Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Franklin Hotel

I recently I found myself in Verona around lunchtime. A co-worker asked, "You guys have time for the Franklin?" I've always got time for the Franklin (side note: the restaurant isn't in Verona, it's in Rome). There's something about the place I just really like. Like most restaurants, some things are better than others. When I'm there, I always look for something seems like a Utica area standard. But just look at this place. It oozes history.

Here's an SAT flashback:

Franklin Hotel : Rome :: Ralph's : Albany

It's that kind of place. If you grew up near it, it would be the first place you wanted to go when you came home. Personally, I prefer it to Ralph's, but I didn't grow up near either place. The guys I was with went for some of the day's specials. One got manicotti and sausage.

The plate was a little nicer before one of the mannicotti was slipped onto this plate of eggplant parm

I went with one of the "Franklin Favorites." Greens, beans and sausage.

I really enjoyed it. Would have been a bit better if they were using my sausage, but that isn't their fault. I don't sell it. This is the kind of dish that would make a crappy winter day better. It is also very filling. I didn't eat anything else that day and I pretty much passed out on the ride back to Albany. Should you find yourself in Rome, check it out.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Restaurant Whinning

Maybe this is wussing out, but I'm not going to name the place. I've been a few other times and had significantly better experiences. I'll chalk this up to a Restaurant Week anomaly. So I'm going to bitch and moan about nothing of life changing importance. Hopefully none of this will get read by an actor.

I was downtown earlier tonight, me and two kids on tow, and without realizing it walked into one of the restaurants participating in the almost ended restaurant week. We got there at 4:45. The place was mostly empty. I asked for a table for 3. The hostess asked if I had a reservation and I did not. Apparently that was an incorrect answer. My response was met with sighs and paper flipping. Another host came to the stand. The first said to the second, "I have 3 walk-ins and I don't know if I can put them anywhere." Sorry to inconvenience you with my patronage of your restaurant.

I noticed a Restaurant Week sign, realized they looked like they were going to get slammed and said, "If you are booked up for the restaurant week, we can come back another time." I was told all they had was some tables by the bar or something in the lounge area. The kids were tired and hungry - I had them running all over town for the last 5 hours. So, we tried the lounge area. It looked nice enough, but I envisioned one of my kids dumping something all over the couches there and opted for a high table near the bar.

The kids got burgers. I went with the restaurant week menu. The appetizer and dessert were nothing special and get to escape the whiny, tirade that follows. The main course was not good. A dish that failed from it's inception. It was the dish that a chef proudly presents to Gordon Ramsey or Robert Irvine prior to getting read the riot act about why their restaurant sucks on a restaurant reality TV show. Everything about the dish failed:

The pasta wasn't good - no shit, you could buy better out of the freezer case of any local Italian market.

The sauce was a completely separated oil slick.

There were rings of a bizzaro kielbasa-ish meat, allegedly chorizo.

The diced tomatoes were those Styrofoam kind that get cut into huge chunks and top iceberg lettuce salads in the winter. Probably would have been better and cheaper if they came out of a can. Even cheaper if they never made it onto the plate.

There was some broccoli, mushrooms and shrimp in there too. Very backhanded compliment: though flavorless, the shrimp weren't over cooked.

I find it hard to believe that a professional chef in a pretty popular restaurant came up with the dish. I know, I know, I know...I'm whiny food snob and probably even worse. I wasn't expecting fine dining and I'm sure several corners were cut in trying to make some money at a $20 price point. But for how much chorizo was in the dish - buy a hunk of decent chorizo and use less. You'll need less anyhow. The pasta, you could probably do better at BJ's. Restaurant Depot probably has something along the same lines and maybe better. And the sauce, a line cook out there needs to learn how to make this one. The chef overseeing him should have taught him how to make this sauce prior to the last night of the restaurant week. In fairness to the hosting staff, the place did fill up while we were there. Although when we left, two of the reserved tables had yet to be seated.

