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Friday, April 03, 2020

Downtown Place to Be

From the Food Vault Dept.: Remember restaurants? How odd it would have been for me were I still actively reviewing them! Here’s a throwback – quite far back, to 1996 – look at a downtown Saratoga Springs institution that we watched decline thereafter, until it received a $28 million renovation four years ago. I haven’t been there since it re-opened.


MY EXPECTATION OF VICTORIAN-AGE ANYTHING includes ornate architecture, potted palms, and, however improbably, Rudy Vallee crooning by the bandstand. A weird mix of styles, but it can work--as demonstrated by Saratoga’s Adelphi Hotel.

The old Adelphi in a postcard view.
It’s almost the last of the grand old places, and it maintains an elegant air of the bygone days, from the plush parlor you see upon entering to the old-style desk where reception awaits. During the warm weather, it’s my favorite place to go for a tasty fruit daiquiri, enjoyed in the garden that’s reached a couple of rooms beyond the entrance.

Last week, my wife and I visited for dinner, something we haven’t done at the Adelphi before. I’m glad we discovered it. I’m only sorry we’ll have to share it with August’s crowd.

You have a choice of dining venue. The bar has several tables; beyond that is a smaller room. A larger room follows, and then there’s the garden. We made it to the almost-outside room, hedging against a cool breeze that was blowing in.

Across the hall, glimpsable through a window, a vaudeville-type show was in progress, saluting old-time stars (Rudy Vallee among them). It added to the old-fashioned sense of everything.

We found out later that Café Adelphi is a post-performance destination of ballet dancers appearing at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, which suggests a compelling picture of artists who work to create classical stage pictures revivifying themselves in a similarly exotic setting.

The menu isn’t extensive. Your basic entrée groups – steak, chicken, pasta, pork, fish – are represented, with an appetizer array that either can preceded the entrées or turn into light meals themselves.

With extensive sampling in mind, Susan started with gazpacho, one of the best summer byproducts. It’s a cold soup that takes its flavors from fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, with the crunch of bell peppers to help produce its explosive texture. The two major gazpacho schools are divided as to whether the components should be chopped and therefore coarse or puréed for a smooth finish. We’re both of the chopped school and therefore were pleased by the crunchiness of the Adelphi blend.

Cold and room-temperature dishes dominate the menu, appropriate to summer service. I started with a country pâté, pork-based, carved from a terrine and served with cornichons and slices of French bread (there’s more bread, good stuff, too, in the basket that arrives at your table early in the meal). The pâté flavor was wonderful, although its texture suggested that it didn’t spend as much time under weight as is traditional. A fantastic touch is the coating of tapenade given to the French bread slices. That’s a Provencal dish that combines the sharp flavors of capers, olives and anchovies into a paste, and it balanced the pâté’ sweetness wonderfully.

We also sampled an order of baked goat cheese, which transforms the flaky, sweet, soft cheese into almost a thick custard. It’s coated with bread crumbs and herbs, served on a bed of lettuce, and the perfect accompaniment to the glass of sparkling wine I was drinking. In fact, I could think of no better after-show meal than just baked goat cheese and champagne. Well; given my appetite I’d get a little more creative, but you’re probably able to restrain yourself.

Susan’s pork loin entrée is served at room temperature, a roasted slice stuffed with apricots and prunes. It’s served with a kind of chutney made of more of the fruit along with carmelized brown sugar and a healthy dollop of bourbon – she found the flavor distractingly strong but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Bread salad is a component we’re seeing more and more, but on Susan’s plate it was a handful of croutons. Good flavor, but not finished into the stuffing-like texture we expected. Ratatouille--o, bountiful summer! – finished the plate.

Sea bass in parchment is the what the menu promises, but that bass has since been switched for swordfish. Seems the average diner doesn’t know what to expect from sea bass and thought it was arriving undercooked. It’s a shame to submit to the il-informed, but the swordfish substitute cooked nicely in that context, especially with the flavors of garlic and citrus that coated it. A mayonnaise flavored with lime and cilantro adds a sweet, puckery edge to the flavor.

This is the seventh summer at the Adelphi for chef Jane Kribs, her first as executive chef. She’s committed to keeping the menu short and, literally, sweet, doing a great job of balancing what’s available with what people will accept, all the while satisfying the demands of the image of this old hotel.

Service is attentive if a little rushed. Our primary waitress, Suzanne, took great care of us, but some of the other servers were unfamiliar with the menu and general procedures, suggesting that a lot of new people have been turned loose on the floor.

Wisely, we didn’t try to finish the entrées. Desserts, made there daily, included a bittersweet chocolate cake that I loved, and a hearty pecan spice cake we had to take home with us.

Dinner for two, with tax and tip and two glasses of wine, was $84.

Café Adelphi, The Adelphi Hotel, 365 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 587-xxxx. Serving dinner Wed-Sun 5:30-fairly late. AE, MC, V.

Metroland Magazine, 25 July 1996

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