Sunday, January 29, 2017

Slurping and Scoring 25 Soups in Schenectady

This past Saturday was the second annual Schenectady Soup Stroll. Twenty Five restaurants and bars sold 3 oz samples of soup from noon to five, for one dollar each. My wife and I partook in the soup festivities last year, and it was a lot of fun. It's a blast walking around downtown sipping and slurping soup and imbibing in a drink or two. We got full and ran out of gas after only six samples, (though I probably could've eaten one or two more).

Yelp was a sponsor of the event, and Daniel B., Albany's local Yelp representative, was tasked to field a judging team of himself and two others, and when he sent out an announcement requesting volunteers, I jumped at the chance to be a judge. This is going to be a hoot, I thought.

Then after I committed to doing it, I had a change of mind. Why would I want to force myself to eat 25 portions of soup? That's a lot of soup to eat in the span of a few hours. I got sick just thinking about it. But I didn't back out, and I'm still beside myself that I was able to eat all twenty five soups, chowders, and bisques. The walking helped. We hoofed it from restaurant to restaurant, and it took nearly four and a half hours to complete the task.

Here's another problem. Food tastes better when you're hungry. We all know this, and my fear was that as the afternoon wore on, I'd get fatigued and not be able to accurately judge the food. Thankfully that didn't happen, and as the end of the tasting drew near, I was very full, but I still enjoyed the soup. I enjoyed the good ones anyway.

And there were indeed some good ones and surprisingly, some awful ones. But instead of getting into the individual soups, I'm going to give you a high-level view of my thoughts on the commonalities I noticed. When you eat 25 soups back to back, some trends and themes emerge.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Donna's Matters

Donna's is the new Italian-American addition to Vic Christopher and Heather LaVine's growing empire.

Typically, the opening of an Italian-American restaurant would draw disinterested yawns. But Donna's is not typical. Donna's to my knowledge is the first time a talented, top local chef has headed the kitchen of an Italian-American joint. Chef Nick Ruscitto is the brain behind Peck's Arcade, which is arguably one of the best restaurants in the Capital District. He's left his post at Peck's and moved about a mile southeast to head the kitchen at Donna's. And it's a big deal.

I'm not Italian, but my step-father (whom my mother married in 1976 when I was just 10) is a first generation Italian, a stowaway on a boat, arriving in America after the war. My wife is half Italian, her father a second generation Italian. My best friend during my pre-teen and teen years was Italian, his parents' first generation Italian's with a discernable accent. I'm no stranger to Italian home cooking or Italian-American culture. I take Italian food and culture seriously and consider myself an adopted Italian.

I have a love-hate relationship with Italian-American restaurants. They are bastions of comfort food, and I love comfort food. But they also mostly suck, and I don't say that lightly. They're all the same, and it's not a good sameness. They serve a too thick, and too sweet, overcooked, Italian 'gravy,' that tastes more like burnt tomato paste than tomatoes. Giant, sprawling menus often topping more than four dozen dishes. Huge portions that make even the biggest eater blush. And creativity? There is none. The dishes haven't changed in decades. Most IA restaurants have both feet firmly planted in 1970's gastronomy when an iceberg lettuce based salad was considered haute cuisine. And don't get me started on the crappy so-called "Italian" bread they all serve.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

You're doing it wrong I - Omelettes

I'm starting a new series on the blog that I'm calling "You're doing it wrong". My goal is to correct the record for dishes that are generally executed poorly, made lazily, or are just plain wrong.

This is actually the second post in the series. My post months back lamenting that most restaurants don't execute risotto properly, titled "Risotto is not Rice with Stuff in it" was the first and the genesis of this idea.

Today, I'm complaining about omelettes. And in honor of the risotto post, this piece could also be titled "Omelettes are not Eggs with Stuff in Them."