Monday, October 28, 2013

Eat, Drink, Raise the Barn

When I was younger about the time when the dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I was a dancer &
choreographer. I grew up here in the Capital Region; started dancing here, started choreographing here. The problem was that there was nowhere to create. I could find places to dance, although the only performance opportunities were Nutcrackers and summer dance camps. So with wild ambition, a hearty dose of naivety and bull headed determination, I headed off to the City to pursue the art that I loved. What I found in the Manhattan was a land of opportunity and inspiration. I soaked it in, worked hard and then worked even harder and enjoyed a little bit of success.

Not only was I able to dance though, I was able to rent studio space, to work with composers on original music and to find dancers to work with on my pieces. It was pretty awesome to go from a void where my only option was of living in my mind to actually being able to take those ideas and bring them to life. Then there were the dancers, so many dancers with talent beyond what I could imagine, the teachers that were the luminaries of their generation that were all readily accessible and live music. Do you know what it's like to dance to live music when all you've ever had was a cassette tape? I was inspired every day; what I describe now as having the itch was a constant state of being.  What a difference a zip code made.

Fast forward to 4 years ago. I met a lovely couple, Jeff & Janel Mirel,  who loved the arts. We talked about this Festival that I do and how it helps provide sustainable funding to support the not for profit arts community. They told me about this project that they worked on that helps foster an environment for artists to create. We talked and talked. I learned all about the Albany Barn and its vision of creating a community renaissance catalyzed through creative collaboration. I thought to myself, that it couldn't really be all that they said, but it was true. I wished that this had existed when I was creating. I thought to myself that I must find a way to get involved with this group.

So involved I got. Every time I talk to one of the board members I get excited. Their energy is tangible. They think big, outside of the box and then most importantly they are do-ers. They have managed to make this thing a reality and it's going to be a game changer for the arts community in Albany and the surrounding Capital Region.

Imagine you're an artist and you can go to place to create. You can live and work there. The tools that you might not necessarily be able to afford are there. You can interact with other artists in other mediums. Think about that, the magnitude of the impact that it will have.

So want to support the Barn and have some fun? Here are a couple of ways:

October 31, 2013



or just DONATE direct here to help raise the Barn!
Albany Barn is dedicated to providing a sustainable creative arts incubator and community arts center in Arbor Hill – a place for artists to live, work and inspire.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Be Merry: 10 Types of Dates & Where to Go in the Capital Region

I read an article on First We Feast today that was seriously amusing and helpful all at the same time. If you don’t know FWF is a bad-ass foodie blog that you should be reading if you want to call yourself a foodie. The post was, “Whereto go in NYC for every type of date.”  Since I spend a lot of time in the City, I thought it kind of rocked, but then I thought well what about here.

Ok disclaimer: The categories were not my creation. FWF is way cooler than me, so please read their post for category explanation if you need it .

What would my 10 picks be for the Capital Region?

Group Date: taste at the communal table in the bar. Taste is contemporary, fine dining but the bar is more relaxed. The communal table is next to the fire fixtures in the wall which let’s face it, make great atmosphere.  Then let’s add in the fact the Mark Graham just became the chef there. So if you want flirty, sultry food this is the place to go.
UPDATE: It was brought to my attention that the communal table is not always there so I emailed Maura Gannon and this was her response:
"We did indeed take it out to put in other smaller tables for more capacity.bHowever, if people want to book the table, it is available to be brought in for a group dinner. It lives outside where it was used during the summer for music nights."


Determined to Get Laid Date: New World Bistro Bar. The premise of this is that the baller move is played, so if you take her to 677 on a first date she’s going to see right through it. (side note I think 677, National and Yono’s are great 3rd  date places…because that’s when it’s appropriate to pull out all the stops to achieve said objective). So back to New World Bistro Bar….You all know how I feel about Ric. He makes sexy food, food that will as he says "leave you satisfied but wanting more. " The vibe is chill and sophisticated but not trying too hard. Isn’t that enough to put us in the mood?


Saturday Brunch Date: Carmen’s Cafe Troy. It’s a relaxed, eclectic neighborhood place with Cuban-Spanish–American food in a bistro setting. The food is outstanding and because it’s probably a newer experience for you both (or if you are true foodies) it will give lots of talking points.  Oh and they great sangria to take the edge off.

Reconnected After Many Years on Facebook Date: So you don’t know what’s going to happen and you’re a little nervous. Is this a date or a reconnect (even though you know it’s a date but you’re not admitting that to yourself)?  Hmmm. Well I’m thinking Aperitivo Bistro. Sit in the big chairs in front of the windows. It’s a cool place to go. It’s not too formal or too romantic. It’s actually a place where "in the know" foodies go so you might get bonus points for that if you’re feeling on the datish end of things. You’ll definitely have a wow experience. If the mood strikes, the wine has flowed, you’re happy...poof romance has happened.

