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AskTP – Out of the Gate

January 9, 2013

Wow, this year is off to a great start. Almost overnight, daily average traffic has doubled. New people are finding the FLB and they are checking out some of the blasts from the past. It’s really exciting.

Plus I’ve finally been able to write the post about Albany, restaurants, and class that’s been on my mind for months. I held the story back because I didn’t want it to get lost with people’s holiday preparations and seasonal travel.

I kind of hate to take a break from the action to answer the growing pile of reader questions, but if I don’t I will surely regret it later. If you are new to the blog I’ll explain. I have committed to answering every question that’s asked in the comments section of the FLB, so long as it is asked with proper punctuation. However, I tend to let these accumulate and answer them all in one lump sum every couple of weeks in a feature called Ask the Profussor.

It should also be noted that each question is preceded by the mystery link of the day. Yes, I know they all go to the same place. A long long time ago I used to link back to the original question, but that just took far too much time. And nobody clicked on them anyway. Plus this gives me a way to plug something that may never get the full fussy treatment.

Anyway, without further ado, onto the questions:

addiesdad took my food brokerage idea and turned it into a food club:
Sign me up for your butter of the month club, Daniel. Butter is to the French what olive oil is to the Italians and maybe more so. Do we get a cheese review of your trip to Paris?

Now I want to have a butter of the month club. Sounds like a much better pipe dream than shepherd/cheesemaker or grower/distiller. Both have enjoyed their time kicking around up in my noggin. Hope you enjoyed the Remembrance of Cheese Past post. Ideally I would have eaten more spectacular cheeses, but I needed room for other foods too.

I’m sure Mr. Sunshine wrote this with a wink and a smile:
Who you calling grumpy?

Would you have preferred caustic?

Britin F. publicly invited me to taste her delicious butter and still didn’t get a response:
I’m experimenting with cultured butter again over the holiday. I can’t squeeze ALL of the buttermilk out and even salted it doesn’t last long enough to sell to the public. Apparently The Cheese Traveler’s customers are asking for it, so I’ve cultured some cream that I’ll work with over the holiday break. Would you like to come talk & taste butter when the time is right?

Um, yeah. I’ll even come to talk and taste butter when the time is wrong. I would do it on a train, I would do it in the rain. I would do it here or there. I would do it anywhere.

Jon in Albany was inspired by one of the things I ate a lot of last year:
Kimchi fried rice/noodles sounds good. Care to elaborate on the technique?

It’s a little obnoxious, but I have your answer right here.

Ed was talking about sparkling wine for New Year’s Eve:
Well our go to sparkling wine is Korbel Natural, bone dry with a slight pink hue. Their Brut Rose is also very good. These are very fairly priced. As a side note, for whatever reason, they are not available in NYC, can anyone explain that??

It’s been a while, but I remember not being such a big fan of the Korbel Natural the last time I had it (probably almost 10 years ago now). It would be great had I kept notes on these things, so I could reference them a decade after the fact, but I don’t. Regardless, wine is handled on a three tiered distribution system, and the variability of regional price and availability of wine and spirits never ceases to amaze me. It’s always fun to shop for wine in a new city because you may find some your favorite bottles available at shockingly low prices.

irisira has bravely broached the subject of the Fussies and pets:
Have you thought about getting a dog?

In this household, the only domesticated animals we’ll take in are those that will one day be dinner. I’d consider chickens or rabbits. We really don’t have enough room for a goat, but that would be awesome. Anyhow, I’m not going to be that crazy guy who is walking his chicken around Albany.

irisira is making a common mistake when it comes to Northern Californian valleys:
One more thing. Which winery in the Alexander Valley are you referring to? C keeps telling people that was my favorite when we visited Sonoma back in May. While I liked it very much, certainly, I actually liked Dry Creek better. It’s just that all of the tasting room workers were so nice in the Alexander Valley, giving us tasting coupons and comping us all over … :)

The Alexander Valley is in Sonoma. The Anderson Valley is in Mendocino. I confuse them all the time. But it’s the Anderson Valley that’s my favorite. When we were going it was a bit beyond the distance tour busses traveled. And its cooler climates were fantastic for Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer and sparkling wines. A stop at Navarro for a few bottles of their dry estate Gewurztraminer was always a necessity. It’s one of my favorite wines.

