Friday, December 14, 2007

Cabernet Cafe -- What Gives?

I think the Cabernet Cafe may have closed. I called a couple times recently to see about going over for lunch and there was no answer. One time we drove over and it was closed, though there was no sign. I also noticed that the website ( wasn't working and now it appears to be gone. The url is owned by a "John Wemple." I know at least two John Wemples in Guilderland. Next time I see one I'll ask about it.

Of course this is just after I bought a discount gift certificate for the place from, but I should be able to exchange that anyway.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Audi A4 Avant -- 100K miles

Digressing from restaurants, my 2002 Audi A4 Avant (wagon) just went over 100,000 miles a couple days ago. Fitting that it was during a drive to a traffic court, since that's where a lot of its miles have come from in the last 4 1/2 years.

Overall I've been pretty happy with my Audi. First and foremost, it drives very nice. I remember shopping for cars. Drove my '96 Cavalier with 135K miles to the Subaru dealership and then to the Audi dealership. I got back in my Cavalier after the Subaru and felt like my Cavalier drove better. Then I got to the Audi dealer and drove the A4. It wasn't even close. The shifter (it's manual 5-speed) was ultra-smooth and still is after 100K.

Another nice feature, and a reason I like wagons, is that it holds a lot of stuff. Once I had bought a snowblower that I had to return. We were able to fit it in the back of my car, both ways. On the return trip it took up more space because I had partially assembled it. Our family has grown now, and the car is getting small in terms of passenger space. It fits the four of us and all our stuff for trips, but we have no room for a fifth person because the child seats take up a lot of space. So my wife will be getting a larger vehicle soon, and I probably will as well in a couple years.

While I have been fortunate not to experience this, the car is supposedly very safe. It keeps getting great ratings on crash safety from the government and the IIHS. I have experienced the winter handling and it is really outstanding. I've been driving in snow for about 25 years now (41-16=25) and it handles ice and snow better than anything else I've ever driven. Part of that is the winter tires but even before I added those it was still good in the slippery stuff.

Having a 4 cylinder (turbo) and a manual transmission has meant good gas mileage. Somewhere between 25 and 26 mpg over the life of the car.

Reliability hasn't been great, but pretty good I guess. Through 100K, I've had to spend some money on mostly minor things. It's more the hassle of having to get things fixed than the cost, but on the whole not too bad.

Looking at a new car for myself in a couple years, and Audi is definitely on the shopping list.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

677 Prime in Albany

Angelo's 677 Prime is a relatively new restaurant in downtown Albany. It is part of a great trend in higher quality restaurants in our area. It's also very close to some other outstanding restaurants, including Nicole's Bistro, Yono's & dp (both in the Hampton Inn), and a few other places on and near Pearl Street.

I stopped at Broadway Auto to get an oil change, inspection, etc, and had to go to federal court after lunch. 677 Prime is right on the way, so I stopped there.

I started with a soup. The soup of the day was butternut squash. It was smooth and creamy with a delicate flavor. While it was very good, I have had better. It needed something to give it a little more character. Don't get me wrong though - I ate all of it.

Next I had the Tuna Tartare, which was excellent. The only flaw was that it looked a little like a hockey puck. It was a bunch of chunks of raw tuna, diced or minced and then put together with some other ingredients I can't name -- maybe some scallions. It had a spicy sauce, which worked extremely well with it. Not a fair comparison, but the Cheesecake Factory has a raw tuna dish that isn't bad either. There the tuna comes out in very thin slices, I think with a wasabi mayo. But the last time I had it there the tuna itself was just not as good - almost a little gristly.

Getting back to 677 Prime, the last item was a salad of mixed greens. It came with a couple different kinds of cheeses (thick flakes of parmesan or asiago, and a softer cheese - maybe gorgonzola) and a few other items that I just can't remember - but it all worked well. The dressing was also very nice.

It was not a cheap lunch (just under $40 with tip), but I had three items and probably could have managed any one of them. The tuna tartare was $14 on its own.