First Date with Someone You've Already Slept With: The Ginger Man. I love this category, I don’t know why but I do. I actually loved FWF’s explanation of it. So thinking that you’re not going to the Circle Diner for obligatory breakfast, I’m recommending the Ginger Man. It’s not too fancy to be trying too hard, not to casual to be well awkward. The food is great, it’s a Capital Region institution and the wine list has won tons of Wine Spectator awards…yet it’s humble.  You can sit outside on a nice summer night and there’s a lobster roll to die for. That’s a good vibe for this occasion right.



Six Year Anniversary with No Marriage in Sight: Wine Bar & Bistro on Lark. The Wine Bar is super romantic whether you're in the secret garden or in front of the fireplaces. I love it personally as a date spot (ahem, wish I had more occasion for that).  Do a tasting menu, pair it with amazing wine, be in love…Happy Anniversary









Meet the Parents Date: Yono’s. You’re nervous because things are getting real, you want to look good and have an amazing experience. You want to wow them and you want everything to be perfect. Go to Yono’s. Why? They never mess up.
(note, this would also be a good place to propose if you were doing  it at  a restaurant for all the same reasons and if you call ahead and say “Hey, I have something special in the works” trust me they will make magic happen.

Date with a Texas Transplant:  So this is what I’m thinking. I’m never recommending a BBQ place to a Texan because they do it WAY different from us. What I do know is that you can wow any Texan with a really good steak. Where do you get the best steak in town? Angelo’s677 Prime. Get a great steak, a seafood tower, a great bottle of wine and live large. Why, just trust me. Oh and my Texan friend is totally laughing at this.







Day Drinking: The Ruck. Well you all know that my bestie is Chef Rachel. Well , Chef Rachel introduced me to Day Drinking as a concept.  Turns out she now is the “Head Chefie Chef” at The Ruck but that is not why I make this recommendation. Day drinking is an art. If you’re doing it on a date you need activity or  you will get sloppy (and boring). So The Ruck has darts and shuffleboard and a sports game to fall back on. You can drink there for hours with activity and if you need something to eat, they have some pretty good food these days too.


Tinder Date: I admit I had to Google this one. I had no idea what Tinder was. So now that I have signed on and flipped through, had a hearty laugh, and discovered that I will never ever, ever date someone with a red solo cup in a profile picture (or a Budweiser bottle or mainlining Jack Daniels for that matter), I feel qualified to answer this one. So this is the concept of the Tinder Date: you need to meet somewhere first to have a drink to make sure that the goods match the advertisement before you go vodey-oh-doh.  Go meet at someplace like Peddler’s,  have a drink, make your decision. This is not a dating site and everyone on it knows it. So no need to be confuse the matter by going someplace that you would actually go on a date. You can thank me later for enduring that in the name of research.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Be Merry: September Social Season is Here!

I know we have the Saratoga Season that everyone looks forward to in August, but personally I really like the Autumn events. September and October are historically full of harvest inspired food & wine events in the Capital Region that showcase our local chefs.  So I did a quick round up of the events that I plan on attending and have tried to get the contact information for each one.  Cheers!

September 6 - 8th: The SPAC Wine & Food Festival

This is the big one folks, there are so many great wines and lots of Saratoga chefs. There's the "Live n Stage" Gala, Adirondack Appliance Grill Games with the Times Union and they have Zac Pellachio this year. The best part is the Grand Tasting which is always a great time....well if the weather holds out, last year it looked like the apocalypse was coming which actually lead to lots of laughs and speculation. I've gone to this event for years and years, and it's always a great time. (oh helpful hint for ladies, do not wear stilettos to the grand tasting because you sink into the ground.)

Sept 7 & 8th: The Cheese Tour

Explore the world of farmstead and artisinal cheeses of Washington County Cheesemakers. This is a drive yourself tour of the local farms. BUT you can do what I plan on doing, because on this weekend of madness I can't drive to all the farms,  and that's to visit the Lucas Confectionery for Cheese Week where they are featuring these cheeses throughout this week. 

Sept 7th: Altamont Craft Beer Fest

To be honest, I don't know if I'm going to get to this one because I'm going to be at SPAC and they are at opposite ends of the world.  I've checked out the brewery list and they have lots of good people coming, and there's music and food there.  It sounds like fun though right?


Sept 13th: Hallowine at Altamont Vineyards

I went to this event last year and had a blast! The focus on this one is really the chef stations and competition. Yono Purnomo, Elliot Cunniff, Marla Ortega, Ryan Huneau, Giovanni Morina all do the chef competition. Last year Tony Iadiciccio displayed his artwork (I don't know who's on for this year) and there music & dancing It's just good people having a good time.  

