Tuesday, July 29, 2014

PC unveils Market Bistro cooking classes for August

LATHAM -- Market Bistro By Price Chopper will kick off a month-long schedule of cooking classes this Friday, August 1.

Classes range from basic cooking to more advanced recipes and skill levels, including ethnic foods, quick meals, appetizers, baking and pastry classes. The registration fee for each class ranges from $20 to $60. Prospective students can register online. The schedule announced today:

  • Friday, August 1, 6 to 9 p.m., "Taste of Thailand," $55 per person.
  • Tuesday, August 5, 6 to 9 p.m., "How to Boil Water," geared to kitchen beginners, $55 per person.
  • Thursday, August 7, noon to 1 p.m., "Lunch and Learn: Dog Days of Summer," features summertime favorites of the ballpark and neighborhood cookouts, $20 per person.
  • Friday, August 8, 6 to 9 p.m. "Italian Market," using items from Market Bistro’s own Italian Market, $55 per person.
  • Monday, August 11, 6 to 9 p.m., "Cook like a Food Network Celebrity Chef," $55 per person.
  • Thursday, August 14, noon  to 1 p.m., "Lunch and Learn: Fish Tacos," $20 per person.
  • Friday, August 15, 6 to 9 p.m., "Taste of Saratoga," including Maryland-style crab cake, pan-seared sea scallops with sweet corn risotto, lobster beurre blanc and Grand Marnier crème brûlée, $55 per person (wine served).
  • Tuesday, August 19, 10:30 a.m. to noon, "Mini Camp/Taste Bud: Back to School," geared to ages 5-8 (parents required to stay within Market Bistro for the length of this class), $25 per person.
  • Tuesday, August 19, 3 to 5 p.m., "Mini Camp/Junior Chef: Back to School," geared to ages 9-14  although ages 15-17 are welcome, $30 per person.
  • Wednesday, August 20, 10:30 a.m. to noon, "Mini Camp/Taste Bud: Let’s Get Twisted," pretzel making geared to ages 5-8 (parents required to stay within Market Bistro for the length of this class), $25 per person.
  • Wednesday, August 20, 3 to 5 p.m., "Mini Camp/ Junior Chef: Taco Bar," geared to ages 9-14 although ages 15-17 are welcome, $30 per person.
  • Thursday, August 21, 10:30 a.m. to noon, "Mini Camp/Taste Bud: Strawberry Fun," geared to ages 5-8, $25 per person.
  • Thursday, August 21, 3 to 5 p.m., "Mini Camp/Junior Chef: Strawberry Fun," geared to ages 9-14 although ages 15-17 are welcome, $30 per person.
  • Friday, August 22, 6 to 9 p.m., "Girls Night Out: Fantastic Fillies," $55 per person.
  • Wednesday, August 27, 6 to 9 p.m., "Farm to Table," $55 per person.
  • Thursday, August 28, noon to 1 p.m., "Lunch and Learn: Soup and Salad," $20 per person.
  • Friday, August 29, 6 to 9 p.m., "Labor Day Lobster Fest," $60 per person.

Updated trip through the Capital Region's foodie revolving door

OPENING

• The rebuilt McDonald's restaurant at 42 Saratoga Avenue in Waterford destroyed by a fire in December is scheduled to reopen at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, August 6, according to owner Roger Grout. The replacement building will have a modern design that includes a more open seating area, additional drive-through lanes and digital menu boards. Attendees at the opening ceremony will be asked to make donations to various local nonprofit organizations such as the Northside Fire Company, Waterford Youth Council, Cohoes Community Center and Ronald McDonald House of Albany. They also will be able to enter a prize giveaway that will include such items as a 50-inch flat screen TV, mountain bikes and tablet computers.

