Archive for June, 2008

“Every Day Should Be A Holiday”

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

June 14th weekend, Cati and I went on a mini-holiday.  It was due in part to a very well put-together fundraiser for/at The Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs, NY way back in March.  The fundraiser was an amusing gala, complete with silent auctions and classes for supporters to take, should they sign up.  Aside from Cati slyly beating some lady in a silent auction for a cute bracelet, we also signed up for sailing lessons on Lake George.  Well, June 14 had finally arrived and we headed up to the lake for our excursion.  And since we’d be spending the day up there, I thought I might surprise the wife with dinner and a one night stay at The Inn at Erlowest

One of the benefits of summer is that I get to take the summer car out of hybernation and get her on the road. 

On the drive up, I nearly wrecked my most-beloved vehicle due to laughter when we passed the exit for Lake George Village.  The highway sign at the exit was marked with an arrow and the words “Lake George Vil”.  Cati saw the sign and asked, in all seriousness, “Who was George the seventh?”  [I am laughing as I type this.]  “George the seventh???”  She thought the abbreviation “Vil” was a Roman numeral seven.  I steadied the car and we both proceeded to laugh about her honest little error (I laughed harder and longer). 

We arrived at the Harris Bay Yacht Club and met our affable sailing instructors Cathy and Bob of R & R Sailboat Charters.  They took us out on their 28ft sailing boat called the “Querencia.”  We also met some friendly Saratogians who had signed up for the class as well.  We spent the day discussing sailing lingo, pirates, architecture, trading stories, eating snacks, and sipping beers.  I even managed to have a little nap on the bow during our peaceful five-hour tour.  The lake was beautiful and the winds were calm and steady.  Cathy and Bob also provided snacks and beer.  If you should ever want to spend the day sailing or treat someone to the same, give them a call (518 583-2762).  That’s the way to go, eh?

After our sailing lesson we headed up to The Inn at Erlowest to have dinner and spend the night.  It’s a few miles north of Lake George the seventh Village.  The building is a converted mansion that was built ~100 years ago and looks like an old castle.  We were impressed from the minute we walked in.  The place smacks of luxury and every corner appears fussed over to maximize guests’ comfort.  We knew we were in our kind of place when we saw that the dining room was immediately on display to guests from the small but posh lobby.  The decor is best described as old-world classic luxury, and the dining rooms share this theme with their gilded plates and lavender galore.  The restaurant and rooms at The Inn at Erlowest avoid being stuffy and outdated with the modern stylish kitchen and rooms equipped with all mod cons like jacuzzis and flatscreen TVs.  The Inn appears rustic but spares no amenities.  As we headed up to our rooms, Chef Miller’s spacious and open kitchen was visible from the hall.  It looked a bit like a laboratory to me, but in a good way.  It appeared clean and efficient, like the kind of place that would produce novel and ambitious cuisine rather than the standard overcooked fare that we have all encountered ad nauseum. 

We were escorted to our room by the hostess/manager and we played it cool until the moment she stepped out of the room and closed the door.  Y’know, we didn’t want to seem TOO impressed.  But once we were alone, we both ran around the room “oohing and aahing” at all the trappings.  I tried to get a shot of the bed but Cati couldn’t contain herself and jumped right on in.  I don’t know if the bed in the Schuyler Room ellicits this response from all ladies, but guys, take note [wink].  I proceeded to open the complimentary champagne and explore the massive bathroom.  We were in the lap of luxury.  Here’s the best part– the place felt a bit homey.  The rooms on each floor opened to a common lounge area with stately lounge chairs, fire places, and chess sets.  Our floor also connected to a balcony with a picturesque view of Lake George (see below).  We were free to mill about and enjoy this incredible place– views and all.

We had an 8PM dinner reservation, so we chose to kill some time at the bar.  The small bar was in a cozy corner on the first floor, just hidden from the lobby.  The comfortable lounge included couches and chairs arranged around a fire place and glass doors that opened onto a stone patio that overlooked the lake.  I had a drink while my poor, teetotaling, wife and her little passenger, had sparkling water and cranberry. 

We were escorted to our dining nook which was in a small three-table wood-trimmed dining room that was probably the mansion’s study back in the day.  We were seated at a lovely two-top table near the large windows against the wall. 

