Revisited: Mingle – Albany, NY

While the food had its bright spots, my first dinner at Mingle was abysmal due to a server who kept digging himself further and further in the shit. I really wanted to wrap my head around what people love about the place, so I decided to give it a second shot.

I showed up on a Friday evening just after 5pm, and I was the only diner in the restaurant.

My server came to the table and was very friendly. She introduced herself and mentioned that she was aware the menu had some complex items and also mentioned that she was eager to answer any questions I had. She also handed me a piece of paper with a whole bunch of text explaining the “Del So Cheese Board,” which is a collaboration between Mingle, All Good Bakers, and The Cheese Traveler, all of whom are neighbors.

It was a lot of text to read. I, naturally, didn’t read all of it, but I skimmed it, and it sounded good. It was something like $16 and came with a flight of beers.

When she returned to the table, I did ask her a question. This was my shot at proving myself right. I asked, “I noticed that the roasted jerk wings and the cheese pate appetizers have two prices listed; is that because there are two different sized portions available?” Sounds like a dumb question, I know, but read about my first experience.

She confirmed my ringer question and I further probed at how many wings came in the smaller portion of the wings. During my first visit, for the larger portion which I didn’t order, I got 10 wings. She said that the portions are done by weight, so the smaller portion could be between 4 and 6 wings depending on the size. Her demeanor in answering the questions was very positive, and I was impressed with her expertise with the menu.

An ironic and funny side note is that while I was looking over the menu, one of my favorite Beatles songs, “You Never Give Me Your Money,” played in the restaurant. It was followed by something by Nirvana. It’s like my iTunes Library was on shuffle.

I ordered the cheese pate (House-made blend of Provolone, Swiss, Sharp Cheddar & horseradish.  Served with a medley of fresh fruit slices & “All Good Baker’s” flatbread – 8/16), and, when I ordered, I intentionally didn’t specify a size. She immediately asked which size I wanted. I smiled and said, “the small, please.”

She’s good.

I was honestly really excited to try this All Good Baker’s flatbread, which is something I didn’t know they even made. Instead of grilling the super-helpful waitress any more, I sent Britin, co-owner of All Good Bakers, a note asking what the flatbread was. Her response was “crackers made w/ NY organic white and garlic/onion flakes,” and it’s apparently made just for Mingle.

Um…

So the appetizer I was served had some fresh apples, fresh grapes, and slices of a melon I had never before tasted. It also had a scoop of the cheese and horseradish and bread. The bread didn’t exactly resemble the crackers Britin described, a bummer for sure.

The cheese ball itself was delicious. It actually would be perfect with something like a cracker, but it was fine with the bread. It was also really good with the apples, and the melon, which itself was firm, sweet, and refreshing, was perfect with the cheese. I didn’t taste much horseradish, and the provolone really took over as the main flavor, but neither of these attributes is bad.

For dinner, I ordered the Korean-style bulgokee (Choice of hand cut, bite-size chicken or sirloin marinated in sesame oil and soy and broiled.  Served with sticky rice, house-made kimchi, gochujang and red leaf lettuce for “wrapping” – $24). Since the waitress was being helpful, I asked if I could get both chicken and sirloin, and I was understanding when she said no.

This was a really fun dish.

Gochujang, rice, red leaf lettuce, and kimchi
Intensely flavored sirloin

When it was served, my server explained the three ways I could assemble the dish. The first was by stuffing the lettuce with the fillings and eating it “like a taco.” The second was rolling it up like a burrito, and the third was just eating it all together.

Like a taco

After trying each of the individual components on their own, I tried each of the three ways to figure out which would be the least messy. It turns out, there’s no elegant way to eat this dish, and I love that.

This dish was outstanding. The sirloin had an intense depth of flavor and was succulent. The lettuce adds a little freshness and crunch, but is really just there to hold everything together. The rice is not particularly enjoyable on its own because there’s no salt when steamed, but, when spiked with the beef, gochujang, and kimchi, it acts like a sponge and soaks in all of the flavors. I philosophically tend toward the practice of flavoring in layers, and, from recent interactions with one of the owners at Mingle, their chef intends for the white rice to act as I’ve described (A “blank canvas” in his words). It works when everything is eaten together, that’s for sure.

Barring the, let’s call it, confusion over the bread served with the cheese pate, I guess I had a pretty enjoyable dinner.

On the way out, just as I was about to open the door to exit, the bartender yelled to me, “excuse me, sir, can I ask you a question?”

I really didn’t know what to do, but I turned around and went up to the bar to hear what the question was.

He asked, “are you related to Jason Boneo?” (I have no idea if I spelled that right!)

My reply, “No, I actually am not related to anyone named Jason.” (I’m not.)

Him – “Are you sure? Because he looks exactly like you.” (This is never a good idea, folks.)

Me – “Of course I’m sure. I never heard of that guy in my life.”

Him – “If you and he were here eating at the same time, you would think it was your clone.”

I LOL’d a little and said, “well, maybe it’ll happen one day” and then I rode off into the sunset.

Whatever. At least I got a chance to mingle at Mingle.


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