4.22.2015

The Well-loved and the Newbie in Saratoga

It's been a while since I blew into Saratoga Springs for a whirlwind weekend of the Spa City's most delicious offerings. I have written before about my love for Putnam Market and Forno Bistto, so for this Miss New York's Outstanding Teen Pageant weekend, I led my flock to an old favorite and someplace entirely new to me.

Saratoga Springs is, of course, a playground for horse racing enthusiasts, and with that particular pastime comes affluence. It's a picturesque, pristine village of state parks, charming architecture, boutiques, small hotels, and many terrific restaurants. The perfect place for a weekend away, really.

Several years ago, Hattie's Restaurant went up against Food Network's Bobby Flay on his Throwdown show. Because the Throwdown was for fried chicken, and because the chicken recipe at Hattie's dates back to 1938, they sort of kicked Bobby's butt. I love me some Bobby Flay, but I'm not going to lie, it's kind of fun to watch him lose.

So, when I first started the blog about five years ago, I told you a little bit about Hattie's, and I just had to go back for another bite. Once again, we sat out on the festive back patio under the multi-colored, chandelier-lit tents, the chilly early April air mitigated by space heaters and a great mix of 70s and 80s Top 40 hits inspiring us to order inventive cocktails from the bar sharing the space.


A basket of biscuits and cornbread arrived from our very adorable waiter, Lars. I discerningly chose a biscuit from the bounty, which was like an oasis of the South plunked into my mouth just at the point this Nothern winter was about to dehydrate me. In other words, it was properly flaky without being too dry - almost assuredly made with lard rather than butter, in accordance with the prophecy.


Cajun stuffed mushrooms, crammed with breadcrumbs, seasonings, and aromatics, were a spice punch right in the kisser. They also contained approximately one metric ton of butter per shroom cap. Pretty tasty, utterly sinful - which is a pretty great precursor for a giant pile of fried chicken, now that I think about it.


But for my money, the perfect starter from Hattie's is the hushpuppies. These golden fried orbs of cornmeal are a little sweet, a little salty, and soooo indulgent dipped in the honey-enriched side of butter and crunched down into with abandon.



We all went for fried chicken, as it should be, but a couple members of our party knew in advance they wouldn't be able to put down three huge pieces. Lars agreed to bring just a breast for each of them without batting his long eyelashes, and we were thankful.

So behold, this is why you eat at Hattie's:



The fried chicken here is unsurpassed. The meat is juicy - well-seasoned and tender without being overly salty. The crust is light, flaky, without a trace of grease. Every element - meat, skin, crust - is fully seasoned and tastes like chicken, chicken skin, and fried chicken crust independently - you get juice, salty, fat, and mild spice, but not too much of any one of those flavors. It tastes like home even if your mom never made fried chicken. It is a primal flavor that just tastes right.



The mashed potatoes were super creamy, loaded with butter and heavy cream, but unfortunately, the gravy fell short - smelling great and tasting like not much at all. Those collard greens, though? Fiery with chilies and cooked down intol savory, tenders loveliness. Earthy, slightly bitter, pungently spicy and wonderful.

It's no wonder that Hattie's chicken beat Bobby. This is an exemplary taste of the Old South, and it's right here in Upstate New York. It rates a nine on the BHS scale, and I can't wait to return!
The following night, an even larger group bustled off to Maestro's, right on Saratoga's main drag, in a quite beautiful, old, columned building. 

The space inside is more modern, upscale but comfortable, kitted out in plush earth tones and equine-themed artwork. I started with a fantastically delicious cocktail whose name I unfortunately did not write down. It was comprised of brown liquor, apple liquor, plus citrus and cinnamon and tasted like a warming glass of liquid apple pie. I then formed a pork belly plan with a fellow diner, which resulted in is beaut:
 


A fat slab of crispy, rendered, tender pork belly served atop a creamy mound of barley risotto with crispy onions and jus. Four people ultimately sampled this wonder of fat, salty, crunch, earthy nuttiness, and a hint of sweetness. It seems Maestros changes its menu with some frequency, but whatever iteration of this fantastic dish is residing on it when you visit, avail yoursel of it post haste.

After that rich starter, I went for a small plate rather than a full blown entree. It was no less rich, however: house-made ricotta cavatelli coated in a cream sauce embellished with foie gras and topped with micro greens.  The pasta was tender but sturdy, but as you chewed it, it dissolved and almost became creamy itself. The sauce, laced of course with goose liver, was thick, more unctuous than creamy in a way that only a sauce that looks like dairy but is actually minerally, salty, fatty meat can be. This dish was tiny, but splendid.
 

It was like a carbonara in that way, much like the egg yolk heightens a carbonara sauce into a silky, gorgeous velvet, this was a luxuriously decadent pasta.
 
For dessert: coconut cream pie. It was anchored by a supremely light, whipped, mousse-like vanilla base with lots of toasted coconut up top. I'm still searching for my perfect coconut pie, one made with coconut milk, cream of coconut, and really great coconut chips. This wasn't it, but it was still damn yummy.
 

Our service at Maestro's was friendly and very attentive. It's a smaller space, and therefore loud on a Friday evening, but we were loud too, so everything was fine. It's pricey here, but every dish I sampled was delicious and presented in an upscale way, with thoughtful, creative approaches to familiar food. I would also give it a nine on the BHS scale, so I guess I'm feeling pretty rosy about our Saratoga experience.
 
I wish I could be as magnanimous about our hotel, but frankly, the Hilton Garden Inn is aging and in need of renovation. In my room, the bathroom had a funk that didn't go away even when I called in maintenance, the service in the dining room was brusque at best, and despite friendly desk staff, we were not impressed. 
That said, we had a terrific time in the Spa City. A quick lunch of prosecco and flatbread pizza at Wheatfields was lovely, Putnam Market was bustling and chock a block with good eats as usual, and the shopping along Broadway was unique and delightful despite the blustery wind. We can't wait to return next spring for more tastes of this great town!

Maestro's at the Van Dam on Urbanspoon

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