Monday, March 18, 2013

Be Merry: 24 hours of Celebration

It all started on Friday night at Javier Rodriguez's new place, Javier's. He was hosting a little cocktail party to celebrate his friends and family and those that have supported his dream of opening a restaurant here in Saratoga. It was a beautiful evening with so many good friends both old and new.My buddy Deanna Fox of the Times Union's Eat Local Blog, Eric Paul of the Cheese Traveler (who by the way put together the most stellar cheese tasting plate...seriously it was off the charts good and I can't stop thinking about the third one which I so wish I had taken notes to know what it is), the super awesome James Morrell and family, and Maya McNulty of Portofino's were all there, along with a bunch of other incredible people.  Javier gave a little speech and it touched my heart, he talked about his good fortune and how everything happened for a reason;he talked about the night that we all met Chef Brian Bowden, Javier and I. 
I felt so honored to be recognized. There's just something magical about Javier... I can't put my finger on it quite yet but it's  this wonderful combination of inherent goodness mixed with a certain joie de vivre and sagacity that just makes him sparkle. I can't wait for this launch of his restaurant and I wish nothing but the best for him, his beautiful wife Katie and Chef Brian Bowden. 

As we left Javier handed me this little gem, my favorite caviar! And's a secret I hear there might just be a little caviar bar offering at the new restaurant...yay!!!  So anyway, after the party a few of us headed over to Bailey's Cafe to continue the festivities. At midnight we toasted to the two of us that had birthdays at the table and to our good friends...and then wrapped up what had been a wonderful evening. 

The next morning, well we'll call it morning but it may have been leaning into afternoon....Chef Rachel Mabb and I went up to Saratoga for brunch at the Henry St. Taproom, where our good buddy Ali Benamanti is the Executive Chef. So it was the first time that they were offering up brunch so we had to go...that and we just love Ali! And speaking of friends I love, Lisa Henderson & her beau Brian stopped in and joined us which was a happy surprise for us all! Well, it was my first time there, and  I have to say it was just so cozy and inviting. It was like the Confectionery but beer & scotch centric. The place was fantastic and the menu was creative and well thought out. We had a whole bunch of stuff because well, that's just what we do. Ali sent out this beautiful cheese plate which I'm particularly fond of the Red Hawk, just delish. 

Then we did a little sampling of the brunch menu, with the egg sandwich, Rachel with the breakfast burger, and Parry with a grownup grilled cheese. I have to give a nod to the beer selection, it's just awesome and by the way our server was well versed in all of them and could speak to the qualities of all including the features....being n the industry can I just tell you, that's pretty rare. So kudos to whomever is doing the training up there! Oh and by the way, the food rocked too! I can definitely see this as a place I'm going to be a regular at, nothing pretentious, just simple good food that has good quality and good thought behind it. 

Brunch complete, I was on the run back down the highway to a birthday party for one of Parry's school friends. We're not going to talk about that because this is my positive post...but someone remind me to go on a tare about serving 7 year olds soda. Seriously, wow. Deep breathe. 

Ok, back to good stuff. After a mad dash back to the house, we were on our way to MezzaNotte Ristorante in Guilderland for my birthday dinner. It was a family affair, with my mother, cousin, Parry and two of our good friends Priscilla & Gerry. Sometimes it's nice just to be with your close family. 

I love walking into a restaurant and being greeted warmly, not just because it's someone's job to greet you, but that sincere welcome, like when someone invites you into their home...and that's what happens at MezzaNotte. I don't think it's just for me either, I think it's about sharing your heart in hospitality and some people are wired like that or they aren't...and they certainly are there. No sooner had we been seated ,we had these wonderful platters of Brussels sprouts chips land in front of us. The were crispy and delicious with a sweet spiced chili sauce to dip in. Now, Parry & I being the only foodies at the table, some of the group was a little nervous but once they were coaxed into trying them...well, now I've been listening to my mother , the woman that wouldn't eat Brussels sprout if it were the last thing on Earth, rave about how good they are for a day and half. 
As we were perusing the menu Chef Elliot sent out an amuse. A beautiful pan seared diver scallop with roasted garlic and sweet pea puree, creamed salsify, butter toasted sunchoke and baby turnip. I think that was the single best thing I've eaten in a while. Beautifully cooked scallop, you know when the caramelization makes a sweet, nutty, butteriness to it contrasted with the fresh pea and complimented by the earthiness of the turnip. It was just lovely. Oh and you know what was pretty special too, Elliot sent Parry out an amuse of sliced was so thoughtful, thank you!

