credit: Alicia Solsman
Date With Pasta
By Laura Leon
Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 587-0534. www.wheatfields.com.
Serving Mon-Fri 11:30-10, Sat 11:30-10:30, Sun noon-10. AE,
D, MC, V.
price range: $11.95 (ravioli formaggio and two styles of
lasagne) to $17.95 (several meat and shrimp dishes)
warmly lit, white-tableclothed comfort
eclectic mix of young professionals, empty-nesters, college
students and passers-through
I was just out of col-lege, there were certain restaurants
that rated as serious date territory. These were places that
went beyond the typical student diet of pizza and wings, for
which you fashioned together some Elle-inspired ensemble
to wow the crowd, and about which you could tell your parents,
knowing they would be proud that their girl had impressed
somebody enough to pony up for what, assuredly, was no cheap
date. The Wheat Fields, in Saratoga Springs, was one such
place, and I have to admit, long after college, married with
children, I had sort of written it out of consideration as
a place to go on a rare babysitter’s night. With the low-to-no-carb
craze that’s been riding an inconceivable crest of popularity
of late, it occurred to me that perhaps I wasn’t the only
one who had forsaken the eatery. Wrong on both counts.
Opened in 1988 by the Loiacono family (and sold in 1994 to
Vermont chef Bobby Mitchell, and then to current owners Tim
and Colleen Holmes earlier this year), the restaurant has
always specialized in making its own pasta, a neat operation
one can view while strolling along Broadway. My family and
I gave it a try for lunch recently, a foray that spawned repeat
visits, since all of us were truly impressed by what we found.
Needless to say, none of us espouse a carbless regimen, and
such phobias didn’t seem to concern many others, since every
time we’ve gone to the Wheat Fields, the place has been hopping.
In addition to the tempting sight of practiced hands molding
and shaping pale golden dough into rotelle, radiatori, tagliatelle
and, my kids’ favorite, large, elaborately ribbed sea shells,
there’s the simple fact that your welcome is heartfelt (even
with said kids in tow) and the service is exceptional.
The Holmeses, who previously had been involved in restaurants
in Chicago and Boston, and who also own a restaurant-consulting
company, moved to Saratoga to be near family, and looked at
a dozen “opportunities” before settling on the Wheat Fields.
Besides the outstanding location at the heart of busy Broadway,
the restaurant came with a good reputation and “a core base
concept that we felt we could expand upon and make current,”
explains Tim Holmes. They had worked previously with the simple
concept of pairing fresh pasta with fresh ingredients, and
they liked what they saw in the existing menu, but the couple—who
have extensive experience on the marketing side of the business—wanted
to update the menu to acknowledge shifts in dining habits.
To accommodate the recent obsession with protein, there are
steak and seafood entree specials daily. Wheat pasta has been
added. Diners can also cut down on carbs by ordering half-portions
of any pasta dish—which also makes it easier and less expensive
to feed children (an actual children’s menu is coming soon,
says Tim). And the restaurant has gone back to serving lunch
year-round, for which the menu has been expanded to include
more sandwiches and salad entrees. Holmes cites a need in
downtown Saratoga for a nice, full-service lunch spot that
isn’t a pub. “We’re sitting very well,” he says, for a projected
increase in businesses locating in and near downtown.
In good weather, the Wheat Fields offers outdoor seating,
giving diners a chance to gawk at tourists and Skidmore students
while waiting for their meals. Indoors, there are two rooms,
one a long, narrow banquet-style with soft lighting, and the
other featuring a popular bar, smaller tables near the bar
and, closer to the front windows, a cozy nook for romantic
dining. The lunch and dinner menus are similar, with the exception
of daily specials. Appetizers range from pasta samplers, allowing
diners to try up to three different pastas with distinctive
sauces, to antipasti and seafood specialties. The melanzane
cipriani, lightly breaded eggplant rounds topped with basil
pesto, prosciuitto, fresh tomato and melted mozzarella cheese,
had a delicate flavor despite its heft. Somehow, so too did
the gut-busting cannelloni fritto, large pasta tubes stuffed
with ricotta, mozzarella, cheddar, parmesan and spinach, then
lightly breaded and deep fried and served with tomato sauce.
The smoked seafood plate is ideal for large parties, as it
features enough smoked scallops, shrimp and mussels, served
on a chiffonier of greens with a light tarragon mustard sauce,
to feed at least six people. Indeed, if I had one quibble
with the Wheat Fields, it’s that the appetizer portions are
so enormous as to leave one too full to truly enjoy the main
course. Then again, there are always doggie bags, and besides,
nobody said you had to eat the entire plate, no matter how
My kids have stayed the course on their visits to the Wheat
Fields, not venturing too far from the aforementioned sea-shell
pasta with simple butter sauce, sprinkled over with fresh
parmesan. The pasta has a wholesome nuttiness, a nice chew
and a buttery taste all its own. It would be a great canvas,
with its crevices and hollows, for a meatier sauce. The menu,
not surprisingly, features a wide selection of pasta-based
dishes, but the Wheat Fields departs from, say, traditional
Italian-American restaurants in the sheer breadth not just
of pastas, but of preparations (and, as the owners point out,
the inspiration for many dishes is more continental than Italian).
