For many visitors to Saratoga Springs during track season...I am their FIRST stop. As a result, I am often in the position of recommending my favorite Spa City spots. Honestly, sometimes I feel like a one woman welcome wagon! You ALL know that my opinions on where to dine and cocktail can be trusted....so...here's a little rundown of a few perennial favorites, with a few new hot spots thrown in for good measure. Cheers and I'll see you trackside.
In no particular order:
Pennell's: Leave the gun...take the cannoli. Seriously, you can HAVE Chianti. THIS winechick prefers Pennell's. Great portions...the best Veal Parm in town and loads of great track people watching at the bar.
The Brook Tavern: My second home? Some people think it is. Bob Lee's attention to detail does not go unnoticed. I still adore The Wishing Well if we are feeling a little fancier...but The Brook? I'm surprised my fanny hasn't made an indelible mark on the barstool in the corner. Jimmy is a barkeep extraordinaire (and one HELL of a great guy) who KNOWS his booze and crafts a superb cocktail. BEST BET.
15 Church: Extraordinary. FABULOUS wine list...superb cocktail menu...great food..cool, upscale atmosphere. Paul McCullough has a winner here. I've never...I repeat..NEVER had a bad meal here....not even a MEDIOCRE one. Flawless. (and I don't use that term lightly)
9 Maple Avenue: NO explanation required. You want the best scotch and bourbon selection in town? Look no further. Period. End of story.
Shake Shack: I'll admit it. I am obsessed. My countdown to Opening Day is as much about the fact that I can have a Shake Shack burger as it is about horse racing. (well..ALMOST)
The Barrelhouse: Disclaimer: One of our best friends is an owner. They just opened. They have some tweaking to do...hey, ALL great things are a work in progress. BUT...Tyler makes THE best Bloody Mary in town. Dan Passamonte is in the kitchen (and he KNOWS what he's doing) Mark my words...this place is the next fun Beekman Street casual hotspot. You're welcome.
The Lodge: I've had a love-hate relationship with The Lodge the past few years...service was inconsistent..menu was so-so. etc. But...the truth remains that it is THE most gorgeous spot in all of Saratoga Springs. My galpal Marty is behind the bar now...the menu looks much improved. We shall see. BUT..it's worth going there just for a cocktail to soak up the atmosphere.
Siro's: Nothing will ever say "I am in Saratoga" as much as Siro's does. It's an institution for a reason. Expensive? Hell, yes. Worth it? It's a bucket list thing. Seriously. Where else can you have dinner sitting next to Bobby Flay?
Village Pizzeria: When we want to get a little out of the 12866...we head to see our friend Sandy. The wine list is EXCEPTIONAL..oh, and it's NOT mind and pocket numbingly expensive either. Are there $200 Barolos? Of course..but Sandy wants her customers to enjoy wine as much as SHE does. And it shows. Hubster is obsessed with the Lobster Pizza.
Hattie's: I really don't need to elaborate here, do I?
Panza's: TRY to go there on a Friday night when my friend Jay is bartending..,oh, and please...do me a favor and order 5 different kinds of annoying drinks. (wink wink) They have recently resurrected a location on Brown's Beach as well that's a bit more casual. This is old-school EYE-Talian at its best.
**Normally, I would include Jack Dillon's on this list...but the last time I was there, it seemed a touch chaotic. I am hoping they find their groove for the season because their food is outstanding.
If you're first and foremost a WINE drinker like myself...here are some perfect pairings for your Super Bowl bash!
Nachos: No shocker here...I find a great dry rose is a super match with lots of Mexican cuisine. One to try: Tuck Beckstoffer's HOGWASH.
Pizza: Barber'a D'Asti. Barbera is such a smooth and food-friendly wine...WAY better with pizza than an ubiquitous Chi-Aunt-I. You want a wine with relatively soft tannins, as heavily tannic wines will make your tomato sauce taste like you're licking metal..not good. One to try: Michele Chiarlo Barbera D'Asti Le Orme.
Buffalo Chicken Wings: No matter the level of heat in your wings, you need to sip a wine that has a SOFT touch of sweetness. Plus--it needs to pair with Bleu Cheese Dip as well. One to try: Ferrari-Carano Bella Luce....a faint whisper of Muscat provides the necessary hint of sweetness and it matches REALLY well with bleu cheese.
Guacamole: I love a great tequila as much as the next girl..but if you'd like a wine to sip with your guac...try an offbeat, relatively fatty white from Italy. One to try: Taburni Domus Greco di Tufo..it's also organic which may or MAY not help with your hangover the next day...the jury is out on that.
Chili: Several ways to go on this one...White Chicken Chili with just a touch of spice calls for a nice Pinot Gris, like "J" from California. Beef Chili whether traditional or Cincinnati-style (which I adore) really wants a red. Shiraz has a tendency toward the slightly spicy anyway and LOVES beef. One to try: First Drop "Mother's Milk" Barossa Shiraz.
Pulled Pork Sliders: Again...a lot depends on the sauce and level of spice! We are preparing OURS with a maple and bacon rub...and our sauce also has notes of bacon, maple and bourbon. Tough one! I actually like big fatty Chard with my pulled pork. One to try: Carr Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. If you must have red, though...go with one that has hints of smokiness in it as well. Carmenere fits this bill nicely. One to try: 1865 Carmenere Single Vineyard.
Enjoy your Super Bowl festivities!!!
While not an "official" participant in this hugely popular yearly event, I will be creating my OWN very special Bacon, Bourbon and Corn Chowder and will be serving it at Crush & Cask until it runs out. After all, I am an only child and I hate it when people are having fun without me. This is my way of joining in on all the fun. Stop by and see me on your way downtown. Hey, I'm also pouring free wine...that's reason enough to visit. Cheers and hope to see you tomorrow.
Last Sunday, Moms and I drove to Poughkeepsie to meet my cousin. My cousin Derek (who just finished production work on the ANNIE film to be released next Fall at some point) lives in Brooklyn, and we weren't able to see him over the holidays, as he went to Florida to visit my Aunt, who just moved there. Got all that? As per usual, Moms left the task of choosing a restaurant to me. Hey--I don't try to do governmental auditing and she doesn't choose the restaurants...we all have our areas of expertise. I chose Poughkeepsie so that Derek could take the train and not have to deal with driving and although I don't really know the area that well, I found a WINNER in Brasserie 292. Honestly, most every restaurant with "Brasserie" in its name will attract my attention anyway, ever the Francophile. PLUS--the last time I was in Paris, Derek was with me...so...as I clicked through to Brasserie 292's website, fingers were crossed that the menu would tempt me.
Yeah--they pretty much HAD me at "Braised Short Rib Potato Cake". Really. Now, I am known throughout the land as a card-carrying Eggs Benedict SNOB....I love the dish and ALWAYS sample it when I see it on a menu. So...the fact that I passed on it here in order to try the Short Rib Potato Pancake speaks volumes.
You may commence drooling. So delicious was this dish alone...that I have convinced Hubster that we need to drive down to Poughkeepsie some Sunday when we aren't working. And...a drive down the Thruway on a rare day off is NOT normally something I consider a good time. Now..back to brunch.
Moms often leans toward the sweet, rather than savory, side of Brunch. She chose the Pumpkin Pancake, served in a skillet and accompanied by a rich maple sauce. Sinful. And...NOT too heavy handed on the pumpkin front. When overdone, the flavor of pumpkin can be quite overwhelming to the palate, in my opinion. Derek chose from one of numerous omelette combinations, including smoked salmon and goat cheese, lobster and asparagus, crab and scallion, and mushroom and manchego (his choice). Perfectly fluffy, and accompanied by a small green salad and crispy home fries, this was a great example of how SIMPLE food can be elevated to extraordinary heights when prepared well.
And..did I mention the atmosphere of this place rocks? TRUE Brasserie style...almost thought I was in Pareeeee. How ya gonna keep them on the farm after they've eaten at Brasserie 292? Don't even try.
