Monday, January 26, 2015

The Road Trip, Part 2: West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana

The inside cover of our travel journal.
After we left Pittsburgh we were headed to Indianapolis, IN. 360 miles, 5 hours 35 minutes.

While I wanted to make a diversion to Falling Water, but it just didn't fit into our time frame. We didn't have anything to do between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis so we pushed through. The first part of the drive, through the western bit of Pennsylvania and that teeny little tip of West Virginia, was pleasant enough, but Ohio and Indiana were both fairly dull. Its hard to say if its growing up in the Northeast that makes this area of the country so...not stimulating, or if its really just boring. My aunt describes driving on the NYS thruway as 'driving in green tunnels' and...well...shes not incorrect. 

Anyway, our reason for going to Indianapolis was to visit one of J's friends, Adam. J spent a semester abroad in Copenhagen and while she was there, she met several other American students in her program . Adam was one of those American students. It also broke up the drive to Chicago, which was our next stop. 

We got into Indianapolis in the early evening and settled in quickly. We met adams roommate, who also lived in Copenhagen for a while. After chatting a bit, we walked over to the main drag - in a neighborhood called Broad Ripple. The street was lined with bars and restaurants and shops. Not unlike what you would see in say...Saratoga Springs, NY. Not without charm, but...well, it is what it is. We stopped at Starbucks for a few minutes to use the wifi, before moving on to some bar for dinner and drinks. This is where I had my first Gumballhead of the trip, and what a moment it was (Gumballhead was my beer of choice when I lived in Chicago, and it is not available outside of that area of the midwest) . J also may have accidentally dropped her knife off the balcony onto the sidewalk. Good thing there were no pedestrians!

After dinner we got some drinks at a couple different places and eventually made our way back to Adams apartment. Several of his friends - far as I could tell ALL lived in Copenhagen at one point or another - came over, and the whole thing turned into a fairly clam frat party. We, reluctantly, played some drinking games and got to know some people before they all decided to go out to the bars around the block. We hung back and just talked with Adam until the early hours of the morning when we fell asleep.

Adam had to goto a formal with his girlfriend at her school the next afternoon (yes, I am serious) so we said our goodbyes. As per usual after a night of drinking shitty beers, we were craving something greasy. We went down the block to Ripple Bagel Deli for one of the best breakfasts we had on the entire trip, the morning mess. 

Look at that...CHEESE
After breakfast we headed to downtown Indianapolis which was...vacant. We actually really enjoyed walking around because it was so quite...but there didn't seem to be anything going on. One thing J&I really look for in a potential place to relocate to is good cycling infrastructure. We were particularly tickled by downtown Indianapolis's sidewalks, with separated protected riding lanes & sidewalks. 

This is not a figment of our imagination. It is real. 
We made our way to the Indianapolis City Market, but either...there was nothing going on that day, or we just arrived a bit too early. There was maybe half a dozen other people in the building.

First fisheye of the trip

From the city market we walked a few blocks over to the Soldiers and Sailors monument, which was actually pretty neat. Its much larger than we expected - standing about 285 feet tall, and covers the interior of a very large traffic circle. 
I wasn't willing to make the effort to find a vantage where I could grab the entire monument in a here you are, a small section of the monument. 
It was beginning to sprinkle a bit so we made our way back to the car and decided to head over to Easley Winery for a tour and tasting. This was our first visit to a winery together and we both enjoyed ourselves. The tour was fairly quick and the tastings were fine. Nothing to blow your mind - but we did wind up buying a bottle to bring with us to Chicago that night. It was also both of our first time trying wine made from Catawba grapes.

Inside Easley Winery
After leaving Easley we crossed the street and went to Sun King Brewery for a tasting. They had a great system here where you come in the door, get IDed, and they give you 3 bottle caps and 3 ticket stubs. They have their regular beers which you can exchange a stub for or their specialty beers which you can exchange a cap for. There were high tops throughout the warehouse and it kind of felt like a big party. We tried all of their beers and left. We made some shitty sandwiches in the car and then headed out. 

Before going to Chicago, we took a diversion to Center Point, IN to visit the Exotic Feline Rescue Center - a volunteer run facility that takes in large cats. Apparently they rescue them from bad situations all over the country, and give priority to cats who have been involved with a mauling or killing. Its a pretty straight forward thing - you get shown around by a tour guide and get to see lots of cats in a very intimate environment. Not like a zoo, where theres a partition and a moat and a cage...this was just a simple chain link fence separating you from lions and tigers and...other big cats. Oh my.

Our guide giving a tiger a kiss.

After we left Center Point we headed straight for Chicago. We made a quick stop for a late lunch/afternoon snack at Steak & Shake. This was the first and last Steak & Shake of the trip. Shit steak, shit shake. The drive from Center Point to Chicago was... pretty dull. The highlights include several hours of cornfields to the horizon, and a couple (actually kind of neat) wind farms. There was a nice colorful sunset with a lot of heat lightning. We got to Chicago fairly late, but still had time for dinner at my favorite Thai restaurant in the United States. Sure Pok Pok is good, but its got nothing on TAC Quick

Next up - a week in Chicago with dear friends.

From our book:

    3 Sisters Café (6360 Guilford Ave) – Mon – Sat 8-9, Sun 8-4. 6360 Guilford Ave/Indianapolis IN/46220
Free to do: 
  • City Market – Mon-Fri 6-9, Sat 8-9. Open-air market. 222 E Market St/Indianapolis IN/46204
  • Indianapolis Museum of Art – Fri-Sat 11-5. Gardens & greenhouse too.  4000 Michigan Rd/Indianapolis IN/46208
  • Lockerbie Square – Oldest intact neighborhood in Indianapolis. Fully restored.
  • White River Park – Sculptures, canal walk. 801 W Washington St/Indianapolis IN/46222
  • Canal Walk – 1.5-mile stroll from White River Park to 11th Street, canal cuts through downtown.
  • Central Library – Fri-Sat 10-5. Pretty stunning building. o 40 E St Clair St/Indianapolis/46204

  • Easley Winery Tour & Tasting - $5. Noon on Saturday. 205 N College Ave/Indianapolis IN/46202

Stuff to do: 
  • Exotic Feline Rescue Center – 7 days 10-5. $10pp. 2221 E Ashboro Rd/Center Point IN/47840

Stuff to do:
  • 3 Floyds Brewery – Carry out beer 7 days 11:30-Midnight. Tours Sat 12:30,1:30,2:30,3:30, 4:30, 5:30. Check facebook for schedule changes. 9750 Indiana Pkwy/Munster IN/46321 

What a week

Towards the end of my time at Sperry's, a man who I was very close with died very suddenly of cancer.  I remember him telling me in passing that he had some pain in his back that wouldn't go away - and within a few months he was in the ground. While my grandmother had passed away from brain cancer about 6 years ago - this was the first time I had really experienced this disease from start to finish and seen how it can cripple a family. Its such a strange thing, having a loved one with a terminal disease. You feel so helpless. There always seems to be an answer for everything, a solution, or a way out. With something like this - you always seem to be one step behind, as if no matter what you do, you just cant win.

