Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tour de Fish Fry in Cross Section

Led by the unstoppable Professor Fussy, we tasted the following five 'Fish Fry' sandwiches with a group of other taster-raters on Saturday. We had never had a single such sandwich in our lives, and I can't say it has earned a place in our hearts, but we sure had a fun day getting to know this Capital District Specialty.
At Gene's Fish Fry, we were put off by the weird sauces (maybe we should have customized them), but we liked sitting outside, and the fish was tender and moist:
Off Shore Pier has a great deal of nautical decor, the fish fry is similarly tender and tasty, and the sauces were very conventional, in comparison to Gene's:
At Bob and Ron's Fish Fry, we appreciated the offering of malt vinegar and hot sauce as alternatives to the usual sauces, but the fish was underseasoned and a little watery. Also, someone came out to ask us directly how the food was before we even had a chance to taste it, which was somewhat poor form.
Ted's Fish Fry was the only one of the five to offer to sell us a t-shirt. It was clearly a neighborhood joint, as illustrated by the ladies who, after eating their meal happily, informed us that Harbor House in Clifton Park has the best fish fry (which implies they must have gone to Ted's for the sake of convenience). The staff are super friendly, the fish was good, the cocktail sauce had a delicious bite, but the chili sauce was too sweet.
At Matt's Fish Fry, the lacy curtains made us feel a little like like we were at Grandma's house, and the huge planks of haddock were a little on the dry side:
In the end, Off Shore won the overall rating competition, but it was very very close. If I went back to one of these places, it would probably not be for fish fry, but probably something else from the menu. As non-natives, perhaps it isn't surprising that neither of us fell in love with this local specialty enough to go out of our way for it, and in fact none of these places are convenient to either work or home. The tour was a fun time, though, and we got to try something new that we would never have known to try with the Prof. Fussy's fearless leadership.

Dinner at the American Hotel

To celebrate the fourth anniversary since we began our adventure in wedded bliss, we decided to get dressed up and go for dinner at the American Hotel, in Sharon Springs. We had been there a couple of times before, to take visiting relatives for Sunday brunch, and the food was amazing (in particular, the corn cake stack layered with sauteed apples and bacon, and topped with real maple syrup). They emphasize local and seasonal ingredients, and the atmosphere is slightly elegant and fit for a special occasion while still being friendly and homey.
Sharon Springs gets a boost during the summer from tourism to nearby Cooperstown and the Glimmerglass Festival, as well as the more local draw of the Fabulous Beekman Boys' farm. So, even though it's out in the middle of the countryside, the dining room was fairly full on the Saturday night of our anniversary. The prices are comparable to what you'd pay for an upscale restaurant in Albany, in the $30-$45 range for entrees, so we were hoping for a really special dinner.
We were greeted warmly and brought to our table right away, and given a few minutes to ponder the menu while nibbling on some warm sliced bread and a little dish of pickled carrots. We chose wines: an Argentinean Malbec for the gentleman, a NY Riesling for the lady, but we skipped the appetizers, even though we were seriously tempted by the beef poutine: prime sirloin served over homemade french fries and topped with horseradish cheese curds and gravy. (We're getting this next time.) Every entree comes with your choice of salad, and one of us went with the conventional mixed green salad, the other of us had one of the night's specials: a watermelon and feta salad with pickled red onions and jicama, over boston lettuce. The dressing was some sort of creamy vinaigrette - maybe sesame?
For entrees, we chose 1) filet mignon with a baked half-lobster and 2) scallops, shrimp and baked half-lobster.
The entrees were each served with appropriate, but unremarkable sides (rice pilaf or mashed potatoes, sauteed greens, a buttery sauce). The filet was cooked correctly, with a narrow border of sear and a deep pink interior, but in a perfect world it would have been just a bit more on the rare side. The scallops were cooked perfectly, but the shrimp, though tasty, was overcooked. Both baked lobsters were good, but not quite as moist and tender as we are used to from boiled lobsters at home. On the other hand, the lobsters here are always removed from the shell before serving, which is a lot more elegant than digging into a steamed lobster at home, with a garbage bucket to one side and a roll of paper towels to other.
While we were enjoying the meal, one of the owners visited each table in the dining room, making sure that we were happy, as in fact we were. Dessert made us even happier: creme brulee for one of us and goats milk cheesecake (courtesy of the local Beekman 1802 Farm's goats) for the other:
My only criticism about the cheesecake was that the cherries and sauce looked kind of tired and overcooked, even though they tasted great. Looking back on all my pictures, I'm surprised at how rustic the plating is. In a way, the plating reflects the whole unfussiness of the experience of being at the American Hotel. We wore more-or-less business casual, and we were probably the most dressed up people in the place. There was a family of 8 dining together nearby us, including several children, and it didn't faze anyone. We'll definitely be back when we're in the mood for a lovely restaurant experience without any superficial fuss. We love the welcoming atmosphere, the integration of local ingredients, and the fact that it's out in a peaceful rural setting. Next time, we're definitely getting the poutine.