CLOSING

Greulich's Market, a mainstay for many Guilderland and Rotterdam shoppers since 1950, has closed. It was known for its personal service and a great butcher shop that often had customers lining up at the Carman Road (Route 146) location in Guilderland just south of the Thruway and the Rotterdam town line. Co-founder Edna Greulich blamed the changing competitive market and the increase in the number of supermarkets which frequently offer lower prices because of their bulk buying power. No word on what will become of the giant steer that has graced the market's roof for many years. Some years ago, pranksters spirited the steer away in the dark of night and left it on a lawn down the road with a hand-lettered sign hung around its neck saying "I was hungry." (Incidentally, the Times Union today reported the owners of the now-closed business are behind on paying their property taxes.)

One month to go for the Loving Cafe. General manager Carolyn Woodward posted on Facebook a notice that says, "We plan on closing Cafe in September. As far as the exact date, it will be posted later on. It has been a very difficult decision to make. The good news is we are still here and we are making the best out of it everyday." The vegetarian/vegan restaurant is located at 318 Delaware Avenue in Delmar. Phone: 439-1727.

DEVELOPING

• The first Capital Region location for the 1,600-unit Panda Express Chinese fast food chain is being developed at Troy-Schenectady Road and Sunset Drive, between Latham Farms and Latham Circle, according to a report in the Times Union. Go here for a look at the company and the menu. (Just as an aside, the chain also is about to open a location in Albany -- Albany, Oregon, that is -- according to its corporate website.)


DR. BARGAINHUNTER'S REPORT

Carrabba's Italian Grill has a host of specials and cut-rate offerings, along with recently introducing weekend lunch service beginning at 11 a.m. (That means the restaurant now is open every day from 11 a.m.) One of the offers I find worth recommending is part of its "Amore Monday" program. You choose from among five different entrees (manicotti, lasagne, pollo la scala, taglianini pasta with wood-grilled chicken, or just the wood-grilled chicken) plus a cup of soup or a salad, plus your choice of an appetizer (small calamari, bruschette Paolo, meatball and ricotta flatbread) or a dessert (panna cotta, cannoli, John Cole). Price: $12. There are other five other entree choices for $15 and five for $20. Carrabba's Grill is located just of Forts Ferry Road at the Route 7 East exit off the Northway in Latham. Phone: 785-8886.

• Price Chopper has been putting heavy emphasis on its new Market Bistro superstore. What caught my eye -- especially  in view of the soaring meat prices across the country -- is a "Mega Meat Sale" featuring Certified Angus Beef. From today through August 2, you'll find such prices as eye round roast or steaks at $3.99 a pound, bone-in New York strip steaks at $8.99 a pound, and boneless country style pork ribs at $2.99 a pound. If they're out of the items, insist on a rain check.The Market Bistro is located on Route 9 opposite the Latham Farms entrance.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Darden Restaurants deals off 706-unit Red Lobster chain

Struggling Darden Restaurants Inc. has become lobster-free. The Orlando-based corporation today announced completion of a nearly $2.1 billion sale of its 706-unit Red Lobster casual dining brand to Golden Gate Capital.

Red Lobster restaurants in Upstate New York are located at 170 Wolf Road in Colonie, 750 Upper Glen Street in Queensbury and in Yonkers, Scarsdale, Vestal, Horseheads, Buffalo, Williamsville, Amherst, Rochester, Syracuse, Liverpool, Nanuet, Middletown, Poughkeepsie and New Hartford.

The announcement said about $1 billion of the net cash proceeds of the deal, preliminarily announced in May, will be used to retire outstanding debt. The remaining net proceeds of $500 million to $600 million are to be used for a new share repurchase program of up to $700 million in fiscal 2015.

Darden still owns a variety of restaurant brands across the country, including the Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, The Capital Grille, Eddie V's and Yard House. Golden Gate Capital has California Pizza Kitchen and On the Border casual dining brands and has invested in and sold Romano’s Macaroni Grill.

Darden has said it plans to continue making changes to its troubled 837-unit Olive Garden line, including technology, menu and design.

“The completion of this transaction marks an important milestone in the actions we are taking to improve our operations, reduce costs and focus on opportunities with the highest value-creating potential,” said Clarence Otis, Darden's chairman and chief executive, in a statement. “While we still have work to do, we are making progress in our efforts to enhance performance and shareholder value."

