Archive for November, 2007

Marchez to Marché

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

Cati treated me to dinner at Marche a few weeks back.  I had wanted to go there for some time as I had heard/read a lot about the place since it opened in January 2007.  I recall reading about how the well-regarded executive chef, Eric Masson, left just one week after the place opened for business.  The investor/owners of 74 State back-filled Masson with the then 25-year old, assistant-chef, Brian Molino.  I won’t recap the whole saga; see here and here for details. 

We went on a Thursday night and the place was quiet (nowhere near the previously reported 72 decibels); there were very few diners.  We were hospitably greeted, our coats were taken and we were brought through the dining room to our table.  I had read elsewhere that the ambiance of Marche could be mistaken for a bank branch, and I would have to agree.  The fixtures are angular, the seating sections divided, and the soft music is apparently piped-in via ceiling speakers.  So, if you like dining in quiet booths, where people speak softly to each other, you’d like Marche’s set-up; it’s a style-call.  

The servers were thorough and professional.  Our waitress would quickly return from the kitchen with any answers she didn’t have handy when we first asked.  I think she mentioned that she was pretty new to her job at Marche, but she did a fine job taking care of us.  The menu at Marche reflected their local, market-fresh ethos.  Practically every item on the specials menu was accompanied by a list of the local suppliers of the ingredients.  We were presented with an excellent bread assortment and also served complimentary little samplings from the chef shortly after we ordered our cocktails; a nice touch, eh?  I had my trusty and inconspicuous spy-camera with me, so I went to work. 

For appetizers, Cati ordered the Grass-Fed Beef Carpaccio served with grape mustard, pickled shallots, and aged balsamic vinegar.  It was also dressed with some toasted capers (I gotta try making them at home).  I ordered the Grilled Quail.

It was a bit undercooked…har har har.

come quail away

Then she had the butternut-squash bisque, and I had the market salad (with beets and walnuts)

Bisque assessment: flawless.

Chef Molino was not in the kitchen the night we were there.  The sous chef, Erin Boyle was running the show that evening.  Cati ordered the Wagyu beef special and our server returned to let us know that Chef Boyle was not comfortable with the quality of that particular cut of beef that evening.  No problem; Cati wasn’t THAT set on it, and we understand that this is bound to happen when sticking to local providers.  Cati asked our server what Chef Boyle might suggest as a substitute.  Within minutes, Chef Boyle came out, introduced herself, explained the situation, and proceeded to suggest the “Sirloin and Shortribs- served with garlic mashed-potatoes, roasted asparagus, and Bordelaise sauce.”   We appreciated the attention to quality.  We’ll take a substitution any day over a sub-par meal.  Even if a lousy meal is removed from the bill, you can’t un-ruin a dinner, right?  Well played, Chef Boyle.  The beef was excellent.

There’s the beef.

Unfortunately, Cati did encounter one of her dining-out pet-peeves; her food was brought out tepid.  Cati is pretty easy-going about most things, but hot-dishes served luke-warm is not one of them.   She sent the dish back to be heated up, and it came out more to her liking. 

I ordered the “Roasted and Braised Duck.”  It comprised roasted duck breast and duck leg confit served with honey crisp apple, farro, and braised radishes.  The dish was both familiar and new; it was great.  The duck was perfect, and it went very well with the turnips and farro with which it was served.  

Tune in, turnip, drop out.

We ordered a bottle of the V. Girardin Pommard Burgundy (Pinot Noir).  It was very nice.  It went better with my duck than it did Cati’s beef; but hey, it was my birthday, right?   [wink]

For desert, we had a pear mousse (I think.  Memory…failing…).  The mousse itself was rich and silky, but I wasn’t too crazy about the accompanying salsa.  It was interesting, but I thought it was too tart.  I guess they were going for an off-setting-flavors combo.  I thought the flavors clashed.  Cati liked it. 

shore is purdy

Although Marche may have gotten off to a rough start back in January, none of that was evident when we were there.  Previous reviews have described Marche as being too “stately” and “by the book.”  I concur that those descriptors are appropriate.  We had a really nice time all-the-same (maybe I’m a sucker for the classics?).  Next time, I’d like to go for one of their special events that feature local foods.  An event like that might make for a livelier environment. 

Also, I don’t like to solicit on this website, but this dog needs to find a job:

He likes to sleep.