677 Prime was impressive, and I can definitely see myself going back. But in a while. I'm still trying to diet and this meal probably didn't help. :-)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Firedog Screwed Me (Circuit City)

Okay, it's not that big of a deal, but ...

We're about to go on a long trip. We have young children. In the past we've bought DVD players that go on the back of the headrest. They all suck. They last for about one and half trips, usually going bad right in the middle of a drive. Once we actually bought a new one in a Walmart while we were on the way.

This in-car DVD thing is like heroin for children. If they don't get their fix, it's a very unpleasant drive. How on earth did our parents do it anyway?

So I go to Circuit City about a week ago. This guy sells me a unit that will go in the ceiling of my car. I ask about the ones that replace your headrest, but he tells me this is better.

We take it back to the installation guys (aka Firedog) to make an appointment for the install. I specifically ask if they can install this in my car. No problem.

Today I drive there for the install. On this particular day, they have the Firedog guys who actually know what they're doing. Turns out they can't install it in my car. Something about interfering with the side curtain airbags.

I should note at this point that I'm glad they caught it before they screwed up our airbags.

Anyway, I got a full refund. But I'm still annoyed. Firedog and Circuit City just wasted an hour of my time, maybe a little more. And they made me grumpy. Grr.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Guilderland Election

I'm running for Guilderland Town Board. The election is in less than a week. I hope loyal readers of this blog will either vote for me or tell their Guilderland friends to do so.

Isn't it important to have someone on the Town Board who cares about quality restaurants?

Okay, maybe that's not an important characteristic, but I'd be good for other reasons. :-)

Read more about it at:
Guilderland NY
Warren Redlich for Guilderland Town Board

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Otesaga in Cooperstown

My wife and I spent a night at the Otesaga in Cooperstown a few days ago. Our anniversary is approaching. We made the mistake of getting married in early November, which suffers from my political activities, so we took off a little early.

The Otesaga was very nice overall. We arrived and checked in. The first room we went to, #311, was not spectacular. I called to see about getting a lake view. It didn't cost much extra and we switched to room 224. The windows aren't all that big, but I still liked the lake view better, plus the room was bigger. The Otesaga is on the southern end of Lake Otsego. This is a gorgeous location, and there was still some fall foliage so it was even better than usual.

The rooms are expensive. But dinner and breakfast are included and that is a substantial value.

Dinner was outstanding. We started with a cheese plate. It had 3 cheeses and "candied grapes" - I think they were coated in sugar. I'd prefer regular grapes, but on the whole the plate was good.

We both had soup and both were excellent. Heather had the tomato basil bisque, and I had french onion soup (I went off my diet for this short trip - and gained about 5 pounds). I had a salad as well - mixed greens with walnuts and a couple kinds of fruit. Very nice.

We both had surf and turf -- filet mignon with lobster tail. The steak had a great flavor, and the lobster tail was delicious. Some veggies with it as well - I think they were roasted.

Desserts were great too - Heather had apple streusel a la mode & I had cheesecake w strawberries (I told you I went off my diet).

Service was very good. There were different servers for cocktails, the main food items, and for dessert. That was unusual but it seemed to work well.

I'd say this meal in Albany would approach $100 per person, which makes the cost of a night at the Otesaga seem more reasonable.

Breakfast (a buffet) came with it too and it was good. I had an eggbeater omelet with lots of veggies. Not sure if this is saying much, but it was probably the best eggbeater omelet I ever had. There was a wide variety of other things to eat and I sampled a few items. All good. Figure this was worth $20 each and the cost of the room is even more reasonable.

Well, we liked the Otesaga so much that we came back for brunch (we ate light for breakfast to prepare). Brunch was not included, and cost about $30 each. A lot of the breakfast choices were there, but there were many other items as well. Notable were the shrimp cocktail (rather large shrimp) and the smoked salmon plate. Both of these were really good. Another significant addition was the dessert table. This is where the diet really fell apart. We sampled another cheesecake, a couple of chocolate cakes, pecan pie (not just a sample), and more. All delicious too.

The Otesaga is well worth a visit for those who can afford it.