Howard Johnson's restaurant revived in Lake George

Vintage Howard Johnson's poster.
LAKE GEORGE -- The number of operating Howard Johnson's restaurants is about to increase by 50%.

The Howard Johnson's here closed two years ago, leaving venues in Lake Placid and in Bangor, ME, as all that was left of what once was the largest chain in the United States, numbering more than 1,000 at its high point. The familiar orange roofs and 28-flavor ice cream menu were hallmarks of the chain founded in Quincy, MA, in 1925 by Howard Deering Johnson. It quickly acquired the affectionate nickname HoJo.

The chain branched out into motels in 1954 when it opened its first, in Savannah, GA. After 1986 the restaurants and motels were franchised separately. Even though, with the few exceptions noted above, the restaurants virtually disappeared, today there are about 500 HoJo hotels operating in 14 countries.

Now, reports Times Union columnist Marv Cermak, the former HoJo restaurant on Canada Street (Route 9) in the village will reopen on Friday after getting no buyers since its closing.

"Joe DeSantis of building owner DeSantis Enterprises confirmed the report, and said ... since no one bought the landmark property, it was decided to lease the building to John Larock to reopen as Howard Johnson’s."

DeSantis is quoted as saying Larock plans to include such once-popular HoJo items as a Friday fish fry, fried clams and the signature 28 ice cream flavors on its menu.

At one time, Joe De Santis's father, Carl, owned six Howard Johnson franchises in the Northeast. More recently he operated the restaurant Carl R's in Glens Falls.

Troy's Sarah Fish ousted in 'Guy's Grocery Games'

Sunday night was chef Sarah Fish's TV debut on Guy Fieri's "Guy's Grocery Games" on the Food Network. I say debut because once you're on one of the channel's shows you're assured of exposure via never-ending reruns.

How did she do?

Fish, who is in the process of developing Cafe Congress in downtown Troy, began her competition against three other chefs with her interpretation of an international dish using a very limited range of allowable products. Her creation was a cheesy chorizo bowl with kale. It did not make the cut, so she was eliminated in the first round. However, her hair looked marvelous throughout.

There is something about Capial Region chefs the Food Network likes. Marla Ortega (soon to be a mom again!), chef-owner of the Illium Cafe in Troy, won an episode of "Guy's Grocery Games" shown in May, and J Maxwell, who since has migrated to Florida, made it through four rounds of Gordon Ramsey's "Hell's Kitchen" in 2009. Ric Orlando of New World Bistro in Albany is a frequent "Chopped" competitor -- and winner.

More? Rachel Cocca-Dott and Michael O'Connor of Coccadott's Cake Shop in Colonie have appeared several times, and emerged a winner, on the channel's "Cupcake Wars" series. Giovanni Morina, chef-owner of Gio's Culinary Studio in Voorheesville, has competed on its "Ultimate Cake Challenge."

There may be more, but you get the point. The area us a mother lode of culinary talent.

Have you checked the calendar today?

The Capital Region Food & Drink Events Calendar is arguably the most thorough and linked compilation of events in the region involving, well, food and drink.

If you're not already in the habit of checking it out on a daily basis, it might be helpful to acquire the habit so you're always fully informed on upcoming events of all sorts.

And, if you're part of a business or organization putting together an event, don't forget to let us know well in advance so we can publicize it.

Cheers!

So, you want to be an Albany restaurateur ...

ALBANY -- Interested in becoming a restaurateur in the state capital? The possibilities run the gamut. Here are some examples of what currently is being listed for sale.

• Lombardo's Restaurant, located at 119 Madison Avenue near Pearl, is an operating business that calls itself the city's second oldest restaurant (the oldest is Jack's Oyster House, now 101 years old). It covers 9,167 square feet, has a 120-seat dining room, 24-seat lounge, 15-set bar and an 80-seat banquet room. Perhaps just as important for a city property, it has its own parking lot for 55 vehicles. The asking price is $795,000.

