Archive for May, 2007

Mad about MAD

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

Over the years, Cati and I have been to many diners/breakfast-places here in the Capital District.  Here is how we rank them; number one being the best (list excludes brunch places):

1. Miss Albany Diner (on Broadway, next to Noche)

2. Four Corners Luncheonette (Delmar), Compton’s on Broadway (in Saratoga)

3. Alexis Diner (Rt. 4), Metro 20 Diner (Western Ave), Western Diner (western Western Ave), Peaches (Stuyvesant plaza), Glenmont Diner (9W), Jack’s Diner (Central Ave), Wolf Rd. Diner (guess), Cafe Madison (Madison and Allen), IHOP (Wolf Rd.), the Cracker Barrel (East Greenbush), Denny’s (Wesern Ave), Quintescence (currently defunct).

So there ya have it, there’s the best, second best, and all the rest.  We did this with little deliberation, as the winner is obvious to us both.  None of those on the list is/was terrible.  Although, to be honest, I remember that Denny’s, Quintescence, and Jack’s Diner were a touch untidy, but hey, at least the plates were clean [uncomfortable grin].  The thing is, diners tend to be all the same.  You know the formula: buttered toast, eggs, greasy bacon (not a bad thing), hashbrowns/home-fries, some enormous pancakes, and that’s it [shrug].  Keep our coffee cups filled, bring some tabasco, and we are happy campers.   However,  it’s something we can do just as well at home, right?  I mean, all you need is a hot skillet, some cheap ingredients, and you are there. 

But there is one place here in town that is head-and-shoulders above all other places on this list; Miss Albany Diner (MAD).  Apparently, it has fans just because of the style of the building; see here, here, here, and here.  We found this place on a Sunday drive and went there on a whim about a year ago; not knowing a thing about it.  Naturally, we assumed we were in for the run-of-the-mill diner experience.  When we skimmed the menu, we saw things like: Georgian eggs, The Bostonian, and MAD eggs, along with their descriptions.  We literally had to look around to confirm we were in just a plain ol’ diner.  Here are a few of our favorite dishes and their descriptions:

  • MAD Irish Toast: Slices of thick (Texas Style) French toast cooked in an egg batter with a pecan cream cheese filling, then drowned in a butterscotch Irish whiskey sauce.  No home fries.  (Cati’s fave; pictured below.)
  • Bostonian: Two slices of Boston Brown Bread (try saying that 3 times in a row), a cover of bacon, two poached eggs and house garnishes.
  • Rocky Mountain High: Corn bread topped with bacon, 2 eggs any style, then covered with a jalepeño pepper cheese sauce. 
  • Smokin’ Benny: A butterflied English muffin topped with ham, eggs (any style), then topped with a smoked gouda cheese sauce.  (incredible dish)
  • *MAD Eggs (Our House Specialty):  Two eggs, any style, served on a butterflied English muffin with a lightly curried sauce, then topped with thinly sliced scallions.  Pictured below.

That’s part of the charm of this place; it has all the appeal of your classic diner, but the food is original, creative, and most-of-all, delicious.  It’s a tiny little trailer with only eight small tables and a breakfast bar with stools.  You might even think it’s a truck-stop given its industrial locale.   But the food is serious business with unconventional ingredients that will surprise you.  The chef takes no substitutions on the specials either.  I take this as him saying, “I created this dish, I know how it should taste better than you do.”  Patrons can, of course, order side items any way they want.  On the off chance that you should  mistake this place as some kind of stuck-up cafe, there are little paper signs all over the place that say things like (I’m paraphrasing a bit): “Butts in the seats, feet on the floor,” “No credit cards accepted,” “Have you ever been towed?  Our neighbor wants to do that for you,” “If your child is making a scene, perhaps a drama class would be more appropriate breakfast venue” (That last one’s my fave, hehehehehe).  MAD is a quirky and charming eatery that mixes the blue collar and silver spoon perfectly.  Again, it’s tiny, and no more than four people will fit into one of their booths.  I recommend you go with your favorite breakfast date, and that’s it.  Their weekend hours are limited 9:00-2:15, so don’t go too early or too late.  In fact, don’t go at all, the wait can be long enough; I kid.  The wait-staff is almost-always busy (I think we’ve seen it slow there only once) filling coffee cups and hussling around, but they are courteous. 

