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Things I Hate at Places I Love

January 5, 2016

At one point I must have shared the story of my worst meal ever. There was once the business lunch where I found a roach at bottom of my stuffed grape leaf. But it was a client lunch, so I found the willpower to keep it together, close up my styrofoam container, and get on with the meeting. That was unpleasant.

However, my worst meal of all time came from the old Ocean Palace here in Albany during the restaurant’s final days. Apparently at one point it had a pretty good reputation. But when Mrs. Fussy and I went there for our first meal in the Capital Region, every single thing was terrible.

Every. Single. Thing.

The fish tanks were dirty and depressing. The table was sticky. The clay pot tasted like soy sauce concentrate. The daily special of fried cuttlefish was greasy, rubbery, and practically inedible.

I cannot even begin to tell you how blessed I feel that over the years I’ve discovered plenty of places in the Capital Region that I truly, truly love. But I think I may have succumbed to some of the forces that I decried in the early days. And that’s cheerleading. It’s possible to love a place and still recognize some of its imperfections. In fact, I think it’s an important thing to do.

So, I’ll start the ball rolling based on a couple of recent experiences.

The City Beer Hall. I love it. I love chef Dimitrios. Actually, I was recently given a chance to go on the record about my thoughts on him and what he does, and those were worked into really a lovely story by Alyssa Cohorn on something called Albany Underdogs.

What I hate are those effin’ free pizzas. I’m probably the outlier on this one. For free pizza, you would be hard pressed to find something better. But the problem is that it’s hard to resist free food. And I’m convinced that those fair-to-middling pies do more harm than good. If you’ve never had the food from the kitchen and you try one of these pizzas, it’s hard to believe you are missing out on much. However, people are even less likely to order any food because they’ve filled up on beer and those flippin’ free pizzas.

Gah! I hate them.

The whole family just went to Taiwan Noodle on New Year’s Eve. It’s a real crowd pleaser. Young Master Fussy loves soup dumplings, and he’s not all that critical about their quality, although that may be rapidly changing. For now, he’s happy with the ones at Taiwan Noodle. Little Miss Fussy enjoys scallion pancakes just about anywhere. Mrs. Fussy and I are the ones who enjoy the brothy soups with noodles. Actually, I’m also a sucker for the fried wheat collar dipped into a hot bowl of house made soy milk. Man, I love that combination, and Taiwan Noodle is a great place to get it.

However we also decided to get the steamed rice dish with chicken and Chinese sausage. Oh dear. That chicken. I hate that chicken. I love chicken thigh meat. It’s my favorite piece of the bird. But when it’s chopped up and steamed on top of the rice, it’s slimy, sinewy, and full of hard-to-find cartilage pieces. Ooh. Just thinking about it gives me the shivers. Sure, it’s probably authentic. But there are some kinds of authenticity that I just don’t need.

Stick to the noodles, fried things, dumplings, and soy milk. Then you’ll know true love.

Just last night I was at World of Beer. I suspect I’ll catch some hell from my new found beer geek friends. I love my new found beer geek friends. I won’t use the word beer snob. I’ll stay away from the term craft beer, because it’s just too loaded. And I’ll delight that there’s another community that takes a subject as seriously as I take food.

So, I kind of love World of Beer, but I love it for different reasons than you might think. It’s close to my house. It’s open late. They have free wifi. And I can nurse a beer while I write instead of a cup of tea. And they occasionally have gems on their list like Grimm’s Cloudbusting.

But the bathroom? It was tragic. At a place with a fancier front of the house where people are drinking beer, you need to keep that water closet clean, well stocked, and in proper working order. It failed on all three counts.

Wow. This feels so cathartic. I could go on and on.

What needs to be reiterated, is that none of these flaws diminish my love for any of these places. I love these restaurants, warts and all. They each fill a special need, and I will miss them terribly when they fade away. Remember, nothing lasts forever. Especially restaurants.

But sharing the shortcomings of a beloved business is also important to make sure people come into the doors with the right level of expectations.

Ralph’s Tavern is wonderful, just so long as you order the mozzarella sticks and the pizza with double pepperoni. Don’t order the cheese pizza. Don’t order single pepperoni. Both will leave you wanting. Even ordering the wings can be a crap shoot because they may not come out crisp. Do I love it any less? Heck no. I know what to get.

