Year in Review 2010
Time to Digest
recollections of fine meals and food trends from 2010
By B.A. Nilsson
may remember my April Fool’s Day gag article in which I profiled
a solar-powered, hydroponic gardens-on-wheels, serving the
newly green and “locally grown” fast-food industry. A company
called GustOrganics, which has a restaurant a couple of blocks
from Manhattan’s Union Square, is developing solar-power-enhanced
lunch carts—there’s one at Park and 53rd—where you can grab
a meal for under 10 bucks. I give it another year or two before
my joke piece seems merely prescient.
Behind the joke, of course, is the quest for All Things Local,
which dominated our food pages throughout the past twelvemonth.
Amy Halloran roamed the countryside to report on such events
as the Hoosac Valley Farmers Exchange Pancake Day, an annual
event in Schaghticoke that marks the start of Rensselaer County’s
growing season; Montgomery County’s Mohawk Valley Produce
Auction, a weekly gathering at which Amish farmers hawk their
wares; and a gathering of Columbia County apple growers who
discussed their problems with U.S. agriculture secretary Tom
Amid the restaurant reviews, I looked at local sources of
raw material for our Earth Day issue, and profiled local companies
with finished products later in the year. We saw the craze
for designer cupcakes finally hit the Capital Region, while
elsewhere in the country—in the major cities, at least—the
French macaron has become a culinary cynosure. But
food trends aren’t all hoity-toity: This year’s Texas State
Fair saw the debut of, I swear to you, fried beer.
More than 80 restaurants opened in the area during the year,
and I count far fewer—just over 50—that shuttered, with about
eight of them doing both in the same year. This suggests you
have a 10 percent chance of your eatery going belly-up during
its early months, a better statistic than in much of the rest
of the country. And, may I take this opportunity to give a
nod of regret to Casablanca Café, which diligently
offered excellent Moroccan fare on a downtown Albany block
that ultimately proved too inhospitable.
Long leading the locavores is chef Ric Orlando, whose New
World Bistro Bar in Albany we visited last month and found
as eclectic as ever, delivering nicely on the promise of the
innovative, thoughtful menu. Local suppliers also figure prominently
in chef Brian Molino’s work at Marché, the elegant
restaurant at the hotel 74 State in Albany, where we enjoyed
a palate-popping meal early in the year.
The Hudson Valley is a terrific food source, and a couple
of outlying restaurants proved that a chef can shop close
to home with terrific results. Jeff Gimmel and Nina Bachinsky-Gimmel
run Hudson’s Swoon Kitchenbar and not only list their
sources on the back of the menu but make a point of visiting
their purveyors. And Luna 61 in Tivoli, not far from
Bard College, not only buys locally but keeps it vegetarian.
I suspect that any kitchen not tied to a chain will look to
local sources, so let’s consider some of our other favorite
stops. It had been several years since my last dinner at Provence
in Stuyvesant Plaza, but I found chef Michael Cunningham
running a scratch kitchen delivering food inspired by the
cuisine of southeastern France.
On the upscale Italian side, there’s the recently opened Grappa
’72, in a strip mall on Albany’s Central Avenue, but,
according to Laura Leon’s enthusiastic review, it looks more
welcoming and offers more comfortable seating than in a past
incarnation. Chef Dominic Colose cures salmon in grappa and
lemon, serves prosciutto with melon in a fig-walnut vinaigrette,
and marinates lamb chops in calamata brine before grilling
them and serving them with roasted potatoes and rapini. “The
subtle salt of the olive brine,” she noted, “was a revelation.”
Moving around the Mediterranean brings us to BFS Restaurant,
on Western Avenue, not far from Crossgates. Our recent visit
was a reminder that this place puts out everything from spanakopita,
moussaka and kibbe to pasta (try the three-meat lasagna),
seafood and a host of vegetarian items, handsomely presented.
Our more casual favorites included Saratoga’s Local Pub
and Restaurant on Grand Avenue, which has the area’s best
fish and chips, real Canadian poutine, good burgers,
an impressive array of beer on tap, and even a gourmet tea
selection! If you’re looking for red flannel hash, on the
other hand, or some excellent pancakes, Jake Moon Restaurant
and Café in Clarksville should be your destination.