Sept 14th: Patriots Day Pig Roast at The Ruck to benefit the Troy Boys & Girls Clubs

So this has to be the best deal in town. $10 for an all you can eat pig roast with sides and such. They are going to have the Church St Alleyway closed off for everyone to enjoy the nice weather. Admission and outside beer sales benefit the Troy Boys & Girls Clubs.  Basically, the folks over at the Ruck are pretty awesome people, so go chill out at the Ruck and Enjoy Troy!
https://www.facebook.com/events/160338847500314/

Sept 17th: Yono's at the James Beard House in NYC

So in case you didn't know, this is a really big deal. Really big. The JBF is where some of the best chefs in the country go to present their work. It is a huge honor for any chef to be selected to do a dinner, and if I'm not mistaken this is the 4th or 5th time that Yono's has been asked. So it's going to be an extraordinary multicourse dinner with wine where Chef Yono will present "Flavors of Indonesia".

Sept 19th: Chefs & Vintners Harvest Dinner for the Regional Food Bank of NENY and Feast of the Fields to benefit Saratoga PLAN
(yes this is where I need to clone myself)

Let's start with Chefs & Vintners: This is a great event at the Glen Sanders Mansion that has a cocktail reception and six course wine dinner prepared by a bunch of the areas finest chefs. I've had lots of fun at this one before and highly recommend it, and it benefits the Regional Food Bank so that's just awesome!

Feast of the Fields: This event pairs local restaurants and farmers to promote sustainable agriculture, promote the local economy, increasing awareness for conserving local farms and buying local. There are about 10 chefs/restaurants from the Saratoga area offering tasting stations along with the beer, wine and moonshine! This is outside at Saratoga National Golf Club and benefits Saratoga PLAN. 

Sept 21st: Hudson River Craft Beer Festival

This is a new one for me, but hey it's craft beer and I love craft beer! Aside from that everyone that I know that's super into craft beer is going and since they are literally the biggest beer geeks (lovers) around I'm thinking this is a sure bet for a good time with great beer. I also heard that some of my chefly friends are going. By the way, totally taking the train to this one!

Sept 26th: Autumn Evening in the Garden to benefit Capital District Community Gardens

This is a good event up at Franklin Plaza if you want the opportunity to taste from lots of chef stations. What's better is that the farmers contribute their produce, meats and cheeses for the chefs to use so you're getting some really great quality product. CDCG does so many fantastic programs for the youth in our community, they really need our support!


There are a few other events that look great but I just don't think that I will have time to get to. But here they are in case you would like to:
Lake George Distilling Co. Grand Opening - Sept 7th
Hudson Valley Wine & Food Fest - Sept 7 & 8
Hudson Valley Wine & Spirits Competition - Sept 7th
Capital Region Apple & Wine Festival - Sept 14 & 15th at the Altamont Fair Grounds 

There you have it my friends, it's going to be a busy September! So please go on out there and
Eat, Drink, Be Merry and Do Good!


Oh and please, please, please Drink Responsibly! Get a Designated Driver or better yet, get a car service from my friend Dani Brown at Premier Limo!



 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Fired Up Foodie

Photo by: Michael Giatelli
That’s right I’m fired up, which those that know me are not surprised about at all. I can go from zero to ten pretty quickly, especially when it involves food, rudeness or moronosity (Yes, I made that word up. I like it. Deal with it).  If it happens to be some unfortunate combo platter of those three triggers well, you better put on your seatbelts. 

So what’s got me all in a lather now? It’s the way that people think about our Capital Region Food Scene right here in the Capital Region. I’m not talking about City-folk who think that Albany and Buffalo are both Upstate NY. I’m talking about the folks that are the self proclaimed local foodies. You know the ones I’m talking about. 

READING THE BLOGS
Part of my job is to read the food blogs, every day, every post. I read everyone that I consider relevant to the food scene locally, read all the comments from the public and watch the interactions. It’s very informative actually. I learned a lot about what engages our local public, which media outlets are the best advertising sources for my clients and which ones to totally disregard. It’s interesting to see how different the perspective of what matters to the people that are the dominant voices on the blogs are from the people I know in the industry and those people that I consider foodies.  And by the way, IT DRIVES ME INSANE! 

First off, the conversation is rarely about food. How is it that we can spend more time in grammatical tiffs, name calling, suppositions, and gossip then we do about food on food blogs? Seriously, I don’t get it. Secondly, I really want to know where these people actually eat. Could we get a poll on each of the food blogs asking people what are top 5 restaurants that they actually patronize on a regular basis? From what I’m interpreting most of them are looking for value options; while there is a strong anti-chain faction, it seems that the majority think that is their best option. When I read what they think good restaurants are, I usually cringe because for the most part they are places that I really won’t go to after trying once. Why, because the food at the places they are referencing is simply not that great. So my thought is maybe they just don't know what's out there. 

THE FOOD SCENE
Then invariably these same people cry out that there is no food scene here and more that there is no good food in Upstate NY. It makes me go apeshit! For real, I end up pacing around my house muttering to myself.  No we are not NYC. We are not LA or San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, Boston, or Baltimore. I understand that, but just because we are not a culinary metropolis doesn’t mean that we are a wasteland. 

