Friday, December 28, 2012

The Best of 2012!

Trying to narrow down the best of the best of the thousands of food experiences that I've had in the past year was certainly a tough job.  I have been diligently brainstorming and pouring through pictures and posts to come up with a list though. I think that I've finally managed to get my thoughts together to pick out my favorites, the things that when I decided to do this list instantly popped into my mind. So this is my list, it's my rules, and my preferences....there was no formula except for what left a lasting impression, what I could still recall to exact taste when thinking about it, and what blew me away.

So I have to start of with a couple of honorable mentions. First off the Crab Cake at Water's Edge Lighthouse that I had at the beginning of last year. Let me tell you it was stellar. Also, apple butter cinnamon buns at All Good Bakers are a must have. I was there the day Britin first made them and, oh yeah, they were delicious!

10. Sarah Fish's French Onion Soup made with Caramelized Onions Apple Cider & a pop of Amish Blue Cheese under the Gruyere. It was brilliant, that it was made with apple cider instead of beef stock so that I could eat it and still had the richness that you crave in a French Onion Soup, the pop from the Valedeon was a beautiful contrast and the whole thing just worked.

Chef Sarah Fish is the Chef/Owner of the Hungry Fish Cafe in Troy, NY.

9.Cheese! Yes you all know that I'm obsessed with cheese. Some of the most memorable ones were of course Truffle Falls from R & G Cheesemakers in Cohoes, Challenchocker, Truffle Tremor & St.Augur which were done at one of Rachel & my Epic Cheese Nights, Bayrischer Blauschimmelkase the divine blue introduced to me by Eric Paul from the Cheese Traveler, and finally....the most epic cheese night of the year, Raclette Night at Chef Dominique Brialy's, of the Epicurean Bistro & Wine Bar home. That was a sensational evening, Chef Dominique made all the traditional accouterments and served a giant wheel of raclette the way it should be done.

8.Maple Porter Ale Ice Cream. Yes, I  admit this is something I made, but it was bangin good! I developed some new flavors for my exotic ice cream class at Different Drummer's Kitchen, which by the way I will never forget for having to hand whip the ice cream! Other thing that gets an honorable mention is my salmon colubiac which was I think my favorite thing that I've made all year!

7.Ryan Huneau's Pumpkin Bisque with Candied Pepitas & Creme Fraiche. I was at the Boys & Girls Club event at Pat's Barn and there were several chefs there that day. Upstairs in a quiet corner the Mallozzi Family had a table. It looked innocent enough...well it was anything but that! It was spectacular. I couldn't move away from the table, I actually stood there at an event and had not one but two more cups of soup. If there is one thing that Chef Ryan does exceptionally well, it's making beautiful, delicate soups. If you ever get the chance you must try this one!

Chef Ryan Huneau is the Corporate Executive Chef for the Mallozzi Family of Restaurants

6.Courtney Withey's Impromptu Tasting Menu at Aperitivo Bistro. This is how it went down. I went with a fellow foodie friend to review a different chef at a different restaurant, but the chef that should have been reviewed had a conflict. So we went to Aperitivo instead....And what a beautiful turn of events that was!
Courtney has got to be one of the most gracious, not to mention talented, chefs around! For real, this girl can cook her pants offs. And trust me, go eat there before she becomes some big national star that has a place that you can never get into. So anyway, she caught us before we ordered and we ended up letting her just do an omakase. (Note to readers: best food you'll ever have is to let the chef be the artist that they are and do an omakase for you!)

The tasting consisted of an incredible 5 courses of deliciousness:

  • Fabulous Roasted Eggplant Baba Ghanoush with Housemade Grilled Pita, Oregano, Yogurt, Roasted Garlic, 
    Cucumber, Pomegranate Seeds, Chive Oil
  • Cherry Pepper Marscapone Stuffed Olive
  • Toasted Pistachio and Brie Croquette , young arugula, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic cherry compote
  • Sweet Potato Steak Fries, brown sugar caramel, bacon aioli (this dish is one of my favorite things on the planet)
  • Greens & Beans -broccoli rabe, white beans, salt pork, crushed tomato, pecorino, breadcrumbs (my friend Ginny said these were the best Greens & Beans she'd ever had)
  • Fried Brussel Sprout Agliolio with Roasted Butternut Squash,toasted garlic, red pepper flake, flat leaf parsley and lemon
By the way, all this was at lunch! It was A-Maz-Ing! 
Chef Courtney Withey is the Executive Chef of Aperitivo Bistro in Schenectady

