Wednesday, December 14, 2005


My picks for best Italian in Albany:

1. D'Raymonds. It's just off Albany-Shaker Road near Osborne Road. This is one of our absolute favorites in Albany. Surprising we don't get there more often. Great reputation for veal (though I'm not much of a veal eater). All the dishes are great.

They start you off with a little fried dough treat. If you order the salad, you get a lot of salad for not much money. Haven't been there in a while, but I just love everything they have.

It's got a nice atmosphere - feels homey. Not a good place for kids though. Also it looks crowded when you're walking in, but you don't notice that feeling when you're sitting down.

2. Lombardo's. On Madison near Pearl. Also outstanding. Again, surprising we don't get there more. Last time I think I picked my wife up for lunch and we got over there. Great food.

Also has a special atmosphere. Feels like you walked into the 1930s. Not that I would know since I was born in the 60s, but still. Has a bit of a celebrity thing too. Seems like I often see a local celebrity when I go there. I've seen TV news people. Once we saw the retired DA with the retired political cartoonist - even had a nice chat with them.

3. Carmine's. On Central Avenue, between Everett and Colvin, in the back of a minimall. Excellent food. Carmine is a local celebrity. His menu is more edgy. It's not classic Italian food, but maybe a bit nouvelle. Last time we were there seemed like a lot of dishes had sundried tomatoes in them.

That's the cream of the crop. I should put in honorable mentions for Provence and Milano. I haven't been to them as much, but they're good.

For some reason my wife likes Olive Garden, and we go there all the time. I'm kinda sick of it, but it is better for kids - if you can get a table.

Note from 7/30/06: I forgot to mention the Italian Community Center. Also one of my favorites, and I'm going there all the time now since it's now next door to our new office. It used to be called Le Caravelle, but they've dropped that name. It's run by Mallozzi's now. Food was good before and continues to be good now.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Garcia's and other Mexican

This is a tough one. We like going to Garcia's. Our older daughter likes it too - a good place to bring kids. The food is pretty good. It's probably one of the best Mexican places in Albany.

But there's the rub. I went to college in Houston, Texas, and also lived in California for three years. When you consider that I think the Mexican food in California wasn't all that great (except for a recent dinner in LA), it's not surprising when I say that being the best in Albany is not saying all that much.

But with that said, we like Garcia's. I like the fajitas. My wife usually orders enchiladas or something like that.

I also go to Moe's Southwest Grill some. I've turned that down a notch with my frustrating low-cholesterol kick. Moe's is also pretty good. It's a bit better than Taco Bell (I'm almost ashamed to admit I like Taco Bell), but it's more than a bit more expensive.

Lately I've been ordering the big burrito (all the items have funky names, but I can't remember the name of the burrito yet - maybe the homewrecker?). I used to get the same thing in the form of a salad, but the lettuce isn't all that special.

Still a good place to go once in a while.

I hear good things about Mexican Radio in Hudson, but that's a long drive from Albany. We talk about it but haven't made it there yet.

Metro 20 Diner

I go to Metro 20 Diner once in a while. Usually on Sundays if I'm in the office because BFS is closed. Metro 20 Diner is a decent place. Food is generally good. Just my opinion here, but it's a bit overpriced for the quality. There are some very good items, and the menu has a lot of choices, but the quality is basically diner and that's it. There are other diners in the area where you get similar quality for significantly less money.

On the bright side, the place is very clean. Service is generally good. And it's got a great location, which is why they can charge more for their food.

I'm on a low-cholesterol kick lately, so I've been ordering salads. Greek salad is pretty good. I used to order gyros and liked them too.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Amazing Wok

Our favorite Chinese place in the area is Amazing Wok in Colonie (near the Price Chopper at 155 and Central). It's a take-out and delivery place. There are only a couple of tables. We order from them maybe two or three times a month.

A big signal with Amazing Wok is they get the Hot & Sour Soup right. Seems like most places don't have the right flavor. I often get Szechuan Beef and that's really good. I occasionally order cold sesame noodles as an appetizer. Again, very good. We order a variety of other items and it's all good. Prices are reasonable, delivery is timely, and just overall a good experience.

Sometimes you have trouble communicating over the phone with them, but patience usually gets you through it.

I should also give a brief mention to the Dumpling House, which is one of my favorites in the area, but we just don't get there all too often now with 2 kids. The dumplings there are quite good (get the 12-piece combo), and the other food is good too. A lot of Chinese I know in the area also like Ocean Palace.

Japanese places I don't like

Okay, I haven't really trashed any restaurants yet, so here it goes. And this comes with a caveat - other people seem to like these places, so this is my personal view and probably does not represent the consensus.

