From the Bell
By B.A. Nilsson
Leon’s Mexican Restaurant
35 Crescent St., Saratoga
Springs, 587-2346. Serving Wed-Mon 11-10. AE, MC, V.
Food: * * * *
noted with some despair that on a popular Internet site, which
allows you to rate area restaurants by category, many users
insist on the superiority of Taco Bell. Or, it being the Internet,
it could be one user returning in many guises. Still, that
preference is shared by many—the chain continues to thrive—and
the cause of Mexican food is wretchedly served.
Like other countries whose cuisine becomes popular in the
States, Mexico’s varied and fascinating way with food has
been reduced to a few signature items. It’s not surprising,
then, that those items would make their way down the food-service
chain to Taco Bell. Leon’s Mexican Restaurant, open since
July, goes a long way toward reclaiming that cuisine.
Although I’ve seen more adventurous menus in other markets—Manhattan,
especially—this goes a long way to stamping Mexican fare with
an individual personality. In this case, it’s the personality
of Filiberto Leon, whose previous visits to Saratoga Springs
have been in the company of horses. Leon spent many years
as an award-winning jockey, with last year’s Aqueduct Broadway
Handicap among his recent triumphs. Although he hasn’t officially
retired from racing, owning a restaurant certainly demands
full-time attention. And he’s also the chef.
used to do that 10 years ago, before he started racing,” his
mother-in-law, Mary Morse, explained. “And he takes a lot
of pride in the fact that everything here is homemade. Chips,
salsa, cheese sauce—no mixes. We make fresh guacamole, and
you should see how many avocados we go through trying to find
the right ones.”
It’s a family operation, with wife Roberta and both of her
parents on the floor. They took over what used to be Barney’s
Townhouse, a pizza place on Crescent Street, not far from
the track. After considerable refurbishment inside and out,
they opened the first day of last summer’s flat-track meet.
“We did well then, and we’re still doing very well,” says
It’s a large, comfortable space with a bar and surrounding
tables in one room and a more formal (but still casual) dining
area in another. Service, once it properly got rolling, was
attentive, with members of the family always available to
check on your needs.
While my foursome haggled over drinks and entrées, I ordered
a plate of fajita supreme nachos ($11). It’s the fanciest
of several nachos plates, beginning with chips and melted
cheese ($6) and adding beans ($7), chicken or beef ($9) and,
ultimately, a platter with all of the above as well as the
cilantro-rich sauce pico de gallo, guacamole and sour
cream. Unlike the jumble of chips and cheese typically passed
off as nachos, this is an attractive serving in which each
chip is carefully topped. The accompanying guacamole is a
refreshing reminder how this avocado dip should be prepared,
and it’s something I wanted to savor separately, so I wish
our server hadn’t whisked away what remained of the basket
of chips we were served as we sat.
Speaking of which, those chips are prepared in the restaurant,
indicative of the care that goes into the preparation. Salsa
and a surprisingly light cheese sauce are served alongside,
and a dish of spicier salsa was presented upon my request.
Other appetizers include a “Mexican pizza” ($10), in which
a flour tortilla is topped with salsa and cheese, taquitos
($9), a kind of Mexican egg roll, and botana ($13),
a sampler that includes quesadillas.
Entrées include a number of items named for thoroughbreds,
as well as separate sections detailing fajitas and
seafood items. Among the entrées: deep-fried, cheese-filled
Anaheim peppers ($15), marinated rib-eye steak ($16), quesadillas
with beef or cheese ($15) and grilled chicken topped with
cheese and grilled onions ($12), all served with rice and
We went traditional with a burrito—the “Dixie Luck,” an eight-inch
tortilla filled to bursting with chicken and rice and a pleasant
mix of seasonings ($12), served with ranchero sauce and covering
most of the plate.
More complex flavors come through the pork and green chili
combo ($13), in which suitably tender pork tips are served
in a sauce that’s not at all spicy but rich with peppery sweetness.
With a side of soft tortillas, you can make your own sandwiches
that also include the accompanying rice and beans.
Oaxaca ($13) is a large portion of grilled chicken breast
served over rice and covered with ranchero sauce, which includes
green chiles and tomatoes. Monterey jack cheese is melted
on top and sour cream is alongside, so it’s deceptively rich.
All told, a satisfying array of dishes. But I’d love to try
less common fare, like a good mole. We finished with two desserts:
a good, representative flan and a serving of fried
ice cream that had an earlier date with the fryer and was
rechilled. With dark Dos Equis on tap and an extremely friendly
staff, there’s no doubt we’ll be back.
Dinner for four, with tax and tip, a couple of beers and desserts,
you’re planning to attend the Clark Art Institute’s
“A Postcard from Algiers” party on Feb. 15, note that
several Williamstown, Mass.-area restaurants are offering
preparty specials that day. Eleven (413-662-2004)
and Gramercy Bistro (413-663-5300) in North Adams,
Mill on the Floss (413-458-9123) in New Ashford,
and three Williamstown eateries, Hobson’s Choice
(413-458-9101), Mezze (413-458-0123) and
The Orchards (413-458-9611), offer prix-fixe
meals ($20-$40) exclusive of tax and tip. Mention the
Clark party when making the required reservation. The
party itself features Algerian-inspired decor, entertainment
and activities. And you’ll get a look at the Renoir
and Algeria display that officially opens Feb. 16.
For more info, call the Institute at (413) 458-2303
or visit www.clarkart.edu.. . . . Sperry’s Restaurant
(30½ Caroline St., Saratoga Springs) now serves a Sunday
brunch from 10 to 2. Eggs Benedict, eggs Oscar, homemade
corned beef hash and other traditional brunch items
will be served, along with lunch items and specials.
For more info, call the restaurant at 581-2891. . .
. Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail
fax info to 922-7090)
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
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
isnt the first priority. Colonel Sanders would be disappointed.
* K-rations posing as comestibles. Your dog would be disgusted.