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Photo by: Ellen Descsiciolo

Change Is Good
By B.A. Nilsson

Chameleon on the Lake
251 County Route 67, Saratoga Springs, 581-3928. Serving dinner daily during track season 5:30-9:30, lunch Sat-Sun noon-2, pig roast every Tuesday night. AE, MC. V
Cuisine: imaginatively Mediterranean
Entrée price range: $12 (pasta filleto di pomodoro) to $24 (Black Angus Delmonico steak)
Ambiance: lively and festive
Clientele: subdued but still slightly festive

There’s a quality to any body of water that’s soothing on a pleasant enough day. Ocean, lake, river, rill: They all invite relaxation. Which opens the door to waterside dining.

When Richard Rodriguez sold his interest in the Springwater Bistro late last year, he intended to shift his career to consulting and spend more time with his family. A couple of months later, he was shown a property on the north inlet of Saratoga Lake that lured him right back into the business. It had seen better days; the rowboat carcass on the building’s top was emblematic of its struggle. Rodriguez set about reviving the business.

He’s been in the business since his early teens and understands the intangibles that make a restaurant work. While the food is a major component, you also need a personality to drive the place. Rodriguez hosts his restaurant with a flair that compels you to return.

And it might not even be for a fancy dinner. There’s a delightful cocktail lounge that soon will sport a “liquid menu” encouraging you to taste some of the more outré concoctions, and an outdoor pavilion around which dozens of doctors were clustered when we first visited.

A combination of table heights in the dining room adds an informal feel, and pleased my young daughter, who likes to let her legs dangle. Don’t let the appearance of informality fool you, though. Servers here pay the kind of attention to detail that should be the norm but turns out to be all too rare. Flatware is reset; wine glasses are appropriate to the wine.

Chef Dominic Colose ran his own restaurant in Scotia for a while before moving to such places as Café Capriccio and Chez Sophie Bistro. “I interviewed a lot of chefs,” Rodriguez says, “but when I talked to him I knew he’d be perfect for the place.”

“Chameleon” is an all-purpose catch-all, but I don’t see the designation being abused. It supports experimentation, which can be healthy—or at least surprising. Not long ago, Rodriguez decided to swap the lounge and the dining room. Returning customers were puzzled at first, he said, but soon fell into the spirit of it. And then he swapped the rooms back.

No surprise, then, to find a changing menu. Here’s a snapshot from our first visit: Soups and salads range from $5 for a house salad to $12 for a salade à la niçoise featuring grilled tuna. Gazpacho ($5) is served in an oversized martini glass, chunky vegetables floating in a tomato purée with appropriately lively seasonings and a touch of lime.

Our server waxed enthusiastically about various menu items—always a good sign, and why don’t more restaurants let the servers, which is the sales staff, actually taste what’s offered for sale?—and named the mussels appetizer ($7) as a favorite. It couldn’t have been nicer. The beasts themselves were popped in the mouth with no chewiness; the spicy tomato-based broth was filled out with bits of feta.

A glass of excellent Gewürztraminer, chosen by Rodriguez, complemented the dish wonderfully.

Mixing turkey with mint into meatballs is an improbable premise, but the $7 appetizer, finished with a tomato sauce rich with capers and olives, was surprisingly pleasing.

How does tagliatelle with wild boar strike you? Or in a puttanesca? Or topped with mussels and hot sausage? Priced at $12-$17, the pasta dishes range wide, yet we were compelled to go to the next page for our entrées.

That’s where my wife spotted the curried lamb shanks and wrested it out from under me. It’s a $17 dish worth twice the price, the meat falling off the bone and into a bed of spicy lentils.

Several seafood dishes present the most popular fishes, roasted, seared, grilled, baked—there’s all manner of variety, and if you want that variety in one dish, try the paella alla Valenciana ($21), in which chicken, chorizo, clams, mussels, shrimp and more and cooked in rice.

A special of sliced filet of bison caught my eye; cooked rare, seasoned with lime and served over a pungent, salty sauté of bok choy, it was a masterful preparation.

Honestly, we weren’t even going to have dessert that visit, but when they sent out a round of homemade chocolate gelato topped with raspberries, we were goners. And so we decided to return with somewhat more fanfare and celebrate our wedding anniversary (19 years!) at the restaurant.

“How about a tasting menu?” Rodriguez asked. “We’ll leave it up to Dominic.”

And so we sat on the deck on another pleasant evening, studying the lake as we enjoyed champagne and an amuse-gueule of mini crab cakes. We moved inside to one of the tall tables for the first course, a serving of Thai hot-and-sour soup with sea bass and escolar, two contrastingly textured fish, and shiitake mushrooms. The trick with this kind of dish is to infuse the broth with a suitable range of flavor so that the hot seasonings make sense, and it was excellently done.

Our salad featured shaved Black Angus tenderloin, cooked rare and melting right into the arugula on which it was served, the beef supporting the Ironstone Cabernet Franc selected to accompany that course.

And just as the menu seemed to be getting a little too fussy, out came an entrée that was pure fun: a grilled pork loin chop with lively seasonings, served over a sweet potato hash with swirls of mango-rum ketchup and slices of apples to set off the flavor. Again, a superb wine pairing was offered, with a Chilean Malbec that picked up the sweetness of the meat and its accompaniments.

Mellowed by the anniversary bash, I can’t say enough good about the place. A fun spirit and such attention to detail don’t usually combine in a place that also serves excellent food, and the promise of the Chameleon is that it will continue to change to please us.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.

We want your feedback

Have you eaten at Chameleon on the Lakeor 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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