Sunday, September 24, 2017

My take on the Times Union / Upstate Magazine 50 Essential Restaurants

The Times Union has put out the inaugural issue of Upstate Magazine - in which it features a list of, "50 Essential Restaurants" in the Capital District. By this point, it seems that most people seem to agree that these sorts of lists are always flawed, no matter they are compiled.

Everything is so relative. Where you are, where you have been. It's actually kind of interesting to compare lists like these when they are put together by people who live or grew up in Albany vs Troy vs Latham vs Clifton Park and so on.

What I find interesting - which probably isn't the right word - is the use of the word essential.  What exactly does that mean? Of the essence? So what does that mean? "the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, especially something abstract, that determines its character". Reading into this has kind of shifted my thoughts a bit on what this list means, or rather - what it should mean. And I am not sure how effective Upstate Magazines list is. So I made my own.

This isn't a list of the best restaurants. This isn't a list of my favorite restaurants - which is a decidedly different thing than 'best'. This is a list of places that provide an example of what food culture is in the Capital District. It is this place, in this moment. It is reflective of where I grew up, where I have lived, where I have worked, where I have gone to school. The people I have known, my interests culturally. I have been to every place on this list - and while I don't love them all, they all serve a purpose. There are places that I enjoy that are not on here and places I'm not particularly in love with that are. These are all cemented in my life in the Capital District in one way or another - and to me, they are all essential.

In no particular order:

