Short rib sliders at Saratoga. (Photos by Geoff Worden)
OK Saratoga; you win, I’m yours. Like any infatuation or beginning of a love affair I experienced confusion, goosebumps, yearning. Even after two out of three days spent together, I want more.
Monday was quiet, rain fell incessantly in the morning in Dorset, Vt. and we considered scrapping our plans to go to the Spa. However, it looked like there would be a break around midday and we had reservations for the Turf Terrace. We would be under cover, so my mother, my daughter and I headed west.
The skies held onto their moisture once we arrived but confusion reigned for a little while. We tried the wrong entrance for the Terrace first, then were told we didn’t need to stop anywhere to pay ahead, which turned out to be incorrect. Finally, we located the Clubhouse booth to pay. My 10-year-old got to duck the turnstile here and at the main entrance! I was a little disappointed she didn’t do it limbo style.
The elevator is cleverly tucked away and we missed it once but eventually arrived on the third floor and were shown to our fantastic table near the finish line, perched high above. I think we had no less than three people arrive and tell us they would be our server but everyone was full of smiles that felt natural and they got it figured out.
The small increments of entry fees added up, $5 to get in the Spa, $3 to the Clubhouse and then a $7.50 seating charge at the Turf Terrace. The first two have to come out of pocket up front, the other is added to your bill, which requires a further minimum $25 per person. That will not prove a challenging level to reach.
We settled in and I could finally get to some handicapping. This distracted me from the beginning of our leisurely meal and I missed a picture of the appetizer we ordered to share. Appropriately, it came from the Starting Gate section of the menu.
Burrata Bruschetta ($17) featured a local burrata (mozzarella pocket that is stuffed with more fresh mozzarella and some cream) with a couple slices of heirloom tomatoes, a few peppers, prosciutto and crostini. The prosciutto was far from the best I have had but it worked well as a salty texture with the cheese. We tore through this opening dish and I would recommend it for sharing. (Hint: if you have cheese left over, save the plate. It would be great on the housemade chips).
MANHATTAN CLAM CHOWDER
My daughter moved on to Manhattan Clam Chowder ($5 cup) and an order of fries ($5). The chowder was delicious, though I prefer the New England version. I thought the clams were in short supply but there was plenty of clam flavor. The fries, steak-house style, were good and crisp and my daughter loved them. It is a huge basket, so plan to share.
Mom opted for a Roma Caesar with chicken ($24 - see, there’s almost your minimum) She orders things a bit differently, including skipping the dressing which seems to me to be the whole point of a Caesar Salad. I skipped pictures of this in case it looked unfairly unappealing. All I can really offer here is that she was pleased and the chicken was nice and moist.
Short Rib Sliders ($13) called my name and it was a good call. Short ribs slow roasted and served on classic “parker house rolls,” or what my family always called dinner rolls. There were some pickled vegetables and a jalapeño slaw with a slice of jalapeño on top. The slaw wasn’t quite pickled enough for me but the rest was fantastic, even the rolls I would normally ignore on a dinner table. The ribs were soft and smoky and I wanted more!
SHORT RIB SLIDERS AND SARATOGA CHIPS
I opted for chips with mine and was very happy. They are the Saratoga Chips “fresh made with our house sweet onion dip,” think French Onion. Even our server called it French Onion. These are $10 on their own, I never saw the bill but I’m assuming the large basket that appeared was not included with my sliders. Some chips were cooked a bit past perfection but the potato flavor (and their freshness) was obvious and I wish we had saved the last of the burrata to put on a few.
We closed out the meal with a Red Velvet Cake ($8.50), one of my daughter’s favorite desserts. It looked fantastic and wasn’t just pretty. It tasted good. Moist cake, delightful cream cheese icing also served with fruit and whipped cream. My daughter got a fork into the whipped cream before I snapped the picture.
RED VELVET CAKE
You can order as you want, we had vastly different timing on our various meals and our server was very accommodating. It was also a rainy day and a Monday, so perhaps you need to be more organized in your ordering on a busier day.
There were lots of scratches that day. We even saw one race with only 4 entrants but we found plenty of horses to cheer on in each race and my daughter was very happy to yell for Rosie Napravnik since we see her at Fair Grounds at home in New Orleans.
Although we did not order alcohol the cocktail list tempted me, the 150th - Ketel One Citroen, St. Germain Elderflower and Prosecco in particular. Bourbon is not my favorite liquor but The Black Storm, a spin on the Dark and Stormy nearly broke down my resistance.
The wine list, across the board, is mostly pretty generic although the prices were somewhat reasonable. Kudos for offering one New York State wine, a riesling (semi-dry) from the most famous producer, Dr. Konstantin Frank.
If anyone at the table is ordering the same glass of wine, don’t. Unless they are huge pours just buy the bottle, three glasses either covers it or comes close enough. There is a Provencal rosé that could be perfect for a summer day but since there is no vintage listed I would verify that it’s at least 2012 before having anyone open the bottle. (French rosés can age nicely so 2012 should be fine, though 2011 would be better). The Crossings Sauvignon Blanc is decent and so are the Ruta Malbec and the Hob Nob Pinot Noir. The beer list is about what you would expect with a few more craft options thrown into the mix.
I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food, bravo Saratoga! I overheard a server say she liked it better when there was a $50 minimum per person. The tips must have been better but my family would have likely skipped the experience.
BIG RED SPRING
So glad we went! We even made sure to visit the Big Red Spring despite the rain that had started anew. That is quite a taste ... be sure to check it out.
I will miss you Saratoga but there is plenty of time for everyone else to get there and have fun. Lots of exciting racing at the Spa this weekend and more to come in the rest of August.
Tune in to Fox Sports 1 on Aug. 10 for the Saratoga Special Stakes
and on Aug. 17 for the Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes.