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Leaving a Good Impression

July 19, 2013

Man, I’ve been writing this blog for a long time. It used to be that I would commemorate big milestones when it came to passing certain thresholds, but after you pass a thousand posts and a few anniversaries, it starts to get tedious.

Right now, you happen to be reading post number 1,300.

Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be a self congratulatory piece, or a rehash of previously written stories. Remarkably, after all of this time, and all of these words, there is still more to say about food. However, as I’m wrapping up this latest chapter of my life to take a short break and start again in Albany anew in July 2014, I’m trying to get to a few of my favorite places for one last taste.

Not only that, but I’m also trying to tie up a few loose ends. One that I felt awful about was never getting the vegetarian dinners off the ground. But last night I got to cross that off the list in addition to stopping for a small dessert and coffee at one of my favorite places.

Ala Shanghai Delivers
This was supposed to be a dinner for Rochelle and M from Under the Copper Tree, but sadly our schedules were never able to line up. But I never let go of the desire to create some kind of very special meal for those who aren’t able to fully enjoy all of the food festivals and chefs tasting events that periodically pop up in the regional dining scene.

The Capital District is not the most vegetarian friendly spot in the world.

So I sent Lanny an email to see if his chef could put together a vegetarian banquet menu. Not only could they do it, but like all previous dinners at Ala Shanghai, each dish hit on a different flavor profile and covered a wide range of textures.

We started with a spread of five cold appetizers. I was very happy that our vegetarian friends were willing to include a little jellyfish, so we were able to request its presence along with aster salad, Szechuan pickle, spicy cabbage and vegetarian duck.

Then there were the steamed vegetable dumplings in a spicy sauce with an order of scallion pancakes. Hot crisp scallion pancakes are the best when eaten with slippery dumplings. They are also great for sopping up some of that sweet, spicy and salty sauce in which the dumplings were served.

The main show began with mock shrimp with broccoli florettes in a white sauce, which were formed to look like shrimp, but made from water chestnuts and potato. They were nice and crisp, with a little bit of the exterior viscosity one associates with actual shrimp. Nobody would confuse these for the real thing, but it was a light and delightful dish.

A sweet brown sauce is a hallmark of Shanghaiese food, and we got a mock chicken dish naped in the stuff. The protein was soft and tender, yet held together in neat slices. A mound of them was surrounded by a pinwheel of bright green baby bok choy and Chinese broccoli.

Decidedly more savory was the vegetarian sausage, redolent of five spice, and served on a sizzling platter smothered with onions. Even Mrs. Fussy, who is no lover of onions, enjoyed this (simply eating around them which just left more for me).

Lanny was especially proud of the dish that had no real name in English, but was apparently a version of a very Chinese dish. In ours, tofu skin was wrapped around a filling of finely chopped mushrooms and bamboo shoots, which naturally gave it a great earthy flavor and a satisfying texture. This was served with bright and crisp asparagus and some larger pieces of bamboo shoots.

With beer and brown rice for everybody, this dinner for six inclusive of tax and tip came to $25 per person. I’m going to miss this place. But I’m hoping that Rochelle can now gather up some of her friends and arrange for a similar menu. Other vegetarians should take advantage of this local resource too. But Rochelle or Albany Jane may have the good sense to do something like take pictures of these beautiful dishes and put them online for you to drool over.

The Lucas Confectionery is Sweet
Our waitress last night on the patio deserves a medal of honor. The six of us headed across the river for dessert, but none of us were really hungry after the meal, so the Confectionery was perfect.

We sat on the beautiful back patio and realized the desserts weren’t on the menu. But without batting an eyelash, the waitress was able to recite all of the vegan baked goods, the full list of cupcakes and cookies, and all the flavors of chocolate truffles. Plus she knew which bakeries made each item.

The chocolate shortbread cookies with rum were made by Bake For You, and the small scallop-edged treat was just what I wanted with my New Orleans style iced coffee. Everyone else ordered something equally small. A cupcake here, one chocolate truffle, two chocolate truffles, and a cupcake with a truffle on the side.

Here’s what I love about the place.

The Lucas Confectionery is always thrilled to be whatever you want it to be. You want to make it wine bar? It’s a wine bar. You want to make it a restaurant? It’s a restaurant. You want it to be a cafe? It’s a cafe. You want to bring a laptop and do some work? Go for it. You want to learn about wine? They’ll bring in some luminaries. There are places to see and be seen. There are places to hide. You can come in for a quick espresso or linger for the day.

And last night it was no exception. On my way out I got to say goodbye to Vic and lament that I won’t be in town for the opening of his new grocery.

I’m also bummed that I haven’t been able to make a Troyster Tuesday, because oysters and crisp white wines are one of life’s great pleasures. Especially when they are supplied by Fin. And especially now that Vic reports many of the earlier kinks that plagued the first two oyster nights have been worked out. They have a much better sense now of how many oysters are needed to feed all their hungry patrons, and have brought in a second shucker to make it happen more efficiently.

Mrs Fussy reminded me last night that neither of these places were around when I first moved to the Capital Region. Maybe had they been here I wouldn’t have been so grumpy about the state of the food scene. Regardless, it’s fantastic to see that both places continue to do well and are supported by the community. I’m going to miss them while I’m gone, and they give me something to look forward to when I return.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 24, 2013 4:54 pm

    Two great places in my neck of the woods!

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