His career interests are to secure a position that will enable him to pay us back for the vet bills he racked up over the Thanksgiving Holiday.  His dream job would be “cleaning-up” floor-scraps at a butcher shop or meat-packing facility.  Maybe these guys are hiring (?).

Two late-night trips to the Animal Emergency Clinic in Latham (including an overnight $tay) and one trip to our vet in Albany (for x-ray$) adds up quickly.  It would be unsanitary for me to discuss his symptoms in the same post with food photos, but he’s much better now.  He gave us (including our visiting families) quite a scare.  Turns out, it was likely gastroenteritis/colitis. 

I won’t even go into how much he owes us for the (formerly) white shag-rug in the living room.  [shaking head in disgust].

A: Never before the third date.

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

Q: When is the right time to take your sweetheart to dinner at The Fountain?

Here’s why:

Date 1: You’ll probably have to drop some $change$ on the first date to let her know you like her.  No shock there, eh?  Records indicate that Western culture has known this for ~2000 years.  Case in point:  

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” -The Bible, Matthew 6:21.    aww…  TESTIFY!

Date 2: Let her pick the place.  If she says “Olive Garden is my favorite,” agree to meet her there and stand her up to cry in her all-you-can-eat bread and salad; never call back.  I kid, I kid.  Really though, let her pick.  If she picks Olive Garden, go, and talk about…I dunno, books. 

Date 3: Now consider The Fountain.  If you like her enough for a 3rd date, this may be the spot for you.  This will show her you like good food, even when you’re slummin’ it. 

This is the ultimate comfort-food joint.  When the mercury drops, we go to warm-up (body and disposition).  We rarely deviate from our regular dishes.  I can’t speak for the rest of the menu, but we always start with their excellent French onion soup.  It takes a while to prepare (20-30 min) as they always bake it to order.  It’s worth the wait, though.  This is an excellent dish for benchmarking any restaurant.  If they can’t do FOS right, odds are they aren’t going to meet the bar on any of their dishes. 

On my first trip to The Fountain, several years ago, one of my friends visiting from out-of-town remarked, “This is the best French onion soup I have ever had.”  I remember his comment every time I have the soup.  Also, it’s a good size portion, loaded with gooey swiss cheese, so keep that in mind when you order your meal.   I busted out the trusty and inconspicuous spy-camera on a recent trip, and went to work:

The king of all FOSs!

How food should be.

The pizza here is also excellent.  It’s all about the crust; it’s terrific.  You might find it a little doughy if you are a thin-crust person, but the flavor is incredible; baked garlic and buttery flavors galore.  If we order a small pie (which isn’t very small) with red-sauce, we order the pizza “crispy.”  If we get a white pizza (I highly recommend this), we don’t specify, as it comes out great. 

Nice day for a white pizza…nice day to START AGAAAAAAAAAAAIN!

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amor, eh?

Another nice feature of this place is the cozy, yet bustling vibe.  It’s a neighborhood secret teeming with locals having a nice time; no airs or delusions of grandeur.  If you should go on a Fri/Sat evening, expect to wait for a table.  It’s usually jammed at those times with families, young couples, old couples, groups of friends, etc. 

During the week, and for lunch, the place is loaded with regulars.  I recommend a seat at the bar during these times as there is usually only one server on duty.  While at the bar, watch-out for regulars who will talk your ear off.  This place is very much like an English pub in that regard; you have been warned. 

The Bar

The bartenders are attentive, and the waitresses are often running around like crazy and seem a bit over-worked.  They aren’t the timeliest lot, and will often disappear into the kitchen (and out the back door) for what I suspect are little cigarette-breaks, but hey, no place is perfect.  Another charming thing about this place is that the waitresses are usually not greenhorned teenagers.  They are often Mom-esque older ladies that call you “hon” and/or “sweety” when you order (I’m a sucker for that) but are too busy to get too familiar (fine by me).  The place oughtta be an Albany, NY landmark. 

One last reason to wait until at least the 3rd date is that you’ll want to be sure you’ll be dating this person for a while.  If things don’t work out, chances are you’ll be seeing her there with HER future dates (awkward, eh?).  

Thai me up! Thai me down!

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

I had the good fortune of being invited to a pumpkin potluck party.  I found out about it via the almost foodies group on google groups.  Plus, I know the hostess from my days (nights, rather) at the Lally School at RPI.  Cati and I knew we didn’t want to bring a dessert or a bisque because we thought they would likely be the most common dishes.  I found a recipe for Thai Pumpkin Curry here.  I’ve never cooked Thai food, but I sure have eaten more than my fair share.  I’ve had some great Thai food (practically everyday while in grad-school), and some not-so-good.  I read in the recipe that although canned coconut milk is acceptable, there is nothing like fresh coconut milk. 