Wen-Ho's pain persisted and doctors seemed unclear about what the cause was. By the time he was in so much pain he could no longer work, or really do anything, they realized what it was. He received treatment at Johns Hopkins, but soon went into organ failure and was transferred to Hospice Care back here in New York. I was in Chicago staging with a friend when I received the call that I needed to come home. It was only a few more days before he was gone.

The (Taiwanese) rituals and traditions associated with his passing were very moving and something that - while I am deeply saddened to have experienced - I am also grateful for. His body was prayed over for (I believe) 12 hours before it was handled. His children were to kneel and say goodbye to their father as he was carried out. At his cremation they shouted for him to run from the fire. His funeral was standing room only, a testament to how much he was loved, as well as how deeply connected the Taiwanese American community is.

We recently celebrated his birthday by gathering with friends and eating a traditional Taiwanese dish of braised pork shanks, which are supposed to bring you good luck, along with some of his other favorite dishes too. 

I found out this week that a close friend of J's family, a woman who we stayed with on our trip this fall, had passed away. When she and her family emigrated to the US from Egypt, they lived with J and her family while they got on their feet. Before we left, she taught me some Egyptian Arabic. Ba hebek, Grandma. (I hope Im getting that right)

A few days later, I learned that the son of my mothers dear friend and neighbor had passed away from a very aggressive cancer - and then later in the week their daughter died very suddenly in her sleep. While they have quite a community of support, it is just unimaginable what they are going through.

There is no real reason for this post - these are just things that I kind of feel like putting into words. Sometimes you cant help but feel surrounded by death. But its important to remember how precious life is, and to make sure those around you know they are loved. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Road Trip, Part 1: The first couple days

We left Albany on a Wednesday in late August. Our first destination was Pittsburgh, PA. 460 miles - 7 hours 16 minutes.  We had been scrambling for days to get all of our affairs in order and we were decidedly anxious. On our way out of town we cashed in our first Groupon - for groceries at the Honest Weight Co-Op. We stocked up on some non-perishable food and spent the remainder on some sandwiches which we ate in the parking lot. 

It was pushing 90 and becoming increasingly humid. The drive ahead wound up being the most unpleasant of the trip due to our broken air conditioner. J quickly fashioned herself a mister and spent the majority of the drive spritzing herself to stay cool. Not knowing how to pass the time, we wound up listening to audiobook for Mary Roach's, Stiff. For whatever reason - neither of us could get into the book and it just added to our misery. 

It was right around dinner time when we got into Pittsburgh. It was our first time there - and we both were taken by its rugged appeal. We came in on 376, driving along the Monongahela River to the Fort Pitt Bridge, where we were admired the city's beautiful skyline, as well as the houses and buildings scattered throughout the surrounding hills. Suddenly the comparison to San Francisco's terrain was making sense to me. We crossed the river and headed to Mt Lebanon, where we were staying for the evening.

Our hosts, Jeff & Andrea - two of the most fun and generous people we have the pleasure to know - are the parents of a dear friend of mine who I met while going to school in Chicago. Julia is currently the Executive Pastry Chef at the Boarding House. We quickly settled in and refreshed ourselves before heading out for a late reservation at Il Pizziolo. We had pizzas and under the cover of lemon trees on their beautiful patio, and discussed our plans for the following day. Jeff & Andrea were preparing for a road trip of their own, in France, which they were leaving for in two our time was limited. Jeff decided he would spend the next day showing us around town. We eventually made our way back to the house and quickly fell asleep.

Our first stop of the day, at my request - was to see Canton Avenue, the steepest in the United States (and possibly the world - there seems to be some dispute between it and Baldwin Street in New Zealand). I wont embarrass myself by posting the photograph I took, so I suggest you just check this out to see it . Theres not much to say other than it is a very steep street. 

Our next stop was to see a sculpture of Mister Rogers along the North Shore, just south of Heinz Field. While this was pleasant, with the entire thing overlooking the cities skyline and Point State Park, the eleven foot bronze sculpture was....kind of creepy:


From here we spent some time exploring, making quick stops at the Andy Warhol Museum and the Heinz Center. Throughout the trip if we weren't totally sold on seeing a museum or didn't have time, we would check out the gift shop to get a 'cliffs notes' version of things. This was the case here

Checking out the gift shop at the Heinz Center

Around lunch time we made our way through PPG Plaza - a complex of six buildings in downtown Pittsburgh, gazing at the fascinating architecture and use of highly reflective glass.

Installation at PPG Plaza
After seeing PPG Plaza, we walked over to Market Square and browsed through the mid week farmers market. The produce was largely the same as what was available in Upstate New York, which was no surprise. We walked around a bit more and decided to get some lunch at Sienna Sulla Piazza where we sat on the sidewalk so we could watch the city happen. This part of Pittsburgh seemed pleasantly calm. In fact, we were surprised how 'not busy' the entire city seemed. 

Eggplants at the Market Square Farmers Market

After lunch we walked around a bit and made our way to the Monongahela Incline - and took the tram up to the top of Mount Washington for the famous panoramic look at the city skyline. 
Taking the tram

After taking in the view we walked around Mt Washington for a few minutes. It reminded us, strangely enough, of Florida. Maybe it was the weather, or the excessive amount of ice cream shops? We spent the next few hours driving around, taking in the sights. We spent a bit of time in The Strip - where we picked up some wonderful cheese at the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company . We decided that we would eat it picnic style at the first green space we found...which happened to be Allegheny Cemetery. The cemetery was surprisingly pleasant. Very still and quiet. We saw an unbelievable amount of wildlife, especially deer who were grazing on apples that had fallen from trees around the property. 

Cheese in the cemetery

After our picnic we decided to make our way back to Mt Lebanon, which took us a ridiculous amount of time because of several accidents in addition to unusually heavy traffic due to some event at Heinz Field. When we got back we relaxed a bit, having some drinks on the back porch, just enjoying the last bits of light for the day. We decided to check out Jeff & Andreas 'go-to' sushi spot - Little Tokyo, which we absolutely loved. It wasn't life changing sushi, but just a good, honest, eat-here-every-week kind of place. I don't think we found sushi we enjoyed better on the entire trip. Our conversation geared mostly towards our plans for the remainder of our trip as well as their upcoming trip to France. It was a great end to a very nice day. 

