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