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photo:B.A. Nilsson

The Right Kind of Chance
By B.A. Nilsson

Gaffney’s

16 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.

Cuisine: innovative American

Entrée price range: $14 (chicken al’Alba) to $23 (8 oz. filet mignon)

Ambiance: classic Saratoga.

 

Gaffney’s 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 town.

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 portrait painted.

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 a while.

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 wings.

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 steal.

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 delicious.

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.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

The 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).


We want your feedback

Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

I 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.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, 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 the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I 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!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your 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..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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