By B.A. Nilsson
Street, Sharon Springs, 284-2105.
Serving lunch Wed-Fri 11-2,
dinner Wed-Thu 5-8,
Fri-Sat 5-9, Sun 5-7;
brunch Sat-Sun 8-2.
AE, D, MC, V.
sat on the American Hotel’s wide veranda, enjoying cocktails
as the sunset reddened a halo around the nearby buildings.
It could have been a resort hotel anywhere you might find
a warm, lilac-scented breeze, but it was in Sharon Springs,
way out west on Route 20 where it’s crossed by Route 10.
Long known for its healing waters, the town of Sharon Springs
enjoyed a postbellum boom that saw it crowded with 60 thriving
hotels to accommodate the health-seeking downstate social
elite. And then Saratoga Springs beckoned and loyalties shifted,
although a core of devotees kept Sharon Springs alive through
the 1950s. Then the Thruway delivered the coup de grâce. Thanks,
Neglected enough to keep many of its old buildings intact,
the town won a place on the National Register of Historic
Places in 1995, but it remained a faded Miss Havisham of a
village. Then revivification set in.
Doug Plummer and Garth Roberts quit the New York City rat
race to open the Rockville Café and Bakery in Sharon Springs,
which is why they were in place to buy the shabby American
Hotel in 1996. “We just wanted to keep it from falling down,”
says Plummer. “Then we got the insane idea to try to open
it again.” To say that they refurbished it hardly does justice
to its current handsomeness.
The American Hotel reopened a year ago, and now offers nine
guest rooms as well as a 65-seat restaurant. We visited on
a recent weeknight, expecting to have the place to ourselves,
but it was a-bustle with guests, including a party of physicians
there to hear a drug-company sales pitch.
That’s why we sat outside for a while. Not that we couldn’t
have been seated—but who wants to eavesdrop on a dull litany
of case studies and contraindications? I used to think that
physicians were way too beholden to the drug companies, but
now I understand differently.
Seeing the cadre of docs clustered around the drug detailer’s
banquet table, two things became apparent: They were getting
a good meal, which means they’ll work more happily; and the
drug company was supporting this restaurant, helping to keep
fine dining alive. The ever increasing price of my blood-pressure
medication has some justification, then, and the cycle is
completed when I overeat, remain fat, and keep that hypertension
Soon we went in, took seats at a comfortable table and studied
the concise menu. We went off service-sync briefly, watching
as a more recently seated party got welcomed with bread and
crudités. “But I’m hungry,” my daughter whined in her
it’s-not-fair voice. And then our own arrived, and what a
nice idea: biscuits topped with a buttery, maple-flavored
spread; baby carrots and cauliflower florets left raw but
dressed with a sweet, vinegary marinade.
Appetizers arrived soon after. The creamy asparagus bisque
($7) had none of the bitterness that the vegetable can impart,
and the woody flavor of the puréed spears was well complemented
by the crabmeat essence in the crunchy croutons. Good-sized
More crab, this time a festival of it, formed the basis of
two classic Maryland-style cakes ($8), with the right breading-to-crab
proportion to impart the seafood flavor but also prolong the
effects of a good balance of herbs.
Working with local produce is important to the restaurant,
as Plummer explains, and all the cheese comes from the local
Palatine Cheese company. An unusual but entirely fitting offering
is the appetizer of beer-battered cheddar with a tangy apple
relish ($6). The dish seems to be simplicity itself, although
achieving the flavor and consistency of the batter is tricky
and shows off the chef’s deft hand.
House salad includes romaine lettuce, grape tomatoes, shredded
carrot and toasted soybeans with a locally made wild chive
not trying to compete with New York City fine dining,” says
Plummer. “We’re offering something simpler, more in the line
of comfort food. To the locals, it’s still fancy; to people
from New York, it seems refreshingly simple.”
Eight entrées were offered when we visited: seven on the menu
and one special. Beef tenderloin ($24 as filet mignon, $19
as tenderloin tips) and strip steak ($18), of course; pecan
chicken with peach beurre blanc ($17), a novel and enjoyable
blend of flavors I sampled on an earlier visit; rack of lamb
($23) and smoked salmon (their own) with linguine ($19).
Susan ordered the seafood enchilada ($21), a plate-filling
tortilla wrapped around a huge serving of shrimp, scallops
and crabmeat, with a bonus of rice and cheeses and some vegetables
within. Seasoning included fresh cilantro, always a good sign,
and a confit of corn off the cob and tomatoes was served
I chose a special for the evening: roasted duckling with a
ginger-apricot glaze ($19). Although duck is susceptible to
fancified preparations, this one was straight-ahead and commendable:
cooked just right, grease content low, the glaze offering
just enough sweetness without going heavy on the spice. Alongside
were rice and grilled squash.
Service is easygoing, but that’s also a reflection of chef
Lee Woolver’s style: “He gives a lot of attention to each
individual dish,” Plummer explains. “And he doesn’t do a lot
of prep. Everything is as fresh as possible. The menu changes
often, especially when fresh produce is in season.”
Desserts are few, but the maple cake Susan ordered was an
exemplary piece of work, showing Roberts’ skill as a pastry
chef. Dinner for three, with tax and tip, desserts, wine and
cocktails, was $115.
by Northwest” pairs food and wine from the Pacific Northwest
at Jack’s Oyster House (42 State St., Albany) at 7
PM Tuesday, June 4. Ray Fox from Canandaigua Wine is the guest
speaker, and Certified Master Chef Dale Miller will offer
the following menu: caramelized diver scallops with a macédoine
of grapefruit and avocado paired with a Columbia Winery Pinot
Gris; Copper River salmon with a basil pine-nut crust and
a Columbia Winery Wyckoff Chardonnay; beef tournedos with
a hodgepodge of bacon, tomatoes and thyme drizzled with a
merlot demi-glaze and served with both a Columbia Winery Milestone
Merlot and a Columbia Winery Syrah; and an almond-scented
gâteau with fresh spring berries, paired with a Covey Run
Riesling Ice Wine. It’s $65 per person, tax and tip included,
and you can reserve seats by calling 465-8854. . . . Ferrandi’s
French Restaurant (Route 67, Amsterdam) presents a spring
wine-tasting dinner June 6 through June 9 that includes a
four-course dinner paired with three glasses of wine. Appetizer
choices are coquilles St. Jacques, pâté and escargot; entrées
include poached salmon Marcel Prevost, filet mignon and duck
confit. Third course is cheese, and there’s a chef’s surprise
dessert. Chef Eric Masson, a native of France, also has wine
recommendations to accompany each course. It’s $38.95 per
person and you can make reservations by phoning the restaurant
at 842-6977. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.
fax info to 922-7090)
restaurant reviews are based on one unannounced visit;
your experience may differ.
Food Rating Key: *****
An exciting, fulfilling experience; the food and service are
everything they set out to be. Brillat-Savarin would be proud.
Way up there with really good food, definitely worth your
dining dollar. Julia Child would be proud. ***
Average, with hints of excitement. Your mother would be pleased.
A dining-out bogey; food probably isn’t the first priority.
Colonel Sanders would be disappointed. *
K-rations posing as comestibles. Your dog would be disgusted.