A final note - we had lunch the first day at the Tunnicliff Inn near the Hall of Fame. This was not a good experience. Service was horribly slow. It took so long we walked out before the main course arrived. I just wasn't going to wait any longer. No, I didn't stiff them - I left money on the table - but I didn't pay for the food that never came. Probably just a bad day for them, but if you go there and it's crowded, I suggest going somewhere else.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

PF Chang's in Colonie Center

We had lunch at PF Chang's in Colonie Center yesterday. This time we had the Peking Dumplings (pork), which was the best part of the meal. I also had hot and sour soup, which was about the same as last time - not very good. For the main course I had Wok Charred Beef. My wife had the Mu-Shu (pork I think), which was pretty good. She certainly liked it. My overall impression of the soup and my beef dish was that they were way too salty.

I went to the PF Chang website and they have nutrition information, but it doesn't include sodium. I'm not first to say PF Chang has too much sodium. On the bright side, the nutrition info on the site suggests ordering your meal with "light sauce", and that would reduce the sodium. They should be clearer about it on the menu itself.
We went to PF Chang's the other day. Apparently it was Boss Day so my associates took me out for lunch. I wanted to try the new place.

It wasn't bad, but not great either. I will start with the good points. The interior was gorgeous, much nicer than any Chinese restaurant in the area (with the possible exception of Plum Blossom, which is also very pretty inside). It's not just the interior. The tables, dishes, and all the rest were very well done. Servers were friendly and well dressed too.

We had several dishes. The best was the Mongolian Beef (I went off my low-cholesterol diet for this meal). Very good flavor. Beef, cooked just right, with scallions.

We had a few other dishes. I had Hot and Sour soup. It was average for the area. It did look good, as did everything else, but the flavor was just not right. My favorite for Hot and Sour soup in the area is Amazing Wok, which is mostly a take-out/delivery place. They do it just right.

I should note here, and for all the dishes, that Chinese food can be a very personal thing. I prefer "authentic" flavors. Since I've never been to China, I'm not well qualified to judge such things for real. I go by what I hear from Chinese friends, and from experiences in Chinatown and other places with a heavy Chinese population (we had a great Chinese place in Houston when I was at Rice - the main menu was in Chinese). Some people are not into "authentic", and they may like PF Chang's better than I did.

The associates split a Wonton Soup. It had a lot of good ingredients, including shrimp, but again the flavor just wasn't nailed down.

We also had Crispy Honey Chicken. This was reasonably good, but there was an inch-long sharp object in a piece I ate. Fortunately I didn't bite into the sharp side. The manager gave us a coupon for a free appetizer on our next visit. I should sue just for the inappropriate response. :-)

Then we had a noodle dish - Vegetable Chow Fun. Nothing special about it. Not bad, but not a stand-out.

Last, we had a side dish of spinach with garlic. Again nothing special, but it was decent. It was basically what we expected.

This may be a tough market for PF Chang's. Emperor's is just across Wolf Road, and is a much better all-around Chinese restaurant. Ocean Palace is only a couple miles to the east. Our associate has been raving about Shanghai Grill in Loudonville, so we'll have to try that next.

On the bright side, the prices at PF Chang's were reasonable, less than I expected. But if I'm in the neighborhood, I'll either go to the Cheesecake Factory next door for non-Chinese food, or to Emperor's for Chinese food.

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.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Vin Santo in Latham

My wife likes to do something different on occasion, and this Friday that meant going to show at a small community theatre in Latham. The show, Sunshine Boys, wasn't my cup of tea. On the bright side, we had dinner first at Vin Santo Tapas & Wine Bar, which is in the Latham Farms plaza.

I do like the tapas concept and it was well executed here. We ordered three different tapas items along with two entrees and a couple desserts. Our tapas included chili spiced bean dip, the "tapas plate" (which has 3-4 different items on it), and the artichoke salad. The two entrees were a salad of beets and butter lettuce, and a filet mignon.

Everything was good, but the filet really stood out. It's supposedly a "small plate", and it's not huge. But it was by no means tiny, and the price ($16) is unbeatable for a filet in a quality gourmet-like restaurant. The only comparable deal I can think of is the filet at Miyako's hibachi tables - it's more money but you get more food.

Dessert was good but not the highlight of the meal. I had a creme brulee made with mango. I appreciate the variety offered (the creme brulee apparently changes often), but the mango didn't work for me. Not bad or anything, but not spectacular either. I don't remember what my wife had but I think it was good. Also, we rushed a bit to get to our show.

Now as I've mentioned before, we're not wine people, so I'm missing half or more of what this place is about.

You can read more about the place at their website: Vin Santo Wine Bar.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Downtown Cafe in Kingston NY

I had a little trip yesterday, down to Poughkeepsie for a deposition and then a little stop in Kingston City Court.

I got to Kingston early. The court parking lot had no shade on a hot day, so I drove a bit to look for a lunch place nearby (with shady parking, of course). Just down the hill from the Court is a lovely spot called Rondout. I parked under the bridge (hence, in the shade) and noticed a few restaurants. One stood out - Downtown Cafe.

It stood out because I saw the phrase "Zagat Rated" outside. The outside menu listed a chicken dish with rice and asparagus. In a small hurry, I walked in and ordered before sitting down. Pleasant atmosphere, nice decor, friendly staff, etc. The food was good, though I'm judging on only one dish. I did look over the menu and liked the variety and choices. Good dessert list too.

If I'm ever in Kingston for dinner, Downtown Cafe will be high on my list.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Mezza Notte - A Second Look

I wrote about Mezza Notte in March. We went back last night and had a great dinner.

We first went there with friends shortly after the place had just opened. The food was generally good then, but I noted that there are many other places in the area that have comparable food for far less money. I closed that post indicating that I hoped to go back in 6 months or so. Then a friend gave me a gift certificate so we went back a bit earlier than planned. It was a good gift.

As with the last time, I had the Carpaccio appetizer. For those who don't know, this is raw filet mignon, sliced extremely thin. It was excellent last time and this time as well. I also shared a Caesar salad with my wife, which was good.

For entrees, I had shrimp over pasta. This was really prepared well. The shrimp were rather large and cooked perfectly. The garlic/lemon sauce on the pasta was delicious. It was an outstanding dish.

My wife's filet entree was also very nice. It came with potato, portabella, red onion, and a few other vegetables, and I kept picking at the veggies on her plate. She graciously gave me a couple bites of her steak which I enjoyed. She had a side of risotto as well and that was good too.

I saved room for dessert and had the creme brulee. It was worth it. I especially liked the touch of a bit of kiwi and strawberry on top, but the main part of it is the creamy stuff (hey, I'm not really a gourmet) with the caramelized top, and that was superb. My wife had a hazelnut gelato and liked it.

Altogether, it was a top-notch meal. I still struggle with the pricing, as the total cost (including a nice tip) was nearly $140. My wife had a coke and I drank water. I should not that we're not wine drinkers, so I imagine if you have wine it gets even more expensive. It is my impression from what we saw around us and from others who have eaten there that the wine service is top-notch, but I lack the knowledge to comment further.

If you're the kind of person who doesn't hesitate to spend more than $100 on dinner for two, then Mezza Notte is the place to go in Guilderland, and one of the few places in Albany. Aside from a great meal, you get a very nice atmosphere and the sense of exclusivity. As we left, there was a stretch limo waiting outside. But not for us.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Ichiban in Guilderland - Chinese

I made some negative comments in the past about Ichiban for their Japanese food. I went there for lunch the other day for Chinese food, and as I expected, it was better.

I had a tofu dish (Szechuan Tofu, I think), and it was fairly good. However, it wasn't perfect and the rice was not done right in my opinion. I should mention here that, having lived in Japan for a year, I'm pretty picky about rice. Most Americans don't notice the difference. In a good Japanese restaurant, and most good Chinese restaurants, the rice should not clump together. It should be fluffy. At Ichiban the other day, the rice had a lot of clumps, and big clumps - as big as my thumb, and I have big hands.

