Mingle on the Avenue
WHERE: Pavilion Grand Hotel, 30 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-6682, www.minglerestaurants.com
WHEN: Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Open until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
HOW MUCH: $59.95 with one coffee and not including tip
MORE INFO: Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover. Takeout available, wheelchair accessible, street parking, children's menu
You can't beat mom's home cooking. But one doesn't expect heart-warming, down-to-earth dishes at a swanky hotel.
"The Korean items on the menu are old family recipes," explained our waiter Christop, as Hubby and I made our first visit to Mingle on the Avenue, a spacious restaurant on the first floor of the Pavilion Grand Hotel, a 48-room boutique establishment that has just opened in Saratoga Springs.
For three years, Jose Filomeno and his Korean mother, Un-Hui Filomeno, a longtime chef, have been operating Mingle on Delaware Avenue in Albany.
Mom's noodle soups, dumplings and barbecue now have a second home in a hotel restaurant that serves homestyle Korean and American comfort food for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night snacks. Brian Bowden, who has worked at Daisy Baker's in Troy and Javier's in Saratoga Springs, is executive chef.
We arrived early on a Monday night, and several tables were already occupied.
"Table or booth?" the hostess asked. At first, we were puzzled. "The booth" is actually an extremely long, comfy bench that flanks four or five tables and chairs. Other tables look out on Lake Avenue, and at chef's tables, diners can watch what's going on in the kitchen. A large barroom, concealed behind "the booth," has high tables.
The color scheme is tangerine and black, with turquoise notes that pop from an eye-catching array of glass vases. The carpet is red, and abstract paintings adorn the walls.
Mingle's menu is adventurous and unlike any other in Saratoga. Korean items, like Pork Belly and Kimchi Five-Cheese Mac; Bibimbap, Korean salads over sticky rice with a sunnyside egg; Yakimanu, handmade dumplings; and Chapchoc, sweet potato noodles with veggies; appear along with gazpacho, empanadas and jerk wings.
Less adventurous types can order a Maine lobster roll, halibut, a pastrami sandwich or New York strip steak.
Mingle No. 2, like No. 1, caters to vegetarians, vegans and the gluten-free.
Hubby started his meal with a small house salad ($6) while I was attracted to a small Watermelon and Arugula appetizer, ($6) which, like all the starters, comes in two sizes.
A trio of melon chunks was topped with a generous mop of curly arugula and sprinkled with feta crumbles. Each piece of fruit wore a halo of red onion.
For an entree, Hubby selected Bulgokee, ($27) a Korean-style barbecue plate, which can be ordered with chicken or beef.
Like Mexican fajitas, his boneless chicken pieces arrived in a sizzling iron skillet. A ball of sticky rice, a mound of kimchi (pickled cabbage) and three Asian condiments in small metal cups shared a plate with the chicken. Another plate was heaped with Boston lettuce.
"What I am supposed to do with the lettuce?" Hubby asked.
After I demonstrated how to fill the cup-like leaves with a mix from the plate and skillet, he happily devoured every bit.
I am an Asian soup maven with a passion for pho and yosenabe, so I went for the Noodle Bowl with Pork Belly ($10).
With Mingle in town, I feel there will be a another Asian soup craving, as I haven't tasted broth this rich and deep since my Polish grandma stirred a pot of lamb soup.
Thin rice noodles with corn, scallion, shitake mushrooms, baby bok choy and a poached egg on top. Even the dish it came in, a white "tilt-a-bowl" that sloped upward, was interesting.
If you are not into pork belly, other bowl choices are shrimp, chicken and vegetarian.
"I grew up eating it," Jose Filomeno said, as he stopped by our table to say hello.
Secret of the broth
When I asked about the broth, he explained that the secret is boiling down the bones and whipping an egg into the broth.
Not only does Mingle use meats and produce from the region, the restaurant is on a campaign to cut down waste, and cooking up the bones is part of it.
At dessert time, when I heard the words "Baked Alaska," ($9), I didn't hesitate, as it's a rare treat and perfect for two to share.
A globe of creamy coconut ice cream was encased in a shell of lightly browned meringue and sat upon a crumbly round of pastry. And if that wasn't enough to please the sweet tooth, the cupcake-sized island was lost in a sea of lemon sauce.
Kimchi, the national dish of Korea, is a spicy side dish of pickled vegetables, usually napa cabbage, radish, scallion and cucumber.
South Koreans reportedly eat 40 pounds of the stuff per person each year.
High in fiber and low in calories, kimchi is regarded by many as a health food.