Less bitching. More seltzer.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Unbelievable Week

This week has been nuts. Just insane. From the Onion:

“Maybe next time we have a week, they can try not to pack it completely to the fucking brim with explosions, mutilations, death, manhunts, lies, weeping, and the utter uselessness of our political system,” said basically every person in America who isn’t comatose or a complete sociopath. “You know, maybe try to spread some of that total misery across the other 51 weeks in the year. Just a thought.”

I was so sad on Monday. I lived in Boston for about 3 years. Unless you have been to the Boston Marathon, I'm not sure you get how over-the-top fantastic it is. Truly a special day. There's just an energy, a good feeling. Patriot's Day, which I had never heard of prior to living in Boston, really has its own vibe.

My spectator spot for the race was at the corner of Hereford (pretty sure that's the right street - next to a firehouse) and Bolyston. It is literally the beginning of the Home Stretch. The wheel chair racers are the first through and the street erupts when the first racer takes the corner and heads towards the finish line. Then there is a trickle of runners that slowly turns into a flood. You don't leave once the race has a winner. There are thousands of runners on their way that are counting on your support to make it to the finish. And that's not an exaggeration. I've seen plenty of runners that look totally exhausted and dehydrated and in dire need of a nap. But they don't stop. They can't stop. The crowd is literally propelling these completely fatigued runners towards the finish line. And if you know someone running...the only thing more exciting that looking for them in the field of runners is finding them. When my buddy Dan took that corner and headed up Boylston, I think I had that runner's high you hear so much about. And I was just cheering by the curb.

I have such good memories of Boylston and the Back Bay. Not just marathon related. I took a bartending class a few blocks away from the finish line. Sunday morning breakfasts (breakfast food in the early afternoon is probably more accurate) at Hunter's on Boylston. The pub crawl for my 21st birthday started at a place called the Pour House on Bolyston. The night I proposed to my wife, we stayed at the Lenox Hotel on Boylston. No idea how many times I walked up the street just on my way somewhere.

I joined Twitter about 2 weeks ago. The Boston Marathon bombings was the first time social media broke a news story to me. I couldn't believe it. Later that night all hopes of the damage being minimal were gone. Brutal. I found a large part of me wanting to look away, find a stupid sitcom world to escape and hide. And another part me felt obligated to watch. Turning away was ignoring what happened. The people there couldn't turn away. Why should I be granted that luxury?

And then an explosion big enough to register on the Richter scale rocked Texas. That disaster was followed by some much need relief at the All Over Albany birthday party. I got to say hi to people I've met a few times before and met a bunch people I "knew" online but had never actually met. TI felt nice to have a good time.

Unfortunately, that enjoyable evening didn't carry over onto Friday. One police officer was dead, another injured and the Boston area was in lockdown. And closer to home, Friday morning I saw something, nothing bad happened but, well here's what happened: When everyone shows up, 11 kids get on the bus at our bus stop. This morning, a 6th grade girl was there first. I was walking up the street with my girls. I'd say we are 100 to 150 feet away from the bus stop. I can see another parent coming toward the stop with two kids and a puppy. They are probably 200 feet away in another direction. A white van with some plumbing labels on the side stops in front of the bus stop. I can't see the 6th grade girl any more. Another white van (no labels) pull up next to the plumbing van. The vans are both pointed in the same direction. I imagine they are trying to figure out which house they are supposed to go to and have no idea there is a girl beginning to panic to their left. After a few seconds of the vans being parked, I see the girl bolt - running for your life fast - up the street to the other parent.

I don't mean to imply this girl did the wrong thing or over reacted. She did the absolutely correct thing. She feared for her safety, got the hell out of there and went directly to somewhere safe with an adult she trusted. The part that bothers me is that this is a lesson kids need to learn. And I saw the lesson in action a few houses up the road from mine. This is the world we live in. And I've got it easy. Try putting a 5 year old growing up in Watertown, MA to be tonight. What would you say?

Earlier tonight, I went to the Girls Scouts Decades Dance. Each troop picks a song and practiced a dance. This is my third Decades Dance. They are truly very nice events (even though one troop danced to a Taylor Swift song). And the kids really cheer each other on. It was pretty damn cute and hard not to smile.

