Thursday, December 31, 2009

Mr. Fuji in Clifton Park

From our new guest blogger Ashley:
A bold, capitalized SUSHI spreads across a space of strip mall in Clifton Park beckoning those by sincere modesty. Walk closer to the restaurant and Mr. Fuji runs across the door, hardly noticeable to the regular constituents who run in to eat in or pick up food. The restaurant’s decor understates the freshness and execution that waits; it taunts you with a sushi bar and a staff who will come out and bring you freebies while you wait or call you by your first name. While small in stature, Mr. Fuji stands tall in taste and appeal.

Usually, I go with my friend who is a vegetarian, and is appalled by the idea of sushi. I know, I consider dropping her off my list of friends often, but in her defense, she does not hesitate to come to this restaurant at the slight mention of it. She goes all Pavlov’s Dogs for the Vegetable Hibachi, which comes with salad with ginger dressing, Miso Soup, and a decent portion of succulent Vegetable Hibachi. This is not the place that lures you in by cooking in hibachi and throwing sake in your mouth in front of you, their food speaks much larger volumes.

I usually go for the sushi option—and I generally go with a special and the ode to my hometown, the Philadelphia Roll. The sushi is incredibly fresh, and not ten feet away, they immediately prepare it at the sushi bar. The special I ordered was the Dragon Roll, a mix of fresh avocado, rice, Eel, and Eel sauce. The tenderness of the fish, enhanced by the subtle eel sauce, is almost too savory to eat in one bite. This is the type of meal you wish would last.

Mochi, an ice cream of your choice wrapped in flattened rice dough, often ends the evening and adds the perfect amount of sweetness to the meal.

The taste is incredible, the service exceptional, the ambiance is plain, but let’s be real here—it’s all about the taste. I would easily say, one of the best sushi restaurants in the capital region. The price, again, understates the quality of the food, making it yet another good experience at Mr. Fuji.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Café Teria in Guilderland

Update: Café Teria is reportedly closing on April 30, 2010.

One of my favorite restaurants in Guilderland has changed. Aromi d'Italia is now Café Teria. It looks like the ownership and staff are generally the same. There are substantial changes but one thing remains the same - the food is excellent. Oh, and they still have the same great gelato.

Update (3/9/2010): Café Teria has returned to sit-down service with a wait staff. They've also restored some entrees to the menu (including a tantalizing garlic shrimp dish), and prices might be slightly lower. Food on our lunch visit yesterday was fantastic - the Butternut Bisque got even better, and the sandwich/soup combo I ordered came with a small salad as well.

So what's different? Aromi was a sit-down restaurant where the wait staff would take your order and serve you. In the new format you order up front and wait for your food to be placed out on a counter. Then you can take your food and sit wherever you like. The entrees appear to be gone. One friend of mine was almost crying about that. The new menu is mostly soups, salads and sandwiches. I'm thrilled they have a Butternut Bisque as a regular soup choice. I've been there twice and had it both times. One of the best soups I've ever had, though it's probably not your cardiologist's first choice.

I'm not sure how the format will work in the long run. It looks roughly like Panera, but with better food at a slightly higher price. They have something very close to that place's "You Pick Two" combo, for $10. You can get two choices of a soup, a half-salad or a half-sandwich. I think that costs about $7 at Panera. Sandwiches at Café Teria are roughly $9-13. At Panera they're more like $7. The comparison ends there - Café Teria has much better quality. The soups are richer. The sandwich meats are more substantial - dare I say meatier? The salads are more interesting with higher quality ingredients. Even the bread is better, which is saying a lot because Panera has good bread.

They may have some hiccups in dealing with volume if they get a lot of customers. The soda fountain is behind the counter, which may slow down the cash register staff. But I'm not sure they have a better spot for it. Waiting for your food is a little awkward - maybe they should give people a pager which would buzz when the food is up. Or, like Juicy Burger, give you a number for your table and bring the food to you.

To sum up, Café Teria is basically a higher quality Panera - with great gelato. My wife and I might spend $17 on lunch for two at Panera, versus $25 at Café Teria. We used to spend closer to $40 at Aromi. I've read in the past that economic problems are hitting high-end restaurants hard. This is another example of it. I'll miss the Aromi entrees, but I'll be getting great soup on a regular basis now.

Note that they have a facebook page

Monday, November 23, 2009

Blue Spice in Colonie

Update (4/14/2010): The Colonie Blue Spice restaurant has reopened in the former Garcia's on Central Avenue, just across from their old location.
We've gone to The Blue Spice a few times now and we like it. Since it's close to our office, lunch is becoming a somewhat regular experience.