5.Rachel Mabb's Beet & Camembert Risotto. Rachel is my best friend yes, she's also one of the most talented and award wining chefs in the area, yet she's so ridiculously humble no one knows it. I think I just blew her cover...oops. So I am one of the lucky few that gets to eat at the one and only Bitches Kitchen. So as it happened we were sitting in the BK one night and it happened to be Valentine's day, not that it had anything to do with anything. So Rachel whipped up some risotto....that was FABULOUS...with beets, camembert, corn, and asparagus. Ironically, it was Valentine's Day and the risotto turned pink from the beets, which did give us a hearty laugh. It was so good though, I now make it on a regular basis. Chef 
Rachel Mabb is the Executive Chef of Bitches Kitchen and a Culinary Instructor at the Culinary Tech Center

4.Ric Orlando's Hot Panang Curry & Fat Noodles with Crispy Calamari at New World Home Cooking and Salmon Poke at New World Bistro Bar. These two dishes were just sublime. The panang was on my first trip to Saugerties. It was brilliant! Just the right amount of heat, crispy calamari folded into it, beautiful noddles and crunchy raw veggies. I have craved that dish since September, and now it's no longer on the menu...The other dish was the Salmon Poke, which made my eyes roll back in my head. I actually wrote about it when I reviewed New World Bistro Bar in the early summer. I love Chef Ric's food, it's sexy, it's bold, and it leaves you wanting more!

Chef Ric Orlando is the Chef/Owner of New World Home Cooking and also Managing Consultant/Executive Chef for New World Bistro Bar

3.Brady Duhame's Brussels Sprouts at Prime Bar + Grill. When a chef says to you that they want to cook for you, you kind of know that you're in for a treat. Well, it was amazing. all five courses of it! The stand out star that rocked my world though were the Brussels Sprouts with Shaved Horseradish, Pearl Onions Agro Dolce, Parmegianno Reggiano. Ridiculous Amazing...the horseradish, the way it complimented the earthiness of the sprouts and the sweet astringency of the pearl onions.  
(I do have to give a shout out the Capital City Gastropub though. Their Brussels Sprouts with Lemon, Grana Padano and Maldeon Sea Salt has long been something special to me since their opening day.)
Chef Brady Duhame is the Executive Chef of Angelo's Prime Bar + Grill in Clifton Park

2.Brendan Horn's Rising Star Tasting Menu at Jack's Oyster House. This was by far the biggest surprise I had all year. I had heard for a long time that Chef Brendan Horn was a young talent but I was entirely unprepared for the menu that he presented to me. It was an amazing display of technique, palate, seasonality, nuance and refinement. I literally said to a few people it was one of the single best complete meals that I've ever had. I'm going to do a full write up of it at some point because I made copious tasting notes...but this was the menu:

  • Blue Point Oysters, Champagne Migionette, Fennel Gremolata on Shaved Ice
  • Oysters Oscar - Butter Poached Crab Lobster Tarragon Stock reduced and made into cream Baked and finished with Asparagus
  • Pan Seared Diver Scallop, Julienned Pear, Sweet Potato Puree, Caramelized Apples Macerated Cranberries and Cranberry Gastrique, Deep Fried Sage
  • Cinderella Pumpkin Noodles, Shitake Mushrooms, Butter Poached lobster & Shrimp Tableside accent of Sage Buerre Blanc 
  • Burratta with Smoked Tomato Compote

Chef Brendan Horn is the Executive Sous Chef at Jack's Oyster House in Albany

1.Brady Duhame's Spring Garlic Soup with Creme Fraiche and Lobster. When I think of all the things I've eaten this year, the first thing that always pops into my mind is Chef Brady's Spring Garlic Soup. It was the first time I had met Brady. In fact, I was on my way to the movies and stopped in for a quick bite with my son. Jaime was there, and he told me that Brady had made a soup that he wanted me to try. I thought to myself...who the hell is Brady? I know every chef in this organization and I don't know who he's talking about....Well, I quickly learned who Chef Brady was and what he was all about on my first extraordinary sip of soup. That soup was masterful. It was cuisine as art. And yes, it was a food moment that I will taste on my palate for the rest of my life. 
Chef Brady Duhame is the Executive Chef of Angelo's Prime Bar + Grill in Clifton Park

