Back to Metroland's Home Page!
 Columns & Opinions
   The Simple Life
   Comment
   Looking Up
   Reckonings
   Opinion
   Myth America
   Letters
 News & Features
   Newsfront
   Features
   What a Week
   Loose Ends
 Dining
   This Week's Review
   The Dining Guide
   Leftovers
 Cinema & Video
   Weekly Reviews
   The Movie Schedule
 Music
   Listen Here
   Live
   Recordings
   Noteworthy
 Arts
   Theater
   Dance
   Art
   Classical
   Books
   Art Murmur
 Calendar
   Night & Day
   Event Listings
 Classifieds
   View Classified Ads
   Place a Classified Ad
 Personals
   Online Personals
   Place A Print Ad
 AccuWeather
 About Metroland
   Where We Are
   Who We Are
   What We Do
   Work For Us
   Place An Ad
photo credit: Alicia Solsman

A Date With Pasta
By Laura Leon

The Wheat Fields
440 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.

Cuisine: pasta-based continental

Entrée price range: $11.95 (ravioli formaggio and two styles of lasagne) to $17.95 (several meat and shrimp dishes)

Ambiance: warmly lit, white-tableclothed comfort

Clientele: eclectic mix of young professionals, empty-nesters, college students and passers-through

When 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 good.

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 sauce.

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 and taste.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Judy 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 (e-mail food@banilsson.com)


We want your feedback

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

Your Name:
E-mail Address:*
Location:
Rate It:
Comments:


* 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



Send A Letter to Our Editor
Back Home
   

 

0104_116E
In Association with Amazon.com
Process your (secure) HTML forms for free
Pick7_120x60
 
Copyright © 2002 Lou Communications, Inc., 419 Madison Ave., Albany, NY 12210. All rights reserved.