Tell me Gordon Ramsay is going to be somewhere close, and I’m all over it. I am a huge fan of Ramsay, and also a huge fan of local businesses getting mainstream media exposure. I recently was invited to visit the Cambridge Hotel as part of the shooting of a new Gordon Ramsay show, tentatively titled Hotel Hell.
While I am not going to talk about anything pertaining to the filming aspect of my experience (nor will I post any pictures of the food), the night was filled with a number of classic “derryX Dines” moments that I would like to share. [Yes, I'm fully aware Gordon Ramsay is scheduled to make the place over, and that the food would most likely be bad; that doesn't mean you're not going to get a completely honest opinion from me.]
Making the ride from Troy to Cambridge along routes 40 and 67 during sundown was absolutely beautiful and picturesque. You ride along train tracks and water for some pretty extended straight roads. It was really quite relaxing and serene. It took me about 1 hour just before rush hour to get from Albany International Airport to Cambridge Hotel, located at 4 West Main Street in Cambridge, NY.
We arrived on time for our reservation and were seated promptly. The young lady who filled our water glasses let us know that our server would be right with us. While I do not remember the name of the server she indicated, it was definitely a guy’s name.
We were soon greeted by a young lady as our server, and the second I looked at her, I recognized her. She actually was a young lady who used to make my Bombers Albany experiences so great back in the 2003-2005 Myspace Era. The funny thing is that she recognized me too! We chatted briefly about how she ended up in Cambridge and the funny coincidence that we ran into each other before I got a chance to look over the menu (I am not sure this link to the menu will be active for long, so I will copy the menu descriptions of everything we ordered).
I decided to start the meal with Thai firecracker shrimp (Beer Battered, Mae Ploy, Sesame Seeds – $9). The shrimp came plated on a bed of lettuce in a creme brulee dish on top of a doily on top of another plate. The shrimp were barely warm. The flavor of the sauce was not terrible, but the shrimp were cooked to hell.
Cassie started with british (sic) Pub Potatoes (Red Bliss, Pulled Pork, BBQ Sauce – $8) [I have no idea why british isn't capitalized]. It was baked potatoes filled with pulled pork [most likely their "12 hour" (in quotes by them - WTF does that mean?) pulled pork], and topped with piped mashed potatoes plopped on top of a pool of BBQ sauce. The dish didn’t look appealing at all, and didn’t taste that great.
For dinner, I made my best guess at what Ramsay would try based on watching episodes of his shows. “Cambridge Hotel’s Mac & Cheese” is a signature dish (um, hello, the name of the place is in the description - Fontina, Vermont Cheddar, Penne – $12). It came out of the kitchen hot from the broiler. There could easily have been over one pound of pasta in the dish. The manager served the dish to me; she talked it up and indicated that it’s one of their best sellers and that it’s even better the next day (not actually a good thing to say) and also that it is even better with some black pepper on it (also not actually a good thing to say). On top, a layer of finely shredded (I’m talking very fine, like the texture of taco cheese in the supermarket) cheese made the top pieces of pasta nice and crispy. Sadly, these pieces of pasta were the only ones with appreciable flavor. Overall, the dish was greasy, tasted of uncooked flour, and lacked any seasoning.
I ate as much of it as I could, and barely put a dent in it. When our server checked on us, I was honest with her and said that Ramsay would have a field day with that dish. She was honest with me, and said she’s been telling the kitchen to add salt and pepper to the dish. Good girl! (hey, it would be a start)
Cassie ordered the Ale Battered fish and chips (Haddock, Carolina Slaw, Kettle Fries – $15). It was a beer battered half of a fish served on top of a bed of generic and unseasoned French fries. The Carolina slaw was disgusting; it was like they took a decent tasting slaw and dumped a lot (and I mean A LOT) of caraway seeds into it. It had the musty flavor you associate with rye bread and none of the flavor you associate with Carolina slaw.
Cambridge Hotel claims to be home of Pie a la mode (Photo Credit: Tablehopping), I had to order that. Our server told us that they use the winning recipe from the New York State Apple Fest (which ironically takes place minutes from my home town) and change it every year to reflect the winner. My apple pie came out of the kitchen barely warm and falling apart on the plate. Oddly enough, a lady at the bar was served apple pie a la mode at the same time, and her pie was so hot that I could see the heat gradient dissipating from it; she may have even burned her mouth on it. There was so much spice in my pie that it was difficult to enjoy. It was very dry, and the crust was undercooked. The ice cream was good, but that was probably bought in.
Cassie ordered Mama’s milk and cookies (Chocolate Chip Cookies with Ice Cream – $7). It came with a mini wine glass full of what the waitress described as “espresso,” some vanilla ice cream on one of those spoons you get to eat miso soup at Asian restaurants, and two triangles of chocolate cookie bars. The “espresso” was extremely watery, and even had a drop of what looked like chocolate sauce on the base of the glass. The cookie bar was nothing special, and wasn’t warm (I’m not even sure that it was supposed to be). I think Cassie enjoyed the ice cream, though.
It is clear that the kitchen could use a lot of help from Gordon Ramsay. I am completely speculating, but my guess is that he is going to overhaul the menu and show them some of the local goodies they can use to make the dining experience at Cambridge Hotel stellar. My hope is that they listen to him.
UPDATE (8/21/12): The Cambridge Hotel has closed, but I went back just two weeks after Chef Ramsay left the Cambridge hotel and tried some things from the remodeled menu.