Then it was on to calamari, because we all love calamari...prepared their way for my cousin & I and plain for the rest of the group. So this is the deal with calamari, it needs to be fresh, it needs to be cooked just long enough but not too long, it can't be over dressed if you're dressing it and it should have just the right amount of salt..not that I'm particular or anything, but that's just the way it should be. And that's exactly how it was, perfect. 

For the entree, I had one of the nightly features..Pan Roasted Sea Bass with Purple & Fingerling Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts and Port Reduction. Sea Bass is such a beautiful fish, it's both rich and delicate at the same time. The port reduction was so nice and astringent against it, cutting through and balancing the dish. The skin was crisp, the potatoes were perfection. It was a very well done dish and I was one happy camper.  Everyone else at the table was raving too about their Saltimbocca of Veal and Linguine & Clams. 

And then a little treat of gelato, wonderful, creamy hazelnut gelato...with a candle on top.Thank you so much to Connie,Mitch, Elliot, Paul and  our wonderful server who was just incredibly fabulous (and I'm absolutely dying because I didn't hear your name right at the beginning). My family and I were so thrilled!

So it's my birthday so I hope you all will indulge me for a moment. Chef Elliot Cunniff is the Executive Chef at MezzaNotte Ristorante. He was also one of my 2012 Rising Star Chefs for the Albany Chefs' Food & Wine Festival. While we all wondered who could possibly be great enough to fill Chef Mark Graham's enormous shoes, Chef Elliot has certainly come into his own, making his own generous footprint. I've known Elliot for quite some time now, I've watched him grow as a chef true...but Elliot has a gift, I noticed it a long time ago at the Crowne Plaza...and then there was the time at the Mansion that he made me a cornmeal crusted tofu dish with a tomato compote. It was a food moment. I can taste it as I write this, the flavors were bright and just popped on the palate; the texture was crispy and smooth at the same time. It was was awesome. He's cooked for me so many times, we often talk about food and share food photography. His passion is equal to his talent; both have infinite potential. It's just exciting for me, to watch to see where he's going to go as a Chef , which by the way I think will be very far.  Just remember his name and visit him at MezzaNotte, because he is a star who's future burns bright. 

Continuing on my little tale of 24 hours...Next it was on to the Charles F. Lucas Confectionery in Troy for a nightcap with Chef Rachel. No sooner had I arrived then I see Vic, descending the stairs with slate of truffles and a candle. How amazing is that. He knew it was my birthday and welcomed me like family, it kind of made me tear up a little it was so unexpected.  4 beautiful hand crafted truffles and written below, "Happy Birthday MHA" . 
So I blew out my candle and made a wish....and there's only one thing more I could wish for in my beautiful life, but I not telling you that because, well, that's what wishes are for. Thank you to all my friends that made my birthday so special, I am truly blessed to have you all in my life. 



  1. Yes to ALL points here! Yes to Javier. Yes to Elliot. Yes to Vic. Yes to Rachel. Yes to Eric. Yes to delicious food!

    I can't wait to try Henry St. Taproom. Thanks for the heads-up!

    And thanks for the mention - I LOVE being your buddy! You deserve the most exquisite food, friendship, memories, and moments, not just on your birthday, but every day! You are a true gem.

    Happy (belated) birthday, my friend. Here's to many, many more!

  2. It was fun to begin your Birthday celebration with you this year. Happiest of Birthdays to you!

    The cheese you enjoyed so much was Tome des Pyrenees, a raw cow's milk, washed-rind, wood-wrapped cheese from the Pyrenees aged by affineur Rodolphe le Meunier. We opened a wheel at the shop on Saturday. It was the tastiest yet-- fitting of your Birthday.