• Franklin's Tower at 414 Broadway, just south of State Street, is on the market at an asking price of $449,000. The 6,569-square-foot space includes dining space on two floors, a banquet room on the third floor, a classic 1930s-era mahogany first-floor bar, and other goodies. Last month, owner Patrick Hall changed the operation from a fulltime restaurant to a business serving customers only at banquets or when certain concerts and other events promising high attendance are in town. Hall founded the business in 2004 as a successor to the Plaza Grill that had operated there for more than seven decades.

• Debbie's Kitchen, at 456 Madison Avenue, is a smaller, simpler facility. It has 1,760 square feet, French doors that open to sidewalk seating, a one-bedroom second-floor apartment, backyard and deck. Debbie Klauber founded the business in 1985 on Lark Street then moved it to its present location in 2000, selling it in 2010 to Tom Reiner. Today's asking price: $199,000.

• The Ginger Man, longtime wine-centric restaurant located at 234 Western Avenue, is for sale for $874,900. It covers 3,645 square feet and has 22 off-street parking spots in a private lot, as well as an upstairs apartment.

• The Washington Tavern, at 250 Western Avenue near the College of Saint Rose, covers 3,426 square feet. The price has been reduced to $629,900. Same owner-operator for four decades.

• The Sports Grill at 221-225 Allen Street, just off Central, covers just under 3,000 square feet. The asking price is $424,900 for a property remodeled in 2010 and offering a large bar area plus seating for 75 upstairs and 75 in the downstairs banquet room.

• The former Jillian's, at 59 North Pearl Street between Pine and Steuben, consists of a restaurant, kitchen area, banquet room, private party room, game room, dance club, office, restrooms and 3,000 square feet. It also has a second-floor apartment with its own elevator. Asking price:$1,599,000.

• The Victory Cafe, located at 8-10 Sheridan Avenue opposite the Capital Repertory Theatre, includes a bar, 65-seat restaurant and 65-seat upper level banquet room, plus sidewalk seating. The asking price is $790,000.

• The bar/restaurant at the Times Union Center, 51 South Pearl Street, is on the block for $399,000. It cites "all brand new equipment, TV's tables, chairs, all new finishes, completely furnished first and second levels,"  the latter with a view of the street below.

• The buildings at 40-48 South Pearl Street include a fully-furnished kitchen -- grill, walk-ins, prep line, washer, fryers and oven -- as well as a large bar area for 80, casual seating for additional 40 at tables, main dining room for 175, second floor mezzanine for 60+, and rooftop bar and seating area. Elevators service each building. Price: $899,000.

And, as for potential leases, here are a few:

• The elegant former Brown Derby, which takes up 8,000 square feet of the 16,000-square-foot, three-story building at 22 Clinton Avenue, opposite the Palace Theater, divided into about 5,000 square feet of space on the first floor and about 3,000 of ground floor "accessory space." $17.25 per square foot per year.

• The former Jack's Pizza at 52 South Pearl Street opposite the Times Union Center offers 3,200 square feet for $1,595 a month. The building owner says the space is suitable for a bar, restaurant or other such enterprise.

• The former 1228 Grill is 6,000 square feet in a 23,000-square-foot structure that began life as part of the now-defunct Ground Round chain. Located opposite the UAlbany campus entrance at 1228 Western Avenue, it seats 250, has a private events room and a very large kitchen. Leasing price: $14 per square foot per year.

(All information based on LoopNet listings.)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

In food, the importance of being earnest

FDA official Michael R. Taylor, left, during signing ceremony on Mexican produce imports.
One of my food shopping pleasures is finding good local produce. However, that's not always possible on a year-round basis. So, my secondary pleasure is finding plenty of lush tomatoes, avocados, tomatillos, bell peppers and so on from Mexico. The quality I find usually is top-notch.

Occasionally, however, I must admit to a fleeting thought about food safety. After all, we have plenty of recalls in our own country, we hear horror stories about edibles from China, and we wonder how good produce inspections are in nations in continual turmoil.

