Playing tourist in our own backyard during this interminable winter is one way to beat the cabin fever blahs. It was also the perfect cover for my ruse to lure my husband to a surprise birthday dinner with his favorite loved ones.
The epic journey started with two hours of snow shoveling at home and wrapping up orders at the bookstore, but then finally got our day underway around 1 pm. I told the old man that I would have a bunch of surprise events all day long, nothing expensive, or wild like hot air balloon ride, so he wasn't too suspicious.
We started with lunch out at Casa Dominica (260 Central Avenue), which offered just the sort of soul-satisfying food that rewards a morning of snow drudgery. The restaurant is bright, clean, and welcoming. We didn't speak Spanish like most of the other patrons that day, but we warmly welcomed and then each item in a steaming hot lunch counter was explained to us, always a good thing when you must dine gluten-free. I had cautioned Dan that I had made dinner reservations to cap the day but both of us couldn't help ourselves as we nodded when the proprietor heaped our plates with pork chops, baked and stewed chicken, rice, sweet plantains and roast pork. The latter was particularly wonderful with a wonderful CRISPY crust, all served with a spicy garlic and cilantro sauce on the side.
Leftovers were cheerfully wrapped up (we knew spoilage was no problem in our refrigerated car) and the owner was most gracious to offer his tips about making the roast pork at home: 400 degrees F for three hours covered with foil and then uncovered for an hour more. Water should be added to the roasting pan and replenished as needed to keep it moist. We plan to be back again and again to try all the other tasty-sounding things on the menu (Alcapurrias (Stuffed Plantains), (Mofongo de Pollo (Mashed Plantains with Chicken), Majarete (Corn Custard). Two big thumbs up for Casa Dominica!
Then it was time to walk off some lunch. We headed over to the Historic Albany Foundation's Architectural Parts Warehouse (89 Lexington Avenue) and spent a great time perusing buckets of old doorknobs and porch spindles, bathroom fixtures in a range of styles and hues, tons of old doors and windows and some other intriguing bits of old buildings.
A lot of the most beautiful and unusual items already had SOLD stickers on them, including a magnificent, wall-sized wooden commercial ice box, circa 1910s-20s with great old brass fittings, an entire Victorian interior staircase with ornate carvings, and great chunks of old carved stone.
The Parts Warehouse also offers
but I settled for a kiss from my beloved near some buckets of stair parts.
Our next stop on the Albany Tour was going to be Dnipro Deli, a Russian-Eastern European market on Central Avenue in Colonie that I have shopped at and reported on before, but they were closed and I've since discovered that they have moved to yet another location in Latham. So, we redirected our efforts to checking out Parivar Spices and Food (1275 Central Avenue), where we had never shopped. We stocked up on a ten-pound bag of basmati rice, curry leaves, besan (chickpea flour), and some packaged snack mixes of roasted beans, chickpea "straws" and spices that we like to sprinkle on our curries and rice dishes. The produce selection is not as great as at the nearby India Bazaar, but the owners were helpful and friendly and noticed that I had picked out basmati sella (a yellowish parboiled short-grain rice product) instead of regular long-grain basmati, so I was pleased that they were looking out for me. There's also a cafe in back which we hope to return to in the future. We were there in mid-afternoon, so there were only a handful of folks knocking back the delicious-looking and -smelling plates of food, but it is apparently a local hot spot for Indian food.
The Asian Supermarket (1245 Central Avenue) was the next stop to replenish our supplies of fresh tofu, kimchee, peanut oil, various kinds of gluten-free noodles and other ingredients. Dan was super-psyched to find some gluten-free ramens and we always have fun perusing the massive selection of fruits and vegetables. They had pomelos as big as my head, squeaky fresh bags of snow peas, beautiful round Indian eggplants, and my favorite roasted seaweed snacks. We always buy a few new things, and the prices are so reasonable that it isn't a problem if we don't like them. I got a bottle of gluten-free dumpling sauce in hopes that Dan will whip up some of his great Thai veggie wraps soon and we will be trying to cook up a chayote and some yu choy soon in the Crispy Kitchen.
It was time to lure my husband out to dinner at New World Bistro (300 Delaware Avenue) where our surprise crew awaited. I had to kill some time by pretending I needed to use the restroom at a fast food joint and then insisting we stop at another store to stock up on the GF corn pasta that Dan really likes, so I was thinking fast on my feet. Our Chevy's dashboard lights are in an intermittent state these days too, so I couldn't keep tabs on the time there, so I had to keep surreptitiously flipping open my cell phone to monitor the countdown to surprise time. This is highly suspicious in my case, since I hate my cell phone--AKA pay-as-you-go electronic ankle monitor-- but Dan was oblivious to my actions and to the New World Bistro hostess who announced that our party of 8 was waiting at the bar when we checked in (Argh! This despite my instructions over the phone).
But it was all worth it to see my Dear One's face light up when he saw his buddies. We all had a grand time and enjoyed our meals (okay, my daughter didn't realize a garland of beet cubes would be draped over her scallops) and the cozy ambience and service. They also have an extensive gluten-free menu.
So here's to Staycations in Albany in mid-winter!