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B.A. Nilssonn

Something Old, Something Nouveau
By B.A. Nilsson

Saratoga Polo Club
Whitney Field, Bloomfield Road, Saratoga Springs, 581-1085. Serving dinner Fri and Sun 5-10 through Sept. 7. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: Rarefied continental
Entrée price range: $18 (vegetable Napoleon) to $24 (filet mignon)
Ambience: Old and nouveau elegance
Clientele: Old and nouveau money

Your best entertainment value in Saratoga Springs for the next six weeks is polo. Pay five bucks and park with the proles and enjoy a tailgate snack as you watch two hours of championship polo, a beautiful blending of horsemanship and playing skill.

Then splurge on dinner at the exceptional restaurant in the clubhouse. It’s open two evenings a week and is a rare chance to enjoy the inventive cooking of Kim Klopstock without having to find one of the parties she caters as “The Lily and the Rose.”

Klopstock doesn’t want to pin herself down to a full-time restaurant, she explains. And even when she caters for one of her high-profile clients like David Letterman, she shies away from the limelight. Her contract stipulates no on-camera appearances.

You have the choice of dining indoors or out, but an extra $10 per person fee applies to the latter. We opted for interior seats.

Attractive chandeliers hang in the high-ceilinged main room of the polo clubhouses, over white-linen draped tables set with elegant dinnerware.

The menu is brief, and two things about it immediately annoyed me: The entrée list is two items long, and one of the items is filet mignon, the flavor-reticent crowd-pleaser of meatstuffs. And there’s an appetizer named “olive you tapenade,” and I’ve gotten weary of olive-based pâté that passes for tapenade without any understanding of this magical Mediterranean dish.

As it turns out, Klopstock understands tapenade. In fact, she understands it enough to bend the recipe in a way I never would have thought possible, leaving out the anchovies and capers and still achieving a flavor and consistency that forced me greedily to devour the oversized martini-glass serving of the stuff, slathering it on crackers and croutons and finally just discreetly licking it off the knife. At $6, it’s the cheapest of the appetizers, but that’s a list that tops off at $10 with a martini-glass serving of shrimp.

That glass proves a handy vehicle for enhancing the plates, and it later appeared as the bearer of ketchup for the youngster in our party who ordered a hamburger.

But while we’re still on the subject of appetizers, may I recommend the crab cake? It also shows up as an entrée, but I’d go with the $9 starter, which gives you a cake twice as big as typically is presented and loaded with eight times the crabmeat, with Panko instead of bread crumbs in the mix. The caper remoulade on which it’s served blows away any tartar sauce you may have known.

The shrimp martini ($9)—there’s that glass again—gets the ceviche treatment with lime juice and cilantro, while steamed baby clams ($8) are a straightforward serving with drawn butter.

Pears and gorgonzola are artfully paired on a salad that otherwise features local organic greens ($7), and the champagne vinaigrette is zesty and discreet. A baby spinach salad with shiitake mushrooms, roasted peppers and shaved parmesan cheese ($8) also is available.

That entrée list, it turns out, is enhanced by specials, which can include a tapenade sauté, some manner of salmon or a rack of baby lamb—and I tried that last one, a $25 dish that features a split rack of nicely frenched succulent New Zealand lamb, with a port-wine reduction that was almost unnecessary but, hey, I didn’t mind at all having it, what with the nice effect of mixing the sauce with the roasted-garlic-enhanced mashed potatoes on which the meat was presented. Bok choy and sweet peppers got sautéed into a side dish, too.

It’s very easy to solve your vegetarian entrée problems with cheese. It’s kind of a old Moosewood (before the lowfat cookbook emerged) tradition. Chief among those entrée problems is a lack of any boldness of flavor, but this was hardly the case with the vegetable Napoleon ($18). Yes, it sported a topping of melted cheese, but the mixture of Portobello mushroom, zucchini and yellow squash, onions, roasted red pepper and still more cheese was enhanced by grilling those veggies and not stinting on the butter. And it looked impressive, too, atop its own hillock of those mashed potatoes, with sautéed snow pea pods an extra.

My daughter learned there was a brownie sundae ($6) and would settle for nothing else in the dessert department. The vanilla ice cream that topped the brownie was chopped into brownie-sized slices and stacked on top, so it towered under its drizzle of syrup and cloud of whipped cream. And we actually sampled the rice crispie tower ($6) because I figured Klopstock had to do something interesting with that wretched excuse for a treat, and she certainly did, stacking it with coffee ice cream slices and a drizzle of caramel sauce. My wife thinks that anything involving fresh fruit isn’t fattening, and continued this dietary denial while making short work of strawberries and blueberries served on a meringue shell, under whipped cream ($7).

Service was thoughtful and attentive, and I was impressed at how deftly the well-trained crew accommodate requests, both indoors and out. Some of the staff spent the evening plugged into headsets, which is a bad habit to pursue. It makes the person appear robotic, and callers instantly get priority over live human contact. Polo and fine dining both tie us to gentler old-fashioned ways; let’s not let too much technology intrude.

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