Ala Shanghai - Like it or not, they really brought soup dumplings into the mainstream in this area. Sometimes good, often times not. But always worth a shot.
Shining Rainbow - Go with someone who speaks Mandarin, and be thankful you did.
Plum Blossom - Great shitty Chinese place if you are dining in and admiring its dining room. Don't leave without ordering classic Chinese Restaurant cocktails from its bar.
Mings Wok - Absolutely nothing separates this from any other Chinese Take Out - but its the one I've ordered from maybe more than any other. I'm particularly fond of their Chicken Fried Rice with lots of extra 'spicy'.
Celadon Thai - Arguably the best Thai in the area, although everyone seems to find one closest to where they live or work and latches onto it as a favorite. It is a pretty standard gringo Thai menu, with everything you might expect and nothing you wouldn't. It's just all done rather nicely.
Sushi Tei - Not unlike Yoshi Sushi in Latham, the sushi here can be great. But it isn't always. What I gravitate towards is the homey Japanese stuff lurking around on the menu. Things like the Age Dashi Tofu, Nabeyaki Udon, and Katsu-Don. It's probably worth mentioning this is not affiliated with any other Sushi Tei in the Capital District.
Vans Vietnamese / Saigon Springs - I'd typically say these two are interchangeable because of the nearly identical menus, however, most recent visits to Van's tell me it's worth driving north for Saigon Springs. I almost always get grilled pork over rice and then douse it with the nuoc cham. 
Oaxaquena Triqui - Still the new kid on the block, but worthy of mention because of the relative scarcity of 'real' Mexican food in the Capital District. Like La Mexicana, its hit or miss...but you can finally try the fairly mild cricket taco you have always wanted.
La Mexicana - Maybe the most hit or miss restaurant on this list. We have narrowed it down to only going on Sunday's - which seems to be prep day? or when the good cooks are working? I dont know. I haven't tried the menudo - something I would reserve for places known for their menudo, that is unless you enjoy eating shit flavored soup. I almost always get a tlayuda because its essentially a bit of everything. I've had legitimately great tlayudas and ones so bad I couldn't finish it (if you know me, this is a VERY rare occurrence). FYI - Don't fall for the so-called "al pastor".
El Mariachi - A real Albany institution. Going here is almost always a painful experience because of the awful service, but you can't beat a warm night on the patio with some queso and a pitcher of margaritas. The poblano soup too, if you're fancy. 
Karavalli - When they first opened (the Latham location), this place was fairly mind-blowing for my Shalimar palate. It was great for a long time and only began to suffer in quality when they opened additional locations. I go maybe once a year at this point and always wish it was better. Still the only place locally that I know you can get lasooni gobi - one of my favorites. The weird tamarind appetizer is also worth getting.
Tara Kitchen Um...its good? Sit in front so you can watch them cook the tagines.
Ali Baba - Get the lavash and go big or go home. Try the Iskender Kabob, it's good enough I haven't really tried much else. The celery root salad and carrot salad are both really good too. We always take some home with us.
Mamoun's Falafel - It ain't that good and it ain't that bad. Used to be where you would go to get some good vegetarian food when you couldn't stand the thought of going into Shades of Green. 
Yono's - OG fancy pants chef. You can wax on about all he has done for the community and the food scene, but I sure won't.
Pecks Arcade - Well I worked here for 2.5 years or so, so it's hard for me to have any credibility here, but I'll leave it at this. It's where you go when you want intense food with bold flavors, made by people who are obsessed with food, served by people obsessed with service, who all work for people obsessed with all things hospitality.
Cafe Capriccio - Ultimate fancy pants Italian with quite a legacy. Old man teaches young men how to cook and they go off and cook good food. Sit in the bar area. Get the squid ink. Get the eggplant. Hope there is live music and it will be magic.  
Dans Place Two/Dirty Dans - Bring cash, practice your good manners, and do not under any circumstances swear. Best greasy spoon in upstate NY and a perfect place to go after a rough night in the student ghetto. 
Cafe Madison - One of the few places in the Capital District with a true signature item - and one that is actually good. Get the oatmeal raspberry pancakes. I have never been drunker than I have been at this restaurant.
Duncan's Dairy Bar - They make a lot of the shit here - which frankly I never believe most diners that say, 'bakery on premises'. Fucking seasonal - unbeknownst to me - which resulted in me going to the truly, truly awful Country View Diner. 
Bob's Diner - This is a truly trashy diner. And it's great. Always open. This is where we went to smoke cigarettes and eat cheap fried food in high school. Pretty much only get the breakfast. 
City Beer Hall - This is what you get when there is a good chef in the kitchen at a bar. Skip the free pizza. No matter how drunk you are.  
Bombers Burrito Bar - I remember getting food here before punk shows at Valentines. Fake chicken burrito forever. It was never good, but it was awesome. Then the bar came and ruined everything. I still go every few years and get the tofu fries. 
The Orchard Tavern - This is where you go for family pizza in Albany. Its counterpart in Troy would be Red Front or Testo's - although the pizza is a whole different beast. Daniel Berman will wax on about the importance of Tavern Pies at any opportunity, so if you want to know more have a look over there. 
Ralphs Tavern - Another tavern, though it's on the outskirts of Albany. In fact, I'm pretty sure it is in Colonie. People get food other than pizza here, but I don't know about that. Lots of people gush about their mozzarella sticks, which are good - but not nearly as good as Scubbers.
Scubbers - Go for mozzarella sticks with raspberry. Get wings if you want passable wings. Skip everything else. Scubbers used to be in Newton Plaza, and my parents would order takeout from them every Thursday night after putting us kids to bed. Five year old me caught wind of this and would 'wake up' every Thursday night after they got back with the food and I would get a mozzarella stick.
Graney's - Pizza fries are worth trying but they will ruin your life later. The bar food here is surprisingly good, the crowd not so much - a mix of jocks and ACP(HS) brats.
The Ruck - I remember when this place wasn't popular. I used to get trashed here and eat an inhuman amount of wings. Now you have to exercise some caution to avoid all sorts of crowds - RPI ass holes, beer snob ass holes, Troy ass holes, and so on. The wings are REALLY good, and if it's not crowded it can be fun to belly up and bullshit with whoever is bartending.
Esperanto's - I'll admit, I occasionally get a dough girl and maybe dough cousin when I'm sober. The conventional wisdom is to get blackout drunk on Caroline St and sober up with some dough boys. They are good.
Teds Fish Fry - I love everything about this place. I always went to the Latham one and all the other locations feel like imposters to me. Figure out your order before you get to the cashier. Study their lingo. Burgers with the works are great. Fish fry with tartar or chili are both great, but I love how they drown the thing with tartar. Onion rings and fries are both great (add your own salt), but they do not survive a trip even to the car - so it's best to eat them immediately.
Famous Lunch - I prefer the breakfast here to the hot dogs, which are no better and no worse than Gus's, which is where I go for those hot dogs. You will probably feel uncomfortable, or like an outsider the first few times here, but that's OK. It's also impossibly cheap.
Gus's - The hot dogs are what they are. Get them with the works. The sauce is bitter and weird, but you'll grow to love it. The sausage burger is good. I like eating inside. Admire the paper plates stapled to the wall. Someday, my plate will be up there.
Mac's Drive-In - You know...I like this place. It's your typical drive-in food. Nothings going to change your life. The fries are hand cut and pretty good for the Capital District. They have daily food specials - some sell out by lunchtime. They're all a good value. The ice cream is also pretty good - and made in-house. If you're in Watervliet...you don't really have a lot of choices.
Cardona's Market - Get some great subs and eat a bunch of samples while you're waiting for them to be made. I'm pretty sure they make everything - or buy it from someone who does. Some people say Andy's is better, but Cardona's was my first. 
Roma's Market - Solid subs. No difference between the two locations. Get olives if you're a boss & don't break your tooth. 
Lyle's Hoagies - A place that really understands the bread-to-filling ratio on a sub. My standard was roast beef + provolone + Russian dressing. Double meat, double cheese. 
Gershon's - Are there any other Jewish style deli's in the Capital District? This place has been around forever
The Submaker - Cheeseburger sub with bacon and mayo. Textural bliss. This place is awesome.
Lombardo's - Old school fancy pants Italian, Albany style.
Lo Porto's - Old school fancy pants Italian, Troy style
Perecca's - Skip the tomato pie, which is quite good - but better across the street at Civitello's, and get any sandwiches they have. Roasted reds & Fontina is my favorite. Mufaletta is great too.
Civitello's - GET THE TOMATO PIE. Get whatever ice they have. Get a Salami Sandwich if you're hungry. Eat there. I could cry, remembering how perfect this place is.
Bella Napoli - Your run of the mill shitty Italian bakery. But you cannot live in the Capital District and never go here. The doughnuts are actually really good if they're fresh. 
Mrs. Londons - A legit great french bakery. One of my mentors in Chicago - who is a World Pastry Champion, James Beard award winner, honestly one of the worlds great pastry chefs excitedly asked me if I had ever been to Mrs. Londons after finding out where I was from.
DeFazzio's - The pizza, unfortunately, is kind of hit or miss now. But when it's good, its the best you can get in the Capital District. 
Red Front - Its hard to imagine a place I love more than Red Front, and if you're no stranger to this blog - you already know that. Get a pizza. Get a pitcher of beer. Eat there. Hope that its busy.
Testo's - Like Red Fronts uglier twin.
I Love Pizza - The OG pizza slice. Everyone has a story - good and bad - about this place. Not the best corner in Troy. Get a 2 liter, a fresh pepperoni pizza, shave some garlic on it while it's still hot and have a pizza party
The BearsThe Bears is to restaurants what David Lynch is to film. 
HattiesNot many places in the Capital District with a reputation like Hatties. The chicken really is very good - though I probably wouldn't stray too far from it.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

VT: 1

Its kind of amazing how music, or a song can become such a deep part of you. When I lived in Chicago, I had put Sufjan Stevens, "Come on Feel the Illinoise" on my iPhone on a whim. Before this - I didn't know anything about Sufjan Stevens. I didn't even really listen to music much apart from what my girlfriend had on her iPod and listened to in the car. --This is actually why I put this album on my iPhone... I was desperately trying to find something new to listen to that appealed to the both of us - ahead of taking a 12 + hour drive to Chicago with her. I simply could not listen to her playlist for another 12 hours. As usual, I procrastinated and didn't try to figure this out until the morning we were supposed to leave. I previewed a few songs on amazon and downloaded it.