Jeff & Andrea insisted that we take whatever food we wanted from their fridge, as it would spoil while they were away, and we could save some money on groceries. We were ecstatic, as this was the perfect gift for two people trying to travel cheap. We made breakfast, eggs with some rainbow chard Jeff's father had grown. We then packed up and made our way out. Our next destination; Indianapolis, Indiana by way of some Big Cats. And a drive through Ohio

Ohio, What happens here stays here. But nothing ever really happens here.

Before we left we did quite a bit of research on each destination - so we would have some idea of what to do. Most of the things are geared towards being thrifty - and I think I have decided to include the information we came up with for each city with each corresponding post I write. Some are light, like Pittsburgh, because we had people to show us around - or because we didn't plan on staying for very long. Either way, hopefully someone can find use of this information. Please keep in mind that everything was compiled in the summer of 2014.

Pittsburgh, PA

  • REGIONAL SPECIALTY: Primanti Brothers – classic ‘Pittsburgh’ sandwich
    with French fries, slaw, cheese, tomato on top
Free to do:

  • Canton Ave – Steepest street in US. Close to Mt Lebanon
  • View from Mt. Washington – 'top 10 views in US'
  • The Strip – shopping/cultural district/open air market/good for foodies
  • Society of Contemporary Craft – Mon-Sat 10-5, current exhibition is
    contemporary works in ceramics. In the Strip. 
  • Pittsburgh Glass Center – Mon-Thu 10-7 – museum, studio, school. In
    transitional neighborhood. 
  • The Frick Museum – Tue-Sun 10-5, art museum, car and carriage museum,
    and grounds
  • Frick Park – Largest Park in Pittsburgh, walking & hiking, Reynolds St
    entrance is opposite Frick Museum.

  • Carnegie Museum of Natural History & Museum of Art.  $11.95/student. Admission covers both museums.
  • National Aviary –  $14.  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Breaking plates, lights, and my head, or: My first week

So, again - I apologize for the short break in writing. I am trying to keep up with this thing, but life has a tendency of getting in the way sometimes. I accept a job offer doing all of the baking and pastry at a new restaurant

From the first interview I knew that the place was going to be something special. Sometimes you meet people and their energy is so infectious - its hard not to get excited. At this interview - I met 4 of them. 

What I found so appealing about this kitchen is the fact that they are cooking the food that they want to eat. And they're doing it right. Making everything from scratch, no matter how labor intensive, no matter how much of a pain in the ass it is. Its not that there aren't easier routes to take, its just that they all result in a shittier product. Its not about just banging things out here - but rather making the absolute best thing you can. This is the sort of environment I have been craving, and need to be in. 

I had four days from accepting the job offer to the restaurants soft opening - and a monumental amount of work to do. My first order of business was putting together our bread program. We decided that in the beginning, we wanted to have a crusty, hearth baked/'artisan' style bread for our bread service. This is something that I have some experience with - but none in a restaurant setting. Everywhere I have worked has either ordered their bread - had its own bread baker - or used something other than bread for its 'bread' service (we'll talk pop-overs some day). My first hurtle: Our ovens. We have two, full size conventional ovens. Thats it. No convection. No hearths. Just regular old ovens. To achieve the type of bread that I want - using this type of oven is a big challenge. 

In the past, I have talked about Jim Lahey's technique of using a dutch oven to bake your bread in - and you can get some really incredible results doing this. The problem is that cast iron dutch ovens, or even deep skillets can run a pretty penny. Especially when you're talking about doing in excess of 20 loaves of bread a day. So that was out. My work around - preheat two sleeved sheet trays in the oven for at least an hour, and then drop the dough directly on them - as well as throwing some ice in a (also preheated) iron skillet for some steam. This is essentially what you would do with a stone in your oven...just without the need to buy anything. After trying two batches successfully - it was decided. 

Then it was a matter of timing. Most of the traditional ways of making bread didn't seem to line up with me having a 'normal' schedule - or if they did, they would result in flavorless bread because of such a short fermentation. What I decided on was making a dough utilizing several techniques to promote a more mature, deeper flavor - and doing a long fermentation (typically 18 hours) so when I walk in the door in the morning I can start portioning and shaping my dough immediately - and when the bread is in the oven I can start my dough for the following day. 

The end result is a loaf of bread with a moist, chewy crumb with very mild sour notes and pleasant russeted crust. When the first test batch came out of the oven, everyone in the kitchen (including myself) was stunned - none of us believing that it would be possible to produce this sort of result in these circumstances. 

The rest is kind of a blur. My creative process isn't exactly like most chefs who can just kind of wax on about doing this dish or that dish. I often find creativity in strange places - and it cannot be forced out of me. So - while I had two dishes decided more or less immediately, the third and final one took me a bit to land. I wound up just making one component - knowing that once I was forced into something - the rest would come with it. In the end, I didn't present my dessert menu to the front of the house until literally 10 minutes before the doors opened. 

All in all, its good to be back in it. And even better that I am somewhere that is pushing me to do good things, and not become complacent. I am proud to say that I am happy with everything I am putting out. I am doing everything to the best of my ability and not cutting corners. And I find myself inspired by the work that everyone else is doing.

Some funny (?) things that have happened this week;

I am - by quite a bit - the tallest person on the staff. Its clear that the kitchen was not designed for someone as tall as I am. The result is me constantly hitting my head on things. The worst offenders are the fry pans hanging above the line. Every time. 

My first day I walked into a light fixture, shattering it. I walked into the same light two more times. They have now moved the fixture. 

Our walk in does not have a release from the inside. My previous job had a warm walk in, so it is second nature for me to close the door behind me. The first time I locked myself in, I was in for 5 minutes. The second was 20 minutes (the Pastry Chef is often the first person in). We now keep a pair of chop sticks in there to push the release with. I am too embarrassed to admit how many times I have used them. 

My clog came lose while carrying a stack of pasta bowls up a flight of stairs. This resulted in me eating shit and shattering a bunch of bowls - just as the other chefs were finishing cleaning up the line. 

Dominic - Get the dog! Open the French Bistro! Take it easy this month, and have a speedy recovery. 

Up next: A response to Deanna via Daniel

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A quick one

I just wanted to keep you guys up to speed - I am not abandoning this thing - I have just started with a new restaurant this past weekend and have been working all day and night to get things up and running for our opening day. Expect more regularity soon!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

You guys who write daily are out of your minds. I have no clue how you find the time, much less the inspiration. Even once or twice a week is challenging.

