so odd, so foreign in a way. A brand-new hotel in downtown
Saratoga, occupying a site that’s been home to more than one
such incarnation. And a brand-new restaurant therein.
a smart-looking place, appointed with dark wood, a spacious,
gorgeous bar, tables that grace two levels and also hide in
private alcoves here and there. A courtyard; a garden. You’re
struck with the expensive newness of it all, and then you
see old friends: the cast and crew, so to speak, of Chez Sophie,
lifted from their little silver diner a few miles down Route
9, transformed, as if carried by magic carpet, into one of
the most elegant restaurants in the area.
awaited in one of those alcoves, and it was something of a
shock to be dining in the August downtown in such quiet and
comfort. But Chez Sophie has always been a haven for the cognoscenti.
Instead of discussions of horse at neighboring tables, I heard
people talking—quite intelligently—about food and restaurants.
the menu brought me home. I haven’t visited the place in a
while, and was forced to realize how much I’ve missed it.
Rack of lamb with red wine and marjoram sauce ($33) sounds
straightforward, but I can already taste the blend of spices
and know I’ll still be in for a surprise.
are the sweetbreads ($28), served in a buttery caper sauce,
one of my all-time favorite dishes. Out of stubbornness I
won’t order it tonight just so I can try something new.
at this restaurant—in whatever location—our server becomes
an integral part of the process. This isn’t a hi-my-name-is-so-and-so
kind of place, where the servers recite from scripts while
trying to push overpriced cocktails upon you. Andrée and I
actually had a colloquy during which she helped me zero in
doesn’t hurt to have Cheryl Clark stop by your table. Co-owner
of the place with her husband, chef Paul Parker, she not only
knows the menu well but is likely to know your preferences
once you’ve dined with her a few times.
it was I was steered towards bouillabaisse ($35), a
recent menu addition and one that, not surprisingly, sports
its own personality. Fat shrimp and juicy scallops were surrounded
by more than enough clams and mussels, all sculpted around
a modest portion of a seafood broth seasoned with saffron
and fennel, accompanied by a crouton topped with the traditional
aïoli. It’s a simplified variation on a classic dish, which,
let’s face it, has variations aplenty.
stew originated in a part of France also celebrated in the
Provençal vegetarian sampler ($9), an easygoing starter that
combined two types of mushroom, baby leeks, artichoke hearts
and red pepper, all marinated to a piquant, sometimes vinegary
finish. Consider that you’ll get a basket of good bread with
a white bean dip, and you have a good combo here.
urged my daughter to get the Raclette appetizer ($11), but
it sounded so good that I ordered the dish, and was forced
to surrender it only after I’d sufficiently tasted the gooey,
salty stuff. Per tradition, it was served with cornichons;
other pickled accompaniments were lotus and carrot slices.
And that was it for our bread.
get oysters ($15), pâté ($11), escargot ($11) and crab cake
($14), and we got a taste of the pan-seared scallops ($14)
when a small portion was offered as an amuse-bouche along
with coconut-seasoned figs and dates.
Sophie’s dependence on fresh ingredients can’t be overstressed.
One menu page lists all of the local purveyors from whom meats
and cheese and veggies and greens are obtained. So it’s no
surprise to find an $8 frisée tasting crisp and gently bitter,
with edamame and bacon sharing the balsamic vinaigrette.
is kind of a cross between swordfish and tuna (but more closely
related to pompano). To grill it is to caress it with a high,
fast heat and thus inspire it to release its terrific flavor
without turning its texture too dry, and thus it was with
this dish ($32), accompanied by a citrus vinaigrette.
Sophie Parker herself wasn’t much of a vegetarian, such items
are now standard on the menu. And wildly inventive, like the
vegetarian meatloaf ($24), a dish that mixes beans and bulghur
and gets its surprisingly rich flavor reinforced with a brown
mushroom sauce. Sides, as always, were tops, with rice or
mashed potatoes as the starch and a crisp sautée of a mix
of fresh vegetables where appropriate.
was always Sophie’s watchword, and she increasingly refined
her cooking (she once said that she’d spent 30 years simplifying
her duck recipe). Her son Paul carries on the family legacy
by keeping it a living menu, changed and improved as ingredients
and inspiration suggest. He has a virtuoso staff to help in
the kitchen, and the floor staff is second to none.
they’re lodged in elegant, spacious surroundings—and in the
midst of the city that always has been the restaurant’s spiritual
home—we can enjoy fine dining at its finest in Saratoga Springs.