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.

The Greek House

Albany John was raving about The Greek House (27 3rd Street, Troy, NY) to me, and took me out for dinner. He’s in Troy quite a bit for lunch and has enjoyed a few lunches at The Greek house.
Inside is cute – clean, blue colors and some pylons.

A sort-of-open kitchen. Food comes out on the counter from the kitchen. The guys working the line wear gloves, and they seemed pretty about cleanliness on the whole.

Started out with a taramosalata appetizer. I love that fish egg dip! The pita bread was oiled up and grilled/toasted a bit. Think fluffier pita bread vs. 2-layer pita bread.

Beet salad! I was excited to try this, since they said it was marinated beets. It tasted like sliced beets out of a can with some olive oil and salt/pepper. Ho-hum. Not very exciting, and if they weren’t out of a can I’d be very surprised. I was hoping for some fresh beets that had been roasted & marinated.

I got an avgolemeno soup. It was a big bowl, but could use a little reworking. Tasted a little too semi-homemade for me, and more like it had been reheated in a microwave and not fresh out of a pot. Broth tasted like it was from a box/can, orzo tasted gummy and overcooked (like it was good when it was fresh, but had been microwaved). I don’t like my own leftovers, and I’m not a super huge fan of getting served (and charged) food that tastes like leftovers at a restaurant.

Albany John got a pork souvlaki. The meat was really tough. I normally love food that is described with the words “gristle” and “chew”, but whatever cut this was needed to be sliced/chopped up more, because it was really difficult to eat. It was either Eat-a-HUGE-piece or try-to-gnaw-off-a-piece style of eating. The pita also could have been greased/oiled up a little less.

Okay, so this might seem silly, but I thought their ice cubes were really cute. Like little Pac Man ghosts.

Service was beyond friendly. While my meal wasn’t that great, I’ll give them a few weeks/months to work the kinks out and try again, just because their service was so nice and I want to see them succeed. At one point, I was telling our waitress (who I think was also an owner) that she could take her time with us, and not to worry about the little things or hurrying things up. Her response was “Well, no, no. Because you should have good service, and I want you to have a great meal, and I really want you to enjoy your time here.”

Golumbki from Old Polish Deli

After hitting up the markets of farmers on Saturday, I decided to drive around Watervliet, NY. It’s across the Hudson River opposite downtown Troy, and just a wee bit north of Menands.

I’ve been in the area a few times at night, and noticed Tri-City Food (616 3rd Ave, Watervliet, NY), with signange about discount food. I was luckily there when they were open on Saturday. I found the whole place to be a bit underwhelming. It was a deli on one side, and an order form in an office for other foods plus a few specials on a board on the other side. For the most part the foods were bulk, processed, or both. There were some veggies, but overall it seemed kind of like a Deli Warehouse, only smaller, with less fresh produce, and in Watervliet. To their credit, their items were incredibly cheap, just not something I would find myself buying – pork spareribs, 6 packs of frozen pizza, hot pockets, stuff like that.

But I also saw the Old Polish Deli (600 3rd Ave, Watervliet, NY. 518-326-0943) and was pleasantly surprised with what they had to offer. It was a small store, and had about the space of a small convenience store. There was a deli case with a few meats and cheeses in it, some dry goods, pickles and jarred goods, and a small fridge section.

The owner working was very friendly, and I overherd him talking about his golumbki to two other customers with such pride. He said that he made them himself, with good all natural beef, rice, cabbage leaves, and his own tomato sauce. I know all natural is kind of a toss-out word now, but hey, it made me think that he wasn’t buying from the Tri-City Foods down the road. And besides, when I hear someone with so much pride about something they make and describe it so lovingly, well… I have to try it. I got two for $5 ($2.50 each), and they were quite large.

I also got some smoked swiss ($7.95 per lb) which is super awesome. I think Swiss cheese is kind of bland normally, but oh man does smoking up the flavor profile. Oh, and some pierogies that I haven’t tried yet.