Christmas has come and gone in a flash. Both of our parents are split up and both families see extended family on the holidays - so between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day it can be a little hectic. Last year we drove about 320 miles and visited six homes in about 24 hours. We omitted a few stops this year and it was much easier to handle. Today I have a second interview about a possible pastry position for a restaurant that is to open in a few weeks. Its exciting thinking about getting back into it. I have been spending most of my free time the past few days trying to clean up and organize my recipes. A few years ago I took the time to digitize everything - and needless to say I haven't kept up with it. I have been sifting through a few years worth of notes, jots, tests, experiments and ideas. Its fun to revisit things, to see how I have matured, how ideas have progressed - the evolution of my creative process. 

Dominic, lets chat about your most recent post. The first paragraph, specifically;

"On Monday we had a group in for a 5 course tasting menu and wine pairings. They confirmed the number several days prior to be 9 regular people and one vegetarian. At 5:00, about an hour before the event they confirmed the number to be 8 regular people, no vegetarian. 11 people showed up. I have no idea where the vegetarian is, likely too ill to attend."

This is a difficult one. I think that there is a certain mysterious nature to our industry, and for people who have never worked in it, there are a lot of unknown things. I have seen and experienced this  scenario a few times - and if you are in a restaurant that does not have a regular tasting menu, it can be a real drain. 

I've had people ask me, 'How do you bake bread so fast so that each table gets a fresh loaf?' The answer is - once you have made something 50,000 times - you learn how to shave some time off the process.  All joking aside - you don't bake bread to order. You bake it in the morning, or in some cases the day before, and then reheat it before it goes to a table. This basic idea applies to most things served in a restaurant. Typically you prep whatever you can in advanced and hold it for however long you can without compromising its quality, and then reheat or finish it to order. 

For example - most places aren't making their red sauce every day. A cook will think, 'This recipe will yield enough for me to get through the weekend and it will hold fine for 3 days.' Then when your spaghetti is fired, your pasta (fresh or already blanched) is dropped in (already simmering) water, your sauce is put in a fry pan and in a few minutes they are married and sent out to your table.  

The whole point I am trying to make is that as a guest, you may think things like, 'Whats the big deal if a couple extra people show up for the tasting menu' or 'Its okay if we cancel last minute, at least we're letting them know and now they don't have to cook for us!' - But the reality is if you have made a reservation for a tasting menu, and the restaurant isn't lazy (just plating tasting portions of menu items) - its fairly likely special ingredients have been ordered specifically for you and your guests, and that one or more chefs or cooks have dedicated time to prep (in advanced) your entire menu. Adding a guest or two isn't a huge deal because often chefs over prepare a bit for many reasons - this being one of them. But I think its still kind of inconsiderate. Would you show up to a dinner party with a few extra people in tow, unannounced? Would you wait until 30 minutes before dinner is served to tell your Mother you and your guests aren't coming? So why act this way towards a restaurant? 

A solution? 

Well, selling tickets is something that has been gaining a lot of popularity. Nick Kokonas and Grant Achatz started it in 2011 with their restaurant Next. The basic idea is similar to buying tickets for a see a calendar, with available seats and times. A two top at 7. A 4 top at 10. You can add your beverage pairing. Buy your ticket and then its confirmed. You have paid for your meal and reservation in advanced, now its all on you to show up. 

I know this is geared towards higher end places, places that do not accept walk-ins, and could conceivably lose hundreds of dollars per guest who does not show (there is, however, evidence that the system, or a variation on it can be applied to casual, a la carte restaurants). It can be a serious financial drain for these restaurants - so this solution seems to work fairly well. Kokonas has developed a system,  Tock, which is currently in a pilot phase and is scheduled to go live sometime next year. I know of 11 restaurants who are currently using the system, and several more are scheduled to sign on. You can see on Tock's web site that it is catching on... Fish & Game - in Hudson, NY - is switching over. 

I don't expect to see this in Albany any time soon. And thats okay. My only experience with a ticketing system was for Next's debut menu - Paris 1906 - which at the time was maybe the most sought after reservation in the country. Needless to say it required a lot of time hitting refresh on a crashing website. I did, however, secure a pair of tickets. 

Another solution? One thing I saw, often enough to think it was common practice, was the requirement for a credit card to hold your reservation and a cancelation policy..which generally read something like 'if you cancel with less than 24 hours notice you are subject to a fee of $X.XX' . I always thought this was totally reasonable - and I know the system is in place with sites like opentable - which seems like it is finally starting to catch on in this area. 

Anyway...Im glad that your guests actually showed and you weren't damaged financially or emotionally (Its fun doing tastings! It sucks when they get taken away!).

Now on to Daniel. In regards to your '3 Reasons Not To Trust Dunkin Donuts' post. I've got to say I love whenever anyone smears Dunkin Donuts. Its not a 'go to the little guys' thing for me - which generally I support and encourage - its just a deep rooted hatred for that steaming heap. (In my youth I had fun coming up with nicknames for shitty chains - Dunkin Donuts is known to me as Funkin Blonuts - though my personal favorite is Yak in the Box). Anyway - all I want to say about this post is of course you shouldn't trust Dunkin Donuts. Of course its shit. I think - or hope - that most people recognize it for what it is. And its popularity is due mostly to its convenience. I can name probably a dozen intersections or stretches of roads where you don't need to turn left - going in either direction - to get your sugar and/or caffeine fix from Dunkin Donuts. Not turning left carries a LOT of weight for me whenever I am driving. 

Another post I would like to call attention to is, 'Small, Cheap, & Unique.' Its no secret that in the past, I have had a lot of resentment for this area - its something that I think a lot of people who grow up around here harbor. It gets worse the older you get and the more well travelled you are. Now, with that being said, this past year J & I have taken some action to leave. The trip we went on, that I keep not talking about, was specifically to find someplace new to call home. Somewhere that does have the things we love and look for. Over the summer we did a lot of soul searching, and tried to make the most of what we have available to us here. What did I learn? That its not so bad here. The first time it hit me like a hammer was wandering through the old growth forest at Lisha Kill Nature Preserve. I had rode my bicycle past this area probably hundreds of times and never noticed it. It was all a matter of opening my eyes and letting my guard down. Heres this place, that is really quite spectacular, and one of many - that is literally just a few minutes from my house. And in 28 years I had never noticed it. 

So for the remainder of my time in this area, which is probably going to be one year, I am going to try and be more open to things. I will seek things out, I will give things a chance, and while I will certainly be critical - I will also be fair. I think I will start with your list.

A choppy video from Lisha Kill

Now - I never got the chance to visit Shwe Mandalay, and I am a little bummed about that. My cousin turned me onto Burmese food in the summer of 2009. She was visiting from San Francisco and brought a fermented tea leaf salad (or more accurately, the ingredients for one) for me to try. A few weeks later I was in San Francisco with her and in a week we ate at no less than half a dozen Burmese restaurants. Yamo and Burma Superstar have since been regular stops for me any time I am in San Francisco. I'm sad that they have closed, and even more so that I didn't get a chance to stop in.

