Archive for July, 2008

When ok isn’t.

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

A man sits on his sofa watching TV.  His wife walks up to him from the kitchen and dumps a glass of water on his head.
“What the heck was that for?”  he exclaims.
“That’s for thirty years of lousy sex,” she replies.
He wipes his face, shrugs, and continues to watch TV as she returns to the kitchen. 
A few minutes later he gets up, walks into the kitchen, pours a glass of water, and throws it in her face.
“What was that for?” she asks.
“That’s for knowing the difference.”

Having this blog as a hobby means I have to be compelled to sit down and write something, or it doesn’t get done.  Great experiences and horrible experiences are easy to write about, but mediocrity isn’t exactly the most effective motivator.   When’s the last time you heard people shout “Who cares?” or “I’m nonchalant!” at a protest, eh?  [wink]  Let’s face it, it’s tough to muster any zeal about a lukewarm experience.  It’s like telling a friend about an ok movie.  Usually we say little more than, “Meh, it was ok.”  It takes a point of reference, a benchmark, to convert indifference into indignation—and THAT is motivating.  Like the lady in the joke, it (presumably) took a contrasting experience to fire her up enough to dump the water glass on her under-performing husband. 

While Cati and I were out of town recently, we went out for Italian.  I had gnocchi piedmontese with foie that was out of this world, and Cati had a perfectly prepared pizza.  I practically buffed my plate clean with a piece of bread to get every last bit of sauce.  It was rocket-to-the-moon good™. 

I thought, “Why can’t I get Italian food this good in Albany?”  My ambivalence was slowly turning into resentment; so here we are, I am finally writing this up. 

Cati and I had all but given up on Albany Italian restaurants [by the way, Olive Garden was voted “best Italian restaurant” by a 2008 Times Union reader’s poll, if that tells you anything], when we received recommendations, from trusted sources no less, for Café Capriccio.  So we went– twice.  Café Capriccio is located in downtown Albany, on a small side street diverting from Madison Ave; it’s almost hidden.  We sat in the downstairs dining room.  Initially, we found the ambiance cozy, but then we started feeling a bit claustrophobic.  After about two hours in there we felt like we were sitting in a dimly lit wooden box– completely hidden from any outside light.  Albany winters are dark and smothering enough; we like/need windows.  The first time we went, I tried the Calamari Neri.  Cati had the Risotto Della Sera (appetizer portion) and a sea stew.  The Calamari Neri was really light on sauce and the flavors were disappointingly mild.  The dish came across as more of a novelty than a truly earnest attempt.  I didn’t hate it, but there was nothing special to like either.  Cati felt the same about her dish.  We both appreciate good seafood, and we have been known to wax poetic about dishes done right.  To their credit, the portions were plenty big, if you’re into that. 

I was expecting something like the “chipirones en su tinta” I had on our honeymoon in The Basque Country.  The sauce was so rich, briny, and complex that I did another one of my bread-buffing jobs on the plate.  The squid was the ideal texture and that indicated experience cooking this visceral dish.  The sauce was as black as tar, and the flavors were as striking as its appearance.  I was reeling; have a look:

PHOTOGRAPH TAKEN IN SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN (2006): 

[Snap! ]  Back to Café Capriccio; we were there for Valentine’s day, so we had a great time– mediocre food or not.  The service was professional, effective, and courteous.  One of the servers even offered to take a photo of Cati and me with my camera—she was sweet and had a cute sense of humor. 

Some weeks later, we were at a party talking to some friends of Italian descent who grew up in Utica, NY.  They were telling me about the Italian dish “greens and beans.”  I wasn’t familiar with the dish and was intrigued.  They mentioned that Café Capriccio has it on the menu; I wanted to try it, so we went back.  I ordered it, and yet again was unimpressed.  The most pronounced flavor was the bacon fat (not a bad thing); neither bean nor green was tasted much at all (the bad part). 

I had the Gnocchi Sorrento as my entrée and I thought the gnocchi themselves were good, but the tomato sauce was too tart.  More importantly, there was nothing to distinguish it from any other red sauce I can get anywhere else in town.  Cati asked me how it was and I shrugged and said, “good…I guess.”  Cati had the hand-made ravioli special which was a filled with mushrooms that evening.  She thought the ravioli were a little too “al dente,” as they almost seemed dry.  The filling was again “good…I guess” with a shrug.  We ordered dessert and were further disappointed. 

Cati ordered the millefoglie and I ordered the gelato.  I have no major complaints about my dish, but the gelato could have been a bit smoother (have you tried Crisan’s yet?); again, it was ok.  Cati was brought the wrong pastry.  Millefoglie (which means “a thousand leaves”) is a layered phylo dough dessert that should melt in the mouth.  She was brought what appeared to be a brittle hollow cookie accompanied by some whipped cream and a strawberry.  Initially, the waiter tried to defend what he had brought out as being millefoglie, but upon inspection he quickly realized that he had indeed brought out the wrong pastry.  He courteously apologized, and offered to bring us something else.  We declined and only asked that her dessert be removed from the bill. 

Café Capriccio is just not our cup of tea.  I tend to lump it in with Nicole’s Bistro and Jack’s Oyster House as a veteran restaurant that hasn’t changed as the Albany dining scene has (although Nicole’s does have some interesting events scheduled).  These aforementioned restaurants have their dedicated patrons and regulars; unfortunately, Cati and I are not among them (for now).  I suppose we could frequent these places week after week for a fair but unremarkable experience, but it’s too late.  We know how good Italian food can be and we’re ready to let the water glasses fly.  Anyone else feel this way?  Let us know in the comments section. 