I don't think we actually listened to the album at all on the drive - but that is beside the point. Once I was living in Chicago I had a 30 - 45 minute commute on the train every morning and afternoon - and the only possibility I had to completely avoid human contact was by having head phones in. The first few weeks I was there I listened to every This American Life episode (this was before I discovered Radio Lab - which I strongly prefer to TAL). After I was through with those I desperately needed something else to listen to and remembered I had that album too. For the rest of my time in Chicago I listened to it every time I stepped foot on the L. At least a few times every single day. 

The way this music imprinted in me is really quite remarkable. I can feel the morning light flickering on me. I can hear the violent rattling of the trains running on the track. I see the faces I saw every morning. Its as if I am on the train every time I hear these songs.

While we were unpacking in Vermont J asked me to put some music on. After getting out network up and running I opened up amazon music on our TV and didn't really know what to put on. I selected my music and the first album that popped up was Illinoise. I'm not sure why - I cannot remember the last time I listened to it - but there it was. 

The feelings associated with these songs are so clear. So potent. I feel a pit in my chest. Like the first time you kiss someone you're falling in love with. Like when you take a step down and theres no ground to stop your foot. Its such a raw, unfiltered type of emotion. Its why I am writing at this very moment. 

My last day at Clark House was 6/29. It was really an amazing few years. I had only been back in town for a few weeks when I saw an article on Table Hopping (FUCK, I am glad to not feel the need to read that blog any more) about a new restaurant opening that was going to be food forward and very progressive with its approach to...well...everything. It piqued my interest, but it wasn't until a friend of mine asked me what I was up to now that I was back in town that I was put on a path to what would be probably the most important and fulfilling thing I have done professionally. 

I remember sitting in the still unfinished dining room with Nick and Matt, talking about food and restaurants we liked - places I went to while in Chicago, mutual friends, etc.. and having this sense of awe that these guys were just like me. Food was all they cared about. It was an obsession for them. And I soon came to realize that was true with everyone who was involved with Peck's Arcade. When I asked for fresh horseradish for a dessert - nobody batted a lash.

For what seemed to be well over a year - I oogled a dish set I saw every time I went to the Treasure Chest on Hamilton St. Every time I stepped foot in the place, I would immediately go to the dish room and see if the set was still there - and every time I was shocked that it was.

One day I wound up there when they were having a clearance sale on dishes. After agonizing over it - I decided to just go for it. Hell, I had been admiring it for over a year at that point. There is nothing remarkable about these plates - but that is what makes them so special. The way they curve. The bell of the bowls and the way reflecting light curves along them. Every detail is perfect.

J and I were in San Francisco staying with my Aunt. One morning while sipping coffee and trying to plan out our day ahead I noticed something. I had been in this kitchen a hundred times - but never saw this until this particular morning. It was the creamer for the same dish set I had bought at the Treasure Chest. I immediately picked it up and asked my Aunt about it. 

When she was a teenager, she was at a department store with her grandmother and saw this plate set. She said it was the most beautiful plate set she had ever seen. Her grandmother - my great grandmother, Grandma Kirk - was taken by this. She wound up returning to the department store later - where she bought the creamer that she then gave to my Aunt with a note saying, 'Here is the first piece, to start your collection'. Linda never bought the rest of the set - but still has the creamer. The exact same creamer that I have.

Few things make me more (irrationally) annoyed than when people write "chantilly cream" or "creme chantilly" on their menus.

Magic happens when you add champagne vinegar to mayonnaise.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Change is good.

Lets work backwards here:

This past weekend, we signed a lease for a new apartment in South Newfane, VT.

South Newfane is a tiny village in Eastern Vermont. We are right in the center between Dover (Mt. Snow), Wilmington, Brattleboro, and Putney.

We found this place because we were in the Dummerston area looking at a 'dream' apartment that was much less practical - and we thought we should also maybe look at something a little more "reasonable"

We found the 'dream' apartment in Dummerston on craigslist late one night. This place appealed greatly to us because it was designed and built by a very talented architect - who ultimately sold it to its current owners because rural life in VT proved to be a bit too difficult. The place is a design nerds dream and really, really resonated with us. It was also completely off the grid (solar and wind), on a 100 acre parcel (with a swim pond, apple orchard, gardens, etc..) and would require one of us to maintain it as a full time job. We liked the place so much we sketched out its design with the far fetched hope that maybe some day if we were able to have a home built - it would look not unlike this one.

I was on craigslist looking for apartments because Konigin was nervously pacing around our apartment while one of our upstairs neighbors vacuumed their apartment at 1:30 in the morning...keeping me up, annoyed, and bored enough to do things like look at apartments on craigslist a month after moving into a new apartment. At the exact moment -  there was nothing in the immediate area that met our criteria. Which lead to me gradually expand my search by slowly zooming out on the cragislist map.

Konigin came to us with a great fear of vacuums (among many other things). Often times, J will walk her while I vacuum the apartment. When we were living in downtown Troy, our apartment had a guy who would clean the common areas - and any time he was on our floor vacuuming, Konigin would go into a full blown panic attack. It didn't matter if he was on the opposite side of the building - as soon as she heard the faint noise, she would lose it. She even cowers if she sees a vacuum (when its turned off).

We got Konigin, in part, because we were in a less-than-ideal living situation and wanted/needed something to bring some joy into our lives. She has done just that, and we love her to pieces.

We were in that less-than-ideal living situation because we had spent every dime we had (and more that we didn't) travelling the US in a car for several months.

We were travelling the US in our car because we wanted to find a new city to live in. We somehow managed to find both too many and none at all.

We wanted to find a new city to live in because we both had somewhat recently relocated from somewhere we loved (Copenhagen/Chicago) back to the Capital District - and as much as we tried, we could not find anything apart from each other - that clicked for us.

