Living Better in 2013

Postgrad, marketer, foodie, socialite. Making the most of life in Albany, NY.


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The Wine Bar and Bistro on Lark

My epicurean escapades have led me to dine at an establishment I’ve traveled past many times, but have never eaten.  For what reason I know not, but I can assure you I will be returning to The Wine Bar and Bistro on Lark.

Nestled away on the corner of Lark Street and Spring Street, the food spot occupies a small, intimate area.  For what it lacks in physical space, it makes up for with a delicious menu and immense wine list.

You’re greeted by a large display of wine bottles upon entering, a confirmation it seems, that you are indeed in a wine bar and will experience wine shortly.  The space is warm, candle-lit and far from open-concept.  This makes for neat nooks and spaces for small tables and cozy settings.

How cozy, you ask?  Let me clarify.  In addition to traditional tables and chairs, there are some corner booths that have throw pillows.  Yes, throw pillows.  I don’t think there’s anything else that invites you to be more at home than a glass of wine and throw pillows.

Open the wine menu and you quickly find yourself thumbing through what seems like an encyclopedia of literally hundreds of bottle selections, both red and white, and more than 60 selections by the glass.  The wine bar has been awarded the Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence for the past four years, in recognition of the quality of the wine menu, it’s correlation to the menu in terms of price and style and for boasting a list larger than 100 selections.  It is certainly an impressive element to the establishment.

As for food, the menu offers chilled, small and large plate options.  The menu is incredibly delicious and features items ranging from charcuterie, to duck breast, to roasted bone marrow.  

For my first visit, I went with Grilled Diver Scallops with spicy lentils, lobster tomato reduction, oyster mushrooms and fried prosciutto.  The perfectly cooked scallops absorbed the flavors from the rest of the dish and the crunchy prosciutto added a nice contrast in texture.  Why do I describe food like this now?

My friend ordered the Roasted Stuffed Quail with scallop, bacon, oyster mushroom and shiitake mushroom stuffing, confit sunchokes, and sugar snap peas.  What size do you think a quail is?  It’s smaller than you think.  I didn’t think about it until it came out.  However, I bet it’s more delicious than you think, too.

We ended our meal with gnocchi rolled in a cinnamon sugar and served with whipped cream.  It was my first encounter with gnocchi in a sweet, rather than savory, dish.  It was fantastic.

Can I make a confession?  One of the reasons I haven’t made the effort to dine at The Lark Wine Bar and Bistro is because of my perception of the place.  I thought I would have to dress up, thought it would be incredibly expensive, thought only pretentious foodies went…not the case.  In actuality, the place was very inviting and I enjoyed everything about the experience.  Yes, the menu is a bit more expensive, but totally worth the buck for the quality of food you get.  As for the attire?  Well, it seemed that a group of girls were celebrating their friend’s birthday in one of rear spaces, and when they emerged, the birthday girl was wearing a tiara and an outfit likely to be worn to a bar.  I’m not recommending you wear a tiara and skinny jeans, but don’t think you need a suit, either.


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We > Cancer

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We are greater than cancer.


Some people get cancer.  Some people don’t.  One thing is certain, though, we are greater than cancer.  I’m asking you to help me fight blood cancers, giving patients the opportunity to live better, longer lives.

Man & Woman of the Year is an annual fundraiser to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, a globally recognized organization dedicated to funding lifesaving blood cancer research.  My close friend, Keegan Hayes, has been nominated as a candidate for Man of the Year in Albany, and is historically the campaign’s youngest participant.  It’s an honor to serve as Campaign Manager for such an inspiring individual and I’d love for you to be a part of this life-changing cause.

Our campaign is honoring two children who are local blood cancer survivors and an inspiration to continue fighting for a cure.

ImageDylan was diagnosed with Leukemia at the age of three.  Now, five years old, Dylan remains strong and serves as a reminder that cancer doesn’t discriminate.  Dylan is greater than cancer.

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Rachel is a seventeen year old blood cancer survivor and a motivation to continue fighting until we find a cure.  Rachel is greater than cancer.

