Eating Around Schenectady

After enjoying it for our first time last year, we hit the 2024 Schenectady Soup Stroll. This time we went with friends, which is absolutely a better option, because there is plenty of waiting in line, but that’s not a problem if you’re catching up and chatting. For the second year in a row, Simone’s Kitchen won, and you know I’m a huge fan of Simone’s, but when it comes to the Soup Stroll, I absolutely adore The Nest. This year’s offering included a cute little mini cheese biscuit.

At least this year we tried Simone’s: last year, the lines on Jay Street were just way too daunting. I don’t think it would actually be possible to try every single soup on offer during the stroll. There are just too many. My advice for an optimal Soup Stroll experience: arrive early, layer for the weather, save your spoon to re-use if you can, bring single dollar bills for efficiency, and do it with friends. Also: some people spend the afternoon drinking, so if this is something that calls out to you, plan accordingly. Maybe it will keep you warm. As for us, we ended up going to The Whistling Kettle, which had strategically skipped the soup and instead offered warm places to sit, hot tea or coffee, and an available bathroom.

We brought G along, and I’m excited to report that her favorite soup of the stroll was the clam chowder from Chez Nous. Even though she arrived in the US saying that she didn’t like or eat any seafood at all. More recently she’s enjoyed some crab rangoon. So apparently if you plunge very small bits of seafood into cream, that works for her. We still have aspirations to get her a classic New England lobster roll before she leaves the country. Who could possibly not love that?

In other Schenectady eating, M and I were excited to learn that Tara Kitchen now offers a weekday all-you-can-eat buffet. Of course we’re huge, long-time fans of Tara Kitchen, so we had to check it out.

Here I am following M on the buffet line set up on the bar:

And here’s my (first) plate.

The thing that’s fantastic about a buffet like this is that if you’ve never been to the restaurant and either you’re a fussy eater or you’re with a fussy eater, it’s a lovely way to try out new things, after getting a chance to look a them, with very little risk.

For us, long-time fans who already have our favorites, it wasn’t the best option. Of course I was thrilled to see my favorite dish, lentil with preserved lemons (it’s at 3 o’clock on the plate above), but I would have ordered it, anyway. Both M and I were vaguely appalled to see something that looked like spaghetti and meatballs on offer. Here’s the thing: we probably should have just tried some. Maybe it was excellent. But it felt like pandering, like when the Chinese buffet offers chicken nuggets and fries. We decided that our money would have been better spent on choosing a couple of our favorite dishes as usual. But if you still haven’t tried Tara Kitchen, if a buffet will finally get you to give it a shot, you should absolutely go.

Speaking of places to try, Cute W and I finally got around to trying Volcano Asian BBQ & Hotpot, which is located at what was the Niskayuna ShopRite Plaza and what will be, I guess, yet another Market 32 Plaza soon. So. The design is lovely and the place was hopping. I think the food was tasty, Cute W was less impressed. If you want to take out a group of hungry teenage boys, you couldn’t possibly choose a better place. There was so. much. food. It just kept coming. We asked for a bunch of food, and they brought it all, and then they brought us other food that we hadn’t asked for, and we squinted at it, trying to figure out what we’d ordered, only to decide that we couldn’t possibly have ordered it. Then, at another point, we ordered a couple of appetizers, and they brought us exactly double the appetizers that we had ordered. It’s a flat price, so it really doesn’t matter, unless you get cranky about food waste. Which I do.

It was not relaxing, per se. You can choose either Asian BBQ, Hot Pot, or both. We figured we’d try both because we’re very “yes, and” when it comes to trying out a new place. For us, this turned out to be way too much, both in terms of eating and in terms of the mental energy that it took to figure out what we were ordering and how to prepare it. The very lovely server got us started by explaining the ordering process, which occurs on a little computer tablet. That means that once you’ve gotten started, you don’t need to flag down a server again to order more food, which is nice, but don’t recommend this place to your parents if they have trouble with their remote control!

There’s also a self-service buffet component. You can get up and help yourself to no-name soda or bottled water, a fantastic variety of different sauces and garnishes, and a couple of prepared salads while you’re waiting for your first orders to come through.

I actually think the ordering process is much clearer on the menu on the website than it is using the tablet in person, so if you’re thinking of going, I’d study up ahead of time. We ordered what we wanted, but then, once it arrived, we’d try to piece together what was supposed to be used where. So, for example, on this plate, we’ve got sliced chicken and sliced steak that were intended for the hot pot, spring roll appetizers, original pork belly for the BBQ, and a fried shrimp appetizer. In the foreground you’ll see the ordering tablet, and the sliced meats and shrimp are on a hot pot burner, and to the left you can see the edge of the BBQ burner.

This is, like, a small fraction of the food and plates and utensils that we had, and it felt extremely crowded for the two of us at our 4-top table. Also, looking at the menu again, I am afraid that they accidentally delivered us beef tongue and I ate it and liked it? Ugh. . . I wonder if they just do that to prank people. . . ? That couldn’t be true.

Here you can see a hot pot in the top left and some cucumber salad and seaweed salad as well as a sauce that we took from the buffet. I love this kind of cucumber salad and I should just find a recipe and start making it for myself at home. For the hot pot, you can choose from seven different broths, then add meats, vegetables, or other mix-ins. Here are some of the things we chose: shrimp, udon noodles, lobster balls (which were yummy!), I think taro root, and tofu puffs (sadly boring).

Basically, you put what you want into the broth to cook, and then, after a few minutes, I would suggest just turning it off, because otherwise it’s too hot to eat. I also got some spinach, broccoli, and mushrooms, and I was pleased by how fresh all the veggies were.

For us, this was not a good date. When Cute W and I go out on a date, we want to relax and talk. In fact, now that I think of it, the date night before this one was just a few steps away at Tequila’s Mexican Bar and Grill for what has become our “usual,” splitting a pitcher of margaritas and an order of Nachos Supreme with Chicken. Yes, that’s too much margarita for two people, but when you can linger and chitchat for a long time and then walk home, it is *chef’s kiss* for a chill date with my honey.

So, and this sounds obnoxious, but bear with me: I would recommend Volcano for an evening out with people for whom conversation may be difficult, because the process of choosing and ordering and preparing the food gives you plenty of things to talk about. It’s also good for a group activity, like going to a hibachi grill or something, or it’s good if you have a wide range or of eating types or particularly voracious eaters (hence my recommendation to bring teenage boys). I think Volcano would also be fun with younger kids who are either picky eaters or aspiring chefs, as long as you can make sure that they don’t stick their hands on a burner. I’d also recommend choosing either the hot pot or the Asian BBQ: otherwise, it’s just too much going on. Personally, I’d go for the BBQ.

Meanwhile, Bangkok Thai on Route 7 has become our new default take-out Thai place. It’s pretty good, although the truth is that I’m still pretty bitter about Thai Thai Bistro, because it was freakin’ delicious and I loved it and I’m sad that I accidentally supported evil-ass human traffickers.

But we’re also doing a lot of eating in because, as you know, we are currently paying two college tuitions simultaneously. Luckily we both love ramen noodles!

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