Albany John has made golumbki (golumpki?) before, and… well, I was not a fan of this food before. But I figured that he would like trying them, which is why I got two. And dudes, they were so good that even I liked them. (Sorry Albany John, but your golumbki were no match for these)

They were very large, and just the right texture. The cabbage was soft and pliable without getting that gross farty, soggy cabbage thing going on when they get cooked too much, which is only a little better than when they aren’t cooked enough and are too crunchy. But this cabbage was great. The rice and beef were also tender. I think Albany John didn’t cook his rice long enough, because these were fat little grains of rice, not too much or too little, and full of flavor. Not just white rice mixed in with some ground beef. Overall, it was lots of beefy, meaty flavor, and the grind was just coarse enough that rice and beef melded together.

The sauce was also a knock-out, too. Tart and tangy, it went so well to offset the heaviness of the golumbki itself. What might look like a lot of sauce in a container turns out to be just the right amount to have each bite slathered with tomato sauce.

They are closed Monday and Tuesday, but open Wednesday through Sunday. I forget the hours, but if I can remember to scan their menu in, I will. There was some crazy awesome looking plate deal that was $7.50 for 2 golumbki, pierogies, some meat, and rye bread.

Stuyvesant Plaza Chipotle Opening

Chipotle opens Tuesday, August 31st (tomorrow) in Stuyvesant Plaza (1475 Western Ave, Albany, NY). Hours of operation will be from 11 am – 10 pm daily, and their phone number is 518-459-1025

Chipotle will also be accepting SUNY Albany’s Podium Account cards. If I were a SUNY student, I think I know where I’d be spending all of my podium money.

As Steve mentioned, they will not be doing a free burrito day giveaway open to the public to mark the opening due to the crowds experienced at previous openings. Albany John and I were able to stop by as guests of Chipotle during their preview today. It is only open to those with previous physical invites (generally given to their neighboring businesses). Or lucky local bloggers.

Albany John got their beef tacos with hot sauce on them. So good. I wouldn’t suggest tacos to some office workers nearby (dudes, how many offices are near Stuyvesant Plaza? Looks like quite a bunch). It could be a messy situation. Get a burrito. Neat, and all wrapped in that yummy soft shell.

We also got chips. I got a side of guac, and he got a side of corn salsa. According to the calorie counts (on every menu), each baggie of chips is enough for two people (570 calories total). I don’t care. These chips were a little on the salty side, but the lime flavoring on them is so addictive, with or without guacamole. The guac was cream, fresh, vibrantly green, and had some nice sized chunks of avocado mixed in.

I got a burrito with half beef AND half chicken. Mild salsa, sour cream, and guac. When I got the guacamole, the person behind the line informed me that it would normally be an extra $1.85, except today everything was free. I thought that was a good way to inform the public. Nice, polite, and sure to avoid confusion in the future.

I also got a soda. Normally I don’t order sodas in fast food spots, but hey, it was free! And guess what? They had COKE FREAKING ZERO ON TAP! Woah, nice surprise. I am pretty indifferent to most carbonated drinks, but my achilles heel of soda is Coke Zero.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have to tell you how great my burrito tasted. Okay, I will – creamy goodness!

Beef and Pork burritos, bowls, and tacos cost $6.50 each. Chicken and vegetarian (black beans and guac) ones are $6.10. And don’t forget that they’ll also make you anything you ask them to with ingredients they have on hand. I’m pretty uncreative in that field, but I’m sure you could come up with some neat combos (have you?).

The set up of the store is pretty neat – there are low metal-topped counters lining the front windows with cushioned stools to sit at. There are other tables and chairs, but I thought this was the coolest seating. In comparison to the Clifton Park and Latham Chipotle stores, the Stuyvesant Plaza Chipotle is a smaller store with has less seating.

I think tomorrow I’ll stop by and see how they are doing on opening day. And I’ll probably buy a burrito bowl, since I usually only get burritos. But it will be hard to veer off of the burrito path. They’re so good.

