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Photo: Leif Zurmuhlen

Best Bet

By B.A. Nilsson

One of the most ostentatious steakhouses I’ve visited was in Dallas, where the building was as outsized as the portions and the service featured rolling salvers. I was reminded of this six years ago, when I wrote about Sargo’s at the Saratoga Golf Club; the restaurant here reopened in May as Prime at Saratoga National, and it has the same massive entryway and regal hall.

The dining room is a bit smaller, however, having sacrificed some of its ceiling space in order to accommodate a banquet room above. This allows the many wedding receptions they book to take place without displacing dinner guests. While construction took place, the veranda was expanded, offering many more tables for those who’d like to dine al fresco near the handsome fairways.

And the new menu reflects the formula that has enjoyed success at Albany’s 677 Prime, one of Angelo Mazzone’s several area eateries. “That’s our core menu,” says Saratoga manager Stuart deVoe. “We do a few things differently to tailor it to the local market, and we enhance it with daily specials.”

He notes that the kitchen also strives to use locally available ingredients where possible. An example is the chicken, which comes from Shaw Farm in Greenwich. This becomes a roasted chicken entrée, a $29 plate sporting an unfussed-with half bird, with salt and sage the primary flavor enhancers.

Which is exactly how you should treat good meat like this. Crisp the skin (which my wife will discard anyway as she pursues a pleasure-free diet), keep it moist, and serve it atop potatoes, baby carrots and roasted onions. It’s a simple, good-looking plate that’s as about good as chicken gets, competing only with the chicken leftovers, eaten cold the following day with a dab of aïoli.

And you’ll have leftovers. Big portions are served here, with big prices to match. Angelo’s 677 Prime is noted for its ambitious pricing; the Saratoga menu saves you a few dollars here and there. Albany’s $93 porterhouse for two (a 40-ounce slab that conceivably could serve many more) is only $80 in Saratoga; the 10-ounce filet mignon is $34 at both places, but the 14-ounce cut is $46 (Albany) or $43 (Saratoga).

Both restaurants offer caviar, but the Saratoga menu lays out the pricing ($100 to $230 for 28-gram portions, with Russian varieties at the highest end).

If the steaks are the stars, most of the supporting players are seafood. Lobster tails top the price list, at $70 for a pair of them, but a serving of seared diver scallops comes in at a more reasonable $28. I like the sound of the pinot noir-lacquered Chilean sea bass ($33), served with creamed leeks and lobster, and there’s a $29 blackened salmon filet.

At the other end of your meal, a raw bar includes not only an array of clams, shrimp and oysters but also a $15 ahi tuna sashimi and, for $14, Mediterranean tuna tartare.

It’s the last-named with which I began my meal, keeping in mind that I’m never called upon to share raw seafood when dining with my wife and thus can indulge my greed. It’s a molded serving of seasoned fish, approximately (and appropriately) the size of a tuna can, with a wonderfully complementary flavor of olives and capers in the spicy mix, a trail of arugula purée decorating the plate.

Carrying the Mediterranean theme into the salad course, I ordered a Caesar ($8), assuring Robert, our server, that I wanted anchovies, which were served whole atop the greens, long strips of pickled white anchovies that nudged the salad’s flavor in a sweeter direction. The other components were as expected.

Bypassing the appetizers list, which includes calamari ($12), foie gras ($25), shrimp ($16) and poached lobster ($18), Susan asked if she could start with one of the vegetable side-dishes: nori tempura asparagus ($8). It’s a lump of battered and fried spears, stuck together and sparsely coated, that’s not an easy thing to eat.

The Prime chop salad ($7) is another molded course, this time mixing a rough cut of iceberg and romaine leaves with tomatoes, onions, cukes and avocado and a sprinkling of blue cheese, dressed with a tangy vinaigrette and topped with crisped onions—a fun-to-eat interpretation of this course.

My job here was to sample a steak. It’s a daunting choice. There are those filets, of course, but I long ago learned to prefer the sirloin cut. Would I want one with peppercorns pounded into it? It’s a great preparation, but for this visit it probably was best to let the meat speak for itself.

My personal beef supply comes from a local farmer, so I’ve been eating the meat of grass-fed cattle, which sports a different flavor and texture than the grain-fed variety. “It’s a different flavor,” confirms deVoe, “and we’re not sure right now that our customers would prefer it.”

The 14-ounce New York strip ($41) arrives unadorned. I ordered it rare, and it was cooked to the not-so-raw edge of that designation. It was as delicious a cut of beef as I’ve enjoyed in a long time, well-trimmed, lightly seasoned, each bite tender and tasty.

A side dish of gorgonzola gnocchi ($7) was well-prepared, but too overpowering an accompaniment—but it was my choice. Next time I’ll opt for potatoes. Vegetable sides are also a la carte, and include baby carrots, sautéed corn and roasted shiitake caps ($7 each). The sautéed spinach ($6) was buttery and garlicky, and that’s the best you can ask of it.

CIA instructor Frank Volkhommer is the chef, and he’s also a certified master pastry chef who shows that skill in the truffles and biscotti ($10) we split for dessert. (Note that this is the first dessert list on which I’ve seen cookies and milk as an offering.)

Robert and Matt, our servers, did a terrific job of helping us find the right seat, shape our order, and make sure we were satisfied throughout. My only complaint is about tea service, which always should present an already-steeping pot.

Dining options include weekday lunches, a lighter dinner menu that’s served later, and an expansive Sunday brunch that includes live jazz.

Prime at Saratoga National may be a little rich for the workingman’s budgetary blood, and its Texas-style excesses border on the silly, but what it does it does excellently. Got something in the fourth race? Here’s what to do with your winnings.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

It’s the 25th anniversary of Café Capriccio (49 Grand St., Albany), and the restaurant is saluting the occasion with summer prix-fixe menu offered in addition to the regular menu. For $25, you get a salad, a choice of one of four pasta dishes, and dessert. And those pasta dishes comprise primavera (pasta tossed with vegetables in cream); filetto di pomodoro alla Genovesi; calamari fra diavolo; and risotto with mushrooms, roasted peppers and spinach. It’s a terrific bargain to enjoy in the restaurant’s newly expanded space; reserve seats or get more info by calling 465-0439, or visit cafecapriccio.com. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (food@banilsson.com).



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