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Comfort Kitchen

 981

While in Saratoga Springs over the weekend, my sister and I decided to try Comfort Kitchen, in the Saratoga Marketplace at 454 Broadway. The online reviews were very good, and most of them raved about the Pulled Pork Mac & Cheese and the homemade Tater Tots in particular. When we arrived at our hotel, I made a point of asking the front desk about it and they hadn’t heard of it. But we stuck to our plans and walked down to check it out. The Saratoga Marketplace is a small indoor mall, and the Comfort Kitchen is one floor down from the Broadway entrance, in the back of the building. There are tables set up both in the restaurant and just outside it. You first order and pay for your selections up at the counter, and then your food is delivered to you at your table. I chose a Chicken Taco, a Carnita, and a side Caesar Salad to start. My sister ordered the Pulled Pork Mac & Cheese and also got a side salad. We decided to split an order of the Tater Tots and get some hard cider, which was on special, to wash it all down.

The Caesar salads arrived first and we could tell right away that the dressing was homemade. Garlicky and lemony with crisp greens, it was really refreshing. It set the stage for the rest of our order, which did not disappoint. The Pulled Pork Mac & Cheese was fantastic. Sharp cheese flavor and perfectly cooked pasta mingled with bites of pulled pork and a tangy barbeque sauce. And the portion was so large, my sister had to take half of hers to go. My Carnita had pulled pork, red cabbage, pickled jalepenos, and cilantro on a corn tortilla. The Chicken Taco was made up of shredded chicken, avocado crema, pickled red onion and fresh cilantro on a corn tortilla and was my favorite of the two. But the real star of the night was the homemade Tater Tots. Crispy and crunchy on the outside with soft flavorful potato on the inside. If we weren’t so full, we would have ordered more. They are worth stopping for on every future trip I make to Saratoga.

I would absolutely return to Comfort Kitchen. The staff was friendly, the hard cider was crisp and refreshing and, most importantly, the food was nothing short of amazing. I am thrilled to give them my very first Five-Fork rating. The entire bill including tax and tip was $40, which makes it an economical choice as well. You don’t always get what you pay for. At the Comfort Kitchen, you get a lot more.

976      977

                   Side Caesar Salad                                           Carnita and Chicken Taco

 

979    980

                Pulled Pork Mac & Cheese                                     Tater Tots

 

 

      5fork        cost5-15

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Hilltop Restaurant

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Hilltop Restaurant is located in Watervliet in a little strip mall.  It was recommended to us for their pancakes.  When we wandered in late morning on a Saturday, there was only one customer there.  We were immediately greeted and told we could sit wherever.

Since we were directed to Hilltop because of their pancakes, I ordered those with a side of bacon.  Josie ordered her usual French Toast with a side of hash.  When I ordered the bacon the waitress asked how I would like it (soft, crisp or in the middle), I ordered it in the middle.  Sure enough, the bacon came out and it was just that - in the middle.  Often places will ask how you want it and then just ignore it and make it however they like.  It was a nice touch.  The pancakes were heavy.  Very heavy.  I think I was able to eat just about one of them (maybe not even that).  But they were cooked really well, with a slight crisp on it and a golden brown.  I would order them again, but probably get a short stack.  Josie's food on the other hand was not nearly as good.  Her French toast dish was incredibly small - just two pieces of thin white bread.  The bread was dipped so fast that nothing soaked in, and they even missed major portions of the bread so it was incredibly dry.  The hash was ok, but lacked seasoning.  I think she ate it primarily because her French Toast was so difficult to digest.

 I felt the service was quite good, and the staff was very friiendly, even as we were leaving the Chef was outside having a smoke break, she said, "thanks for coming, have a great day".  The friendliness of the staff and the pancake were the only things keeping Hilltop from getting 1 or 2 forks.  So, 3 forks for them and probably no return trip for us.

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Pancakes with side of bacon French Toast
IMG 0349
Corned Beef hash

3fork

cost5-15
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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.

IMG 0329 IMG 0330
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.

           12-7F0D0F41-1326207-1280   11-04E871AA-1009016-1280

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.

11-8C9F590B-1458816-1280  1395511991900

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

1395512206881  1395512233635

                     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.

1395437533638      11-4F9BB55E-802530-1280

                                Lobster Calzones                                        Chipotle Shrimp Tacos

1395437503224    1395439386235
                           Ahi Tuna Crisps                                              Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee

4fork

cost15-20
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