We will be done moving as of 7/1.
All of this is terrifying, yes.
We have no plans.
No jobs lined up (know of anything?).
We are just going.
And we couldn't be happier.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The overwhelming inconvenience of dealing with everything

I picked up the cheapest piece of shit laptop I could find sometime last year to use at work (you don't need much to do word processing, use google docs, e-mail, and calendar). Its wound up replacing my mac desktop and my iPad. The only real issue is the keyboard isn't back lit, so its a pain in the ass to type on in the dark.

Watervliet is way sketchier than Troy.

Watervliet is like Lansingburgh with fewer hypodermic needles scattered about.

There are a lot of dogs in Watervliet.

It took six months to hang half of our art in Troy. It took about six hours to hang almost all of it in Watervliet. Its amazing how much easier some walls/rooms are to balance than others.

I have purchased my first power tool.

We had breakfast at Bob's Diner this morning. It was surprisingly pleasant. I haven't been since I was a teenager. We used to go smoke packs of cigarettes there and drink coffee all night - and always ordered their shitty fryer apps like pizza straws (pizza logs now). I think we will probably wind up there fairly often, considering we are only a few blocks away. 

Cleaning up a dump that you are going to go live in and then going back to a pristine 'new' apartment that you are not going to live in much longer is a unique form of torture. 

Drawn out moving sounded good on paper, but I just want it to be over with

We (finally) bought a couch. J&I have been sitting in chairs since we moved to Troy. After a lot of kicking and screaming from me - we decided to go with comfort over design (I'll sit on a brick couch if it looks good). Itll be nice to sleep on it instead of a hardwood floor when I go to bed too late (most nights).

I wish I traveled more.

I wish I used my vacation time more. 

I have been looking almost daily at different bachelors offered completely online through SUNY.

I really hope to avoid the same mistakes I have made in the past. 

J&I are technically domestic partners, which means I can pursue a degree through her place of employment free of charge. Up to 6 credits a semester/18 a year. That translates to maybe...6 or 7 years to get a bachelors?...but its for free...so long as J doesn't find a different job (or domestic partner)

April 22nd was Earth Day. This article made me incredibly depressed. 'America's best idea'. Its hard to spend time in these places and not feel deeply connected to them. In my early twenties I spent a summer with this book , a National Parks Pass, and a Woodalls North American Campground Directory. I drove over 20,000 miles exploring the western US, these parks, and the land.

The marches for science are inspiring, even hopeful, yet their necessity breaks my heart.

The good thing about science is that its true whether or not you believe in it'

I have struggled with mental illness in one form or another for most of my life. This is pretty obvious if you have had any interaction with me. Its something I have just lived with and ignored.

When I signed up for health insurance this past June (for the first time since my early twenties), my primary reason was to 'deal with it'.

In the past 10 months I have tried four different anti-depressants at countless dosages. Its a very difficult thing to track, to understand. It takes at least a month for these drugs to build up a concentration in your blood that has a 'measurable' effect - but how can you compare how you feel today to how you felt six weeks ago? I have trouble comparing how I feel now versus just a few hours ago.

On a normal day I take an anti-depressant when I wake up. By the time I am home from work I will have taken at least three doses of a benzodiazepine (this is a problem in and of itself). I take a different anti-depressant before bed, which acts as a sedative. On a normal day I take at least five pills to attempt to function. And most days it is a struggle.

I often zone out while debating my self worth.

What is my contribution.

What reasons are there to be here?

Why should I stick around?

What am I doing?

What should I be doing?

Shouldn't I be doing something else?

Why haven't I done anything?

Its nearly impossible to not obsess over these things.

L'appel du vide

Sunday, April 9, 2017

85 Reasons to Visit Troy NY


J&I have been discussing the things we will miss about living in Troy - and one thing that comes up over and over is the wonderful community of businesses and their owners who we interact with on a daily basis. As we discussed it more and more in detail, we noticed one reoccurring thing: female owners & operators.

We looked out our window and panned down the street. Market Block Books: Female owned. Anchor no 5: Female owned.  Aurora's Boutique: Female owned. Broken Mold Studio: Female owned. Broccoli's: Female owned.  Artcentric: Female owned. Copper Fox: Female owned. Psychedelicatessen: Female owned. T&J Soap: Female owned. Annick Designs: Female owned.

So...I looked a little more into it. 
 
(Note: While we do know several of the business owners listed below, google definitely helped me out a lot compiling this information and I can only assume that it is fairly accurate)

Female Owned Businesses in Troy, NY:
Twilight Vintage (I think)

Troy, NY businesses with at least one female co-owner:


I dont know about you, but I think that is pretty fucking cool. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Oh, hey

Time flies.
I suppose its to be expected.
These hiatuses are not exactly unheard of.

J & I took a little trip the first week of January.
We drove to Charleston &; back. 
It felt good to be back on the road
Charleston was nice.
I haven't been since I was 21. It was J's first time in the city. 
'Its like New Orleans with a stick up its ass'.

Some highlights:
  • Sitting belly to the bar at the Boiler Room in Kinston, NC - drinking beer and eating fried oysters and saltines
  • Relaxing at Leon's in Charleston after a exhausting drive full of delays, and having maybe the best roasted oysters we've ever had. 
  • An unexpectedly wonderful meat at FIG
  • The entire menu at Beasley's Chicken + Honey 
  • Every second we spent in Philadelphia - including a meal that surpassed virtually any we had in 2016 - at the astoundingly good Wm. Mulherin's Sons .

Zoe & I took a quick trip to New York in late February 
We adored Cosme.
Olmsted, on the other hand...
Using a ride sharing service completely changes the experience of a day trip to New York
(fuck uber)


J & I have been talking about visiting Alberta (Calgary, Banff, Jasper, Edmonton) for years. Maybe its about time to plan that one.



