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.Andrea Fischman

At the Club
By B.A. Nilsson

Sargo’s at the Saratoga National Golf Club

485 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.

Food: ****½
Service: Gracious

Ambience: Costly

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 dipping sauce.

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.


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