I promise to share more. But in the meantime, I’m wondering what things you hate at places you love.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. January 5, 2016 11:13 am

    I feel like you are Columbusing beer.

  2. January 5, 2016 12:28 pm

    I love Peck’s Arcade, its food, and there mission to bring upscale atmosphere to a rust belt city. But I hate how self involved and loud Vic’s DJing is. It can be bothersome and its a waste of space where his booth is setup. It is also very awkward for customer and server to hand drinks and food over a very expensive macbook and turntable.

  3. Erin permalink
    January 5, 2016 1:19 pm

    Twice in the last two weeks our family has tried World of Beer, hoping that we found a spot with decent pub food for all and decent beer for adults following a movie. First time, the service was so horrendous we almost didn’t return. The second time, service was even worse. Kitchen closed at 7:30pm and although it is a seat yourself system, no server let us know as we obviously stood waiting for 20 minutes. And it was depressing, because clearly that service will never improve, based on how busy the place was and what a prime location it had.

    So my thing I love to hate about a place I love (Albany) is how crowded Crossgates Mall establishments are despite mediocre food and horrible service. At least those WOB experiences reminded me why I choose the Upper Madison or New Scotland neighborhoods for most of our dining out.

  4. Jenny permalink
    January 5, 2016 2:26 pm

    I have to disagree about the free pizzas at City Beer Hall. Are they the best pizzas ever? No, of course not. But I’ve had worse, and my 12 year old loves them. The pizzas allow us to happily visit as a family when without the pizza my son would resist a pub menu that offers neither Buffalo Wings nor Potato Skins. In my opinion, the people who are there for the food are not likely to pick up their pizza from the kitchen (people are forever offering my sons their pizza tickets), and the people who are there for the beer and are filling up on the pizza probably were not going to appreciate the food the way you want them to anyway. Restaurants often offer opportunities to fill up on free food before a meal (constantly refilled bread baskets, popcorn, or tortilla chips). I don’t see why the pizzas are any different. Don’t get rid of them, City Beer Hall!

  5. January 5, 2016 3:20 pm

    Free pizzas do no harm. You don’t have to eat them (but if I won’t judge if you do). World of Beer does harm. Spiritual harm. Because it is ugly and soulless. (Amirite, people?)

    But I agree with you that knowing what to order is key. Once you find your groove, you’re well advised to stay put. In Albany there are few places that do everything well. But there are
    lots of places where you can find truly delicious things to eat!

    Many of these restaurants might do well to pare down their menus. Sometimes people won’t return after one bad experience, and then they’ll miss out on all the good stuff!

    *Love* Taiwan Noodle. Hate their steamed bamboo entrees. *Love* Kinaree. Hate their disappointing Korean food. *Love* Northeast Dumpling House. Hate their chive and pork dumplings (go with pork and pickled cabbage).

  6. Elyse permalink
    January 5, 2016 4:40 pm

    I need to be a dissenter here. The steamed chicken with preserved veggies at Taiwan noodle was my favorite cold weather comfort dish in Albany. I couldn’t get enough of it!

  7. January 5, 2016 8:02 pm

    Like the idea of the Confectionary and the wine and snacks but I find it a little obnoxiously loud every time I go.
    Like a lot of the new places in Troy but they’re in Troy. (Teasing, I’m getting too lazy to leave Saratoga and we could use some new blood.)

  8. buffsoulja permalink
    January 7, 2016 11:59 am

    Love Saigon Pearl’s Bahn Mi with fresh baquettes and the Saigon Special w/ Broken Rice and/or Vermicelli. Absolutely delicious.

    Hate Saigon Pearl’s Pho. Weak and bland broth with chewy meat and not enough fixins. Go to Van’s for their Pho.

  9. January 9, 2016 9:31 pm

    I’ve really come to love Stacks Espresso Bar coffee.

    I hate it when they totally ruin my capacity to taste or smell by spraying amonia-based cleaners into the air.

    This really, really, really bad practice is unfortunately a regular behavior in many pretty good restaurants.

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