After the kids were in bed, we turned on the TV and the second bombing suspect had been captured. Hopefully things are turning around. Next week has to be better.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Car Dealers

When the time comes to get another vehicle, I think I'm going to have a hard time. My problem has always been that if I hate your advertising enough, I'll never go your store. Even if it costs more. Never bought a mattress from Resnick's even though Air Tite Windows ripped their sign down. When we were shopping for a car a few years ago, we never shopped any "huge" lots. I really, really hate those ads. Thanks to the magic of DVR I am subjected to them much less frequently. And now, I'm getting annoyed with two other car lots - one where we bought the car and another where it has been serviced a few times. Maybe I'm over reacting, but here's what these two dealerships have recently done.

The dealership we purchased our car from (apart from jamming us for $500 at the closing and never following through with several promised free oil changes) keeps sending us email offering a "fantastic" deal using our current vehicle as a trade-in. In January, our vehicle plus a little over $17,000 would get us a new version of the car. In February, it would have been the trade plus $15,000. In March, the unsolicited offer dropped into the $13,000s. Yesterday, it dropped to $11,146.90 Perhaps, if I ignore them for six more months it will just be an even swap. The value of my trade in only keeps going down. How could they expect me to trust anything they ever tell me again?

The dealer that has done maintenance on the car sent an ad in the mail. But the entire ad is based in deception. They could have sent a flyer, but instead they sent a fake print out of an email sent from the owner to a sales manager. The letter is complete with from, subject, to, an attachment line, some customization to include my wife's name in a few spots and a printed attempt at mimicking a handwritten note. The letter also included a pretend email confidentially notice at the bottom so they could sneak in a few lines about combining offers, other restrictions and an offer end date. Why base your advertisement on a lie? And if it is so important for you to send me a pretend email filled with bullshit, why not actually send me a real email filled with bullshit and spare the tree?

I get that the car business is cut throat. Instead of living up to the sleazy car salesman stereotype, be honest. Maybe that's too much. Be mostly honest. If you have to send me stuff, send me information about what your car dealership can do for me - maintenance specials, deals for returning customers, estimate my trade-in value. Don't blatantly try to trick me when I'm not even looking for a car. I'll remember this when it is time for a new vehicle. The only thing both of these campaigns (and a few others) have done is make me regret ever walking onto either lot.

Maybe our next vehicle will be a jetpack. I've always wanted one and the kids will be out of booster seats by then. I bet jetpack dealers are cool people.

 (Photo from flightglobal.com)

UPDATE (4/16/13):  I swear I am not making this up. I received an email from one of these dealers earlier today. It's from the price dropping trade in place where we bought the car. I guess technically, the letter was only sent to my email account. The email was directed at the car to celebrate the anniversary of its purchase. Directly from the email:

Dear Malibu:

"Happy Anniversary" from your friends at XXX Chevrolet!

I hope you and Jonathan are getting along well and that Jonathan is taking good care of you. If you have any bumps and scratches, aches or pains, just come in and see us. We are here to care for you. As always if there is anything I can do, please call me at XXX Chevrolet at 518-XXX-XXXX.

I hope you and your owner have an excellent day!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Beef Packing

Had a busy day on Sunday. Got up at 6 AM (which is still night in my opinion) so we could be at the butcher shop by 7:00. Each half of a steer is owned by an individual. That individual makes all the decisions about how to process their beef. Steaks, roast, cube steaks, ground beef...the butcher doesn't care. He just wants to you be happy with what you get. This year I went first. I took some pictures but unfortunately not as many as I should have. When I wasn't making decisions, I was wrapping beef with freezer paper. Once decisions are made, the side of beef is broken down fairly quickly. My half of steer was cut, wrapped and boxed in an hour and 45 minutes. We started cutting and wrapping at 7:00, we were back at the house (a good 20 minute ride) before 2:30.

Here are some photos I took. Forgive me if I mess up a description. I'm getting better, but I'm certainly not an expert. The steers were quartered. Each quarter is hanging from a hook on a rail. There is an impressive track system in the shop. From the outer bay into the shop and then into a large walk in cooler.

