After an awesome weekend in Saratoga Springs, I’m feeling refreshed and extremely motivated. I’ll be honest, I have been feeling stuck in a food rut and was hoping the trip would be the fix. For those of you have never been to Saratoga Springs I would strongly suggest going for a weekend. I had never experienced it over the summer, but the town gives off that straight from a movie vibe; beautiful architecture, perfectly landscaped parks, polo matches and horse tracks, and a ton of great restaurants. Two of the nights we decided to take advantage of all the variety.
We first opted to return to one of our favorites. A restaurant that we had been excited for since we planned the trip. Hattie’s is known for their southern cooking and unbelievable fried chicken (it appeared on Bobby Flay’s Throwdown and won). I went for their shrimp and sausage gumbo although I made sure to grab a few bites of that chicken and despite the slight raise in prices (damn economy!) Hatties was just as good as I remembered.
We also decided to dine at one of the newer restaurants in town, Max London’s right next to Mrs. Londons. Mrs. Londons was a wonderful bakery that I probably didn’t take advantage of enough over my time in Saratoga. It had created a decent amount of buzz while the plans were being developed and it’s opening was highly anticipated. Now of course, I had no idea of any of this because I wasn’t around while the restaurant was getting started but I had heard enough to want to give it a shot. The setting is contemporary and exudes personality. While sitting at the bar I couldn’t help but get excited by the in house infuzed vodkas and the great list of salumi and cheese. But it was the menu of small plates and pizzas that really sets this place apart. The food was delicious: from the salmon tartare to the clam pizza, the chickpea fries to the ragu it was all great and at very reasonable prices (although I guess I’m just used to NYC). With a great selection of beer on tap and a cool vibe, I think Max London’s will certainly become a staple of Saratoga dining for years to come.
So there it was. Great food, great company, and a great weekend. This must be my motivation for getting back in the kitchen and really making something great. Right? Well I hate to say it, but it’s far less glorious. In fact its quite the opposite of all that positivity. Our other night in town I was determined to cook a feast for the seven of us. Renting a house can be a challenge, because most are not stocked with the basics for cooking meals. So rather than spend unneccesary money on a ton of ingredients, I decided to keep it simple. We had a grill, and keeping it simple on the grill is just my style….unfortunately “simple” took a dive bomb into bland.
Now, no one except for the brutally honest one in the group (theres always one) would agree with me, but my two types of grilled chicken were definite low points. Now I won’t take all the blame, mainly because the electric grill (Yes! I said electric) reached the temperature of maybe 225. I felt like I was cooking on a fevered forehead. But all excuses a side, the delicious marinades just didn’t take to the chicken. I may be my toughest critic but trust me when I say, this chicken was not so good. So there it is, my competitive streak is what led me to last night…
I had to make up for it; get it out of my memory. I needed strong flavors, good technique and a boost in confidence. But I also needed a break from heaviness. Vacation might as well be called “overindulgence” and my body needed a break. So I started to think about what went wrong on that grill. I should have known better. I should have avoided that grill and cooked inside but the cookout feel would have been tarnished. Luckily for me, the cookout feel is non-existent in my apartment and so the plan basically wrote itself.
How many times have you had the “vegetarian” burger that is a charred to death portabello mushroom smothered in cheese; a complete afterthought that deserves better. And honestly, with so much flavor (when done correctly) what’s the need for bread. With the right compliments, why can’t this portabello “burger” be delicious, filling, and healthy! By topping portabellos with a sesame sauteed mixture of japanese eggplant, chinese broccoli, and bell pepper and finishing with a layer of fresh mozzarella, all the characteristics I had imagined came to fruition. Fantastic flavors, great texture, and a great look. Pairing these bread less portabello burgers with some quick pickled cucumbers, I was able to forgive and forget; myself that is. Back in the game!