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El Loco

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A good friend of mine and his wife have a rule called, "no cook Friday".  In honor of this, we often meet up to go out to a new place.  This week it was El Loco in Albany (on Madison near Lark).   El Loco doesn't take reservations for parties less than 6, and was absolutely packed on our Friday outing.  After waiting for about 45 minutes, we were seated and our dining experience began.

We all ordered a few margaritas, and browsed the 5 page menu.  I settled on the Pollo Flauta - corn tortillas filled with turkey rolled into flutes and deep fried until crispy served with guacamole while Josie ordered the Chimichanga and Taco combo.  (our dining companions ordered enchiladas and another combo plate, pictures below, but they are not part of this review)

The Pollo Flauta was cooked well, but very dry, the guacamole helped to offset the dryness, but didn't completely do the job.  The cornbread that came with it was moist and flavorful and the rice and beans were ok, but lacked seasoning.  Josie's Chimichanga and Taco were both good.  The chimichanga was cooked perfect but was missing something, while the taco needed cheese instead of just meat and lettuce.  The taco had shredded beef on it instead of ground, and that was a nice touch.

Service was good based on how busy they were and staff all seemed polite.  Both the service and the good was good, but not amazing, so El Loco gets a 3 fork rating from me.

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Pollo Flauta Chimichanga and Taco

3fork

cost15-20
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Rain Modern Chinese

Dim Sum seems the perfect way to do brunch on a Saturday, so we headed to the new Rain Modern Chinese at 259 Lark Street in Albany last weekend. The restaurant lives up to its name with sleek modern décor, and the most striking feature was the entire front wall of windows with the panorama of Lark Street bustling by. We were seated immediately and served complimentary tea. The friendly waiter provided paper order sheets for us to choose our dim sum selections. I shall preface the rest of this review by saying that I am not typically enamored with the steamed dishes on a dim sum menu. The benefit to dim sum restaurants that serve from wheeled carts is that you can choose the dishes that look the most appetizing, and in my case, choose a variety of textures.

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From the dim sum menu we chose to share Sesame Seed Balls, Rice Noodle Roll with Beef, Fried Shrimp and Pork Dumpling, Pork Siu Mai, Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf, Spring Rolls, and Beef Short Rib with Black Pepper Sauce. From the regular menu, we chose the Hoisin Glazed Pork Belly Bao because my friend can’t turn down a good pork belly. We probably chose too many dishes because we brought almost half of our food home in a doggy bag.

The first dish brought out was the Sesame Seed Balls. These were perfect in consistency and the bean paste in the center had a nice texture and was not cloyingly sweet – a pleasant surprise! The Rice Noodle Roll with the Beef was cooked well and the beef filling had a terrific flavor. It was also reasonably firm for a steamed dish. Just as we were starting to realize that we had a lot of dishes still on their way out, the waiter brought us the Fried Shrimp and Pork Dumplings. They were more like a bun than a dumpling and the filling was soupy rather than firm, but once I got over my surprise, I liked them well enough. The fried bun was delicious, although the filling was a bit mealy for my tastes. My favorite dish by far was the Pork Siu Mai. Despite being a steamed dish, I found it to have an awesome texture and the hints of garlic and ginger in the meat really took it to another level. I could have eaten nothing but the Pork Siu Mai and been quite content. My friend’s favorite dish was the Hoisin Glazed Pork Belly Bao, and I have to agree that it was a star. The meat was tender, the slaw was tangy and well dressed, and it was served on soft buns.

At this point, my dining companion and I agreed that it must surely be 5 o’clock somewhere and the Fuji Volcano for 2 was calling us. The drinks menu wasn’t descriptive enough for our liking as it was vague on the specific juices in each drink, but we decided to roll the dice because there could be nothing unlikable about a drink that promises to be brought to the table in flames. I am happy to say that it met our expectations. The Fuji Volcano is actually a mixture of several drinks, and there is a small island in the middle of the gigantic moat of tropical elixir where the bartender pours a shot of Bacardi 151 – the part they light on fire!

There were some dishes that we didn’t particularly care for, such as the Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf, the Spring Rolls and the Beef Short Rib with Black Pepper Sauce. The sticky rice in the lotus leaf was delicious on its own, however in the center of the rice was a very odd and unappetizing gooey meat mixture. And I was completely appalled to find almost exactly the same concoction in the Spring Rolls! Spring rolls are a favorite of mine and I never expected to bite into one and find meat goo, so I was really disappointed. The Beef short ribs were merely unremarkable. We agreed that beef ribs taste better any way other than steamed, which gave the outside of the meat an unappealing gray color and gluey coating.

