By B.A. Nilsson
at the Saratoga National Golf Club
Union Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-4653. Serving lunch Sun-Fri
11:30-4, Sat 11:30-3, dinner Sun-Thu 5-10, Fri-Sat 5-11, brunch
Sun 10-3. AE, D, MC, V.
Like whatsername’s first glimpse of Manderley (I’m referring
to Daphne DuMaurier’s novel, and Hitchcock’s subsequent film,
Rebecca, in which the narrator is famously never given
a name), you see the clubhouse shimmer into view as you cruise
along a lengthy driveway flanked by emerald lawns. The grass
is tweezed to perfection; the only sound the distant thwack
of golf balls sent into flight.
Built just over a year ago, the Saratoga National Golf Club
and its attendant restaurant, Sargo’s, have a formidable amount
of money behind them. You can buy memberships at varying levels
of wealth, but the course is also open to all—as is the restaurant,
all year. Helmed by chef Larry Schepici, formerly at the Tavern
at Sterup Square and a number of prestigious Boston-area restaurants,
Sargo’s offers a menu rich in variations on themes that should
look comfortably familiar to your average golfer. So if foie
gras looks too intimidating (or expensive), there are
chicken wings. But they’re outstanding chicken wings.
We visited late enough on a recent Wednesday evening to miss
any immediate post-track madness. And we were dead on time,
because I had to give a credit card number to secure our table,
and feared terrible damage to it should I falter.
Ah, but the clubhouse is striking. Gorgeous, you could say,
although it’s the gorgeousness of expanse and expense. I’ve
yet to see a nicer-looking men’s room; I’m not sure the TV
screen over each urinal is an optimal use of money.
The well-appointed dining room is handsome and comfortable,
but acoustically way too lively, with bouncing cascades of
echoes that muffle the room. Also, when I’m paying $30 for
an entrée, I don’t want to see TV screens—yet they intrude
from the bar area.
Although I generally abjure children’s menus, most of which
guarantee that kids will grow up and go eat at McDonald’s,
in this case I figured it prudent to save the money. My daughter
ordered accordingly; my wife and I put together a seafood-rich
meal from the main menu.
Service here is a textbook example of doing it right, with
a captain-waiter system that puts people on the floor at all
times. When a problem (not worth recounting) arose, it was
deftly and gracefully dealt with. This is a model of service
that all area restaurants should observe.
When our appetizers emerged, we had three servers attending
their placement. In place of fries on Lily’s plate of honey
wings (chicken wings with a honey glaze, $6) was a generous
garnish of sliced fruits (pineapple, melons), much of which
she at least sampled, some of which she finished. The wings
themselves were textbook examples, rendering the accompanying
ramekins of ketchup and honey almost superfluous.
Chicken and escarole soup ($5) arrived in a broad, shallow
bowl that allowed the upper mounds of the submerged veal meatballs
to look like a little Loch Ness monster: An excellent confluence
of flavors in the broth of a fairly simple soup that showed
off a dab hand at seasoning. “And one of the secrets,” says
Schepici, “is that I use a rind of prosciutto in the soup.
I save those for flavorings, like the rinds of the Parmigiano-Reggiano
cheese wheels we get.”
The only reason I didn’t finish my calamari ($11) was to pace
myself for the rest of the meal. Otherwise, it was irresistible.
Again, it’s modified bar food, but with fresh fish, a very
light batter and a drizzle of exceptional aioli, spiced just
right. Fresh arugula complemented the dish, along with a tomato-intense
Susan’s Caesar salad ($6) at first looked offensive, sporting
huge romaine leaves. These turned out to be but a cover for
the otherwise bite-sized salad, and I can’t begrudge such
a dramatic initial appearance. It’s the real thing here, with
anchovies and cheese. Likewise, my salad of field greens ($5)
was an assembly featuring arugula and endive, with a house
vinaigrette that used a hint of blue cheese perfectly.
Lily was too full to even try her hamburger and fries ($5),
but by the time I got up the next morning, they were gone.
They sure looked good, though. (“Look, honey, Daddy has to
write about these things.” “You just want my burger for breakfast.”)
In retrospect, maybe I should have tried the dry aged sirloin
($29), the veal chop Michelangelo ($32, with porcini mushrooms,
eggplant, garlic and gnocchi), the chicken Lemonardo ($22,
with lemon zest, spinach and chanterelles). Not that there
was a thing wrong with my entrée—quite the contrary. I just
want to see how these other items are prepared and presented.
The tuna special I ordered ($28) featured two generous slices
of sesame-crusted meat, sautéed rare. Perfect. The accompanying
two fat shrimp were almost unnecessary, and the accompanying
medley of grilled red peppers, zucchini, baby carrots and
asparagus tips was outstanding. A light wasabi cream gave
some sharpness to the otherwise sweet-tasting dinner.
On Susan’s side of the table: caramelized diver scallops ($25)
with a toasted couscous that she said would have been meal
enough on its own. A blood orange-pinot noir beurre rouge
and mango coulis enhanced the scallops, with more
grilled baby veggies garnishing the plate.
Desserts also are made in house, with Schepici and sous-chef
Tony Ames sharing the duties. We finished with a terrific
tiramisu, espresso, and correct tea service—wonderful and
rare and worth the money.
Dinner for three, with tax and tip, two glasses of wine and
dessert, was $142.