Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Phoenicians in Colonie

We had a nice lunch at Phoenicians. It's a new Lebanese/Mediterranean restaurant. I think it's at 1686 Central Avenue -- see Google Maps. Phone number might be 464-4444. I did not find a website for it, though it might appear at:

Lebanese? Well, it's kinda like Greek food. Please note that they do not have a Greek Salad on the menu. I also did not see Gyros, though they did have Shawarma. My wife liked that. It came with a chick pea and eggplant salad that I liked.

I had the lentil soup (very nice), and then found my appetite and ordered the appetizer sampler. It had hummus (a chick pea dip), baba ghanouj (eggplant dip), some pickles olives and pickled turnips, tabouleh, and kefta. The sampler was fantastic. Everything tasted great and the texture of the dips was enjoyable - not too pureed and not too chunky either. The pickled stuff was unusual from what I've seen in this genre. It was a strong flavor but worked for me.

The place is small - maybe 10 tables - and prices are reasonable. Very interesting interior decor. I'm not even sure how to describe it.

A very nice addition to the Albany restaurant scene. If you like this type of food (Greek, Turkish, Israeli, Lebanese, etc.) then Phoenicians is worth a try. I'm happy because it's so close to our office. We'll be back.

Oh, and I forgot the dessert. We both had baklava and liked it.
Update: I've been back a few times to Phoenicians. There is a vegetarian platter I had recently and it was great. Also just had the hummus and ground beef. I love a dish that challenges conventional American thinking -- hummus is supposed to be vegetarian, right? And the soup of the day was a white bean with rosemary. All good stuff.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

PF Chang - Colonie

Just a quick note that I updated my previous review of PF Chang in Colonie Center.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Tesoro in Guilderland

Just a quick post on Tesoro in 20 Mall (Guilderland). We went a couple weeks ago for lunch and enjoyed it. As I understand things, the chef from Lombardo's took over this place (it was Nicole's Italia). Nicole's was good but Tesoro is better. It's like having Lombardo's close to home. Guilderland is developing a great array of restaurants.

Melting Pot in Crossgates (Guilderland)

About a week ago we went to the new Melting Pot at Crossgates in Guilderland. It was an experience worth trying. The Melting Pot is a fondue franchise. In other words, it's a chain restaurant. Like the Cheesecake Factory at Colonie Center, it's aiming for the high end of that arena. This is a good place for a warning. We spent over $100 on dinner for two and we didn't even have wine or drinks.

With that budget-busting issue in mind, it was worth going. We arrived for an early dinner (on the way to a movie) and, as seems common with new places, it was full. Fortunately we were able to get two seats at the bar with a "burner". We got a set of courses that come as a package deal. It starts with a cheese dip. You get breads, veggies and a few other things to dip in the melted cheese. The server mixes up the cheese and stuff and heats it up there then it stays warm on the burner. We liked this part of the meal very much.

Next came a salad. Not bad but nothing special. If salad is a key element of your meal, then this is not the place for you.

The entree course really stood out. It's a little like Japanese nabe or shabu-shabu style cooking. There's a big pot of broth that's hot on the burner. You get raw meats and a few other things on a plate. Put the meats on the tip of a long fork and put that end into the broth. Let it cook for about 90 seconds. Take it out and dip it into any of about 8 dipping sauces provided. Our meal had a wide variety of meats including a well-marinated pork, shrimp, filet mignon, another steak I think, chicken, and salmon. There were also some spinach dumplings (which were almost impossible to get back out of the pot). The servers were very helpful in explaining which dipping sauces were best paired with which meats. They were well-trained and helpful.

The meal closed with the chocolate. This has a similar plan. You get a variety of fruits, cakes, and a couple other items to dip. I remember we liked it very much.

So the fondue style parts of the meal were all impressive. If you can afford to blow $100 on a meal for two, then you should give it a try. I can't see ourselves going there for dinner more than maybe once a year. Another option is to go for dessert only. That would cost a lot less and give you a good feel for the experience part of it.

Creo in Guilderland

Creo is a new restaurant in Stuyvesant Plaza. The restaurant itself is essentially on the corner of Fuller Road and Western (US-20). We went for lunch on Friday and generally liked it.

