Michele DeRossi is back with the second installment of her weekly column, 'The Dish: Saratoga Food Finds' & this time popped into a classic Saratoga spot... read on for more!
One of the things I love most about Thanksgiving is the classic food and how good it feels to sit down at a meal with family and friends and to smell and taste the familiar and nostalgic dishes. Potatoes of all varieties, cranberries, stuffing/dressing, gravy and of course, turkey, it’s American comfort food at its finest. While serving the tried and true all-stars of the day is always welcome, taking a modern approach or trying a new dish to accompany the VIP’s can be a fun way to start a new tradition.
In the spirit of American classics with a contemporary twist, I found myself craving Sperry’s- a Saratoga institution since 1932. Sperry’s, located on Caroline Street between Putnam and Henry Streets in it’s original, renovated location, has all the elements of a longtime Saratoga hotspot: warm ambiance both inside and outside on the large patio, knowledgeable wait staff, a talented executive chef and a varied menu full of steakhouse staples with international flavors and fresh touches. I love to visit Sperry’s at the peak of the summer and winter seasons- in the summer, the outdoor patio and bar buzzes with track-goers looking for fine food and drink after a day at the races. In the winter, the dim lighting (which, I might add, makes taking pictures of the beautiful food very challenging) and vintage feel of dark wood and leather is warming and comforting, whether you are at the bar or in one of the cozy booths. Both seasons bring their own perks but one thing is always a sure bet here, you’ll feel welcome and satisfied, much like Thanksgiving dinner.
On a blustery November night with snowflakes in the air, we walked towards Sperry’s; it’s pink fluorescent sign inviting us from a block away. The place was quietly bustling with patrons scattered throughout the bar area and the booths, where we requested a spot. Our fantastic server, Richard M., who was very helpful and knowledgeable about the menu and its highlights, immediately greeted us. Richard informed us right off the bat that the winter menu was coming out the very next day and was diligent about making sure we tried some of the classics that weren’t going anywhere. He noted that Chef Brian Bowden prefers to keep the menu in tune with the season, especially since they try to locally source as many ingredients as possible, some (herbs, greens and mushrooms) from chef’s own garden.
We got right down to business and ordered the beef carpaccio to start followed by the wasabi shrimp, two dishes that remain on the menu due to their undeniable popularity. This in itself is an ode to Sperry’s ability to appeal both to the traditional crowd as well as the more exploratory diner. Now, before we go into the ordered dishes, let’s take a well-deserved moment to talk about the bread at Sperry’s. My fiancé likes to think that the bread at a restaurant is a good indicator of the quality of the meal to come. At Sperry’s, a gruyere popover fresh from the oven served by the waiter to each patron is an excellent gauge of what’s to come. It, in itself, deserves its own praise. Crispy and golden on the outside and flaky and soft on the inside, these popovers are crave worthy. To make matters even better, the heavenly rolls are served with soft, whipped butter sweetened with honey and brown sugar. If that’s not music to your ears, I don’t know what is.
Soon after digging into our popovers, the carpaccio was served, and immediately the scent of warm truffle filled the air in our booth. The traditional carpaccio dish was invented in, no surprise here, Italy, where thinly sliced meat was typically served with lemon, olive oil, and white truffle or Parmesan cheese. The appetizer was named after the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio, who was known for the red and white tones of his work, similar to the colors of the paper-thin slices of silky beef sirloin forming a circle on the plate. At Sperry’s, the chef includes all the traditional elements of the original dish but also takes artistic license with a few extra ingredients including a crispy, golden 5-minute egg, fried tangy capers, pickled red onion and lightly dressed arugula as the final touch. The combination of the warm egg yolk with truffle aioli and Parmesan cheese creates a slight hollandaise feel while the capers and red onion cut the richness with their tang and add a nice crunch. My advice is to try each element individually first and then attempt to combine them all into each subsequent bite for a truly satisfying experience. Then use your remaining popover, if you even have any, to soak up the rest of that truffle aioli that shouldn’t go to waste.
The next course was a slight departure from the traditional but boasts big flavors and offers a unique way to serve the most versatile of seafood’s, shrimp. Here, the chef covers the shrimp in wasabi, a green Japanese condiment with a horseradish-y bite, before wrapping the whole crustacean in thick applewood smoked bacon. We’re off to a good start. The 3 large shrimp are served with a drizzle of Thai chili lime sauce, a sweet and slightly spicy accompaniment that will leave you licking your fingertips- if you choose to eat shrimp the way I do, that is. The plate is also sprinkled with chopped green onion and wasabi peas, a fun dose of color and crunch.
At this point, one could go a number of ways: 1. Throw in the towel here and be very satisfied with two appetizers full of distinct flavor; 2. Finish off your meal with a selection of oysters or littlenecks from the raw bar; 3. Order one of the mouth-watering entrees such as the branzino with truffled cauliflower puree and prosciutto or the lamb loin with pistachio and sweet pea risotto; 4. Ask for the dessert menu. We chose door number 4. As I said last week, it’s hard for me to deny a dessert, and in a particularly full situation, I still will always at least look at the options.
The desserts at Sperry’s, all made in house, run the gamut from baked Alaska and vanilla bean crème brulee to Nutella brownie sundae, butterscotch budino and homemade gelato, continuing the theme of incorporating time-honored classics with a flair for the contemporary. I am a newfound Budino enthusiast (Budino translates to pudding in Italian) and this one didn’t disappoint. Sperry’s serve theirs in a cappuccino glass so you can see all of the creamy layers of custard and sweet butterscotch with a touch of sea salt; this was silky pudding heaven and the perfect way to top off our meal.
Stop in soon to check out Sperry’s winter menu, including Monday- Thursday happy hour specials from 5- 6:30pm and $1 oysters on Tuesday. It’s safe to say that this Saratoga institution is, as I think someone once said, like a fine wine, delicious now and only getting better with time- if you haven’t been yet, set a date.