First of all, I do not like Ichiban's Japanese food. It may be politically incorrect to say so, but Chinese do not, generally, do Japanese food right. Key flaws with Ichiban:
1. For sushi and sashimi, they cut the fish in advance. I've never seen this done anywhere. By cutting it early they decrease the freshness of it. This is not absolutely awful for sushi rolls, as the quality of the fish is pretty well hidden in the other ingredients. It is particularly bad for sashimi, however.
2. The wrong sauces. I ordered shumai (steamed shrimp dumplings), and the sauce was totally wrong. It was like a sweet duck sauce. Shumai should be served with a spot of yellow mustard on the side and it is dipped in a soy-based sauce.

I have the same general complaints about Sushi House on New Scotland Ave. They didn't precut the fish, but the sushi was not that great. The sauces were wrong on the Japanese food.

These places are fine for Chinese food, and if you're not experienced with Japanese food (I lived in Japan for a year) you might not notice these issues. Certainly both places are popular. I have been to Ichiban a few times because people I was meeting wanted to go there.

They do tend to be cheaper than the real Japanese places, but you get what you pay for. The better Japanese places in the area are Miyako, Yoshi Sushi, Saso's, Mari's, and Mino's in Saratoga. I haven't been to the latter 3 in a while - Miyako and Yoshi are just a lot closer to where I work and live. I used to like San & Bada, but haven't been in a while so I can't say. Tokyo Sushi does a half-decent job, but Yoshi's is better and is just down the road.

Of course, all pale in comparison to Megu, but that's not fair since Megu is in NYC and costs about 5 to 10 times as much as the most expensive Japanese food here.

Karavalli - Indian restaurant in Latham

I've gotten somewhat addicted to this place. Considering that there are a number of Indian places closer to my home and office, my frequency of visits says something.

Anyway, like many Indian restaurants, it has a lunch buffet. I think Sunday might also be a buffet, but nicer and more expensive.

The food is excellent. Also important is the variety. There are a number of dishes on the menu that one does not find in most other Indian restaurants in Albany. I should note that I found out about it in a review in the Times Union.

Most of my meals there have been the lunch buffet. This place has a nicer atmosphere and the food is a cut above most of the other buffet restaurants. I have also ordered from the regular menu 2 or 3 times, and the food was better still.

A commenter on the TU review said Sitar is better. I do love Sitar, but I can't say it's better. Both are good, and a cut above the rest in the area. Sitar also has a great atmosphere and excellent food. Karavalli has more variety, and at least lately, I've been going to Karavalli. Sitar does not have a buffet, which can be good or bad depending on your preferences. I tend to think they're just different.

I should not forget to mention dessert at Karavalli's buffet. The gulab jamun and the carrot thing (I forget what it's called) are both delicious. The rice pudding is nothing special - not bad, but not a cut above like the rest of the food.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

BFS Restaurant

I should have posted about BFS before. BFS is right in front of my office - both buildings are on the same parcel of land. The food is generally Mediterranean, but with a good variety of other items. There is a deli counter and regular tables. The restaurant also does a lot of catering.

Before I go further, I should mention that the owner of BFS (Shaw Rabadi) is the owner of my building, so he is my landlord. So I may have a bias on this. But then again, I eat there twice a week, so I don't think this is bias talking.

First of all, there are a lot of great sandwiches. Then there are other good entrees. My big things there are soups and the Mediterranean items. Shaw makes fantastic soups. There are usually three soups, and they vary all the time. One of his best is the Butternut Bisque. He also makes a good chili. You never know what soup he'll have, but with three choices, you can be pretty sure there'll be one you'll like.

My favorite Medi dish is the Lebanese Maza Sampler. It has hummus and a couple of other similar items (I think baba ganooj is one of them), and comes with dolma (grape leaves stuffed with rice), tabouleh, and there's more.

Finish with a baklava.

I should mention that the servers are also excellent. They know the menu and can offer good advice. And I should also mention they just changed to a new set of herbal teas.

Highly recommended.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Megu - New York City

Okay, this is off topic a bit. We went to New York City for our 10th anniversary. We had lunch, saw a show (Spamalot) and had dinner. Lunch was at Pancho something, a restaurant on 44th Street honoring Pancho Villa. It was good Mexican food. But that's not what I'm writing about.

We had dinner at Megu, an ultra-premium Japanese fusion restaurant. It was one of the best meals I ever had. The sushi and sashimi were outstanding. We had a variety of other dishes, including two different kinds of Kobe steak. Every menu item was fantastic. The food melted in our mouths. I won't be able to eat sushi for a couple weeks because anything I have now will be disappointing.

