A stone fireplace dominates one corner of The Pasta Factory's dining area, giving the space a homey ambiance that complements Tuscan-yellow walls and international comfort foods. Using an eclectic mix of Italian, American, and Asian recipes, the chefs spend mealtimes blanching pastas, sautéing cuts of sirloin steak, and hand-polishing each sesame seed. The kitchen also strives to keep its cuisine fresh by making marinara, pesto, and fiery general tso's sauces in-house.
When restaurant-industry veterans Tim and Colleen Holmes bought The Wheat Fields in 2004, they felt that there was ample room to grow the business—in more ways than one. The husband-and-wife team knew that some aspects should remain unchanged: they still wanted their chefs to handcraft the nearly 20 daily shapes and flavors of pasta that Saratoga Springs residents had come to love, including gnocchi and tagliatelle. But they also knew that the venue and menu were expansion-ready diamonds in the rough. The duo invested more than $1 million to double the space, diversify the offerings, create a huge mahogany bar and lounge area, and attract high-caliber food and wine experts.
The Holmes' vision and hard work paid off. Today, Wheatfields Restaurant and Bar is thriving, serving local, farm-to-table produce, house-aged steaks, and, of course, fresh pasta. The site's ongoing success has prompted the Holmes to open a second location in Clifton Park—Wheatfields Bistro and Wine Bar—and the accolades keep coming. OpenTable diners gave the Saratoga Springs location Hot Spot and Vibrant Bar Scene awards and voted the Clifton Park location a winner in the Italian and Good for Groups categories. Also, both sites have earned Awards of Excellence from Wine Spectator thanks to an impressive international wine list and the flocks of rare wine bottles that roost outside. These flavorful sips pair with an extensive assortment of gluten-free pizzas and pastas, and a helpful food-allergen chart assists diners in avoiding such common irritants as shellfish and peanuts.
Let's meet our competitors. In the blue corner, weighing in at five pounds: a stack of oversized pancakes covered in whipped cream and fruit. In the red corner: you. The match is a single 30-minute round, and if you win, you earn a free meal. Few win. In fact, scores of potential champions have failed the Ugly Rooster Cafe's colossal pancake challenge, including The Daily Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin, but so far none have been knocked out?just blown away by chef Ariel Pagan's fluffy pancakes.
Though nothing else is as colossal as the pancake challenge, the rest of Ugly Rooster's breakfast menu still packs stomachs pretty tight. Aside from omelets and breakfast burritos, the cafe's french toast soaks bread (or cinnamon buns for the more adventurous) in a batter that hints of vanilla and nutmeg. For lunch, the cooks assemble burgers with avocado and bacon or BLTs with fried green tomatoes and garlic mayo sauce. Whether refereeing a pancake challenge or simply greeting customers at their tables, Chef Pagan works side by side with his two children, Chris and Cesare, ensuring that the family-owned restaurant operates as smoothly as a production of Ball Bearings on Ice.
Knife skills are important to any chef, but at Mr. Fuji Sushi & Hibachi, where the snick-snack of sharp blades fills the air, they’re a form of theater as much as cuisine. Standing at newly installed hibachi grills, chefs swiftly slice morsels of steak and seafood, sending them soaring into the air and onto plates via a sophisticated air-traffic control system. Diners settle into padded leather seats in a sleek, tiled room enlivened by rainbow-colored lanterns, Japanese pottery, and tiny, glowing nooks in the wall as they await hot entrees such as teriyaki or specialty sushi rolls—some deep-fried, some wrapped in different papers such as white seaweed or soybean. Continuing the theme of adhering closely to Japanese culinary traditions, the restaurant frequently uses its Facebook page as a primer on dining etiquette and some of the items guests are likely to find on the menu, from pork tonkatsu cutlets to onigiri, sushi’s answer to the dumpling.
Cuisine Type: Mediterranean, Turkish Cuisine
Delivery / Take-out Available: No
Number of Tables: 11?25
Outdoor Seating: No
Parking: Parking lot
Handicap Accessible: Yes
The Mediterranean food at Istanblue goes far beyond your typical plates of hummus and grape leaves. Taking its cues from Turkey, the restaurant compiles a heaping list of appetizers and dinner entrees evocative of the country's culinary roots. Plates of karniyarik show off servings of meat-stuffed eggplant and the iskender is the restaurant's own take on beef-and-lamb gyros with both red and hot-butter sauce. It's hard to go wrong by sampling a bunch of cold and hot appetizers too, which are ideal for sharing around the table. The helpings here are generous, and so is the space: the airy dining rooms give everyone plenty of room to stretch into their favorite yoga pose.
Sun streams in through a wide front window at Al-Baraki, illuminating a decorative hookah and servers placing falafel, marinated meats, and flaky baklava on cloth-covered tables. A menu of simple Lebanese fare makes use of imported spices and local ingredients, infusing each dish with an assertive punch of flavor. Their moulouki, or "royal dinner," treats patrons to a traditional Lebanese meal that begins with a gaggle of appetizers, a meaty main of shawarma and lamb kebab, and goat-cheese pie. Alternatively, vegetarian dinners, such as falafel, can be ordered à la carte and washed down with traditional lemounada, a fresh-squeezed lemonade scented with water droplets handpicked off of rose petals. In Al-Baraki's feature in the Times-Union, correspondent Cheryl Clark describes the aroma of cumin in the air alongside the decorative baubles—from a fez to an inlaid chess case—chosen by Owner and Chef Paul Chedrawee and his wife, Simone.