The Capital Region is an emerging food scene. We are a place of innovation, experimentation and learning that has access to great local produce and products. We have chefs that care deeply about sourcing and about honing their craft. They are both fiercely competitive when in competition and in their businesses while still maintaining wonderful friendships. They are invested in the community and in education.  

THEY SHARE WITH EACH OTHER
One of my favorite meetings that I have each year is the menu planning meeting for the Albany Chefs’ Food & Wine Festival Gala Dinner. It’s simply awesome to sit at the table with the top chefs in our region and watch their minds at work. The conversation is circuitous at best, laced with a touch of booze and full of food. Their eyes light up, the conversation takes a dog leg as someone remembers a dish that someone else did at a dinner three years before, the others chime in, everyone gets happy and that leads to some other memory of some other dish. I reel them back in , truly it’s like herding cats, and put someone on the spot asking for a course description and we’re off again on another food tangent. It’s so much fun to be a part of that. 

More than having fun and the camaraderie, what excites me and I think them, is the exchange of knowledge and the shared passion for the craft.   Sometimes I wish that those people that think there is nothing going on here could be exposed to what I do, because they would see how off base they are. They would be excited like I am and they would believe in these chefs like I do. 

THEY MENTOR THE NEXT GENERATION
The other thing that really strikes me is the spirit of mentorship. Back in the beginning in this area, from what I understand, it was just Yono, Jimmy Rua, Dale Miller, Angelo and Jack’s. There wasn’t a whole lot going on 30 years ago aside from that, although what those 5 were doing was pretty darn good. What I like though as that each of those guys has mentored and guided so many of our successful Capital Region chefs. Then we have in addition to those guys Ric Orlando, Jaime Ortiz, Mark Graham, AJ Jayapal, Larry Schepici, Brian Molino, Rachel Mabb, Michael St, John, Kevin Everleth, Jason Baker, John Marzilli and Dominique Brialy (some of whom are transplants) but have all been on the scene for a long, long time. Now, how many of them have mentored younger chefs coming up, taken someone under their wing and helped them grow? All of them.  

Then you get to the next grouping of chefs and this is by no means a ranking or anything of that nature, just trying to think of how our scene has evolved. Chefs Marla Ortega, Courtney Withey, Elliot Cunniff, Steve Kerzner, Brian Bowden, Willie Brown, Frank Tardio, Roslynn Zechinni & Fabrizio Barzini, Ryan Huneau, Jim Kavanaugh, Justin Engineri and Paul Ozimek that are all making their mark, establishing themselves as new forces to be reckoned with on the culinary scene. Yes the Culinary Scene.

Then we have the up & coming chefs. Vivian Brammer talk about innovation, what this woman can do in pastry will blow your mind. Sarah Fish, the self taught savant, doing everything form scratch. Nick Foster rocking the vegetarian world.  John Grizzaffi, Ian O’Leary, Michael Niccolli,  Zach Welton, Alex Ursprung (even though he left us for Daniel, damn him), Michael Cohen, Chris Faraci, Brendan Horn, Robb Ryan, Michael Pallozzi, Dave Gibson, Ken Khen, Mike Mastrantuono, Andy Hurd, Eric Tsjai, Devin Ziemann….the list goes on and on. 

AND THEN THERE'S ALL THE OTHER GREAT STUFF
Let’s talk specialty foods. Have you been to the Cheese Traveler. Go talk to Eric Paul at the Cheese Traveler (and don’t you dare come back and tell me that he is haughty about cheese. The man knows more about cheese than me, the collective you, Steve Barnes, and all the chefs on this list combined. For real, he knows cheese.).  Want more cheese, go to the Honest Weight Food Co-Op and talk to Gustav. How about hand-crafted marshmallows? Go see Ginny O’Neill at Dreampuff. How about Food Trucks? How many food trucks do we have here? Or as Steve Barnes pointed out our abundance of Farmer’s Markets. How about Bakeries? Have you seen what Mrs. London or Crisan are doing? Artisan pastries that’s what. Or Linda over at Bake For You and her ridiculous cookies and cupcakes? Oh cupcakes, how many cupcakeries do we have, five? Oh have you have had the maroons that Joan Dembinski makes for the Co-Op. Do you know how many capital region chefs are making their own charcuterie? A ton. Go talk to Ian O’Leary or Brian Bowden about that, or Rachel Mabb about the upcoming Pork Store that she will be the chef of. Do you know how many chefs go foraging, and I don’t mean farmer’s market foraging. I mean going into the woods and having secret chantrelle and morel spots. 

I will have to write a whole other blog post about what’s going on in Troy to fully cover that. Holy smokes, that place is on fire. I can’t say enough good things about Vic & Heather and the Confectionery, their plans for the Grocery and other new developments. That alone is worth talking about, we have a mini Eataly coming in right here under our noses. That’s something to be wildly excited about. It's not just Vic & Heather ether, there is exciting stuff happening all over the place and you can find a place to park.

