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Menu Muddle

April 12, 2010

A long time ago I closely compared two Italian restaurants, and pointed out the differences in their menus.  Among my chief concerns was the use (or absence) of special restaurant-quality ingredients.

Well recently Steve Barnes posted a few new spring items on the menu at Yono’s.  And I have to say, for the most part I was very pleased with what I saw.

The menu contains Koshihikari rice, Feather Ridge Farm eggs, Armando Manni Per Me extra-virgin olive oil, Alaskan black cod, speck di Alto Adige, Wölffer Estate verjus, and Marcho Farms veal.

Now you may ask yourself, are these truly special ingredients, or is this just marketing to try and make the restaurant’s food seem like more than it is?  Here is a quick rundown for you.

Koshihikari rice = Special
Here is more on the grain than you would ever want to know.  It is a bit ambitious to use this traditional sushi rice in a risotto, but in general risotto at restaurants is rarely a completely traditional version of that dish.

Feather Ridge Farm eggs = Special
You can read all about this sustainable local family farm here
.  But the secret of good eggs is twofold: quality of the feed and freshness of the egg.  The more recently the egg was laid, the better.  Feather Ridge Farm delivers on both quality and freshness by delivering their eggs to restaurants a day after being laid.  That is incredible.

Armando Manni Per Me extra-virgin olive oil = Special
You can read what Thomas Keller has to say about the stuff here
.  And after spending some time on the producer’s site, I really want some.  If I had an extra $300 sitting around, I would buy a liter of the stuff.  You know, now that I think of it, we are getting a tax refund this year.  And this would be good for my health.

Alaskan black cod = Special
Seafood is confusing these days, even if you have the Seafood Watch iPhone app.  And it is rare to find sustainable seafood on restaurant menus here in Albany beyond the New World Bistro Bar, which makes a point of featuring its commitment to sustainability.  Anyhow, Alaskan black cod gets the full green light from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  So eat all you like, the ocean has plenty.

Speck di Alto Adige = Special
You can see what the good folks at Formaggio Kitchen and DiBruno Brothers have to say on this smoked and cured meat.  And then you can buy some and have it shipped to you.  But if you don’t have a professional slicer, and aren’t skilled in its operation, then you are just out of luck.

Wölffer Estate verjus = Special
The chef deserves praise for selecting an unusual ingredient from one of New York State’s better wineries.  Verjus is really important for people who care about wine.  Vinegar has a nasty habit of interfering with a wine’s taste—the acetic acid lingers on the palate and carries over its acidity into the glass.  But verjus made from underripe grapes has a similar sourness without the unfortunate side effects.

I know some of you are waiting for the “but.”  Well, here it is.

Marcho Farms veal = Maybe not that special
It certainly sounds nice.  Especially with everything else that precedes it, I was imagining another pastoral fantasy, similar to Feather Ridge.  Perhaps you are wondering where exactly Marcho Farms is.  Well, it is in Pennsylvania, which certainly isn’t a bad thing.  We do share a border with the state.  But I was disappointed to learn that it is not a small-scale veal ranch, but one of the largest veal producers in the country.  They even have a special joint venture with SYSCO.

The good news is that Marcho Farms seems to have turned a corner in terms of how it treats its animals.  And it should be noted that the Nature Fed line of Marcho Farms veal products is featured on the menus at places like the French Laundry.

What isn’t clear is if Yono’s is actually using the Nature Fed veal, the SYSCO veal, or something else in between.

All the same, this has been a breath of fresh air.  I guess that’s what spring is about.

And don’t forget, only 11 more days to vote in the Times Union Best of the Capital Region poll.  Here is the ballot that I have submitted, for your consideration.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Raf permalink
    April 12, 2010 1:24 pm

    Given the quality of the other stuff you could give them the benefit of the doubt on the veal. Or, um, call them and ask before dinging them in print.

  2. April 12, 2010 3:10 pm

    This has come up before, but SYSCO does not = Walmart. Even though it is a chain operation, the chain is dedicated to the foodservice industry and offers some very high quality and high end products.

    Same goes for D’artagnan. Even though it is a chain operation, that chain is supporting small meat producers and helping them reach markets that would not be attainable directly. Hudson Foie Gras being a good example.

  3. mirdreams permalink
    April 14, 2010 8:58 am

    I know you’re fussy but calling this a Menu Muddle seems a little pejorative when you’re mostly applauding their efforts.

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