Some initial notes: Creo is, at least for now, very busy. Its end of the parking lot was jam packed. The inside appears to be much larger than its predecessor (Mangia) and the interior is very attractive. The main dining room has high ceilings which make it seem all the more spacious. We sat in the bar area which is also nice, though the flat-screen TVs showing (at lunchtime) Judge Hatchett and Judge Joe Brown seemed a little out of place. Service was also a little off but that can be attributed to opening week and being flat out swamped with customers. Under the circumstances I'd say they're handling the load pretty well.

I was surprised that the menu had so few choices. My mother (who ate there the night before), commented that there were almost no choices for her - she tries to eat Vegan. I also noticed that the server placed a heavy emphasis on alcohol. The lunch menu was handed to us wine side up, and shortly after that we were presented with a separate cocktail menu (with mocktails - no alcohol - as well). Just me but I don't see pushing hooch at lunchtime. I understand that's where they make their money, and I'm no temperance advocate, but I thought society was downplaying alcohol these days.

The food was mostly good. We both started with a soup - chicken & asiago dumpling. It was very good. The broth had a solid flavor and there were good chunks of meat. I didn't really get the point of the dumplings - the asiago flavor kinda got drowned out by the soup - but I liked it anyway. Also, it came in a cup, but the cup was so deep it almost seemed bottomless.

My other half had the steak sandwich. This was done well. The meat was cooked right and was cooked in a tasty sauce - maybe a touch of worcestershire in that. It came with a kind of steak sauce on the side but the meat was so good that the side sauce was unnecessary. It came with steak fries which were not bad at all.

The chicken in my lobster chicken was a bit overcooked. There was a "scotch cream sauce" that tasted good but there wasn't much of it. The lobster bits that came with it were good but again, not much lobster there. It also came with "risotto hush puppies". That translated into deep fried balls of rice. Interesting, but not all that special in my eyes. Also an excellent side of vegetables including green beans, corn and cherry tomato (maybe grape tomato). The different veggies worked very well together and I'm sure there was some kind of gentle seasoning or sauce that made it work so well. I'll forgive the overcooked chicken as an opening week thing - and of course overcooked is a lot better than undercooked!

The bread came from Bountiful Bread, which is also in Stuyvesant Plaza. It seemed odd to have a tray of bread brought out on "Bountiful Bread" paper. This is a chain restaurant that is, like Panera, a step above fast food. I like it, and the bread was good, but the presentation seems out of place in a fancy restaurant.

We'll certainly go back and try it again, but for now I prefer Provence, also in Stuyvesant Plaza. Provence has a better menu and does the high class thing without trying so hard.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Athos in Guilderland

About a week ago my wife and I had dinner at the new Greek place in Guilderland, Athos. We enjoyed it. It's in the same spot which used to be Cabernet Cafe and before that Figliomeni's.

We started with the Horiatiki Salad, which looks, on the menu, like a typical greek salad. There were no olives though, and the feta that came with it was in two large slices. Usually a greek salad has olives and the feta is crumbled. The menu does say olives, so that was probably a mistake (the place just opened). Serving the feta in the larger pieces was fine, but this dish was not their best and did not live up to our expectations.

We also had an appetizer where you pick three different "spreads" or dips to go with some pita bread. We had the tzatziki (yogurt based), the melitsanosalata (eggplant based) and the fava puree (fava beans of course). These were all quite good. I was a little surprised that hummus was not one of the options, but that's not a big deal.

One quick comment about both of these -- the appetizer and the salad were $12 each. That seemed a little overpriced. With the salad, it just wasn't that great of a salad. The dips were very good quality, but we didn't get that much of them. With that said, the entrees were not overpriced.

Speaking of entrees, my wife had the chicken (kotopoulo) souvlaki. She liked it. I remember that the chicken had a great flavor, and as I write this she mentions that the rice it came with was also delicious. She didn't finish and I brought the chicken home. It was still great the next day. With that quality at only $18, it made the whole meal a bargain.

I had the "Ionian Marinato" - shrimp and scallops marinated in citrus, then sauteed with olives, capers and peppers. As time has passed I don't remember all the details of it, but it was good.

