Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, Crescent Avenue, Saratoga
Springs, 581-5790. Serving dinner Tue-Fri 5-10, Sat 3-5. AE,
meat ’n’ potatoes
price range: $16 (roast turkey) to $30 (twin filet
mignons with crabmeat)
With a three-quarter-million dollar facelift, new chef, and
revamped menu, the fine-dining option at Saratoga Gaming and
Raceway improved dramatically, as was displayed earlier this
year in a press luncheon in which the food and facility were
Let the crowds in, however, and you’re fighting a different
battle. We visited twice in recent days, contrasting a busy
Saturday with a slower weeknight, and witnessed the challenge
the restaurant still has set for itself. But the difference
between what’s there now and what we experienced a year ago
Back then the place looked unattractive and the food was worse,
with a buffet that seemed more apology than appetizing. Positioned
as the best of the several restaurants within the gaming facility,
it didn’t raise the bar very high.
But there was and is a built-in dilemma: Patrons at the raceway
don’t seem to be looking for rarefied gourmet fare. I have
no studies to support this theory, which springs only from
personal observations made during my few visits. And because
I’m not a gambler, I approach this restaurant with a narrower
focus. Which is why I was frequently startled by enthusiastic
yells from the crowd as the higher-stakes races finished.
Chef Kevin Philbin maintains a menu developed to meld fine
dining with a meat-and-potatoes mindset, and it works out
to be a two-part deal. Order off the menu, or pay a single
price and cruise repeatedly through the buffet. Wherever you’re
seated in the large, multi-tiered room, you’ll have a picture-window
view of the track outside. The view is reinforced by flat-screen
monitors at the tables. And you can place your bets with passing
attendants. So, once you’re seated, you won’t have to rise
until after you pay the check.
The fat guy in me loves the buffet concept, where endless
food replaces that much-desired endless love. So I’m quick
to succumb. And so I did during one of the visits, on that
busy Saturday when we were awarded a table only because we
promised to come early enough to miss the tsunami of the expected
And what a crowd! The service staff is energetic, generous
to a fault—but quickly overtaxed when the place fills up.
It’s the fault, as I’m used to ranting, of
station-based service, limiting a particular server’s responsibility
to only a few tables. Not that you won’t be helped by any
server you snag, but you may not be observed as attentively
Another factor is that this is a more demanding clientele
than I typically encounter, but that’s a subject for a shrewder
sociologist than I.
Provided the buffet browsers are all headed in the same direction
and not taking time to stare quizzically at each item, you
can quickly fill your plate with appetizers, salad, fruit,
and entrée items. Oysters are not unheard of; shrimp abounds.
Across the aisle, large heated bins with swing-open covers
revealed an array of mixed vegetables, still on the crisp
side; half-ears of corn; tender beef ribs; stuffed pork chops;
mashed potatoes; broiled salmon, a little the worse for wear;
and some manner of not-too-moist chicken. (The chicken improved
tremendously during our second visit.) And there was a carving
station for prime rib.
The items change from day to day, but the variety remains
consistent. Small portions of a variety of dessert items also
are included. At $18, the prime-rib buffet (a Saturday constant)
is an extremely reasonable bargain; the kid’s price is $10.
Not surprisingly, the menu item labeled Fortune’s Favorite
is a $30 serving of two slices of grilled filet mignon, served
on portobello mushroom caps, and garnished with crabmeat and
a just-right amount of Bearnaise sauce
(tarragon-scented Hollandaise). No complaints about its design
and presentation, except to warn you that it’s a lot of meat
and, what with salad and bread that also arrives, I wouldn’t
flirt with appetizers.
If you do, however, there are some novel ones. The grilled
calamari ($8), for instance, will prove if you truly enjoy
the stuff. No breading, no grease. Just the chewy meat of
the beast itself, with a tomato-basil vinaigrette for accompaniment.
“I have to warn the customers,” our server said, explaining
why she tried to dissuade me from ordering it. “They always
think it’s going to be fried.”
A $9 tomato-and-mozzarella salad warranted the price with
its fresh, ripe ingredients and generous use of pesto and
vinegar. And there’s a Maryland crab cake ($11; $24 as an
entrée) that really is all about crabmeat in a loose concoction
served over baby spinach, dabbed with some pepper-rich mayonnaise.
For light dining, a three-cheeseburger is $11; a cobb salad
wrap is $10.
A meat-free option is the vegetable Napoleon ($17), but, despite
the presence of grilled zucchini, eggplant, and peppers layered
with tomatoes and portobellos, it had a persistent blandness
Grilled salmon ($20) and baked Alaskan cod with kalamata olives
($17) are other seafood options, and there’s a chicken breast
stuffed with chèvre ($18). Die-hard traditionalists
might enjoy the roast turkey ($16), which we were curious
to try after hearing a neighboring customer complain about
the sauce. It was, it turned out, a traditional turkey gravy,
but he wanted something brown and nothing else would suit
him—not even the array of other sauces the server schlepped
I don’t know if a facility like this can and should attempt
something exceptionally fancy, but they’ve certainly established
a high-end middle-of-the-road restaurant, if that makes sense,
and it’s worth a visit even if you’re not planning to play
the resident horses or machines.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Cappiello Festa Italiana takes place this
weekend (Friday-Sunday, June 24-26) in Schenectady’s
Central Park. It’s an annual celebration of Italian
culture with food, children’s activities, bocce,
cooking and wine demonstrations, casino games,
children’s rides, strolling mandolinist and vocal
musicians, several bands and dance groups. Featured
entertainment is by the Tuscan Duo at 8 PM Saturday
and tenor Michael Amante at 7 PM Sunday. Admission
is free. For more info, check out www.festa-italiana.com,
or call 372-5656. . . . The Van Dyck Restaurant
(237 Union Street, Schenectady) begins brewing
beer again this week. The facility was part of
the Van Dyck’s extensive refurbishment eight years
ago and welcomes back brewmaster Jason Furman,
who was part of the original crew. He’s promising
to start off with an amber ale, an India Pale
Ale, a traditional German wheat beer and a raspberry
wheat beer; the second week of brewing will produce
the Van Dyck’s “Coal Porter,” a classic pilsner,
the popular “Edison Electric Light” and a traditional
English bitter. Furman will be brewing in the
evenings, when customers can watch him at work.
For more information, call the restaurant at 381-1111.
. . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland
(e-mail food@banils son.com).
want your feedback
you eaten at any
recently reviewed restaurants?
Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...
address not required to submit your feedback, but required to
be placed in running for a Van Dyck Gift Certificate.
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..