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Flecks of Gold 2011

December 29, 2011

My proudest accomplishment of the past year has been writing the regular Eat This! feature on All Over Albany. Believe it or not, but it’s a lot more difficult than it sounds to find something noteworthy enough to highlight every other week. The gig actually stemmed from a post I wrote on the FLB last year around this time called Flecks of Gold about my favorite food finds of the past year.

The truth is that there are lots of places in the region that I love and have loved for a long time. But now that I’m writing two posts a month for the subject on All Over Albany you might think I would be tapped out.

Well, I am not.

Some things are just too much of a pain in the neck to photograph. Other items are from restaurants that have already been featured on Eat This! in the past, and thus would be out of the running for another story. Like last year, this isn’t an exhaustive list and is limited to items that I’ve eaten in the past twelve months. It should be noted that these are in addition to the items I wrote up for AOA.

So what are these dishes that make me uncharacteristically giddy?

The Eggplant Florentine Pizza at DeFazio’s
Eat the pizza there or do not eat it at all. Some pizza places are about slices and others are about pies. DeFazio’s is about pies hot out of the oven. That is when they are at their best. Do not be shy about grabbing the first slice, and be not afraid of burning the roof of your mouth. Seconds count here, and this eggplant pie is amazing, with tender, crisp and pillowy pieces of fried eggplant atop their classic crust. Go for the gusto and enjoy the traditional white flour crusts. Their whole wheat ones may be great for whole wheat, but it’s the classics that have established their reputation.

The $10 Local Pasture Raised Burger at Taste
There are a lot of bullshit expensive burgers in this town. That doesn’t include the ones that are expensive because they are topped with expensive ingredients. But it is refreshing to see that one of the area’s pricier restaurants is offering an incredible value at lunch in the form of a local pasture raised hamburger. Enjoy white linens, fine crystal water glasses, and heavy flatware, as you manhandle this tasty burger into your pie hole. It’s seriously civilized. Next time I go, I’m going to ask to see if they could toast or grill the bun, because that would make it even better.

Hot Pot at Shining Rainbow
Last winter CelinaBean invited me and Albany Jane out to one of her favorite places for hot pot. It’s a very traditional mode of eating where you are effectively building two separate pots of soup. Celina has a different style than I do. She likes to keep dumping things into the pot and let serendipity take its course. I’m a bit more of a control freak. Whatever you do, do not fill up on the proteins and vegetables as you cook in the broth. Save room for the noodles at the end of the meal. And carve out at least two hours for the experience. Slow and steady wins the race. With this traditional hot pot service, I will even forgive Shining Rainbow its sushi bar, and that’s saying a lot.

The Stirred Martini at Jack’s Oyster House
It’s a little expensive. If I recall that would be about $11 for a Tanqueray martini. But if you ask for it correctly, they will make you the real deal. That would be, “An extra-dry Tanqueray martini, stirred with orange bitters and a twist of lemon zest over the top (but not in the glass), please.” It’s a mouthful. But they do stock The Bitter Truth orange bitters and use a decent dry vermouth. Plus, if you are going to be drinking an old man drink, you ought to be drinking it in an old man restaurant, and I mean that in truly the best possible way.

Festive Meals for Eight at Ala Shanghai
Ala Shanghai made this list last year on the strength of their soup dumplings. But since then I have arranged two separate meals for eight people which have been truly amazing. You can still order the winter seasonal menu I worked on with Lanny and his chef. It’s a staggering amount of delicious and authentic home-style dishes for a paltry $20 per person. Even if you incorporated more expensive dishes into the meal that require days of preparation, the per-person cost would still be less than one entrée at many of the region’s lesser restaurants. If you haven’t been, grab seven friends and go.

Doughboys at Esperanto
Well, it finally happened. I had my first doughboy. And my second, third, fourth, and fifth. To make matters worse, I hadn’t even been drinking. I didn’t have to stand in line. They were delivered to me, and I tried my first one after eating multiple slices of pizza for AOA’s Tournament of Pizza. Are they disgusting? You bet. But that doesn’t make them any less addictive. Maybe it’s that I’ve always been a big fan of slightly undercooked dough. Perhaps it has something to do with how well they go with Frank’s Red Hot, which I love on a shocking variety of unexpected foods. Although really it’s the whole package, buttressed by the multi-layered texture from the crisp outer crust to the warm, gooey, chewy center.