Chipotle Media Tasting

I was invited to a media tasting for Chipotle’s Latham, NY store opening by Katherine of KNS Promotion, Inc. I’m pretty sure she said she’s opened 33 Chipotle stores this year! Impressive!

And so, last night I dressed up and headed out to 2 Wade Road, Latham, NY. I’ve never been to a Chipotle before, but have heard good things. I don’t drive up to Wilton, NY, um, ever, so I haven’t been to that Chipotle. I was intrigued by the all natural meats, and the thought of another burrito/tex-mex place in the area.

It was a pretty small turnout of three: Daniel B, Kristi G (of the Times Union), and me, but we were still given a very comprehensive tour of the place.

I won’t get into the semantics of the building, suffice it to say, it was built as “Green”ly as possible, and the layout is simple, open, and minimalist. I liked it.

Now on to the food!

We got samples of everything behind the line on metal platters, and with papers underneath saying what we were eating. Katherine also explained everything and answered all of our questions. Daniel B was quite the tiger that night – spitting out questions about production, etc, left and right. I’ll leave him to explain all of that. He’s much better at it than I am.

Here’s what we got to taste, in order:

Cilantro-Lime Rice. It’s long grain rice that has a bright, lightly tangy flavor. The cilantro and lime are in really nice proportions and make the rice taste a bit different, but not too much flavor of one or the other. Salty in a good way. There’s soy oil in it. I thought it was butter – it tasted so buttery. So this is actually vegan. I’m not a big rice fan, but I was wondering if I could just eat a side of this… really good.

Beans! Black Beans are vegetarian, cooked with some adobo, which made them nicely smoky with a bit of a kick. Soft and creamy, these are pre-soaked for 24 hours ahead of time (the store gets them pre-soaked as there’s not enough space to do so here) and then cooked in the store.
The pinto beans, Mr. Dave, you are going to love. Bacony goodness. These are definitely not vegetarian as there’s bacon cooked with them, and you can certainly taste it. There was a little bit of a tangy aftertaste. Slightly smoky, and very creamy in texture.

Peppers & Onions. I don’t think these were bell peppers – I think they were poblanos. Can you guys back me up on this one? Either way, they were cut in the store, and lightly grilled with a little oregano, salt, and pepper. I loved it. They were so lightly cooked – with just a char so they were still crunchy-crisp and juicy. Even the peppers tasted good, and I usually hate peppers of all kinds.

Meats! All of the meats in New York State are naturally raised, and fed on a vegetarian diet.
Grilled Chicken. Made with all dark meat, this store receives thigh/leg meat from Bell Evans. It’s marinated in store and was very tender and juicy. It was a little smoky and nicely charred from the grill. Serving wise, it was cut into cubes, not shredded. This was my favorite meat of the night. I can’t even believe that. I’m usually a pork girl. It was just. So. Good.
Carnitas – shredded pork and was mildly spicy. I wasn’t as big of a fan of this. Something in the seasonings just didn’t really hit me the way the chicken did. Don’t get me wrong, it was still incredibly moist and definitely worth a try.
Barbacoa. Shredded beef. Slightly spicy with enough kick to keep you going back for more. The juices had a little bit of fat in it. I couldn’t help but think that this was a leaner and slightly better tasting version of something at Capital Q.
Grilled Steak. HOLY MAMA, SPICY. That’s for us spice-wusses. The rest of you mortals should be able to handle it. While it was spicy, I didn’t just taste heat. The steak itself was really tender and juicy (it was served cut up into a dice / square bits). I realized after a little while that it was because the steaks were reddish in the center! Yes folks, Chipotle said they try to pull the steaks when they reach medium-rare and keep it around medium to serve. Sometimes it cooks a little more in the serving/heat trays, and if you want your meat cooked well done, they’ll do that too. Me? Oh, sign me up for any place that cooks their beef below medium.

