Persian Bite in Schenectady – a review

Inside Persian Bite

Inside Persian Bite

I promise I’m not bandwagon jumping :)  Yes, I know the Times Union had a review this Sunday of Persian Bite (some good photos there, also).  I guess I should have gotten my review up on Saturday after we ate their for the third time (well, technically we got takeout this time).  I have no clue why the SCHENECTADY Gazette has note reviewed this gem in downtown SCHENECTADY.

The relatively new Persian Bite is at 96 Jay Street, right across from City Hall in the row of semi-rotating shopfronts.  They’re open most days for lunch and dinner, except that just around Greenmarket time on Sundays are the only Sunday hours.  The menu is short and sweet (well, savory mostly).  Some salads, a few varieties of kabobs, that sort of thing.  The website is…not amazing.  But you can get a menu, etc. from it.  Usually.

I sort of hate to admit it, but we’ve gotten the same things all three times we’ve been there.  Here’s a peek:

Chenjeh Kabab (lamb)

Chenjeh Kabab (lamb)

Joojeh Kabab (chicken)

Joojeh Kabab (chicken)

Fresh baked flatbread

Fresh baked flatbread

With your kabab you get (a huge serving of) nice basmati rice with saffron or fresh bread.  We always got rice…and also bread.  The kababs are flame grilled fresh when you order.  The bread is also grilled fresh to be hot and ready with your other food.  (The bread in that photo is about the size of my two hands with fingers outspread, plenty for two people.)  The rice is premade and microwaved in their rudimentary open kitchen, but it’s perfectly fine.  The yellow on the rice looks a bit odd in the photos above, almost like cheese sprinkled on the rice, but it’s actually just saffron marinade (I think…maybe melted butter and saffron?) ladled over the rice, coloring it a bright, cheery yellow.  Oh, and you get a grilled half of a roma tomato.  Things clearly got a little out of hand with mine on Saturday, but that hadn’t happened before, I usually cut it up and enjoy it with the rice.  And because I haven’t forgotten enough in this paragraph, you also get a little container of butter.  I assume it’s for the rice, but haven’t asked, yet.  We usually ignore it, but this time I poured the melted butter over my rice and it was, of course, delicious.

I was pleased to see that even with takeout you get salad.  This isn’t mentioned on the menu, but the kababs do come with salad, such as it is.  Shredded lettuce and cabbage with a squirt each of…mayonnaise (I think…my wife’s convinced it’s mayonnaise) and…wait for it…hot sauce.

Look, I have no idea if this is traditional or not.  The first time it was ultra surprising, but it’s really pretty tasty.  If you cannot stand hot sauce, though, stay away, it really has some bite.  Eat it with some bread.

The meats we’ve had so far are grilled really well.  I’m not ready to pronounce them ‘perfect’, but given that the cook stands right over them the whole time (not much else to do, really), they’re lovingly watched over.  My wife is pleased with the chicken and I keep getting the lamb, which stays relatively moist (better in the bigger pieces, obviously) and spiced very gently to let the flavor of the meat be the star.  The chicken is quite yellow as you can see from it’s saffron marinade and seems pretty juicy.  Here’s what else we know:

  • Note that there are exactly THREE tables.  Feel free to get takeout.  The interior is nice enough, as you can see from the photo above, it’s not glamorous, but they’ve made a tidy, attractive little place to eat out of what they have.  It’s bright and cheery with what certainly sounds like Middle Eastern pop music playing.
  • The backstory of the guys you’re likely to meet at Persian Bite is well told by Bryan Fitzgerald in the TU piece linked above.  I think the first time we went we were told that sometimes there is a wife or sister-in-law there to help out sometimes, also.
  • Since it’s impossible not to eavesdrop in the tiny place, we learned that, while their previous life in Iran seemed hard to beat (going to work for a few hours, stopping for a meal and a rest mid-day, some more work and then out socializing until all hours), they still felt the draw to America and, although said a bit tongue-in-cheek, “a better life”.  C’mon, you have to support these people that left Iran to come here and follow a dream (one of them via England per Fitzgerald).  Seriously, get over there and eat some kabobs.  Did I mention that after working in the restaurant one of them was telling another customer about how he then goes to work elsewhere?  Putting in the effort, that’s for sure…
  • A local stopped by one time for a repeat visit and rather loudly enjoyed a vegetarian wrap, apparently not for the first time.
  • If you’re inclined, try the tea.  Served with sugar cubes in tiny teacups and saucers (from Iran per our host), it comes piping hot and is pretty mild in flavor.  My wife read that you’re supposed to grip the sugar cubes in your teeth and drink it through the sugar….but we just drop in the cubes.  They’ve also got a handful of cold cans of soda, bottled water, Snapple…that sort of thing.  It was beyond nice of them to serve us cups of tea while we waited for our takeout the last time we went.  They just prepared two cups and brought them over and offered them to us, then asked if we enjoyed it when we got our food and were ready to go.
  • They have some tie to someone involved with Festival Cinema Invisible, an annual Iranian film festival that completed its third year in 2014 at Proctors.  There are/were some posters up about it and I think the cook mentioned either a friend or relative that was involved with the festival.
  • Still waiting for the menu to expand, on our first visit we were told that they were looking to maybe add some specials for weekend dinners in the fall.  My wife thinks he mentioned stew.  Hoping they go for it.
  • Don’t sweat pronouncing anything, they seem to prefer if you order by number.
  • Generally glowing reviews on all the normal review sites.  Seriously, why aren’t you there already?