With that said, I would eat there again. There are certainly worse places to eat Chinese food. My current Chinese food favorites are Emperor's on Wolf Road and Ocean Palace on Central. And we love Amazing Wok in Colonie for delivery.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Knocked Up, veggie burgers and dogs, and other off-topic thoughts

My wife and I saw Knocked Up tonight. Very funny. What's really outstanding is that my expectations were high because a good and reliable friend recommended it, and it exceeded those high expectations. Just really funny.

On the way home my wife and I had a pleasant dispute about who the actor was who played the sister's husband. She thought it was Paul Rudd, and I was sure it was Tim Matheson. I checked on IMDb when I got home, and I was totally wrong.

On another note, and only slightly more relevant to the overall theme of this blog, I feel the need to write about veggie burgers, hot dogs, etc. I like them. I actually like them quite a bit.

This is motivated by my recent experience with Boca Italian Sausages. I even had a good hot dog first to compare, and I really did like the Boca better. I ate it like a hot dog, but I think it would actually go better with spaghetti and marinara sauce.

I've been into veggie burgers for a while. I like various kinds, including Boca and Morningstar Farms. One of my favorite things to do, and not totally healthy, is to get a bacon cheeseburger, with chili, at Johnny Rockets, but have it with a veggie burger instead of a beef burger. Sounds crazy, yes. And the waitstaff will look at you very strangely, yes. But it works. And yes, you should have a shake with it. Think about all the calories you're saving and all the saturated fat you're not eating because you got the veggie burger instead of the beef, and that makes up for the shake, right?

Well, it doesn't really, but the shake is really good anyway so go ahead. Oh my god! I just looked at the nutrition information on their website. I don't think I can ever have a shake again. Whatever you do, do not read the nutrition information on their website. You may never eat again! :-)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Tops American Grill in Rotterdam

Prompted by the Metroland Restaurant Review, we went to Tops American Grill in Rotterdam the other day. The Metroland review is far more thorough (he's a professional and I'm a rank amateur, after all), and I generally agree that it's a good place to eat.

Our experience was not quite as good as Mr. Nilsson's. There was some unspecified problem in the kitchen that delayed our food - not a good thing when you have small children with you. Our waitress seemed a bit distracted but was pleasant.

My French Onion soup was good. Maybe a little too much cheese, but that's hard to complain about and is really my cholesterol fears talking. Also it was made with salad croutons instead of a more robust bread, but it was still delicious. Speaking of bread, the bread that came out first was also very nice.

I also ordered a Tuscan bean bruschetta. This was one of the delayed items, and it wasn't great. The bread was a bit overcooked (okay, burned), and the flavors just didn't quite work. I think it had a goat cheese on it and somehow that didn't fit. Could have been a kitchen problem though.

My entree was half great and half mediocre. I had a 5-ounce tenderloin with shrimp scampi and grilled asparagus. The steak was really fantastic. It was so tender I literally was cutting it with my fork. Great flavor with an appropriately small amount of sauce (marsala wine based?). The asparagus was fair, but I expect better from a restaurant. I do better on my own grill. And the shrimp was mediocre. I did eat it, so I'm not saying it was foul or anything like that, but I expected something more. I suspect again this was a kitchen problem. It came out on a skewer which would suggest grilling, but it did not taste or feel like it had been grilled, or perhaps not long enough. I also had a side of sauteed greens that was just okay.

My wife had a roast turkey platter, a hold-over from the restaurant's diner history. She did not seem to like it and did not eat much of it, but that may have been the kids distracting her. I tried it and wasn't impressed - seemed a bit better than something from a school lunch cafeteria - but I'm not a roast turkey guy.

We split a cheesecake and it was good, not great, but I would say better than average and better than a lot of places in the area. As Metroland noted, there is a very broad selection of desserts.

As I write it this review seems more negative than I remember the experience. We will likely go back, as we both liked it. There are some intangible positives -- a pleasant atmosphere, family feeling, sense that many of the customers know and like each other, well designed interior ... something like that.

Pancho's Mexican Restaurant in Colonie NY

I've been to Pancho's Mexican Restaurant a few times now and finally now am getting around to writing about it. Obviously since I've been back, I don't hate it.

