Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sushi Tei follow up

I discussed Sushi Tei in my last post. I thought I might go back, and ended up going back quickly. My wife and I went yesterday for lunch.

It was not as good as the first time, but still decent. I had sashimi this time to give it more of a test. It's easier to tell the quality of the fish with sashimi. I had several pieces and most were fresh. A couple of pieces were a tiny bit off, but not horribly so.

We had a few other dishes. The tempura udon (deep fried shrimp in a bowl of noodle soup) was not great. I eat the same dish at Miyako regularly, and it is much better there. The flavor of the soup at Sushi Tei was not bad, but not right. Also, at Miyako you get a few vegetables in the soup along with the shrimp. Not here. And the noodles were also not as good as at Miyako. It wasn't horrible, but I would not order this again - partly because other items here are better.

My soup came with a California Roll. This was just fine. The avocado was particularly good. We also got an Alaska Roll. They used smoked salmon instead of fresh salmon. Not what we expected, and the salty taste of the smoked fish didn't really go. If you like it with fresh salmon, be sure to specify that when ordering. I also had inari (rice in a soy bag), which was okay, but it's better at Miyako and Yoshi. The tamago was acceptable but well below the better places.

My wife had a sukiyakidon (beef with vegetables over rice). The sauce was very good. It had less meat than my wife hoped for and a lot of tofu which she doesn't like. That is not a criticism - just not her thing.

Sushi Tei stood out again for one big reason - price. We had a lot of food and the bill, before tip, was under $30. While overall the quality is not up to the best in the area, Sushi Tei is the best bargain sushi place in the Albany area that I have been to. Also, their non-sushi Japanese dishes are better than other low-price places like Ichiban.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Sushi Tei in Guilderland; other sushi news

Note: See my updated review of Sushi Tei.
I went to Sushi Tei for lunch this past week in Guilderland. I'm pretty hesitant when it comes to new sushi places. I've got my favorites - Miyako in Guilderland and Yoshi in Latham, and it's hard to knock me off that.

It was Monday and I was craving sushi. Miyako is usually closed Mondays and I think Yoshi might be too. I don't like most other places, but Sushi Tei was new so I figured I'd give it a try. It's in the same spot as San & Bada Sushi was -- Cosimo's Plaza.

I don't remember all the details (I meant to write this sooner), but overall it was pretty good. I had an order each of shumai (steamed shrimp dumplings) and gyoza (fried dumplings). Both were good, and notably, had the right sauces. This is often a problem with Japanese restaurants but they got that right. The sushi was also good. I had about seven pieces of "nigiri" sushi - when they put a piece of fish on a small hunk of rice.

The thing that stands out in my mind most is that the prices were low, but the quality was still good. The shumai and gyoza were about $3.50 each, and there were more shumai than one usually gets in most places. The sushi is the real bargain. If you're dining in, each piece of nigiri sushi (and pieces of sashimi as well) are only $1. Some of the pieces I ordered normally go for $2.00 or more, both here and other places.

Cheap sushi is a touchy subject. When you're eating raw fish, you don't want low quality. At least on this visit, I think the quality was decent.

I still prefer Miyako and Yoshi, but I'll definitely give Sushi Tei another try soon.

In other news, Miyako has a new set of special rolls. I've had two of them and both were very good. They are, of course, expensive, generally $10 or more. But they are also large and interesting too. The other day I had one that has salmon and avocado in the middle with tuna on the outside, served shaped like hearts, and resting in small drips of a mild dressing - looks like Russian dressing but I think it's a little different.

I also went to Yoshi yesterday (sushi 3 times in one week - something's going on). Nothing new, but it was still excellent. He has an appetizer with hirame (fluke) in a ponzu sauce. I just love that one.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Cella Bistro - Schenectady

In my second review of the day (I promise to go slower in the future), we went to Cella Bistro in Schenectady last night for my mom's birthday (which of course was really another day - she went out with friends that night).

Cella Bistro is in Schenectady on Rosa Road, very close to Ellis Hospital. Overall it's a great restaurant. There were some negative aspects to the experience that I describe below, but they are mostly not the fault of the restaurant and you are unlikely to experience the same problems.

First of all, the interior is really gorgeous. The bar is separated from the tables by a curving brick half-wall. There are other brick walls inside and this look works well. The hardwood floors are also quite beautiful. But wait, there's more. In one corner there's a couch and a couple chairs with a coffee table. It's a bit weird to see that in a restaurant, but it also works. Since we were eating early and the restaurant was not crowded yet, it was a good place to take our 2-year-old.

The food was very good. Cella Bistro is definitely shooting for a higher level "cuisine" thing. You don't see veal parm, fettucine alfredo, or spaghetti with marinara on the menu. When we tried to order spaghetti for our kids, they didn't have any. They did have other appropriate pastas and the kids were relatively satisfied (to the extent that our children ever are).

My mom and I split a salad with beets, mixed greens and goat cheese (on the side since mom is currently vegan). I liked the array of salad choices and this salad was good. My wife said her salad was good too. I think she had mixed greens with fontina cheese on a cracker. We also had a pizza appetizer. We ordered it for the girls and had it simplified dramatically from the fancy description on the menu. Of course they didn't eat it, so we did and it was good.

For an entree, I had a paella dish. I wavered before ordering because I've never been a paella guy, but the various ingredients with it looked attractive (especially the shrimp, scallops and sausage). It was the best paella I've ever had, but it's still not my dish.

I advised mom to call ahead and request a vegan dish, and she did so. They brought her a pasta dish with a nice variety of veggies. She liked it. Notable about this is that they made the pasta special for her, as they did not have vegan pasta.

