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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

One to Bet On

By B.A. Nilsson

The Grey Gelding Bistro & Bar

423 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 584-0957.Serving lunch 11:30-2:30 Tue-Sat, light menu 2:30-5:30 Tue-Sat, dinner from 5:30 Tue-Sat, from 5 Sun. Add Monday after July 8. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: gourmet American and pub fare

Entrée price range: $10 (Capetown burger) to $34 (10 oz. tenderloin)

Ambiance: bistro and bar

What exactly does Saratoga want to eat? “And where are they coming from?” I shouted uselessly, as I cruised the downtown streets in a vain search for parking. It wasn’t yet June when we visited—it wasn’t even Saturday—and Broadway was crawling with what passes for our beau monde, clutching their Gap bags and looking fashionably windswept.

“Once more around the block and we’re going home,” I declared. My wife likened me to a fundamental body part.

“Park by Price Chopper and walk some of that weight off,” she said. “We’re going to dinner.” Our daughter, crowded into a rear-seat corner, rolled her eyes and turned up her iPod. This is why I was in a reasonably foul temper when we reached Broadway and the restaurant we sought.

The Grey Gelding opened in June 2006, the brainchild of the husband-and-wife team of Scott and Jamie Beale and Jamie’s sister, Kelly Keefe, all of them veterans of various aspects of the restaurant business. “Jamie and I started a catering business in Saratoga in 2000,” says Scott, “and it grew popular enough that people began telling us we should have a restaurant.”

“We wanted to name it something horse-related,” says Jamie. “We live near the track and we’re big racing fans. And we wanted to have a restaurant that’s classy and nice.”

“We’ve always been aware of grey horses,” Scott explained. “If a grey horse is in the race and you don’t bet on it, it invariably wins. We thought of a number of words to go with it, and gelding seemed the most interesting, but we were worried about what it suggests and the effect it might have on customers. Turns out it didn’t bother anyone, and people around town refer to the place as ‘The Gelding.’”

I had great sympathy for the titular beast as we were escorted inside. We opted not to sit at one of the pleasant outdoor tables because I’d had enough of the tourist parade. We passed the bar area that dominates the front half of the restaurant, and I resented the swarm of summer-dressed guys around the cleavagely precocious women.

I glanced through the proffered menu and asked myself again: What does Saratoga want to eat? What caught my eye were the starters—“shareables,” as they’re termed. Bruschetta ($7). Calamari with shrimp ($14). Cheese and artichoke dip ($10). Mainstream stuff. Not what I’m looking for.

But then came a few more items, and my interest was stirred. There are spiedies ($9/$12). There’s something called honey-praline Brie ($11), and this I had to sample, because it promises (and, ultimately, delivers) warm Brie garnished with crushed pecans, sweetened with honey and caramel for that praline flavor. Yes, it is surprisingly, not to say disturbingly, sweet, and thus weird to be dredging bread through, but it’s set off by tart Granny Smith apple slices, and once you understand what’s coming, it’s pretty addictive. Like the guacamole ($11): a very smooth blend, made in-house, sporting a little kick from the addition of tequila, and served with plenty of chips.

“I call it Tuscan-Cajun-California cuisine,” says chef Scott. “What I’m looking for is a way to give your normal kind of dish a flair. Take chicken or veal Marsala. I call it ‘St. John’ and do it with cilantro, sun-dried tomatoes, Riesling, three kinds of mushroom—it’s a different twist.” It’s what my wife enjoyed. The dish is available in a $14 or $24 size, and even the former, which she self-righteously selected, was a satisfying portion, served over Asiago-enhanced pasta.

I’m guessing what Saratoga wants is fairly standard stuff. But, as the menu goes on, I’m liking ever more the way Scott messes with things.

“What did you have?” he asked when we spoke a few days later.

“A steak,” I admitted. “I don’t usually order them when I go out . . .”

“But I do them differently,” he finished for me. Indeed. “Like my Capetown sauce. I did a wine- tasting dinner with South African wine a while back, and did a lot of research on the food. I saw that people were doing a lot with peppadew peppers, so I used them to make my own version of a Piri Piri sauce, which is so popular I also serve it on a burger.”

I had my sirloin (12 oz. Black Angus, $30) in the Island’s End preparation, in which the beef is crusted with crushed espresso beans and peppercorns, pan-seared and finished with a jalapeno-enhanced red-eye gravy. An inspired variation on the surf and turf concept is his Royal Sonesta, named for the most beautiful hotel in New Orleans’s French Quarter ($27). At its heart is an andouille sausage sauce, but more evident is the slice of tenderloin, served atop a crab cake with a flavorful kick. This my daughter seized upon, and she wouldn’t let go. Both meat plates were garnished with sun-dried tomato-enhanced mashed potatoes and a crisp baby-string-bean sautée.

This sets the tone for the rest of the entrées, which take conventional ingredients and spin them into creative original places. They’re then accompanied with a killer wine list: eleven pages of carefully-chosen bottles that reflect the restaurant’s curiosity and have won them Wine Spectator awards.

And so the dining room—tin-ceilinged, art-enhanced—is a different animal than the bar area, but, like so much in Saratoga, there’s a coexistence I suspect is symbiotic. We felt relaxed and well-served, and, by the time we left, I had to be reminded how grumpy I’d been going in. I walked the several blocks back to the car without complaining.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Congratulations to Andrew Dor nen burg and Karen Page for winning the 2009 James Beard Foundation Book Award for their book The Flavor Bible (Little, Brown, $35, littlebrown.com). It’s a cookbook without a single recipe; as I wrote in December’s Holiday Gift Guide, it’s “an exhaustive list of the component items you mix into meals, and it gives many a history of those associations along with excellent ideas for combinations you may never have thought of.” Where to go from here? They’re looking to develop a PDA version of the book, to satisfy many requests, and note that they’d “love to find a way to make this a reality. Please share more details with us regarding your tech needs, and any developer recommendations, via e-mail at PageDornenburg@ gmail.com.” . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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