As for the rest of your list - I have actually been to every place except Persian Bite, and frankly my feelings on all of them are not the same as yours. But I am going to give every single one another chance. More than anything, I want to support these small business owners who have taken the risk to do something they love - something I am way too big of a coward to do myself. But I believe that any kitchen can have an off day - I've experienced them at Michelin Starred restaurants (maybe I'll write about Tru someday) - and everywhere deserves at the very least a second chance. I appreciate that you took the time to recommend specific things - which I will also consider when I visit. From here out - whenever I go to one of these places I will write about it and be sure to let you know what I think. Thank you for what you do to support people and places like those on your list. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Well you certainly are a talkative bunch

Rather than individually respond to comments and posts on here and a few other places, I figured I would just do a continuation of my last post (I also ended that one kind of abruptly, so I would like to fix that!).

Daniel, I am going to take your approach here, so thanks for the format.

Great post - le sigh, that creme brulee! I've seen that, too, or at least similar situations. It breaks my heart when I go to write about a place that everyone raves about, only to see it's a bunch of pre-processed factory shit that "chefs" are essentially boiling in a bag and charging a ridiculous amount for. A lot of the problem (at least from where I stand, I can't speak from a chef's position) seems to be owners trying to cut corners to boost profits. It's greedy, it's self-serving, and it's just simply wrong. I wish customers weren't so complacent and willing to ask all the Portlandia-style questions.

Very much enjoyed this piece, looking forward to reading more.

Deanna - I think that most people, regardless of their knowledge of food or its importance in their life - would be off put if they knew frequency in which convenience products are used. This isn't exactly the same thing but I think it will make the point. I remember once upon a time on Table Hopping someone complaining about how they found out a local bakery was freezing their cakes and how they were appalled by this. And then there was this never ending comment section with people going on and on about how they couldn't believe it and that they can always tell the difference between cakes that have been frozen and ones that have not. But the reality is - I would venture a guess that 95% of every cake anyone has ever had that wasn't made in their or someone else's home.. has spent at least some part of its life in a freezer. Yet these people went their whole lives being totally fine with these cakes... only hating them once they knew they were in a freezer. Whenever I hear someone say they hate when a place uses a freezer I think of a mentor of mine telling me about working at Payard's in New York City...and their holiday production and how from the week before Thanksgiving to New Years they would sell something like 30,000 cakes. People would order these cakes from around the world. Francois Payard is/was considered one of the best Pastry Chefs in the world. Do you think they used freezers? You bet they did! Were the cakes compromised in any way? Nope!

Now.. I will go right out front and say convenience products are a necessary evil to some degree - but the downright reliance on them I have seen in many kitchens in this shocking. I wouldn't place all the blame on money hungry management/owners, but they certainly are a factor. The most obvious reason chefs use them is because they are convenient...You can be as idealistic as anyone else but when it comes down to it - unless everyone (especially management/owners) is on board - you just might not have enough time or labor hours to get everything done. The thing I keep going back to is hiring a Pastry Chef (Shocker here - I am a Pastry Chef). To the best of my knowledge, desserts are typically ordered by around 30% of your guests (obviously numbers fluctuate based on a million things - so this is just a general, average number). Your revenue needs to be pretty high to justify paying a 40-50k salary for a position that doesn't necessarily bring in a ton of cash. Its made even more complicated by the fact that - frankly you can get 'passable' desserts from any of the major food suppliers, and ordering your entire dessert menu and bread program from Sysco is a lot cheaper and less of a gamble. In many cases it makes more sense to hire another great sous chef (who will work on the menu that 100% of your guests will order from) and then have some of your cooks prep some easy desserts in their down time, and fill in the rest with prefabricated stuff you get from your supplier. I have seen this exact scenario - both with and without pastry chefs - in several kitchens in this area. This includes many of the 'high end' or 'nicer' restaurants. 

I also want to tell a quick story about a chef I used to work for - even though I am more than capable of making a cake - he would only let me serve boxed yellow cake in his restaurant. For birthdays, weddings, any special occasion. His reasoning wasn't 'Greg, you suck at making cakes' or 'Greg, you don’t have time to make these cakes' or 'We don’t have the labor $ to have you make these cakes' - it was that people were generally raised on boxed yellow cakes - and because of that they prefer it over anything else. Was he right? Im not sure. I don’t agree with it - but I don’t necessarily disagree with his logic.

Yes. It's hard to get people to break out of their comfort zones. Especially in the Capital Region. 

But I'm encouraged by the success of places like Ala Shanghai. Still, it amazes me how many food lovers have never even heard of the place despite all of its accolades in the regional food blogs and traditional media. Tara Kitchen is another place I would not have suspected to take off as much as it has. And when I heard that Vic & Heather were opening up a wine bar in Troy, I thought they were nuts. Boy, was I wrong.

There is a hunger for better things done right. But people are so starved for innovation they are also willing to applaud mediocre things just for their novelty. 

I'm glad to have you back on the scene holding up those places that are doing things well and calling to task those who under deliver.

Daniel, Im glad that we agree that people around here are reluctant to break out of their comfort zones. I am fascinated by our different takes on things though. We both have lived in bigger cities - ones with Micheline guides and established food scenes. I know I can be emotional with my opinions and I have trouble looking at things differently sometimes. I was at Ala Shanghai the week they opened. I live in Latham - have spent the better part of the past decade essentially living with a Taiwanese family (who were Chefs in Taiwan) and would somewhat regularly make treks to Flushing for good soup dumplings. Off the bat, Ala Shanghai was a disappointment. They were serving more traditional fare but…I still didn’t think it was well done. I noticed some other things that rubbed me the wrong way too - how dramatically different the quality of food and service was when I was with the family I spoke of earlier, who would order in Mandarin, from the Chinese language menu verses when I would order the same food in English, by myself. Over the next year or so they did improve. From my understanding this was from the Chinese American community complaining to them about making their food too….’gringo’. Now…there are a few things that I feel are worth ordering - but for the most part I think the place is still kind of a bust. I always felt that it stuck out because they were doing something ‘new’ for this area and people were excited by that (or as you put it…people applauding it for its novelty) . Tara kitchen I haven’t gotten to yet - but I have been wanting to for a while. 