Masticating Monkey is tickled by a hole in the net of the nanny state:
I am still amused by the 4 a.m. last call here, though. I’d expect that in, say, Montana, but here?

Oh, to be young and closing bars in New York again. I remember the first time I unexpectedly came up against closing time in the city. I was at the Beauty Bar with a few of my old college friends, catching up and enjoying each other’s company. I didn’t look at my watch the whole time, and the night just flew by. When the lights came on, I assumed it was 2am. The next day I was a good bit groggier than intended. 4am is madness.

Burnt My Fingers may be concerned that I’m slipping:
Aren’t Grape-Nuts full of strange byproducts?

Hell no! Ingredients: Whole grain wheat flour, malted barley flour, salt, dried yeast. Then they take the cereal and spray it with vitamins. Is that what you are talking about? Reduced iron, niacinamide (B vitamin), zinc oxide (source of zinc), vitamin B6, vitamin A palmitate, riboflavin (vitamin B2), thiamin mononitrate (vitamin B11), folic acid (B vitamin), vitamin B12, vitamin D.

-R doesn’t believe in me:
I feel Daniel’s pain as well, but I don’t sympathize one iota. Why are you so damn stubborn? One pill, before bed. Done. Eat freely and enjoy life, without having to shovel down Grape Nuts, which is perhaps my most despised cereal ever: they have the consistency of eating aquarium stone, and even a small bowl seemingly never goes away, but mysteriously multiplies as you eat more and more. Awful, terrible muesli. Fine, be difficult. Without sufficient amounts of exercise, you’ll never get the numbers you want via diet alone. Been there, done that.

I’m so stubborn because I believe that drug manufacturers are more concerned with making a profit than they are with public health, and by extension my health. Plus as we get older, people start taking a lot of pills. Pills can interact in strange and unusual ways. If I can do it without signing myself up for a lifetime of medicine, I’m going to do it. I’ve done it before on diet alone. And I can do it again. If indeed I can’t, then I’ll try to work in exercise. But only as a last resort.

enough already! may have been inspired to take a trip to Paris:
In what arrondissement, Daniel, was that cheese monger, s’il vous,plaît?

It’s in the 9th. You can see the Yelp listing of the shop here.

mr. dave has noticed a disturbance in the force:
In any event, what is with everyone lately? I can kind of understand the vitriol directed at you as you self admittedly sort of invite it, but remember all the Albany Jane hate from the Cheryl Clark thing the other day?

I’m thinking sunspots. Albany Jane has been a bit quiet lately. The Interwebs are a very fickle place. After a few weeks of radio silence people forget you ever existed and move onto the next thing. I think a lot of the Albany Jane hate came from people who forgot that she’s the grande dame of food blogging in the Capital Region.

christine echoes what I think is a largely held misconception:
Do I think it is sometimes a little annoying? Yes, sometimes, because I am not such a fussy person when it comes to food.

I try my best to not be annoying, but even Mrs. Fussy tires of my obsessiveness every now and again. Still, in my defense, I’m not always fussy when it comes to food. When I’m a guest in someone’s house or the recipient of some other form of generosity, manners and basic human decency trump the pedigree of the foodstuffs being consumed. Heck, if I’ll eat scrapple in an Altoona diner, I’ll eat just about anything.

Reba asked a perfectly reasonable question that will get a perfectly disgusting answer:
What is it about the fact of being “anonymous” that makes people cease to treat others respectfully and make inconsiderate statements and ridiculous assumptions without basis, or hey even give so much as the benefit of the doubt… I don’t get it?

I’m thinking it’s the same thing that makes them pick their nose when they’re alone in the car.

Jon in Albany didn’t really ask a question, but he cracked me up:
You know how many reviews there are on Yelp? A shit-ton. There is zero room for error.

Love it.

Chad apparently still believes in trolls:
Oh my God, seriously? You had to respond to every negative comment on someone else’s blog? You do NOT have “thick skin” if you feel the need to do that. Having thick skin would be to laugh it off and ignore the haters. You’re essentially feeding the trolls by posting this LONG ASS blog post.

Yes, seriously. And no, that wasn’t just “someone else’s blog”, that was Table Hopping. These days it’s the regional hub of all food blogging. My skin is plenty thick. I didn’t feel that I needed to respond, but I wanted to do it.