We had dessert too. My wife had Baklava and I got the "Galakobouriko" - custard in phyllo dough. We liked the baklava. The custard thing was fine, but not our thing. The menu lists a "Loukoumathes" (fried dough) but they didn't have any that night - some kind of problem with the dough - maybe it didn't rise. I liked that one of the desserts is a fruit platter. More places should do that (and I should have ordered it).

On the whole, it was very good. The restaurant atmosphere was nice too. The whole meal costs us $80, but that includes an appetizer, a salad and two desserts. Next time we'll probably skip the salad and get one dessert.

We enjoyed it and wish Athos well.

Map of 1814 Western Avenue in Albany.

Arirang: Noi's in Colonie has changed

Update (4/14/2010): We went to Arirang today and it was closed. From the circumstances, I suspect it may not reopen.
Update: Arirang is the name of this new restaurant. We've been back a few times and the Korean food is good too. With good quality, reasonable prices, and a great location (for us), we expect to go a couple times a month for lunch.
I wrote in the past about a restaurant that was named Mino's and then Noi's in Colonie. Well it's changed again.

I went with my daughter tonight on the way back from her Tae Kwon Do class. That led to a minor coincidence. We sat down and one guy working in the restaurant (I don't know the new name yet ... the Noi's sign is still up) looked familiar. A while later he introduced himself. He's Steve Kim, the owner of Kim's Oriental Shop, just down the road. That was a pleasant surprise, and it was also neat because I got to show off that my daughter can count to 10 in Korean. I've been an occasional customer at the store for several years.

Anyway, the food seemed similar to what they had in the past. They have some Thai dishes and Japanese dishes. We had a variety:

Edamame appetizer (soybeans served in the husk - you pop the beans out and eat them - the kids love 'em). This is something you find in Japanese restaurants and it was good. I think they served a larger quantity than most other places.

I had a Tom Kha soup with chicken (also called Tom Kha Gai in Thai restaurants). That was also good, maybe the best I've had in this area.

Daughter also had a miso soup. She liked it. I didn't get to taste it until it was cold.

Side salad was nothing special. Small plate with iceberg lettuce, served with a peanut sauce dressing (ginger dressing also available). Not bad, but no big deal either.

The entrees were excellent. Cashew Nut Chicken (I asked for non-spicy for my daughter - then she didn't eat any of it), and I had Macadamia Nut Beef. Both were very good, cooked with peppers, onion, the relevant nuts, and pineapple. The sauce for the beef had a particularly rich flavor.

They will be adding Korean food to the menu, probably next week. There was a large table of Asian men (I'm pretty sure they were Korean) and it looked like they got Korean food. I saw that they had Kim Chi (a pickled cabbage) and some yellow Daikon (a sweet pickled Asian radish) and got some of that.

Looking forward to going back when they add Korean food. There is only one other Korean place in the area that I know of (Ta-Ke near Albany Memorial Hospital).

Anyway, the place is at 1558 Central Avenue in Colonie.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Aperitivo Bistro in Schenectady

We had a nice opportunity to go out for dinner in Schenectady the other night. We went to Aperitivo Bistro, which is right near Proctor's on State Street. It happened to be very close to a party we were going to later at Clinton's Ditch. We were impressed with this area of Schenectady. They've really spruced the place up. It feels like a "place to be." Don't tell Brian Stratton I said anything nice about him though. :-)

We stopped at Katie O'Byrnes on the way to Clinton's Ditch and that also looked nice, though we didn't have anything to eat or drink. Just said hello to a friend.

So, Aperitivo Bistro ... it was pretty good. Started with a nice touch - the bread came out with three condiments on a nice plate. It had butter one one end, olive oil and balsamic in the middle, and a dried bruschetta on the far end. Never seen that before and I hope others start imitating it. All three tasted good, as did the bread.

Aperitivo has a "tapas" style menu. You can order a lot of small dishes, called Piattini. I'm pretty sure that means "little plate", though tapas is Spanish and the word Piattini seems kinda Italian. Guess that's fusion for you.

So we had a few of these small plates. The broccoli rabe was both good and different. it was served in a kinda soupy form. I wouldn't have thought that would work, but it did.