I have to say it's pretty good, maybe the best Thai food in the Albany area. We have been going to Arirang, which has Korean, Japanese and Thai. We'll still go there, but maybe save the Thai for the Blue Spice.

For lunch, my favorite dish has been the Chicken Panang Curry. Lunch comes with a Tofu Noodle soup that is simple and of good quality. My wife has been getting the "Bluefinger Chicken", which has a peanut sauce. She likes it. I don't like the peanut sauce myself.

For dinner, they have a "house creation" called Blue Mango Curry. It's very good - in addition to a typical Thai red curry it includes fresh mango and some other touches. One time we had dinner there with friends and both of us enjoyed this dish. I've also had their Chicken Tom Kha soup (aka Tom Kha Gai - flavored with coconut milk and ginger) and it is spot-on - a lot of Thai places don't get the flavor or consistency right.

Appetizers are also good - we usually get the dumplings - and the staff is friendly. The menu has a broad array of selections, for both lunch and dinner. Last I checked they were not serving alcohol. Our friends brought their own bottle of wine and the restaurant will supply the glassware.

Parking can be difficult if the restaurant is crowded. Their lot is small. But the former Warren Tire, soon to reopen as a collision repair shop, is next door and its lot has a lot of room. That place has a big sign that says H & V.

Update: Just had another dish here that I loved - Ga Pow Gai. It's "ground chicken" in a somewhat spicy sauce over rice. There were red peppers and I'm pretty sure it had coconut milk in the sauce. The chicken isn't really "ground chicken", if that's supposed to be like ground beef. It had small chunks of chicken. Great flavor in this dish. I'll definitely have it again. Might be only on the lunch menu, but I bet you can ask for it at dinner time.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lipperas' in Chatham

Went to Lipperas' in Chatham a while back. I've been meaning to write about it as I'd been there once before.

Great atmosphere - It has a dining room plus a pub area and a little outdoor seating.

I had a hummus appetizer which was just okay. It came with crisp flatbread was too salty but otherwise good.

The Beet Salad with gorgonzola cheese and walnuts was very good. Dressing was light and it worked well.

Closed out with the Creme Brûlée. Due to my limited writing skills, all I can say about that is: "Yum!"

Wasana: Thai in Catskill

Wasana is a Thai restaurant on the main drag in the Village of Catskill. The interior is simple with some artwork. The Tom Kha Gai (chicken soup with coconut milk) was excellent. Also had a spicy chicken dish w eggplant - very spicy and great flavor. They offered to cool it down with coconut milk but I toughed it out.

Also had a Thai iced tea. It was darker than I'm used to but delicious. Rounded out a leisurely meal (waiting for a court appearance) with a tasty "black rice pudding". Prices were reasonable.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Foxwoods CT: A Brief Excursion

A friend of ours had a 40th birthday celebration at the MGM Grand in Foxwoods CT. We had a few interesting meals so I figured this was a good excuse for a blog post.

Despite the tough economy, it was a busy weekend at Foxwoods. Crosby Stills & Nash were doing a concert the night we arrived, and there was apparently at least one other big show going on. Due to the crowds, our dinner reservation at Alta Strada was not until 8:45.

We arrived early and decided to try out the sushi. The MGM Grand has a nightclub/restaurant named Shrine. It has a somewhat exotic appearance. We sat in the bar/lounge area and the waitresses were dressed in a manner that seemed more appropriate for an older profession. This was, of course, very upsetting and we walked right out after we had our sushi.

The sushi itself ... well it was okay. We had a couple rolls that were just fine. I ordered a $30 sashimi platter. They got the order wrong and came out with a $45 sushi platter which we sent back. There were a couple Keystone Cops moments where they tried to serve it to us again, but they finally got it right. It still was not what I expected. Here's what the menu says it is:
The night's finest fish from around the globe included a couple pieces each of tuna (maguro), salmon, yellowtail, and squid. They were large pieces and good quality. But it was certainly not a unique display, and it was not the finest fish from around the globe. When you sell it like that, I expect something more - an unusual fish, or a special cut of a fish, etc.

Otherwise it was a pleasant experience. They made good drinks and the atmosphere was interesting. It was pricey - our cocktails were $10 each. The total was near $100 before tip.

We're not into gambling, so after that we walked around the MGM Grand and over to the Foxwoods Casino. There were a few shops, but we were surprised they didn't have more shopping. I did pick up a baseball hat (really a golf hat for me) at one store. It fit well and was only $15. The MGM pool looked nice, but it was just starting to rain and nobody was there.