Look, all those nasty comments didn’t come from trolls, they came from people. They aren’t haters, but rather people who disagree. I happen to be on the side of discourse and debate. Sure, some folks start of nasty. However I’ve found if you respond with a reasonable argument, and avoid any nastiness yourself, all of a sudden a bitter name calling session can evolve into a nuanced conversation.

Ignoring people who disagree with you and only talking to those who are on your side isn’t going to get you anywhere.

Burnt My Fingers asked a really good question that took some time for me to untangle:
And it may explain why so many Yelp reviews contain the curious phrase “avoid at all costs.” What “costs” might be involved in NOT going to a restaurant? (That is a question.) Possibly giving up the desire for temporary elevation of status to avoid the larger risk of being disrespected by a surly waitress or embarrassed in front of your family by an overcooked lobster?

When we talk about class, we’re talking about social class. And sometimes the cost one bears is a social cost. Let’s say your co-workers really want to go to Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee. Avoiding it at all costs will cost you plenty. You’ll be the crazy person who flat out refuses to step into a Dunkin’ Donuts. In the end, it may even cost you your job.

mr.dave reads Orwell and has six-pack abs? All hail the philosopher king:
Ever read Orwell’s “The Road to Wigan Pier?” There is some good insight into class and food in there.

I haven’t. Maybe I should. I’m almost done with the Carl Hiaasen novel I’ve been reading for far too long.

Masticating Monkey is jumping ahead (or maybe that’s behind) to geography:
Maybe this relates more to the comparisons to places like Austin, which is more isolated and can keep more of its top talent, but I wonder if a part of the issue of finding high quality, innovative food in the Albany area is that the best chefs see little reason to stay here–why not head to NYC or Boston, where you can be part of a more serious culinary scene?

There is that and also its inverse. Those who live within the gravitational pull of Austin’s influence don’t have anywhere else to go but Austin (unless they want to board an airplane). It’s easy for Albany diners to drive up to Montreal for the weekend and spend their disposable dining dollars there instead of here. Its distance from other urban centers helps to make Austin’s dining scene more critical to the people of the region.

Joseph asked a similar question to the one Mrs. Fussy brought up in private:
Yet I wonder why I can find better dining opportunities in economically stressed towns like Saugerties or Kingston than in Albany?

Poor places with access to good ingredients usually have some of the best food. Lobster used to be untouched by anyone of merit, being reserved for the lowly wharf dwellers. It’s likely that the restaurants in these towns aren’t trying to be something that they are not. That is where the problems come into play.

Mrs. Fussy suggested that perhaps the more interesting question isn’t why are Albany’s restaurants overpriced for what they are, but rather how has San Francisco been able to unbundle the notions of fine dining and class. I’ve got some ideas.

albanylandlord has doubts about the core assumptions of my argument:
do you have any “proof” that food here is more expensive / not as good as other metro areas? Or is it just a feeling? If your points of reference are San Fran, and really cool off-the-beaten-path places in NYC than maybe it isn’t even a valid issue. On the other hand I think the discussion and thought process is very thought provoking.

This is a topic we’ve discussed in the past, so some of this is from awhile ago. Here’s a blurb from an earlier Italian comparison:

Mr. Dave also suggested to look at the entrée price of the ultimate Italian dining experience in New York City.  With the exception of their grilled ribeye for two, all the entrées at Babbo are $29 or less.  To keep my comparison consistent, the majority of entrées at Café Capriccio are $30 or more.

But I’d also argue that off-the-beaten-path places are perfectly valid for cross comparison. Here is an excerpt from doing just that:

Their dinner menu is tightly focused.  There are five appetizers, four pizzas, three pasta entrees and three meat entrees.  Most appetizers are $9, pizzas average $13.50, pastas entrées are $15 and the meat entrées are $19 except for the grass-fed rib-eye which is $25. That’s right, I said grass-fed rib-eye.  In fact, the menu declares that all their meats are humane, free range and antibiotic free.  Compared to Café Capriccio’s $35 Delmonico steak, this one is practically a steal.

For a current French food battle, you could check out the menu for Les Halles in NYC vs The Epicurean in Latham. I’ve spot checked the menus, and Les Halles paying NYC rents and its celebrity executive chef still comes out less expensive for better food.