Salsas. We got four of them to try:
Fresh Tomato was a mild, simple salsa. Just diced tomatoes, cilantro, lemon and lime juices, and some salt. Cooling, simple, tasty. No spiciness or heat at all.
Green Tomatillo was supposedly medium heat, but damn! Something in there really blasted my tongue with heat. It was just hot, hot, hot to me. A huge step up from mild. This was a chunky liquid.
Corn Salsa was nice and refreshing. Nowhere near as spicy as the green tomatillo, but still had a little kick from the roasted poblano peppers. The corn were very sweet and popped in your mouth. They get them flash frozen year round from when the corn is picked at its peak. If this is what frozen means, then sign me up. This frozen corn has nothing on the baggies you see in the freezer aisle of the grocery store. This was corn and peppers, no liquid in this salsa.
Red Tomatillo was listed as hot. It was really hot, but it also had a nice tanginess and brightness that helped cut the heat and round it out. It was a liquid salsa with seeds in it. Tasted very fresh to me. It also had chiles de arbol in it. There was no citrus or vinegar in it. Surprising, but I really liked this. One of the folks said his favorite way to eat it was to mix it with sour cream to dip chips in. Excellent idea. Even though it was very spicy, I kept eating more of it.

At that point I was pretty sure I’d become hot sauce-drunk, and I was surprised I hadn’t broken into a sweat. Thankfully, the dairy round was next.
Cheeses – their cheese mix was cheddar and monterey jack. They’re shredded in the store from a block and they actually taste rich and cheesey. All three of us liked that, since a lot of the time that you get cheese at take-out places you see it, but it doesn’t really have any flavor.
Sour Cream. Theirs is whipped/aerated to make it thinner. You might think it’s watery, but it’s really good. It’s not like the stuff from the grocery store, which can be very thick and tangy-tart. This was closer to a creama, a table cream, something like that. Primarily, it was creamy and cheesey, followed by rich and a little bit of tangy. Refreshing and not overwhelming in the least.

Finally, we got cups of guacamole and chipotle-honey vinaigrette.
The Guac – Yum! There were chunks of avocado in the guacamole and was it ever creamy. Onions, cilantro, pepper were also in it, but the main star was the avocado. They’ve got some tortilla chips that have just a hint of lime on them. You can taste the lime a bit eating the chips plain, but with the guacamole it was just flat out crunchy, creamy goodness.
The vinaigrette was smoky, spicy, sweet, and peppery. No real competition between the flavors – they all balanced pretty well. I’m not a fan of sweet dressings, but if you are you will probably like it.

After tasting everything on the menu, we got to order some food for ourselves from the counter.
I opted for a burrito with rice, chicken, pinto beans, hot salsa, sour cream, and shredded cheese. They don’t have extra toppings on the side like a Moe’s, just the salsas. Otherwise I probably would have added some onions since I lurve onions.

HOLY MOLY. Burrito love. The burrito shell was nice and chewy, and surely enough the hot sauce was cut by all of the other ingredients (and the sour cream really made everything creamy). It was awesome, delectable, hot flavor without the pain. The chicken. Oh man, this chicken. It just tasted so chicken-y and good. I couldn’t not eat it. This was a delicious spicy burrito. Oh my gosh. I want another one RIGHT FREAKING NOW. I think they’ll be $6.10 once they officially open.

Sadly, I was bested by the last quarter of this burrito. I blame it on the hot sauces and sampling that took place prior.

Oh and guess what? Free Burrito Day is November 5th, 11 am – 8 pm. Free burrito and fountain drink. November 4th they’re open from 5 pm – 8 pm. $5 donation to Shaker High’s Key Club gets you a burrito, bowl, tacos, or salad, and a free drink.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to be going back on the 5th. Ohhhh, yes.

Chicken Gyros

Margarita and my Bro came over for dinner. Margarita and I had been planning on doing a cooking thing together, and she wanted to do gyros. I really love cooking with the fam and trying out new recipes! Whenever we’re at each other’s houses we’ll usually just stick around the kitchen and watch the other one cook, and end up trying to help out anyway.