Winners: Short Rib Potato Cake, Pumpkin Pancake
Just Missed: Bloody mary could have used a touch more spice.
Scratches: None to report
I first dined at the space located on 390 Broadway WAY back when Brindisi's originally opened. And...while I enjoyed it for the first couple of years, it ended up alienating me with constant menu changes and inattentive waitstaff. After the space sold and became Russo's...i"ve got to be honest..it never captured. my attention...and I never tried it. Obviously, I was not alone.
When I learned that Christel and Colin MacLean were planning on taking the space over and transforming it into an "extension" of their popular Circus Cafe, albeit with a far different spin, I was thrilled. Knowing their penchant for flawless execution, both in the back of the house and the front, it seemed like a perfect opportunity for them and a perfect fit as well. Last weekend, for birthday dinner #3 (hey, i'm an only child...sue me.), I wanted to try The Crown Grill. I hadn't dined there yet, and I had just received their email newsletter highlighting some menu additions and cocktail specials. PLus...I did feel rather guilty that Hubster and I hadn't visited yet...especially after the superb treatment we always received from Christel and Colin in the past. Trying a new restaurant is one of my great joys in life and this experience did not disappoint.
The atmosphere of The Crown grill is one of ABSOLUTE warmth. The bar literally glows...you feel as if you are dining by firelight...and we ALL know how gorgeous firelight makes us, don't we. The rich, what I will call "polo blue" backdrop demonstrates how VERY important the proper color scheme and decor is to a restaurant. You want the atmosphere to absolutely be reflective of the menu and the philosophy. Had I not peeked at the menu here beforehand, I STILL would have known what type of cuisine to expect...just from the atmosphere. Restauranteurs take note...match stellar food with stellar ambience and you should be successful for years.
And..the piece de resistance? The back room has a wall treatment behind glass doors that is a view of the Saratoga Race Course paddock area in black and white. SO cool, seriously. LOVE it.
We were happy to see that Melissa F. was still involved in the MacLean's operations, as we remember her fondly from the Sperry's days.
After a quick tour of the new digs, we were escorted to our table. We often like to begin our meal with a cocktail, and then order our wine with the meal. Being a card-carrying cosmo snob, I needed to sample one here. Happy to report that it was the perfect shade of PINK...NOT red with too heavy on the cranberry...NOT PALE pink...too heavy on the vodka or orange liqueur. No--this was the Goldilock's version...perfect shade of pink and had a delicious balance of tart and sweet.
We were served a starter of Duck Cigars with the most glorious dipping sauce...the perfect balance of salty, sweet and spicy. I detected a hint of mint in the sauce. Other starters that I can't wait to sample include Crispy Asparagus and the Savory Profiteroles...next time for sure.
We were equally happy with our entree selections...although hubster ALWAYS seems to prefer what I order...which was a delightful Skirt Steak Oscar. I LOVE Oscar preparations...so old school and delicious. My steak was cooked to my specifications...the crabmeat was succulent and fresh...the asparagus had the right snap...and the bearnaise nage was luxurious and had just the right amount of tarragon. Speaking of which--the pervasive theme throughout our meal was this: PROPER SEASONING. I CANNOT emphasize this enough. I've had plenty a meal where the first thing I reached for was the salt. Seasoning while building each layer of a dish is CRITICAL. Ever watch Top Chef? What's the most common complaint from the judges? Lack of seasoning. And..it's really so fundamental. On this...and many other points..Crown Grill is a winner, in this winechick's book. We look forward to returning very soon.
Winners: Skirt Steak Oscar and Perfectly Pink Cosmo
Scratches: None to report.
One could say that Hubster and I are obsessed with Mexican cuisine. And...while we certainly enjoy our hometown options of The Mex and Cantina...whenever we can get out of Dodge for an afternoon, we meander over to Xicohtencatl, in Great Barrington, Mass. WHY would we travel over an hour for margaritas and guacamole you ask? Simple. Because Xicohtencatl has some of THE best and freshest authentic Mexican cuisine we've enjoyed...anywhere...EVER. The brightly painted porch beckons you from the road and the MUY simpatico staff, very often the OWNER, welcome you with charm and GENUINE smiles. Yes..here at Xicohtencatl...they are VERY happy to see you and even happier to feed you.