The truth is, every four minutes someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer.  Your contribution, no matter how big or small, will help Dylan, Rachel, their families and thousands of other individuals find hope, as blood cancer research continues and we are closer to finding a cure.


On behalf of blood cancer patients and families everywhere, thank you for your support.  Together we are greater than cancer.

Visit www.greaterthancancer.com to learn more and make your contribution.


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Feeling Philanthropic

Does anyone else get that amazing feeling inside when you volunteer or do good for someone or something?  What?  You’ve never volunteered or done service?  Shame on you.  Maybe I’m naive to think that one day I’ll be able to change the world, but hey, it’s worth a shot, right? 

photo (1)This weekend I volunteered with Capital District Habitat for Humanity and assisted with a project for the day.  Along with fellow members through the Capital Alliance of Young Professionals, we donated our time to paint the inside of an entire house.  I’ll be completely honest, I think the last time I picked up a paintbrush was in elementary school when we attempted to paint our own creations inspired by Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

Anyway, not only did I do my part of helping create a house that would be occupied by a family in need, but I learned how to properly paint a room!  The volunteer coordinators do a great job teaching the volunteers everything that needs to be done.  I learned cutting in, painting corners and rolling.  I’m pretty much a professional painter now…

The organization operates multiple build sites at a time and are ALWAYS looking for volunteers, both during the week and on the weekends.  Check out their website to learn more about how you can get involved.

Getting involved with projects like this are not only beneficial for the organizations themselves, but for your group that is volunteering as well.  I got a lot closer with fellow CAYP members that hadn’t known before.  In my philanthropic-non-profit-minded-going-to-change-the-world eyes, volunteering is a win-win for all parties involved.

On Friday I attended the Kick-Off event for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Man & Woman of the Year campaign fundraiser as a Campaign Manager for my friend, Keegan Hayes, who has been nominated for Man of the Year in Albany (blog post to follow, but in the meantime, you can donate here! ).

This afternoon, I had a fundraiser for my agency that drew more than 100 individuals to support the children of our program.

It’s been quite the philanthropic weekend.  To top it off, while I was going through the drive-thru at Dunkin’ Donuts today (not a local business, I know) I get to the window and the cashier says, “The woman in front just paid for you.  You’re all set.”  THERE IS FAITH IN HUMANITY.  Such an inspiration that there are people who are actively doing good.  Next time I am in a drive-thru, I’m paying for the person behind me, mark my words (You’re going to follow me around and make sure it’s you I’m paying for, aren’t you?).

Anyway, the moral of the story is get involved and volunteer!  No matter what the cause is, if you do good, you’ll feel good.  I guarantee it (in Men’s Warehouse commercial voice, obviously).


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No Sleep Till Summer

I’ve been neglecting my blog, I know.  Did you miss me?  I can’t begin to explain how busy I’ve been, and how busy I’m about to become over the next few weeks.  But busy is good, because it gives me more content to blog about – when there’s time to blog, that is.  Let me give you a snapshot of what I’ll be doing over the next few months.  Come summer, I’ll need a long vacation and an endless supply of martinis.  

 

  • Working.  I’m approximately two months out from my agency’s signature fundraiser, A Taste of Albany.  Coming in early and leaving late will be the trend until then.  No, I don’t get overtime.
  • Getting Fit.  I’ve renewed another eight weeks of boot camp.  I workouuuuut.  You should join, ask me about it!
  • Networking.  I’m continuing to be involved with CAYP and building my professional and social network on a monthly basis.  I’m building a house with Capital District Habitat for Humanity this weekend as part of CAYP for a Cause!  (I know, I get scared picturing me with a hammer on a roof, too).
  • Fighting Cancer.  I have signed on to be my friend’s Campaign Manager as he runs for Man of the Year for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  Essentially, candidates pledge to raise as much money as they can in a ten week period, writing letters and hosting events.  We’re about to put the FUN back in FUNdraising.
  • Eating and Drinking.  I’m making an effort to use a City Dining Card per week (once the weather is nice probably more than one per week so I can finish the deck!).  Still recruiting fellow foodies.


