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Good Better Best

July 19, 2011

One of my big quixotic campaigns is to try to influence the Times Union Best of the Capital Region Reader’s Choice Poll. It’s the powerful poll with the very long name. In all seriousness, it’s the only one that matters here, and that’s because it comes from the largest daily newspaper in the region.

Say what you will about the impending and inevitable death of printed news, the Times Union has a certain degree of gravitas unmatched by any other local news source.

There have been voices suggesting that the FUSSYlittleBLOG abandon this crazy scheme and just publish its own best of list. But there are plenty of lists out there already. For example, just last week Metroland put out its annual Best of 2011 issue. You can see their Food & Drink picks here.

Naturally, I have some thoughts on their selections.

There are two things off the bat that differentiate this poll from the Times Union one. First, the food section is much much longer, and goes into some very specific categories. Second, the winners are editor-selected and not picked by the readers.

Actually, I think this is a good way to go, although I do take issue with a few categories. There are 64 winners in food and drinks alone. Really there are only 63 winners, since Antipasto’s in Clifton Park won in two categories. We’ll get to that in just a minute. Let’s focus on the categories for just a moment.

One gets the feeling there are a lot of places the editors of Metroland love, and they expand the categories to include them all. The best example of this is the honor of “Best Scratch Cafe” bestowed upon the Scratch Bakery Café. While I understand the desire to highlight one’s favorite places, creating bespoke categories like this seems a bit disingenuous when compiling a list of the region’s best.

We do have a lot of pizza places, but even so, naming four different establishments the Best of 2011 seems a little generous. At least the three different “Best Italian” restaurants are given subheadings. Some more specificity on the pizza categories would go far. Perhaps something like, “best gourmet pizza” or “best wood fired pizza.”

I’m simply delighted by a handful of the winners.

Kinnaree was named Best Pan-Asian (new). But somehow it feels like short shrift when it follows Sushi-Thai Garden as Best Pan-Asian Restaurant. Kinnaree is better, so maybe next year we’ll see it in its rightful spot when the restaurant is no longer new.

Two generally overlooked classics made the list: Peter Pause for Best Lunch and Famous Lunch for Best Hot Dog. These are among my favorite places in the region, and I’m glad to see them included in this round up. Because they truly are some of the best places to eat.

Additionally, Caffe Vero was named Best Espresso, and I’m glad to see these guys get the recognition they deserve. Nobody in the area takes espresso as seriously as do the people behind this shop.

Frankly, there are a lot of selections that the list gets right or mostly right.

I suppose everyone is entitled to a few missteps, especially on such a big list. But it’s the ones they get wrong that really leave me wondering about the critical capacity of the editors.

Let’s start with Antipasto’s since it was the only business that won twice, and should only have walked away with “Best Capital Region Approximation of a Vegetarian Restaurant.” I’ve tried a couple of their pizzas and they were simply awful. The plain cheese was just acrid and tasted of burnt rubber. But that was still better than the vegetarian sausage pie, where the fake sausage added an unappealing mush to the already substandard pizza rendering it entirely inedible. But don’t just take my word for it, the Times Union also had an atrocious experience here

I feel for vegetarians, but luckily they now have Parivar, which is entirely vegetarian, and you would never even know it.

Emperor’s is tough, because in all honesty it used to be the best in the area. I still think they make the best chow fun. But Ala Shanghai has entirely eclipsed them in the quality of their ingredients and the preparation of the food. I understand that some times it’s hard to let go of the loves of one’s past.

Sage Bistro is a puzzling choice for Best New Restaurant. After all, it opened with a lot of excitement that chef Un-Hui Filomeno would be in the kitchen again. She is loved around the region, but left the new restaurant almost four months ago. The menu is long, disjointed and overpriced. It is exactly the opposite kind of place from Garden Bistro 24, which I campaigned for in this category during the Times Union poll.

Coccadotts is popular since it was the first cupcake bakery in the region. But I had their stuff for my birthday, and for the most part was wholly unimpressed. If you want a better cupcake, go visit Bake Me a Cake Next Door. I’m still not sure they are the best, but I do know they are better than Coccadotts.

You know, I could nitpick this list to death. Maybe I already have.

But I think this shows the challenges of just writing up a best of the area list on one’s own. Sure, it takes the mob mentality out of the equation so the chains aren’t present, which is a big plus. On the other hand the list feels a bit capricious as personal tastes can vary dramatically.

Even so, Antipasto’s? Twice?
That had to be a joke. Right?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 19, 2011 11:38 am

    I love Emperor’s. I get good service and good food there consistently. Ala Shanghai has been hit or miss, depending on when I went and who I was with. I agree that there is better dim sum out there than Emperor’s; Tai Pan on Route 9 in Clifton Park takes the cake. But, I would also disagree with your assessment that Ala Shanghai’s ingredients are fresher than Emperor’s – I have received fresh produce paired with beautiful seafood at both, and still frozen dumplings at both.

    Six of one, half dozen of the other, personal preference, but to put it tritely, my experience comes down to this: Ala Shanghai cranks out a good meal when they care about who they’re cooking for. Emperor’s is consistently good regardless of who they’re cooking for.

    • July 20, 2011 12:52 am

      I’ve had good stuff at both places. And maybe it has to do with how I’ve ordered, but I’ve never had anything great at Emperor’s. And I’ve never had anything inedible at Ala Shanghai.

      That said, I think the Emperor’s chow fun is the best I’ve had in the area. And I will continue to go and look for that truly great dish. Any specific suggestions you have are certainly welcome.

  2. July 19, 2011 3:39 pm

    Where did Un-Hui Filomeno go? I was planning to get down to Sage, sad to find out I am four months late. Can we put a tracking device on her? Same with Cliff, the much-missed master of meats at Max London.

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