Fine dining is a democratic institution: It can be offered
badly anywhere and by anyone. Fine dining hit the Capital
Region over the past 12 months in a succession of new restaurants
that showed how possible it might be for this area to get
it more consistently right, and we’re hopeful that such a
trend will only continue.
Doing it right in a fancy setting are McGuire’s (353
State St., Albany, 463-2100) and dine (26 Henry St.,
Saratoga Springs, 587-9463); the latter has been open longer
but we were sluggardly in getting there. McGuire’s is the
much-vaunted new location for chef Andrew Plummer, and he’s
back with his particular brand of Asian-influenced fusion
cuisine that must be termed, in a wholly appropriate use of
the label, American, as this finally seems to be how our native
cuisine is defining itself. That is, it’s become the melting
pot that in pre-Ashcroft days defined this country as a whole.
American as wok-seared tuna with soy vinaigrette: McGuires.
Photo: Leif Zurmuhlen
thought is prompted by the fact that dine also presents an
Asian-inflected menu, but with a healthy flavor of Mediterranean
and French cuisine—in other words, an all-American approach
that chef Ron Farber practices with surety. Both restaurants
also excel in presentation of the food, which is one of those
intangibles so necessary to the complete experience, and they
both offer the kind of service that makes your experience
seem effortless and worry-free.
We found a farther-flung example of that at the Cripple
Creek Restaurant (22 Garden St., Rhinebeck, 845-876-4355),
a small, gorgeous restaurant where chef Benjamin Mauk puts
heart and soul into such items as slow-roasted halibut and
grilled quail with avocado, tomato and corn salad, while manager
Patrick Hays oversees the floor with a practiced hand. And
a short-lived wonderful dining experience occurred at the
Saratoga Polo Club (Whitney Field, Bloomfield Road,
Saratoga Springs, 581-1085), which was open on weekends for
the two summer months of the polo meet, and allowed chef Kim
Klopstock the opportunity to present her specialties to an
appreciative audience. For the rest of the year, she runs
a catering service, the Lily and the Rose; look for her at
the polo field again next summer.
Saratoga is also home to the Wine Bar (417 Broadway,
584-8777), which we revisited to see how it has fared in the
four years since we last checked in. Chef Mark Graham offers
an eclectic menu available in different portion sizes to allow
you different dining options—and the wine selection makes
this a complete culinary experience.
global dining with a twist” is the slogan at The Purple
Pepper (3350 Route 9, Valatie, 784-5298), where chef Lisa
Miller is able to draw from the varied selections she provides
as a caterer (she runs the Good Food Company, which supplies,
among other venues, some area libraries) and present them
in a fine-dining context. Her restaurant’s decor encourages
you to have fun while dining: It’s colorful, irreverent, and
often sparked with live music.
Fancy is as fancy does, and while Pearl (1 Steuben
Place, Albany, 433-0011) gives the amazingly talented chef
Kevin Conway an excellent forum for his food, the makeover
of the Steuben Club’s dining room can’t hide its cavernous
unfriendliness, and the service leaves much to be desired.
In Schenectady, while we’ve yet to try the Stockade Inn, we’re
pleased to note that The Van Dyck Restaurant (237 Union
St., 381-1111) has a new chef, new lunch hours, and the brewery
operating anew. In terms of food and service, it’s been a
variable enterprise over the years, but with glorious potential.
Here’s hoping it can be realized.
On another culinary front, fine dining in a café setting is
what you get at Aromi d’Italia (2050 Western Ave.,
Guilderland, 452-9200), where you’re forced to pass a display
of toothsome desserts before reaching your table. The Mediterranean
menu allows chef John Fonti to go all out with the rich flavors
of tomato and sausage, peppers and capers and so much more.
The antipasto alone is worth a visit, but the gianduia,
a chocolate-hazelnut mix that complements a hot espresso,
Other ethnic specialties include another brave foray into
Vietnamese fare, this one one of the best: Restaurant Saigon
(307 Central Ave., Albany, 426-0203) looks like a cafeteria
spruced with kitsch, and the menu is numbingly lengthy and
difficult to understand. But the food is amazing, and the
prices are low.
That search for a good Mexican restaurant seems to end more
often than not in Manhattan, but now you need only travel
to Great Barrington, Mass., where Xicohténcatl (50
Stockbridge Road, 413-528-2002) explores regional cooking
not found elsewhere in our area, such as the molé oaxaca
(spiced chicken with ground pumpkin seeds and Mexican chocolate)
and even fancier fare like the wild-mushroom-filled crepas
But dining out can’t and shouldn’t be all fancy all the time.
And that’s why we should fall to our knees and be thankful
for the type of place we visited last summer—two in particular,
located not far from one another, with the Hudson River between.
Famous Lunch (111 Congress St., Troy, 272-9481) and
Gus’s Hot Dogs (212 25th St., Watervliet, 273-8743)
serve similar diminutive hot dogs (both places get them from
the Troy Pork Store), but each tops those dogs with a homemade
meat sauce as well as onions, mustard—the usual array of what
those tube steaks need. A quick and satisfying meal that you’ll
continue to taste with each burp that follows. Happy dining
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.