Moving from very fine dining to down-home fare, chef Daniel
E. Smith serves an array of breakfast favorites, all of it
as homemade as possible, and locally sourced where possible:
Those pancakes are made from Champlain Valley flour and Meadowbrook
buttermilk. Lunch specials, too, and dinner on weekends.
Let’s also salute some of the places we visited that continue
to hang in there, defying the odds, keeping customers happy.
We started the year at Scotia’s Turf Tavern, which
sports a portrait in the main dining room of a long-gone covered
bridge over the Mohawk. The painting dates from 1957, and
the restaurant already had been open for quite a while by
then. The fare is familiar and uncomplicated, with filet mignon,
strip steak and chicken parmigiana among the favorites.
Restaurant and Pizzeria, on Schenectady’s upper Union
Street, has been a neighborhood institution since 1966. My
April visit was during a manic Saturday, but the place ran
smoothly and my lasagna was terrific—as were all the classic
Italian dishes they serve.
Finally, a nod to the Bears’ Steakhouse, on Route 7
in Duanesburg, also going strong for more than 40 years, and
still serving better steaks than any of the newcomers, chain
or otherwise. You’re talking about $40 for a giant slice of
filet mignon, but it’ll be perfect. Explore with the English
mixed grill and you’ll sample lamb and pork along with the
filet mignon, and maybe even a slice of chicken for good measure.
And they make their own pickled herring.
So we end the year clinging to tradition even as we explore
the slow-to-arrive-here trends, and hope, if you’re like me,
that 2011 brings at least enough discretionary income to avoid
dining at home quite so much.
trans-fat bans to urban agriculture projects, 2010 was an
eventful year for local and national food policy
By Amy Halloran
and nationally, there were plenty of food ideas to chew on
this year. The obesity epidemic clamored for attention. Interest
in home food production swelled, and new producers popped
up at the many farmers markets around the region. The fall
found many concerned with food and agriculture glued to the
news, waiting to hear the fate of the beleaguered Food Safety
Let’s start with the obesity epidemic. Somehow, the elephant
that America has become has escaped much notice. Although
health and nutrition professionals have observed rising weights
and declining health metrics over the last decade, reporting
on the trend has lagged. We entered the new year with a grim
outlook in the statistics: State by state, adult obesity rates
ranged from 20 to 30 percent, and childhood obesity rates
ranged from 10 to 25 percent. Experts predicted that this
generation of children might be the first since the Civil
War to live shorter lives than their parents because of weight-related
Amid this sudden consciousness, first lady Michelle Obama
launched a campaign to end childhood obesity called Let’s
Move! The multi-tiered agenda tackles child health and nutrition
on many fronts, calling on parents, local governments, health-care
workers and chefs to get in on the project. The program sends
chefs into schools two days a week to talk about food and
cooking. Locally, none have yet formally answered the call,
but Noah Sheetz, executive chef at the Governor’s Mansion,
is involved in statewide efforts to reform school lunches.
Speaking of reform, Albany County mandated non-chain restaurants
to reformulate their recipes without trans fats. The switch
was unpleasant for bakeries because the approved fats are
not as easy to use; places with outlets in two counties, like
Bella Napoli, which is in Latham and Troy, now sell different
products on either side of the Hudson.
The soda tax proposed by Gov. Paterson in January 2009 was
much criticized, especially by the beverage industry, and
ultimately got nowhere. That didn’t stop New York City Mayor
Bloomberg from proposing a soda tax of a different stripe:
He sought to ban soda from the list of acceptable foods to
be purchased with food stamps.
In all of these battles over what people should eat, the real
enemy of health is not often named: commodity crops that are
cheap because of government subsidies, which in turn make
junk food inexpensive. Someday, the link will be made and
the country will align food and agriculture policies with
health policies to present a consistent message.
Until then, pictures tell the story. The Centers for Disease
Control has put together a nice slideshow of maps (cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends)
tracing the evolution of the obesity epidemic. Compare these
with the 1967 invention of high-fructose corn syrup and the
amounts Americans spent on fast food. Back in 1972, we annually
spent $3 billion on fast food. That number today is more than
$110 billion a year.
Yet, beyond these brutal facts, another America is eating.