Sure, I’ve got a full plate.  But whether I’m eating off of it or serving it to someone who needs it, I’ll have a hell of a time doing it.  Am I happily fulfilling the goals set forth in the beginning of this blog?  I’d say so!

Stay tuned!


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Ship’s Pub

In my quest to eat my way through my City Dining Cards deck, I found myself another opportunity to use a card.

Like the foodie I am, I carry my @CityDiningCards deck with me at all times, in the event that I’m hungry and am in the vicinity of a participating restaurant. As it happens, I was in the area of Ship’s Pub with some friends and figured I’d drop anchor.

ImageShip’s Pub is a member of the DeJohn’s family of restaurants (I didn’t know that), and strives to be, “more than your average pub.” First impression? Sure, it’s different. There are ship steering wheels and life preservers on the walls, and menu items with names like “Diver’s Bounty Cakes” and “The Drunken Sailor.” The music was notably eclectic, churning out chill alternative selections with an occasional island inspired tune.

But tune out Bob Marley and read more about “The Drunken Sailor” and you’ll realize, “I’m just in a bar,” and, “It’s really just a burger.” I thought about this for a minute and said to myself, yes, this bar looks like a pirate hangout and has menu items inspired by nautical terms, but at the end of the day, it’s no different than other pubs.

From a competitive perspective, food spots like these are all offering the same slew of deep fried menu items in a similar setting. Where they differentiate themselves is with an overall theme (in this case, “Sailor”) and perhaps nightly themes (trivia night, wing night, bingo, etc., all of which Ship’s Pub offers, by the way). There are other food spots, like parent restaurant, DeJohn’s, that differentiate themselves with an incredible menu, intimate atmosphere and mean specialty martinis. It all depends on the niché in which the restaurant is trying to serve, I guess.
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I haven’t really started to look at restaurants this way until I started eating at so many of them. But think about it. Places like Ship’s Pub all have identical menus: Mozzarella sticks, nachos, onion rings, cheese burgers, chicken sandwiches, etc. They aren’t trying to attract customers with their outstanding menu. They thrive on the loyal locals who call that place “their bar.” Let’s be honest, we all have that one place you flock to when you want a cheap beer and a plate of wings, and if you’re feeling it, a juicy bacon cheeseburger. It’s not a destination, rather, a stop before you head out for the night.

In any sense, Ship’s Pub is not “my bar”, nor will it ever be. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, because I did, but because I can get everything they offer at a variety of more conveniently located bars in my neighborhood.

If you find yourself near the Ship’s Pub during your culinary explorations, be a diplomat and sail on in. Go for the “Nina”, “Pinta” or “Santa Maria” burger and enjoy $2 drafts on weekdays. Careful though, you don’t want to end up SHIPfaced and stranded on a weeknight. See what I did there?

Stay hungry, my friends.


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The Power of Food

Wow.  What a weekend.

What do you do when your best friends, whom you haven’t seen in months (FaceTime doesn’t count), all come together to stay with you for a three-day weekend?  You eat and drink for 72 hours straight, right?  Right.

In a quick, thrown-together fashion, this past weekend happened to work with all of our schedules to host a mini reunion in the city that brought us all together four years ago at Siena College.  The only difference?  Our agendas have become significantly more social over the years.

Here’s a picture of us a few days before we graduated last May.  I’ll give you a quick rundown from left to right.

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Joe Fava – grew up together, attended the same college, lived together two out of the four years.  Currently resides in Astoria, NY.

Joe Scannell – met freshman year of college, lived together two out of the four years.  Currently resides in Cheshire, CT.

Me – uh, me.

Shawn Reap – met at orientation before college, became freshman year roommates.  Lived together two out of the four years.  Currently resides in Albany, NY as my current roommate.

