We are so excited to introduce a new feature to The Saratoga Social, 'The Dish: Saratoga Food Finds'! Written by Michele DeRossi, 'The Dish' will be an exploration of all of our fabulous food finds here in Saratoga. A little about Michele... she is a local Saratogian with a passion for cooking, food and adventure. Michele loves to travel and explore new restaurants, bars, markets and bakeries but also likes to sit at home and pore over cookbooks for unique recipes to read and techniques to try. A few of her favorite things are charcuterie boards, chocolate mousse, anything with olives, dirty martinis included, affogattos, farmers markets, her KitchenAid, fresh herbs and Franks Red Hot. Read on for her first column!
As someone who appreciates good atmosphere almost as much as good food, Hamlet & Ghost, on the corner of Caroline and Putnam, is a win/win. This place appeals to me for a number of reasons: 1. I used to work in the space when it was Silverwood Home & Gallery (now located on Broadway) and was excited to see the transformation from store and gallery into bar and restaurant; 2. I also used to work with owner and bartender Brendan Dillon and his wife, Jill, at another one of my other favorite places, Max London’s; and 3. I just love the candlelit speakeasy meets modern bistro vibe-- the look, the renovation, the graphics and the service are all done right. Like I said, I like atmosphere.
The bistro style tables are hard to come by on a busy night, even the weeknights, so we took a seat at the bar, a fun perch overlooking the cocktail-making magic. With a thorough but unpretentious knowledge of cocktails and mixology, Brendan and his fellow bartenders serve up some of the finest cocktails in town- and they don’t overlook the details. I’m talking homemade tinctures, syrups and bitters, classic barware, their own sodas with or without the suggested added spirit- oh, and the option of buying a six pack for the hard-working kitchen? Genius. This was especially appealing to my former sous-chef fiancé.
Naturally, we started reviewing our options for drinks and there are many. I decided on the Queen Bae because of its name and also because of its ingredients- Bar Hill gin, local honey syrup, lemon and lavender bitters in a coupe- a ladylike glass that makes me feel quite classy. Although I’m not normally a gin drinker, the piney flavor blended with the floral lavender and hint of citrus was fresh, light and worthy of its name. Upon Brendan’s recommendation, my fiancé had the Fall Whiskey Smash. An ode to “the father of American mixology” Jerry Thomas, the cocktail features Old Grand whiskey, Istanbul apple tea syrup, fall bitters and lemon, a comforting and warming drink perfect for a November evening.
Now to the food… to start, we ordered the seasonal butternut squash bisque with roasted poblano, which satisfied my basic fall need for squash. Before I go on, I offer one recommendation- order a side of bread; you’re going to want to soak up all of that creamy goodness with some toasted baguette. It is also worthy of noting that Hamlet & Ghost’s soups are made in house and change almost daily- consult the butcher paper specials board to the left of the bar. Tonight’s bisque came out in a large bowl big enough to share and was drizzled with a cumin crème fraiche and studded with dark green chopped poblanos. I am an equal opportunity pepper lover (fresh ground black to crushed red to pickled jalapeno) and the inclusion of the roasted poblano here didn’t disappoint, adding a mild heat and a welcome texture to a typically smooth soup. Oh and crème fraiche? Yes please. You and your friend sour cream (and your other relatives ricotta and mascarpone) are always welcome at my party. The hint of cumin was the perfect addition to this bisque that was anything but basic. I honestly would’ve been happy with this dish as my main meal but I’m glad I didn’t stop there.
For the main event, we ordered the Korean tacos and boy, were they pretty. Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up. The first layer- tortilla. These guys make their tortillas from scratch and add in duck fat, giving them a distinct, rich flavor that can’t be matched by butter. Add in the slight toasted char of the grill and these little circles of goodness are ready to go. Next, the bulgogi beef. Bulgogi is a classic Korean style of marinating beef in ginger, soy and sesame and grilling until tender and full of flavor. To counter the richness of the first two layers, H&G then adds an apple-radish slaw, adding a fresh crunch, and tops it all off with a gochujang crema, literally the creamy, spicy icing on the Korean taco cake. If you haven’t seen it before, gochujang is a fermented, spicy Korean condiment often seen as the “miso of Korean cooking”. The dish comes with two loaded tacos that could serve as an appetizer for two or a main course for one. The plate also comes complete with a small side of kimchi, the traditional Korean side dish of fermented vegetables, most commonly cabbage, which completes the nod to classic ingredients with a modern spin.
After this experience of flavor, I am pleasantly full and slightly sad that I don’t think I saved room for dessert. I’m the proud descendant of a sweet tooth and I try not to miss out on satisfying this very important taste bud, but those chai tea churros deserve my full attention and will have to wait until next time.
Speaking of next time, the menus at Hamlet & Ghost change with the season as well as with what is available locally, keeping both the locavores as well as the foodies satisfied. In addition, nightly deals are offered such as Monday night’s $6 Ghost burger and Wednesday night’s $1 oysters. If you’re there when it’s raining, order a Dark & Stormy for $2 off- a creative nod to the weather and those who braved it to come in for a drink. When I decided to hit up H&G for this column, I went with the goal of testing their $5 Tuesday tapas. Upon arrival, I was faced with so many distinctive options using both local ingredients and exciting influences, that I slightly veered off course. Never fear though, not all those who wander are lost and I found my way just fine. I’ll be going back (I’m looking at you churros) and you should too.