Eventually we made our way to dinner at Alta Strada. Like Shrine, it was an interesting atmosphere. Normally I suspect it's just a pleasant Italian restaurant. In our case there was some kind of bachelorette party at the next table. Yes, another instance where the men in the group had to suffer through young women wearing very little in public. But we struggled through. The women at our table were remarkably gracious and most of us behaved well. The resort does advertise itself for bachelor and bachelorette parties, so I guess this should not be a surprise.

The food at Alta Strada was excellent. I decided to go light. They have a small plate thing. By ordering in quantity it was something like $6 per plate (as opposed to $8 for one plate). The table had a total of about 8 of them.

We had a variety - broccoli rabe, spicy green beans, grilled asparagus, white beans, eggplant caponata, and calamari. We doubled up on two or three of them. These small plates were large compared to the small plates I've seen at other restaurants. Quality was outstanding. I also had the fennel and arugula salad which was great. A couple people ordered small pizzas and they were also very good - thin crust with delicious toppings.

In the morning we met up for the brunch buffet, again at Alta Strada. They had some of the small plate items out, a few hot entrees along with eggs and french toast. Everything was excellent, including the service. The french toast was an unusual bread and I think it had raisins in it.

I'm not much on casinos, but we did enjoy our trip. If you do like gambling, Foxwoods seems like a good place to go - but not if you're offended by scantily clad women.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Restaurant Review Writing

Some time back someone criticized the quality of writing on this blog. I can't really argue, since I have no training in this kind of writing. But yesterday I saw an example of great writing about restaurants:

Good Grub and the Spirit of Capitalism

The author talks about some great New York City restaurants and laments that restaurants in Chicago are not as good. He ties this into the very demanding customers in the Big Apple and the stoic diners in the Windy City. In the process he names a number of restaurants in NYC that I'll have to try the next few times I visit.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Tandoori in Colonie

Update: I've been back to Tandoor twice recently for lunch. The buffet was excellent both times.

We had lunch about a week ago at a new Indian/Pakistani restaurant on Wolf Road. I'm pretty sure the name is Tandoori, though I can't find it on the web. It's next to Emperor's Palace, and in the same building that used to house Bangkok Thai.

They have a lunch buffet - I think it was $7.99. My wife is not big on Indian buffets, so she got Chicken Tikka Masala - her favorite dish.

The food was okay, but nothing special. I remember in particular that the sauce for the Tikka Masala was rather plain. I prefer a sauce with more character - creamier perhaps.

The buffet was fine. There was not much in the way of dessert. The selection of dishes was a little less than some other places, but not bad. When we arrived there seemed to be a shortage of Nan (Indian bread), but we got it eventually.

On the bright side, the restaurant was busy - a positive sign. Everyone seemed to like it so maybe my taste buds were off. And it passed another standard test -- there were people who appeared to be natives of India or Pakistan eating there. If they like it you gotta figure they know better than me. And I did like the mango lassi.

Based on my experience, I prefer two other places -- Sitar about 3 miles to the west, and Karavalli about 3 miles to the north.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Standard in Crossgates

We took the kids to The Standard Restaurant and Lounge, a new place in Crossgates Mall in Guilderland. The space used to be Bugabook Creek.

Overall we liked it. Prices were not outrageous, with most entrees in the $20 ballpark. The menu was interesting. One thing that stood out was the portion size. My wife had the ribs, and the picture below is after she started:

This was, seriously, the biggest rack of ribs I've ever seen. They were good, though not great. It came with sweet potato fries - something more restaurants should have.

I had "dry-packed" scallops over mushroom risotto. This was also good but not great. It seemed a little salty to me (especially the risotto). Not as bad as PF Chang's in Colonie, but just a little too much.

One plus is that the place is kid-friendly, though not over the top like Bugaboo was. They do have a kids menu, and a lot of people had kids with them.

We had an appetizer too. It was a combo - three different kinds of rolls (sort of like eggrolls) along with a spinach-artichoke dip. I liked it. The rolls were good and came with a few dipping sauces. The spinach dip came in a huge container with chips - I don't know how anyone could eat all that. It was more than enough for four adults. I was so stuffed that I couldn't eat much of my entree (especially after I ate a couple ribs).

Update: We went back the other night. It was a Saturday night and the place was jam packed, as was the entire mall. Perhaps a good sign for the economy. While it took some time to get seated, and service was understandably a bit slow, the food was excellent. The portion sizes were, again, outrageous. The biggest standout for me was the cheesecake. I love a good cheesecake, and I'm picky. This was the best cheesecake I've ever had in Albany. Cheesecake Factory may have more variety, but for a straight-up New York cheesecake, the Standard has it. Not only was it great, but it was so big it made dessert for two other meals. My wife got a brownie thing with ice cream and it was monstrous. We haven't finished the brownie yet. She had a burger too and that was done right.