While we have not signed our lease yet - we are moving to Watervliet. 
Its hard to say how I feel about it. Living in Downtown Troy is absurdly expensive. 
Saving money will be nice


We picked up a CSA with The Alleged Farm this year. We really enjoyed our CSA with Roxbury in the past, but thought we would try something new. They seem to be into weird produce, which is perfect for us. I love the challenge to not waste anything. I'm dreaming of tomato sandwiches.

I also purchased a CSA from Colie - who I have had the pleasure of getting to know a bit over the past year. I really couldn't be happier to help support her growing business. We are very lucky to be surrounded by so many talented artisans in this area. Its such a privileged to watch them grow and thrive... and so easy to see them wither away.

J is happy about this CSA

We aren't quite as good as we used to be, but we definitely still try to buy every time we step into a independent business - even if our intentions are just to say, 'Hi'.

That is one thing I will really miss about living in Troy. There is more community here than anywhere else I have lived. We know so many of our neighbors, business owners. Hell, konigin knows every shop she can go into to say hi to another pup or grab a treat.

When Nick convinced me to pick up a new TV this past holiday season, the deal I landed came with a $100 Dell gift card. This proved to be the most worthless $100 Ive ever received. After agonizing about how to use it for a few months, I decided to pick up a (not) fit bit. I enjoy obsessing over data (I fully understand how inaccurate these things are) and its nice to have something to look at other than instagram and twitter.

One thing I noticed is that it tracks my sleep. How? Who knows (who cares). But it brought to light something that I was only sort of aware of. While I never really got a lot of sleep - according to the data I was averaging less than 1 hour of deep sleep a night. Lots of waking up sporadically. Because I am now an adult, and have insurance coverage -  I now have a rx for trazadone, to help sing me to sleep. And big surprise - I feel significantly better with a more regular sleep pattern.

This regular sleep pattern is also made possible by LPs adjusting its kitchen hours.

Its kind of amazing how different cooking savory food feels vs doing pastry.
Pastry is definitely still my thing though.

People are always so delighted when I tell them I am a Pastry Chef.
For some reason there is a big sense of whimsy that comes with the title.
The reality is that I deeply regret pursuing a career this industry,
and the harsh reality is that it is a very difficult industry to get out of. 

This became very clear to me when I started looking for other things to do when we were planning to move to Asheville. I have a worthless associates. No bachelors. No experience outside of kitchens that is worth anything. Its something I still struggle with often and thinking about it leads me down a rabbit hole of anxiety. Its terrifying feeling stuck. What else could I do? What would I go to school for? What has a true return on investment?


There is no type of person that gets under my skin more than a chef who thinks they are bad ass simply because they are a chef. This type of person is exactly how I would describe (my experiences in) the Saratoga restaurant community - and a big part of why I do not miss it at all.

It also doesn't seem like Troy has much in the way of industry bars. The Ruck is definitely the spot - but its also just a popular bar so... I avoid it like the plague after a certain hour.

Troy needs another bar like the Ruck that isn't the Ruck. Dont get me wrong, I enjoy going to The Ruck...but..it can get a little BRO for me. Maybe the Local will fill that void. Maybe the Bradley will. Who knows. I have a feeling Ill spend a decent amount of time at Deacon Blues now.




Wednesday, August 3, 2016

We have started to charge for our house bread at Peck's Arcade. Needless to say, we have received some feedback.

Personally, I would rather pay for good bread than eat bad bread that is complimentary. 

One guest remarked how much she loved seeing bread on a menu (as opposed to it being complimentary) - saying, ' I know the bread is going to be good if they're charging money for it'

Because it is treated as a menu item, it is given with more respect. People seem to be universally enjoying it more. Ive heard the 'best bread Ive ever had' line more times since we started selling it than I have throughout my entire career.

Some people aren't thrilled about having to pay for it - and they usually don't. 

The idea behind it was -  if I am investing at least 48 hours of time into each loaf  - its worth giving the respect of a proper pick up on the menu. What that means is holding it correctly, reheating it correctly and serving it with respectable accoutrements. 

Part of the reasoning behind the change was that it would make bread production a little more manageable for me - but the reality is that I am actually making more bread now. 

little pecks is open!

The bread I am making for little pecks is a classic pain de mie. It is built into the menu throughout - as an accoutrement and as a base for a lot of our offerings. The process is remarkably different (faster) than the house bread at Peck's Arcade. I really enjoy the bread and love making toad in a hole with it.

Its hard to not obsess over restaurant and cafe design. Current favorite: Arthurs Nosh Bar

Its been difficult adjusting to my new schedule -  from working dinner services to  breakfast/lunch services. I go to bed too late, wake up too early, am exhausted by the middle of the day and wind up taking a nap in the early evening which makes me in turn go to bed too late.

My coffee intake has increased dramatically. Today I drank 3/4 of a gallon of coffee....and still felt sluggish. My go-to order is an (iced) Americano. 

Living in downtown Troy is really nice. It feels like more of a community than anywhere else I have lived - in any city. 

We are on a first name basis with more dogs than people.

While Im still conceiving and designing pastry menus for all places - my sous chef, Bryan, is now executing desserts at Peck's Arcade every night. He has been a life saver and I couldn't do it without him. Its good to see someone step into a roll and be totally dependable. 

I really want to see Devils Tower and Banff on my next vacation

Pie has been very popular at little pecks. We have discussed offering it a la mode.

I had a good time slinging tacos with Nick on Troy Night Out.

I have a tendency to write posts and never publish them. There are several finished drafts on my account.

I only got into cooking fairly recently. I dropped out of high school in 2002 and made the rounds in a series of dead end, miserable jobs. I travelled a bit, and then in 2008 (if I recall correctly) I was fed up with where my life was and decided to goto school. I didn't have much direction, but knew I had a lot of interest in food. SCCC was local, affordable, and had some reputation for being a good program so I figured why not. I applied, signed up for classes and the rest is history.