Pancho's is not the best Mexican food in the world, but I'm not fond of most of the Mexican restaurants in Albany. I have a bad bias on this having lived in Houston for four years. My bias is so bad that I don't even like most of the Mexican food I've had in California. I used to half-joke that Taco Bell was the best in Albany.

Pancho's has some good and some mediocre. The first time I went the guacamole stood out to me. I'm a big guacamole fan. I like how it tastes, I like the texture (I'm into the texture of foods), and it's actually pretty darn good for you. Last time I went the guacamole was still good, but no longer stood out in my eyes.

The other thing that stands out in my mind, in not a good way, was the steak in the steak fajitas (one of my favorite dishes). I can't put my finger on it exactly, but it doesn't taste quite right. It's either the quality of the meat or the way they cook it. It does not seem like it's grilled and that's the way I like my fajitas. I'd almost say it's fried in lard. But before anyone takes this the wrong way, I had it again last time I was there and liked it. I still noticed the flavor, but it wasn't as strong and maybe it's growing on me.

In general Pancho's is a nice place. Good atmosphere, friendly staff, and the food is generally good. I'm not giving it five stars or anything, but I will be going back.

I'm still waiting for a really good Mexican restaurant to hit the area. We go to Garcia's pretty regularly as well, and I put it on a par with Pancho's. Garcia's is particularly good for kids, while I think I like Pancho's better as a lunch place. Garcia's lunch is too focused on its buffet, which doesn't do it for me.

I used to like Chili's, but for some reason we haven't been going there lately. I think something about the chain nature of the restaurant has taken something away from it, but I can't say what. I should also mention The Cheesecake Factory. They do have some decent Mexican-style dishes, but the place is usually very crowded and a bit pricey. Lunch at 11:30 is the safest bet.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Chatham House (yes, in Chatham)

I only had a salad, so I can't write much. On my way to Austerlitz Town Court near Chatham, I was running early. So I drove around a little (slowly, gotta be careful in Chatham), and found Chatham House. Seems to be three different restaurants inside. I ate in the tavern, and there also seems to be a Lippera's, and then also Chatham House itself. But I could be wrong about such details. I thought I saw three distinct menus, with a good variety on each.

Anyway, I was in a small hurry, so I just went into the tavern and had a Caesar Salad with shrimp and bacon (leave it to me to find a high-cholesterol salad). It was pretty good. The four large shrimp were grilled. The bacon was not as tender as I like, but I didn't ask, and it was still good. Actually, I have to say that the bacon seemed to be a very high quality cut of meat -- thick, with excellent flavor. The dressing was also good. With a coke, the total was a bit over $20 with tip. This was enough for a meal. It was 4 hours ago and I'm not hungry yet (but I'll still snack before bed - naughty boy).

Now I gotta find an excuse to go back when I have more time. I did just get hired on a ticket in Chatham, so we'll see.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Mezza Notte in Guilderland

Update: We went back in mid-July. See our more recent post on Mezza Notte.


There's a new restaurant in town. Mezza Notte is a upscale restaurant with at least a hint of Italian, on Route 20 just east of Route 155. The building formerly housed Phoebe's Florist. Now where am I supposed to get flowers for my wife (as if I ever do that - sorry honey)?

We had dinner there last night with another couple. The first thing I noticed was the valet parking. Valet parking? In Guilderland? Wow! We did not avail ourselves of the valet, as I find myself perfectly capable of parking my own car. The parking lot is fairly small but I don't see why you couldn't park on the street (Cornell Ave, not Western). I asked the valet and he said that people start using it when the lot fills up. And indeed when we left a few people were waiting for their cars.

Anyway, we went inside and I have to say the place is gorgeous. They really did a nice job in the interior. Our friends weren't there yet so we ordered drinks. Then our friends arrived and I bought them a round. Four drinks, including my wife's Coke, added up to just over $30. Ouch! Yes, this is foreshadowing, though not as subtle as usual.