So, I was heartened to read an article headlined "A Milestone in our Partnership with Mexico on Food Safety" on FDA Voice, the official blog of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It was written by Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. In it he says:
"We know that food safety is more a journey than a destination, but there are times when we can point to a major milestone along the road. Today, we reached such a milestone in our long-standing relationship with Mexico by signing a statement of intent to establish a new produce safety partnership.

"Working with Mexico on food safety is a top priority. Mexico is one of the United States’ top trading partners, and much of the produce we eat is grown there, including produce that otherwise would be hard to find during the winter. And food safety modernization efforts are under way in both countries, providing an excellent opportunity for progress. In the U.S., we are implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act, and produce safety is a big part of that effort, while Mexico is implementing an amendment to its food safety laws that mandates standards for fresh produce, inspections, and surveillance and verification programs.

"We have been working with the two food safety agencies in Mexico -- SENASICA,the National Service for Agro-Alimentary Public Health, Safety and Quality, and COFEPRIS, the Federal Commission for the Protection from Sanitary Risks -- for some time, and it has been a very rewarding relationship. ... The statement of intent is just a two-page document, but it represents a strategy that is far-reaching and designed to achieve high rates of compliance with produce standards in each country."
You can read the entire article online.

Another source of information on the topic is the website of The Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, a 70-year-old organization representing more than 100  North American companies involved in the growth, harvest, marketing, import, and distribution of Mexican produce.

In an interesting historical footnote, the FPAA says, "In 1905, the first rail car carrying fresh produce from Mexico crossed the border at Nogales, Arizona. Today, Mexico has become the top supplier of fresh fruits and vegetables for the United States and the FPAA is the leading agent of produce trade at the U.S.–Mexico border and across the country."

Is there really a sign of life for Sign of the Tree?

Along the Empire State Plaza.
ALBANY -- When last we heard about the Sign of the Tree, restaurateur Michael LoPorto was battling with the state's Office of General Services.

LoPorto, owner of LoPorto Ristorante Caffe' in downtown Troy, had a lease for the restaurant space in the Empire State Plaza, located between The Egg and the Corning Tower, but was withholding rent payments in a dispute over parking and access to the space.

He finally lost the lease, or gave it up, depending on one's interpretation of the goings-on, and the Sign of the Tree has sat vacant and forlorn since 2006.

The space currently is being turned into what one OGS staffer referred to as "a vanilla box," a featureless, monochrome look intended to allow would-be leaseholders to imagine what they'd do with the venue, according to a report in the Times Union

OGS reportedly has solicited bids for a lease, but with no success. When the vanilla-ization work is completed, the agency will try again.

The once-plush, sprawling venue was designed to be the dining showpiece of Nelson Rockefeller's capital complex. It offers on one side a view down toward the Hudson River and on the other a full view of the Plaza skating rink.

It once boasted the richness of blond wood and good upholstery and linens, the smart placement of dividers, numerous corners into which tables and banquettes were tucked, and its large glass walls created subtleties of lighting conducive to relaxed dining.

Will it ever return to that level? Given the fact any revival depends on the skills of a state agency that hasn't been able to fill it for eight years, thus missing out on an estimated half-million dollars in rent, I doubt it. I think it will continue to be just as the OGS website currently describes it: "At the present time the Sign of the Tree restaurant, located on the plaza and adjacent to the reflecting pools is available for banquet events through the current on-site caterer and may be rented for private events."

That notice, by the way, is about two years old.

100+ breweries set for 'Troy On Tap' festival

TROY -- Products from more than 100 different craft brewers are being promised for the "Troy On Tap" beer festival at Riverfront Park.

The event, presented by the popular beer bar The Ruck, is scheduled for 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, September 6. In addition to beers for sampling there will be food for purchase and live music.

Tickets, now available online, are $40 in advance, $50 at the gate. The price includes beer sampling and a souvenir sampling glass. VIP Tickets priced at $65 in advance, $75 at the gate, will include admission for tastings one hour earlier, access to what is referred to as "limited quantity rare brews," and a $5 voucher to be used at participating food vendors.

Go here for a list of the breweries signed up to participate.