Overall this is just a great little place and we hope they make it.  We recently spent a week ‘living’ in the heart of Albany.  Pretty much the one and only thing that makes me long for city life in a place like NYC is the easy access to a sea of wonderful little restaurants in an array that would make Epcot Center weep in shame.  Hey, let’s get Polish tonight.  Tomorrow we’ll get Greek.  Over the weekend how about picking up Chinese or maybe Afghani?  Of course I would actually HATE living in the city I think, at least I would if I actually had to park and drive and be places on time, etc etc.  But, yeah, that allure is there for the eats.  We have all of our fingers and toes crossed that places like Persian Bite continue to come to Schenectady and hope they thrive and stay.

Rain Modern Chinese in Albany, a review

Let it r…  Nope.  Not gonna say it. :)

I let my wife take me out for a mildly celebratory dinner last night and we chose Rain Modern Chinese on Lark in Albany.  Part of me wanted to wait for a review until we go again and I could get some pictures, but, well, I don’t want to wait.  There aren’t a ton of reviews (apart from always-to-be-taken-with-grain-of-salt sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor) out there despite being open for like a year, so I thought I’d chip in mine.  The Times Union has one from January, but that mostly focused on their dim sum.  We’re not cool enough for that.  I just wanted a nicer-than-average good meal on a weekday night.

As it was a Wednesday night there were other customers, but it wasn’t crazy.  The restaurant looks, frankly, gorgeous.  There are a few pictures on their website to give you a feel.  I struggled a bit but finally came up with, “It feels a little upscale, but isn’t at all pretentious.”  Service was quick, knowledgeable, ultra professional, and super polite.  Food was exactly as expected and delicious.  It was a little pricey, but just a little for the quality.  There.  Review done.

Ok, ok, a few more details.  My wife had actually been here before and was very positive about it, but this was my first visit.

Upon being seated you receive a pot of very hot, mild tea.  In a month (or less) you’re going to welcome wrapping your hands around that little cup when you come in from the cold.  You may not have far to walk, though, as Rain does has dedicated parking, a luxury given their location.  There is an entrance just before the building on Lark as well as one off the side street, Hudson.

First, a quick note about the menu.  The menu has enough options for many tastes, but isn’t crazy long, losing you in indecision.  I was a bit surprised but oddly pleased to see that, in addition to the “modern Chinese” cuisine that dominates the first part of the menu, there is a last page that is basically all the familiar “American Chinese” options available at takeout counters.  Sure, they’re prettied up a bit, but General Tso’s is General Tso’s.  I find it amusing that the website calls these Americanized dishes Traditional.

Based on my wife’s earlier experience, she ordered the Edamame Dumplings in Broth.  I jumped at the chance to try Bao, something people that go to better Chinese restaurants often talk about but not something usually available at that takeout counter.  Happily, you can see both of these choices on the Small Plates & Soup page on the website menu linked above.  However, the picture does no justice to the Dumplings.  In truth, they are an almost ethereal transluscent-looking wrapper floating in their bowl of broth.  The dumplings are filled with mashed edamame and my wife loves them.  I had the Hoisin Glazed Pork Belly Bao, which looked just like the web photo, only better (note that the photo is incorrectly labeled ‘Chicken Bao’ and is whited out on the printed menus).  These two plump, soft buns were served in their giant steamer basket.  A decent, but not overwhelming, slice of pork belly (one was meatier than the other) coated with a typical, sweet/salty hoisin glaze and some thin sticks of crunchy vegetables wrapped in a beautifully soft, squishy, steamed bun.  I liked these quite a bit and would get them again.  I’ll admit that I wanted a little more porky goodness flavor from the pork belly than I got.

