Dining at old favorites, new gems
The Gazette’s restaurant reviewers traveled throughout the Capital Region and beyond in 2012 in their quest for new and exciting dining experiences, and judging by their top 10 choices, it was a very good year.
The list that follows includes an old-fashioned hotel that’s well off the beaten path and known for its seasonal servings of dishes you won’t find anywhere else. The Friends Lake Inn in the Adirondacks made the list, as did the Hall of Springs in Saratoga Springs and the Epicurean Bistro in Latham.
In no particular order, here are our choices for the top 10 restaurant reviewed in 2012.
DEAN’S TOP FIVE
Friends Lake Inn, Chestertown. Besides the attractive and comfortable accommodations and the Adirondack setting, the inn is all about the gourmet food of Chef Matthew Bolton and his staff. Outstanding was the Pan-Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras appetizer, served with a mango and caramelized onion chutney on a sunflower bread crostini. Exquisite, although I felt I should glance around to see if the food police were watching or, heaven forbid, a cardiologist.
Hall of Springs, Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs. The setting is elegantly palatial whether inside or out on the terrace with its Moroccan-style arches. Tables covered in white linen and set with white china are arrayed amid massive floral displays and beneath gleaming chandeliers. Mazzone Catering’s chef de cuisine at the Hall of Springs is Oscar Valtierra, whose menu for the Patrons Club features nine entrées and an impressive buffet known as the Tuscan Table.
Tara Kitchen, Schenectady. If you haven’t sampled the food of Morocco, Tara Kitchen is a great place for an introduction. Its dishes are authentic but they’re not intimidating — unless you find chicken and potatoes with chickpeas a scary combo.
Saltsman’s Hotel, Ephratah, Fulton County. One gets the sense that not much has changed at Saltsman’s Hotel in its 199 years of existence. There are taxidermy specimens round every corner that are nostalgic and discomfiting at the same time, and there’s the food, old-time country cooking served in epic portions. If you go there at the right time, the vegetable of the day is milkweed, and later in the season you can order elderberry pie for dessert.
D’Raymonds Restaurant, Loudonville. A classic Italian-American restaurant with an extensive menu. The aroma of garlic and marinara wafts from the kitchen, the chianti flows and music from “The Godfather” plays in the background. Open since 1979, D’Raymonds shows its practiced professionalism not only in the well-prepared food but in the fancy footwork of the wait staff, who manage to serve guests quickly while not making them feel that there’s somebody at the bar coveting their seats, even if it’s so.
Chez Mike Restaurant, East Greenbush. Chez Mike, a gem in an unassuming strip mall, is dedicated to using locally procured, top-quality and seasonal ingredients. The menu ranges from the casual to the remarkable, although even a simple burger is elevated to Mike’s level. The wine list is a hit list of favorites priced within reach, and the very well-trained, attentive staff know the menu and the operations of the kitchen exhaustively.
The Tailored Tea, Latham. In addition to a wide variety of teas and friendly service, the food is made on the premises and is especially tasty, with freshly made breads and desserts. Open for breakfast, lunch, a proper tea with choice of sandwiches and scones, or an early dinner on weeknights. It’s cozy and charming and you can watch planes at the Albany International Airport from the historic building.
The Local Pub And Teahouse, Saratoga Springs. The Local may have specialties from the U.K. like Bangers and Mash but you can get a fish taco or French Canadian poutine, too. It’s friendly, clubby and pubby, a little noisy and has a loyal following. The beer menu is extensive and the fish and chips alone is worth the visit.
Park Pub Restaurant, Frear Park Municipal Golf Course, Troy. You wouldn’t expect a golf course to have food this good. Sure, there’s pizza and wings, but the crab cakes and Linsertorte are terrific. In fall there’s an Oktoberfest menu, in summer there’s lobster rolls and patio seating, but the Cattleman’s menu on Fridays in the winter is my favorite: char-grilled lamb racks and rib eyes, all perfectly cooked and reasonably priced.
Epicurean Bistro, Latham. From distinctively French entrees like escargot, steak frites and duck, the classically prepared food is authentic and delectable. Enjoy the swanky surroundings and settle in for an excellent meal and wine list. Service is crisp and precise; everything is perfect. This is where to go for a romantic evening or a very special occasion.
— Gazette restaurant reviewers Irv Dean and Caroline Lee