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!).

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!

Good Night Noodle

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The Good Morning Cafe is expanding to become Good Night Noodle, a pho-centric Vietnamese restaurant.

They had a gathering of local bloggers one night to try out some of the the dishes that Good Night Noodle would feature.

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I’ve been following Good Morning Cafe for a while, but never managed to get up there (as I am a horribly late person and I just don’t leave my house early enough to get to breakfast places). This was also an awesome chance to learn more about GMC and their commitment to buying locally, easily summed up by their motto of “eat good * do good * feel good”.

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It’s a clean, open space with plenty of tables. Now, breakfast is always problematic for me, but dinner is much easier to add to my calendar. Good Night Noodle is projected to open in April 2014.

The Capital Region as a whole doesn’t have too many Vietnamese places – there’s Kim’s, & Van’s in Albany (and I know, I know so are My Linh and Pho Yum, but both of sit on the high side of menu pricing), Saigon Spring in Clifton Park, and soon Good Night Noodle in Ballston Spa. And it’s worth the drive.

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Shrimp Summer Rolls – with the addition of red bell pepper for a textural crunch.

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Vegetarian summer rolls also with red bell pepper. Good Night Noodle prepares Vietnamese food a little bit differently than most traditional Vietnamese restaurants. There is more of a focus toward using local produce and meats, and 95% of the menu will be gluten-free (and that 5% will mainly be dessert).

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Perfectly wrapped spring rolls!

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Pho condiment platter of hoisin sauce, Thai basil, cilantro, limes, jalapenos, and bean sprouts.

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Quick pickled veggies in apple cider vinegar.

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Chicken meatball pho. This was an awesome broth. Actually, all of the Good Night Noodle broths are awesome. Full bodied and warming but not too rich or heavy, which tends to be my broth preference. This was rich with chicken flavor. This bowl would be considered a small and will retail for about $7 per bowl. There will be large options available as well for $10-12.

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The bowls from the Good Morning Cafe were a bit on the shallow side, and Good Night Noodle has an indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the start-up and initial operating costs of setting up Good Night Noodle. This will include deeper bowls for more broth in their pho, among other kitchen upgrades/purchases.

The chicken meatballs use toasted rice flour, coconut oil, and aminos (aminos in place of soy sauce). It’s a great spongy texture – kind of like a fish cake, but chicken-y. It’s an awesome addition to pho – delicious on its own, but also great for soaking up a bit of pho broth. Once Good Night Noodle is open there are also plans of a chicken meatball sandwich.

Ok, more on the broths – the veggie broth is SO rich, thick, and delicious I’m going to have a hard time picking which soup I’d want – veggie, chicken, or beef. Normally I’d just brush off the vegetarian broth and likely go for beef, but this vegetarian broth really gives the other broths a run for their money.

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Dessert! Orange Blossom Cupcakes, and the best vegan cookies I’ve ever had.

All Good Bakers Grilled Cheese


Tis the season for grilled cheese from All Good Bakers. It’s really a year-round treat, but the $5 Truffle Shuffle is especially comforting when there’s a chill in the air.

Cheese, jam, crispy toast. Yum. Chase it with one of Britin’s fruit waters and you have a nice light lunch or hearty snack.

All Good Bakers is also now taking credit cards! A big hooray from those of us who never seem to have cash in their wallets, and an especially big hooray for how they’ve been promoting it and encouraging their customers to use it.

Forno Bistro

Forno Bistro is an Italian-American restaurant in Saratoga Springs, NY. Don’t go there hungry. The bar is nice, though. I’d go back for drinks at the bar.


They’re a step up from Olive Garden and chain restaurants, but after my dinner tonight, I don’t really see myself wanting to go back again. I went with a few other folks. The pleasant was that they split our checks without us asking. They added in an auto grat. The service wasn’t terrible, but our server actively stayed away from our table and took a while to refill drinks – seemed more interested in padding the bill. One of our dining companions also had a food allergy, mentioned it to the server, and the dish came out with the problem food still on it. Who’s expo-ing? They gave the diner a little bit of sorbet while waiting for the requested dish to come out, but our server pretty much disappeared after that. I’d just rather have a server interested in my dining experience instead of how much their 18% auto grat is going to be.
The server also pushed signing up for their free dining club card and mentioned we’d get 10% off of all of our bills that night. We didn’t see anything off of our receipts when we paid, and when we asked out of curiosity the server mentioned that it was money that would go back on the dining card to be used as dining points at Forno at a later date. This was kind of annoying because being told we’d receive 10% off of our meals is way different than “10% of your meal is going to be added to this card that you can use eventually when you dine here and spend enough money”. It’s just a matter of goodwill – if your servers are telling diners one thing to get bonuses because they had people sign up for the dining card (I’m not sure if that’s the case at Forno, but in many other models, this is commonplace), and diners find out what they were told wasn’t exactly correct, it doesn’t exactly leave a stellar impression of your business. Do you want people to leave thinking “Wow, that was a great night!” or “That was nice, but…”

Ok, so, on to food:
Bread – there was one slice of bread per diner. They have olive oil and vinegar at the table, which was tasty, but I could have used more bread. Further requests for bread were ignored.Which was kind of a bummer, because my main would have benefitted with some bread. The bread itself wasn’t too bad. One of those par-cooked loaves that the kitchen finishes. In my FOH days, I quite enjoyed snacking on those types of bread.


