By B.A. Nilsson
41 Nelson Ave., Saratoga
Springs, 584-4466. Serving daily from 4 PM. (Closed Mon-Tue
as racing season winds down.) D, DC, MC, V.
a first for me: this week’s restaurant is right across the
street from last week’s. Meaning it’s within shouting distance
of the Saratoga flat track, and therefore picks up a lot of
August business from it. But this place has long established
itself as a year-round destination.
As the first Mexican restaurant in the Capital Region (it
opened in 1979), it has seen a lot of competition of varying
degrees of authenticity. But the Mexican Connection established
itself and stayed with a formula that has won a devoted following,
both for its food and its comfortable, rather homespun surroundings.
We’ve learned much about Mexican and Southwestern fare in
the past 20 years, and the quest for authenticity has caused
restaurants like this to fall under unnecessary scrutiny.
It’s never been the mission of this place to place you in
Owner Marilyn Farrell hails from Kansas City, and notes that
she grew up with Mexican food because of that area’s large
Hispanic population. She went on to study the cuisine in
situ, as well as with Diana Kennedy, whose Mexican cookbooks
are among the best.
I made a reservation for a recent weeknight, stupidly putting
us in as a party of four because one of our group of five
was an infant. My wife, who arrived before I did, suggested
that we’d fit better at a more capacious table—we were going
to be squeezed between two other four-tops—and the house was
more than happy to oblige. Which was more than we deserved.
While waiting by the bar, I studied the extensive tequila
menu. The restaurant is rightly proud of the variety that’s
offered, with several brands apiece of the blanco, anejo
and reposados varieties, as well as a few (more
costly) that have been aged for three or more years.
We were seated at a long table in a back room surrounded by
cheerful western-movie memorabilia—lobby cards for Gene Autry
and Roy Rogers movies, for example—and given menus, although
the promised children’s menu never materialized.
And there you have my main criticism of our dinner experience:
A well-meaning staff was fragmented by the many demands. Same
old story. Busy height-of-the-season nights will expose such
problems more noticeably than when business is slack, but
it comes down to the matter of setting up a service system
that will accommodate the peak times.
However, you’re saying, we’re at the mercy of seasonal help.
Doesn’t matter: When the system is in place, you should be
able to plug your competent employees into it. But this is
something I’ll take up at more length in a forthcoming column.
to get my party into some kind of concerted ordering state
of mind was difficult. As usual, my wife, Susan, promptly
began to fire off her requests but I had reinforcements this
time and we were able to contain her. I asked instead for
an appetizer—cheese and spinach dip ($8)—while the rest of
us pored over the listings.
This is a Mexican Connection classic, flirting with kitsch
as it arrives in a ceramic sombrero, the dip forming the peak,
so to speak, with a brimful of corn chips below. No culinary
ground broken here—it’s straight-ahead, b-flat bar food—but
it accomplished its purpose in stanching our hunger.
Our party included my five-year-old, Lily, and our friend
Vicki’s one-year-old, so we chose to accommodate a variety
of tastes. For the kids: rice and beans ($2.75), which we
augmented with tastes from the other plates.
I chose the Acapulco with meat ($15), which comes with your
choice of carne. I chose chorizo, a Mexican
sausage, which was combined with beans and a restrained amount
of cheese in a big pair of burritos, served with rice. Good,
reliable stuff, with a compelling mix of flavors but not much
pepper-heat. Huge portion, too: I got two more meals out of
Vicki veered in the meatless direction, easily satisfied here,
and ordered a Yucatan tostado ($13), a flat, crisped tortilla
topped with black beans and sour cream, appropriately seasoned,
served with cumin-scented rice, guacamole (mashed and seasoned
avocado) and romaine-based salad.
A similar assembly informs the chilaquiles ($12), in
which layers of crisped corn tortillas are filled with shredded
chicken and melted cheese, with a wonderfully tart tomatillo-cilantro
sauce. Susan and Lily shared this one and still had plenty
to bring home.
We enjoyed this with a couple of beers—they have Dos Equis
on tap—but quit eating before we all got too stuffed. But
with fussy children and all that food, we passed on the desserts,
despite my fondness for the restaurant’s flan.
Service slowed considerably at this point and we had to go
chase the check, but it was nice to see that the food quality
hasn’t diminished and the restaurant remains as friendly as
Dinner for three (with a couple of kids in tow) with tax and
tip and a couple of beers, was $75.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
a tour of the best of Trefethen Vineyards with a special
wine dinner at Nicole’s Bistro at the Quackenbush
House (Clinton & Broadway, Albany) beginning
at 6 PM Thursday, Sept 12. The four-course meal by chef
Daniel E. Smith shows off such wines as Trefethen’s
1999 Napa Valley Chardonnay and outstanding examples
of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, the last paired with
Hudson Valley moularde duck breast with wild mushroom
Yorkshire pudding and a dried cherry-cabernet glaze.
It’s $85 per person, including tax and tip, and you
can reserve seats by phoning the restaurant at 465-1111.
This is part of the Saratoga Wine & Food Festival,
which also features Thursday night events at Eartha’s,
43 Phila Bistro, the Friends Lake Inn, the
Glen Sanders Mansion, Hattie’s, the Lake Placid
Lodge, the Lodge at Saratoga, Longfellows, Nicole’s,
One Caroline Street Bistro, Provence, Siro’s, Sperry’s
and Yono’s; on Fri, Sep 13, a special Hall
of Springs dinner brings together pairings of many
different wines with appropriate course. Seminars throughout
Saturday examine various aspects of wine and wine enjoyment,
while a grand tasting and auction runs from 11 AM-5:30
PM. It’s a fundraiser for the Saratoga Performing Arts
Center, and you can get more info by phoning 587-3330,
or by checking out the website at www.spac.org/ calender/wine.html.
. . Remember to pass your Scraps to Metroland.
fax info to 922-7090)