On a recent visit, Cati and I had the MAD Irish Toast, and the MAD eggs, respectively.  I busted out my trusty Alexei-de-Sadesky camera and started popping off photos.  We noticed that they recently switched (the waiter said a few weeks ago) from hashbrowns to home-fries.  Oh the horror, the horror!  I prefer crispy and grated hashbrowns, but hey, home-fries ain’t half bad.  Sometimes, if we are planning on going to the gym later in the day, we’ll order a side of pancakes with real maple syrup.  They have great pancakes that are always perfectly cooked and never rubbery.  We really like this place and we are bonafide regulars.  We are always down for a MAD breakfast; see why below:

on our way

inside

Cati’s curls

Curried away

toasted Irish

going, going…

We also really like The Four Corner’s Luncheonette in Delmar.  Although it’s technically not a diner, they do breakfast all day (I think); so, close enough.  The food is great and all homemade.  Unfortunatley, they are a bit lax on the service.  Oftentimes, we’ll have empty coffee cups and there will be 4-5 servers chatting behind the counter.  Usually, my frustration is immediately erased with a full cup, and a “Here ya go, Hon” from the friendly mom-esque ladies that work there.  (Note: Cati’s frustration remains intact by this.)

Compton’s is fun, as well.  It’s the real deal with no-nonsense waitresses that are used to dealing with the sort of clientele you’d expect at a diner that opens at 3AM on Broadway in Saratoga; but they’re still sweet (just don’t be an idiot).  Ok, maybe this place is pretty typical as far as the food, but Cati and I have made some great memories there (even if they are a bit hazy).  I can’t recommend the stewed prunes highly enough.   We went there with Jen, Gabe, and Johnny back in July ’06, and still laugh about the night we had.  Hey, I never promised you an objective list.

Next time you are craving some good breakfast food in the Capital District, head to MAD. 

You got a diner to add to the list?  Leave a comment…

Tulip Fest weekend

Saturday, May 19th, 2007

We had a beautiful couple-of-days here in smAlbany over Tulip Fest weekend.  See what Wikipedia has to say about it here.  Nothing too spectacular to report except that Spring has sprung, and the entire Capitol District has come to life. Friday, Cati and I went to the MFA exhibit at SUNY to meet up with our friends Ryan* and Esti (among others).  We checked out all the photos, sculptures, and paintings.  We were even served beer from the tip of a giant phallus by two people in all-white skintight unitards (pffft, artists).  Then Cati and I swung-by this little restaurant I may have mentioned once or twice for some dinner.  Then we went back to party the night away at Ryan and Esti’s swanky little pad right here in our very own Pine Hills [flashing gang sign]. 

Saturday, we had brunch with Les Frenchies at Mezzo on Hamilton St and Dove (you should go).  Brunch was good, but the real draw was the sunny day on the open patio.  Then Cati and I went for a motorcycle ride through Niskayuna and Schenectady, and then we went to the Tulip Fest to eat some gyros, people watch, and check out Joan Jett.  We only stayed for 4-5 five Joan Jett songs as we were getting a little bored (sorry, Joan).  Some things are better in small doses, eh?  That evening, we had the always-enjoyable Gabe and Jen over for a backyard, fireside BBQ.  Jen brought these tastey little Italian cookies with her.  We grilled burgers, while our dear veggie friends had portabello burgers.**

(Aside on food: Cati and I are pleased that “Ezekiel 4:9” started making whole wheat, preservative-free, hamburger buns (found in the frozen section). It helps us avoid all that refined flour I mentioned in the past. Don’t let the fact that it’s healthy discourage you; it’s delicious. Would be nice to find healthier tortilla shells without partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and emulsifiers and the like. Anyone know any decent brands?)

Sunday, I washed the bikes, cut the grass, cleared some brush at la suegra hermosa’s, and then Cati and I walked to Tulip Fest with The Nach, and took some photos.  On the way back from Washington Park, we had a few margaritas at El Mariachi II.  It was a great weekend all around; both fun and productive.  Have a look:

O What fun

whatsamattahyou?  cookies

tulips

flowers

*Ryan Parr is über-talented and, coincidentally(?), the most resourceful guy I know.  He makes Macgyver look wasteful. Check out his paintings here and his video side-projects here.  Also, he will be showing a piece here in the near future (the opening is on May 24th). The painting he has submitted (it’s the one titled Uda) happens to be one of my favorites; head to the airport to check it out if you can. The website photo just isn’t a good substitute for “experiencing it” full-size, in person.  His paintings are big and impressive.  Hey, Rothko even went so far as specifying the optimal viewing distance of exactly 46cm(18in) for his own paintings.