It’s more than just a feeling.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. January 9, 2013 10:18 am

    6 pack abs? Ha! 1 pack presently… But I have my goals…

  2. Chrystal permalink
    January 9, 2013 10:19 am

    Is there a reason there is no link to the Fussylittleblog on the right side of the Table Hopping blog now? That’s usually how I got here.

    • Mr. Dave permalink
      January 9, 2013 10:37 am

      Scandal! Scandal! I’m appalled but secretly delighted by the controversy. I simply must know what fussman did to pee in Barnes’ cornflakes….

      • -R. permalink
        January 9, 2013 12:29 pm

        Barney is pissed because a young upstart usurped his Smallbany blog honcho-ness by getting a Real Actors Read Yelp vid. Steve is taking his ball and going home ;-))

      • January 9, 2013 1:18 pm

        I don’t think -R has this right. After all Steve posted the RARY video on his blog. Mrs. Fussy has an idea, but like I said, I’m not going to engage in wild speculation myself (and that includes posting her theory).

        However, there’s nothing stoping you or others from taking further stabs at why this might have happened.

    • January 9, 2013 11:30 am

      I have no idea. There was a link to the FLB in his sidebar earlier this week. The only way to find out for sure is to ask Steve. His e-mail is sbarnes@timesunion.com or you could call him at (518) 454-5489.

      If you don’t hear back from him please let me know. I’ll reach out to see if I can get insight before I start wild speculation. That’s going to take some restraint because reckless guessing sounds like a lot of fun.

      • January 9, 2013 6:28 pm

        One way to settle this. 2 words. Cage match.

  3. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    January 9, 2013 12:16 pm

    Austin is not nearly as isolated as you all seem to think. There are German, Tex-Mex, and barbecue restaurants all over the countryside, not to mention fine dining. And then there’s San Antonio, the 5th largest city in the U.S., not too far from Austin.

    • Sarah M. permalink
      January 9, 2013 1:17 pm

      Exactly! Austin is also a 3-hour drive from both Dallas and Houston (so, exactly DB’s comparison of Albany to Montreal). It cracks me up that Austin has become this weird boogeyman and/or aspiration for some people in Albany, but that it seems like no one has actually been there.

      • January 9, 2013 2:37 pm

        I had a second of thought about the distance between Austin and Dallas and Houston when I posted my original comment, but then decided against elaboration.

        That elaboration, though, is simple: Dallas and Houston are not New York City. Not nearly the same thing to an up-and-coming chef. Plus, with the thriving cultural and culinary scene in Austin–a HUGE state university; SXSW; hell, Top Chef filmed parts of its Texas season there (and the winner, along with another competitor, were from Austin)–there’s a decent amount of reason to stay in Austin over going to those other cities.

        The population there has also experienced huge growth over the past couple decades, so it really is hard to make the comparison to Albany.

      • Sarah M. permalink
        January 9, 2013 4:20 pm

        @Masticating Monkey– I get it. I live in Austin so am familiar with the awesomeness of the food scene. I also think that you’re probably right about Albany’s proximity to better food cities in the northeast, but to some extent I think “top talent,” as you described it earlier, is fairly mobile. Paul Qui came up in Austin but there’s zero reason for him to stay in Texas if he doesn’t want to– he could open a restaurant in NYC and be just as successful, I’m guessing. I think DB’s argument about class can be extended to “culture” more generally, which serves your point. Although it’s moving in the right direction, Albany’s GENERAL dining culture isn’t very serious, so people go elsewhere. It’s hard for me to assign a geographical reason for that, though, as even the more isolated big cities in TX (and other places I’ve spent time– Portland, Seattle, New Orleans) have serious food cultures and not much reason to leave.

  4. January 9, 2013 12:36 pm

    Thanks for the kimchi rice link. I didn’t remember the post. I’ll have to give it a try.

  5. January 10, 2013 2:35 am

    Oh yeah, I forgot to put this in here… I thought you might like this quote from the aforementioned Orwell book.

    “A human being is primarily a bag for putting food into; the other functions and faculties may be more godlike, but in point of time they come afterwards. A man dies and is buried, and all his words and actions are forgotten, but the food he has eaten lives after him in the sound or rotten bones of his children. I think it could be plausibly argued that changes of diet are more important than changes of dynasty or even of religion….Yet it is curious how seldom the all-importance of food is recognized. You see statues everywhere to politicians, poets, bishops, but none to cooks or bacon-curers or market gardeners.”
    ― George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

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