Brown Rice and Soft Corn Tortillas at Chipotle
It may not be local, but these two ingredients have arrived on the line at Albany area Chipotle restaurants. I’ve been prioritizing whole grains at home for a while now. And since I go to Chipotle as a way to maintain my philosophical ideals of what it means to eat well, it warms my heart that now their menu now includes options with fewer refined grains. For anyone who suggests the chain is not in a constant state of improvement, I submit this as yet another example of their continued upward trajectory.

Deep Fried Buffalo Burger at Swifty’s
So this made it onto All Over Albany, but only in the Forget the Resolution feature. But damn, this is one amazing burger. It’s battered, fried, cooked to your desired internal temperature, and slathered with Buffalo sauce and blue cheese dressing. All that and a side of fries. I may need to get one more of these after my upcoming cholesterol test but before my appointment with the doctor. That seems reasonable, no?

Savory Scones at All Good Bakers
I wrote about the glory of their grilled cheese sandwiches. As far as I’m concerned that is the best way to eat their bread, which is made from local and sustainable ingredients. But of their baked goods, these scones are hands down the best thing to come out of their ovens. Crisp on the outside with a moist interior and a fine crumb, they are chock filled with local, seasonal and organic ingredients that all play beautifully together. Oh, they are also made with their house made butter and house made buttermilk, which all start as cream from a local sustainably run dairy. All that and reasonably priced, made by some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Amazing.

Birthday Cakes at Crisan
Speaking of amazing, the birthday cake from Crisan inspired a rare photograph on the FLB. But this first cake was so impressive it has inspired multiple trips back to order cakes for other occasions. Not only do they use great ingredients, like the just picked local strawberries (in season) but they also preserve the seasonal bounty in house-made jams to use throughout the year. They are cakes of substance and beauty, that are remarkably reasonable. And while you are picking up your order, you can test your resolve not to get anything else out of the display case. Good luck with that.

The above list is really for restaurants, or at least places to sit while enjoying your food. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few superstar purveyors that made living in the Capital Region more than just a little bit more delicious in the past year.

– Regional Cheeses from The Cheese Traveler
– Wholesale Happy Meat from Adventure in Food Trading
– Teawurst at Rolf’s Pork Store
– Biodynamic vegetables from the Roxbury Farm CSA

8 Comments leave one →
  1. December 29, 2011 8:44 am

    Ala Shanghai does festive meals well. After your (first) post, my husband took it upon himself to organize a party of 24 (!!!) for my 30th birthday. (It was a surprise.) We’re going to try and get a (smaller) group together for the winter-for-eight dinner in the coming weeks.

  2. December 29, 2011 9:58 am

    Is Shining Rainbow serving sushi again? I know they stopped after the Tsunami and subsequent radiation disaster in Japan. So you may not have to forgive them at all.

  3. December 29, 2011 11:13 am

    I’m afraid to try the hot pot by myself. I need supervision or detailed instructions. I could Google it if we get to that point.

  4. Elyse permalink
    December 29, 2011 12:43 pm

    I also want to give a shout out to the bialys at All Good Bakers. It’s extremely rare to find them at all outside of Brooklyn, never mind a tasty and healthier version!

  5. December 29, 2011 1:04 pm

    You give me hope that I can yet find an amazing martini in Albany!

    I’m still hoping to find something comparable to the 10 minute martini you can get in Chandler’s in Boise Idaho…

  6. January 2, 2012 1:29 pm

    Doughboys addictive? I don’t get it. I was so excited to try one with all the raves about them. I even had a couple of glasses of wine before hand so I would be in the appropriate state of mind. I was less then impressed and the doughboys were less than meh.

    If I need to get my fill of doughy, cheesy goodness I will drive to Wilton for a calzone from Caputo’s. Blissful.

    Let the drunks and college punks of Caroline St. have them.

  7. May 23, 2012 2:55 pm

    Thank ou for the Prof. Fussy seal of approval of our scones! Its Nick’s recipe, I usually figure out what varieties each week and make them, but not lately w/ this broken arm. I think (if i may say so), my butter/milk makes them extra special. We tried other available butters but they left our baked goods wanting. 18 lbs per week is the norm, that will increase to about 30 p/w during farmers market season. It’s a lot of work, but the butter is so good, our daughter begs for chunks of it to snack on (which we allow every once in a while). The smell of the cream and flavor of the butter is changing as the cows are consuming more fresh feed on pasture since the weather has turned.

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