Here’s a great example of Ryan’s keen eye, creativity, and perseverance on a project.  He took photos of his feet, in placecs all over the world, for five years, and built a great montage (with the help of a good tune from the band Spoon.)  It’s fun to watch.  Check it out: 

YouTube Preview Image

**Portabello burgers are quite easy and usually a pretty big hit with vegetarians.  All I do is trim the stems, wash ’em, arrange them upside down, then pour soy sauce into the them, sprinkle some adobo, and then some garlic salt.  Then I’ll score the bottom so the mushroom will absorb the seasoning.  Let that sit for ~30min before grilling.  Grill upside down, then flip after ~2-4 min, grill the bottom side for a bit, and that’s it.  Place on toasted bun, open cold beer, enjoy.   

“…take them bowling.”

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

A million thanks to our great friends from all over the Capitol Region for coming to a bowling fundraiser for the Delaware Community School’s Community Garden.  Heff was manning the camera and here are some of his photos from the day:

the venue

The pro 

Coaching

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chatting

Yeah, bowling is not my forte (nor is it Cati’s).  82 was my best <- terrible, I know, but still better than the wife (heh heh).  Ah well, much fun was had by all for a good cause.  Also, I am glad to report there were no skinheads to be found at the bowling alley. 

“…a tiny little gift to me.”

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

Cati and I really enjoy food.  On the “Eat-to-live/Live-to-eat” spectrum, we are firmly planted on the “Live-to-eat” side.  We also have a special place in our hearts for Angelo’s 677 Prime, as we went there with our parents after our civil-ceremony wedding (in our living room) a few years back:

Wedding number 0

Not to mention, the food is beyond compare.  While perusing the local food blogs, this guy gave me a great idea for a birthday gift for my lovely wife: a special tasting menu, designed just for her (and me, of course).  I called ahead to make reservations and I explained to the hostess what I was hoping to have done.  She took my name and number so the chef could call me back to talk about it. 

Chef Ortiz called me back the next day.  I mentioned that I am fond of his cooking and a reader of Steve Barnes’s Times Union blog.  I mentioned the nature of the occasion and expressed that we like pretty-much everything that is normally eaten in civilized cultures.  I gave him free rein to make whatever he would like; within the budget I had in mind. 

He was very courteous and professional, and I got the feeling that he was mildly flattered by the request (not that he needs my endorsement). 

So we got there at 8PM Saturday, and were immediately impressed by the Ferrari and various Bimmers, Mercedeses, and other cars that say, “Yes, I’m rich.  Feel free to covet.” 

We were seated at a nice little window-side table, and Chef Jaime Ortiz came to the table and introduced himself.  He asked us one last time if we had an aversion to any particular foods; we said no, and things got underway.  Chef Ortiz and the sommelier, Ean, worked out wine and food pairings that were incredible.  I brought a pen and small pad so we could scratch down what we were being served.  I also busted out my little camera (no flash of course) and took pictures like that Russian spy from Dr. Strangelove.  Ean would come to our table for each pour and tell us a little about what we were being served.  He didn’t tell us too much about the food that would be coming out as I think he was trying not to steal the waiter’s thunder.  The waiter was super attentive and impressed us both every time he stopped by.  Below are the wines we were served, and the dishes paired with them:

Champagne:  Gaston-Chiquet  

  • Raw Olympia miaki oysters served on the halfshell with melon and apple cube salsa with a dash of lemon and tabasco presented on a bed of seasalt.

(too excited to take photo)

  • Tuna sashimi rose with flying fish roe, soyu herb stem, and tempura flakes.

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  • Lightly batter-fried blinis with creme-freche, capers, red onions, and egg topped with American caviar drizzled with chive oil, and more creme-freche for dipping. 

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Martinelli “Tessa Lee” Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Russian River Valley

  • Salmon carpaccio with grapefruit and crispy leeks, lemon-zest cream-cheese, dill oil, and micro-veggies.

(forgot camera again)

Hobbs viognier 2004 Australia (late season sweet wine)

  • Foie Gras with lingenberry sauce on duck prosciutto and butternut squash with duck au jus.  (This dish was rocket-to-the-moon good, and the wine-pairing was truly inspired.)