Oh and I forgot about coffee. I only know about the tip of the iceberg with coffee culture here. When I started working on Barista Albany for the Festival I was blown away by how many awesome coffee houses we have, the baristas that staff them and how much they care about coffee. I will need to get George Shoemaker to guest write a post about that. 

Food & Wine Festivals and Competitions – Well of course there’s the ALBANY CHEFS FOOD & WINE FESTIVAL which includes the Signature Chef Invitational, The Rising Star, Barista Albany and Slider Slam. Then there are the SPAC Food, Wine & Ferrari Festival and Romancing the Grape at Proctor’s. There’s Ommegang’s Hop Chef, The Food Pantries Chef Challenge, The March of Dimes Iron Chef, the Times Unions & Adirondack Appliance Grill Games, Culinary Cornucopia, Cuisine Magic, the Mac & Cheese Bowl, The Troy Pig Out, Altamont Winery’s Hallowine, and Harvestfest at the Desmond. Ok that’s off the top of my head, there are literally dozens more. 

There is a serious culture of food here, a commitment to quality, artisan products, are we getting that now?

LET'S TALK BEER & SPIRITS
I know the Governor left the Capital Region out of TasteNY, but that was an oversight.  Yeah I know, that set me off too. We have 11 breweries making craft beer in the Capital Region. We have restaurants with aggressive craft beer programs. Are they all fancy, no but if you know anything about craft beer culture you know that they don’t have to be. Go sit down and talk to Dave Gardell about beer. If you can’t get his ear talk to Fuj, talk to Erik Budrakey. Or go talk to one of 20+ chefs I know that are crazy passionate about beer. Craft Beer is huge up here, go forth and explore it’s awesome. 

And then we have distilleries like Albany Distilling Co, Saratoga Distillery, Harvest Spirits, and a few others. We have bars like dp an American Brasserie and The Speakeasy that are making craft cocktails and that have cocktail programs that rival some of the top bars in the country. 

WHAT I'M REALLY TRYING TO SAY
So this has been the longest post that I’ve ever written for the blog (if I missed any of our awesome chefs I apologize writing top of mind here.)  It’s a little wild because it definitely went in a direction different from what I had intended, but that’s ok. 

What I really want to convey is that we’re lucky to be a part of an emerging food scene.  It has layers and layers of talent that are growing every day. I wish the general public could experience it the way I do….Oh but wait, you can. It’s very simple, this is exactly what I do: Go out and dine. Dine at these restaurants, be adventurous, do it often.

The Capital Region has a Food Scene and it has nothing to do with mozzarella sticks and fish fry. I don’t call that unhealthy boosterism, I call that knowing what’s good.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Single Best Bite

I've been holding off writing about Yono's and dp an American Brasserie for a while because I was waiting for the right moment. It's a hard spot to be in because I write with my heart and I'm passionate about not just food and wine, but my friends as well. So knowing that I might be criticized as being preferential or overly effusive to people that are very close to my heart I waited.....for what Foursquare tells me is more than one hundred visits. 

Yes I have eaten at dp a lot and Yono's on several occasions, so much so that it's my seven year old son's natural first thought of where to eat. It's where I hold most of my meetings, celebrated birthdays, pre-holiday dinners, entertained friends from out of town...in fact it is one of the few places I will bring people from New York. I have had some fabulous dinners, and lunches, and many a great cocktail, a scotch or two, and countless wonderful memories. 

So why, aside from my great adoration for the Purnomos, do I keep coming back. Let's start with the single most important thing. Consistency. This is it folks, whether you are in dp or Yono's it is consistently excellent from the food to the service, from the first person that greets you, to the bartenders more aptly called mixologists (although I've heard that term has become passe), the servers, the chefs, and we mustn't overlook the brilliance of the sommerlier. It is all excellent, every day, every time. The only way to achieve that is by caring and throwing your heart into your business, by living and breathing it day in and day out. That's what Donna, Nick and Yono do, each in their own way and it is wonderful to watch and even better to be on the receiving end of. 

After eating so many meals, and I have to give nods to my birthday dinner because that was pretty off the charts amazing and to Alex Ursprung whom last year gave me one hell of a spectacular tasting menu for his Rising Star evaluation, I had a moment that was just extraordinary. I looked at my dining companions, each very much an experienced diner, and proclaimed that I had just had the single best bite that I had ever had at Yono's. 

It was a simple dish, that Dominick and Chef Steve Kerzner had sent out, just a little something in between courses.  A Spring Creek Oyster with a Chili Ginger Beurre Blanc and Tsar Nicoulai Caviar.  It was one bite of simple perfection, truly like tasting heaven. 




Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Doing Good in a BIG Way: Operation BBQ Relief


Once in a while you trip over something that's just leads you down a path with each new detail revealing a greater treasure. Once in a while you come across something that makes you pause, like taking in a beautiful vista but when this happens with people it seems to me that most folks just keep on going, they don't stop and pause to admire the beauty of the human spirit. 

So as the lone pescatarian at the Troy Pig Out, I went on a little adventure deciding to chat up the some of the pitmasters to see if I could find out what this world of competition BBQ was all about. Not being shy and a total chatty Kathy, I wandered into the somewhat quiet area where they were camped out with their enormous smokers. This is where I met Sean Keever from Big Guns BBQ who quite simply is an awesome guy. We chatted for a bit and then he sent me over to visit Shaune & Bill Gillespie and Alan Burke at Smokin Hoggz BBQ, who had actually won the Jack Daniels BBQ competition.Well the real reason he sent me, in the interest of full disclosure, is that they had squirreled away in their freezer a peach infused bourbon....umm yeah, side note that stuff was ridiculous amazing, throw that in an Arnold Palmer and have a happy day! But I digress...

A big glass of peach bourbon in a 90 degree trailer, with a couple of really nice people lead to the discovery of this organization that just speaks to my heart, the heart of this blog and I truly hope to yours as well. I keep talking about chefs that are doing good for the community and why it makes such sense. Whether you're a chef or a home cook, when you cook for people you're sharing your heart and giving of your spirit. To me it's one of the most generous of professions because you're always just trying to make people feel good. 

Alan Burke, in the course of conversation, mentions to me Operation BBQ Relief. He tells me how they have this organization that helps people affected by natural disasters and how it's a natural fit because they don't need electricity to BBQ, just charcoal or wood. He looks at me with his heart on his sleeve and tells me that they just want to give a nice hot meal, something that gives them a little bit of home, to people that have just lost everything they have to  give them a little bit of comfort. Alan tells me that they are ready to mobilize at a moment's notice, that these folks that are linemen, state workers, just regular people just drop everything to take time off, gather supplies and go. When they get there they set up, they cook and they provide meals to anyone who needs it. 

When I heard this I thought it was great, inspiring, selfless; but then I did my research and my heart stopped. The humility in which this was presented to me can not be underscored enough. These people fed 120, 000 people in less than 2 weeks in Joplin after the tornado. They have deployed from all over the country in response to 12 natural disasters since May 2011. Sitting with a friend who was reciepient of their generosity after Hurricane Sandy, he tells me how remarkable they were, ho selfless, how kind. 

Doesn't it make you stop and think of the impact of a few people with big hearts, how they can offer comfort to hundreds of thousands of people. So I don't about you all, but I'm not going to keep walking. I'm not going to say oh that's nice and keep on going. I'm going to lend my support in the best way I can, by spreading the word. Please click on the links below to donate to Operation BBQ Relief. 

From the Operation BBQ Relief Website:
"During 2012, Operation BBQ Relief cooked almost 182,000 meals in 11 states and spent 52 days cooking. Since the first disaster that we cooked for in Joplin, MO, Operation BBQ Relief volunteers have served 470,900 meals to victims and first responders."

They have a wish list on Amazon: CLICK HERE

Video from Joplin: http://youtu.be/IRhFd1t_WHE

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

HOP CHEF PREVIEW & TICKET GIVEAWAY



Brewery Ommegang and Saveur Magazine are bringing the critically acclaimed Hop Chef competition to Albany on July 12 at 5:30pm at the Hilton Albany. An outstanding line-up of Capitol Region chefs will each create one dish showcasing their imaginative beer and food pairing skills. The dishes, all paired with Ommegang ales, will be served to a panel of judges, and to all attendees, to taste and score. As it all goes down, great beer will partner with great food to help out a great cause -- A portion of proceeds from Hop Chef Albany will benefit Salt Recovery.

Tickets are $55 and canbe purchased through this link : http://hopchef.ticketleap.com/albany/

Will Brown
Mazzone Hospitality
MEET THE CHEFS:
Mark D. Graham
Max London's 
Yono Purnomo- Yono's
dp an American Brasserie
Dimitrios Menangias
City Beer Hall
Brady Dillion -
Merry Monk Saratoga
Ian O' Leary - The Ginger Man


Ali Benamanti - Henry St. Taproom
Photos of Chefs Mark, Yono, Ian, Will and Dimitrios courtesy of Jason Spiro Photography. 

TICKET GIVEAWAY:
I have a pair of tickets to giveaway to this fabulous event. Entries will close at 4pm tomorrow and the selection of the winner is entirely up to me based on how amazing your answer is to the following question:

If you were competing in HOP CHEF what you make, with what Ommegang Beer and why?

