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Photo by: B.A. Nilsson

You Can’t Beat the House
By B.A. Nilsson

Chariot’s Restaurant at Saratoga Gaming and Raceway
Crescent Ave., Saratoga Springs, 584-2110, ext. 5790. Serving lunch Wed-Sat 10-3:30, dinner Wed-Sat 3:30-closing, Sun 3-closing. Sunday brunch buffet 11-3. AE, D, MC, V.
Cuisine: surf ‘n’ turf
Entrée price range: $13 (pasta marinara) to $20 (prime rib)
Ambiance: stadium with linen
Clientele: the Lotto faithful

Contrary to popular supposition, the number of cars in the parking lot sporting New Jersey plates was minimal. New Yorkers have rallied behind our new Racino, and they’re perched just as intently, just as glassy-eyed, just as foolishly hopeful as those who play the slots in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Only now it’s in our backyard—you don’t even have to go to Turning Stone.

Perhaps I’m the wrong person to comment on this. I was taught, long ago, as a fledgling poker player, that it’s silly to make any kind of wager in which the odds favor the house. By definition, you can’t win. You can bob ahead every now and then, but that’s typically temporary.

So I don’t gamble at such places. But I do like to eat, and recently investigated the dining options at the harness track.

Although dining options abound in Saratoga, if you’re making a day of it at the harness track, you’re captive to the food court and to Chariot’s, the fine-dining restaurant. Food court options include Lefty’s Grille, for burgers and such; Americo’s Pizzeria, for costly slices; the Jackpot Deli, where Boar’s Head meat-based sandwiches will run you $7-$8, and Jake’s Coffeehouse, for coffee and dessert. Most of these are located near enough to the slot machines to barely interrupt your play.

If you’re planning to take some time for a meal, Chariot’s offers a more leisurely, formal and expensive meal. Tables are arrayed on the tiers of a large, glassed-in amphitheater overlooking the harness track. When the horses are running, even the highest tier has a decent view. But that view is abetted by a TV monitor at each table that shows you not only the race running just outside but also, when you channel flip, activity at other raceways.

Trappings of elegance abound, from the cordial greeting and information you’re given just outside the restaurant door to the unfailing courtesy of the floor staff, from the handsome linens and table service to the gleaming chafing dishes that line the buffet.

And it’s obviously the buffet that wins the most attention. The $18 seafood buffet actually featured more than just seafood, but a selection of rolled, stuffed, cream sauce-topped fish inhabited a few of the bins. Some of it we weren’t able to readily identify, but they gave the impression of pre-stuffed, pre-sauced frozen items, with an unmistakably fishy aroma informing one of the selections.

I suspect that there’s not much à la carte ordering when the buffet is in progress—which is every open evening except Sunday—because our server instantly assumed that we were buffet-bound.

But we explored the other offerings, and discovered a certain consistency in them. They were products of a system that has sacrificed fresh ingredients and careful cooking to a high-volume, quick-turnaround approach that moves the product out of the kitchen quickly but has little else to commend it.

Take the Southwest chicken ($14): It’s touted as a marinated chicken breast; what was presented bore little evidence of such flavoring, added to which the butterflied breast was dry on top and still pasty on the bottom. It seemed to have taken a quick trip through the salamander—a professional broiler—and hit the plate in no time.

This wasn’t the case with the New York strip steak ($20), which, as promised, was grilled, but grilled way past the point of medium rareness. Both plates were accompanied by mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables, but each had emerged from a box, the former in flakes, the latter frozen. And the vegetables were free of any seasoning whatsoever, although they continued to release water throughout the meal.

(My wife has a way of dealing with this: She places a knife under one end of the plate, thus angling it enough to form a puddle at the far end.)

The turkey in the open-faced turkey dinner ($15) was good, except where touched by the canned, salty gravy.

We quickly reached a point at which it wasn’t worth complaining about the food. We were surrounded by hundreds of obviously happy people. And we were enjoying the world’s most amiable server, who cheerfully saved us some money by swiping an extra soup from the buffet and offering to do the same with desserts. My daughter, who was given reduced-price buffet access, already had sampled the desserts by then and we politely declined.

Our server also saved us some money by forgetting my appetizer order (Maryland-style crab cake, $9), which, in retrospect, was probably just as well.

It’s a short ride from the Gaming Center into Saratoga’s downtown, so if you’re in search of good food you may want to cut your losses by exploring the city’s many splendid eateries.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.

We want your feedback

Have you eaten at Chariot’s Restaurant at Saratoga Gaming and Raceway or any other recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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* E-mail address not required to submit your feedback, but required to be placed in running for a Van Dyck Gift Certificate.

What you're saying...

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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