For good Italian food in the area (at a lower price point than Cafe Capriccio), we recommend the eggplant pizza at Mama Mia’s (in Saratoga), take-out from Cardonna’s Market, pizza from The Fountain or Sovrana, and the small but tasty “Tuesday lunch buffet” at Mangia in Slingerlands (surprisingly good, btw).  For more upscale fare, I got nothing.  We plan to try Tosca Grille soon; we’ll let you know how it goes. 

For a good Italian pop song, this is the best I could do:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1YBfU39Y3Q

According to the video above, there’s an Italian TV studio looking to hire a security guard.  Applicants must be able to stop a 105-lb pop star armed with a microphone and rudimentary dance moves.  ;)

Unfortunately, it’s not all Greek to me.

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

Good yogurt is important to me (it’s my Slavic genes; I can’t help it), and if there are any readers from India here, y’all know how important it is too.  I don’t know if any of you out there buy Fage (pronounced Fa’-yeh) Greek yogurt.  It’s available at the Honest Weight Food Co-op, and the Delmar Hannaford.  It’s probably available at Price-Chopper too but I wouldn’t know because I don’t shop there.  We’ve been buying it for a couple of years now and we really enjoy the stuff.  It sure beats the slimy varieties like Crowley, Yoplait, and Dannon.  It’s creamier, thicker, and more flavorful.  The only thing I didn’t like about it was that it was imported from Greece.  I mean, how many perfectly good cows and dairy farms (not to mention thousands of miles of sea) did this stuff fly over to get here?  What a staggering waste of resources to fly a little carton of yogurt halfway around the world to get to my desk at lunchtime.  This was particularly bad considering all the excellent local dairies we have right here in Upstate NY.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ready to sign up for the 100-mile diet or anything, but buying local just seems like a good idea (but is it always a good idea?).  I was bummed that I could no longer justify buying my everyday yogurt from Greece, so I was pleased to discover Fage had started producing the stuff locally in May 2008 (in Johnstown, NY).  My dilemma was solved; or so I thought. 

One day, while at lunch, I noticed my usually-excellent Fage tasted a bit off.  It was chalky, mealy and way too sour; it lacked the great flavor to which I had grown accustomed.  I checked the packaging for the expiration date and it still had 7 days, so then I looked at where it was manufactured– it was manufactured in the USA.  Could it be that the American version was worse than the Greek version?  Why would it be?  The ingredients are milk, cream, and active yogurt cultures.  Cows are cows, right? 

A quick Google search confirmed that I was not the first person to notice the discrepancy between the two production sites; see this discussion thread, and this one.  There is a lot of speculation on these threads about why the quality is worse, but everyone pretty much agrees that the quality has suffered in the move to the US.  Interestingly though, the price of the product has not dropped with production having moved to the USA.  I recently did a side-by-side taste test of the two products and I again found a difference.  The US-made product was mealy and sour and lacked the smoothness and rich flavor of its Greek-made counterpart.  The US-made product had large air bubbles in it too, and the texture is visibly coarser and grainier.  Have a look:

 

I don’t know if this is a problem due to plant start-up in the US, but if so, I would not want to trade positions with the quality manager at the Johnstown plant when his annual review comes around.  Fage has stumbled, big-time, and lost quite a bit of brand equity in the process.  We bought some Oikos brand Greek yogurt, but I haven’t tried it yet. 

This is an excellent opportunity for any yogurt manufacturer to make a superior product and win my business (and apparently many others too).  If you know of any manufacturers who make a more consistent product, let me know because I am looking to switch.  My next post will discuss another essential ingredient for surviving Siberian winters– kapusta.

I kid; I’ll spare you.

Cati has been doing a lot of reading to prepare for our little-one’s arrival in September.  I, on the other hand, learned everything I need to know about fatherhood from music.  If we have a boy, I do this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M89c3hWx3RQ

and if it’s a girl, this:

What could possibly go wrong?  [wink]

Spaintrotting

Saturday, July 5th, 2008

The wife brought me along for a ride to her home country- Spain. I am the passenger*.  We went to a friend’s wedding.  The reception was at the picturesque Son Marroig in Mallorca (remember?).  The sunset and mountain photos are from the terrace and patio where we dined.

The aperitivos are best described as nouvelle cuisine (perhaps as a nod to Ferran Adrià) and included: shot glasses of liquified foie gras, small seafood hamburger patties (like a ceviche), breaded sopresata meatballs, tuna tataki bites with peanut butter (?), and small Thai-chicken kebobs with peanut sauce.  The food was fun and stylish.  They also serverd the always popular jamon iberico.  The dinner was a four-course sit-down meal and the food was as lovely as the views (not to mention the bride). 

The next day we watched Spain beat Germany in the European Cup Championship (1-0).  Spain outplayed Germany moreso than the score indicates, but whatever, a win is a win.  Directly below is a video of Cati and her family watching a shot-on-goal by Fernando Torres early in the game (he missed).  Imagine how they reacted when Spain actually scored, eh?

We went out after the game to celebrate, and we weren’t alone.  Horns were blaring, fireworks exploding, and people were partying in the streets, literally.  We were having a drink on a not-too-crowded street in Palma, when the two or three cars waiting at the traffic light erupted into an impromptu celebration.  Then the light turned green, so they got in their cars and drove on to the next red-light party, I guess.  Have a look:

Here’s the goal that gave so much cause to celebrate.  Note the fair and impartial sports reporting [wink]:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JRaUnTSKSo&feature=related

I think Mallorca was particularly pleased to see Germany lose since the island is practically a German colony in the summers with all the tourists. 

We proceeded to relax (and eat) for the rest of the trip. 

I read David McCullough’s “John Adams”.  What an amazing book about an amazing man and his contemporaries.  Happy belated 4th of July, all. 

*If I am going to use a Trainspotting spoonerism as the title of my post, who better for the music than Iggy Pop?  Cool little video too.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEY6_jcrzI8&feature=related