Special Recognition:

Best Comfort Food - Bakhmi Goreng with Tofu at Yono's & dp An American Brasserie. Yes I eat this nearly every week. It is what I crave when I have a bad day.It's what I want on a great day. Literally every time I go to an event that doesn't have anything I can eat I head over to Yono's and scarf down some bakhmi. Yep, I have it at meetings for lunch I bring it home for dinner. Bahkmi... it just makes you feel good.

Most Creative Dish -Jaime Ortiz's winning dish from Brewery Ommegang's Hop Chef Competition: 
"Rare of the Dog"
Rare Vos and Faux Egg Shooter with a Honey Thyme Bacon Chaser...sure to cure what "ales" you!
Jaime Ortiz is the Corporate Executive Chef for Mazzone Hospitality

Best Cocktail: Robert Mack's Perfect Martini, see my bog post about that earlier this year. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Things That Make Me Go Yum: Aroma Thyme Bistro's Cheese Plate

Ok, little history first....I met Chef Marcus Guiliano last June when he was competing in Brewery Ommegang's Hop Chef  Albany Competition that I happened to be working on. So as one of my competition chefs, I started to follow what him on Facebook and Twitter. This guy is cool as hell, for real. The things he was saying really challenged the way I think about food and were also very in line with my own values. Quite frankly, it takes a lot to challenge me so I was intrigued for sure. Well then I met Chef Marcus, and his awesome wife Jamie, and we all became friends over many a cocktail that night. By the way, hysterically funny night. 

Chef Marcus' restaurant is Aroma Thyme Bistro in Ellenville, NY. They are awesome for being super sustainable in their practices and committed to local products. 
So what did I see in my newsfeed that made me go Yum!....
Sprout Creek Raw TOUSSAINT CHEESE, Walnuts& Lavender Whiskey Honey

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Chef Rob Ryan: Mallozzi's Star in the Making

I have to admit, I've been a bit remiss about getting this post done. The timing of the tasting was in the whirlwind of the fall charitable season and the Festival Rising Star tastings. Quite frankly I needed, as my good friend George Kansas says, to let it marinate too. I wanted to make sure I did justice to this wonderful experience and didn't just rush to get it done. So that's my disclaimer and my apology to the Chef. 

2012 Community Gardens Event:
 Vanessa CianfaraniRobert RyanRyan Huneau andFrancesca Elacqua.
Photo by: T.R Laz

So quite often people tell me things I should try, or things that they love at their favorite restaurants or different experiences that they've had while out an about. If it's intriguing enough sometimes I 'll go out of my way to investigate, because we all know that I love a great food moment. When a Chef takes me aside though, especially when it's a Chef like Ryan Huneau the Corporate Executive Chef for the Mallozzi Family of Restaurants, I tend to sit up and take notice. And that's what happened, I was at the March of Dimes Signature Chef Auction where Chef Huneau was competing as an Iron Chef. He stopped me and introduced me to the young Chef and asked me if I had tried his food. He told me to stop by, that Chef Rob would cook for me. Ok, I was game. 

The next week I went over to Treviso for lunch and was surprised to see a full, bustling dining room.... Seriously full, at noon, on a Thursday...just saying, that's pretty awesome and good for them! That maitre d' was expecting me, and whisked me to me table and personally took care of me while I was there. Have I mentioned before that I love good service? Well he hit the nail on the head with that, and that just sets the tone for a great experience. 

Chef Rob and Chef Ryan (and by the way do you know how challenging this is to write when one's first name is Ryan and so is the other's last name) came out and chatted with me for a minute and then disappeared into the kitchen. Chef Rob returned moments later with my first course.

Caramelized Onion, Porcini, Truffle Cream, Taglietelle with Fried Egg 

My first course was taglietelle with carmelized onion, porcini cream topped with a fried egg. It was like winter in a dish. There was a slight hint of heat and salitness but the creaminess of the perfectly cooked egg created balance, while the porcini cream and sauteed wild mushrooms were a  smooth, unctuous umami. In a word it was beautiful. 