I didn't cook professionally until my last semester at SCCC - and at that point it was simply to fulfill an working requirement so that I could graduate. I spent that summer and a bit of the fall at Prime at Saratoga National. While there were both good and bad things about the job - it was very important in my evolution as a person, cook, whatever. It taught me a lot about what the food scene is around here. What is acceptable, even lauded.

I moved to Chicago in late December that year to goto school. This was a move that remains one of the more significant things I have done with my life. I learned what it is to be a true professional. To be the absolute best in the world at what you do. To mentor. I met people who remain some of my closest friends still.

I have deep regrets about leaving Chicago. My girlfriend at the time was living in Albany still, and applying to schools. The plan was to have her finish school in Chicago and we would permanently relocate there. Unfortunately she was only accepted to a school in Baltimore, where we wound up going. Its really bittersweet for me - looking back at my friends and colleagues and seeing how far they have gone and thinking where I would be had I not left. I gave up a job offer at a michelin starred restaurant I was staging with to come home and sit on my ass for six months before finding employment at Sperry's.

The summer I moved back from Chicago, I had the opportunity to help a friend train for a national competition that was being held in Texas. In return, I had access to the SCCC kitchens that summer to play around in. I drove the equipment to Texas and on the way had a meal at John & Karen Urie Shields townhouse - which to this day, remains the best restaurant meal of my life. It was a profound experience for me because for the past year or so I had become so obsessed with high end fine dining and contemporary American cuisine - yet nearly every meal I had was such a let down. This was different. It was everything I wanted it to be. It was deeply personal, delicious, and beautiful. Their hearts and souls were on their plates and in their food and it was very moving. They have just opened two new restaurants in Chicago, and I really cannot wait to try them both.

Its an amazing thing, thinking about how one meal could have such a profound effect on me - and how the people responsible for that meal likely have no clue. To them, I was just another table during just another dinner service. Yet five years later I still think about that meal and the whole experience.

I often wonder how many times something like that has happened with me in that roll - where something I had something to do with really had a lasting impact on someone - and to me it was 'just another dinner service'.

In my early twenties I was driving south to visit a friend, and I found myself stuck in some heavy traffic -- where a very wide toll plaza merged into three lanes in a very short distance. It was just a sea of cars moving very slowly. After sitting for a while I looked in my rear view mirror and noticed an attractive girl in the car behind me. After a few seconds I looked forward and noticed a gap had formed between my car and the one ahead of me. I quickly pulled up, not realizing a semi was trying to merge into my lane. This all occurred at such a slow speed there was no real danger - but the driver hung himself halfway out his window and screamed at me, 'thanks a lot ass hole!' I have wanted to apologize to him since.

I was driving back to Albany from Baltimore - while I was splitting time between the cities - when a car not too far ahead of me had a tire blow out. It hooked left and hit the medium, causing it to roll several times. This was one of the more surreal things I have ever experience - where the entire universe seemed like it stopped. It was just like what you see in the movies. The world was deafening with its silence. All there was was the vehicle crashing. I remember seeing it hook left and instantly thinking its going to hit the grass and roll  - and then thinking I couldn't believe how long it was taking for it to cross the three lanes. I immediately put on my blinkers and started to slow to pull over but before I was even off the road there were several people already approaching the car. One truck driver stopped so quickly Im shocked his trailer didn't slide out. I remember him jumping out of his cab, the door still in motion by the time he was across the highway.

When I was a teenager I worked for Ted Etoll / Step Up Presents. This was my first job. I was working one night, breaking down a venue after a show when a tour manager pulled me aside. He asked me if I could give someone a ride to the bus station. I was heading to Albany afterwords and agreed. It turns out the person I was bringing to the bus station was a young man from Japan. He was visiting the capital district because he had found and fell in love with Troycore (a hyper-local style of hardcore). He came to see this specific show (if I recall correctly it was Hatebreed, Madball, Murderers Row, Agnostic Front) - and was then heading to New York City to see some more shows before returning to Japan. He eagerly showed me a NYHC tattoo he got while he was here and expressed that he could not show anyone in Japan because his family would think he was a gang member.



Thursday, May 26, 2016

Six Months In, A Photographic Recap of 2016

Its hard to believe that its (almost) June. We're half way through. Ive put up a whopping four (well...now five) posts so far this year. Way to stick with it. But this makes two posts in two weeks. Perhaps a trend? Who knows.

There are other ways to see what I am up to: 
If you're into random cranky snippets, Twitter is probably the way. 
-or-
If you're a little more visually oriented, maybe Instagram



Now lets take a look and see what I've been up to.
Spring Has Sprung:
Rhubarb has been a little slow getting on my menu this year. I sold an 'Old Faithful' Rhubarb & Ginger crisp for a couple weeks but quickly got bored of it. I've also been stocking up on Grilled Rhubarb Jam. Im hoping to get a Rhubarb + Coconut + Honey dessert going this weekend or maybe next week. 

