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Photo by: Ellen Descisciolo

It’s What’s for Dinner
By B.A. Nilsson

Doc’s Steakhouse
63 Putnam Street, Saratoga Springs, 581-7011. Serving dinner Mon-Sat 5-10, Sun 2-10. AE, D, MC, V.
Cuisine: steaks and seafood
Entrée price range: $15 (top sirloin) to $28 (steak and lobster tail)
Ambience: subdued elegance
Clientele: beefanatics

As we climbed from the car, the aroma hit us. Beef on the grill is primalóthe smell of the kill, freshly slaughtered and dripping its blood onto the coals of the fire. The hunter-gatherer offering succor to his family. Even my wife, still trying to convince herself that she dislikes beef, took pleasurable notice.

But she left it to me to actually order a beef dish, from which she extracted a sliver to taste. It was just as well: I prefer it rare, while sheíd order it well done if she didnít fear my mocking reprisals. Nothing ruins a good slab of beef more than overcooking, and you can be assured that the kitchen makes merciless fun of you when you order it anything beyond medium.

It turns out that Iím not even as fanatical as Doc. He was grandfather to Docís Steakhouse chef-owner Bobby Mitchell, who also owns the Wheat Fields restaurant in Saratoga. His preference, as noted on the restaurantís menu, was for ďvery rare beef, just briefly passed over the heat.Ē So Mitchell took over the space vacated by Grahamís and turned it into what seems by now to be an old- fashioned steakhouse.

Youíre presented with an array of beef cuts as you get started, borne to your table like a dessert display. They all look good. Sirloin ($22) typically is tastier, although the filet comes wrapped in bacon for added flavor ($25). And a 20-ounce Porterhouse ($25) gives you another tasty outlook. Opting for the sirloin, I was very pleased to sample a tender cut with enough bone left in to enhance the result once it was grilled.

Prime rib is popular, no surprise, and comes in two sizes ($18 and $22), but thatís a crowd-control dish. The two-sizes approach is also taken by the teriyaki-marinated sirloin, steak au poivre and steak marsala ($16 and $19), and thereís a top sirloin preparation for $15 or $18.

My family visited, per tradition, on Super Bowl Sunday, an excellent day for fine dining because the lager louts tend to be elsewhere. Although a large TV screen by the bar displayed the collisions of helmeted mesomorphs, we were seated far enough away in the upstairs area so that it never intruded. Also, we had the pleasant music of a duo guitar team.

Much of the seating is at booths, square or semicircular, with banquettes or oversized chairs. With low-hanging lighting and elegant table appointments, itís a very easy ambiance to enjoy.

Service proved fleet and attentive, and while we never saw the place under heavy siege, the floor staff seemed well-trained enough to handle it. I hold out the hope that your fate as a customer wonít depend solely on one server should business be brisk.

What with the salad bar at hand and included with the entrťes, the six appetizers seem superfluous. No surprises here: shrimp or crabmeat cocktail ($10), potato skins ($6) or two types of mushroom dish, marinated Portobellos served with mozzarella and peppers, or oversized mushroom caps stuffed with crabmeat and topped with melted cheese ($8 each). I can report that the last-named could be a pleasant forum for the seafood, but it seemed to drown in the flavors of cheese and white wine.

Beef barley soup is a regular menu item; for the same price ($4) we tried a special of seafood chowder, based on haddock and finished with cream. Susan insisted that it was dominated by a sprinkling of tarragon, but our server returned with the info that thyme was the dominant herb. Even with the empirical evidence of the wee spears, she clung to her belief but conveniently managed to be in the bathroom when the chef later visited our table.

The salad bar offers greens and an array of the most popular sides (cherry tomatoes, cuke slices, pepperoncinióyou know what to expect). The dressings are chilled to an oppressive viscosity, but you really donít want to sully greens this fresh with anything other than a nice vinaigrette.

Seafood items make up the rest of the other menu entrťes. Haddock, scallops, salmon, shrimp, crab legs, lobster (priced from $16 to $26 for the last two). And you can make your own surf-and-turf combo. Chicken marsala ($18), offered as a special, was a terrific example of how to do this right, with a big, juicy portion breaded and sautťed in a rich sauce with a cascade of mushrooms.

Baked potato and rice pilaf are standard; a twice-baked potato, larger and richer and cheesier and crustier than what Iím accustomed to tasting, is often available for an extra buck and a half.

A kidsí menu gives diminutive portions of shrimp or prime rib or top sirloin for $10, haddock for $8 and pasta, a cheeseburger, or the dreaded chicken fingers for $6. And itís not a prefab menu: Itís a page that also includes some games drawn by Mitchellís daughter, Brittany.

According to the menu, Docís meal always was followed by a sweet treat. Here itís a choice of a massive dessert portion, a $9 slab of cake (carrot or chocolate or cheese) or tiramisu. We chipped away at some carrot cake, the rest of which survived for two days in my fridge, but, as I try to cling to a semblance of dining restraint, Iíd really prefer to see smaller, reasonably priced dessert portions.

All in all, however, Docís easily (and toothsomely) accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, and thatís the best you can ask of an eatery.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.

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