The number of farmers markets continues to swell. There were
less than 2,000 across the country in 1994, and in 2010 there
were more than 6,000. Brunswick, Bethlehem and Cohoes are
among the local towns that developed markets over the last
couple of years, and the markets are thriving throughout the
Farmers markets are incubators for food businesses: Witness
newbies R & G Cheesemakers from Cohoes and a pickle producer
from Salem called Pucker’s Gourmet. Direct marketing at farmers
markets is far more lucrative than selling wholesale to restaurants
or groceries, so, as these outlets increase, more food businesses
open, such as Duncan’s Dairy Farm.
Robert Duncan had dreamed of opening a dairy since his father
sold the cows when he was a kid. That dream is now his daily
routine, as he milks 18 Heifers in Brunswick. The milk is
bottled on site after low-heat pasteurization, a process that
preserves enzymes and taste. Duncan brings his milk to Troy
just like his great grandfather did, except not in a wagon.
Find him at the winter market in the Atrium.
Interest in gardening has also been rising. It’s a natural
extension of the locavore moment—what’s closer to the table
than your backyard? Foodies with less of a political agenda
have also fallen in love with the loud, proud flavors of locally
grown produce. They are turning the soil, as are those concerned
by widespread outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella in the national
food supply. Remember the wildfire of packaged spinach? Taco
Bell finally tracing problems to its tainted jalapenos? The
threats are real, and people who can do something to lessen
the risks of eating are doing so, as evident in sales of seeds
and supplies. Another indicator: Capital District Community
Gardens had a waiting list for people wanting a plot in one
of their 47 locations.
Growing your own leads to too many tomatoes and a need to
save the harvest. Classes in canning, offered by Cornell Cooperative
Extension in Albany County, had wait lists, too. The Jarden
Company, manufacturers of Ball canning equipment, experienced
double-digit growth in the first two years of the economic
downturn, and sales were strong in 2010. In the 1970s, during
the last back-to-the-land movement, Jarden built a community
cannery in Albany, a place for kitchen education and quantity
canning to take place. Talk of similar endeavors is percolating
through holiday parties in certain circles, but who knows
what kind of action that talk will yield?
Urban agriculture got national and local attention. Seattle
just finished the Year of Urban Agriculture, loosening its
regulations on city chickens, among other home-scale sustainability
issues. Albany is poised to follow suit—perhaps. Stay tuned.
The country used to turn to Detroit for the newest car. Now,
people look to the city for developments in urban ag. The
city, with its plentiful supply of empty lots, is re-fooding
itself with fenceless community gardens, and other bold growing
Locally, the Produce Project, a youth-powered farm on 8th
Street in Troy, grows vegetables and other things, like business
skills. The Troy High students who tend the beds and high
tunnel at this Capital District Community Gardens enterprise
learn how to grow and market vegetables. They sell to chefs,
like the aforementioned Noah Sheetz, the Pioneer Market, and
at the Bethlehem Farmers Market.
The Pioneer Market, run by the Troy Food Coop, is the first
grocery in downtown Troy in five years. The market stocks
its shelves for a wide variety of clientele, from the selective
organics-locally-made crowd, to the budget consumer.
Last but not least, the Food Safety Modernization Act survived
a tense fall bouncing between the House and Senate, and will
be signed into law in January. The legislation gives the FDA
recall powers, and requires food-processing facilities to
have plans in place to deal with outbreaks. Scale and distribution
exemptions—under $500,000 in sales, and within 275 miles—protect
small farmers, but might not insulate larger sustainable operations
that are decidedly not part of the agribusiness food system.
Critics argue that the underfunded FDA doesn’t have the human
muscle to implement or enforce the outlined protocols, but
as the first legal changes to the FDA since 1938, the time
has arrived. For many food advocates, this makes for a happy
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
digging in as much as you are in order to eat
well while money is scarce. So I thought I’d share
some tips and techniques, and will do so over
four weeks at the Arts Center of the Capital
Region in Troy, with a class called Cooking
for the New Economy. Make your shopping trips
more efficient and plan menus without waste. Can
I cook anywhere as well as those I criticize?
Find out and enjoy some (putatively) tasty food
over the course of four Mondays (Jan. 24-Feb.
14) from 6 to 9 PM. More info at artscenteronline.org.
. . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.