The fettuccine carciofi is a lovely example of balance and
texture: spinach fettuccine, cooked just right, served with
a creamy mushroom Alfredo sauce and garnished with artichoke
hearts, julienned carrots and paprika. The sauce is light
and velvety, just coating the pasta. The sweetness of the
carrots temper the slight acidity of the artichokes, and the
paprika provides just the right spice note. It’s deceptively
simple. The same can be said of the classic lasagna, layered
with beef, Italian sausage, four cheeses and Italian seasonings,
and topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella. The flavors of
basil and oregano peep out, tickling your tongue. Somehow
the spicy sweetness of the sausage doesn’t overpower the whole,
but complements it. Another pasta we tried was ravioli con
funghi, an immensely satisfying portion of striped triangular
pasta puffs stuffed with a variety of mushrooms and cheeses,
and blanketed with a light draping of creamy mushroom Alfredo
My husband and I were able to try the Wheat Fields recently,
sans children, for dinner. As at lunchtime, the place was
hopping, and yet the front staff cheerfully and efficiently
guided diners to tables or, when necessary, to a waiting area.
One thing that’s especially nice about this place is that,
when you do have to wait, you’re given an uncannily accurate
approximation of when your table will be ready, and while
you are waiting, you never feel as if you’ve been forgotten
or relegated to some nowhere zone. Among the dinner specials
were salmon marinated in teriyaki sauce, julienne stir fry
vegetables and angel hair pasta with garlic and oil, and a
grilled seasoned steak served with melted blue cheese alongside
glazed acorn squash and fettuccine Alfredo. Tempting, indeed,
but somehow I felt that ordering either item would be akin
to ordering spaghetti at a Chinese restaurant. When in Rome
. . . so we stuck to pasta. My husband chose the pollo bella,
chicken breast filled with a delicate asparagus mousse, lightly
breaded and browned, and served over tomato fettuccine with
creamy Alfredo sauce. Again, I can’t get over how adroitly
the Wheat Fields prepares and serves its Alfredo, something
that, too often, is too thick and gloppy, resembling Elmer’s
Glue. This involves a surefire hand in the kitchen as well
as expeditious service.
My choice of entree was chicken poletini, breaded chicken
breast rolled with eggplant, parmesan, garlic oil and parsley,
lightly breaded and browned and served on a bed of cavatelli
pasta with garlic scallion cream sauce. Tender poultry, perfectly
seasoned filling, just the right amount of sauce.
The Wheat Fields offers a wide selection of reasonably priced
wines, including daily specials. We tried the Rodney Strong
chardonnay, which was $7.50 a glass or $30 for the bottle,
and its fresh astringency made it a good pre-dinner choice.
A red we have enjoyed on more than one occasion is the lush
Renwood “Sierra” zinfandel $7 ($28 for a bottle). Bottles
range from $15 for the La Francesca Fascati to $58 for the
Le Ragose Amarone, which is described as “big-big-big. It
ain’t no sipping wine. Bring on the pasta!” Such descriptions,
apt yet humorous, are a nice way to ease the diner who may
not be ‘“in the know” about wines, into a decision, and then
there’s always the knowledgeable wait staff to assist.
While we were really too busy to wholeheartedly attempt dessert,
in the interest of informing the public we did order some
chocolate confections that were out of this world. I would
suggest, however, that, given the heavy nature of the menu,
the restaurant might offer a selection of seasonal fruits
and nuts as a more tempered way to end the evening.
The Wheat Fields is probably still considered a great date
place among the Generation XYZers, but its homey appeal and
outstanding pastas speak to anybody who appreciates value
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp, authors of The
Book Club Cookbook, will be at the Schenectady
County Public Library (Clinton and Liberty Streets,
Schenectady) from noon-5 PM Sunday, Oct. 17, to
discuss and sign their book. The event is a fund-raiser
for the Capital Campaign to expand the downtown
library to include a new children’s center, gallery
and performance space. Samples of food made by
area restaurants from The Book Club Cookbook
recipes will be offered for sale. Gelman and
Krupp interviewed book-club members all over the
country to see what they were reading and eating;
the result is a collection of 100 entries, each
focusing on a literary masterpiece. . . . The
Hudson Valley Council of Girl Scouts will
hold its third annual Cookie Cuisine event from
6-9 PM Tue, Oct. 26 at the Italian-American Community
Center (Washington Ave. Ext., Albany). Honorary
Chair Carmine Sprio, Ric Orlando and a host of
talented culinary teams take on the challenge
of preparing gourmet entrées and desserts using
Girl Scout cookies. This year’s participants include
the Arlington House, Aromi D’Italia, Capital District
EOC, Carmine’s, Crowne Plaza, Magnolia’s, New
World Home Cooking, Real Seafood, SUNY Cobleskill
and 333 Café. Tickets are $35; pony up $75 and
you’ll be part of the honorary committee. For
reservations, call Sharon Smith 489-8110, ext.
105. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland
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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.
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
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!
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..