While the interior was nice, I didn't like our table. We had a booth, and it was like a flat U. Two people sit with their backs against the wall (maybe it was a window), and the other two sit at the ends of a fairly long table. There's really room for three along that wall. This left me uncomfortably far from my buddy on the far end. Also, they brought out bread and a plate with olive oil, vinegar, and tapenade. They put the plate in the middle. I asked for an extra plate since I couldn't reach. With that said, the bread and tapenade were pretty good. I thought of asking for a different table, but let it go. During dinner, a guy sitting in a regular table got bumped in the head as one of the staff was moving a table, so I guess it was a good decision. :-)

My favorite dish of the night was the appetizer. I forget the name, but I'd call it a carpaccio - very rare or perhaps raw beef in very thin slices. They did a really nice job with this. The meat had great texture and flavor, and they had nice touches on the plate as well, with a small (appropriately) amount of sauce and some kind of citrus wedge. My wife had a salad of mixed greens. I didn't ask but the salad disappeared fast. She did leave me her tiny tomatoes, which were good. Our friends had melanzane frite (fried eggplant). They said it was good, but not what they expected. I think they had a salad too but don't remember what kind.

I had a chicken entree. It was stuffed, I think with prosciutto, some kind of cheese, and some kind of green. The dish came with mashed potatoes. It was okay, but a bit on the bland side. My wife had the rack of lamb, and devoured it, so I think she liked it. Friend 1 had a scallop special, over pasta. He said it was good, but didn't eat that much of it. I don't remember what Friend 2 had, but whatever it was disappeared.

We also had dessert. Wife and I had the panna cotta. It's something like a custard, but the flavor didn't do it for us. Interesting, but not what I wanted. Friend 1 had bread pudding, which apparently was okay. Friend 2 had a cheesecake. I got a taste of it and it was not my kind of cheesecake. Not bad, but just not the style of cheesecake and not really all that special.

Then we got the bill. Including tip and the drinks from the bar (we had no other alcohol), the total was over $250. And therein lies the problem with Mezza Notte. This is Guilderland, not Manhattan. I'm probably going to give the place another try sometime (but not soon), because I like to try different things. But there are so many good options that cost much, much less. Aromi d'Italia is about a quarter-mile away, I like the food better (the menu variety has a similar gourmet touch to it), and it's a lot less expensive.

On the bright side for the restaurant, there was a good crowd. Hopefully most had a better experience than I did because I'd like to see the place stick around so I can give it another try in 6 months or so.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Restaurants on a recent trip

We just got back from a week in Florida with a stop in the Bahamas. I should be blogging about restaurants in Albany, but I just haven't been motivated to say much.

We had some interesting moments in our trip. First, we went to the Palm Beach area of Florida to visit family. The most notable restaurant experience was on the beach in Lake Worth (the beach is on the ocean, not on the lake - I don't even know if there is a lake in Lake Worth). We ate lunch at Benny's On The Beach. Benny's is actually on the pier. And the particular cuisine of note was ... hot dogs. Yes, I'm reviewing a place for its hot dogs. I'll move to the other end of the spectrum later in this post.

So anyway, Benny's has really good hot dogs. Great flavor, a touch of spicy without being too spicy. The whole family liked them. This includes certain family members who never seem to like anything. So if you're ever in the Lake Worth area and you're hankering for a hot dog, Benny's is the place.

I had nice chat with a guy there who I'm guessing is Benny. He's from Quebec, and is familiar with the Albany area. In the 1970s he would come down here to play hockey against some locals, I think as a part of a team from up there.

Next up, I just have to mention a new reason for liking Panera. We have a Panera practically next door to our office, and we go there maybe once a week, but I don't think I've ever blogged about it. I like the soups. The sandwiches are okay, but not great. They also have a cheese pastry that's damn good - my current sin of choice. But that's not why I'm writing about Panera. We were staying with relatives down there, and these relatives do not have internet access. While I could check my e-mail via my cell phone, I felt a need to get some real access with my laptop during the week. So I went to Panera there for breakfast three times, because Panera has free wifi (that is, free wireless internet access). While there I enjoyed the spinach and bacon quiche, which was, well, yummy.