Our other orders were chicken with mixed vegetables from the menu and an item from the specials sheet.  Being a sucker for short ribs, I got the Sizzling Short Ribs in a Black Pepper Sauce.  I didn’t expect much of the chicken that my wife ordered, but the sauce on the perfectly steamed broccoli crown I tried was simply delicious.  Not a plain brown sauce, this actually had some life in it.  I can’t describe it more, I didn’t have enough of it.  Just expect something better than the plain brown gravy you get with takeout, someone put some effort into it.  The broccoli, and other vegetables I was told, were done perfectly.  Not hard, not soft, enough give to chew without thinking they fell off the crudite platter, just past the ‘snap’ phase of fresh veggies.  Steamed perfectly.  For a simple dish, this was lovely.

I was pretty happy with my entree.  While my socks were not knocked off, these blew away the short ribs I had at Zen.  Actually, everything far exceeded Zen.  But back to the food.  Like Zen’s, they were sliced through the bone so each slice had a ring of bone and some had a bit more bone than that.  The black pepper sauce was a nice way to prepare the meat.  Thick, heavy, jam packed with black pepper, it brought a lot of flavor to the meat and especially the rice (you are given a choice of white or brown rice, we both got brown and it was fine, nothing out of the ordinary, not really sticky).  The dish also had a lot of long, thick slices of sauteed onion.  They were delicious with the sauce and rice and really reminded me of that rich, sweet onion taste you get when your onion ring breading fails and you slurp up an entire ring of onion.  I’m often not a big fan of onion, but I really appreciated the way these worked with the peppery sauce.  Note that the sauce, correctly described by the server, wasn’t spicy, but very peppery as in ‘black peppery’.  You know that nice warm, fuzzy feeling you sometimes get with a nice pepper-heavy sauce?  Exactly.  The plate I was eating off of was liberally sprinkled with black pepper specks from the sauce when I was done.

Oh, yeah.  The sizzling part.  I don’t know how necessary this was, but just before being served the dish is put into a blazing hot cast iron serving dish like you would get fajitas in and it sizzled the same way as it came to the table.  Fancy, eh?

Of course I do have a complaint.  As I spooned some of this lovely dish over some rice on my dish I picked up my fork and hesitated.  How on earth am I supposed to eat these small discs of meat with a bone taking up a third of them (they were generally about 2″x3″ each)?  If I’d tried to use the provided chopsticks I think it would have been even worse as I’m not sure how you could hold the bone tight enough with the sticks to bite through the meat.  As it was, I was able to use the side of my fork to separate meat from the bone.  It wasn’t overly amazing, this cut of meat, but it was tasty enough and the preparation all worked together really well.  The ribs did have a nice flavor, if subtle, and mostly subsumed by the sauce’s kick.  I took a lot of it home and plan to be rude when eating the leftovers, I’m just going to pick them up and gnaw the meat off the bones.  But I wasn’t about to do that in Rain.  I guess I could have asked for a knife, but it was fine when I found I could cut it with my fork with a bit of effort.

We took a lot home and had no room for dessert.  The above with one soft drink was about $50 before tip.  I’m looking forward to going back.

New cookie butter surprises at Trader Joe’s

Out of the blue, and nearly lost amidst a veritable explosion of pumpkin spiced EVERYTHING at Trader Joe’s, look what leapt into our basket tonight:

Whoa!

Whoa!

No sooner did we polish off the cookie butter / chocolate mix, but here comes TJ’s with a new blend.  As you can see, that’s not just cookie butter in there…read the label.  The dark side is made from “crushed cocoa biscuits”.  To be blunt, this is supposed to be Oreos in a jar.  The dark side is decent, not overly chocolatey with lots of crushed cookie bits, closer to the crunchy cookie butter than the smooth, that’s for sure.  As for the white side…I was hesitant when I first saw it.  I was right to be hesitant.  It’s really sweet and really artificial tasting.  It’s smooth.  Maybe it tastes a bit like white chocolate?  I haven’t had white chocolate for so long I can’t say for sure.  I can say that it’s not great on it’s own according to my taste buds.  I think this cookie butter will be OK once a proper dipping or receiving surface is identified (I don’t think a spoon is such a surface for this variety, personally).  But it’s not my favorite.

Can they rival the dark chocolate peanut butter cups?