My wife nervously ordered the lasagna dish, as this was not a typical lasagna and she is not always adventurous. It had a bechamel sauce and swiss chard. This was not her thing -- too cheesy for one thing, but still okay, and she wants to go back and try something else.

There are a variety of somewhat interested details about our experience. The restaurant was very good about dealing with our requests for changes, as we had made special orders for mom and the kids. The service was slow for us, but that was partly due to our special orders and only a problem because we were there with kids, as small children don't sit well for long meals (well, ours don't anyway).

At one point I took the two girls for a walk outside. On the way in I had noticed several signs warning about parking issues, specifically mentioning Donnan Street. Cella Bistro is on the corner of Rosa Road and Donna. We walked up Donnan and I could see the problem. The neighbors have all posted "no parking" signs just about everywhere they can. It would seem they don't like having a restaurant there. I don't think their antipathy is at Cella Bistro in particular, as there was a restaurant there before and some of the signs look pretty old.

Cella Bistro definitely does not fit in with the neighbors. Parked at or near the restaurant were a number of new cars, often German, Japanese, or otherwise fancy. I think there was even a Toyota Prius. Walking up Donnan Street I don't think I saw a single vehicle less than 10 years old. There were a number of junk pickups and cars. I did see one foreign car, a Saab with badly faded paint. Jeff Foxworthy would have been uncomfortable here. I was too. I think one of the neighbors kids yelled something at us, but I didn't hear what he said. The houses in general did not look well kept (there were two exceptions). Most diners will not notice this, I suspect.

One other thing. They do not accept Discover Card. I see this once in a while but for the life of me can't understand why any business that takes credit cards would not take Discover. If your credit card processor doesn't take it, switch processors.

Nicole's Bistro - Albany

This the first of two reviews today, and I reviewed another restaurant just the other day. This furious pace will not continue.

I had a very good reason for eating lunch at Nicole's Bistro yesterday. My car battery died. I had just left Albany Criminal Court and my car wouldn't start. Maybe that's justice. I resolved a DWI case with a high BAC (0.22). The final result was a plea to a parking ticket. I would joke about our motto being "Keeping Drunks on the Road Since 2003", but this particular client was suspended while the case was pending, and his suspension was much, much longer than it would have been if he'd pled guilty to a DWAI (which wasn't offered anyway). We got the DWI dismissed and resolved the right of way violation with a parking ticket.

But that's way off topic. The point is, after my car battery died, I got AAA to tow me to Broadway Auto Clinic, which is next door to Nicole's -- at Quackenbush House. It was a little early for lunch, but I had at least an hour to kill. As if I really needed an excuse.

So, I walked inside. Nice interior and a friendly server. Offered to sit outside, I bit. They have some seats out front, but she sat me in the rather large back patio area, which was quite pleasant. I started with some kind of tomato bisque soup. I forget the other main ingredient in the title, but regardless, the soup was excellent. Flavor was good, and the tomato was not overpowering as often happens with tomato-based items. I also had a "mesclun mix" salad that was very good, and then a risotto dish for the entree. Unfortunately I have forgotten the finer details of the risotto, but I remember that I liked it.

It was a very nice lunch. As the Terminator would say, "I'll be back!"

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Mexican Radio

I was in Columbia County yesterday, with a late afternoon appearance in Gallatin Town Court and an early evening appearance in Austerlitz Town Court. This left me about 2 hours to kill around dinnertime, so I decided to try a nice dinner.

At first I was going to go to Chatham and try one of the restaurants there, but then I remembered Mexican Radio in Hudson. I keep seeing it listed as best Mexican food in the Capital Region. My wife and I had talked about going there sometime, and this seemed like a good chance to check it out.

I started with a chilled avocado tomatillo soup. This was both interesting and good. I then had a fajita entree, mixing steak and shrimp. This option was not on the menu, but they accommodated me. Fajitas are one of my favorite Mexican dishes, and I'm afraid this did not live up to my expectations.

Partly the problem is the way the steak was served. I'm used to the meat being sliced in fajitas. Here it came in fairly large chunks. The sliced approach is more appropriate for how you eat fajitas -- wrapped in a tortilla. It was good quality meat, but didn't have that much flavor. I did like the array of veggies that came out with the meat, with squash, peppers, mushrooms and more. But for me it just didn't come together. Not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but not outstanding either. Another minor irritant was the very small quantities of pico del gallo and guacamole that were served with the fajitas. And there were only three fairly small tortillas.

One other negative was the slow service. The place was not crowded, and there was plenty of staff on hand, but I seemed to wait for long periods and my glass of water did not get refilled very often. A minor detail is that I didn't get any chips. I'm used to getting free chips and salsa in Mexican restaurants and I guess you don't get that here.

It was good, and certainly as good as any other Mexican restaurant I've been to around here. The menu is more adventurous, and that's a positive, and the interior is quite nice, but the overall experience was not so great that I would make a special trip. Still, if we happen to be in Hudson I would certainly eat there again.

I should add a couple things. First, there were a couple of "mole" (pronounced moh-lay, I think) dishes on the menu that might appeal to others. That's never been my thing, but they did look interesting.

Second, they had a flyer promoting a Restaurant Week for the county and a Chili Cook-Off in Hudson. Restaurant Week is September 24-28, 2007, with prix fixe lunches ($20.07) and dinners ($30.07) at several restaurants in the county. The chili cook-off is on the 29th, in Hudson and "Catskill Point." You can get more information on the Mexican Radio website.