Gluttony Under a Tent
When eating Ortolan, the custom is to do so with a napkin draped over your head. There are all kinds of reasons for this. One, it’s practical, since you’re eating a whole bird, bones and all. I can’t imagine it would be very pleasant to watch someone working it through in the final phases. Two, it enhances the sensory perception of the eater, trapping the aromas under the napkin, and eliminating all external distractions beyond what’s happening in your mouth.
But it’s the third, apocryphal, reason I enjoy the most. You cover your head to hide your shame from God.
However, this post isn’t about Ortolan. It’s about food festivals. Specifically, the one I attended last weekend in Saratoga Springs. Just yesterday I told you all about the Friday night avalanche of beef. Today, we’ll talk about Saturday’s Grand Tasting. It was under a tent, and there was a ridiculous amount of food.
The tent provided protection from the sun and the rain, which never materialized. However, it could not hide the shame of my gluttony. Nobody wants to read a list of everything I ate and drank over the course of the day. Instead, I’ll give you my thoughts on the three local restaurants that came out on top.
Before we do, I have to give props to Atria Senior Living. I’m still not entirely sure why they were at the Saratoga Wine & Food Festival, but on Saturday they were cranking out wave after wave of seared scallops. And those were absolutely delightful. I wasn’t as crazy about the olive tapenade they served alongside the scallop, but the shellfish itself was lovely.
And it should also be mentioned that the big winners from the night before chose to sit out the Saturday feeding frenzy. How would 15 Church, Salt & Char, or Prime at Saratoga National have ranked in this more opened ended format? We’ll never know.
But hat’s off to Hamlet & Ghost. Much like Burnt My Fingers, I thought Hamlet & Ghost did a bang up job. They presented a duo of candied bacon on a stick alongside a miniature whiskey smash. Why is that special?
Well, it really speaks to the personality and identity of the place. For starters, the candied bacon skewers are totally on the bar snacks menu. But the place is known for its cocktails. So it makes sense to pair the nibble with something to drink. The cocktail sample was far from just being booze in a cup. It offered a miniature whiskey smash experience. That means Hamlet & Ghost was somehow able to bring pellet ice to their booth. More importantly, they cut down straws so that you had to get your face close enough to the cup to smell the fresh mint spring on the top.
It was very clever.
Speaking of clever, it was good to see my old friend Brian Bowden behind the table at Sperry’s. Sometimes the prep work for dishes at these food festivals can be intense, and that means the chefs have to spend their time face down, doing their thing. But it’s good for those who are typically behind the scenes to come out and engage with the adoring public.
On a hot day, in a stuffy tent, the gazpacho with bay scallop that Sperry’s was serving hit all the right notes. Not only was it delicious and refreshing, but it’s one of the great things to do with september produce. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and onion. Plus I know that Brian loves working with seafood, and even the small bay scallops serve to elevate the dish.
And because it’s gazpacho, the only thing that needs to be done on site is ladeling it into cups and keeping it cool. No food is going to wilt on the table because it’s sat out too long. The downside is that it may not look as impressive as some of the more composed plates, but it was one of the most enjoyable morsels of the day.
But as far as I’m concerned, the big winner of the day was Jessica Evans of Ama Cocina. And the thing that she won with was absolutely a guilty pleasure. When I spoke with Jessica on Friday night, she told me what they would be bringing on Saturday. And to say that I was skeptical at the time, would be an understatement.
Yep. That’s a bag of Fritos, with a scoop of chili and all the fixin’s piled on top. Except this being Ama Cocina, it’s an elevated version of the whole thing. You can’t do much to elevate a bag of Fritos.
But Ama Cocina did find a way to elegantly present the dish, by tearing the bag open on the side, instead of on the top. And their chili with cheese, sour cream, and jalapeno pepper was absolutely delicious. It had layers of flavor, and was deeply comforting. I’m a little embarrassed to have enjoyed it as much as I did. But Fritos have long been one of the surprises of the snack food aisle, in that they only contain three ingredients. For real. Corn, corn oil, and salt.
These wine and food festivals can also be big drinking events. So this kind of drunken comfort food is occasionally just what the doctor ordered. It’s also unique enough to stand out from the crowd of pulled pork, ahi tacos, and miniature sandwiches.
Brava to Jessica and her team at Ama Cocina. Despite my earlier skepticism, she hit it out of the park.