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at the table

Gourmet dining in casual elegance at the Hall of Springs

Sunday, August 5, 2012
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These are some of the tables for the buffet dinner at the Hall of Springs in Saratoga Springs. (photo: BEVERLY M. ELANDER/FOR THE SUNDAY GAZETTE)
These are some of the tables for the buffet dinner at the Hall of Springs in Saratoga Springs. (photo: BEVERLY M. ELANDER/FOR THE SUNDAY GAZETTE)

— Dining at the Hall of Springs at Saratoga Spa State Park is becoming a seasonal ritual for us, a pleasurable prelude to the ballet or orchestra at the adjoining Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

There are three venues for food — the casual Jazz Bar or the more formal pre-theater prix-fixe dining or, if you’re a member or the guest of a member, the Patrons Club.

The prix-fixe menu features a buffet that changes regularly. There is a first course from which to choose greens, fruits, cheeses, summer salads and soup, followed by a la carte entrées that feature a changing selection of seafood, poultry, pork, beef and vegetarian items, and a third course of dessert from a sumptuous array of possibilities.

The cost for the prix-fixe meal prior to evening performances (between 5:30 and 7 p.m.) is $29.95 for adults and $15.95 for children 6-10. In July, prior to matinee performances of the New York City Ballet, prix-fixe meals were $25.95 for adults and $13.95 for children ages 6-10 beginning at noon.

Prior to a ballet performance of “Romeo + Juliet” last month, we were guests of friends who are members of SPAC’s Patrons Club, where the cuisine and ambiance are more rarefied still.

Hall of Springs

WHERE: 108 Avenue of the Pines, Saratoga Springs. 583-3003, www.hallofsprings.com

WHEN: August prior to Philadelphia Orchestra performances. Dinner reservations for seatings from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

OTHER INFO: Handicapped accessible; all major credit cards accepted; reservations strongly recommended; children’s portions available in prix-fixe dining room

COST: $95.35 (Patrons Club)

The setting is elegantly palatial whether inside or out on the terrace with its Moroccan-style arches. Tables covered in white linen and set with white china are arrayed amid massive floral displays and beneath gleaming chandeliers. Smartly dressed, ever-smiling servers are strategically placed and ready to meet your every dining need.

Mazzone Catering’s chef de cuisine at the Hall of Springs is Oscar Valtierra, whose menu for the Patrons Club features nine entrées as well as an impressive buffet known as the Tuscan Table. You can order one of the entrées, which range in price from $32 to $46 and help yourself to the Tuscan Table too, or for $32 you can have just the Tuscan Table, which is what Beverly and I chose to do.

Bounty on display

When I say “just,” please don’t assume we were depriving ourselves in any way. The choices available at the Tuscan Table are both wide-ranging and tempting to the point that you could overserve yourself if you weren’t careful.

There is a bountiful display of shrimp with cocktail sauce, cheeses and fresh fruit, tiny beef sandwiches, a summer vegetarian minestrone, hummus with crostini, gnocci in a basil and light cream sauce, green salads and penne salad, crispy crab cakes and a lovely lobster fried rice that was served in Asian take-away cartons with attached chopsticks.

If you prefer something more formal or something in addition to the Tuscan Table, there is Za’atar Spiced King Salmon ($35), served with warm quinoa with black currant, apricot and pistachios, summer radishes, orange blossom honey and cucumber raita. One of the guests at our table had the Organic Brick Chicken (also $35), which consisted of half a roasted chicken with broccoli rabe, whipped potato and whole-grain mustard sauce.

The most expensive item on the menu at $46 was the Seared Summer Petite Filet Mignon Medallions served “churassco” style (meaning grilled as the Latin Americans do) and served with heirloom teardrop tomato salad, olive oil, smashed Yukon Gold potatoes, and basil and rosemary chimichurri.

The entrées are generous and arrive quickly and with quiet efficiency — necessarily so because there’s a curtain rising soon.

Angelo Mazzone’s company has been the exclusive caterer at the Hall of Springs since 1996, and its expertise and experience show on many levels. While we were there, Mazzone himself was moving from table to table, greeting patrons, who clearly appreciated the personal attention.

You don’t have to be headed to the ballet or the orchestra to dine at the Hall of Springs during July and August, and I recommend it as a wonderful choice for dinner to celebrate a special occasion. Don’t try to go without reservations, however.

We had drinks prior to dinner and wine during it, and coffee at the conclusion. Our tab — not counting the adult beverages — came to $95.35 for the two of us, including tax and tip.

NAPKIN NOTES

If you’re looking for a drink and some light fare, drop in at the Hall of Springs’ Jazz Bar. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays The “Jazz Standards” include empañadas stuffed with chicken and Monterey Jack cheese served with sour cream and pico de gallo ($9) and eggplant fries with yellow tomato marinara and warm basil ricotta ($7).

Under “Syncopation,” there are dishes to be shared by two — like the Artisan Cheese and Summer Berries ($14). It’s assorted vintage cheeses with summer berries and flatbreads. Thursdays there’s a “Swing Special,” which translates to $1 Angus beef and Cheddar cheese sliders.

 
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