Its interesting that you mention Vic & Heather. Only a few hours before you posted this comment I met the two of them for the first time, and it was somewhat energizing talking with them. Vic kept saying that this area is ‘Hungry for culture’ and all you have to do is give it to them. Listening to him talk about his experience with the wine bar, and how in two years he hasn’t had a single bad night or felt down about it….its good to hear that. I think they do stand out because they are bringing an aesthetic and quality to the area that was….for the most part, lacking before. I spent a while talking to Nick and Matt, who are running the kitchen at Peck’s Arcade and it was neat hearing them express the same frustrations and thoughts about this area and food - but they were excited…talking about how they’re going to cook the food they want to eat and have fun with it …and its being well received. Look at the pop up they did. If you told me you were going to have a ramen pop up for two (non consecutive) days - and you would see nearly a thousand people walk through the doors - I would tell you that you are crazy and there is no demand for it. But guess what? I would be wrong. They were successful - doing what they want. So…its exciting - and Im interested to see how the restaurant is received. 

In response to Daniels post on FLB;

You are right in that the general feel of (lets say, one star) Michelin Restaurants is shifting. You do see less formal, more affordable restaurants with stars now…and yes, they can be affordable. While I think that you will spend more money at a starred restaurant stands true as a general rule of thumb - it is not always the case. But I think that the point I was trying to make - and I guess I wasn’t totally successful at - was that the cost of running the restaurant is prohibitive for our population size in addition to the amount of disposable income people are willing to drop on a meal. I feel that in the Capital District you may have a certain number of people willing to dine at Yono’s, 677, and Sperry’s regularly but the overhead doesn’t equal out. Theres the obvious - spending more money on labor, employing more-highly talented people, buying higher end ingredients….but there are other things to consider. Think….service pieces. Sperry’s buys their china at The Christmas Tree Shop (or at least they did when I worked there). I can’t speak for Spotted Pig but the starred restaurants I staged and worked at all had their china made specifically for them - or ordered from companies like Villeroy & Boch. These service pieces on average cost ten times what china from Christmas Tree Shop costs - and they break just as often (there is some possibility of a warranty, but I usually associate that with cheaper, durable china rather than fine pieces). I think what I am trying to say is in starred restaurants every detail requires attention and thought and (typically) money - and this helps to elevate the experience across the board. Now while a restaurant with similar price points may survive around here - Im not sure that a place would float with similar numbers…meaning a starred restaurant with similar prices would have to turn more tables than, say, 677 in order to stay afloat…and large cities have enough people to make that model work. Small cities like Albany…Im not sure. 

I also want to be clear - as I saw it in some comments…I don’t expect Michelin to ever release a guide for Upstate New York - I am merely using Michelin as a point of reference for a level of quality. 

Ultimately I just don’t see the same culture in the restaurant scene around here as I did in starred/fine dining kitchens in Chicago. The entire mentality, mood and overall discipline is just absent. A comment from your post on FLB sums up what I mean pretty well…and I will leave it at that.

December 22, 2014 3:51 pm
I worked for years as a line cook and sous chef at a number of Manhattan restaurants, mostly in New York Times two- and three-star kitchens, and including one that’s held a Michelin star for five years now. I moved to Albany two years ago to go back to school, but continued cooking to pay the bills, so I’ve spent time in the kitchens of some of the real darlings of the Capital Region restaurant scene, either as an employee or a one-day interview/”stage”. I was and remain appalled by what I’ve seen. I haven’t seen one kitchen, either as a cook or as a diner that approaches the level of skill, attention, discipline, and organization required to cook at that level. I’ve worked with cooks in Albany who can’t even be bothered to clean up a spill in the walk-in, let alone get an acceptable sear on an order of scallops, or to sharpen their knives – that is, if they even own and take care of their own. These are highly-regarded restaurants, too. The disingenuous owners aren’t any better, passing off Sysco-purveyed cut-rate institutional products and bulk frozen goods as “artisanal” or “local” in their menu descriptions (just pay attention to the delivery trucks rolling behind your favorite local gastropub). No one cares, at all – this is the norm around here. Perhaps, as Mr. Colose suggests, it is because the customers expect so little, beyond quantity over quality and a hefty doggie bag to go home with.
I have nothing personal against the restaurant business in Albany, and I really wish it wasn’t as disappointing as it is, especially now that I’m retired as a cook and would like to enjoy a meal as a customer from time to time.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Return Home & Creating A Dialogue

107 days. 18,511 miles. 32 states. 

J & I returned to Albany this past Thursday. Its not easy summarizing a trip of this magnitude. While this wasn’t the first time I have spent an extended period of time on the road (it was her first time though) - I still found myself in awe of things nearly everywhere.  It never ceases to amaze me how overwhelmingly enormous this country is (we easily could have been out for twice as long and still not seen everything we wanted to), as well as how deeply moving it can be. I try to resist using the phrase ‘life changing’ - but when you’re sitting at the summit of Angels Landing gazing down into Zion Canyon or watching tens of thousands of Monarch Butterflies migrating down the Pacific Coast - how can I not?

The whole purpose of our trip was to explore new places and hopefully find somewhere new to call home. We moved at such a fast pace - averaging 173 miles a day - we became accustomed to constant change. Transitioning from one place to another, meeting new people, seeing new things - became part of our daily routine. Now things seem to have come to a screeching halt.

I have always felt that the most difficult thing about traveling is the return home. Acclimating back to your normal - every day life can be…jarring, to say the least. For us, it is compounded by the fact that we dropped everything to go on this trip - and consequently don’t have normal, every day lives to return to. In the days since our return we have both been wandering somewhat aimlessly - not sure of what to do with ourselves. There are obvious things, seeing friends and family, finding new employment, etc.. but apart from these - everything seems so bizarre and stagnant. Like an episode of the Twilight Zone or Invasion of the Body Snatchers. We are home - but it certainly doesn’t feel like it.

We lucked out with the itinerary we chose. Leaving in late summer and heading west over the northern part of the country, while returning east through the south kept us in fairly good weather for the duration. It seemed as though we experienced Fall for the entire trip - seeing transitioning foliage in nearly every part of the country.

First snow in Glacier National Park

The first snowfall we experienced on the trip was in early October - while in the high peaks of Glacier National Park.  The second was the nor’easter that dumped up to a foot and a half of snow in the greater Capital Region last week. Only 3 weeks ago we were sleeping without cover in the Arizona desert. 
Like my Ghosts of Meals Past.. uh…series(?) - I will likely talk in great detail about every part of this trip over the next year or so. Just use it as fuel for more, regular updates. I have also decided that I would like to use this blog as a way to create dialogue between myself and some other local bloggers. I hope that apart from the obvious - this may be a good way to encourage some other people to keep writing too.

