I had heard about this restaurant from a few sources, most recently from Chef Kevin London of the estimable Farm House at Top of the World Restaurant at the southern end of Lake George. The Uptown is located all the way up in Hague at the northern end of the lake. It is not exactly around the corner from me, but the perfect opportunity to try it came recently when our youngest son was finishing Music Camp at the Silver Bay YMCA in the town of Hague. It was a day camp, but the last session finished with a late afternoon concert. I made a reservation for my wife, my son and myself to follow the concert.
The Uptown is a seasonal restaurant open from late June through Labor Day weekend. It has a very interesting and unusual story. The atmospheric and well maintained building dates from the late 19th Century and has gone through a number of functions over the course of its existence including general store, post office, boarding house, head shop/private home, taxidermy, and now, restaurant/residence. It was purchased by its current owners, Lauren and Ken Parlin in 2003. They initially opened it as a bakery and coffee shop, which morphed into a breakfast and lunch spot over the next few years until the summer of 2008, when they hired a chef, Matt Russo (winter manager of The Cheese Cave at Artisanal in NYC), to cook and serve dinner. After missing the summer of 2010, The Uptown re-opened in 2011 with a new seasonal chef, Sam Richman, who ran a supper club, Dinner at 525 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. A number of quality cooks, including my friend, Claire Handleman, spent time in the kitchen there that summer (unbeknownst to me). In 20112, The Uptown brought in a new CIA grad to run the kitchen, Jeanne Jordan, who is currently cooking in NYC at Mas La Grillade. This year, the connection with cooks from Mas continues with John Matthew Wells, who recently finished his third year as Chef de Cuisine at Mas Farmhouse in NYC. Working with Wells is Luis Ahuet, who has spent time cooking at Il Pesce in Eataly, Mas Farmhouse and Esca. It has been an eclectic mix of people in the kitchen drawn together and unified by the owner, Lauren, who is the heart and spirit of the restaurant as well as her two daughters, Liz and Anna, who run the front of the house. In the early years of the restaurant, they were joined by the Parlin’s son, Turner.
Aside from the classic, old storefront, the first things one notices when coming upon the restaurant are the immaculate herb and vegetable gardens off to one side and the roaring brook behind the building that is heading to the lake. Between the lake and the gardens , there is an inviting fire pit surrounded by colorful Adirondack chairs.
The dining room itself is small, intimate and full of lovely, warm tones with an eclectic mix of old wooden tables bare of tablecloths or other adornment beyond the fine grain patterns inherent in the wood and votive candles.
We were seated at a four top table that used tea cups under each leg to offset the table’s otherwise short stature. It was a clever and cute solution to a funny problem.
We started with a snack of mushroom stuffed cheese puffs. These were light, tasty and well executed. Pepper and house made ricotta toasts were also tasty openers. These first bites set the tone for the dinner. Neither was ground breaking, but both were perfectly executed, relatively strait forward and delicious.
My wife and I each ordered fish dishes for our main course, while our son ordered the skirt steak. Once again, the dishes were not conceptually novel, but they were reflective of superb technique, quality product and clear purpose – to be simple and delicious. Both fish dishes were marvelously cooked with crisp skin and flesh at the point of perfection. Accompaniments served to add flavor, balance and depth without overshadowing the main elements of the plates. The skirt steak proved a terrestrial counterpart to its maritime brethren.
A side order of braised onions and another of tender asparagus werre just delightful and again perfectly executed. This is a kitchen that knows what it is doing, is focused and not trying to be something it can’t or shouldn’t be. The bulk of the product used comes from the nearby Adirondacks or Vermont with the seafood obviously coming from a bit further afield.
Desserts were no less novel and no less memorable. Strawberry rhubarb pie had a streusel top that was a wonderful fit for the sweet and sour filling and the exquisite crust. Dark chocolate cake was a model of what many strive to be, but few succeed at.
The sensibility is farm to table. In today’s restaurant world, this is not rare, but I have found few restaurants that do it as well as this meal at The Uptown accomplished. I plan to return for more.