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Ask the Profussor – Chi-poat-a-licious

August 30, 2010

A lot can happen in 19 days. Heck, a lot can happen in just one. Tomorrow is the official grand opening of the newest Chipotle in Albany County, and dangerously it is walking distance from my house.  Maybe its close proximity will silence my complaints about good food not being available at reasonable prices.

Or maybe not.

Actually, I have a lot on tap for the weeks to come.  Twitter has recently been a hotbed of inspiration for me, and for the first time in a while, I feel like I really have a lot that I want to write about.  There’s been plenty of stuff that I feel I should write about—I have a growing list—but for some reason or another, I just can’t make myself do it.

Anyhow, before we move into the future, I have to address the past.  There are questions that have been asked and answered, but there have also been questions that were asked, only to be left hanging around searching for some resolution.  Well today, they can finally rest in peace as I cross them off my to-do list and clear my conscience.  I may even need to weigh in on a few of your comments from the past two and a half weeks.

You’ll just have to read on to see if something you wrote got under the profussor’s skin.

The North Country Rambler finally realized something about the FLB:
Oh, I get it. You would be Don Quixote. Can I audition for Sanchez? And thanks for explaining all the Albanians in Babbo.

I myself have called attention to the quixotic nature of my efforts. But presumably you were referring to Sancho Panza, Quixote’s sidekick and not Agustín Sánchez the man who abridged the Cervantes masterwork down to about 150 pages.  Honestly, it never occurred to me to hold auditions.  I just kind of imagined a companion of sorts would emerge from the local blogger stew.  Never did I imagine there would be so many of you.

slilly said something that I really want to respond to, even though it’s not a question:
If you truly want to create change, put on your big boy shoes and open a restaurant to show Albany how it’s done. Sorry – I’m just not buying in.

I totally understand this.  But owning and operating a restaurant goes beyond just maintaining high standards and providing customers with good value.  It is one of the reasons I never wanted to have my own advertising agency.  Being a small business owner is a royal pain in the ass.  Some people love it, but it’s not for me.

Still, I firmly believe that one can create change by promoting the good works of others and calling to task problems in the marketplace.  I believe Ruth Reichl did this.  She has long been a proponent of Alice Waters and the entire school of fresh, local & seasonal foods.  And Ruth has carried the torch for Alice’s brand of California cuisine at every step of her career in journalism.

I do think it takes promoters and creators working together to bring change, which is one reason why I’m starting to reach out to the creators.  But Albany is ripe for change.  It is changing.  And if I can be just one more voice to help it continue to change in a positive direction, then all of this is worth it.  I think.

MamaAss was considering buying booze by mail:
You know, I rarely drink these days, but I’m tempted to buy some products from Harvest Spirits because you make them sound so good and they would be great to have for entertaining. Do I have to worry about a shelf life on the trifecta presented above?

I think it would probably be more prudent to get one special bottle than all three.  I know it can be hard to decide.  So just keep an eye out for a package in your mailbox and then you can tell me yourself how well a bottle of the stuff holds up over time.

Beck had a follow up question about my trip to Providence, RI:
Aside from the Portuguese bread, did you have any other Portuguese food? It was my understanding that there’s a very high concentration of Portuguese immigrants in Rhode Island, and I would think, Portuguese food, but perhaps I’m wrong.

This may cause me some grief, because my mother reads this.  But when I go to Providence we eat as a family.  And it’s not that my mother isn’t an adventurous eater.  It’s not even that she’s super-picky.  But I really like going to ethnic dives, and she’s concerned that she’ll catch scurvy or something awful like that.

Sometimes I’ll sneak out and pick up a meal by myself, but I miss Mexican food so much that I’ve been focused on those options versus Portuguese.  But you have certainly given me something to think about for future visits.

MattB had a perfectly reasonable and logical question:
Besides being denser, isn’t Providence a richer area than Albany? I’d think that would be a big determining factor — along with size — of how many good restaurant options there are.

The first answer is, “Not by much.”  I found a nifty chart on Effective Buying Income (EBI) by DMA.  EBI is defined as, “Money income less personal tax and non-tax payments, a number often referred to as ‘disposable’ or ‘after-tax’ income.”  Based on some relatively recent Nielsen data (September 2009):

The Albany DMA’s EBI is $51,738 which is 7% below the national average.
The Providence DMA’s EBI is $54,977 which is only 2% below the average.

I think part of the issue is how people in a certain geographic area spend their disposable income.  It’s not enough to have the money, buy the local people have to be willing to spend it in restaurants.  In some ways I think Albany is in a bit of a vicious cycle.  There are so many mediocre restaurants that people don’t go out.  And because people don’t go out, fewer people are jumping at the bit to open a really great restaurant.

North Country Rambler didn’t see my point. This is why I love blogging, because now I get to clarify and try to bring him (and possibly others) around:
I don’t see why you would have a problem with judging restaurant “for the area”, or “grading on a curve”. Local eateries don’t have a Batali budget…Local expense accounts (unless you include state senators and lobbyists) can’t cover that.

I don’t like grading on a curve because it dilutes the impact of a four-star rating, and it automatically creates an inferior dining scene.  For arguments sake, let’s say that Restaurant A is the best the region can do, and it gets a four-star review by the paper, even though there are problems with the meal.  I think back to the three and a half star review that carries Prime 677 despite 1/3 of the steaks being gristly and the tomato salad that was virtually tasteless.