I got an eggplant parm ($15). I like eggplant parmesan when I dine out because it is a royal pain to make at home – so much frying and THEN baking. The eggplant came in a rectangular dish (Il Forno has a fire oven they bake a lot of their food stuffs in). It was okay, but the eggplant parm I make at home is better. The eggplant slices were unbreaded and the whole dish was uniformly smooth and one texture. Mozzarella cheese, eggplant… it was all one mushy texture. I went to dinner hungry, and left not really full.

Albany John got a fra diavolo dish which was not at all spicy. It was okay as a pasta dish, but a few flakes of chili would have been nice. Something to add some heat to a diavolo dish.

Oh, so I liked the bartenders because they had a pretty humorous personality. I saw a liquor I liked and asked for them for a cocktail using it. That was met with the equivalent of a “Hunh, wuh? Um, okay…”, so I pretty much just looked at their bar and was like “Okay, add this, this, this, this, this, and this” because if I’m going to pay for a drink, I want it to be a tasty one and not a science experiment. But the bartender played it off well and was like “Hey, special drink I just came up with for you.” when he gave it to me. It made me smile. I’m glad I could think up a tasty drink on the fly, but my mixologist days are over. Sometimes it’s nice to just stop in a bar and be like “I like XYZ. Work your magic and do something with that.”


So. Overall, not a bad night, but just a “Meh Saratoga Yuppie” dining experience. I think I’mma have to check out some of Phairhead’s rockin’ Italian joints in Schenectady.

How to Get Laid (by pasta)

*Turns on sexy and cheesy music*

Well hello. What brings you here today?

If you’ve got a hot date and you’re looking to score, may I suggest… Whole wheat pasta with porcini ricotta filling, slathered in a brown butter brandy sauce. Yeah, it’s a mouthful, but… thatswhatyourehopingshesgonnasay.

Let’s cut right to third base:

Whole Wheat Pasta Dough
1 C semolina flour
2/3 C whole wheat flour
1/3 C AP flour
Some salt
2 T toasted wheat germ
1/4 C water
1 T water
2 Eggs

Mix all the dry stuff, then toss the liquids in the center. Knead until smooth, then let it sit for about half an hour to let the gluten develop.

Ricotta Mix
1 lb ricotta cheese
2 T powdered porcini mushrooms (like, 4-5 whole pieces put in a spice grinder)
onion & garlic powders
salt
Romano cheese

Make into ravioli. Either use a machine with a setting like I did above (I preferred the chewiness of a level 5 dough over the thinner level 6 dough, which was a little more tender). Boil, then make a brown butter sauce (butter, just lightly browned, some herbs, and when it’s all done, a touch of brandy – STEP THE F BACK, it will light on fire for a few seconds, and thankfully I was more than 2 steps away, ’cause I was ready to grab the baking soda and douse the fire out.)


The homerun’s up to you, tiger. I hear a bottle of Boone’s farm or Riunite really helps.

Happy BDay Albany John

Happy Birthday, Albany John! We recently spent a weekend fete-ing the birthday boy. Mama and Papa Amherst came over to spend the day with their baby boy. We went to Beirut for lunch in Troy (184 River St, Troy, NY). Albany John said it was in his lunch rotation when he’s in Troy for lunch, but less so than other places.

When he walked through the door he was greeted warmly by everyone in the shop. It’s a family business, and there’s lots of family.

“How often do you come here?!” I asked the mister. I mean, I know he said he came here every so often, but…
“Not that often, but they’re good,” he answered. Good indeed. That barely describes it. Just about everyone who walked in got the same warm treatment. I wish I had such a good memory!

Lebanese coffee. Loved the cups! Wow, acidic. It looked like espresso, but had a tarter flavor profile. Like chicory. I poured a ton of sugar in it, totally changed things up and made it tasty! I didn’t even need any milk!

We started with a large appetizer plate for 2 ($16). They added a few extra falafel for us to stretch it out for everyone. Tasty starter. I think this is the most expensive dish on their menu.

Some dolmas topped with garlic paste, baba ghanouj, hummus, pickled eggplant, salad, and falafel. Yummy. And those pink turnip pickles. So good! I want to eat a million of them. So tart and crunchy. The dips were super creamy, too. I think this might be a bit better than when Al Baraki was here, but then again it’s been a while since I’ve been to either.