In general, we were a fan of Rain Modern Chinese and I’ll give it 3 forks for the dim sum and 4 forks otherwise. The food we ordered from the regular menu was outstanding, so I look forward to returning for dinner sometime soon. And the dim sum was reasonably priced. Including our $13.50 drink, the total bill came to $55 for two people. For 8 different dishes, that’s not bad.

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         Beef Short Ribs with Black Pepper Sauce                          Fried Shrimp and Pork Dumpling

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                     Rice Noodle Roll with Beef                                               Spring Rolls

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Midtown Tap and Tea Room

We decided to try the Midtown Tap and Tea room on a Friday after work. Located at 289 New Scotland Avenue in Albany and with parking in the rear of the restaurant, it was an easy location to travel to from downtown. After having read a review from a few years about it being a bit run down and dusty, I was delighted to find a fresh, clean and tidy bar and restaurant. It was a bit empty for 5 pm on Friday, but by the time we left at 6:30, it was hopping. After being seated immediately, I inquired about the Happy Hour specials and learned that the beer on tap was $4. The newly acquired and locally made Nine Pin Cider was on tap, but not included in the special, but I decided to try it anyway. My friend got the citrusy Sauvignon Blanc. I’m happy to say that both drinks were delicious. The crispy and aromatic cider has inspired me to make a visit to the new local cidery down on Broadway for tasting hours very soon.

My friend and I opted to share several of their small plates, which ranged in price from $10 to $14. It took us a bit of time to narrow down our order because several of the dishes looked wonderful. We settled on the Lobster Calzones, the Spicy Chipotle Shrimp Tacos and the Ahi Tuna Crisps. Additionally, she decided to try the Roasted Tomato Bisque with Parmesan Crostini. The bisque was excellent. I don’t love tomato soups in general, but the spoonful I tried would inspire me to order it next time.

The Lobster Calzones were a pleasant surprise. The filling was very good, but the buttery, flaky pasta it was enclosed in was outstanding. The calzones were topped with a fresh roasted yellow tomato sauce, and came with an arugula salad perfectly dressed with a refreshing vinaigrette and candied nuts. It was our favorite dish of the lot. Next we got the Spicy Chipotle Shrimp tacos. While they were missing the expected chipotle heat, the tacos were delicious. The roasted corn salsa had an excellent depth of flavor, the cilantro lime and avocado sauce tasted very fresh and the shrimp were cooked just right. Last and unfortunately least, we were served the Ahi Tuna Crisps. The wonton crisps themselves were very good, but everything they were topped with was very disappointing. The slaw was barely kissed with the tangy sauce, the tuna was woefully overcooked and worst of all, the whole thing was drenched in wasabi dressing. Even when I scraped a good deal of the sauce off, the dish was barely palatable.

Since the name of the establishment referenced tea, we asked to see the tea and dessert menu. There wasn’t a large selection of either, but the teas listed looked very intriguing and we were impressed to learn that they were crafted locally by DiviniTea, a local shop in Schenectady. We chose the African Elixer and the White Melon, and decided to split the Vanilla Bean Crème Brulee. The teas are loose leaf and offered by the cup or pot. Both teas were aromatic and delicious, and the White Melon in particular made us wistful for Spring. While small in portion, the Crème Brulee was decadent.  

We are happy to give Midtown Tap and Tea room 4 forks. I will definitely return to try more of their offerings. The service was attentive and friendly. While perusing their Facebook page, I noticed they frequently post pictures of their specials, which all look inventive and mouth-watering. My friend and I were particularly impressed that they feature food from local artisans and the wait staff were knowledgeable and enthusiastic about them.

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                                Lobster Calzones                                        Chipotle Shrimp Tacos

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                           Ahi Tuna Crisps                                              Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee

4fork

cost15-20
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Everybody's Cafe (closed)

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Everybody's Cafe is located at 674 Columbia Turnpike in East Greenbush. For all intents and purposes it's a house that's been renovated to serve as a cafe.

Brian and I ventured for breakfast, and were immediately greeted upon entering and told to sit anywhere we liked. As we walked into the two-part dining area, I realized our options were limited to the seating on the right half because the left half was overrun with small children climbing on every unoccupied surface.

Furnishings at Everybody's consists of a smattering of tables, a love seat, and a couch. You definitely get the feeling that they want to make the cafe feel as if you're sitting at home or having neighbors over. I will say this ... while I appreciate, value, and even like the concept to a great extent, my experience in this particular instance was an example of just how badly the concept can backfire when you dine too closely with your neighbors. That's as much detail as I'll offer.

Our server had followed us to the table we chose to sit at, placed our menus down, and immediately asked for our drink order. We were a little flustered, not having a moment to even take our coats off yet, let alone look at their offerings so we went with the old stanby of coffee and water. As we began reading the menu over, we dicovered that they actually had a sizeable selection of specialty teas, and lattes. It would've been nice to have had a few seconds to read that, and order one.