(shamefully, I forgot the camera again)

Solena Grande Cuvee Pinot Noir 2005

  • Veal topped with a pork foie (our first time having this) served on cream leeks with a candied fennel demi glace with a capered air topping. 

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  • Alaskan black cod (sable fish) topped with murel mushrooms served on English sweet peas, fava beans, and calomunda slices (Brazillian lemon).

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Matanzas Creek Winery Merlot 2004 Benett Valley Sonoma

  • Bacon pork foie with a vanilla bean and sweet potato puree topped with a pork tenderloin and dry toasted-apple slice. 

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Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 Alexander Valley

  • Kobe Beef topped with white truffle ice cream surrounded by small brussels sprouts and pommes frites

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Oremus Tokaji Aszu 1999, 6 puttonyos

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  • Banana rum soup with spicy rum rice pudding topped with chocolate peanut butter ice cream, and a small chocolate stick.

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  • French toasted brioche with rosemary maple syrup, vanilla ice cream and apple sautee.

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  • Then an assortment of rasberries and chocolate truffles on lollipop sticks (as if we hadn’t had enough food at this point). 

fin

So, that’s 11 courses, 7 glasses of wine, 3 hours of dining, and two VERY content diners.  We debated our favorite dishes, what wine-pairings worked best, and the myriad of flavors in each dish.  This was the best meal of our lives.  We were the envy of many other patrons that night.  Chef Ortiz blew our minds (and taste buds) away.  Thanks Chef Ortiz for giving us a great night to remember.  The pictures do not do the dishes justice.  We had such a great experience.  My thanks (and Cati’s) to Steve Barnes as well for giving me the idea for this gift. 

And as for Cati, the star of the night; the poet Anatole France said, “Lovers who love truly do not write down their happiness.”  So, with that…

[End]

Discovering Troy again for the first time

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

I have been here in Albany since early 2003, and since then, I have heard rumblings of a Troy revitalization.  I don’t know if the efforts of those trying to revive Troy are paying off, but y’know, maybe…  I went to RPI for my MBA, and Cati went to Sage for her teaching certification (both in Troy), and to be honest, we thought Troy was kind of, well, depressing

Recently however we are seeing a new side of Troy, and it’s really got something going on.  We went to a party a few weekends ago in a swank little apartment on a stylish street, with some very cool people (e.g. Renee, Malvina, Victoria, Brian, etc. etc.); all in Troy. 

This past Saturday Cati and I went for a weekend walk in Troy where we visited charming bookstores, hip clothing stores, cool music stores, and quaint cafes.  Lark St., and downtown Albany are turning into entertainment/nightlife districts, and are losing the neighborhood feel that Troy seems to have.  Take note, Albany! 

If you are close by, head to downtown Troy for an afternoon (or better yet, their “Troy Night Out” events– never been, heard it’s fun).  I guess it’s all about knowing the right places to go and things to do.  Although it’s not without it’s problems, there is an element to Troy that is on it’s way up with a sincere, artsy feel. 

A classic Troy landmark (as far as we’re concerned) that we have known about and frequented for years is FAMOUS LUNCH, right in downtown Troy  (ok, now you know what really brought us to Troy on a Saturday afternoon).  They serve these great little hot-dogs that are cased at the local pork-store right up the street.  In fact, we like this place so much, we bought a painted print from a local artist at last year’s Greek Festival at St. Basil’s in Troy (way better than the Greek Festival in Albany, but that’s a whole other post). 

Have a look:

painting

Now add an annoying SUV and voila:

picturing

The food is always so good.  I know, they’re just hot-dogs, but a steady stream of patrons and a local source for the frankfurters make sure the food is always fresh and delicious.  The place has a retro vibe to it, and it’s pretty cheap.  Cati and I both fill up for less than $10.  No one has hot-dogs as good as these guys.   It’s times like these I pity vegetarians. 

salivating

waiting

eating

leaving

Also, some of you know that one of my hobbies is canine lobotomy.  Nacho has been barking a lot, so we headed to the garage where I extracted a region of his frontal lobe to modify the behavior.  Here’s the scar:

healing

Nacho can now solve differential equations and speaks Esperanto.  I kid; he had a little cyst removed at the vet, and he is recovering nicely.  See, all ready to go road-tripping:

anticipating