Here you have chuck on the band-saw table, short ribs behind the chuck and a leg behind the short ribs.

The butcher's knife skills are nothing short of incredible. Basically no wasted movement. He also often uses gravity often and has a meat hook in his left hand. I don't have a photo of it, but watching him tie knots on a roast is also impressive. I'd love to follow him around and learn some of what he knows. I once watched him prep a deer for the cooler. I still can't believe how fast it was.

A brisket that will become corned beef pastrami.  Would you believe most customers grind the briskets? Skirt steaks too. Several years ago I saw him remove the skirt steak and surprised him by knowing what it was.

Large chuck roasts. Good for stews and pot roast. And if I run out of ground beef, I grind it myself.

Short ribs.

Large bone-in sirloin steaks.


 T-bones and Porterhouse steaks.

 Beef being ground. This is the second pass through the grinder. He does a double grind.

Another shot from a different half of steer.

The ground meat is put in this huge sausage stuffer with a customized tip. If you look just to the right of the meat saw, you can see the hip switch that runs the stuffer.

Using his hip, the butcher stiffs the ground beef into these red and white sleeves. He's fast. He's stuffing the sleeves, one of us would tape the sleeve closed with a little tape gizmo he had, and another would label the tube of ground beef and put it in a box. It didn't take the butcher long to get ahead of us. And when you weigh a sleeve...they are all pretty damn close to 1.4 pounds. Here's my box of ground beef. Probably about 80 pounds in there.

I kept the ox-tail. That's a weird shape to wrap with freezer paper. I'm curious to see how the oxtail comes out of the pressure cooker.

One thing that amazes me every is how white and smooth joints are. I guess it is the same in a chicken. These are just so much bigger.

Among the cuts not pictured: flank steaks, skirt steaks, eye round roasts, sirloin tip roasts, top round roasts and steaks, chuck eyes, London broils, cube steaks and probably a few others I am forgetting at the moment. When we were done, two chest freezers (one of the chest freezers is huge the other is a normal size) and the freezer of a side-by-side refrigerator were completely filled with beef.

There were a few hogs hanging in the walk-in. Maybe some day. I'd need another freezer.


Cathy Barrow over at Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen sent out an email last week to all of the Charcutepalooza-ers asking us to join bloggers across the country in writing about hunger in America today. I have been fortunate enough to have always had access to food. And the irony of writing about hunger hours after I participated in butchering enough beef to fill two chest freezers and the entire freezer portion of a side-by-side refrigerator is not lost on me.

The goal is to get people talking and encourage people to see the documentary A Place At The Table. I haven't seen the film but it will be screened locally (6:30, April 10th at the Spectrum and 7:00, April 18th at the WAMC Performing Arts Center). Unfortunately I will not be able to attend either local screening. I'm out of town on the 10th and have already accepted another invitation on the 18th.

One statistic that gets thrown around a lot in the media is that 1 in 5 children live in a home that is "food insecure." I've worked with enough statistics to know how they can be manipulated to make a case for most anything. Sadly, even if this statistic is reduced to 1 of 7 children or even 1 of 10 children, it's still too high. Plus, the problem of hungry children is completely avoidable in the US. It's not like we don't have the food. For me personally, the most disturbing part of this kind of data is that when I go into one of my children's classrooms, statistically a few of the kids in the room are hungry. 

While I will not be able to see A Place at the Table this month, I plan to see it and encourage you to do the same.  Poke around the food blogs today to see what others have to say. And if you have 10 minutes to spare, I recommend watching this presentation.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Stuffing the Ballot Box

Over at the Fussylittleblog, Daniel B. is once again trying to steer the "Best Of" voting (food related topics) at the Times Union towards deserving establishments. The idea being that a block vote helps local favorites get noticed instead of getting diluted in a sea of votes for chains. Maybe it is a little shady, but I'd argue the results of this annual poll are flawed at best without this tampering. So, I will tamper away.