Guess what else? Margarita is preggo! G’bye to margaritas for a few months, then!
We’re all excited for them. It looks like they will be moving to Mississippi to be closer to her family (who can help out more) and have better career opportunities. It totally sucks that they are moving, but they think it would be much more difficult to raise a child here in NY. Having a kid really makes you re-prioritize your life.
I get to be both an Aunt and Godmother. I consider myself truly honored that Margarita asked me to be their godmother. Also considering that I would fight tooth and nail to take care of this kiddo should the need arise, this Godmother-ing makes that a whole lot easier. Them having a kid actually makes me realize I need to re-prioritize my own life and start doing more with myself.

Okay, I’m getting all emo on you guys. But suffice it to say, their time here in New York State has an expiration date, and I am trying to spend as much time with them as possible until they leave.

Margarita and I went grocery shopping at Hannaford. Kind of a mistake there, but we could only stop at one place. Chicken breasts were on sale for $1.99/lb (boneless, skinless), which was good even if they were the factory farmed kind. The killer was the price of pita bread. It was like $3.29 for a 6 pack of them. Jeezum crow, that’s freaking expensive for some pita! But it was good pita.

Once we got in, we marinated the chicken boobs in spices, plus red wine vinegar and olive oil. Just enough to make it seem like a cohesive marinade. The seasonings we just added to smell – it smelled really good, and then we made the boys sniff it and drool over it, and then we tucked them in the fridge to marinate. I know you can’t really see the pictures of the chicken itself, but trust me – it came out really well. Super moist and juicy. It made me think “Hmm, maybe I can cook with these factory farmed breasts as long as I marinate the crap out of them,”. This is probably not good from an environmental/hippie/green standpoint, but it is lighter on the wallet. Conundrum.

After letting the chicken marinate, we made tatziki sauce. We hung some plain yogurt to drain. This is much cheaper than buying Greek yogurts, which are thicker. We drained it by lining a sifter with a coffee filter and filling it with yogurt. We actually did this part before we started with the chicken breasts so it would have time to drain. About 20-30 minutes and then you have thick yogurt! It’s not exactly the same, but for recipes like this, I think it works just fine. And it’s much cheaper.

Then we let the tatziki sauce sit covered in the fridge while we turned on the broiler to cook the chicken. I didn’t make any pink chicken this time. Woo hoo! I really like the broiler. I’m getting pretty good at cooking chicken. We let the breasts rest for a bit after cooking them, and then we sliced them into strips to assemble our own little chicken gyros. Margarita is used to broilers being electric inside an oven, and I’m used to it being the thing on the very bottom. I remember when I first moved to TN, I was like “Why are you putting pans in here?! They’re going to melt as soon as you turn the oven on!”, and when she came here, she was like “Why are you putting food in the bottom of the oven drawer?”.

We also boiled some orzo and just ate it with butter or tatziki sauce. I made Albany John drag his butt away from video games with my Bro to make a salad. He did all the green stuff you see above, and it was delicious.

The tatziki was the highlight of the night! It was super yummy, thick, and creamy. I could just eat this stuff on pita bread. Or on anything else. We had a lot of leftovers.

Mediterranean Chicken Breasts
8 Chicken Breasts
½ head of garlic, minced
½ T black pepper
1 T oregano
1 T marjoram
1 T thyme
juice of ½ lemon
½ – ¾ C red wine vinegar
½ C olive oil

Put them all in baggies and shake it up to combine. Let it all sit and marinate in a refrigerator for 1 hour. All the measurements are more a guess – just combine them so it all smells irresistible to you. Don’t forget the lemon – it’s key.

Broil to cook.

Tatziki Sauce
1.5 C plain yogurt, hung to drain
1 whole cucumber, peeled, seeded, and shredded/minced
juice of ½ lemon
2-3 cloved minced garlic or a few shakes of garlic seasoning (I have this blend called GarlicGarlic! that worked wonderfully)
1 t salt

Mix all, let sit to combine 30+ minutes.

How I Spent My Lark Fest

I started Lark Fest off with a beef shawarma wrap from Aashiana. $5.99, and all of their meat is halal! It was super tasty, so much so that Albany John and Slick ate about ¾ of it. Next time I’m getting two.

