I would like to start this review out by saying that I was looking for a restaurant to bring my girlfriend for her birthday. I was trying to make it a special night, as it was our first birthday as a couple and I wanted her to remember it. And remember it we shall.
The restaurant used to be "Dine", an upscale French restaurant. When the new owners took it over, they basically updated and got all new equipment. The restaurant opened around July 4th of this year. They cook their pasta to order (though don't expect the stereotypical "Spaghetti and Meatballs" cuisine, because this restaurant, most certainly is not), make their mozzarella, brie and other cheeses, locally sourced ingredients, smoke their own meats including sausages cured meats, herbs grown on-site, make their own bread, and generally all home-cooked, fresh traditional Italian cuisine with a flair of interesting and creative dishes from co-owner Henry Ciccone and Franco Rua head of cuisine and operations. They also have a 1000 degree wood-fired pizza oven. And for anyone who has never had a wood-fired pizza, I have two words for you, try it. Since I generally don't have time to drive to my favorite pizza place (Lombardi's in SoHo, NYC), this will be my new go-to for gourmet pizza. They adhere to the standards set by Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, which are standards for making a traditional Neapolitan pizza, complete with cooking technique, sizing, texture and flavor.
I asked a friend of mine to come out and have a drink with me there on Monday night, so I could check out the place and see if it was something that fit the bill. The restaurant used to be "Dine", an upscale French restaurant. It has the charm on the outside of an upscale, yet non-pretentious restaurant, with 2 tables out on the sidewalk, and a small outside patio on the right-hand side of the building. We walked in, and everything was very nice, contemporary and traditional at the same time.
We sat at the bar, and ordered some wine. The wine list isn't very extensive, but it did have some good bottles on the menu, and is very affordable in direct contrast to other restaurants in Saratoga. We looked at the menu, and decided to get some of their small plate and appetizers to try their food. The first thing I noticed about the menu, that it's has a lot of variety, and is on the smaller side. I mean that in the best way possible. Too often I find that a restaurant makes everything under the sun with a 5 page menu with 1/2 of it being very similar, and is marginal at best. I prefer my restaurants menus like Capriccio Saratoga, where I would rather have the kitchen make a few things very well, rather than a lot of things mediocre. Plus, if you tell me you make pasta to order, make your own cheese etc, and you have 50 entrees to choose from, I'm going to call BS. It just isn't possible.
We ended up ordering the goat cheese, the sopressata, and octopus carpaccio. The octopus caught my eye, and I was intrigued. It came drizzled with a lemon caper sauce, and a small side salad with micro-greens and fresh cherry tomatoes. I have to say, it was amazing. Now, do not, I repeat, do not think of octopus like big tentacles with suction cups slapped on a plate. If you didn't know what it was, or looked real close, you wouldn't know what it was. The way they prepare it was explained by Henry, and I don't remember the details, he says it's very popular. So I won't try to explain it any more than by saying trust me, try it. When it comes to food, I have a mantra that says "Just because I've never had it, or it isn't common in the West, if millions of people elsewhere eat it, then it deserves a try". Meaning, just because I'm not used to it, doesn't mean it isn't good. The sopressata was excellent, tasting fresh and "meaty", while not being greasy in the least. And don't even get me started on the goat cheese, because I'll stop typing and go there right now!
Henry sat and talked with us for a while, and I explained what I was trying to do. He was very accommodating, offering to clear out the parking spaces in the front of the restaurant so the horse and carriage that I had hired for the evening could wait for us outside the restaurant. I didn't take him up on that offer, but it was uncommon for a restaurant to offer that. I also was given a nice bottle of wine from my grandfather (2008 Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir, excellent bottle from probably the best up-and-coming vintner in Napa) and I asked if I could bring it in the Friday beforehand to have it ready. I had been in the restaurant business a long time, and I know that wine, liquor and beer are big money-makers for the restaurant. I was expecting a corking fee, which I would've happily paid, but Henry said it's not a problem, no charge. They placed it in the wine rack, out-of-the-way so no one would come along and take it; again, this is above-and-beyond of what they had to do for me.
So the evening came, and we were escorted in. I was a little disappointed the wine wasn't on the table, because I had to ask for it, but I don't think I said anything on the reservation, and again, they're already accommodated me more than enough so I wasn't upset in the least. Our waiter was excellent, and again the carpaccio was excellent. I'm lucky to have a girlfriend that will try new things, she trusts my culinary palate! She had the cod special; it was cooked with what looked like a light tomato sauce with garlic over a bed of escarole. I tried some of it, it was cooked perfectly and the textures of everything together (fish, sauce, escarole) worked amazingly. I had the beef scaloppini which is thin-sliced filet pounded lightly in a Marsala sauce, with what seemed like roasted broccoli rabe and a great polenta cake. The meat was real tender, and the sauce was perfect. The vegetables however, had a kind of odd sharpness to the taste, if that makes any sense, it didn't seem natural. The polenta however, was excellent. The outside had a good crust, with a nice creamy center and good flavor. Henry goes around to all the tables, and makes sure that everything is going well with their meals. That's a nice touch, that doesn't happen very often anymore. It’s nice to know that there are still restaurants that don't just treat their patrons like cattle, only caring about average check per table and turnover rate.
For dessert, we ordered the tiramisu. They actually came out and sang to her, which I wasn't expecting, but I was glad to embarrass her a little! The whole restaurant clapped for her, it was nice. I was absolutely stuffed (partly because we went to the Gideon Putnam for brunch, but more on that later) but as soon as I put my fork in the dessert and felt the texture, I immediately had more room. I've had tiramisu where the ladyfingers are too dense, or not soft enough, or you are basically choked with the taste of rum. This had a slight hint of rum, but you could also taste the coffee as well. The whole dessert had the consistency of the mascarpone cream, light, fluffy and delicious. It's rare that tiramisu is made this well.
So in closing, Henry, Franco, and the staff at Capriccio Saratoga are doing a wonderful job at making this a staple of Saratoga. They embody the culture of Saratoga, subdued elegance, charm, great food, friendliness and a willingness to go out of their way to treat customers like they should be treated, like guests. They didn't have to keep my wine safe until dinner, let alone free of charge. They also didn't have to offer some valuable parking spots for the horse and carriage, but they did. I will patronize this restaurant more frequently, and I think everyone should as well. That way, other restaurants might take a notice at how Henry, Franco and the staff run the restaurant, and strive to bring back some of the small-town friendliness that Saratoga sometimes seems to have lost.