The Saratoga Region Convivium of Slow Food USA has initiated a series of monthly dinners at area restaurants in an attempt to bring more patrons to worthy restaurants in order to help support those restaurants and to get great meals at great prices for Slow Food members and friends. The first of the series was held On Wednesday, January 14th at Max London's Restaurant in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The idea was to put together a three course meal at a set price inclusive of tax and tip, but not beverages The price of the meal was set at $35 for Slow Food members and $40 for non-members.
With 24 seats available, all were filled. Everyone expected a fine meal at a reasonable price. What was delivered, though, was an outstanding meal at a steal of a price. Max London's set the bar high for future events. The dinner was only nominally a three course meal as the "first" course consisted of seven different appetizers served family style. For the second course, diners had a choice of 4 different dishes and then a choice of two desserts. As if that was not enough of a bargain, Max London provided us with happy hour bar pricing all evening.
The evening started around 6:30 with members initially congregating around the bar to meet and greet
as well as warm up from the frigid winter temperatures outside. Once everyone was relaxed, we were seated along a round (added on for overflow attendance) and a single long table just off the open kitchen, which is normally centered around a wonderful wood burning pizza oven. Unfortunately for Max, the pizza oven had had a malfunction and for the first time since the restaurant opened was non-operational. As Max makes some of the finest pizze around, I was initially disappointed. I needn't have worried.
With all the appetizers served family style, the meal started with salt cod salad with piquillo peppers and olives.The dish blended these Mediterranean flavors well with the peppers and providing color as well as textural contrast to the soft white cod. We were off to a nice start, especially as this was accompanied by Michael London's exquisite Fire bread and olive oil.
salt cod salad with piquillo peppers and olives
Menus had been presented by our plates, so by this time we all had an idea of what was to come. Despite that, it was difficult to pace oneself and restrict oneself to mere tastes as the plates came around loaded with generous portions. We continued on our Mediterranean odyssey as we were served white anchovy bocadillos. The luscious anchovies had been marinated in a light vinegar giving them additional pop.
White Anchovy Bocadillos
Wrinkled fingerling potatoes with mojo rojo followed. The sauce just made the potatoes explode with flavor, making what appeared to be a pedestrian dish truly shine.
Wrinkled fingerling potatoes with mojo rojo
House-cured coppa, aged Manchego and membrillo sandwiches came up next. These were good, but a little too heavy on the sweetness of the membrillo for my taste.
House-cured coppa, aged Manchego and membrillo sandwiches
Rhode Island Squid with feta meatballs in a tomato sauce was very tasty. The meatballs, a non-intuitive match were especially noteworthy.
Rhode Island Squid with feta meatballs
The biggest hit of the night for me was Flying Pigs farm pork belly with pickled shard. This was cooked perfectly with a crisp exterior and unctuous interior.
Flying Pigs farm pork belly
The last of the "1st course" dishes was brought to the table. It was house made pappardelle with rabbit confit. The combination of ribbony pasta, braised rabbit, greens and grated cheese worked well providing comfort like only pasta can.
house made pappardelle with rabbit confit
With everyone full or nearly so from the cornucopia of appetizers, it was on to the main course. Max generously provided 4 choices, none of which were on the regular menu that night. They included slow roasted Flying Pigs farm pork shoulder with dirty rice and cilantro mojo, Calabro hand-dipped Ricotta Ravioli with salsa verde, seared tuna belly confit with crispy potatoes, lemon and herbs and something rarely if ever seen on a menu in these parts, stuffed pig's trotters with Anson Mills grits and spicy greens. Of course, I ordered the trotters. My heart sank when I saw the plates being served. There was no way that I was going to be able to finish! What I was able to eat was simply delicious. The trotters, accumulated over time by the restaurant for such an occasion as this, mixed gelatinous cartilage with flavorful meat, all set atop the well-flavored grits. The ravioli ordered by my wife were also tasty. It seemed as if most everyone enjoyed their main courses as well.
roasted Flying Pigs farm pork shoulder
seared tuna belly confit
stuffed pig's trotters
Calabro hand-dipped Ricotta Ravioli with salsa verde
It is next to impossible to dine at Max London's and pass up desserts, especially as they are made my Max's charming mother and the proprietress behind the adjacent Mrs. London's Bakery & Cafe, Wendy London. The choices consisted warm apple-Calvados custard cake with Calvados whipped cream and slow baked flourless chocolate cake with Pistachio ice cream. My wife and I had each between us. As with all of Wendy London's desserts, they were quite delicious. The pistachio ice cream was particularly notable, however, for its depth and purity of pistachio flavor. A big fan of pistachios, I can't recall ever having had a tastier pistachio ice cream.
warm apple-Calvados custard cake
slow baked flourless chocolate cake
Slow Food Saratoga Region and our members could not have asked for a better beginning to this series. The conviviality shared amongst new and old friends was just what we were hoping for. While I expected delicious food, the variety and quantity blew me away given the price. Chef London and his sous chef, Clifton Booth, did yeoman's work along with the rest of their kitchen and wait staff (particular mention goes to Zach Lobdell for handling the bulk of the wait duties with skill and aplomb) I hadn't written much about beverages before now, but with beer, wine and cocktails priced extremely reasonably, our diners were able to quench their thirsts without emptying their wallets. Over the course of the meal, my wife and I shared two fine wines served in a quartino format with each quartino selling for only $9. The first was a crisp reisling and the second a robust primitivo, the names of which escape me.
Max London's Restaurant and bar has set the bar high for all the restaurants who follow it in this series.
We will be spending the rest of the winter in Saratoga Springs, before the series begins to branch out to the rest of the region in the spring.
For more information on the Slow Food Saratoga Region Convivium, please contact me by email. Slow Food Saratoga Region Restaurant dinners are planned to take place the second Wednesday of every month. The next event is scheduled for The Beekman Street Bistro in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. on Wednesday, February, 11th.
For additional photos please see here.