Nick & I were having a little pecks menu meeting when our first delivery of Ramps walked through our back door. John, one of our Cheese Mongers, picked them in Western MA and throughout Columbia County. I'm pretty sure John will be a regular fixture in the little pecks kitchen. 
Pine Shoots - A spring ingredient that I always forget about until its *just* too late. But this year I was diligent, checking trees every day on my way into work. After my first harvest, I wasn't quite sure what to do with them. I pickled about half of them and made some ice cream with the other half (which I served with the pickled shoots). The ice cream was just OK though. Citrusy, resiny, a little piney. I wasn't crazy about the dominance of the citrus flavor and the coating quality of the milk fat. The following week I decided to make a sorbet with them instead (which ultimately became a granita). The difference was night and day. This all boils down to water soluble flavors vs fat soluble flavors - and it was a great example of how two very similar recipes could result in such a different flavor profile. The sorbet was bright, sweet, floral, piney - and reminded quite a bit of some more interesting gin's I have tried.  
To play off the gin flavors I decided to push the bouquet with some spring greens that were just starting to pop up in the garden. Here it is, served with Lemon Balm (Green, lemon, lime, floral), Salad Burnet (Cucumber), Wood Sorrel (Green apple, lemon), Green Apple, Pansies (Green, Grass, Menthol) - and it was finished with a splash of Hedonic Tonic (used as a base for tonic water or as a replacement for tonic water in cocktails). It all came together as sort of a gin and tonic slushy. 
During one incarnation of the menu I was left with the dregs of Vanilla Ice Cream, Buttermilk Ice Cream, and Raspberry Sorbet every Saturday after I was done spinning what I needed for my menu. To alleviate boredom one afternoon,   I decided to combine the three and see how it was. The result was a dead ringer for Black Raspberry Ice Cream.
Sometimes when I am bored in the afternoons before service, I play around a bit with what I have kicking around. Here is a 'Tres Leche', with...Tres Leche Cake, smoked date, mezcal, walnut, cajeta, meringue, and coconut lime sorbet. 
Another result of afternoon boredom - Chicago Style thin curst pizza with spicy giardiniera.  
Throw some pineapple with butter, brown sugar, vanilla, salt and pineapple juice in the oven until it looks like this. Serve warm slices of it with vanilla ice cream and the poaching liquid. 

We have changed our bread service a bit at Peck's
I try to ferment the dough for 72 hours before baking. When everything lines up perfectly, the result is pretty great.
I've had a bit of a fascination with desserts from the Basque region. I had a Basque Cake on my menu for a little while. This is a Basque Cheesecake, which is intentionally bunt to shit - giving it a flavor reminiscent of flan or creme caramel. The texture is that of a broken custard,  not unlike ricotta - and is oddly pleasant. I really love this one. 


Last week I used up the last of the coconut in my pantry - and for whatever reason I decided that rather than ordering more, I would try getting in a case of coconuts and process them. What I didn't realize was that a case of coconuts was a bag roughly the size of me. There was a bit of learning curve with this project and I wound up wasting an entire afternoon with it. I am left with a shit load of coconut water, coconut milk, coconut oil and desiccated coconut - which I am now actively looking for ways to use up. 
Caramelized things - milk, sugar, potato, butter
Early last year at Peck's Arcade, we had a braised rabbit dish on the menu. Matty and I frequently commented how much it reminded us of chicken & dumplings, or chicken & rice. While we never pursued the idea, it always stuck with me. Over this past winter, a guest gave the kitchen a rabbit (we really do have the best guests), which I was lucky enough to take home. It sat, waiting patiently, for the right day - which brought with it half a foot of snow. Here it is, resting - ready for the tender meat to be plucked off the bone. 
We have been doing a lot of recipe testing for little pecks. 

Its a hard job..
But someones gotta do it
Shaker Lemon Pies, resting before an event that requested seasonal fruit pies. I hadn't made these in almost six years. I originally found out about them in 2010 after spending an afternoon at Hancock Shaker Village, thumbing through books and shooting the shit. I was on the hunt for 'lost recipes' from Upstate New York/Western Mass for a Slow Food dinner that summer. 
Konigin is the subject of a disproportionate amount of my photography. 
She loves running around the back yard we have in Latham. We'll all miss it once we relocate to Troy.
This was the first shot I took with my new camera. It remains one of my favorites. 

I was told the best way to get better with a camera is to shoot boring subjects.

Even with boring subjects, you begin to find patterns. 
For example, I had no clue how much I enjoyed photographing light bulbs.



We have the best sunsets in Upstate New York. This photo was not edited. 

I finally got to try a From Roy panettone - which I ordered for Mothers Days. I was apprehensive dropping $50 (+$25 shipping!) on what amounted to be a loaf of bread - but it really was something special. We ate nearly the entire thing the first night. 












Monday, May 16, 2016

Insomnia

Its just past midnight and I'm sitting here nursing a glass of bourbon

Instead of sleeping - or better yet, doing work that needs to be done - I am working on a Spotify playlist that will never be played at the restaurant. 

As per usual, my sleep cycle is out of whack - not being able to sleep when its most important. I have a 16 hour day ahead of me - starting 7.5 hours from now. 

The upside to this scenario is stretches of solitude where I can actually be productive. The problem is, I always seem to drift off, down the rabbit hole that is the internet. Making playlists. Falling deep into the reddit homepage. Instagram. Anything but what needs to be done 

And there is quite a mountain of things that need to be done. 

The best way I can describe opening a restaurant is being completely overwhelmed by everything at all times. It is an unsurmountable amount of work that never stops growing. Its like when you first dump all the puzzle pieces on the table. You don't even know where to begin. Then, you start sorting your colors. You build your border. And before you know it, the final image begins to appear before your eyes. 

J & I have decided to stay in the Capital District another year. Opportunities have presented themselves that are too good to pass up. Its too soon to move on from Peck's Arcade. We're only just getting started. And little pecks? Its shaping up to be something just as special.

I was rear ended a few days ago. Its been a whirlwind of paperwork since. Ive nursed this car more than any other I've owned, and its been hit twice in its short 4,500 mile life. The first was a hit and run while it was parked, and the second this week. It'll be 10 days until I'm back in it. 

We are moving to downtown Troy next month. Both of us will be able to walk to work. This is probably the best thing that could happen for both of us. 

I've switched to Sleepy Time Tea. Next move is melatonin. 

We toured the Celestial Seasonings factory in Colorado on our road trip. We did lots of stupid stuff on that trip because it was free. This was one tour that was actually fun. Thats mostly because we had a good, very sarcastic tour guide. 

Corey's place opened. I don't see him much any more. That bums me out.

Starting next month I will have health insurance for the first time since my early twenties.

I still miss the desert. 

My life has become a series of deadlines. 

John came in for dinner. Twice. The first time he brought one of my mentors, who I haven't seen since shortly after I moved back from Chicago. It was a lot of fun cooking for them. 

