Right Kind of Chance
By B.A. Nilsson
Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 587-7359. Serving lunch Mon-Fri
11:30-3, Sat 11-3, dinner Sun-Thu 5-10:30, Fri-Sat 5-11, brunch
Sun 10:30-3. AE, MC, V.
price range: $14 (chicken al’Alba) to $23 (8 oz. filet
has been around long enough to have soaked up a lot of what
makes downtown Saratoga unique. It’s friendly, it’s attractive,
it’s a little quirky. Early in the evening—late in the afternoon,
actually—which is when I visited, it’s quiet, but from many
previous nighttime walks along Caroline Street, I know that
the bar erupts into a life of its own. And the outdoor seating
area, on warm summer nights, is what you’d expect in a beach-vacation
There’s frequent live music, with a Thursday night singer-songwriter
series, a Tuesday open mic and local musicians performing
on weekends. There’s a second bar area with a big plasma TV
tuned, not surprisingly, to sports events, and the walls of
that room display appropriate memorabilia.
The restaurant portion seems somehow to belong to a different
operation, but I’m guessing that’s part of what makes this
restaurant successful—and to flourish for 23 years in this
city is a significant mark of success. It’s a long, thin railroad
car of a room, a dozen tables flanking the walls, and the
walls—a deep red on one side, exposed brick along the other—are
hung with photos of local history. During one visit I dined
beneath a picture of Monty Woolley in the act of having his
The menu is in its winter-to-summer transition now, so expect
more seasonally appropriate fare when you visit. With any
luck, the pork roulade ($17) will persevere, because it’s
one of the best things to happen to that ambiguous meat in
Although classically paired with fruitstuffs, pork gets a
more Mediterranean treatment here with a stuffing of sun-dried
tomatoes, porcini mushrooms and gorgonzola, and nothing more
than a tasty demi-glaze to finish it. Roasted potatoes and
a nicely seasoned (meaning full of garlic) side of broccoli
rabe garnished the plate. (I was offered a different vegetable,
but the bitter goodness of broccoli rabe is irresistible,
and it balanced the sweetness of the sun-dried tomatoes.)
They’re not afraid of flavor at this restaurant. An appetizer
special during one of my visits was conch fritters ($7), which
would have made a fine entrée. Even my young daughter, who
is understandably suspicious of weird seafood, tucked into
the fritters with gusto. The meat is shredded, mixed with
herbs and given mirepoix support, added to a thick
batter and given the hot oil treatment. Although a sweet syrup
would seem to be the expected accompaniment, the dish gets
a healthy twist and a flavor boost with a cold mango-based
salsa, redolent of cilantro, pairing well with the seafood
and the temperature heat of the fritters.
Heat is also expressed in peppery terms at Gaffney’s. A special
of grilled halibut ($18) snuck up on me with its chipotle-based
sauce, warming the mouth more than I would have expected but
therefore offering great delight. The fish supported the heat,
and the side of guacamole provided a sweet complement. The
plate was finished with rice and string beans and yellow squash
sautée, both side dishes reflecting a high degree of care.
You don’t see much here in the way of fancy foams or drizzles,
but the food itself makes the plates look handsome.
Your purpose in dining here may not be a full-bore dinner,
and the menu accommodates that. Starters range from $3.50
for a cup of soup (we tried the seafood chowder during one
visit, and were very pleased to find a not- overthickened
brew with lots of flavor) to $17 for a platter of 50 chicken
For extended nibbling, try the tapas plate ($14), which brings
together such other menu items as smoked trout and roasted
pepper antipasto and adds hummus, a selection of olives, roasted
almonds, balsamic-laced mozzarella, red pepper-and-eggplant
dip, a slice of brie and some flatbread crackers. That plate
and a pint of ale and your evening is off to a good start.
Salads, sandwiches and a couple of burgers fill out the light
menu list. When you get a salad, which comes with any entrée,
be sure to try the creamy curry dressing, something I kick
myself for not thinking of—and which I’m certainly going to
It’s hard to go wrong with chicken if you just cook the thing
properly, but this raises the bar on chicken-dish preparation:
Do fancy enhancements really work? In the case of Gaffney’s
grilled maple chicken ($14), the presentation alone showed
the gift of simplicity. A serving of chicken breast, darkened
by its glaze, looked all the fancier simply because it was
sliced. And there’s no question about the mating of maple
with anything that crosses the grill.
Pasta dishes also figure on the menu, and our representative
example featured sautéed sea scallops served with a crisscross
of sun-dried tomatoes and asparagus over spaghettini ($18),
in a parmesan-thickened cream sauce. Murderously rich, unsurprisingly
Chef Bobby Holt takes the right kind of chances, and is well
served by a youthful staff that keeps the orders moving. They’re
under the seasoned eye of manager Kim Smith, who couldn’t
have been friendlier. We were on a first-name basis by the
time we left, and I’m sure the same will happen to you.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
fine-dining restaurant at Saratoga Gaming and
Raceway has been completely rebuilt and is now
open for business. Fortunes, a 500-seat
venue that sits above the harness track and offers
an excellent view from all seats, has been handsomely
reappointed and boasts chef Thomas Gisler, formerly
of Cooperstown’s Otesaga Hotel. Both à la carte
and buffet dining are available; watch this space
for a review. . . . Jack’s Oyster House
(42 State Street, Albany) has been selected by
the Nation’s Restaurant News Editorial
Board as a 2005 Nation’s Restaurant News Fine
Dining Hall of Fame Honoree. Criteria for nomination
include excellence in food, quality, service,
ambience and leadership in staff training and
motivation. Jack’s owner Brad Rosenstein will
attend the induction at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel
in Chicago on May 22, and an upcoming issue of
Nation’s Restaurant News will feature an
in-depth profile of Rosenstein and the restaurant.
. . . This Saturday (April 30) will be the grand
opening of the Battenkill Kitchen, Inc.,
a shared-use kitchen that will be available for
rentals, classes, product launches, etc. It is
located at the Historic Salem Courthouse on 58
E. Broadway in Salem. Saturday’s event will include
a ribbon- cutting ceremony, cooking demonstrations
and tastings. For more information on joining
BKI or renting the facility, call 854-3095. .
. . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland
(e-mail food@ banilsson.com).
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very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's
at Ogdens. You review described my dining
experience perfectly. This wasn't the case
with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or
Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree
that a restaurant can have an off night
so I'll give the second unit on Central
Avenue a try.
yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back.
Second, I haven't had a chance to visit
Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading
would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant
- it's not that far away. People traveled
from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam.
From his background, I'm sure the chef's
sauce is excellent and that is the most
important aspect of an Italian restaurant.
Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on
the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm
looking forward to trying this restaurant
- I look forward to Metroland every Thursday
especially for the restaurant review. And
by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam
location and is opening a new bistro on
Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running
in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake
Bistro. It should be great!
comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants
being as "standardized as McDonald's"
shows either that you have eaten at only
a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or
that you have some prejudices to work out.
That the physical appearances are not what
you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing
on the food. And after all, that is what
the main focus of the reviews should be.
Not the physical appearances, which is what
most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on
Central Avenue, may not look the greatest,
but the food is excellent there. And the
menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian,
chicken, and more..