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Casting a Vote for Mall Dining

November 8, 2016

It’s Election Day. So vote, dammit.

On one hand, I desperately want to talk about politics. On the other hand, I want to avoid the topic entirely. We live in such a polarized society these days. Bill Maher had an interesting line in his interview with President Obama recently, that somehow “food purity” has become a partisan issue, and that just blows Mr. Maher’s mind.

By his definition, “food purity” is about the inclusion of antibiotics in animal feed, the use of synthetic pesticides, and a host of other issues I’m sure you are familiar with if you’ve been a regular reader of the blog. GMO labeling is part of that platform too.

What’s interesting is that I know for a fact that this isn’t a partisan issue. I’ve met church ladies in the deep red counties of Pennsylvania who are very upset at the state of conventional agriculture, and grow their own food instead of buying it from the supermarket.

So my feeling is that in reality, there is more that unites us than divides us. My hope is that despite the constant politics of division, we try to hold on to that one thought.

Now, let’s talk about something that really matters. Mall dining.

Which is different than just eating at the mall. There are food courts, and little stalls where you can get a hot pretzel or a frozen yogurt. That’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about restaurants. Real, sit down, take your time, enjoy your meal restaurants.

For the sake of full disclosure, today’s flight of fancy comes after experiencing the gracious hospitality of Phil and Linda Lama. The owners of Rascals invited me and Deanna Fox to be their guest for dinner. I had not been, so I took them up on the offer.

Actually, I hadn’t been to Crossgates for a while either. It was sad to see Penzeys gone, but it looks like there are even more food and entertainment venues coming.

And I have to say, a nice meal out at the mall isn’t an oxymoron.

For some, it may be a hard concept to grasp. Especially when one thinks of the days of grabbing a greasy grilled cheese from Friendly’s between to stave off the hunger from shopping. And it’s true that the last thing I want to do, before or after trying on a pair of pants, is have a big meal.

But let me ask you this. What’s the biggest problem of going out to a nice meal in the Capital Region?

Since our region is both so spread out, and has severely limited transit options, most people drive to and from dinner. And for most people that means ordering a bottle of wine is out of the question. Depending on their own tolerances, or perception of risk, it may limit most diners to one drink, if they choose to even drink at all.

Because after dinner, someone is going to have to drive home.

But what if after dinner you didn’t have to drive home. What if after dinner, you could catch a concert, see a comedian, bowl ten frames, or watch a movie. Heck, you could even just stroll around, and look in the warmth and comfort of the building.

Last night I still just had one beer at Rascals. I was working after all. And Deanna correctly figured that an Ommegang Rare Vos would pair well with most things. After all, we wanted to try a wide variety of stuff from the menu. Finding a wine that would go well with duck wings, brussels sprouts, beet salad, bone-in ribeye, and seared scallops seemed like an impossible task.

Although, now that I think about it, perhaps a rich chardonnay could have done it. Especially with the rich and bright bearnaise sauce we got with the steak.

I wanted to try a steak, because that’s one of the big things on the menu. Ultimately, I think I’m coming to the point where I can say I’m just not a steak person. The char on the outside was beautiful, and the meat was a deep pink all the way through. We chose the blue cheese scalloped potatoes, which got even better the longer it sat in the cast iron pan.

That said, I might be tempted to split a small filet just to have a reason to dip some rare beef into that bearnaise sauce again. Butter. Egg yolks. Prime beef. It’s a winning combination.

Still, I prefer smaller, more composed plates of food, with more going on than just meat, a sauce, and a side. To that end, the beet salad really showed off the kitchen’s plating skills, and it’s creative use of ingredients like those swirls of shaved white asparagus. But with red sorrel leaves, blood orange, candied hazelnuts, feta, and champagne vinaigrette, this dish hit a lot of complementary notes.

But the real winner of the night were the pimenton glazed duck drummettes. These remarkably tender and crispy wings were topped with pickled squash, roasted red peppers, candied lemon peel, sriracha aioli, micro greens, and bleu cheese dressing. That lemon peel was really what put this over the top. It added a bright complexity to something that could have been overly heavy.

The plate came with six drummettes, and if I had eaten them all, I probably wouldn’t have been able to eat another bite for the rest of the night. Thank goodness for friends who share food, and can take a few leftovers back to their wing-loving children.

Our meal ended on a high note with mint julep carbonated ice cream. The plate was drizzled with a bourbon brown sugar caramel, and crowned with a crispy pizzelle. This is made on the spot by mixing dry ice into an ice cream base, and the texture is truly lovely.

Linda Lama also told us that the restaurant has its own pastry chef, which in these parts is a pretty big deal.

You know what else is a big deal? Voting. So get out there and do it. I’m serious. And if you aren’t in love with either major candidate do it anyway. I’m as concerned about the results of this election as I am about the fallout from this election.

Depending on how it goes, it’s very possible you may find me wandering the mall drunk with a belly full of duck wings. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Winter is coming. And the mall is warm and welcoming.

Thanks again to Phil and Linda for dinner. And thanks to Deanna for accompanying me. It was an eye opening experience, and a lot of fun.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 9, 2016 10:41 am

    I received an email from Penzey’s this morning that says they expect to open a new store at Stuyvesant Plaza after the holidays.

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