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Ask the Profussor – A Complimentary Critic

July 21, 2010

Before jumping into my periodic marathon of catching up on reader questions, there was something on the internets Monday that I’m guessing slid by most people.  It almost slid by me.

Steve Barnes wrote the following in response to a comment on his blog:

The Capital Region food and restaurant world would be better if there were more people who cared as passionately and blogged as articulately as Daniel B. does; it’s better already because he’s a dedicated part of the conversation.

I truly and deeply appreciate the sentiment.  It is reassuring to hear that what I do here is considered to be helpful by one of the pillars of the Albany food community.  But when I stopped and thought about it further, not even I would want to live in a world where there were more people who cared as passionately about food as me.  I mean, can you imagine?

All kidding aside, thank you Steve.  Now onto the questions.

Elyse asked:
I really want to know what your philosophical differences are with the Honest Weight Food Co-op cheese counter. Have you already dedicated a post to this? Where else can you even buy cheese around here? Farmers markets?

Separately Matthew commented:
What about Gustav at the Honest Weight Food Co-op?
Isn’t he the cheese-meister extraordinaire?

The dedicated post on this is coming.  I’m waiting on my cousin in Sicily to write it.  But he’s been busy.  My cousin is in the food business, he worked the best cheese counter in Philadelphia, and now he is exporting some delicious things from Italy.  While I think the argument would be stronger coming from him, I’m not going to wait forever.  You all deserve to know.

In the meanwhile, the Italian markets have some selection of decent cheese as do the farmers markets.  But mostly I’ve been going without, and enjoying better cheeses on my travels beyond Albany.

Mr. Dave observed:
I read Fantasia’s review. Is it just me or does she infuriate anyone else?

Several months back, Lou Quillio had an analysis of her review style, and I think he was on target.  The idea was that it was reminiscent of the journalism found in small town papers forty years ago. Given the aging of newspaper readerships, this style is likely very appealing to the vast majority of Times Union subscribers.  It may not make it less infuriating, but at least I felt better with a plausible explanation for why reviews like these continually get published.

Stevo wondered:
When subway is voted best sandwich shop, do you really expect [the average Times Union reader] to understand or frankly, give a crap about the nuances of Italian cuisine?

I see it the other way around.  If we could get the average Times Union reader to give a crap about the nuances of Italian cuisine, Subway wouldn’t be voted the best sandwich shop.  At least that’s my goal.

Wedalicious was incredulous:
“…additional aeration time stirs up added fragrances of wax paper, fennel, scallions, licorice candies, and dried herbs.”
Wax paper? Come on. Wax paper doesn’t smell like ANYTHING. That was the most pretentious bit of puffery I’ve ever read.

You know what I just did?  Opened up a box of waxed paper and took a deep sniff.  Nothing.  So then I balled up a piece of wax paper and took a held it up to my nose.  Also nothing.  People’s perceptions of smells vary dramatically.  And it’s impossible to say that to F. Paul wax paper is odorless or that to him Walton Waters isn’t redolent of the stuff.

But putting detailed notes to sensory experiences is mind numbingly difficult.  So personally I don’t begrudge the wax paper.  I could imagine getting the light impression of something waxy.  And on the wax spectrum, “wax paper” would be on one side and perhaps “candle wax” would be on the other?  Maybe paraffin and beeswax would be somewhere in between.

I have great faith in Mr. Pacult’s integrity, and doubt that the descriptor was put in just to make the drink sound interesting.  Still, I absolutely understand why someone would be incredulous when confronting this description.  You know, since wax paper doesn’t in fact smell like anything.

Phaihead was feeling doubtful:
Do you believe TJ’s will ever come to the Vapital 

There was an encouraging rumor going around yesterday and sent to me by Bruce Roter:

“We were driving on Wolf Road today around 1 PM. My son swears he saw a vehicle with a Trader Joe’s logo on its side in the old Barnes and Noble parking lot on Wolf Road at that time. He specifically stated that it was not a bumper sticker.”

Mirage or Trader Joe’s? All I can tell you that I’ve received several other recent indications that Trader Joe’s is looking at the Barnes & Noble building. Trader Joe’s doesn’t like to fuel speculation and will neither confirm nor deny until a deal is done. So what are we left with? Our Trader Joe’s shopping lists and a HEAPING SPOON FULL OF HOPE!!

A while back I wrote the company and mentioned this Wolf Road location specifically.  Surely it is a coincidence, but clearly I think this would be an ideal spot for the market.  Now I just hope they are able to execute wine sales with a separate store in a store, like BJ’s does across the road.

BK was not feeling the Trader Joe’s love:
Have any of you been to a Whole Foods? WF is for cooks, TJ’s is for picnicking.