Its fun cooking food you like

Its fun working for and with people you like

Its a remarkable feeling having people back you up. Believe in you and what you do.

I don't write too much any more. Hard to find the time. 


Overhead:

'That rice and beans life'

'Just down here flicking flowers into Greg's mouth, nothing to see here'

'For a while, I didn't even know it, but my wiener was hanging out of my dress'

'I woke up in the morning and the dog was covered in my shit'

'Its so hard to think'

'Amtrak time machine'

'DUDE, I cant read sign language'

'Give that bulldog a taco GOD DAMMIT'

'What book?? Scumbags guide to dating?'

'Hey old Kurt Russel, fuck off. You were great in Waterworld, but get outta here'

'My ass was purple for like 3 weeks'

'She'll love being part of the downtown dog scene'

'The worlds weird today. PUDDLES OF MILK. Everything is so fucking weird'

'Thank GOD I only got like 20 years left on this planet'

'If I had your wiener, Id do LOTS of things with it'

'The penis definitely brightened my day yesterday'

'I wish I was jeff. The muscles'

'I like your little hole'

'Crouching Tiger Hidden Pizza'

'Is that a dog or a GUN?'

'I got into college on my dance skills'

'Remember that time I farted in your mouth?'

'This is a good test because you guys are at the highest level of bakery snob'


Sunday, January 24, 2016

100

Bowtie is showing Eraserhead this weekend. The first time I saw it in a theater was in the early 2000's at the Red Vic in San Francisco (famous for its love seats in the first couple rows). It never really dawned on me how funny the movie was until seeing it in this setting - with the entire theater laughing hysterically. 

I also saw Blue Velvet at the Red Vic on another trip - it was equally as funny.

The funniest movie going experience of my life was at the Madsion Theater in Albany - in a former version of itself. I knew a projectionist who worked there and somehow he convinced his bosses to let him hold what we wound up calling 'Punk Movie Nights'. The basic idea was: have private screenings of movies for friends after the theater closed for the night. The first one he did was for the Jackass movie which, at the time, was just being released. After a show got out at Valentines (I could be remembering this incorrectly) - basically everyone migrated over to the Madison to see the movie. I don't remember the details very clearly, as there was a lot of alcohol involved - but I do remember laughing so hard tears were running down my face and the sound of 40s rolling down the aisle, as well as seeing beer cans flying through the audience. It looked like a war zone after the movie was over.

There were maybe half a dozen more punk movie nights after this - and they were all a blast.

I dragged J to see the Revenant. I have been a fan of Alejandra Gonzalez Inarritu since I first saw Amores Perros in 2000. But even more importantly - Emmanuel Lubezki is one of my all time favorite photographers, and shooting an entire film in the Canadian wilderness with natural light...I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see it. The movie was good - albeit challenging - and it was breathtakingly beautiful. It was amazing how much the landscape felt like a character in the movie. 

The thing that surprised me the most about the Revenant was its references to Alejandro Jodorowsky's, 'The Holy Mountain' - an old favorite that is equally filled with symbolic imagery

A scene in The Holy Mountain that is directly referenced in The Revenant 

Hateful Eight, however, I did not enjoy. And considering how much of the movie takes place in a single room or the inside of stagecoach  - the super wide 70 mm seemed wasted.

Chipotle is offering paid sick leave to give its employees inventive not to come to work when they are sick - theoretically to prevent them from geting customers sick.  I have no clue what the kitchen culture is like at Chipotle or places like it - but what I can say is that every kitchen I have ever worked or spent time in : there is a HUGE stigma attached to taking a sick day. A personal day? I can only imagine its worse - but I've never actually seen anyone try to take one. 

I can't think of a single time I have called in sick to a restaurant. The closest I have ever come was the day someone very close to me died. To be clear - they died before my shift and I still went in and got things going before leaving early to take care of the affairs. 

Any time I have seen someone call in sick, the amount of shit talk that is a result is staggering. We have all heard stories about people losing a finger, going to the emergency room - and then returning to work to finish out their shift.  I remember Dominic writing about a dishwasher who 'died' and still came to work later that day.

The basic idea in this industry is that you are never actually sick enough to not come to work.

You can learn a lot about who is sourcing what where by hanging out in the Restaurant Depot parking lot.

We are offering ice cream and sorbet by the scoop at Peck's now. One flavor of each, changing weekly-ish. The most popular flavor so far: Grilled Citrus Sorbet. I thought it tasted like an Arnold Palmer - which nobody else agreed with. 

We are also offering a daily five course tasting menu at our Chefs Counter. So far it has been well received and fun.

It took 2259 days to reach 100 posts. That is one post every 22 and a half days. In some ways that doesn't seem so bad, considering how many times this thing has been on hiatus. In other ways it seems like not nearly enough.

The boost in readership I get on Wednesdays from AOA's, 'Whats Up In The Neighborhood' (as well as their weekly recaps on Fridays) is certainly a motivating factor in putting up new posts. I've noticed the same pattern with some other local blogs too - posts going up just under the gun late Tuesday nights.

I've noticed that any time I write about the road trip, I am not included in WUITN. Initially I thought it may be because it wasn't locally relevant or whatever...but since then I have noticed other peoples travel posts being linked. My Sous Chef Bryan said its probably because comparatively, the posts are kind of boring. Im not sure that is unique enough for exclusion. Clearly I have thought way too much about this.

Rumor Has It: A chef with local connections is scouting locations in Albany County for a Blue Hill at Stone Barns like restaurant. They certainly have the financial backing for it.

Best source for restaurant gossip: Delivery drivers.


Overheard:

'That wiener has a wiener.' RT

'Convict the Hudson!' VC

'Hes got hot dog poisoning.' RT

'Did you learn anything?' 'Uh, yeah - don't hold on the end of a vibrator' JHS

'Gregs brain to wiener -  we need you guys ' RT

'If there was a dime on the floor I could pick it up with my ass' JHS

'Nail that penis to the wall' RT