The gear.  Notice the wrong coconut on the left and the back-up can of coconut milk just in case.  Also, I wound up not using the ginger. 

I, never one to back down from a culinary challenge or learning experince (FYI: it’s called a “learning experience” when it doesn’t turn out so good), bought a coconut to make the milk myself.  Just to clarify, coconut milk is not the liquid inside of a coconut.  That’d be coconut water or coconut juice (more here).  Coconut milk is made from extracting/squeezing the “milk” from the coconut meat.  I bought the coconut from Hannaford, used a drill to put a drain hole and vent hole into it to pour out the juice.  I also used a hammer to crack it in half along the score-line.  I guess they put the score on it in the Dominican Republic, where the coconut came from, before it was exported. 

I drained it, split the shell, and extracted the meat, in chunks, from the shell halves.  I then had to peel the thin dark-brown skin off the coconut chunks with a small knife (a vegetable peeler would work fine too), put them in a blender, cover with water, and blend on “HI.”  With very clean hands, I scooped out the gritty pulp from the puree and squeezed it dry a handful at a time.  Then for the last little bit, I poured the milk through a fine mesh strainer.  The coconut yielded ~2 cups coconut milk, and I threw away the gritty white grounds. 

Draining the juice.

Cracked up.

Halfway to the bikini-top for Cati…

Better living through technology.  I had no intention of grating by hand as advised in the recipe.

The puree.

I squeezed the milk out of handfuls of the pulp, and set them aside to be thrown out.

I improvised and used the metal strainer that came with our coffee maker.  We use paper filters for our coffee so there was no risk of coffee contamination.

From there, I just followed the recipe.  I bought many of the ingredients from the Asian market on Colvin Ave.  They had the lemongrass, shrimp paste, and fish sauce.  They also sold young coconuts; these are used for drinking the coconut water, but cannot be used to make coconut milk.  I had no idea what I was doing, so I bought a young coconut and a can of coconut milk as insurance.  I found out after opening and looking inside the young coconut that only mature coconuts can be used for making coconut milk (there’s one of those “learning experiences”). 

The heart of the recipe was the pumpkin.

Boiling the pumpkin to soften it up a bit.  I boiled the pumpkin chunks for about 5 min and then set aside for later.

I seared the porkrib before slicing it into 1/8″ slices.  I didn’t want to run the risk of under-cooking.

I used a little food processor to thoroughly chop the lemongrass and mix it into the shrimp paste, garlic, and pepper flake.

I brought the coconut milk to a boil, added the curry paste I had just made in the food processor, and then the pumpkin and seared porkrib slices.

The finished product!

At any rate, we were running late for the potluck, and I was cooking frantically.  Cati was rushing me (which isn’t like her)and I was feeling a bit stressed-out.  The doorbell rang and since I was busy, I asked her to answer it.  She was acting all weird about answering the door, and I was getting annoyed, so I said, “Fine, I’ll answer the door too!”  I opened the door to find a mob of my closest friends yelling “SURPRISE!” and throwing confetti. 

SURPRISE!!! 

I never saw it coming.  I now understand why our friend Gabe was white-knuckle clutching the beer-growler he was sent to refill when we ambushed him for his 30th at The Olde Saratoga Brewing Co.*  They all yelled “surprise,” and I was trying to figure out how I was going to get to the potluck on time AND hang out with them here at the house.  Cati explained that she had contacted the organizers of the potluck and told them we weren’t coming.  Cati is a lousy liar (or at least she used to be).  She kept the party small to keep her scheming and sneaking-around to a minimum while still surprising the bajeezus out of me. 

We all had a great time and everyone who had a helping of my super-hot Thai food probably made a little wish for thorough digestion (ha).  I may have added a bit too much pepper flake to the dish.  It was quite spicy, but considering all the overly-mild offerings of most Thai restaurants in the area, I was glad for it. 