Next was a tenderloin carpaccio - three very thin slices of rare or raw steak, topped with a couple shiitake mushrooms and a bit of cheese with it. It was interesting. The steak didn't have much flavor, but I'm not sure it's supposed to. This wasn't the best dish of the night, but it wasn't bad or anything. Biggest concern is how small it was. I understand the concept, but if you're going to charge $10 for it, I just think you should get a little more. I don't think it was even an ounce of steak on that plate.

The fried ravioli was one of the better dishes - tasty and closer to the appropriate portion size. The only minor concern here was maybe too much breading. But still good for sure.

I got a small shrimp and scallop plate that was on the daily specials menu. It had a fennel sausage with it mixed with some kind of sauce. I thought this was one of the better items that night, but again, just too small considering the price.

One last detail was among our first items. We had the Spinach and Grilled Radicchio salad. The grilled radicchio didn't do much for us, but the salad on the whole was very good. The spinach, walnuts, and gorgonzola all went well together with the dressing.

Should also mention that the interior was nice, almost elegant. We were in a room with the bar. Apparently there is another room I didn't see, so I can't comment on that.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Slacking off

I've been slacking off on my restaurant review postings. Just too busy with other things, and the muse has not been hitting me to write on this topic.

I have been very active in other areas, business, family, and politics. One interesting group is the Albany Ron Paul Meetup. We've been doing a lot on the Steven Vasquez campaign for Congress lately.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Losing Weight: Nutrient Density (even while eating out)

For the first time in years, the scale this morning showed me weighing less than 200 lbs (198). I started a new "diet" back in September. I was up somewhere around 215 or 220, and my cholesterol numbers were persistently high (not awful, but too high). After losing some weight, I had my cholesterol checked and it had dropped a lot. Not all the way down, but very close to the "targets".

My new diet is based on a book on Calorie Restriction. They also use the term "optimal nutrition," and that's meaningful. I don't follow the book literally (and to their credit they encourage that), but I picked up some big concepts from it.

The optimal nutrition concept is key. I try to eat things that have a lot of nutrients in them. There's actually a list in the book of a variety of foods and their "nutrient density" - a measure of the nutritional value per calorie. Not surprisingly vegetables are great. One of the easiest things I do now is eat more vegetables. In restaurants I ask for vegetables on the side instead of fries, pasta, rice, and other things that are not great on nutrient density. Most restaurants will accommodate that. I also order a side of vegetables, maybe even two.

There's a few things I make at home now with some frequency that I like and are good on the nutrient density thing. One is a blueberry smoothie. 1 cup nonfat yogurt, 1 cup skim milk (maybe an extra 1/4 cup), and 2 cups of blueberries. Put it in a blender, add some brown sugar or other sweetener - not needed but not horrible either - and drink. Blueberries are loaded with nutrients. Sometimes I use other berries, bananas, or some combination of the bunch. Be careful when you buy blueberries. The first time I bought a tub from the freezer and didn't notice it was in syrup - which dramatically increased the calories without helping nutrition - and didn't really taste better either.

The other recipe I adopted was tuna-hummus salad. Instead of mixing tuna with mayonnaise, I mix it with hummus. I usually include some onion, maybe some spinach leaves, and maybe some peppers too. Honestly, I like this just as much as tuna salad made with mayonnaise, maybe a little better. I eat it open face on a slice of whole wheat bread (I like whole wheat better than white), usually with spinach and/or other salad greens over the top. Plus maybe olive salad and things like that.

I also eat healthier at breakfast. Kashi GoLean Waffles are pretty good. I also make a variety of things with Eggbeaters, usually scrambled with vegetables. I sometimes use veggie substitute things from Morningstar Farms, like their veggie sausages (better than real sausage) and a "Veggie Crumble" thing that they have at Target. You can have waffles, scrambled eggs and sausage - a very filling meal, with a lot fewer calories and a lot more nutrients.

I also just make vegetables sometimes at home. Last night I made asparagus with some onion, garlic, and a bit of soy sauce and sushi vinegar. It was pretty good. A couple months ago I bought frozen asparagus at the store (I wanted to try it - fresh does taste better). I checked the package label. The whole 10 ounce package had 60 calories. That's all. Just 60 calories. You can eat a lot of vegetables and really fill yourself up without getting too many calories.

