When I celebrate my birthday, I go pretty big. I mean, last year, we took a trip to NYC just to eat at Alex Guarnaschelli’s restaurant, Butter. The year before that, I had a custom cheesecake at Cheesecake Machismo (and yes, I pretty much had the entire thing — not in one day).
When I talked to some people about what I had in mind for this year they thought I was nuts. I was going to The Wine Bar in Saratoga. My birthday is at the end of July, track season. Saratoga during track season is a mine field. All too often prices are inflated and quality is very hit or miss. To me, a great meal at The Wine Bar was pretty much a sure thing, especially with chef Dominic Colose back at the helm.
We had a reservation for 7:30 on the Friday evening before my birthday. We arrived a couple of minutes early and were seated promptly. While we were looking over the menu, the restaurant started to fill at a startling rate. The track must have closed or something.
I was pretty sure what I was ordering as an appetizer, but I needed some time to settle on an entree. I ordered a coconut mojito (Bacardi rum, coconut milk, cane sugar stick, mint – $11) to sip on while I decided.
It was very refreshing. It’s very much like something they’d make for free tasting at the Bacardi Factory in Puerto Rico. The cane sugar stick was a nice touch; it was really difficult to restrain myself, but I only gnawed on it for 10 seconds in the fine dining room.
Once we had put our order in, we were presented with a taco, sent out by chef Colose. It was a slightly charred, warm corn tortilla topped with Boston lettuce, braised Berkshire pork, pickled onion, and jalapeno. Both Cassie and I took bites of these and didn’t say anything for a few seconds. I think she spoke first and said, “oh man!” and she didn’t even try the jalapeno! The unctuous pork had just a little spice and was slightly sweet. The pickled onion also had some sweetness, but mainly brought acid to the table. The jalapeno had some acid, but also brought some heat. The lettuce and tortilla cooled it down and evened everything out. The word great doesn’t even do these bites justice.
The appetizer I ordered was crispy veal sweetbreads (creamed corn, butter poached lobster claw, pickled mushrooms – $14). When I ordered this, our server smirked, and indicated that she adored the dish.
Sweetbreads (calf thymus gland) isn’t something I would order anywhere. Preparation of this particular bit of offal can be a little complicated, but ever since The Wine Bar posted their summer menu, I was determined to try this dish. In fact, this dish was the reason I chose The Wine Bar for my birthday.
These sweetbreads were beautifully crisp, and were served with a perfectly butter-poached lobster claw, and over a slightly creamy corn salad. Eating through the dish, it was easy to get caught up in the sweetness of the corn and lobster and richness of the sweetbreads and lobster, and just as that happened, a small bit of pickled shitake mushroom came up to balance out the party. The texture of the sweetbreads is sort of like a custard but slightly brittle, and they taste meaty, but delicate. This dish was everything I had hoped for and more.
Around this point of the meal, things started getting weird.
At the table next to us, a young lady was making a big deal about redeeming a crowdsourcing coupon and the selections on the menu. On the other side, the party was going on about the lack of a childrens’ menu. A child a few tables away ran upstairs in the middle of service and came back with a 5 gallon bag filled with popcorn. Right after this happened, a man from the coupon table did the same thing, then hid his bag under the table.
For dinner, I went for the hamburger (blend of shortrib, brisket, and chuck, heirloom tomato, bibb lettuce, house aioli, housemade pickles, brioche bun, shoestring potatoes – $15).
I enjoy burgers just about anywhere. Plenty about this burger was worth the $15 price tag. The size, the outstanding produce, the homemade aioli and pickles, the sweet and perfectly warmed bun, the plentiful portion of fries. The most remarkable part of the burger was the flavor of the beef. Given this blend of meat from three different cuts, the burger was rich, meaty, and moist. I do think the flavor of the beef would have held up to a touch more aioli, but that’s just me nitpicking. The homemade ketchup was also great with the fries, but I honestly couldn’t even finish the fries, especially since I had to have some cake.
The molten chocolate cake (with vanilla gelato and blackberries – $9) was a great topper to the meal. I’m familiar with how particular this dessert can be, so I was fine with the slightly imperfect presentation. The center of the cake was molten and rich, and that’s really what this is all about. The vanilla gelato was pretty good, too.
This birthday dinner was a pretty big success. I never lost confidence in The Wine Bar, not even for a second.