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Margarita and I recently had dinner at Jack Dillon's Farm To Fork Cuisine, the relatively new restaurant on South Boadway where the Big Apple restaurant previously was. The long and short of it is it's worth getting off the beaten path of downtown's Broadway and going to Jack Dillon's.
First of all, let's give former Siro's chef-owner Tom Dillon credit for having the confidence to go out and open a restaurant in a large building on Saratoga's restaurant skid row. In addition to the Big Apple, that location was the site of the brief stay of Morrissey’s and before that, the Joe Collins Restaurant for many years. It says here that Dillon still has what it takes to run a first-rate restaurant and it is so satifsying to patronize an establishment where the owner, and consequently the staff in both the front and back of the house, both have a cool confidence and know what they are doing.
It's great to have restaurants offer locally produced food, and I should note there are many Saratoga area restaurants that have been doing just that quite well for years. Jack Dillon's does it while offering a unique and pleasing overall experience with great service, presentation, and taste. This is a minor point but something I appreciated: even the bread service had a level of proficiency and thought to it.
Margarita ordered the fluke, which was breaded and pan fried with a tropical theme - it was served with a cooked banana still in the skin, and a mango, onion, and parsley salad. I ordered the wood fired salmon, which came with polenta and a remoulade. As you can see from the pictures above and below, they were presented beautifully and tasted as good as they look.
So venture out of downtown every now and again and try a restaurant or two in the outlying stretches. You might just like what you find.
For Steve Barnes' comments about Jack Dillon's on his Table Hopping blog, click here.
I want every new business in Saratoga to succeed. I go into Saratoga's new places with such high hopes and sometimes I'm encouraged, and sometimes I'm discouraged.
With that in mind, I hate to say it, but I'm not exactly feeling it with Alpha Dogs, the new hot dog place in that tiny little cave at 6 Phila Street that formerly housed among other things a bank vault, a laundromat, and most recently, a store selling high-end backpacks. My experience there wasn't awful, but if an entrepeneur is going to try to stake out a limited food niche then he/she better do it right and you better create future cravings so I keep coming back. Alpha Dogs did neither.
Don't get me wrong, it wasn't an awful experience. And they were only open about eight days when my wife Margarita decided she was in the mood for something quick for dinner, so maybe they will improve to the point that they do get it right and therefore create cravings in their customers. Time will tell I guess.
Part of the problem is that there is a stellar local hot dog chain called Ted's Hot Dogs in my home town of Buffalo. They broil their Sahlen's brand dogs over charcoal, and becuase Sahlens dogs are so delicious, they only need offer traditional toppings like relish, mustard, ketchup, sauerkraut, onions etc. It's the hot dog that's the center of attention, not a bunch of exotic ingredients. They handbread their onion rings and make real milk shakes. Suffice to say Ted's sets the bar high for other hot dog stands; my mouth is watering just thinking about a Ted's charbroiled hot dog.
Above: A Ted's in suburban Buffalo. Below: Some of Ted's hot dogs
Saratoga's Alpha Dogs offers a lot of creative ingredients for their dogs, which are cooked on an electric skillet. I had the “LA Street Dog,” a hot dog wrapped in bacon, deep-fried and topped with hot sauce, jalapenos and grilled onions, and Margarita got the “Tsunami Dog” with is a dog with teriyaki, grilled pineapple and green onions. The fries we ordered were undercooked and there was a pool of grease on the bottom - a result of not draining the grease properly and failing to briefly place and shake the fries on a paper transfer plate prior to serving. Like I said, I want it to succeed and they have been only open 8 days, but when a restaurant has a limited menu then they'd better get it right the first time or there may not be a second time.
The owners, Shelly and Mark Taber, are real nice and seem eager to please their customers. Perhaps the late night bar crowd won't be as discriminating, and along the way they'll improve to the point where they have a following. Or perhaps there is a niche to be filled for hot dogs with a lot of interesting ingredients. Because the place is so small, there is no seating available there so you have to take your food somewhere else to consume.
I haven't done one of these in a long while, so here we go:
Did you catch Ramon Dominguez's tribute and award ceremony at the track today? He is really a class act. Read here to find more information about a fitting tribute to the great jockey who was forced into retirement due to an injury.
Well it's good to see great weather, a good crowd, and record handle for the Travers. It was certainly an exciting race as well. So much for the big three horses in that race, huh? This should make the Breeders Cup all that more interesting. Here's hoping NYRA has a strong final week to cap off a good season.
I read a rumor on Twitter, and at this point that's all I could classify that as, a rumor. The tweet said something about NYRA is considering going to 8 weeks next year. I hope it was just simply BS, or a dumb joke. If they do expand the season, we should all rebel and not show up until August 1st. That had to be a joke.
