but pleasant in its own right. I don’t think I’d call it a true tomato pie like the Trenton/NJ pies are, but it was a good one.

I can’t believe how full I was after only a few stops, but then again, I did eat over half of a massive deep fried calzone on my own. I am blaming that calzone for taking up way too much space in my stomach and not leaving more room for pies.

This trip was just what I needed to recharge my batteries. Getting out of town for a day, doing something crazy with friends (don’t tell me it’s sane to decide to drive 8 hrs RT in one day to go eat some tomato pies). It’s just fantastic being around other pizza obsessives and, well, geeking out over the variations and nuances of each pie. I’m more of an introvert than an extrovert, but when you’re around people all day who have a lot of the same passions that you do, well, it’s just so darned refreshing. Extroverts, I think I kind of get part of what makes you tick.

The drive, aside from being long, was actually really easy. No traffic either way, and Jon was an awesome navigator and brought his GPS (and also cheddar bunnies! which are as tasty as they are adorable), which came in handy when my phone decided to crap out after leaving the 518 area code and take forever to do anything (oh, phone…). The kids were angels. Seriously. Parents like Jon & Daniel (and their respective partners) make me entertain the possibility of caring for some small human child in the future.