The meat was moist and well spiced. There was a lot of beef too, which I really enjoyed. Everything was covered in a yogurt sauce that blended everything together and wrapped in nan. Besides the meat there was lettuce, tomato, and bell peppers. I picked the bell peppers out and Albany John and I fed piping hot bits of bell peppers to Ellsbells after she exclaimed “I’ll eat them!” as I was throwing them out.

I was sad that I couldn’t do the buffet, since the new buffet set up looks gorgeous! Saleem did a bang up job on making it!

Aashiana was definitely a tasty way to start my Lark Festing.

Margarita, Ellsbells and I then wandered around Lark Street while Slick and Albany John stayed near the Washington Ave stage.

I ended up wanting more food, and ran into some friends along the way down who had lots of tasty looking food. My artsy designer friend had a plate from Wolff’s and he let me have a bite. That settled it for me – time to run to the ATM and get some cash monies!

As we were coming back from the bank, Ellsbells, Margarita and I caught what looked like the end of a Puerto Rican celebration! We took a picture for Benny, who was walking over and periodically calling Margarita to find out where we were. Oddly enough, he found Albany John and Slick and we all met up we us girls finally meandered over.

I also got a slice from Soho for $2. It was definitely festival pizza. The sauce and cheese were like normal, but the slices were smaller and the crust was puffier and they didn’t reheat the slice (I went in the store). Not as good as they usually are, but it sated my hunger on the cheap.

And then there was le Moby. That end of the street was pretty jam packed with people. It was hard to work into the crowd, and even harder to try and walk around it. Yowza! But Moby and his group played very well, and I highly enjoyed it. I just kept trying to stay away from the sewer that smelled not-so-fresh. I’d completely forgotten about Matt & Kim playing on the Madison Ave stage, but I doubt I would have been able to walk over there – there were just so many people on Lark Street this Saturday!

I’m glad the weather was good. The chillier years don’t have as good of a crowd turnout, and while it might have been crammed full of people, I’ll totally take that over rain and streets that are too empty.

Oh man, I just realized Margarita and I forgot to get matching henna tattoos!

Har Cheung

In this month’s continuing posts of “How I went Overbudget”, here are some har cheung I made (my pin yin is awful, this is totally just how it sounds, if I’m even getting the word right), aka shrimp rice rolls.

These are my favorite to order at dim sum, but I can’t find any place up here in Albany, NY that does them well. If they have them at any of the local restaurants up here, I’ve tried them, and they are just pitiful (shriveled, dry rice and overcooked shrimp).

I lucked out and walked into the Asian Food Market on Colvin Ave on a day when they had fresh shipments of foods from the city. Hello, fresh rice noodle rolls! (and some har gau to nibble on, too) I bought some shrimp as well, and went home and made these.

They weren’t too dificult – pull out some noodles, and microwave them until they are warm and pliable. Then carefully unroll them and put in 2 shrimp. Roll back up and eat! These were quite satisfying, and as always, I wanted another 10 after eating them.

NYC Spa-tacular weekend

Albany John and I hopped the megabus down to Manhattan for the weekend this past Friday. Right now they are in the process of working out some kinks. Hopefully. We got to the Rensselear train station early and stood in front of surface parking lot B. One of the lot people came out and said that the bus was going to be inside the lot because the city of Rensselear didn’t want them picking up people on the side of the road for whatever reason and that Megabus had talked with the train station so they would pick up inside the parking lot. He also said that each driver was different and that most of the time this didn’t happen, and a lot of the time the drivers would go to the original place in front of the Rensselear Amtrak train station, even though their website says there has been a change. Our bus stopped at the bus stop in front of the lot and we just kind of sprinted out of the lot over to the station. It’s a good thing that it didn’t stop in the old location, as that would have been one hell of a sprint in the snow.

But we arrived in good shape – and actually had a really good ride. Better than most of the rides on the double happiness bus – much smoother. Once we got off at Penn Station we ambled around in the cold looking for the right subway station to hop on to and made our way over to our friend Manhattan Maka’s. She’s currently dating Chicago Velvet Smoove, Albany John’s brother. Phew, got it? Well, ya better, cause I ain’t got no more time to explain it!

