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Photo by: B.A. Nilsson

Winning Combinations
By B.A. Nilsson

Daikon
236 Washington St., Saratoga Springs, 583-9175. Serving dinner Wed-Sun 5-close. AE, MC, V..
Cuisine: Japanese fusion
Entrée price range: $12 (ahi burger) to $20 (champagne shrimp)
Ambiance: gently Asian
Clientele: the curious and the hip

Stephen Caruso’s journey to the Asian-fusion cuisine at Daikon was a gradual one. He owned Margarita’s in downtown Saratoga for a decade, and had hired the daughter of the owners of Miki, a nearby Japanese restaurant, to work for him. He became friendly with her family. They wanted to get out of the business. He wanted to stay in the business but change his scope. He’d already been flirting with fusion in a south-of-the-border context.

“I’d go visit them at Miki,” says Caruso, “and I’d always bring them food: Italian food. And everything I brought, he wrapped in nori or did something sushi-esque. And it was delicious. I mean, it sounds crazy, spaghetti sushi, but there it was. And he said, ‘You know, you should do something like this.’ ”

So Caruso went to work for him. “I spent almost a year at it, working there on my nights off, learning the cuisine. By the time I bought the place, we’d become good enough friends that some of his staff—including his kids—stayed on to work with me here.”

Daikon has been open for a scant month now, touched up on the inside (wait’ll you see the bathrooms) and boasting a menu notable for its emphasis on freshness, flavor and unique combinations.

It’s on the western approach to downtown Saratoga, in a building with a Japanese look of simple lines that’s carried into the interior design, which includes a pleasant bar and a tatami room for more traditional Japanese seating. The options inside are comfortable, but you might be lured by the tables on the outdoor deck. I settled at one during a recent visit and enjoyed dinner as the sun descended.

That evening was low on business and thus light on employees, but our server, Sty (short for Stuyvesant), had an impressive knowledge of the menu and helped make that meal as enjoyable as it was.

“East Meets West Fusion Cooking,” boasts the menu front, although a quick look inside suggests something very Japanese—but wait. Seafood portobello? This $16 entrée is described as grilled mushrooms “stuffed with an exquisite assortment of fish and Japanese breadcrumbs drizzled with soy ginger honey.” And the teriyaki salmon salad ($14) is served over mesclun and garnished with chèvre. There’s tilapia ($15) marinated in soy sauce and maple syrup, served with risotto.

As my dining companions enjoyed green tea, I sipped sake—there’s an impressive variety here—and enjoyed what there is of a view, the breeze across the deck and a bowl of pickled cucumber chunks.

Miso soup ($4), as always, makes an excellent starter, and here it hews to tradition. Similarly, the steamed dumplings ($5), stuffed with shrimp and chopped vegetables, are a familiar sight, served with a piquant ponzu sauce in which the soy flavor is livened by mackerel-like bonito.

An avocado salad ($7) puts fresh strips of the chunky fruit over fresh mesclun; it was served with a sweet ginger-flavored dressing.

Don’t forget to order an edamame appetizer ($4) for the table. This is a bowl of steamed soy pods, dressed with sea salt. Pop open the hull and enjoy the beans—they’re a great sake companion.

You can get tempura, teriyaki and sukiyaki dishes, but you’ll find they’ve been nudged to non-traditional directions. Sukiyaki ($13), for instance, puts tofu and shredded vegetables (carrots, scallions, daikon and such) in a soy broth that’s slightly sweet, the flavor picked up by your choice of soba or udon noodles (the Asian version of spaghetti and fettuccine, respectively).

Edamame also shows up as a component of a dish that features a reimagined pesto in which mint leaves take the place of basil; it’s served over glass noodles with crunchy cashews alongside ($15).

Curried chicken ($14) also sports the flavor of peanuts; its spiciness is set off by some sweetness that makes the flavors really dance in the mouth.

Fusion extends to the sushi, which al ready has been livened by other cultures. Take, for instance, the Buffalo roll, which wraps appropriately seasoned chicken in sushi-vinegared rice ($5). The tri-color roll that we sampled—at the insistence of my daughter, who horrifies her mom with this raw fish affinity—fills the roll with tuna and salmon and that pressed whitefish entity known as kanikama or crabstick ($6).

For something a little spicier, try the maguro roll ($4), with a spicy tuna filling. And for something more exotic, the mushroom-shaped stuffed sushi ($7) begins with a tempura nori roll, which is a deep-fried combo of tofu and vegetables topped with a mound of breaded seafood.

The list goes on, including rolls of mixed seaweed ($5), cream cheese and salmon ($4.50) and even barbecued eel ($14).

Presentation is stark and simple, on a wooden board with accompanying wasabi and candied ginger flakes.

Figuratively and literally, it’s a lot to digest. Caruso is an enthusiast who waxes most eloquently about what he’s doing, with an obvious love of food and the business shining through. The result of his new experiment is exciting both to the imagination and to palate, and that’s what fine dining is all about.


TABLE SCRAPS

The Mansion Hill Inn (115 Philip St., Albany) has been a cigar-night mainstay, and its latest version of this ever-rarer event will be at 6 PM Monday (June 21). It’s a meal that demands bold flavors, so the restaurant will serve panko-coated sea bass, pepper-crusted beef tenderloin and even a fresh strawberry-rhubarb crisp, among other courses, along with a Glenmorangie Scotch tasting and appropriate dinner wines. Price is $75 per person, all-inclusive; reserve seats by calling 465-2038. . . . Thanks to an alert correspondent, I’ve learned of a surge of area barbecue. Dave Frazier, who ran Tex’s Bar-B-Que on Albany’s Central Avenue, now offers his wares at the Pig Pit in Cohoes (84 Ontario St., 235-2323). He’s open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 AM to 8 PM. And The Lodge BBQ & Lounge also boasts East Greenbush’s only dance floor (8 Troy Road, 477-9881), as well as a barbecue-intensive menu that’s served Monday through Saturday from 4 to 10 PM and Sun 4 to 8 PM. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food@banilsson.com).

(Please fax info to 922-7090)

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.

We want your feedback

Have you eaten at Daikon or any other recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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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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