Good luck!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Gauntlet Thrown & Answered

A few weeks ago it was pouring rain for what seemed to be the 100th day in a row, I was sad and needing to get out of the office. So what to do.. Well I threw down the gauntlet on Facebook to my chef friends asking who could blow my mind with an epic food experience. While I waited to see who would answer the challenge, I started to think of the chefs I knew that wouldn't disappoint. It got into my head to go visit Chef Courtney Withey over at Aperitivo Bistro in Schenectady. She's so seriously talented and so often overlooked in our local culinary scene, which I totally don't understand by the way. I've eaten at Aperitivo Bistro a few times and each time something special has happened from the divine tasting menu last year, or the night that Chef Courtney whipped up some gnudi for our little group, or her Rising Star tasting review a couple of years ago. So my course was set and off I went through the monsoon, hoping for the best. 


I like to order omakase with Chefs that I know and respect. There's something about it I just like It just feels like you get a better sense of the Chef, you can see how they feel about food, when they cook with passion, and when the things that excite them. I hope that it's something fun for them to, to perhaps play a little rather than making the same dishes they do day in and out. Some people know this about me and I love that Courtney told me not to look at the menu she was going to do a tasting....

First Course was a stracciatella with shitakes, spinach, vine ripened tomatoes, farm fresh eggs and parmeasan served in a veritable boat that I thought there was no way I could ever finish. The tomato broth with hints of basil and garlic were both delicate and poignant, playing off one another beautifully.  It was both heart warming and comforting on that rainy day. In the sense that food nurtures, that dish was made with nothing but love. 

Then there were the Zucchini Fritters with Cherry Tomato Jam, Herb Whipped Ricotta, Chive Oil and Balsamic. The fritter was perfectly crispy, the ricotta was a soft as the jam was sweetly astringent, and the balsamic and chive oils just put it over the top. Chef Courtney took something so simple and elevated it, if not reinvented it. It was simply sensational. 

And then it happened, the food moment..... the epic moment that I had been looking for. I really didn't think it would happen either, they are so rare for me when something truly rocks my world, and have never happened when I went looking for it. But my friends this dish was remarkable, it was pure genius.

Homemade Gnocchi over Lemon Basil Whipped Ricotta, Grilled Asparagus, Crispy Shitakes, Yellow Pepper Coulis and Chive Oil. First off let me address the crispy shitakes....earthy, crispy, salty mind-blowing awesomeness. Put those next to the nuttiness of the asparagus, the gnocchi that were crisp on the outside and creamy in the middle while being light as air, add in the brightness of the coulis and then silky smooth ricotta. This dish was perfection....

Little did I know there was another course behind that one. The Farmer's Market Pasta with Squash, Zucchini, Red Peppers, Baby Corn,  Shitake Mushrooms, house made bread crumbs and Burratta is something on the regular menu although normally with pappardelle. It was so fresh, tasting like spring time but also hearty for the dreary day. Really well done. 

I had gone in search of something special, looking to something to make me feel better not that they knew that aspect of it. Peter, Emily and the staff at Aperitivo were so wonderful with such great understanding of hospitality , much more like gracious hosts welcoming me to their home.   I left content, happy and inspired. That's good stuff. 

And then I guess there's something to throwing down a gauntlet...Chef Courtney not only stood up to the challenge, she answered it with 4 courses uniquely crafted and beautifully executed. Thank you Chef, this one I will remember always!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wandering Dago: The Fabulous Food Truck

No you have not entered an alternate reality....a food truck...I'm raving about a food truck. And please forgive me if I might be a little nonsensical, I'm still on a little bit of food euphoria at the moment. 

So this is how it went down. Steve Barnes posted on his Table Hopping blog this morning that the Wandering Dago food truck was now offering milkshakes. The Reese's Chocolate Peanut Butter one spoke to me...I mean for real, it was like a voice from the sky that said, "Michelle....get in the car now and find this milkshake."...So not one to argue with the voice in the sky, I promptly called Chef Rachel and off we went in  search of the truck.

Now let me back up for a minute. I met Brandon Snooks the owner/operator of the Wandering Dago about 2 months ago when he volunteered to help me out on a charity event.  Well long story short, Brandon got stuck in the car with his now two favorite yentas (Donna Purnomo & I) for a solid hour. We later roped him into some letter writing duties and finally sent him home in dire need of a stiff martini. But I digress...

Anyway, the Wandering Dago was parked in front of Vicarious Visions in Menands. It kind of moves around so you have to follow them on twitter, @wanderingdago , or check their website schedule to know where to find them each day. So we stepped up to the happy little food truck and placed our order, mind you having never been to a food truck before I kind of peeked inside and took note that everything was super shiny and clean....yes I know I sound like a snob, but hey I lived in Manhattan for a decade and if you ever saw what a foodcart (not truck, there's a difference) in the City looked like, you would check too. 

Let's get down to business though shall we. I had the Triple B, a truck made black bean burger with guacamole, tomato, red onion, greens and red wine BBQ sauce on a super-fabulous Villia Italia Ciabatta roll. Holy schnickeys, this was good stuff. It was moist and dynamic, just really delicious. You know how most veggie burgers taste like some variation of cardboard, well this was not that. It had nice flavor balance with a little kick, great texture, loved the addition of guac to it and served on a really good roll. Then we add into play, the Reese's Milkshake. Folks I don't know what they did to this milkshake but honest to god, it was mind-blowingly  amazing. Simply said peanut-buttery chocolatey deliciousness. 