All the food that night was incredible.  Esti made this smoked cheese and squash lasagna that defies description (or at least my ability to describe it; maybe Thoreau could describe it).  She also brought some delicious baked eggplant.  Jen’s squash soup was rich, a little sweet, and even a bit spicy at the end of each spoonful.  Sarah made her habit-forming artichoke dip.  It’s the kind of dip you have to tell yourself to stop eating and walk away from (otherwise you’ll finish it).  Anne made her soon-to-be-world-famous chocolate cake too.  I’ve mentioned it here before.  Lori made a cole slaw that lived up to her mad-salad-making-skillz reputation.  All the food was great.  Someone who shall remain nameless (hint: his name rhymes with “cryin’ car.”) put a pizza box in the oven and forgot it.  Smoke began billowing out of the oven soon after, and thanks to Sarah’s keen eye, and Eric’s quick thinking, disaster was averted and the pizza was saved ;).   

The spread- PI

The spread. PII

Also, the girls got lucky and won at Trivial Pursuit, but whatever, no one cares about that anyway.  It means nothing.

The luckiest women alive  :p 

*Our friend Gabe’s reality was turned upside-down when we surprised him for his 30th (in a good way).  His growler handle was his only grasp on the reality he knew before we all jumped out.  Jen actually had to pry it from him as if to say, “Everything is fine.  Your plans have just changed.  Time to have fun.”  Getting surprised like that, when you are focused and rushing to accomplish something else, takes a little while to process. 

“Ostras!”*

Monday, November 5th, 2007

Thanks in part to a recent post from Steve Barnes, we had a hankering for oysters.  So while Cati and I were in NYC recently (along with la suegra hermosa), we went to Ocean Grill for dinner.   We had already been to Aquagrill about a year ago, so we wanted to branch out a bit.  I busted out my spy-camera and went to work.

The place was packed.

We started with an excellent leek and clam bisque served with porccini mushrooms.  Then we just went down the list of available oysters and clams and ordered one of each.

The photos are terrible, but I was trying to be discreet.

The oysters and clams pictured above are:

  1. Fisher Island (Fisher Island, NY)
  2. Hama Hama (Washington)
  3. Kumamoto (Washington)
  4. Malpeque (Prince Edward Island)
  5. Pine Island (Long Island)
  6. Snow Creek (Washington)
  7. Cherrystones (Clam)
  8. Littlenecks (Clam)

Our reactions to them were:

  1. Meh, nothing special.
  2. Holy cow, that’s good.  Perfect texture, flavor, and salinity.  It tasted like a little piece of the sea (in a good way).   
  3. 2nd place; nice subtle flavor and rich consistency.
  4. Meh, tastes like a mouthful of cold nothing. 
  5. Meh, a lot like #1.
  6. Nice, but no Hama Hama (or even Kumamoto).
  7. I do not like this [pointing at empty shell].
  8. Y’know, maybe clams ought to be cooked.

Btw, we eat oysters solo with a drop or two of lemon juice.  Along with our food that evening, we had a bottle of 2006 Rochioli Sauvignon Blanc (Russian River Valley), which was dry but a little citrusy; really nice.  We think we know a thing or two about Sauvignon Blanc after our crash-course earlier this year (ha).  Teresa ordered the wasabi and sesame encrusted tuna from the specials menu. 

Cati and Teresa tell me this was great…

Cati and I decided to try a few pieces of sushi there too, we had the salmon roe, yellowtail, and salmon nigiri.  The pieces were huge, and the flavor was good; the rice could have been better though.  It made us really appreciate Saso’s, right here in smAlbany. 

Good; not great.

The next day, my NYC family joined us for breakfast and I had a dish I had never had before; baked eggs.  The dish comprised two eggs in a shallow baking bowl (like what you would eat creme brulee from), topped with crispy melted parmesean, with a side of home fries.  It was good. 

Breakfast was great, more for the company than anything else.  

Here is a pair of photos of the hotel we stayed in (bar photo taken on a Sunday morning).  It was uber-chic.  All the guys wore man-scarves, all the ladies wore knee-high boots, and everyone was tall.  Ah, Manhattan, what a place.

A hotel that is too cool to have their name or address on the front (??).  It was kinda hard to find.

The bar.  The floor is from Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” video.  Ok, I just made that up.

*Saying “ostras” as an exclamation in Spain is like saying “dang” in English.  It’s a mild version of a similar-sounding swear-word.  “Ostras” means oysters, and it’s a tame substitute for “hostia,” which means “communion wafer/host.”  It’s one of those religious swear-words, kind of like “tabarnac” in Quebec (their word for tabernacle), which is a swear-word when used as an exclamation. 

With all this useless trivia, I feel like I am turning into Cliff Clavin.