But the more interesting part of the trip was a side trip I took with my wife. We went to the Bahamas, staying at Hotel Riu on Paradise Island. Riu is next door to Atlantis, a huge resort that has a reputation for being absurdly expensive. Riu cost about half as much, so it was only very expensive. Our stay was "all-inclusive" meaning you get to eat and drink without paying any extra. It seemed that most of the guests spent quite a bit of time in the various hotel bars, or sitting by the pool getting drinks from the poolside bar. I now understand the concept of all-inclusive from the hotel's perspective. If you keep up the flow of alcohol to the guests, they won't notice that the food isn't very good.

We arrived and had our first meal there, lunch. It was a buffet. There was absolutely nothing special about it. A salad bar without many choices. Some cold cuts and not much choice there either. A few hot items that were not exciting. Hot dogs too, but not nearly as good as at Benny's. And there was fresh melon, which was mostly bland. In addition to these buffets, they have three special restaurants. There's a steakhouse, a "gourmet", and a Japanese restaurant. If you know me, you know I had to try that, so we ate at the Japanese place - Tengoku (I believe it's the word for Heaven). Tengoku was weak. In the past I have been critical of Japanese restaurants run by Chinese people. I must now say that the Chinese do it much better than Bahamians. The food was not rancid or anything, but the flavors were all wrong, and I don't have much positive to say about that meal.

Breakfast the next day was a little better. A buffet again, but they seemed to do this better than lunch. Breakfast also included smoked salmon, which is one of my favorite foods. Oddly they had cream cheese next to it, but no bagels. We also had lunch at the buffet, which was no better. But this time I didn't eat much because I was saving up for dinner - and this is where the story gets good.

We had made reservations for a restaurant named Dune. Dune is considered one of the best restaurants in the Bahamas, and I have to agree. For starters it's in a fantastic location - in the "One and Only Ocean Club" resort. They really ought to drop the One and Only from the name, because it seems unclassy, even though it is rather accurate. The Ocean Club resort was the setting for part of the latest James Bond film. It looked pretty nice in the film, but that did not do justice to how stunning this place really is. While Atlantis and Riu have towers of rooms, Ocean Club has no more than two floors. It is quiet. Everything about it is tasteful, pleasant, relaxing, etc. I lack the words to convey the truly blissful feeling we had as we walked around after dinner.

Which brings me back to Dune. The food was excellent. I went a non-traditional route and had four different appetizers with no entree, while my wife had soup and a steak. My dishes included a raw tuna dish, a raw salmon dish, a chili shrimp with noodles dish and a salad. The tuna and salmon dishes were perfect. Among the best I've had, though not quite on par with Megu in NYC. The salad, with asparagus and avocado, was also quite nice, though it might be hard to screw that up. The chili shrimp dish was only very good, with the noodles in the dish being a bit too much like instant ramen noodles. My wife's soup and steak were also delicious. For dessert we had the sampler plate. The cheesecake on that plate was one of the best I've ever had - made with creme fraiche. All of the items were good, and a couple others were outstanding as well.

So as we're sitting there enjoying a quiet dinner, a table of ten sits down next to us. One guy at the table looks familiar but I can't quite place him at first. The group was mostly okay, but a little noisy. The one who looked familiar was the loudest, and I finally realized it was a moderately famous retired NFL quarterback. I don't want to name him, but let's just say his name (perhaps a nickname) would fit well with his volume. The volume might have bothered us, but it was pretty cool to be eating next to someone of his fame, so that offset the loss of quiet.

As we were leaving, my wife told me to look to my left, and I noticed yet another retired NFL quarterback sitting at another table in the same room. This one, arguably the greatest quarterback in the history of football (even though he never won a Superbowl), was eating quietly, and possibly looking over at the loud one in a bit of dismay - but I only caught a glimpse.

Those are the restaurant highlights from our trip. So if you ever win Lotto and can afford the $1000+/night for the Ocean Club, I strongly recommend it. If we ever go back to Paradise Island, that is where we'll stay, though we might have to go into debt to pull it off.