Whole Foods and I have a complicated relationship.  When I lived in the Bay Area I thought Whole Foods was just okay.  There were some things it did great, but for the most part I could take it or leave it.  After being exposed to Albany area supermarkets and the co-op for a couple of years, Whole Foods is now like a divine ray of culinary light.  And while I agree that good food is more expensive, not all of it needs to be that expensive.  TJ’s doesn’t deliver on the same quality, but in many ways they provide a Whole Foods philosophy at a Price Chopper value.

Leah was curious about making additions to one of my recipes:
Would chickpeas or cannellini work in it, for the sake of creating a vegetarian main dish? Maybe with grilled marinated tofu?

I don’t think I would do it.  It’s already a vegetarian main dish.  It has grain and fruit and nuts and cheese.  You could increase the pine nuts.  I didn’t toast them for the picnic, but that not only intensifies their flavor, but also makes them stand out more in the dish.  There is plenty of protein in there, and it is tasty enough to eat a whole bowl.  But I do think it would go nicely with a few falafel on the side.

AddiesDad was trying to be helpful in my search for Fiore Sardo by offering this idea:
Have you tried ordering it from one of the speciality markets in the area, like Putnam in Saratoga?

Yes, I know I could order it, but that isn’t really what this quest is about.  The question is, “Does any place in Albany stock this rare Sardinian cheese?”  I imagine the answer is no.  But sometimes the hunt is its own reward.

Leah undeterred by its failure to louche wanted to know:
Where does one buy Chartreuse?

I can’t recall where I got my bottle, but I would be surprised if All Star Wine and Spirits in Latham or Exit 9 in Clifton Park didn’t have it.  Still, you should call ahead.

I seemed to have gotten Jesse all worked up:
Your article has provoked in me a strong urge to crush the offending PR nitwit and his/her mealy mouthed response. Perhaps if you were to post the legalese and its explanation from your post on their page?

That’s a great idea. But I think it would be more effective if it came from you.  I’ve been posting little notes to relevant discussions on their Facebook page.  It’s time to widen the circle.  Should you care to link to my post, please feel free.

imajovialgirl shared an observation:
I took a road trip to FL last year and noticed the McDonald’s burgers in the South are different. They are much better, picture perfect, just like in the commercials. I wonder why?

It’s the humidity.

Cindy wasn’t convinced about the supremacy of McDonald’s fries:
Don’t you find McD’s fries vary wildly from franchise to franchise, or even from day to day at the same place? They can be perfectly done and salted – but too many times I’ve had them cold, limp, soggy, over- or under-salted. Dare I say that Burger King fries are more consistent – and much tastier?

I don’t put consistency on a pedestal. Nor am I inclined to send back food at restaurants.  But McDonald’s fries are one of the few things I will send back if they aren’t right.  Certain foods are too bad for you to eat them when they aren’t made properly.  Hamburgers are right up there.

If I’m at a McDonald’s for an ice cream cone with my mother-in-law and I see a batch of fries being dumped into the hopper, I’ll order them, and they will be delicious.  Any other time and you are taking your chances.  If you are getting drive-through, then you are getting what you deserve.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 21, 2010 3:57 pm

    I don’t have a substantial comment, however, your response to the questions about the cheese counter at the Honest Weight Food Co-op reminded me of a man who sounds similar to your cousin.

    A few years ago, I took a flight from Philadelphia to Paris. Next to me was a man who was in the food business in Philadelphia. He kindly shared some bread, specialty meat and cheese, and delicious olives with me during the flight. We later became friends on Facebook and occasionally connect. He is now in Balestrate, Sicily, working with Attavola.

    I’m curious. Might this person be your cousin?

  2. phairhead permalink
    July 21, 2010 8:58 pm

    hey hey hey! edit my typos!

  3. July 21, 2010 11:16 pm

    You can definitely find Chartreuse at All Star. They carry several different sizes.

    I’m not really all that into Micky D’s fries. They are fine, yes, but if we’re going fast food fries, I’ll usually opt for Burger King. Then again, it’s been years since I’ve had fries from either. However, if you love, love, love their fries, here’s a recipe by the great J. Kenji Lopez-Alt about how to make them at home:
    Personally, I’m tempted to make them just because I like a good project.

  4. Ellen Whitbhy permalink
    July 22, 2010 12:05 am

    I LOVE this blog. Thanks for not editing phairhead’s typos (sorry, phairhead).

    And congratulations on the comment from Steve Barnes. Quite a milestone, I think.

    Not sure if it’s relevant but when I bake with wax paper, the smell coming out of the oven is much different from when I bake the same thing but with parchment paper.

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