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A Matter of Tasting
By B.A.
Nilsson

Photo: Chris Shields

Patroon House
614 Route 9W, Glenmont, 463-5130. Serving lunch Mon-Fri 11:30-2, dinner Mon-Thu 4:30-9:30, Fri-Sat 4:30-10. AE, D, DC, MC, V.
Cuisine: upscale steak and seafood
Entrée price range: $15 (Risotto) to $25 (NY strip)
Ambience: like home, if your home is kind of fancy
Clientele: country club

A snotty article in a recent Gourmet magazine blasts the idea of tasting menus as antiquated and unchallenging, with a parade of celebrity chefs adding their shrill voices to the screed. However passé, such a menu may seem to the oh-so hip thus profiled, it’s not a common Capital Region feature. No need to further lambaste the article in question. The tasting menu offered at the Patroon House justifies itself nicely and proves that this style of dining is a worthy pursuit.

The brainchild of Andrew Carroll and chef Richard Toth, the Patroon House occupies a fine old house in Glenmont that has been home to other upscale eateries. A few miles south of Exit 23 on Route 9W, it’s very accessible, yet just enough out of town to have that feel of a destination.

Carroll and Toth met at the Schuyler Meadows Country Club, where floor manager Carroll was inspired to dream of his own place. “I knew how I wanted my service to be, and I knew what kind of food quality I wanted to provide. There are a lot of eclectic restaurants in the area, and a lot of family restaurants, but I wanted to combine the best of those types.”

He had a steak-and-seafood menu in mind, but when he brought Toth into the project, the menu expanded a little. “Andy wanted to give me my creative freedom,” says Toth, “and that’s why we came up with the tasting menu. Now about one-third of the dinners we serve are from the tasting menu.”

The idea is to offer reduced portions of several courses, either choosing from what’s menu-listed or leaving it to the chef. And the best portrait of what Toth can do comes from a look at two trips around the $59 six-course meal, both times leaving the choices to the chef.

Unheralded was an amusée, a morsel of creamy crab salad with a drizzle of basil-spiced oil, served in the broad bowl of a Japanese soup spoon. This is what a tasting menu is about. It’s a procession of courses in which the continuity is as important as the succession of items. The sparkle of flavor the crab salad provided was sudden and swift, and over in a moment, but it was enough to get the taste buds glowing.

Here’s how one tasting progression went: First up was a portion of salmon tartare Napoleon, a compote layered not with pastry but with fried wonton chips, a tangy, salmon-filled mayonnaise rounded out with apples and scallions. It was followed by a poached-lobster cocktail in which the seafood is presented on a bed of garlic-enhanced mashed potatoes. Then a few morsels of roasted pheasant, the flavor of the bird brought to the fore by a background of a white-onion purée.

Asparagus followed, the spears roasted and brushed with herbs, served with a goat cheese that was pleasantly mild in flavor. To top it off, grilled filet of beef, again a modest portion, again a medley of complementary flavors with a balsamic vinegar reduction and a medallion of foie gras to tie those flavors together.

Here’s another trip: Begin with tuna ceviche, presented in a parfait glass, the fish cold-cooked in a blend of citrus juices and presented with bits of avocado and papaya. Whipped cream tops the mix, but the cream is flavored with wasabi tobiko (wasabi- flavored flying-fish roe).

Breaded and fried oysters are served served over prosciuto and drizzled with a lime-basil sauce. The easygoing spiciness of the seared duck breast that followed was already set up by the flavors of lime and basil, and the chili glaze served the duck meat splendidly.

From there, a turn to earthiness, with the flavors of wild mushrooms coming together in a stew, the sauce from which filled out the accompanying risotto. Then cashew-encrusted lamb, loin cut, with shiitake mushrooms and asparagus tips, and a sauce featuring bacon and scallions.

We chose to end both tastings with cheese, individual plates that included a contrasting variety as well as fruitstuffs like dates and candied pears. Standard desserts also are available (we found a crème brûlée to be classic).

As a steakhouse, the Patroon House serves a mean Porterhouse ($23). A pound of meat, grilled nicely, with your choice not only of accompanying sauce (garlic butter, Béarnaise, Bordelaise and even homemade ketchup are among the selections; we chose port wine gorgonzola butter), accompanied by vegetables and starch. Carrots, we discovered, are glazed with ale; au gratin potatoes are outrageously creamy.

Chicken, pork and lamb are among other available meats; salmon, sea bass and swordfish are the star seafood items. You’ll find conventional preparations alongside some of Toth’s more innovative approaches.

Carroll and Toth have deftly upped the fine-dining stakes for the area. Food preparation and presentation is outstanding, and service is equally accomplished. Although my Saturday night visit found our server in more of a rush than seemed comfortable for a while, Carroll is on the floor keeping an eye on things, keeping the flow moving. He wanted to impart the sensation of having an excellent dinner in his own house, and he has certainly achieved that.


 Table Scraps

Bellevue Woman’s Hospital’s Special Care Nursery will be the beneficiary of proceeds from An Evening of Jazz and Beaujolais on Nov. 21, 6:30-8:30 PM, at the Saratoga Automobile Museum in Saratoga Springs. The evening will include the premiere of the Michel Picard Beaujolais Nouveau 2003, courtesy of Brown-Forman Wines, USA. Guests will be entertained by a live jazz trio while they bid on dozens of silent-auction items, including a box at the Saratoga flat track, a weekend stay at the historic “Hedges” Adirondack camp on Blue Mountain Lake, gift certificates to Capital-Saratoga Region restaurants and retailers and more. Tickets are $50 per person and may be reserved by calling the Marketing/Corporate Development Office at Bellevue Woman’s Hospital, 346-9438. . . . Join area wine lovers at the Desmond Hotel in Albany this Saturday and Sunday (Nov. 15 and 16) from noon to 5 for the eighth annual Pride of New York HarvestFest. This event showcases winemakers and food producers found across the state, and lets you sample the fare and attend a seminar featuring topics on chocolate, wine and even how to have your own fine-wine tasting at home. Tickets are $30 for one day, $45 for both, and entitle you to sample and buy the wares of over 100 participating exhibitors. All ticketholders receive a complimentary shopping bag containing a wine glass for tasting. Also included is a ticket to one of the event seminars. A deli-style lunch buffet will also be available for a small additional fee, also featuring New York State products. For reservations or additional info, call Bob Provost at the Times Union, 454-5678... Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food@banilsson.com).

—B.A. Nilsson

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