The Albany Report: Part 3

Smitten with the capital of the Empire state, from the desperation of the corners of Clinton & Lark, to the junction of Delaware and Lark, from the moist farmlands to the Hmong finding a home, to the ravioli at Andy’s on Delaware, and a nod to the humongous bagel at Uncommon Ground, the city has character and depth.  I feel as if I am exploring Kinshasa or Taos or Pierre. It’s all new!

OK, fine, Troy isn’t Albany.  Duh and double duh.  But let’s not get pedantic. Dinosaur BBQ, in Troy, is rather stunning.  They started in Syracuse (not Greece or Sicily, but upstate NY) and now have branches in Troy, Harlem, and Newark.  The ribs are falling off the bone, meaty, smoky but not overwhelmingly so, and the rub has a fine balance of cumin, black pepper, and brown sugar.  Greens, mac ‘n’ cheese, maple syrup sweet potatoes.  Hello?  It was perfect.  Plus the brisket and the pulled pork?  And the many beers on draft?  And the server with a fine sense of humor plus alacrity?  Did I mention the Sazarac?

Let’s throw in New World Bistro where Dez arranged for a BLT that was nuts.  It was nuts!  It was crazy!  Toasted challah, thick and chopped and peppery bacon, slices of tomato, lots of lettuce.  Just the right amount of mayo.  At the end of the meal, a scent of THC emerged from the general direction of the kitchen.

Nearby, in Ghent, ample pickings of golden D’s and just up the road a distillery where some bad boys are turning the clocks back to make firewater.

And to top it all off, Obama is up 7%.

What a world.

Big Night out: Allston

It all started with a long, lovely walk in the rain past gargantuan buildings that once held most of Boston’s car dealerships.  Now: Apartments, restaurants, Boston University student housing.  Onto Harvard Street, sort of a Mission-East Village vibe with most folks in their twenties, tat covered and trying to evoke a street sense, but falling short and instead looking like Kids on Trusts waiting for the First of the Month.

Wonder Bar was the first stop: Way too much vermouth in gin martinis, but on the second try the bartender got it right.

Next stop: Soulfire BBQ.  Very good ribs, pulled pork, collards, rice and beans, and pickles.  Tons of pickles.  I’m not saying this is great BBQ, but it is the real thing.  Smoked, dry rubbed.  Focused menu.

Good music at both: old school soul.  No Motown, thank you, Jesus.

En route to the final destination, we pass by Korean, Chinese, and Japanese restaurants.  Might as well have been in Asia.  The only white folks were the boyfriends.

Finally, speaking of white, it was Jack White, who blew the top of the building off.  Almost like a jazz performance in the sense that what happened next in each song was unpredictable and the focus was on the instrument.  Too bad it was impossible to hear a word of lyrics.

By the time it was all over, the rain had stopped.

A Long Line of Locavores

I was out and about on Monday and Thursday, interviewing the down and out at the state’s busiest welfare office, when taking a break between disasters told to me I wandered down a couple of streets where I came across a long line of locavores.

It was an outpost of the Salvation Army and the line, which stretched down the block, was made up of people of every shade, age, and gender.  Normally, when I see folks like this in the welfare office they look plenty glum, but here people were smiling.

Because: Food was on the way!  The glass doors opened at the outpost and folks entered dutifully, emerging with bags of all sorts of things that were good to eat.

I don’t know if what was being distributed was sustainably raised, humanely slaughtered, or organic.

Captured by Pirates Again!

I know: Happened to you, happened to me.

So I’m not saying I was at the blue rectangle advising the loose cannon on why and when to ignite a war on Persia, but I’m not saying I wasn’t.

K?  K.

Meanwhile, it was Carb Heaven in the Hinterlands.  Bread and bread and bread, pasta.

Pasta was Neapolitan rigatoni boiled to death in salted water and finished forever in an eggplant-tomato-onion ragu.  Nice, huh?

No wonder the pirates came close and close and closer.

More important than any of this is the fact that my book on chefs passed the final edit today.  Woo hoo, right?



Pizza Party!

After the $85 debacle at Pizzeria Posto, may it rest in peace, I decided to stop by at Galleria Umberto.  No publicist, no advertising, no website, no $350 pig roast by reservation only.  (That’s a Pizzeria Posto event you can plan.  $350 and you get a roast pig.  Um, OK.  What does that have to do with Italian food or pizza?  Ask the pig.)

Galleria Umberto is a gem.  Ralph and Paul man the counter.  Paul in his two cornered cap, Ralph looking as if he just put down the barbells.

The room is chill, as always, with a panoply of folks from the neighborhood and from out of town.

I asked for corners.  I got corners.

Perfection at $11 for two meals.

I mean, got to have cold slices for breakfast, right?

