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.