This one almost wasn’t going to make it to the blog, but you can thank the man who I will describe later for inspiring me to capture the evening.
We were looking to celebrate 2 years of marriage, so we made a reservation at 15 Church in Saratoga for dinner on Saturday evening. Within moments of being seated, we were approached by the owner, a man named Paul, who congratulated us on our anniversary and even offered Cassie a complimentary Fentiman’s soda. When we made the reservation, we hadn’t noted our occasion, but Paul must have seen a facebook conversation where I mentioned it.
While I pondered the menu, I sipped on a Dark and Stormy (Goslings dark rum, Barritt’s ginger beer – $10). It was pretty good, heavy on the rum, light on the ginger beer. If you like dark rum, you’ll love this; if you’re looking for the snap of ginger beer, order the ginger beer on its own.
It was a bit difficult to devise a plan, so I worked backwards and decided on my entree, which made it a bit easier to pick my starter. I asked our server an admittedly dumb question as to whether the pappardelle were homemade; his response was that everything was homemade except the vanilla ice cream in the desserts (That comes from Stewarts.).
But now we’re going to talk about the table directly next to ours.
As we tore into the focaccia bread on the table, the man at the 3 top next to us started making a big deal about how to take a picture of his food. He had the server stand by with the pepper grinder while he and one of his dining companions took pictures of their food. I glanced over to try and understand what they were doing, and he noticed. He proceeded to tell me that they are food writers and that his reviews get 15000 to 20000 hits. I mentioned that I was a writer-on-break, and asked where he wrote. I watched the lady across from him kick him in the knee, and he responded, “Trip Advisor.” The lady with the sharp reflexes had a UK accent, and was being addressed as “Suzie”. The man had indicated to me that this was his second trip in two days, and that he was amazed the first time.
And now we’re done talking about the table directly next to ours.
To start, I ordered the burrata salad (Pumpkin marmellata, la quercia prosciutto, pepitas, baguette – $15). This was a salad in the sense that it’s what we’d call “antipasto” on the Italian dinner table. The combination of proscuitto and mozzarella is rather classic, but throwing the creamy center spin of burrata and the addition of the sweet pumpkin marmalade elevated this to a new and interesting level. The dish was humbled by a thin wedge of baguette, and it was pretty much a given that you’re supposed to grab the bread, pile some burrata, marmalade, and proscuitto on top and go to town. The burrata tasted remarkably familiar, so I mentioned to the server that he lied to me and that I could spot Maplebrook burrata from a mile away. He LOL’d. So did I.
For my main course, I went with the pappardelle (Lamb ragu, olives, raisins, mint, pine nuts, sheeps milk ricotta – $25), going for a new world Italian approach to the dinner. While small, this dish was nearly perfect. The pasta held up against the rest of the dish, and it was silky and perfectly chewy. The Lamb ragu was rich and slightly on the oily side; the main tiny flaw of this dish was that the sauce didn’t quite stick to the pasta. The other components were somewhat balanced. Occasionally, there was a small bite of olive, raisin, or pine nut that popped and brought some new flavors and textures to each bite. The mint was subtle but would please any of the “lamb and mint jelly” crowd. The ricotta was dolloped onto the dish cold, so it clashed a little in the dish, but it brought a creaminess that didn’t hurt the dish at all.
You can’t have an anniversary dinner without dessert, so we took a moment with the menu. It was difficult not to order the Notorious B.I.G. Chocolate Cake, but I went all the way with the Italian theme and ordered the Zeppoles (Cinnamon dusted ricotta doughnuts, vanilla custard & salted caramel sauce – $12). [Side note: we saw someone at a nearby table order the chocolate cake, and it was pretty big and came with a cute milk bottle!]
The presentation of this was super fun, and left the experience completely up to the diner. The vanilla custard (very much like melted vanilla ice cream – or “Creme Anglaise”) and deep salted caramel were portioned into little paint bottles, not unlike Color Me Mine. There were tons of ways to go about delivering those sauces to the zeppole. One that came to mind was to make zig zags on a plate and to sweep bites through those zig zags. The other that I thought about was to jam the spout into a zeppole and squeeze some sauce into the center, like a Dunkin Donuts Jelly Munchkin. I went with the first approach.
Unfortunately, when I poked my fork into the first zeppole, the inside was very raw. I set it aside and went for another. This one was fully cooked and absolutely amazing. Of the remaining three, two were fully cooked (2 of the 6 total were raw inside). The owners had already been hospitable enough to offer us Cassie’s dessert on the house for the occasion, so I didn’t make a big deal of the raw zeppole; I did, however, mention to both the server and the owner Paul to make sure the kitchen was aware so this didn’t become a recurring issue.
The evening was capped off with a plate of homemade salted chocolate toffee brittle. I was just about as full as can be, and this was so addictive that I ate the whole plate!
Our meal was not only memorable from a food quality standpoint, it was also an example of outstanding hospitality. While the owner did have a heads up about our occasion, he was equally attentive and concerned about all of the tables around us. It’s been a really long time since I’ve visited a restaurant and observed an owner so immersed in the experience without becoming awkward or annoying.
Lets put it this way: if this place can maintain this level of service and quality of food during track season, the ones phoning it in in Saratoga will have no choice but to step up their game.