Cati and I perused the menu and saw that there was an option for a six-course taylor-made tasting menu for $115/person.  However, we opted to order from the listed menu items instead.  Interestingly, many of the entrees were offered in two different sizes: an American (larger) and a European (smaller) portion.  What a clever way to cater to commitment-averse diners (like us).  We want to try many things in small portions rather than commit to just one dish.  I started our dinner with a glass of Raventós i Blanc cava (brut) to help me make up my mind.  Hey, I like my bubbly like I like my ladies– Catalonian [wink].  Our server presented us with a light and smart Asian salad amuse-bouche from the kitchen.  It was easy on the eyes and palate. 

 

Also, our server brought us fresh baked rolls and three different spreads: butter, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and a roasted red-pepper cream cheese. 

 

Our aptly named “Velvety Lobster Bisque(s)” arrived; the bowl was presented on a stack of ornate plates and topped with a delicate and airy puffed pastry shell.  We quickly cracked through the peppery covering to reveal what Cati called the best lobster bisque she has ever had.  The consistency was perfect, it was magma-hot, and we are both convinced Chef Miller used the tomalley to achieve that piquant saline flavor characteristic of good seafood.  We were off to a great start.

For our next round we shared beef carpaccio and the Erlowest Salad.  The organic greens were crisp and obvioulsy fresh.  They were accompanied by some grilled asparagus, a sweet tomato confit, chunks of gorgonzola, and a tart vinaigrette.  I couldn’t get over how good the tomato confit was. 

Cati had the carpaccio placed in front of her.  The beef was sliced as thin as paper; it was so delicate that it was a challenge to get on the fork and immediately disappeared on the tongue.  We were impressed with the quality and presentation (have a look).  The horseradish aioli with which it was served was sweet (perhaps too sweet) but the arugula provided the offsetting bitterness.  There were also a few thin sheets of parmesano reggiano drizzled with olive oil on top.  The cool fresh flavors paired well the crisp and buttery glass of California chardonnay (Koehler, 2006) that I enjoyed. 

For our entrees Cati ordered the rack of lamb and I ordered the bone-in filet mignon; both were ordered medium rare.  A good bone-in filet is hard to come by (unless you want to sign up for a porter-house), so when I see one on the menu, I typically go for it.  Although I was presented with a handsome steak knife, I barely needed it.  The steak was literally fork tender (I tested it); and perfectly cooked.  I realize that ordering a steak at a restaurant like this might seem akin to having unrestricted access to the Vatican library (for one night, no less) and reading a Mad magazine.  But I assure you, there was nothing pedestrian about this steak.  The potato gratin on which it was served was creamy and firm.  The fresh potato and onion flavors persisted as well– rather than being an indistinguishable butter-mush; bravo Chef Miller.  There was a dallop of gorgonzola butter on the steak to up the decadence factor to 11.  The perigourdine sauce was new to me, and it was quite good.  It was a richly-flavored classic brown-sauce seasoned with truffles; it seemed like it took hours to make (and it was eaten so fast).  ;)   I had a glass of California red-zinfandel (Screw Kappa Napa, 2005) with the steak, and it paired nicely.  I was on cloud nine. 

Cati was smitten by her rack of lamb as well.  It was coated in peppery charmoula marinade and presented with a tomato based sauce (called a “tomato jam” on the menu).  The pepper, spice, and citrus jus lié stimulated the tongue not unlike a sip of a hearty Cabernet Sauvignon.  That, combined with the subtle yet discernable mutton flavor, made for a remarkable dish (and one pleased diner).  Cati even offered me a few choice bites from her lamb because I think she felt guilty about eating much of my potatoes while I was distracted by my steak. 

It was around this time that Chef Miller came out of the kitchen and introduced himself to us (and the other diners in our dining room).  He was friendly, pleasant, and more soft-spoken than I was expecting.  I guess I was expecting him to be loud and flamboyant– why?  no reason.  I had the cliche image of a smug prima dona chef in my mind– I was wrong.  We thanked him for a fantastic meal and briefly discussed the unique personality of his current restaurant compared to his previous endeavors (i.e. Stone’s End, Jack’s).  He’s doing incredible things at the Inn at Erlowest’s kitchen, and if it’s gone to his head, it didn’t show. 