The Spanish Paradox

In tomorrow’s NY Times, a piece on Rioja wines.  Gran Riserva wines, “despite the dire warnings,” that this grand style was unsuited for today’s lighter fare, is doing well on the market, thank you very much.

In today’s NY Times, a piece on unemployment in Spain.  Fifty percent of “young people” have no jobs; overall, 25% of Spanish are out of work.  The article is accompanied by a photo of a scrounger in a garbage bin foraging for food.  Obviously, the locavore movement in Spain is strong and getting stronger by the day!

Meanwhile,  from stateside, why not take Asimov’s advice and pour yourself a glass of a good Rioja?  Here’s Asimov on the wines, “…Prado Enea’s for me. Still, it’s great to have choices, gran reservas among them. You can find current releases of Prado Eneas for around $60, while Torre Mugas are a little more expensive, around $75. Other producers who make good gran reservas include López de Heredia and La Rioja Alta, of course; Bodegas Faustino;Bodegas RiojanasCVNE’s Imperial and Viña Real; Bretón’s Dominio de Conte; and Marqués de Murrieta.”

Which begs the question: Who is picking the grapes to make the Rioja?




Monday Morning

Monday morning and we all know what that means.  It’s Monday morning. Whoa.

It’s a big week.  My new series on chefs launches today:

The first episode is with Andrew Carmellini.

More broadly, there’s a chill in the air, socks on my feet for the first time since June, and serious thought is being given to making the season’s first batch of pea soup.

Pea soup: Eight cups of water, one cup of dried and split green peas, one peeled onion sliced in half, one celery stalk, salt and pepper to taste, and 18 minutes in a pressure cooker.  Done.

It gets better.  It gets worse.  It gets better again.

Madcap Boston!

Before seeing a good, second rate performance of, “Good People,” a good, second rate play, it seemed like a wonderful idea to check out Yakitori Zai.  This is the city’s first and very own yakitori restaurant.

Located on Shawmut Avenue, on a neat corner, in the South End, what we have here is a first rate yakitori restaurant.  You might as well be in Tokyo: Stunning room with perfect lighting, cool and old school jazz, and great skewers of delicious chicken and vegetables served with alacrity as well as generous pours of sake and beer.  I hope it lasts.  Doubtful, sadly, as the anonymous and self-annointed critics on Chowhound and elsewhere are bitching about the prices.  The same crowd that has no problem dropping twelve bucks on a cocktail objects to $7 skewers of perfectly cooked chicken.

Further down, about 1800 seconds before the curtain went up, it was time to stop by at Darryl’s: Perhaps the most chill bar in the city.  Live jazz, a D.C. or Harlem vibe, and cold Manhattans mixed nicely.  That’s right: Nicely.

After the show: A big slice @ NY Pizza where, from the window seat, we saw girls with skirts hiked up to their hips staggering on pointed black, high heels.

The Pizza Master

OK, I’ll admit it: That was me in Row Six to see the first showing of, “The Master,” which opened in Cambridge last night.  I can’t say I was happy about the director showing an army shrink holding Card I of the Rorschach upside-down to the fruitcake who would become the disciple, nor how he went out of sequence on the cards, nor how he took away each card in seconds when the rule is two minutes, but the rest of the movie?  Wow.  Certainly the best thing I’ve seen in years.

Famished by the picture’s despair and hungry by way of its complexity, I headed over to Pizzeria Posto in Somerville.  I love this place.  Or loved it, anyway.  Last night, it was as if there was a prize up for the wait staff who could sell the fastest and turn the table over the fastest.  Excusable, sort of, if it wasn’t for Nonna’s meatballs tasting like Nonna’s leftover hamburger and a pizza so soggy it tasted like sauce on undercooked dough.  Well, that’s another place to cross off the list.

I’m telling ya: Certain restaurants in certain towns are more interested in creativity than consistency.  Does not work.

Busy, Busy, Busy

Oh, my goodness, but it’s been a busy week in a busy month in a busy year.

My book on chefs went back to the editor yesterday after a final copy edit.  At last readers will learn whose toenails are ingrown and whose aren’t.  No hints here.  Buy the book.

Then today–this very morning–Claude was on the horn to talk about the movie we want to make about hoi polloi in the world of wine and the banks that love them.

To top it off, Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia ran my piece this month on hidden restaurants in Tokyo and on Wednesday bought my fourth article, this one on Sumo restaurants; places where the big boys chow down so that they dazzle in thongs.

Meanwhile, in the immediate environs, nothing but husks on sidewalks and in the trimmed grasses, candy displays in the supermarkets, girls running by the river.

After all, it’s the season of death, a.k.a. harvest, and the scythes are being sharpened.  I can hear the curved metal against the stone and see the white sparks as the wheel turns.