Overheard between NYRA staff this morning ... 8 weeks of racing next year being considered. #thanksforthenametags
I'm not necessarily so offended, but does the Saratogian have any standards in their pink sheet advertising? Is it worth the money are they getting for that strip club ad that's there everyday on the front page? It's just awkward.
Speaking of the Saratogian, did you see that it is now being printed by the Times Union and will go to press even hours earlier than it previously went? Several employees who worked the press in Troy lost their jobs. I hated the Saratogian's 10pm or so press time, but 8pm (or earlier?) is ridiculous. There won't be a single sports score from night games. I realize the directive, which also affects the Troy Record and other sister publications, came from well above, but that news was disconcerting.
I see Kings Tavern, across from the track next to where Sabinas used to be, opened back up this year. It was closed last year and perhaps the year before. I have to think that a bar steps from the two Union Avenue entrances would do a killing during track season.
I am really enjoying reading the Saratoga Special - it's a newpaper that just puts me in a great mood. I think I read on somewhere on its web site that they are going year-round next year. Interesting. Here is what I wrote about them a few weeks ago, in case you missed it.
I tried ordering pizza from Marino's Sunday night, and was annoyed when I found out they were closed on Sundays. I was surprised that was the case even during track season. Despite my annoyance at Marino's unavailability, I have to respect a restaurant that is good enough to not have to eek every last dime out of track season, and had the confidence to take one day off a week, even in August. We settled for a sweet crust pizza from D'Andreas, which I now realize only tastes good when you're drunk.
Congress Plaza to the north of Citizens Bank is kaput. As part of the plan for a new hotel and retail, they demolished a large portion of the once forlorn strip mall. I'm looking forward to seeing the new building start taking shape.
I have been looking forward to dining at Istanblue Mediterranean Cuisine ever since I heard about its planned opening. I like Lebanese and Greek food, and understand that Turkish food, which Istanblue specializes in, is similar.
Margarita and I dined at the relatively new restaurant, located in the former Friendly's location at Congress Plaza, Wednesday night. Our experience was disappointing, and I don't know if the place will last until January.
There's a certain cluelessness about the operation there. We were in our seats for several minutes and given water and bread without a word from the young staff members working in what are apparently support roles, but no one came back to take a drink order. That became somewhat understandable when our waiter, who eventually arrived on the scene, informed us that they didn't have a liquor license yet. That's not so unique to new restaurants, but Istanblue initially opened without even a web site, so I'm not sure if the lack of liquor (during track season!) was the owner's inexcusable lack of planning or the New York State Alcohol Control Board not being efficient. In any event I don't know when the liquor license will arrive but the lack of one seems to be affecting business; there were only five tables occupied when we arrived at 7:20PM on the Wednesday before the Travers. I should acknowledge the server was friendly and relatively knowledgeable about the menu.
It started off all right, and Margarita's lentil soup was good and a the smoothness of the pureed beans created a different taste and texture. She also ordered the chicken kabobs $16), and I ordered the Iskender ($18), which the menu described as Lamb and beef gyro, zesty red sauce, yogurt and hot butter sauce over seasoned seared pita.
Our waiter said there was a mistake in the kitchen with my entree, which caused Margarita's meal to be served minutes before mine. OK, stuff happens. And the kabobs were moist and very good, but the Iskender had a pungency and flavor that didn't agree with me. That may be understandable - after all I was trying a new cuisine - but I didn't enjoy the meat or the red sauce. In all fairness, I nearly got sick the first time I tried Indian food, and I eventually acquired a taste for it. Nonetheless, the iksender was supposed to come with pita, but instead it was served over the exact same type of bread that was served before the dinner. That made me wonder. I didn't realize this bread was a diversion off the menu until I got home and reviewed the menu and started writing this mini-review. I get annoyed when the menu says one thing and you end up getting something different.
So maybe Istanblue will get a clue (that rhyme was unintended) and hit their stride and perhaps find a niche this fall amongst returning Skidmore students, who tend to be more open-minded about trying new cuisines, pungency and poor service or not. The uniqueness and potential of the food, especially in Saratoga Springs which has a limited variety of ethnic restaurants (lots of Asian, Italian, and Mexican but little else), gives me some hope. Otherwise, Istanblue has a long long way to go if it is to survive the challenging and competitive Saratoga restaurant scene
Healthy Living is not cheap, but its products are certainly top-notch, ad if you can get past the sticker shockw it's a fun place to shop. Here is their latest newsletter entitled SPAC, Track, and Divine Wines.