at the time that I heard about a building that was being renovated,”
says Carolyn, “and I called the owner, who was very interested
in having a restaurant come in.”
eight months of work, including a complete redesign of what
had been a consignment shop, the two opened 51 Front Wine
Bar and Bistro, with the aim of providing excellent, affordable
food with a wine list to match.
tried to look at it from the point of view of consumers, which
led me to ask: How do people make those dining-out
decisions? In my house, the first consideration always, always
is price. We have evolved a complicated formula over the years
that enables us to set a budget for such meals, which we then
ignore with bursts of extravagance. “We can’t afford anything
more costly than (such-and-such),” my wife will say. “True,”
say I, “But don’t we deserve a meal at (so-and-so) tonight?”
Thus does our MasterCard tremble.
comes cuisine. Representative entrées from meals gone by are
suggested. For me, cuisine trumps ambiance, but I do enjoy
the pleasant feeling of a well-appointed dining room. That’s
why the room at 51 Front was a delight to discover. In fact,
it took me by surprise. Ballston Spa struggles to maintain
its own quirky identity, even as Saratoga threatens to subsume
it, so there’s a mix of small-town rusticity with unexpected
Street itself is a pleasant, old-fashioned village thoroughfare
with an array of shops struggling to remind us of the pre-mall
environment. The restaurant’s facade is austere enough to
suggest austerity inside, but that’s not at all the case.
Thanks to Scott’s skillful work in moving walls and dressing
the place, the inside is cozy and handsome, a very comfortable
place in which to spend some quality dining time.
this artfulness spreads to the menu, where 10 entrées are
enough to show the chef’s wide-ranging taste and versatility.
He draws much inspiration from time spent cooking in New Orleans.
“He loved it there,” says Carolyn. “He loved everything about
that city. But the third time he was mugged, he said, ‘That’s
it,’ and packed his car and drove home.” He brought with him
the temerity to term one entrée “The best fried chicken you
have ever had anywhere, ever,” and it was a provocative enough
declaration to persuade my wife to order it.
has New Orleans written all over it, given that the $16 dish
is lusciously, lovingly fried, with a seemingly nonstop depth
of crispiness. You’ll also find that heritage in the crawfish-and-smoked-sausage
cheesecake ($9), which has a brown butter sauce built on a
dark, gumbo-like roux that sparkles with gentle spiciness.
The cheesecake itself is a terrific vehicle for its components,
something that’s not always the case in this savory twist
on a sweet treat. Sausage and crawfish do well enough in their
own duet, but the enhanced context adds a nice richness.
is decorated with a small serving of salad, finished with
a tangy house dressing. It’s good reason to order the $6 appetizer
of salad alone, which puts fresh baby greens in a mix of tomatoes,
cucumbers, croutons and more.
salads—the menu is all a la carte—include traditional Greek
($9), roasted fennel and goat cheese with a citrus and caper
vinaigrette ($9), and a classic Caesar ($8). Other appetizers
include brown butter BBQ shrimp with three-cheese polenta
($10), wild mushroom ravioli ($9), baked brie in phyllo with
apricot preserves and toasted almonds ($9), and a sherried
lobster bisque ($7). One of the appetizer specials we sampled
was a root vegetable hash (beets, turnips, carrots), with
a deliciously dark flavor, topped with grilled shrimp ($10).
be surprised to find blackened catfish on the entrée list
($18), but there’s also an Asian influence in a dish like
grilled breast of duck with a hoisin teriyaki glaze and jasmine
rice ($20). Grilled salmon is served with braised fennel ($19),
and crab-encrusted grouper is finished with a lobster cream
a generous (14-ounce) pork chop given a prosciutto wrapping
and finished with a mix of charred tomatoes and fresh basil
($23), while my daughter went all traditional with a New York
strip steak ($24), beautifully grilled and dripping with a
compound butter, served between creamed spinach and fried
onions. Spectacular. All of the plates were finished with
excellent mashed potatoes and a crisp string bean sautée.
oversees a floor that works as a well-oiled machine, a personable
team of knowledgeable servers who helped make the dinner a
joy. And so we lingered, indulging ourselves with a traditional
crème brûlée ($7) and flourless chocolate cake, absorbing
a few more pleasant moments of relaxation before slipping
back into the night.