Can they rival the dark chocolate peanut butter cups?

These also have already been sampled.  They are very different than the peanut butter cups.  Very crisp, almost hard to bite through.  I’m going to have to go all SATs on you: the cookie butter in these is to jarred cookie butter as Reeses peanut butter cup filling is to smooth jarred peanut butter.  It’s more dry and crumbly.  And spiced.  Wow are they spiced.  We both tried one and both got ‘ginger’.  Ginger isn’t specifically listed, but there are ‘spices’ listed.  They taste way more spiced than either cookie butter or speculoos themselves.  Honestly, if they had called these ‘Dark Chocolate Gingerbread Cookie Butter Cups’ I’d call them spot on.  I’m not sure I’m ready to say I love them (what with loving gingerbread and all) and I’m confident that I prefer DCPB, but, yeah, they’re yummy.  They’re individually wrapped in a sturdy foil wrapper instead of a paper cup wrapper.

(I’m not seeing the cookie butter showing up in searches (Marvo got a post with it up about an hour after my post…sorry, Marvo :P   I see the cups get a hit here: link.  No review, though.  So these are looking pretty new.)

Found at: Trader Joe’s on Wolf in Colonie, $4.99 for 11 oz. of the cups and $3.69 for the jar.

Not eating up Subaru

Are these “story” Subaru ads on the radio ridiculous, or what?

I remember our first Thanksgiving together as a family.  All week long they were predicting wet weather, but I once saw a guy drive a Subaru through a puddle…a big puddle, right in front of my bus stop.  I knew that when I got a car, I was gonna get a Subaru.  When we woke up it was drizzling, but I knew that with my Subaru my family would be fine.  We all hopped into the Subaru, even our pet turtle Frank, and set off for my in-laws, clear on the other side of town.  We didn’t even make it to the end of the street before it actually started to rain.  I mean, I had to turn my windshield wipers on.  As we drove across town, hungry for roast turkey and pumpkin pie, my wife got nervous as we skirted other cars pulled over and stuck in ditches because it was raining.  But I knew we’d be fine.  I was even confident enough to take a back road and avoid a traffic light.  We must’ve driven through five or even six puddles.  I didn’t even slow down.  We made it in time for my father-in-law to carve the turkey, safe and sound, even on the Thanksgiving that it rained.

Pulled pork at local Wendy’s

Sorry for the terrible photo, I was so confused I didn’t think to get a better one until it was too late.  I was distracted as I was getting yet another BBQ Ranch Chicken salad.  I was like, yeah, pulled pork, ok.  Then it was like, wait…BBQ pulled pork at Wendy’s?  Is that new?   Well, the answer is ‘sort of’.  Apparently Wendy’s has been test marketing it for a few months.  Maybe this is the full roll out…although with the smoked gouda thing still going on, you’d think they wouldn’t want to step on their own toes.

BBQ Pulled Pork

BBQ Pulled Pork

I guess you can get BBQ pulled pork on a cheeseburger, just on a sandwich, or on top of cheese fries.  And you can pick your sauce…spicy, smoky, or sweet.

If that sounds interesting to you, you can check out the Clifton Park Wendy’s, don’t know about other local locations.

Smashburger return

So I just visited the Wolf Road Smashburger as a patron for the first time after the media preview.  I wanted to see how the reality would hold up to the preview fantasy.  And there were a couple of things I really wanted to eat again.

The place was a little busy but tidy and efficient.  Lots of staff running food, clearing tables, etc.  Like a lot of staff.  I don’t really need 4 or 5 people coming over to my table while eating fast food and I don’t want you asking if you can take my basket while I’m clearly still eating.  Food was flying out of the kitchen.  Despite the claims from the preview of ~5 minute waits, I don’t think we waited more than a minute or so for our food after getting fountain drinks and sitting.  I’ll come back to this.

I went with my favorite from the preview, the Spinach, Cucumber, and Goat Cheese Chicken sandwich.  My wife went for the regular grilled chicken sandwich as a safe starting point.  We shared an order of veggie frites.  So, how did it turn out?

smashed dinner

smashed dinner

Nothing was bad.  But nothing was as good as before, either.  I was so impressed with the chicken on its own that I again peeled off a piece before digging in to try it.  What I loved about the simple salt & pepper coating at the preview was the deft touch with the salt and the strong peppery bite that the chicken needs to fight through the other flavors.  This time the prevalent flavor was salt.  Really salty.  Some pepper, but it was more background.  The flavors were reversed from the preview.