CVS made beef stew with fresh rosemary. It was fan-fucking-tastic, and normally I hate rosemary, but in its fresh form it added a nice smokiness to the soup.

The next day we began the trek over to Spa Castle in College Point, Queens. They had a free shuttle picking up inside the Flushing public parking lot (right across from the Woori bank/bus stop by the pay meter on 39th). We got there a bit early, so we went to Fay Da to grab a snacky brunch while we waited. One of the things I got was a pork wrap, made of pork floss, egg omlette strip and fresh lettuce. The fresh lettuce had a nice crunch, and at $1.50 this was so filling.

I also got a pork puff for $0.95, which had roasted pork inside a thick layer of flaky pastries. I was pretty much in heaven. Wash it all down with a milk tea and you’re good to go. Fay da was awesome because it was like this: you pick up a tray and tongs and pick out buns and such from an island of them. It was lots of fun and then I could wait around more and figure out what I wanted. Once you head up to pay you better know what you want – those ladies go fast!

Manhattan Maka got a cheese bun and made a face like she just bit into glass – turns out there was bacon in the cheese bun, and she absolutely hates bacon. Albany John traded her a sweet potato bun instead, and both were quite happy with the trade.

There was also a guy sleeping there who looked like a homeless Santa, sleeping by their Christmas tree. He was there when we passed again after catching the subway home, and I was partially convinced he was dead, but then I saw him breathing and everyone else said he was ok and I was crazy too.

The spa castle was awesome. It’s a bit pricy at $45 per person on the weekend, but we four highly enjoyed ourselves for the couple of hours we were there (I thought pictures in a sauna would be weird, not to mention probably leathal for my wee camera).

You get some uniforms to wear while you’re there and there’re so many levels. The locker room also has the gender only hot tubs and saunas where you can be naked! Woo hoo! Actually, I think you have to be butt naked in there since everyone was nekkid… I just kind of went with the flow since none of the attendants I tried talking to could really speak English, they just kept saying “UPSTAIRS” but I couldn’t find anyone upstairs. I figured if I was doing something horribly wrong someone would come running over flailing their arms at me or something. On the 2nd level there are some pricy food vendors and the saunas they really pimp out on their website. They were pretty awesome too – hot, of course. Hee hee. The 3rd level you need to bring/rent a bathing suit for and it had heated pools outside (even a Japanese bade pool) and some indoor pools with massaging water functions too. There’s a wide mix of people there and it’s pretty easy to figure out what to do: Relax!

After just *exhausting* ourselves at the saunas, we went over to Pho 32 & Shabu since when we were waiting for the shuttle Manhattan Maka spotted ‘SHABU SHABU’ and decided we had to eat there for dinner. That girl loves her some shabu shabu. Lucky table 3!

Albany John and I ordered pho soups while Manhattan Maka and CVS went for the shabu shabus. Mine was beef flank, some other kind of beef and soft tendon. Albany John got the same thing plus tripe. This is mine – it’s a small for $6.95 and damned good! Albany John got a large for $7.95 and it made me so glad that I got a small because I am like a dog – I’ll eat all of the food you put out in front of me and as it was I had to practically roll my self out of the restaurant when we were finished.

This was the best pho ever – the broth was so beefy and delicious. I’ve had pho from My Linh before and thought the broth was really weak and watery and that I just wasn’t a pho fan. Not anymore – dudes, this pho was kick ass! It had some noodles on the bottom as well, and omg, I want to go back for more. MORE!

Here’s the setup when things first came. Aww, double date!

This was absolutely delicious – it was a soy sauce mix thing on the condiment bar they had and I couldn’t get enough of it. I think it was made of soy sauce, fish sauce, a pinch of chili oil, plus the raw sesame seeds and scallions.