Then a CIA trained chef who grew up in the area comes to town and brings his big city standards and commitment to local, seasonal and organic food to Albany.  Don’t laugh, it could happen.  Does new Restaurant B deserve the same four-star rating as the one that’s a little rougher around the edges?

After three years in the region, I understand the desire to boost ratings for restaurants that would be rated lower elsewhere.  We are just so happy to have something good in Albany after so much mediocrity, that we ascribe greatness to the good.  I imagine this desire gets stronger the longer one lives here.

As far as local eateries not having a Batali budget and not being able to survive on Batali menu prices, I submit to you the Café Capriccio vs. Babbo post.

MattW wanted to know:
And why can’t albany have good mexican food like el rancho. Maybe even a medicore taco truck(we dont have any do we?)

The best I can tell, we don’t have enough of a concentrated Mexican population. There is a lovely Mexican market down in Valatie, where I stopped on the first day the Cornelius Applejack was released.  To put it gently, I wasn’t crazy about the food.  But I got to talking with the woman who was minding the store.  And she told me that if I wanted some really good Mexican food, I needed to check out Poughkeepsie.

I haven’t spent nearly enough time down there to offer a strong recommendation, but there are so many Mexican restaurants and taco stands that I could easily spend a month eating around.

wendalicious asked a simple question that has a very complicated answer:
What brand of Prosecco do you prefer? I enjoy Mionetto, but I honestly have not tried another kind (that I know of).

Honestly, I have very few brand preferences when it comes to wine.  Primarily because there is just so damn much of it out there.  There are so many small producers that occasionally one will find in a good wine shop that it pays to keep trying new things that come along.

That said, there are a few wineries that I love, but those have as much to do with memories of consuming their wine and visiting their vineyards as it does with the juice in the bottle.  But that sounds like another post.

AC who is the sole voice to keep wine posts on the FLB asked about wine glasses:
what steps should one take during a tasting of multiple wines to avoid transferring wood taint leftover from one wine to the following samples? Do you rinse your glass with water between each sample? Should I request a new glass between samples (I’m sure the pourer will be thrilled with that idea)? Is it not a big deal?

It really depends where you are.  When I’m at a wine bar, and I’m drinking several different wines, I will generally ask for several different glasses.  If the wines are all similar, I even prefer to have them all out in front of me in a flight, which I believe is the best way to appreciate and learn about the differences (and similarities) of different varietals and bottlings.

At a winery, one doesn’t get that luxury.  And rinsing with water leaves water in the glass, and that’s not good either.  Water may actually be worse.  But any winery worth its salt will pour you wines from the lightest to the heaviest, and the heavier wines generally eclipse any residual flavors from the lighter ones preceding it.

Still, it would not be unheard of to ask for a cleansing pour. That would be a splash of the new, heavier wine to swirl around an empty, used glass and dump out.  It essentially conditions the glass itself for the flavors of the new wine to come, and gets the old wine out, without any pesky dilution from water.

While Mr. Sunshine and I often agree, I couldn’t let his statement go by unanswered:
Also, for decades, I have frozen my pesto with cheese and olive oil included: contrary to popular opinion, there is no loss in quality (except for a tiny loss of total freshness), and it’s obviously way easier.

I’m glad that Mr. Sunshine doesn’t mind the texture of defrosted frozen cheese.  But I do not endorse the practice of freezing cheese in any form, pesto included.  And I reject the notion that somehow it is more difficult to grate the cheese after your pesto has defrosted.

Please treat good cheese with respect.  There will be more on this to come, if my cousin ever stops having all of these delicious European adventures.

And to all of you who are guessing what new shiny coffee toy I am eyeing:

You still haven’t gotten it yet.  I’ll keep you posted.  If someone local guesses the right product, I’ll even make them a cup of coffee.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 30, 2010 10:49 am

    Oh man. I didn’t realize Chipotle would be there so soon! Ahh! This will change my eating life at work (when I’m at the mall). Since even though I am a bit of a heathen who prefers Moe’s, the location on Western is totally revolting and I will not eat there.

    Plus, cilantro. Mmmm.

  2. Foodieintraining permalink
    August 30, 2010 3:50 pm

    As for good Mexican restaurants in the area, I recommend Leons in Saratoga and Jose Malones in Troy. Leons is pretty authentic and true to real Mexican food at least for the Capital Region and Jose Malones is delicious and a little more daring!!

  3. August 30, 2010 8:10 pm

    Not to belabor this – but re: (not) grading on a curve. Using the same standards – you would want to hold out a four star rating until someone opens up a place on a par with say – Daniel or le Bernardin? How many four star (NY Times) restaurants are there in NYC? Four, I think, out of thousands and thousands of restaurants – hundreds of which are great restaurants? I think you are saying you would wait for someone of that caliber to open in Albany before giving out a TU four star rating. Boy you’re tough. Glad you were not my HS chemistry teacher. I had a tough enough time with that stuff. PS – You Googled Sanchez, didn’t you?

    • August 30, 2010 8:59 pm

      There is no question that I am tough. And it’s not just in food criticism. I’m a tough parent and I was a tough boss. But I’m also tough on myself, so I think that makes me tough but fair.



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