Our waiter, Kevin, was very helpful in picking out things from the menu, and the restaurant manager Paul was also very attentive and thoughtful.

One warning, this was far and away the most expensive meal we ever ate. I can't even publish how much it cost.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Mangia - Stuvyesant Plaza

Had lunch with my wife at Mangia today. Mangia is in Stuvyesant Plaza in Guilderland. I had curry chicken soup and an Italian mixed wrap. She had Minestrone and a vegetable pizza. It was $25 with tip.

The food was okay, but nothing terribly special. My soup was a bit below average. Their food is generally good, but it's a little too "nouvelle". My wrap had flecks of green in it and too much of an herb flavor. The "balsamic reduction" didn't do much, and so it was a bit bland. Also, the meat was a little chewier than I'm used to. They have a pizza buffet on Wednesdays, and that is quite popular.

Overall I think it's a little overpriced for the quality. Service was good today, but that may have been more because it wasn't crowded.

They sat us in a nice room with a lot of windows looking out on the grass in front of Route 20. My wife liked that in particular. Mangia is close to my office and I almost never go there, so maybe that tells you something. We went there today because my wife wanted someplace quick - and they did deliver that. I think she may have enjoyed her food more, so maybe I just wasn't in the mood.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Miyako - Guilderland NY

--Update: The new restaurant is open in Troy: Japanica Grill. We hope to have a review soon.--
--Miyako closed June 2012 - It is rumored they will open a new restaurant in Troy--
Miyako is one of my favorite Japanese restaurants. Owned by a Japanese couple, there is a real commitment to quality.

The most popular feature is the "Hibachi" tables. In Japan this is known as teppanyaki -- which roughly translates to steel cook (a reference to the cooking surface). There are 8 seats at a rectangular table, with one side for the cook. He cooks up various vegetables along with your choice of meat (the filet mignon is excellent). This is really gringo food -- the cooking surface is common in Japan, but it's used mostly for fried noodles and maybe dumplings -- but the Japanese flavorings are genuine. Even though I'm a purist for Japanese food, I still like some of the gringo items. I'm not a good judge of meat quality myself, but we ate there once with a friend who is, and he was very impressed with the cuts of steak.

There are also regular tables and a small sushi bar, and a couple of rooms in the back. They used to have a Japanese sushi chef, (I like to practice my Japanese), but he left recently. The owner is trying to get a new Japanese sushi chef.

The sushi is good. Sushi in Albany is a challenge -- the ocean is far away, and there is not enough volume of customers for a sushi place to have great variety of fish. So the fish selection is limited compared to what you might find in NYC, Boston, or California (or of course, Japan). One of my favorite sushi dishes is the Carp-accio -- raw salmon in olive oil. It's kind of a fusion sashimi dish and I'm hooked on it.

When the Japanese sushi chef was there, I would ask his recommendation. I'm not as sure that a non-Japanese sushi chef will appreciate the quality issues to make a recommendation (sushi not being native to China). I should note that my wife is not a purist like me, and she likes the sushi at Miyako as well.

The regular Japanese menu is also good. One of our favorite appetizers is Edamame (soybeans served in the pods). These are delicious and quite healthy. As with the other dishes, the Japanese ownership shows though in an important area -- the sauces are right and the dishes taste like they do in Japan. This is a particular problem with Japanese restaurants that are run by Chinese. The Korean-run places generally get things right. Yes, I know these comments may not be politically correct, but shikata nai (it's kind of like c'est la vie).

The only downsides of Miyako are that the service is sometimes slow at the regular tables (especially if the place is crowded), and the prices are a bit on the high side. If you want fast and cheap, there are other places you can go. If you want good quality Japanese food across the board, this is the best place in the area.

Announcing Albany NY Restaurant Reviews

Since I found restaurant reviews in local papers to be imperfect, I decided to create my own restaurant review blog. I eat out a lot, so I figure I'll share my thoughts on various restaurants.

I've been particularly disappointed with reviews of Japanese restaurants. I lived in Japan for a year, so I think I know what I'm talking about. Reviews often talk about things like the "Rainbow Roll", which is not the true measure of washoku (Japanese food). Some places don't get the sauces right. The real test of a sushi place is the sashimi, or how they do the tamago (egg).

Anyway, to make this more democratic, I'm happy to invite others to join this blog. If you'd like to post restaurant reviews, send me a draft review by e-mail ( If i like your review, I'll invite you to become a member of the blog. I will of course retain dictatorial power, but I'll try to behave.