Of course soup has this tendancy of filling me up only so much, and by 8:30 or so I got the munchies again. So we ordered sushi from Yu Ka, a place that delivers to Manhattan Maka’s building. Don’t ask me where it is – I’m glad I remembered the name, but upon using the google I’ve found that it might also have all you can eat sushi, and if that is the case bring it ON because this was some of the best sushi I’ve eaten in a long time.

CVS is pointing out our awesome spread for something like $30 with delivery. They include a 12.5% delivery fee but ask that you don’t tip the delivery guy at all. Ok, cool with me.
Left to right: spicy tuna roll – oholyfuckthisburnslikeyouwouldn’tbelieve hot. Seriously – no nothing to calm down the sriracha. Not my favorite. It was also huge and hard for me to eat. The boys took one for the team on this one. Actually, the took a lot for the team since I tend to order for 3-4 people, and this fed us all nicely. I tend to order a lot and poop out about 1/4-1/3 of the way through. But I like seeing a lot of sushi!
Yellowtail and scallion roll. Chicago Velevet Smoove ordered this one – really fresh and tasty.
Salmon and Avocado roll – yummy! Can’t go wrong with this, and they used ultra creamy avocado in the roll.
Rice and salad, miso soup
Sashimi regular – $12.50 for 15 pieces of super-fresh goodness. Dear goodness, I am talking Saso’s quality good, and probably even better. Damn you lucky Manhattanites for being surrounded by top quality sushi! The only meh of the bunch was the unseared tuna that was lean as all heck and really hard for me to chew. Manhattan Maka said it’s probably because UES-ers really like their food lean. The salmon though – oh baby. Some of the best salmon I’ve ever had. Huge slices of butter, unctuous goodness. I am so going back here.

The next morning we had to leave and we went to a diner on 79th street that was closing that day. It’s weird to be in a place that is closing that day. A lot of the staff looked really sad, like they were losing a friend. Our waiter was really nice and our food came out very quickly. I got 2 eggs over easy, home fries and sausage for $5.95. Yummy! Nice crisp sausage links with a bite to them, and easy on the fennel.

We putzed over to Penn Station and had some time to walk around when Albany John spotted another Fay Da! Woo hoo! This one also had a hot bar, but I went straight for the buns again, getting a coconut and cream filled one (fucking AWESOME), cheese bun, more pork puffs (but here they were $1.50 each – yipes!) and a fresh mango filled mochi ($0.95). I need more of these mochis.
The megabus was a little late, but we all boarded and were soon on our way to Albany. We got dropped off at the ‘old’ bus stop in front of the rail station even though the website says differently, and the driver was adamantly telling all the passengers that they would be picked up there as well. Oi, I hope they all make their bus back!
Then we went home and made fantabulous food while drinking gin and tonics and I polished off the rest of the Fay Da goodies. And that is how you do NYC on the relatively cheap!


So I wound up going to BFS on Western Ave in Guilderland/Albany, NY. It’s right on the border. There were more people dining in this time, unlike the time I was there before where it was nearly empty.

After staring at the menu board for about 5 minutes, I’d settled on the leg of lamb wrap. At $8.49 their sandwiches aren’t exactly cheap. But they are very big (think Bomber’s proportions), and they are good. This wrap was really good – I like whatever they are using for their wraps. It’s a little dry, thin, and holds up well to the filling (which I think have a great veggie-to-meat ratio.) The weird thing about their sandwiches is that even though they’re huge, they’re also a little too easy to eat. Maybe this is just me (it probably is), but I can easily eat the entire wrap in one sitting.
I enjoyed the yogurty-creamy sauce over the warm lamb, and the combo of romaine lettuce, carrots, onions, and tomatoes in the lamb wrap. I just wish the prices were a bit lower. After taxes, it’s closer to $10.

Also – don’t go to BFS if you’re in a rush. It took probably 15-20 minutes for them to make 2 sandwiches (I went with a buddy. I forgot what he ate, whoops), which is kind of a long time. Or at least it feels like it when you’re just standing there. Whenever I go to Via Fresca for a panini, sub, or sandwich I’m out of there in 5 minutes, 8 minutes, tops.