A view of the dining room at Maestro's at the Van Dam in Saratoga Springs. (Photo for The Sunday Gazette by Beverly M. Elander)
SARATOGA SPRINGS Maestro’s, the popular tiny bistro on Broadway, isn’t so tiny any more and is comfortably settling into its new home at the former Rip Van Dam Hotel, where the buzz among foodies is most positive.
Now known as Maestro’s at the Van Dam, the bistro is offering a full menu of American contemporary cuisine, a respectable wine list and a 90-seat dining room, spacious outdoor terrace seating and separate, full-service cocktail lounge.
Chef-owner John LaPosta didn’t spend much time in the kitchen on the recent evening we visited. He was in the bar, out on the terrace and on the periphery of the dining room, greeting his customers as he kept an eye on his servers.
On a muggy Wednesday evening, the dining room and terrace filled up.
While we studied the menu, we munched on flatbread crackers smeared with a delicious spread of white beans, garlic, herbs and olive oil.
I found the menu offerings among the more appealing I’ve perused in a while. I decided to order a dinner entrée, while Beverly chose to sample two items from the appetizer menu — and after nibbling on each, I couldn’t quibble with her choices.
First there was the salad, called Sunset Farms Buttercrunch Lettuce ($10) and consisting of tender leaves of lettuce, roasted slab bacon, heirloom tomatoes, toasted walnuts, crumbled Maytag blue cheese and red wine vinaigrette. The combination of the smoky bacon, pungent blue cheese and piquant vinaigrette was heavenly, and the evening might have ended right there and we’d have left happy.
Maestro’s at the Van Dam
WHERE: 353 Broadway, Saratoga Springs; 580-0312, maestrosatthevandam.com
WHEN: 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. daily for lunch; 4-10 p.m. daily for dinner
OTHER INFO: All major credit cards accepted; handicapped accessible
But then we wouldn’t have eaten the Crispy Risotto Cakes ($8), Beverly’s second appetizer choice. These are savory treats — candied onion risotto cakes served with roasted tomato jam and five-onion goat cheese crema.
Before our appetizers arrived, our server brought out warm bread — crusty white and corn varieties — and a dish containing a slab of butter dotted with caramel-colored crystals of Hawaiian sea salt. I know that sounds a tad precious, but the butter with the crunchy grains of salt was delicious smeared on the warm bread. In response to Beverly’s question, Kassandra, our server, returned from the kitchen to tell us the salt is called “Hawaiian” because it’s actually harvested from the ocean off the islands.
Other appetizer possibilities that toyed with our affections: Duck Confit Bruschetta ($12), consisting of grilled peasant bread, brie, caramelized onions, duck confit and tart green apple; Grilled Lamb Lollipops ($15), lamb chops glazed in Hoisin sauce and served with soba noodles salad with spicy peanut sauce; and House Made Mortadella ($12), the fatty Italian bologna in this case served on grilled baguettes with whole-grain mustard, olive tapenade, Manchego cheese and cornichons.
BRAISED SHORT RIB
From an extensive selection of dinner choices, I selected a Braised Beef Short Rib ($28), a meaty off-the-bone rib braised in birch beer and served with triple-fried frites and summer succotash. From start to finish, it was a meal to be remembered — tender and flavorful beef wrapped in a mildly spicy sauce and served with crispy, browned french fries in a paper cone with ketchup on the side. The succotash was a delicious and fresh take on the classic veggie dish of corn and lima beans.
I was happy with my choice, which I didn’t arrive at easily. Other entrées called to me — Free Range Chicken Fricassée ($22), featuring English peas, wild mushrooms, pearl onions and fingerling potatoes; the Maestro’s Favorite Chicken ($23), a Milanese-style with a salad of arugula, red onion, sun-dried tomatoes, orange and Asiago cheese and a lemon olive oil; and Angus Beef Tenderloin ($38), with roasted fingerling potatoes, summer succotash, gremolata butter and heirloom tomato herb salad.
We concluded our evening with a shared crème brûlée and an espresso for Beverly and coffee for me served in a French press. For reasons that I can’t deduce, the coffees were served in metal cups, which seemed more appropriate for camping than in the elegant ambiance of Maestro’s.
Our overall experience at Maestro’s was positive, and we’ll visit again. Service was impeccable and the food was first rate. Our tab with tax and tip came to $77.74.
Before opening Maestro’s, Chef John LaPosta spent five years as executive chef and innkeeper at the Cambridge Hotel in Washington County, where pie a la mode reputedly was created. He also spent four years as executive chef at Jack’s Oyster House in Albany and, his website biography reads, he was “the creative and culinary force” behind the former Conservatory Grille in Clifton Park.