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A New Brew
By B.A. Nilsson

The Whistling Kettle

24 Front St., Ballston Spa, 884-2664. Serving Sun-Mon 11-5, Tue-Wed 11-6, Thu-Sat 11-7. AE, D, MC, V

Cuisine: sandwiches and tea

Entrée price range: $3 (peanut butter & jelly) to $12.25 (complete high tea)

Ambiance: cozy, to say the least

 

‘So watch the wall, my darlings, while the Gentlemen go by,” wrote Kipling, in what was once a famous ode to tea smuggling. And anything worth smuggling obviously was worth something.

It’s difficult, in these waning days of the flo-thru bag, to appreciate the way tea once dominated the landscape, socially and economically. It had to have been good and vital stuff in order to be so integral to that revolution-inspiring party in Boston Harbor way back then. Now it’s a tepid cup of colored water that’s been flavor-free for so long that it’s merely a vehicle for too much milk and sugar.

So I invite you to discover the taste of tea. Start with a whiff. Begin near the entrance of the Whistling Kettle, after you’ve passed the cozy-looking outdoor tables and entered the handsome dining room. To your left is a long sideboard on a shelf of which you’ll find an array of some 80 containers, each petite case sporting a sign that identifies the tea within.

Choose a container and lift it to your nose. Remove the cover and inhale slowly (there’s no need to snuffle tea leaves up your conk). Notice how the aroma swirls, grabbing your various olfactory and flavor receptors like a mad organist playing a too-quick toccata. Notice next how your brain starts sparking and your head comes alive.

Give yourself a chance to settle, then smell another blend. This is the telling moment, because the first one you sampled was merely tea. It’s the second one that points out the tremendous difference there is among tea varieties.

Then take a seat and go for broke. Order a pot of Belgian chocolate rooibos. Make it a large pot. It’ll cost you $7.60, but anyone you’re with will insist on sharing (if you’re alone or miserly, a personal pot is $4.80). This tea needs seven minutes of steeping time, so settle in.

When you pour your first cup, savor it as a wine snob does. Drink in the aroma first as your warm your hands around the cup. Let the steam curl against your face, dampening your cheeks. Then sip with an aerating slurp. Isn’t it an amazing flavor? Can you believe how much chocolate flavor is worked into the brew? It’s a flavor that’s distinct, yet it’s inseparable from the many other flavors competing for your attention.

Kevin and Meahgan Borowsky saw fine tea—and teahouses—as a niche that was growing in the country’s major metropolitan areas, and so were inspired to open this, the area’s first such establishment. Meahgan’s tasteful hand is behind the design and decor; together, the couple developed the sniffing bar and the menu.

The menu is designed as an accompaniment to the tea-drinking experience, with a selection of tea sandwiches (including the classic cucumber and cream cheese, $4.25), a changing couple of soups (the apple-butternut squash combo was impressive), a couple of $6 club sandwiches and a panini array that costs $7 or so. I like the Kettle club panini, which features sliced turkey that has cracked peppercorns worked, with a spinach-artichoke spread and a chunk of mozzarella, on the grilled ciabatta bread.

What’s also nice is the mixed green salad ($3.50), to which you add any number of items at various prices. For example, adding green peppers, chick peas or mushrooms would add 35 cents per item; eggs or any of the cheeses are 50 cents apiece; and meat or bacon adds 75 cents per item. My wife went whole hog, or I should say whole hen, by adding a scoop of curried chicken salad for $1.75, and she was very pleased.

But you probably want the teahouse experience. Its zenith is high tea ($12.25), which gets you a personal pot of (non- premium) tea, a tea sandwich (perhaps you’d care for the goat cheese-watercress-pecan?), a fruit selection and a scone with preserves.

A little lunchier is the san souci tea ($11), which offers unlimited fills of the day’s iced tea special along with soup or salad or a tea sandwich as well as a scone, brownie or tea bread. For an extra buck and a half, add a personal pot of tea in place of the iced variety.

The Kettle’s quiche tea ($10) features a slice of the day’s quiche; both the broccoli and the spinach versions I sampled were nothing more than overcooked, cakelike commercial products. When you raise chickens, as I do, you learn to cook up some killer quiches.

I’ve barely touched on the many teas here, but what good is a printed list? At home, I begin most days with a pot of Earl Grey, brewed with bergamot-rich leaves, so I made it a point to sample others, like the oolong orange blossom and Borengajuli Assam. And there are green teas, white teas, herbal and fruit teas, black teas blended and flavored and lots, lots more.

Despite the many types of tea and the purist attitude of the place, the tea seems somehow modest compared to the attention all those fancy coffees get at the dreaded Starbucks and its many knockoffs. That’s because the coffee boutiques aren’t presenting their brews as things to savor, but rather as vehicles for goofy additives that turn the drinks into one more high-fat, oversugared dessert for the mall-addicted masses.

“Its home lies in the Valley of Romance,” wrote Ibsen of tea, “a thousand miles beyond the wilderness. Fill up my cup . . . Let us hold on tea and love a good tea-table talk.”

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

The Regional Farm & Food Project presents its eighth annual fall feast “Through Farmers’ Hands — A Country Prom” from 6 to 10 PM Monday (Sept. 26) at the Canfield Casino in Saratoga Springs, New York. The event features farm-fresh local foods prepared and served by 29 farmers and chefs, as well as old-time country music and a live art auction. The event is presented in collaboration with Putnam Market and Putnam Wine of Saratoga Springs, who have organized a presentation of New York State wines to complement a selection of New York State cheeses. Brown’s Brewing Company of Troy will be serving ale and lager. Beekman Street Bistro, Easton Mountain Retreat Center, Lily and the Rose Catering, Mrs. London’s, Roadhouse 29, Slice of Heaven Breads and Spoonful Catering will be presenting gourmet creations. Divinitea will be serving artisan teas. And High Peaks Java of Glens Falls will serve organic fair-trade coffee. One of the goals of this event is to produce zero waste. McEnroe Organic Farm will accept all biodegradable waste from the event at its composting facility in Millerton. The event will introduce biodegradable table service manufactured by Biocorp® of Rogers, Minn. Tickets are $35 in advance or $45 at the door. Buy tickets online at www.farmandfood.org or at Hawthorne Valley Farm Store, Ghent; Honest Weight Food Coop, Albany; Natural Food & More, Cobleskill; the Open Door Bookstore, Schenectady; Putnam Market, Saratoga Springs, or The Village Store, Cambridge. For more information, call 271-0744. . . . The Saratoga Lake Bistro (511 Route 9P, Saratoga Lake) presents a Fall Wine Tasting Dinner Sept 29, 30, Oct 1 and 2. The four-course meal paired with three glasses of wine is $49 per person. During the Fall Wine Tasting Dinner, rooms at the inn will be able available at a reduced rate starting at $75. For a room reservation, call 495-7408; for bistro reservations, 587-8280. . . . 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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