I got the moussaka. Chickpeas, creamy eggplants in a stew. Oh, and UNLIMITED BOWL OF PITA! Really good pita, too. Totally helpful in sopping up the stew. Yummy. I liked it. Really flavorful vegetarian dish, and not too oily.

Lunch & drinks for four people was only $45 before tax and tip. Not too shabby!



Then mini golf. It’s not an Albany John holiday without mini golf. This was right before Papa Amherst took the lead and totally beat all of us.

Back home for lemon poppy chiffon cake. Recipe later. With lemony glaze. Poppy seeds galore! Hope no one has to pass a drug test any time soon.

Wolff’s Biergarten for 2 liter brekkie boots. $40 deposit, must buy $10 in food/beverage (recent-ish addition). Not too hard, and reason for me not to OD on peanuts (delicious, delicious peanuts…. mmmmm).

Lieberkase! I think! $9.95 ($10.75) after tax. Super friendly service – brought it right out to my table. Smoky pork loaf slice with a perfectly over easy
Caught a good game of footy on TV, then continued celebrating Albany John.

Love your scruffy face!

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.

Salted Vegetable with Soy Bean Skin & Edamame

I love the salted veggie with soy bean skin dish at one of my favorite Chinese restaurants. It’s a comforting dish that really adds a bit of greenery to colder months. I also like to think it’d got some cold-curing properties, too.

I found this recipe for Soy Beans, Snow Cabbage, & Tofu Skin Ribbons off of Food Mayhem’s site, and it’s super-duper easy and awesome.

You only need three ingredients. Seriously, that’s it. No extra sauces or condiments. Some mustard greens (or whatever kinda-bitter greens), edamame, and soy bean skin. (I got the soy bean skin at the Asian Supermarket – $2.99 for 8 oz). I’ve also used the dried thin sheets of tofu skin, too. Either way, soy goodness.

Okay, so there’s some prep work involved. You could half-ass it and use the salted preserved veggie packets/jars/cans, but c’mon. This tastes so much better, and so much fresher. It’s worth the extra time investment.

Wash and separate the leaves from your bunches of mustard greens.

Then give them a fine dice, or a rough mince and sprinkle them with a few tablespoons of kosher salt.

The dicing takes me the longest. But it’s so worthwhile.

Then after you salt it, you start mixing it up. Really work that salt in there. Give ’em a squeeze. We want to drain out excess water so it’s more like a pickle.

After letting it sit for about an hour, there’s extra liquid on the bottom. After this, I transferred the greens to a towel and squeezed it out to really wring out excess moisture. No need to be gentle with these greens!

Then it’s time to slice up your soy bean skin. Easiest part of the recipe. Open packet. Slice into ribbons. Done. One 8 oz packet of soy bean skin lasted me for two large recipes.

Then it’s time to get cookin! Add a few teaspoons of oil into your pan and let them heat up. Toss in some of the salted veggies. Sautee for a few minutes, just to lightly cook them.

After that, add in your tofu skin with some water or broth. You can keep it vegetarian, or add animal broth. I like chicken, but beef is fine too.This is mainly so the soy bean skin gets warmed up, and doesn’t stick to the pans. Just a few splashes is all you need. We’re not making soup here. Go lightly at first – you can always add more later.

Once that’s heated through, toss in the frozen edamame. Once they’re heated through your dish is done. That’s it!

Mmmm, gigantic plate of salted veggies and soy bean skin. I went a little heavy on the edamame in this dish, as you can tell. Whatever, still good!

Eat with some dumplings. Or don’t whatever. Sometimes I just like eating a big bowl of this stuff. So freaking good! Best of all, tons of protein! (for some reason, I never seem to eat enough protein)

DIY Sushi

I made some half-assed sushi for dinner last night. Brown rice sushi – even prepared the rice with vinegar and mirin. But the seaweed was being kind of a bitch and not sticking, so after being in the kitchen for a while, I was like “Oh, F this,” and just plated everything for DIY sushi (or conversely, chirashi bowls).

The half-ass rolls look kind of like weird hot dogs. I picked up some trout from the store and cut it into sushi roll cuts and lightly seared the outside just to take off any potential fishiness. Tastiness.
Some slivers of cucumber, too. And tobiko. And toasted black sesame seeds.

I am kind of digging brown short grain rice. It’s got a nice nuttiness and chewiness to it. More interesting than white rice, and not as dry, either.

Oh, and the stuff in the center was a salty veggie and soy bean skin dish. I loved it when I had it at Ala Shanghai and wanted to recreate it since they make their salted veggies in-house and it tastes so fresh. I found a recipe on Food Mayhem for Soy Beans, Snow Cabbage, & Tofu Ribbons that looked like a perfect match. Except I didn’t have edamame. And my bean curd sheets were more like shattered bits. It still came out pretty well, though. Definitely hit the craving for a deeply vegetal and comforting dish. Give it a try – very easy and very rewarding.