By B.A. Nilsson
417 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 584-8777. Serving
Tue-Sat 4-11. AE, D, MC, V. .
Cuisine: eclectic American
Entrée price range: $$18 (Thai chicken soup) to $22
(rack of lamb).
Clientele: upscale oenophiles
The Wine Bar redefines dining in a manner unique to the area,
breaking the ritual of appetizer-entrée-dessert into something
less formal and more rarefied. Sure, you can put together
a fairly typical meal, but the alternative is a tonic, allowing
you to sample flavor sensations in unusual contexts and combinations.
Here’s how it works. You have a choice, upon entering the
sleek, darkly appointed space, of sitting at one of the variously
sized, variously placed tables, or grabbing a stool at the
bar. Some of the table spaces are more like a living room,
or at least a smaller version of the living room you’d see
in a Noel Coward play.
You can drink, sip, slurp, tope, or observe whatever custom
characterizes your imbibing, and you can accompany it with
as much or as little food as you desire. But you’d be crazy
not to pursue the food.
The Wine Bar opened four years ago, brainchild of certified
sommelier Melissa Evans. Not long thereafter, she installed
the wickedly talented Mark Graham as chef, and hasn’t looked
An impressive of list of wine by the glass or bottle can be
your guide, but avail yourself of the advice of the nearest
server, who can help devise a tasting path you might not otherwise
Wine can’t truly be enjoyed without food, and the seven items
on the appetizer portion of the list will complement a wide
variety of libation. For a mere three bucks you can get a
“warm nut medley,” in which rosemary and thyme are roasted
into almonds, cashews and pecans; $6 gets you an exotic salad
with caramelized pear and a walnut-balsamic vinaigrette. For
a dollar more, there’s a Caesar salad variant with a poached
garlic dressing and a quail egg.
The rest of the apps are more in line with mealtime. Diver
scallops ($9), for instance, presents a trio of plump ones
surrounded by white beans, carrots and baby Brussels sprouts.
Prosciutto adds the salt and a depth of flavor.
I don’t know which was the more compelling feature of the
lobster appetizer ($12): the lobster itself, a healthy (albeit
buttery) chunk of meat, or the butternut-squash ravioli served
alongside. I’m not a big fan of emulsions, which can end up
looking unpleasantly spitlike, but the pistachio flavored
emulsion did add a needed nuttiness.
Five entrées are available in two sizes, so you can gauge
portions according to your appetite. A handsome cut of ahi
($11 or $21) gets a coating of tangy spices before it’s seared,
keeping the inside raw. This has become a standard gourmet
approach to this fish, and it’s a good one, especially with
the accompaniment of smoked salmon, scallion cake and fresh
greens drizzled with wasabi oil.
Thai chicken soup ($9 or $18) emerges in an infusion pot,
and is poured tableside over a bowl filled with a toothsome
mix of mushrooms, bok choy and chicken chunks. The flavor
of lemongrass combines well with all those other flavors.
It paired nicely with a reasonably priced glass of Concannon
Rack of lamb ($12 or $22) is one of those entrées that invites
pairing with the heartier red wines, and the Rock Rabbit Syrah,
a California wine, was a good choice, bringing out the buttery
flavors of the meat. It’s served with zucchini and potatoes,
but that hardly does justice to those items, which are also
given hearty flavors to stand up to the meat.
Another of those emulsions—this one of carrot—accompanied
the black cod ($9 and $18), which is grilled just to the point
of still-fleshy doneness and served with a purée of celery
root and a leek fondue, a range of mushy textures that serve
the fish flesh well.
Then there’s hangar steak ($9 and $18), a newly popular cut
that goes well with the caramelized onions served on top;
grilled portobello mushroom slices and horseradish-enhanced
mashed potatoes are the sides. This one I effectively paired
with a Domaine Pierredon combo of syrah, grenache and mourvedre
Cheese is another serious Wine Bar feature. Four single-cheese
plates ($6-$7) match the chosen variety with appropriate flavors;
thus, the creamy goat’s-milk explorateur has a side
of roasted almonds drizzled with honey, and plenty of croutons
to serve as cheese-to-face vehicles. Cashel blue comes from
Ireland, with a luscious acidity and, to balance, a dab of
maple-apple butter. Combining both on a crouton and following
it with a sip of René Mure Gewurtztraminer was a heavenly
series of flavors.
Service couldn’t have been more prompt and discreet. There’s
the unique sense that the servers actually enjoy their jobs
and are happy to interact.
Dinner tended to elongate. What began as merely appetizers
grew to include dinner; dinner-only soon gave way to let’s-have-dessert.
And that’s another significant avenue. The sweets are $6 apiece,
and range from a simple plate of truffles, cookies and a financier
cake to warm blueberry pudding in a fancy chocolate shell.
The chocolate cake says everything that needs to be said about
chocolate, and even bananas get their turn in a strudel served
with pistachio ice cream. A meal here easily runs into something
of an investment, but the sense of well-being thus produced
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.