This weekend taught me something very powerful about food and drink.  I mean, I guess I knew all along, but it showed itself very clearly while with my friends these past few days.  Food and drink bring people together.  There is not a viable argument against it.  I can’t think of a better way to catch up with a bunch of friends than surrounding yourself with drinks and great eats.

Oh, and this has brought me to a foodie-like conclusion.  I am entirely over the commitment to large entrées for any given meal (well, mostly lunch and dinner).  What does this mean?  It means that I would SO MUCH rather take friends to a restaurant that has a menu encouraging individuals to share a series of smaller plates rather than everyone ordering their own separate entrées.  I have a few reasons for my conclusion:

  • Sharing small plates is much more social and encourages conversation and passing, adding liveliness to the meal.
  • Sharing small plates allows the eaters to enjoy a range of different tastes and helps eliminate that dreaded “Orderer’s Remorse” of either disliking or becoming bored of the dish you selected.
  • Sharing small plates usually results in the entire meal being consumed.  No leftovers means no one goes home with a doggy bag of a half-eaten burger.  Let’s be honest, reheating those soggy fries and flimsy burger will never do the original product justice.
  • Sharing small plates tends to leave me perfectly full, not that painful, bloated full.
  • Restaurants that offer small plate menu items usually have exotic and delicious tastes of things you wouldn’t normally find on a menu; the perfect opportunity to try things like cow tongue, liver or barbecued eel.

Of course, I’ll make exceptions.  Different dining situations and restaurants are not conducive for plate sharing.  Also, if I’m craving a steak, I will certainly not be sharing with anyone.  Regardless, I’m starting to look at eating not only as an essential human function for survival, but an experience, an experience that you share with others and create memories while you reminisce about old ones.

Although I didn’t use any City Dining Cards this weekend (don’t worry, I’m working on it), we definitely did our part of supporting our local food and drink spots.  Locations that we graced with our presence (and dollars) this weekend: Center Square Pub, McGuire’s Restaurant, DeJohn’s Restaurant & Pub, Legend’s Sports Lounge, Lionheart Blue’s Café, Legends on Pearl, The Bayou Café, Ramona’s Café, City Beer Hall, Brown’s Brewing Co. and A Better Bite.  No chains.  All local business.  Success.

All in all, this past weekend was the most fun I’ve had in awhile.  Seeing great friends, having great conversation and sharing great food are the only ingredients you need to have a great time.

I’m realizing this sounds like I live in a fairy tale land, but being the brunt of ALL jokes ALL weekend, spending more money than you have, leaving your credit card at the bar and nursing a three-day hangover are some of the elements that aren’t so shiny and nice…

Enjoyable weekend and day off, back to reality tomorrow.  Bring it on.

Stay hungry.


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Just Keep Eating

So, I’ve hit another milestone with the blog.  I’ve had the blog for a little over a month now and have just shy of 1,000 views.  Sounds respectable, no?  I actually have no idea.  I’m content, though.

After my exciting post about El Loco Mexican Café picking up on my blog, another exciting moment happened today!  Thanks to a little magic from my friend, Schuyler, City Dining Cards now knows about the blog and my determination to dine at every restaurant in the deck.  They tweeted about it, too!  They called me a foodie.  NOW it’s official.

ImageAs Schuyler so blatantly pointed out in his e-mail to the folks at City Dining Cards, a simple retweet is all I need to get excited, lose all productivity at work and map out my next culinary adventure.  Eh, he’s right.  Damnit.

The company has a presence in eight cities in the Northeast and strives to connect small businesses and locally minded customers.  Isn’t that what I’m trying to do with my blog?  Share my local Albany experiences so everyone else can enjoy them?  Couldn’t have asked to be found by a more fitting company.

Anyway, I’ve got the motivation (and the appetite), to continue eating my way through the deck.  Check out their website to order your own deck or view local businesses that sell them right here in Albany (I got mine at the Daily Grind on Lark Street).  By the way, @citydiningcards, two of my friends just bought them based on my referral, just saying.

Well, I’m not eating alone.  Who’s with me?