In a moment, in my first few bites I realized I was not just eating, I was dining...this was going to be something special. So I did what is proper and ordered a glass of wine and settled in to enjoy my afternoon. There are days when I love my job and this was certainly one of them.

Seared Red Snapper
with Butternut Squash Risotto, Apple Cider Gastrique, Pear Apple Slaw

Chocolate Lava Cake 
Salted Caramel Whipped Cream
Chef Rob delivered my second course, a seared red snapper with butternut squash risotto, a pear apple slaw, and an apple cider gastrique. Now, I admit, I am very particular about risotto. We all have our preferences, based on how we learned or who we learned from. I learned to make it from eminent Chef Michael Lomanaco, who said that risotto should hit the plate and then ooze a little bit. I like when it has that perfect sense of creaminess to it and when it's not right, I get a little testy. So this was SPOT ON, just the right texture and creaminess, just the right amount of squash, so it was pronounced but not overbearing. Then the snapper, the skin was crispy, the fish was flaky and beautifully seasoned. The slaw was a nice acidity and crunch that contrasted well against the richness of the dish. Finished with just drops of the gastrique and the grassiness of the parsley, the whole thing just worked to together. To me this was just was wonderful use of fresh fall ingredients. 

To finish off dessert arrived, a chocolate lava cake with salted caramel whipped cream. Rich, smooth chocolate filled the cake and it oozed to ever so invitingly....but I have to be honest, there was a punch of cayenne in there that I just wasn't expecting. It kind of got stuck on the back of my throat and let's just say I was awake after a few bites. The salted caramel whipped cream was a lovely accompaniment as was my perfectly frothed cappuccino. 

After my lunch extravaganza, Chef Rob took a few minutes to chat with me again. It was great to learn more about him, just twenty-one years old, with a palate like that and a passion for the art of cooking. I learned the Chef Rob has been working in the industry since he was just fourteen, starting as many do as a dishwasher. He has been mentored by many of the great chefs in our area, including Chefs Huneau, Jayapal, and Plummer, but really found his passion on a culinary trip to Austria. While he's still finding his own approach and philosophy, learning little bits from everyone as he goes, I think Chef Rob Ryan is well on his to watch , and a star in the making for the Mallozzi group!

Thank you Chef for an excellent meal!

Things That Make Me Go Yum: AGB's Boston Cream Philmore

So tomorrow morning, there's a reason to roll out of bed early.... get thee to All Good Bakers! I know from experience if you don't get moving early  that you miss out on super special stuff like this because they go like hot cakes. Are you ready for it because it totally stopped me in my tracks....
Boston Cream Filled, Ganash Topped "Philmore's" (stuffed croissant dough, made w/ our own butter, Meadowbrook milk & North Country Farms stoneground white) on deck for tomorrow!

So after you've satiated yourself on baked deliciousness, pick up an extra baguette and then head next door to Eric Paul's shop, The Cheese Traveler and browse his beautiful cheeses. Pick a couple, add some marcona almonds, some fresh fruit, a beautiful wine and you're all set for your Sunday dinner !

Things That Make Me Go Yum: House Cured Salmon at the Wine Bar & Bistro on Lark

This just came into my news feed looking insanely delicious and I had to share!

House cured salmon, watercress, confit jalapeno, pickled haricots verts, tequila hazelnuts

Visit their website for more information:

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Things that make me go yum! : Justin Engineri's Chili Salmon

Pan Seared Salmon with Smoked Chick Peas,
 Roasted Mushrooms, Charred Grape Tomatoes and Chili Citrus Burre Blanc

Things that make me go Yum! : Ok everything Chef Elliot Cunniff makes!

Certain Chefs just get it....they make unique flavor pairings, they push the envelope, they show restraint, the make visually beautiful creations, they understand that you eat with all of your senses. It's instinctual really.

Chef Elliot Cunniff, the new Executive Chef at MezzaNotte Ristorante in Guilderland, is one of those chefs. I encourage everyone please go and see what he's up to next.
Bitter Frisee & Arugula Salad Sweet Red Wine Dijon Vinaigrette, Creamy and Peppery R&G Eclipse, Crispy Onions

Pan Roasted Chilean Sea Bass
Persimmon Glazed, Apple Parsnip Puree
Frisee & Pomegranate salad, Leek