We needed dessert like a lumberjack needs an accordion, but we ordered it anyway.  Cati swears she ordered dessert, not for herself, but for the baby [whatever].  ;) Cati had the chocolate coconut gateau and I had the key-lime tart brulee (with a cup of decaf).  The chocolate gateau was served in a chilled orange mango soup; it was as tasty as it was attractive.

My key-lime brulee was a hybrid of two of my favorite desserts (who am I kidding– they’re all my favorite): creme brulee and key-lime pie.  The creamy and tangy brulee was topped with a hard caramel coating and rested on a graham cracker crust.  What an inventive blend of two classics, no?  The familiar flavors, mixed in this way, were intriguing; my tongue was experiencing a sort of deja vu. 

So that was dinner.  If you are looking for a good value for decent food, this is not the place for you.  If you’re looking for a stellar dining experience, and you’re willing to part with some cash to get it, The Inn at Erlowest should be at the top of your list.  Dinners like this won’t become our Saturday routine (we’ll need second jobs for that), but we’ll definitely be back when we feel compelled to spoil ourselves a bit. 

The next day we enjoyed breakfast (included in the room rate) in the main dining room.  Breakfast was certainly good enough to earn a play-by-play description, but I am feeling guilty about how much I ate, so just enjoy the morning sun in the dining room (photos below). 

Thanks for reading this blogpost; I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed recalling our terrific one-day holiday. 

This Dandy Warhols song was the inspiration for the title of this blogpost [crank speakers, louder, enjoy]:

I do want to mention something negative about our stay so I don’t sound like a total groupie, but I am struggling to think of anything.  Let’s see…  I’m thinking…  still thinking… 

“Stay Classy, San Diego.”

Monday, June 9th, 2008

I was in sunny San Diego, California to run in the 2008 Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon.  Big thanks to all of you who helped me raise the requisite funds and for the kind words of encouragement along the way.  You know who you are; you should feel proud, and I am very grateful.  The upstate NY/VT chapter of TnT raised over $50,000 for blood cancer research and improving the lives of blood cancer patients.  I finished the marathon in 3:38:51.  It was challenging.

While in San Diego, I took advantage of the beautiful weather and varied dining options.  I specifically asked my friends, who live there, to take me to places that had food I can’t get in Albany.  We went to dinner at a place in Ocean Beach called South Beach Bar & Grille for some delicious fish tacos.  They were great.

 Delicious fish tacos.

In Ocean Beach as the sun sets outside.

The setting sun just outside the restaurant.  My friends and I went for a walk along the peer after dinner.

The next day we went sailing.  This probably wasn’t a good idea as all that sun gave me a little sunburn and probably contributed to my dehydration during the marathon.  But ah well, it was fun. 

 Searching for that cursed white whale.

I see sea dogs.  The seals were swimming alongside the sailboat for some of our excursion.

For lunch, we went to Taste of Thai and I had the beef panang curry.  I have not been able to find a decent panang curry in the Capital District.  I’ve encountered some bad ones though.  I’ve read of a new Thai place in town on Celina Bean’s blog; I’ll have to check it out. 

Very good.  Probably not wise on the day before the marathon, but it was good.

The veggies were crisp and tastey.

After the marathon, LT and I went out for some seafood at The Fish Market.  I just wanted to sit down and medicate have a beer, anywhere.  We had a dozen oysters each and some tuna and yellow-tail sashimi.  The Fish Market is right on the water and we could see sailboats cruising by from our seats at the bar.  The oysters were fantastic.  We had Washington Hood Canal Oysters, Canadian Fanny Bay Oysters (note: includes no actual Canadian fanny), and the always delicious California Kumamoto Oysters.  They were so briny, plump, and flavorful we ordered another plate each. 

Ostras!  So good. 

The sashimi was great too.  There is certainly something to be said for freshness. 

Tuna sashimi.

Fresh yellow tail.

The view from inside.  See the sailboat in the background?

That’s the life.

You may remember LT as my host on my trip to Norway in June 2007.   Remember?  We went to the “Farts Museum.”  What a gas.

Should you ever lack motivation, listen to this song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7T2iKpZk-s0

Energizing, eh?  Be careful with this song though, you may find yourself compelled to run a marathon.