Before my tampering begins, Daniel and I disagree on a few selections. The only choice I complained about over at Fussylittleblog is Health Food Store. While it may be a beautiful store (don't know-never been) the new Healthy Living Store in Saratoga is not a health food store. Neither is Whole Foods, Price Chopper, Shop Rite or Wegman's. All of these stores sell things that can be found in a health food stores, but they sell a lot of other stuff too. Health Food Stores don't. No beer, seafood counter, nose to tail butcher. The Price Chopper in Westgate has 3 aisles of international foods. Latin stuff, Asian stuff, Caribbean stuff, British stuff, Indian stuff...it isn't an ethnic market.

Since I'm ranting, here are the other parts of the election where I would differ from the block vote

Best Restaurant to Open in the Past Year – Charles F. Lucas Confectionery & Wine Bar
Never been, but it looks like it is a bar that serves some food and not a traditional restaurant. The place sounds great, but not like a great restaurant. No matter what Cheryl Clark says. I recommended Tara Kitchen, but I'm told that place is about 15 months old and doesn't qualify. So how about Comfort Kitchen instead. Never been but it sounds good. There's got to be a few others out there too.

Best Wine Store – All Star Wine & Spirits
I prefer Empire Wines. If you are looking for someone to guide you through the wine world, you are better at All Star. If you know what you want, you can probably save a few bucks getting it at Empire.

Best Italian Market – Cardona’s
In my opinion, Cardona's focuses on prepared foods more than the market side of the business. I used to get pork butt at their meat counter, but haven't for awhile. When I think Italian Market, I go to Pellegrino's on Central.

Best Health Food Store – Healthy Living Market & Cafe
Dean's is the best local health food store. 

Best Standalone Butcher – Roma, Latham
Since it is attached to an Italian Market, I'm not sure how "standalone" Roma's is. Plus I have been unimpressed with the butchery side of the store. I think you could do better at Fresh Market down the street. How about we show some love for Sal's or Flavo or Fred the Butcher or Greulich's (also not 100% stand alone). 

Enough whining, I'm off to go skew an election. Stop by Fussylittleblog and follow the link to cast you votes. Or you can go the Mr. Dave route and write in "Kurger Bing" for everything.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


Have you ever found something that you don't actually need but really want on Craigslist so you send an email to some unknown person expressing your interest in their stuff then they never write back leaving you to stare obsessively at your phone desperately waiting for a little chime signalling the arrival of their reply so you can meet them and add this thing to your collection of junk that you may use one day?

Me too.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Trader Joe's again, and again

I haven't looked back at the past posts, but I'm pretty sure I have only complained about things I haven't liked at Trader Joe's. I know there was one about olive oil and another about sun dried tomato chicken tenders. So, off the top of my head, here's a list of things I do like at Trader Joe's: Columbus salami, cheese sticks, various fruits, maple frosted shredded wheat, a few of the breads, yogurt (if you're into soy, their soy yogurts are as good as soy yogurts get), sour cream, milk, whipped cream cheese, some frozen vegetables, a quinoa duo vegetable side dish that is strangely good, cereal bars, black olives, ketchup, jar of marina (in a pinch), a few pastas, lentil soup, these little cheese/cracker sandwiches (don't open the box unless you plan to eat them all), crumbled blue cheese for salads, lightly salted almonds, decaf Irish breakfast tea, kosher turkey breast splits, hot dogs, white grape juice (great when mixed with seltzer) and I'm sure I'm leaving several things off the list.

Truth be told, I've spend a lot of time roaming the aisles of the store. Probably too much time. Earlier today I was in Trader Joe's looking over a shelf. To my right, a gentleman was talking to a crew member. They finished their conversation and as the crew member walked away, she started helping another customer. The gentleman, turned around with another question and asked it before he realized the crew member was already talking to another customer. After 8 months of repeatedly visiting the store, I knew the answer and directed the gentleman where he needed to go. As we walked over there, we chatted. Nice guy, lives mostly in Phoenix and is looking forward to Whole Foods coming to the area. He really likes Whole Foods.

If I get laid off, I guess I'll fill out a Trader Joe's application.