World of Comforts
B y B.A. Nilsson
26 Henry St., Saratoga Springs,
587-9463. Serving dinner from 5:30 Wed-Sun. AE, D, DC, MC,
Global comfort food (it’s their motto)
price range: $16 (pork loin) to $30 (filet mignon)
Ambience: Fashionably understated
Clientele: Upscale foodies
Those favored dishes your grandmother used to make now seem
to be best represented in the more expensive restaurants.
Such recipes typically are simple preparations of inexpensive
items—peasant fare—but the peasants and even the patricians
aren’t cooking this way these days. We’ve been packaged and
convenienced into a culinary tailspin in which any meal that
takes longer than 30 minutes to prepare is deemed abnormal.
comfort foods,” reads the motto of dine—the all-lowercase
name suggesting more pretension than you’re actually bound
to encounter. The brainchild of childhood friends Steven Knopf
and Ron Farber, dine is one of the region’s finest restaurants,
and, because it’s situated in Saratoga Springs (the region’s
hippest city), it stands a good chance of flourishing.
A former Freihofer’s outlet, dine has been thoroughly and
tastefully redesigned. The decor is spare, and all the more
attractive because of that spareness. Recessed ceiling fixtures
and skinny, vase-like wall sconces illuminate neutral walls;
a large mirror across the back adds an illusion of light and
Following this motif of spareness, tables are draped in white
linen with a flat-folded white napkin at each place. Wine
and water glasses are set, but cutlery is provided per course—extra
work for the servers, but it gives you those extra server
visits that can make all the difference in your meal’s success.
Bucking what seems to be a current trend, the bar doesn’t
dominate the dining room; it’s a pleasant area set off by
a display of lit-from-below bottles behind the bartender.
Pinning down the menu here is tricky. It changes daily, and
is presented both on a towering blackboard and a printed page.
(For the restaurant’s address, phone number and hours of service,
pick up a postcard by the door.)
Knopf is nominally chef while Farber supervises the floor,
but don’t be surprised to also find Farber in the kitchen.
“He’s from the classic French cooking school,” explains Knopf,
“while I’m much more Asian- influenced. It makes a good combination,
because the common theme we’re searching for here is comfort
food, and it crosses all cultures.”
For example, there’s the meat loaf Wellington ($18), a wonderful
melding of haute cuisine and peasant fare. Substitute a good
slab of meat loaf for the slab of beef tenderloin, coat it
with mushroom purée and wrap it in a pastry crust before baking,
and you’ve got a just-as-valid take on a classic combination
up here, meat loaf may be your comfort food,” says Knopf.
“If you grew up in Vietnam, say, your comfort food might include
duck slices with lemongrass.”
The peripatetic Knopf worked his way through restaurant kitchens
beginning in childhood, and soon was cooking in Los Angeles
and San Francisco. Among excursions to work in Jamaica, Australia,
Micronesia and other exotic ports of call, he finished the
program at New York’s French Culinary Institute, cooked in
Saratoga at the Gideon Putnam and opened the White Swan Café
in Greenwich (now the restaurant One One One).
spent six months in Sydney, where some real cutting-edge food
stuff was happening,” says Knopf. “They called it Modern Australian
cooking; it’s what we think of as New American Cuisine.”
It’s reflected in dine’s menu makeup, which typically runs
a third Mediterranean and two-thirds Asian, with French and
American influences squeezed in here and there. No bread and
butter—“That’s for Italian and French restaurants,” says Knopf—but
you’ll be treated to an amusée that might be a carrot-cumin
compote served on a cucumber slice, a diminutive wild mushroom
sandwich, puréed beet on a wonton or any of a couple of dozen
similar preparations of vegetables and beans.
Eight or nine appetizers ($6-$11) cover a vast geo-culinary
range. It can include a simple leek-and-potato soup featuring
a coarse rendering of the components, about as far from the
classic potage parmentier as you can get while still
featuring the excellent flavors; thin slices of Hudson Valley
foie gras served on wontons with a tangy orange marmalade;
and a sweet serving of the Filipino potato known as ube.
just a grilled cheese sandwich,” Knopf says of the lobster-chèvre
sandwich, but the flavors of goat cheese and lobster meat
combine brilliantly, and the chewy Rock Hill Bakehouse bread
is an excellent vehicle.
Entrées are typically based on familiar ingredients—chicken,
beef, various kinds of fish—with a vegetarian high-rise ($17)
among the meatless fare. And the treatment can range from
the simple, such as the Chilean sea bass that gets a coating
of panko, lemon and lime juice and orange zest ($28),
to the more complicated rendering of duck breast in a red
curry sauce ($24), with just enough sweetness to give the
meat its classic complement.
Penne with chicken and scallops also included shrimp and baby
spinach ($20), untypically tossed in the lightest of sauces
so that the component flavors shone through (“That’s Ron’s
dish,” says Knopf), and pan-seared chicken breast with prosciutto
($20) will satisfy more conservative palates with its light
basil cream sauce set off by the sweetness of roasted red
Desserts are made in-house, including fantastic preparations
of ice cream: The chocolate-tamarind ice cream will make a
believer of you. Get your chocolate fix from the chocolate
espresso cake or chocolate hazelnut torte; there are lighter
confections as well, like the ginger-plum galette.
Service is exemplary. It’s a youthful staff, as attentive
and conscientious on a busy Saturday night as on a slow midweek
evening. This is probably the rarest of fine-dining attributes
in the region, and completes the excellence of fine dining
for a new restaurant at the former Steuben Club
in Albany. With chef Kevin Conway (the Conway
of Conway’s) at the helm, Pearl Restaurant
& Lounge opens Saturday, June 7, for lunch
and dinner six days a week (closed Sundays). Look
for an elegant dining atmosphere, martini lounge,
patio dining, even a late-night dance club. Call
433-0011 for more information, or check out www.pearlalbany.com.
. . . The Ginger Man Wine Bar and Restaurant
(234 Western Ave., Albany, 427-5963) has received
a 2003 Wine Spectator Award of Excellence
and is a winner of the Santé Magazine Wine
and Spirits Award. The restaurant is featured
in Santé’s March/April 2003 issue, and
will be listed in Wine Spectator’s August
issue. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland
(e-mail to email@example.com). Remember to pass
your scraps to Metroland (firstname.lastname@example.org).
fax info to 922-7090)
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.