The sandwich itself was OK.  The spinach was fine, a few too many onions for my taste, but that’s almost none, so it was fine.  The cucumber was crisp and fresh tasting.  The tomato was an absolute disgrace.  I’m not kidding.  We are at the UTTER AND COMPLETE PEAK of tomato season around here.  You’re not going to find a fresher or more gorgeous supply of tomatoes during the year than right about now.  There is not a single excuse for the pathetic, orangey, pale slices on our sandwiches.  As a serious tomato lover, I was a little angry and a lot sad.  If you can’t get tomatoes right in early September, what should I expect in February?  Honestly, these tomatoes would be pathetic in February, too.  If this was what your supplier brought and you couldn’t get anything better (there’s a Hannaford across the street, I bet they had better tomatoes) you should have taken them off the menu and apologized to patrons that you couldn’t in good conscience serve what you had on hand.  (sorry, I really like tomatoes)

Anyway…the bun was still good, the goat cheese, warm and creamy on the hot chicken, again makes this sandwich.  In spite of the lame orange slice masquerading as tomato, my sandwich was pretty good.  My wife’s was OK, but again the dominant flavor was salt.  It was also SUPER drippy.  Not really sure why from the ingredients, but it was puddle-making drippy.

At the preview, the veggie frites were a star.  The carrots were sweet and delicious and very floppy.  The green beans were stiffer and were rocked with their delicious touch of salt and coating of coarse black pepper that went great with the ranch sauce.  This time, the carrots were undercooked and too firm, not having developed their peak sweetness.  The beans were floppy but not bad.  But, guess what?  Yeah, unsurprisingly these were incredibly salty.  They had salt and pepper on them, but again the pepper was an afterthought and the salt was the dominant tongue blasting impression.  The emptied basket had a pretty good puddle of oil in it.  These were simply not prepared the way they could be.  They were amazing at the preview.  They were a ‘probably not again’ purchase this time.  Really sad.  And salty.  Simply put, they were rushed.  The carrots were not cooked long enough to develop their flavor and were a weird mix of not crisp enough or soft enough.  Mushy outside and crunchy inside?  My wife in particular wasn’t happy with that.  And the copious oil, to me, says ‘not drained long enough’.  We could have waited another minute for our food to have it done right.

So what have learned?

  1. Honestly, I probably won’t rush back.  I’d like to try some other stuff again, but I’m hoping they might get better at it, I guess.  If things stay like this we would stop going there completely.
  2. C’mon, that’s just way too much salt.  Pepper’s pretty good, too.  Give it a shot.
  3. Slow down just a little.  They’re doing quantity over quality right now.
  4. Seriously?  The salt?
  5. I said the shakedown might not live up to the media preview and right now that’s the case.
  6. LAY OFF THE SALT!  Nothing says, ‘we’re only pretending to care about fresh ingredients’ like burying them under salt.

All in all, effort needs improvement.  I have a hard time recommending the place the way food is currently coming out of the kitchen.  Maybe give them a month and see what happens.

Did I mention how salty everything was?

Lay’s Stax – demolishing Korean BBQ

I’m sure that I’ve never had anything close to legitimate Korean BBQ.  However, Lay’s Stax version, Korean BBQ flavored, is simply amazing.  The ingredient list includes beef fat.  These are probably the first ‘meat’ flavored chip that I like.  And by ‘like’ I mean ‘could devour the entire can in one sitting’.

Yeah, the Pringles Bacon chips are good, I still have a can waiting in the wings (and they’re still on shelves), but they don’t taste like meat, really.  They taste like smoke.  And they’re fantastic, just not meaty.

These Korean BBQ chips are seriously meaty.  The chemical wizards have whipped up something that legitimately fools my brain into thinking I’m eating a nice cut of meat slathered with spices like you get a good American/Asian restaurants.  Just.  Like.  It.

These also have quite a kick to them.  Not burning hot, but spicy hot, that slow building, lingering burn of well-done spices that let all of the flavor of the meat come through before they pop you in the mouth and say howdy-do.  None of this in your face burning stuff.

Favorite product so far this year?  I think so.

But I haven’t opened the can of Thai Sweet Chili, yet :)  And I LOOOOVES me some Thai Sweet Chili.  (Update: Thai Sweet Chili is pretty lame)

(have to strongly disagree with Chip Review, I thought Lay’s NAILED these.  I think the problem is that they’re trying to compare them to authentic Korean BBQ instead of generic Chinese takeout BBQ flavor, which is more what these are.)