CREDIT: B.A. Nilsson
Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 587-5577. Serving lunch Tue-Sun
11:30-2:30, dinner daily 5-10. AE, MC, V.
price range: $9.75 (burritas vegetariana) to $19.75
(carne asada filet mignon)
noticed, of course, that each downtown vacancy in Saratoga
Springs typically is filled with something more upscale than
its predecessor. Eddie Bauer and the Gap have gotten in, and
a new level of soullessness was achieved some years ago when
a Starbucks appeared.
Professor Moriarty’s was a decades-old Broadway stalwart adjacent
to the ever-full parking U and banjo-performance showcase
bench. The latter two remain, but the building has been lightly
redecorated within to accommodate its new incarnation, Cantina.
Nothing south-of-the-border tacky here—same wood-paneled walls
and comfortable array of tables in the airy dining areas.
The nighttime dining ambiance is enhanced by the giant candles
topping a room divider, with a row of smaller candles against
one of the walls.
The just-opened restaurant is the brainchild of California
transplant Jeff Ames, who brings a West Coast sense of materials
and authenticity. And what’s most authentic are the ingredients,
which start out as fresh as possible before getting combined
into recipes that reflect an imaginative approach by much-traveled
chef Joseph Cooper.
Cooper is a veteran of such world-class eateries as Manhattan’s
Le Cirque, La Tour d’Argent in Paris, Venice’s Bauer Hotel
and many others, so he brings a refreshingly international
approach to a well-designed menu.
Order the $8.50 quesadilla appetizer, for instance, and you
get a house-made flour tortilla topped with squash blossoms,
farm cheese and a tasty Mexican delicacy called huitlacoche,
actually a blight called corn smut that infects an ear by
planting its spores in the kernels—at one point earning the
sobriquet Mexican truffles, although huitlacoche is
thought to come from an Aztec word meaning raven turds. Just
thought you’d like to know.
Produce and meat are carefully sourced, much of it as locally
as possible for this scratch kitchen that boasts a shelf of
lava stone molcajete y tejolote—large mortar and pestle
units used for making salsa, among many other things. And
making those tortillas is a tricky process that bespeaks an
almost insane dedication.
The Cantina menu has none of the busy pages of combo platters
many another Mexican place features. Nine starters and 13
entrées cover all the ground you really need to cover. You’ll
find tacos (although you won’t recognize them), burritos,
tostadas, tamales and more, but they’re reimagined, sometimes
lightly, sometimes at length.
Tacos de pescado ($12.75), for example, puts grilled snapper
on a tortilla base, with a chipotle mayo among the other flavor-enhancers.
A poblano-and-tomato-filled tortilla, laced with crema
fresca, is your under-$10 budget entrée; at the other
end of the scale are concoctions of lobster (enchiladas, with
a toasted almond mole) or filet mignon (with a casserole of
chorizo and beans) that still come in for less than
At this point in my life I probably need to retire the description
that “servers are youthful,” because you rarely find servers
who even approach my age in the Capital Region. It’s not an
area in which the career server easily can thrive, because
the threshold for good service is such that candidates often
are treated as interchangeable items.
Nevertheless, the youthful servers at Cantina provide consistent
attention, even if they do seem to get easily distracted—or
so single-focused that you’re overlooked. When our appetizer
plate of house-special nachos arrived, we were so sincerely
cautioned about the heat of the casserole that I wasn’t even
tempted, as I usually am, to touch it anyway.
And what the hell was I doing, ordering nachos? It’s a terrible
food, all crunch and cheese and calories. And therefore irresistible,
especially when presented as a special ($8.75) and topped
with fresh, cilantro-rich salsa and sprinkled with jalapenos.
Damn that devilish sour cream!
Because my daughter was so keen on getting those nachos (she’s
handy as a deflector of blame) I resisted ordering the baja
ceviche (the cold-cooked fish changes daily, $9.75) or
guacamole ($7.50). But my wife plunged ahead into corn chowder
($6.50), especially after our server noted that’s it not really
a chowder and thus soon will enjoy a name change. It arrives
in a capacious, broad-brimmed bowl; it’s a cream-rich purée;
it picks up flavor from pumpkinseed oil and the minty licorice
were another special of the day ($12.50), but what arrived
wasn’t the sizzle platter of chain-restaurant Mexicana. We
were delivered a demure dish with tangy sautéed chicken at
the heart of the compote (beef was the other choice), surrounded
by the usual array of onions and peppers. And, of course,
soft tortillas in which to wrap the stuff.
Soft cotija cheese is a standout ingredient of the
crispy chicken tostada ($10.75), and arrives on a hard, flat
corn tortilla with more of that chicken, along with a black-bean
purée, shredded greens and salsa.
Organic pork figures in a number of entrées, so I ordered
the carnitas burrito ($12.75) for a taste of it. And
a worthy taste it turned out to be, reflecting meat that was
marinated and then braised for a good, long time. A trio of
toppings (including my nemesis, sour cream, and a welcome
dollop of guacamole) and small sides of rice and beans completed
the satisfying dish.
The evening maintained an August-like blast of heat; a glass
of Mexican chenin blanc ($5.50) beckoned more compellingly
than beer, but I almost went for a mojito ($7), another
great hot-weather drink. There’s also a long list of tequila—blanco,
reposado and añejo.
It’s a pleasant restaurant in a prime location, bringing to
four the number of Saratoga-area Mexican restaurants, but
providing a menu quite different from the others. Once they
weather the other August blast, that of the racetrack crowd,
we’ll be back for more.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
the summer’s sticky heat inspires dreams of air
conditioning or the beach, a toothsome, seasonally
appropriate alternative will be offered next Thursday
(Aug. 9), at New World Home Cooking Co.
in Saugerties: a backyard hoedown! Chef Ric Orlando
and his crew will cook up a Tennessee barbecue
with smoked pork, grilled trout, white bean chili,
corn on the cob, fried green tomatoes, salads,
sweets and more. Beer, wine, root beer, lemonade,
and mint juleps also are included, for $35 per
person (plus tax and tip). Dinner runs from 6
to 9, and includes a set of live music. The restaurant
is at 1411 Route 212, and you can reserve seats
or get more info at (845) 246-0900. Remember to
pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food
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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..