We dine on the porch whenever we can, but the temps were a touch chilly last Saturday, so we were escorted to a perfectly roomy table for 2 in the dining area.
The first order of business was the DRINK order. Hello...have we met.
A margarita is definitely required as your peruse their extensive menu, as well as the specials of the day. That is...IF you can decide which margarita you would like from their numerous offerings. I began with a Prickly Pear Margarita...mostly because it's not always available...and...because...well...it's PINK.
VERY pink indeed. Hubster always vacillates between 2 spicier margarita options here. He went with the El Diablo to begin...with muddled jalapeno and GOOD Reposado tequila...in this case, Milagro. My prickly pear usually is served with Patron...but...I DO not like Patron and chose Cabo Wabo Reposado instead. Much better. In fact...while I am on the subject...ALL you people who "only" drink "Patron"? YOU, my friends, are missing OUT on a world of far better tasting..just not better MARKETED tequilas. Not convinced? Fine...more for me. End rant and ON to the food.
While I do like to sample different dishes when we have the opportunity to visit Xico, one item on our order NEVER changes...the guacamole. We order it EVERY time, and EVERY time, we are thrilled with it. Don't like cilantro? Don't order it...or perhaps ask if it may be prepared sans cilantro. The service is so accommodating here, they will most likely honor any special requests. Personally, I LOVE the little green herb. The seasoning is just perfect...the ideal amount of spice...a little kick of heat from jalapeno...a little tang from fresh lime...yum. Aside from my OWN, it is my favorite guac. Served in a molcajete, which really just enhances the experience.
In addition to the guac as a starter, we chose one of their appetizer specials for that evening, a spicy Chicken Tinga Quesadilla, topped with more guac, crema fresca, and queso blanco. They make their own masa tortillas here and it makes all the difference in the world for flavor and freshness. AS you can see from the photo...we ate it so quickly, I neglected to snap a pic before it was almost gone.
The first dish that I ever had at Xicohtencatl was their Pollo Poblano. Organic chicken, cooked with poblano chile, onions and crema fresca with a smooth and subtle spice blend. I liked it so much on our first visit that I immediately tried to duplicate in my own test kitchen. And..I did a pretty fabulous job of it. So..on this trip...I wanted to REVISIT the Pollo Poblano to make sure it was still the food fiesta that I remembered. There was a little more of the sauce in the dish than I had previously, but the sauce is so creamy and lush, that I simply asked for a few plain masa tortillas to soak it all up. Accompanied by fluffy FLUFFY light rice and a small portion of refried black beans, this dish is worth the trip all by itself.
As loco as I am about the Pollo Poblano...Hubster is equally nuts about the MOLE at Xico. And...Mole is one of their specialties, having been featured on Emeril Live as one of the best. Hubster chose the Especial Mole Poblano, with organic chicken (both light and dark meat) in a Mole sauce the color of which is reminiscent of the darkest, most bricky brick you can imagine. Now, Mole done well is a foodster's fantasy, and the Mole here obviously does not disappoint. It should be called, in fact...HOLY Mole. Perhaps I will suggest it on our next visit. The staff already thinks I'm half crazy, snapping photos of all our dishes, and babbling away in my margarita induced delirium. So...my suggestion would come as no great surprise to them, I am sure. Chica Loca, as they say.
We skipped dessert this time, but I can attest that their flan is silken in texture and their churros are heavenly little crisp tunnels of cinnamon sugary happiness.
If you ever find yourself in Great Barrington? Eat here if you love Mexican. Hell--even if you DON'T find yourself in Great Barrington, this place is worth the trip. We are already planning our next visit as I pen this.
Winners: Pollo Poblano, Mole, Guacamole, hell..pretty much everything I've tasted here.
Scratches: NONE to report!