If my wife makes spaghetti at home, I'll nuke a veggie Italian sausage or a veggie burger (there's a big variety of these nowadays) to go with it. I also buy some "healthy" frozen entrees - the Kashi ones are pretty good. The organic section has some others I like. They're usually 300-400 calories.

Another good thing about this approach is you can pig out once in a while and it's not really a problem. At first I did this about once a week, but now it's less often than that. If we go out to a really nice restaurant, then the diet is out the window - but I'll still get extra veggies. This isn't hard for me. I really do enjoy eating them.

I went to Via Fresca on Western Ave. the other day. They have a good selection of veggie side dishes. Plenty of other good things too, but it's important to have places you can go and eat healthy. Panera Bread usually has good soups and salads, and a half-sandwich once in a while isn't too bad for you. I pay extra for the fruit cup side.

My "sins" are not so bad. Dark chocolate is pretty good on nutrients, so I eat some of that. Camembert is one of the better cheeses so I have that on crackers sometimes.

I think one of the other keys to healthy eating is that when you're going to eat bad, don't soften the blow with "lite" versions. Don't get lite salad dressing. The olive oil and canola oil are good for you anyway. Get smaller portions of the bad stuff, not full portions of the lite version. The lite version isn't nearly as tasty and is ultimately unsatisfying.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Hummer H3

We spent a week in Los Angeles, visiting Disneyland and my brother Steve. The trip was mostly good, with a couple glitches.

Glitch #1 was shortly after our arrival at LAX at the Budget Car Rental place. I had reserved a large SUV, like a Ford Expedition. With four of us and three in my brother's family, it seemed about right. Strangely they didn't have any large SUVs when we arrived. Yes, I do remember the Seinfeld episode: "You know how to take the reservation ... you just don't know how to hold the reservation."

First they offered us a Mustang convertible. I was okay with that, but our luggage didn't fit in the tiny trunk. We really only needed to fit in two medium suitcases, and they didn't fit.

So the agent looks around and says, "How about that white one?" I look over and she's pointing to a Hummer H3. Um, okay.

This was apparently a big deal, as the daily rental on a Hummer H3 is roughly double the cost of a large SUV, and they gave it to us at the same price. That pricing doesn't really make sense since the H3 is less expensive than an Expedition, but that's for another day.

The Hummer H3 was an experience. It looks distinctive. The picture below is pretty much what ours looked like:

It also attracted attention. A couple people even asked me about it.

But overall the experience was not that great. I would never buy a Hummer, knowing what I know now. For one thing, despite the fairly large exterior size, it was not that big inside. It did seem big, but not in a practical way. You can seat five people, though the three in the back can't be too big. We fit three kids (including my nephew) and it was a little tight. There is a decent amount of luggage room in the back cargo area. Our luggage fit easily with plenty more room. My wife just got a Mazda CX-9. It costs about the same but seats seven. My wife sat in the middle row last night with our two kids and there was clearly more room in that row than there was in the H3, plus there's a third row we didn't need to use. With the third row up there's decent cargo room and with it down it's huge.

Ergonomics on the H3 were poor. The best example is the power window switches. They're on the driver's left armrest, but nowhere near the driver's fingertips. They're almost at the elbow. I had to move my arm into an unnatural and uncomfortable position to open and close the windows.

Visibility is horrendous. The windows are small, but the real problem was the "A pillars" - the columns of metal between the windshield and the passenger windows. At one point I almost hit a pedestrian who ran across the street without looking. I didn't see him. Fortunately my wife saw him and warned me. Thanks Honey!

Driving was mostly okay, but not great. The biggest flaw was wind noise at highways speeds. It starts making significant noise at 70 mph, and got really loud when I got up to 80. I decided to drive slower. It also feels wide and that took some getting used to. On the bright side, it was remarkably easy to parallel park. It also seems to ride very high, higher than the other SUVs on the road.

We used one tank of gas on the trip and I didn't notice the mileage, but we didn't go very far.