This brings me to the blog, 'chefsday' - penned by Dominic Colose - who is currently the Chef at The Wine Bar of Saratoga - one of my favorites for wine because of their option for tasting pours - (are there enough links for you in that sentence?) Now - while I have never actually met Dominic in person - he and I have been familiar through things like…Facebook and both working in restaurants in Saratoga Springs, NY. Now this may seem silly to mention but…well ..if you have worked in restaurants in Saratoga Springs, NY you would understand that we are all kindred spirits.  I like Dominic’s blog because it is what it is. A chef venting. I find myself reading and nodding along because it is all stuff that I agree with or can relate to - and its fairly unfiltered. I especially like his snippets or random thoughts. I often find myself with the overwhelming urge to share something that doesn’t seem relevant to anything - and this is a good way to do it. Sometimes you want to say ‘This town is fucked because chefs are garnishing with rosemary sprigs’ and leave it at that. I've always thought Dominic seemed to have a good approach - his food seems honest, and actually seasonal (don’t get me started on how every chef in upstate cooks ‘seasonally’ ) - but now I feel like I understand him better and can relate to him about a lot of things.

In early November, Dominic wrote an entry about the plausibility of a restaurant in the Capital Region being capable of receiving a Michelin Star. This question haunted me in some ways. When I moved to Chicago for school - and you can see some evidence of this from the early days of this blog - I took out extra money so I could eat at as many restaurants as possible. Michelin had just released their first Chicago guide a few months before I moved - so I used it as it was intended. I ate at nearly every starred restaurant in the city and I thought of it as just another part of my course work. Seeing and experiencing food that I would otherwise not have access to. What I didn’t realize the effect it would have on me and my opinions of my home.

My school also had a major effect on my perception of the industry and what excellence truly is. It was very small (72 students in the entire school) that was modeled after the master apprentice style of learning. The program was short (six months) but very intense - and allowed me to learn intimately  from some of the best and most accomplished Pastry Chefs in the world (Ever hear of the documentary, The Kings of Pastry? Several of my mentors/instructors were featured in this film) - were talking about World Baking and Pastry Champions, Master Pastry Chefs, MOF’s, etc.. The school also strongly encouraged students to stage as much as possible while we were there - and provided us with means to do so. I remember being in awe receiving our stage and employment contact list on our first day and seeing personal phone numbers and e-mail addresses for chefs at places like Noma, Alinea, and The French Laundry. What I am getting at is my time in Chicago allowed me to learn from starred chefs, eat in starred restaurants, and work/stage in starred kitchens. I am - by no means - an expert on anything, but I feel like I do have at least some idea of what is required. And from what I have seen and experienced in this area - nobody - and I mean nobody is even remotely close to it.

Why? I have a few ideas. Dominic mentions that young cooks often don’t put in the requisite number of years working for great chefs and break out too soon to run their own kitchens. I agree with this 100% - but I think its a bit more complicated. Are you implying that there is a pool of ‘great’ chefs with years of experience to teach in this area? Im on the fence about that - I know there are talented chefs around here, and lots of chefs with lifetimes of experience - but we are talking Michelin Star quality. Im not sure there is anyone in this area who is at that level.  I completely acknowledge that I could be wrong here - there are a million reasons why our food scene is what it is - that are completely out of a chefs control - like… is there any demand for it? Lets say you dropped a starred restaurant in Albany. Not a destination restaurant like EMP or Alinea or whatever, but just your average one starred restaurant.  Would our customers care enough to go through the motions? To spend the money? To eat there regularly? Or would they be happy with the status quo - and continue to eat at their regular places that have been doing the same thing for as long as they can remember? I cant help but think back to one of my first jobs in this area - working a pastry station at a large party. My only responsibility was to fire creme brûlée  all night and schmooze with the customers a little. Now the 'creme brûlée' that we were serving were made from a convenience product called Zurimix. It is a powder that you add to a liquid (milk, in this case), bring to a boil, and pour into a vessel. This is not creme brûlée. What it is, is bullshit, disgusting, and I was embarrassed to be seen serving it to people. (I do want to reiterate that I was not in charge by any means, just a green, starry eyed culinary student doing what he was told).  Anyway, about halfway through the night a middle aged gentleman came up to me and with a completely straight face said to me, 'This is hands down, the best creme brûlée I have ever had - and I have had many!' The point of this story is that...I genuinely believe that people are happy with what they have around here. That they have been raised on mediocrity and genuinely prefer it over something exceptional. I do believe that was the best creme brûlée he ever had. And that breaks my heart.

My limited experience tells me that people are EXTREMELY resistant to changes - to new things - to anything exciting. I have seen many chefs and experienced first hand trying to do something different or exciting and being shot down so quickly by other chefs, management, customers,  - that it puts a major strain on trying to elevate what you do. So maybe there are Michelin level chefs here who are just shit on repeatedly, forced to do things like use Zurimix, and can’t find the forum to do what they’re actually meant to do.

Then there is the question of wether or not it is financially viable or even possible. Is there enough wealth in this area to support it? In addition to a higher overhead because of the venue, supplies, ingredients, etc, a starred restaurant requires a lot of highly specialized people. Virtually every position in the restaurant needs to be filled by someone who specializes in what they do and have has a lot of experience doing it. Most restaurants in this area can’t even afford to hire a Pastry Chef (something I am all too familiar with).

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Quick update

So I just wanted to touch base here and say that I have quickly realized how difficult it is to update this thing from the road. We have been out 70 days so far and look to be about half way through now. We've completed the northern half of the United States and are currently in San Francisco. I won't be trying to update regularly until we are done with the trip - but we've been keeping journals / notes and have been taking an enormous amount of photographs. If you would like to see or track our progress along the way, the best way is to follow me on Instagram. You can find me on there with the username flappysmacks . Adios !

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Trippy Stuff & Ghosts of Meals Past Vol 2 - Fish & Game, Zak Pelaccio

For the past few days, I have been doing an endless amount of research for the upcoming trip.  In the past,  my traveling has been much more intuitive - but this time there is a goal for the trip: Find a new home. And I have a companion with me this time, who I have to consider at all times. So while typically I would just get in my car and go wherever I feel like, this time I have an itinerary..and need plans for each stop so time & money is not wasted. I'm finding the whole thing difficult because the things that interest me in a place to live are not necessarily the same as the things that interest me in a place to visit. And the things that I am interested in seem to be very similar - do I want to go to 50 different art museums in the next couple months? Do I need to stop at every farmers market? There are a lot of things to weigh here - but regardless the trip is definitely shaping up to be a very interesting mix of stops, sights, and attractions. I will post the rough itinerary at the end of the list - if you have any thoughts or suggestions for any of the stops - leave it in the comments.

