When I think about Caroline Street, the food isn't the first thing that pops into my mind, unless it's slices from Pizza 7 or maybe Esperanto's dough boys. In fact, I typically avoid the first half of the street, unless its an unusually “wild” night for us 30 somethings and we're looking for a few cheap beers and some live music... This past Friday, however, as my fiancé and I were wandering around on Broadway looking for a happy hour and a place to escape the blustery winds, we stopped on the corner of Caroline. There's a gem hidden amongst the fluorescent signs and bars of Caroline, and it's aptly called One Caroline Street Bistro, an appealing underground nook perfect for hiding from the cold.
Two doors lead you downstairs to a dimly-lit room reminiscent of a New Orleans cocktail lounge, accented with dark wood, exposed stone walls, copper topped tables, and framed black and white photos of some of the jazz era's greats, an ode to the restaurant's vibrant music scene. The restaurant hosts various acts every night except Tuesday, with Sunday night reserved for “jazz jam session”.
Although the bar was full, we were able to get some seats at the family-style high top right behind the bar, where happy hour still applies- a seat and a deal? I like that. The happy hour this evening was half-priced cocktails and buy one, get one small and medium plates- giving patrons a multitude of options to choose from. Let me just say that we liked the appetizers and drinks we orderedon Friday night so much that we decided to come back for a full meal on Sunday night. Let me also say that I was more than pleasantly surprised to find out that Cary Iglesias is the head chef at One Caroline, a friend of ours and a talented culinary force to be reckoned with.
The place boasts an impressive wine list, a variety of draught beer including the prestigious Utica Club, and a bang-up cocktail list created by a mixologist that knows what he/she is doing. Cocktails range from the classic New Orleans sazerac to new concoctions with clever names like The Weatherby, The Irish Goodbye (something I excel at), The Beetnik and The Knights Who Say “Ni”- each of which have a little explanation of their namesake on the menu. I chose the Edgar, which might be my new favorite tequila cocktail in town, a slightly spicy, chilled combination of Casamigos Anejo tequila, Grand Marnier, fresh squeezed lemon and lime, and “just enough cayenne to let you know it is there all shaken with ice into smoke”. That's my kind of cocktail... and description.
For appetizers on Friday we chose the hard cider steamed mussels and the pork belly nachitos and for Sunday's visit, we picked the charcuterie board as well as that evening's special sesame encrusted Ahi tuna. I can't even begin to choose which was my favorite. Each was prepared flawlessly, with highly developed flavors and beautiful textures. Highlights: the crispy skin on the pork belly, cooked to perfection; the intensely flavorful ahi tuna, served only with crunchy rice noodles for texture; the smokiness of the locally sourced chorizo on the charcuterie plate and the gingery broth from the mussels, ideal for dipping charred baguette.
Cary and the staff from One Caroline source and build their menus around available ingredients from local farms and they frequently utilize the bounty of Saratoga's own farmers market for weekly specials. The modern American menu changes seasonally and has a little something for everyone: foodie, locavore, pescetarian, gluten free and vegetarian alike. Although only open for dinner, the spot offers various events like their upcoming Spring Wine Dinner on March 23rd, which pairs 5 unique wines with various courses and offerings from the spring menu including duet of duck, NY- sourced lamb chops and the final course, house-churned ice cream paired with grenache rosé.
Our entree specials on Sunday from this winter's menu were all meat focused, maybe our continued response from the ongoing chill in the March air. I chose the cumin and soy marinated steak frites, my fiance went with the pan-roasted rosemary chicken and our friends went with the sweet potato gnocchi and the sticky short ribs. Again, we were impressed with the presentation of each of our dishes and the highly developed flavors in each one. The sear on my steak was rich with umami from soy and pineapple, cooked to a tender medium rare and paired with shoestring frites that had bits of parmesan tossed throughout. The sweet potato gnocchi came topped with duck confit and was drizzled with maple, cinnamon and sage brown butter, a truly soul-warming dish. One of my favorite aspects came with the grass-fed short ribs, sourced from local Kilcoyne farms, which were braised in dark beer and topped with the spicy crunch of kimchi. As good as the beef was, the bed of coconut rice beneath it was killer- fluffy and sticky all at the same time, it added a fun tropical note to the richness of of the dish and reminded me of traditional Thai desserts. My excitement over the coconut continued through dessert as I happily discovered it's presence under the crunchy sugar blanket on the crème brulée... the ideal way to finish off a weekend of good eats.
Next time you're in the mood for some high quality food and drink with a little live music mixed in, take a quick stroll down Caroline and head underground- this place is not to be missed. Check One Caroline's Facebook and Instagram pages for updates on weekly specials and changing featured musicians.