A true “mingling” of flavors and cuisines for the adventurous diner
Overall rating on a scale of 1-10
Service 9 • Food 9 • Ambiance 8 • Price – $$$
I don’t know about you, but when I heard Avenue A had closed I entered a period of mourning. For those of you not familiar, Avenue A was an eclectic and hip dining spot featuring Korean comfort food, as well as innovative “new” American fare. But unfortunately in the fall of 2009, the economic environment, coupled with a decline in business during the then construction on Delaware Avenue forced owner and chef, Un-Hui Filomeno and her son, Jose, to close their doors. After Avenue A’s closing, Chef Filomeno did a brief stint at Sage Bistro in Guilderland, which she helped to open back in October of 2010. And then, the light at the end of the tunnel finally appeared when it was announced that Filomeno and Jose were planning on opening a new restaurant in December 2011 called Mingle, in the same location as Avenue A. Prayers all over the Capital Region were answered, including mine!
Finally, I had the chance to once again delight in Chef Filomeno’s creative, sophisticated dishes. On a recent night, dining companion Tina and I walked into Mingle and it was a bit like deja vu – the space relatively unchanged except for some cosmetic decorative updates. It’s an open, modern space with tastefully dressed tables and an “L” shaped bar across from the entrance. The vibe felt a bit more upscale and less trendy than Avenue A, but the real test would be the food.
Mingle offers a rich multicultural mix of dishes; it is truly a “mingling” of flavors, as much as anything. There are a few standard Korean staples like kimchi, the ubiquitous condiment of fermented cabbage and various spices found everywhere in Korea, as well as favorites including bulgokee and chap chae. And alongside these Korean comfort foods there are Mediterranean, Asian, American, Italian and other flavors evident in dishes such as New England Clam Chowder made with Korean sweet potatoes, Shrimp Scampi with artichoke hearts and Roasted Jerk Wings. The menu is a true global adventure. There are also a number of gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan items including, if you can believe it, a gluten-free version of the chef’s famous Lobster Mac and Cheese. Hooray, finally there is food equality for all.
As if this wasn’t enough, Mingle also offers an amazing craft beer list and a decent wine selection, from which I ordered a glass of Zaphy Torrontes ($7), a crisp Argentinean white. Tina had a beautifully refreshing Pierre Sparr Pinot Blanc Reserve ($8) that exhibited hints of pear, lemon peel and coriander. How’s that for exotic?
Eggplant is a personal favorite, so we chose to start our meal by sharing the Eggplant Caponata ($6). It was light and fresh, just what an appetizer should be, but it lacked a much-needed acidic, briny punch. The result was an overly-mild and slightly under-seasoned spread. No complaints about the presentation however; it was a meticulously displayed plate of artfully carved carrots and cucumbers surrounded by crusty baguette slices.
Choosing an entrée would depend on what part of the world I hoped to visit that night. On this night, the flavors of the Mediterranean were calling, so the Paella ($13 for small portion) with New Zealand Green Mussels, Jumbo Shrimp, Littleneck Clams and Calamari over saffron infused rice won out.
I had no regrets in my destination/choice. My meal was an absolutely perfect-sized portion, a bowl barely able to sustain a mountain of gorgeous seafood. There was no lack of seasoning here! My mouth was awakened with flavors of pepper, paprika and saffron. The shrimp may have been cooked a touch too long, but there was no mistaking the freshness. The mussels were tender, the calamari succulent and the clams were pure joy!
Tina, who had the Filet Diane ($27), boldly stated that this was one of the single best steaks she’s ever had. Ever. This center cut filet was pan seared then broiled and finished with a Shiitake-Cabernet cream sauce and served with Korean Mashed Potatoes. Unfortunately, this was a special, so I can’t promise it will be there when you go. But maybe if we take up a campaign this amazing entrée will win a spot on the permanent menu. Not only was the meat tender and sumptuous, but the rich Cabernet sauce elevated the flavor profile of the dish to a decadent, sophisticated level. The mashed potatoes were a pleasant surprise, with a sweetness we couldn’t determine. Our server explained they were Korean sweet potatoes, a new treat for us both.
Tina and I decided to end our meal with a second glass of wine instead of dessert since there were only two choices offered: a chocolate mousse and an apple bread pudding.
All in all the reincarnation of Chef Un-Hui Filomeno’s restaurant was a delightful experience, led by a confident staff who clearly understand how to take diners on an adventurous, delicious culinary journey. I’m officially out of mourning.
The total cost for four glasses of wine, one appetizer, one half-portion entree and one full entrée (excluding tax and tip) was $76.
Hours are Monday-Thursday 11:30am-9pm, Friday 11:30am-10pm and Saturday 5pm- 10pm.
Mingle is located at 544 Delaware Avenue, Albany For more information call 915.1468 or visit www.minglealbany.com
Christina DeMers is a freelance marketing consultant, food blogger and amateur cook who lives in Troy, but eats just about anywhere.