Now for some pictures. This meal was at Fish & Game in Hudson. There has been a fair amount of hype for this place - both locally (Hudson is not far from me) and nationally. I try to keep my expectations in check so I don't ruin the meal for myself. This is very important to remember when going to special restaurants - or places you have read a lot about or have obsessed over. If you put something so high up, think so highly of it - it will be nearly impossible for it to meet your expectations.  Its like when you try something from your childhood that you remember loving and its not very good - or go back to a restaurant you had a fantastic meal at a few years ago, and have the same dish again. This has happened to me several times in the past. It can be tricky to figure out if a meal wasn't good or if you had unrealistic expectations. So now-a-days I try to take a much more relaxed approach to these things. I still get excited and have expectations for things but...I try not to dwell on them. And this approach pays off.

SO - Fish & Game. We went here for my birthday dinner. If you're not familiar with Hudson NY...its a pretty cool town...getting very trendy. You see a lot of money from the city coming up to Hudson and while I'm not going to try and say this is good or bad - the town is definitely seeing a resurgence...and I like that because its a very historical place, and has a lot of beautiful buildings that will now get some money poured into them. Fish & Game, for instance, is housed in a 19th century blacksmith shop. 

Not too much else to say. You probably already know Zak Pelaccio. What he is doing here is downright brilliant. A classic example of perfect in the field, perfect on the plate. Not over manipulating things. Just great, comforting food. I don't have photos for the entire meal - sometimes you dig in and when you're looking at your empty plate you realize you forgot to take one! Sometimes there just isn't good lighting or you just took a shit photo. Either way...I'll describe best I can, with or without a photograph.

This was one of the most memorable dishes I have had in 2014, but I wasn't thrilled about how it was sold to us. The meal at Fish & Game is a set tasting menu - so you just kind of sit down and food starts coming to your table. Our waiter simply asked if we would like to start with this mushroom toast. We did not realize this was an add on to the menu, but regardless, we would have purchased it & we absolutely loved it. It was Morels in cream sauce on toast. We still go on about this course - some 5 months later. Whenever we eat something good it inevitably comes up.  Its a prefect example of how a few ingredients can combine into something that is so much greater than the sum of its parts. Lesson here, don't fuck with your food and it will be better because of it. Utterly satisfying on every level.

Clams, Prosciutto Broth, Mi Na Ri (I *think* this is Chinese Celery), Asparagus (tempura). Oddly enough this is another dish we were talking about recently. She has been working at a fish monger this summer and needless to say our seafood consumption has gone up exponentially. Its pretty great when your other half comes home with some soft shells & sable fish unannounced. Anyway, she was lamenting that she has never had a clam dish that was very memorable - except for that really great one at Fish & Game. was great. The asparagus was great, young & barely cooked and it retained its crispy texture for the duration of the course. The clams were tender, meaty and delicious - and the broth was sensational. It was the very essence of prosciutto - which I know the next course has some they made in house - so I can only assume this broth was made with the same ham. It was meaty, buttery, with a great amount of salinity. 

This was - after the morels - my favorite course. Egg (super soft poached), Fish & Game 15 Month Aged Prosciutto, Herbs. In a nutshell - this was a perfectly poached egg, wrapped in the best prosciutto I have ever had (keep in mind I am not by any means a prosciutto connoisseur) on top of some really, beautifully pungent and herbaceous ramp leaf salsa verde. Just a prefect combination of fat, salt, umami, and pungent green flavors. I have made this for myself several times since. Its never as good. 

The next course, which I have no photograph for, was: Bok Choy, Wild Onions, Meyer Lemon Syrup. I remember liking this, but I also remember it being my least favorite course of the night. 

Rice, Sausage, Green Garlic, Lobster, Squid. This was described as 'kind of a sea food fried rice' - and while that was not entirely inaccurate - it certainly does not do it justice. The dish came covered, and when the lid was removed the seafood aroma was almost overwhelming - we continued to get whiffs of it for the remained of our meal as other tables received the same course. This reminded me a lot of the good, comforting rice dishes I would have with my ex girlfriends (Taiwanese) family. Just really nicely cooked, flavorful rice with great ingredients on top. 

Chicken, Mushroom Gravy, Rhubarb (pickled, or maybe persevered.. if I remember correctly), Dumpling. I don't remember this dish as well as the others so, what you see is what you get. 

Corn Shoot Ice Cream, Black Cardamom Cracker. This was such a relief, after such a long period of time without having really, properly made ice cream , we had this. Ive made Corn Husk ice cream before - and this was reminiscent of that, just a little sweeter and a little more 'green' flavor. If you have had corn shoots before - I remember having them fairly often in Chicago in 2011 - this tasted just as you would imagine. I liked the cracker a lot, however she did not.

Last course was Pine (biscuit - biss qwee - the cake), Mint (chiboust), Chocolate (ganache) & Cheese. I remember enjoying this, however the chiboust - which is pastry cream with meringue folded in, very close to a mousse - was a bit broken (folded too much) and the mint flavor was a bit over powering. I like mint, to a certain degree, but you have to be very delicate with it - as it can overpower a dish very easily. The ganache was nice and the cheese - I don't remember what it was, I do remember it was salty and microplaned over the dish (I want to say it was Danascara, but I really don't remember). I liked the way the cheese worked with the chocolate and it made me want to play around in the kitchen - which regardless of how successful this dish was - is something I love to feel after eating something. 

So, overall, the meal here was great. Everything was carefully thought out, and well executed. I also had a very nice cocktail - the only detail I remember was pickled celery - but it was good! Hah. If you're in Upstate NY or feel like taking a train north out of the city - go here, you won't regret it. 

Ok - now for the itinerary, if you care. There are more, smaller/quick stops that I didn't include. And, of course, all of the in-between. A lot of the mountain passes depend entirely on when we get there & the weather so some of these stops may not happen:

Albany NY
Pittsburgh PA
Indianapolis IN
Chicago IL
Bolingbrook IL
Madison WI
Iowa City IA
Ames IA
Denver CO
Boulder CO
Fort Collins CO
Rocky Mountain National Park
Steamboat Springs CO
Grand Junction CO
Aspen/Snowmass CO
Arches National Park
Park City UT
Salt Lake City UT
Grand Teton National Park
Yellowstone National Park
Bozeman MT
Glacier National Park
Spokane WA
Northern Cascades National Park
Seattle WA
Bellevue WA
Olympia WA
Portland OR
Eugene OR
Mitchell OR
Crater Lake National Park
Bandon OR
Redwood National & State Parks
San Francisco CA
Berkeley CA
Santa Cruz CA
Monterey CA
Sonora CA
Yosemite National Park
Death Valley National Park
Las Vegas NV
Zion National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park
Page AZ
Grand Canyon National Park
Flagstaff AZ
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
White Sands National Monument
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Llano TX 
Austin TX
New Orleans LA
Jackson MS
maybe Nashville TN
Chattanooga TN
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Asheville NC
Charlottesville VA
Richmond VA
Washington DC
Baltimore MD
Portland ME
Burlington VT
Albany NY