Rachel had the American Idiot, an applewood smoked pulled pork sandwich topped with fennel and cabbage slaw and red wine BBQ sauce on a Villa Italia Ciabatta roll, along with a classic vanilla milkshake. She reports that it was, "tangy & sweet with lots of meat" and that the shake and sandwich were "yummy & delicious."

So Brandon asked what the verdict was...well my new friend, it was FABULOUS. I know that I write a lot about the high end places, but I think I say one thing pretty consistently that transcends restaurant type. In fact I don't care if it's a white table cloth , fine dining restaurant or a food truck in this case, simple food done well is the best food you'll ever eat. When food is prepared with love, using quality ingredients and good technique you just can't go wrong. This was spot on delicious, a highlight of my week in food. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Introducing Javier's Nuevo Latino Cuisine



Let's set the scene shall we....The night was November 12, 2012 at Yono's. Dominick Purnomo had assembled a star studded cast of chefs, guest sommeliers and maitre d' Javier Rodriguez for a benefit for those in NYC affected by Superstorm Sandy. The first time I  noticed Javier was just about 3rd course when as he was zipping through the dining room, he saw out of the corner of his eye that I hadn't been served, and did a 180 with the speed of Balanchine ballerina. Now in all fairness to the staff, I did have a special and no one dropped the ball, mine just hadn't arrived yet. But I thought to myself how remarkable it was that he noticed...huh...who was this guy in a full-on tux, that knew proper service. I was curious, I may have even raised an eyebrow. I wouldn't be left to wonder long though because shortly after that he was on the microphone talking about his experience with Sandy. Now that was November and this is May; the one thing I distinctly remember him saying was how good it felt to put his tux back on, after all the weeks they had been closed. Javier talked with a love of the business, of his restaurant and his craft.....there is a reason this guy is Maitre d' of the Year, his passion for hospitality is unparalleled. 

That night Javier and I got to talking, and he told me that he was thinking about opening a restaurant locally. It sounded like a fantastic idea to me, but where would it be, who would be the chef. Well I guess we were all supposed to meet that night. I was surprised to see Brian Bowden who had just left Creo, at the dinner as Chef sightings at events are pretty rare, though not unheard of. The match was made though, Javier had his Chef. 

Fast forward to April...I had seen the renovation in progress, had attended a few small private events, had watched it evolve; it was evident that each element was thought about, selected with care and was finally ready to be revealed. I think what's remarkable in the transformation is that the restaurant is now infused with Javier's style, warmth of personality and understated elegance. The energy has changed as much as the decor; it is welcoming yet sophisticated, and the formality is not an overdone pretense...it's simply a natural way of being. 

Chef Brian Bowden could not have been a better pick. Chef Brian is all about quality, he is a all about super fresh..and yes I'm going to make some sweeping assumptions...but it seems to me like he's about pushing the envelope, not for the sake of being cutting edge but for the love of the craft. Chef Brian was foraging before it was a buzz word and using ingredients that no one except a select few were using in this area. He's a pretty stellar guy in his own right too. So you know I was beyond excited to see what this pair would create. Then add the research trips to NYC, Maimi and Costa Rica into the mix and well did they ever deliver. 


I had been waiting for the ceviche, knew it was going to be on the menu. I love ceviche but I'm spoiled because I grew up eating it in the Caribbean, which has it's own distinct style similar to Costa Rican. Chef Brian's was spot on, exactly the memory I had on my palate. It was fresh & vibrant, bright clear flavors of lime, cilantro and cucumber each standing on their own. Served with the crispy tortilla chip with just the right amount of salt, can I just give a nod to the balance of this dish. It was literally perfect.


Then it was time for one of my other favorites....the fish taco. It was definitely as it should be, the tempura cod has a crisp exterior, the salsa verde contrasted nicely with the creaminess of the chipotle ranch. It was very nice done and I thoroughly enjoyed it. 


My companions had the heirloom tomato salad and both had the turkey burger. Interestingly the turkey burger was served with strawberries on the side and topped with avocado. Both of my friends (gentlemen mind you) raved about it, they said it was a fantastic pairing of the fruit with the burger.



We finished off with a bite of tres leches cake drizzled in salted caramel. The sweetness against the salted caramel was just right. Such a nice end to wonderful lunch...and of course no detail overlooked, s tiny plate of chocolate covered Costa Rican espresso beans landed on our table.


I'm making a prediction, and you
heard it here first, Javier's is going to become a Saratoga institution. Best of luck to Javier Rodriguez & Chef Brian Bowden!
 Javier's Nuevo Latino Cuisine is located at 17 Maple Street in Saratoga Springs