On to the food. The menu was very small. Not necessarily a bad thing, but with only one sweet offering (French Toast), there was just a lack of variety; 1 wrap, 1 "bowl," a benedict, and 2 omelettes. This doesn't count any daily specials.

Brian ordered their French Toast which comes with Real Maple Syrup (a nice touch). Not wanting to order two of the same dish, I opted for the Three Egg California Omlette, which consisted of Cheddar Cheese, Avocado, and Bacon Bits. Being somewhat of a bacon purist, I asked for actual bacon instead. My dish also came with Home Fries (choice of regular or sweet potato. I chose regular), and toast (I asked for Wheat).

While waiting for our order, we previewed some dishes that were heading out to neighboring tables. One gentleman received an order of pancakes. Remember that menu I delineated above? There were no pancakes on that menu, or their specials. How did he get them? Why were they not on the menu? That's a big restaurant fail. We shouldn't have to be regulars in order to know what is and isn't on the menu.

A plate of French Toast came out for a neighboring table, and given the appearance, there weren't high hopes. Brian was delightfully surprised to have been wrong. Even though the crust of the bread was tough and ultimately not palatable, everything else about the bread made for a perfect French Toast dish. Even though the batter hadn't completely distributed, the bread acted like a sponge of sorts, absorbing the moisture and flavor while being pillowy soft.

My omelette, however, was not successful. In fact, I'll go as far to say that it wasn't an omelette. The eggs were completely overcooked, and were basically the equivalent of a taco shell by design. Yes, this also means that the filling wasn't what you'd expect an omelette filling to be. The filling was folded inside after the eggs were cooked to death. I didn't have an omelette, I had an egg taco. I did not order an egg taco. Therefore, I was quite displeased with my dish.

The home fries were at least decent. They were perfectly cooked through, but only the crisper pieces retained much of the flavor. The bread was a loss. While I could tell it was a non-commercial, homemade wheat bread, it shouldn't have been toasted. Most of it was too crunchy to eat.

Based on my experience alone, I'd give Everybody's Cafe 2 forks. However, Brian's experience was significantly different. He gave his dish alone a perfect rating. Service was wonderful, if a bit rushed at the beginning. Not including pancakes on the standard menu (I later saw it written as an option on a chalk board) was a big minus. And... since I'm the one writing this review, I wasn't a fan of the environment on this visit. So it gets a 3 fork rating overall from me. Not a place I'd return to, even with the "designed to be homy" feel."

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California Omelette French Toast

3fork

cost5-15
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Hong Kong Bakery and Bistro

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Hong Kong Bakery and Bistro used to reside within a local Chinese market.  When they moved into their own building on Wolf Road in Colonie, we added it to our list of places to go.  This review is for their dim sum which is only served until 5PM.

As we walked in, we were greeted and sat immediately.  I wasn't a fan of the table, but I won't him them on that.  (the booth was too far away from the table, and it had a base on the bottom that gave me absolutely no place to put my feet).  The Dim Sum menu is on a piece of paper where you check off the items you want.  We went for a mix of things to try out, including roast pork pastries, (deep) fried pork buns, shrimp and spinach dumplings, roast duck dumplings, steamed shrimp dumplings, and pan fried pork buns.

The first to come out where the roast pork pastries and the fried pork buns.  The roast pork buns had a bit of sweetness and what I would describe as a bbq pork in them.  They were just slightly warmer than room temperature, which was a big negative for me.  The (deep) fried pork buns were not even room temperature, they were cold.  The filling inside was congealed but per Josie, "had a good flavor".  I couldn't even bring myself to eat the brick of cold pork mix.  Next up were our steamed dumplings, shrimp, shrimp and spinach, and roast duck.  The flavors in all of them were good, with the shrimp being a good size and cooked well, they were nice and tender.  The duck tender and moist.  The issue we had with these dumplings is that they were very sticky on the outside so they stuck to everything and ripped apart, and were completely slimy inside.  While the flavor was good, the texture was off-putting.  Finally we had the pan fried pork bun.  This one was my favorite, it has a nice light crisp on the outside, and a soft chewy inside.  Pork filling was nicely seasoned, it was probably the only one I would definitely order again if we returned.

Service was great, the owner/manager? came by a few times and made some jokes, and the waiter was there when we needed him, but not overbearing.  Josie and I agreed we would come back to try the actual menu, but we would probably go elsewhere for dim sum.  I would have given it a 2 fork rating overall, but Josie is a bit more of an expert in dim sum, so I will yield to her suggested rating of 3 forks.

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Roast Pork and Fried Pork Shrimp and Spinach and Roast Duck
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Pan Fried Pork Bun

3fork

cost5-15
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