Stockader Robert and I drove to Saratoga on a tip from a friend. Try Javier’s, she suggested.
The modest side entrance on Maple Avenue required climbing a few stairs, with another short flight inside, but the experience was worth the climb.
The dining room with a small bar was on the second level. An architect, Robert immediately noticed the bead-board paneling on the ceiling and one wall. The other walls were brick, painted terra cotta, and punctuated with sconces. Dark wood kept the room subdued without being somber.
Three crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Fifteen white clothed tables of four were brightened by votive candles and small vases of fresh flowers.
But the real bright lights of Javier’s were the food and the service.
The menu was brief: nine starters and 10 entrees. Appetizers ranged from black bean soup ($10) to “Petrossian” caviar ($75), though most were in the $12-15 range.
Javier’s Nuevo Latino Cuisine
WHERE: 17 Maple Ave., Saratoga Springs, 871-1827, www.javiersny.com
WHEN: 5:30-9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 5:30-10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday
HOW MUCH: $124.49 with tax and tip
MORE INFO: Two short flights of stairs, street parking and parking garage nearby, all major credit cards accepted, reservations by phone or online
Our meal began with Pan de Bono, tender warm biscuits made from cornmeal, tapioca and Romano cheese. Javier explained that this was the first bread he served when he was a busboy in New York City. I resisted a second biscuit. Robert was less restrained.
I chose the Black Bean Soup ($10), part of my quest to find the soup I had many years ago in Puerto Rico. The pureed fusion was nicely garnished with taco strips, a tiny sprig of cilantro and what appeared to be a mini-dollop of sour cream.
But the soup lacked the rich flavor of the sofrito (garlic, onions, peppers, tomatoes, bacon, salt pork or ham, bay leaf, oregano and cumin, all sautéed in olive oil) that is usually added. I avoid salty foods, but the soup could have used a brief visit from the salt shaker.
Robert raved about his Ceviche ($14). A blend of Taylor Bay scallops, jalapeño, micro cilantro, lime and orange was artfully arranged on five small scallop shells, atop a bed of shaved ice. Not a lover of scallops, I nevertheless sampled one. Icy cold, sweet and tangy.
My Lamb Ragu ($20) with pappardelle (wide pasta) and manchego (a Spanish sheep cheese) combined ground and small chunks of tender lamb with a touch of tomato. The combination was straightforward — and heavenly.
Robert ordered the Branzino (European sea bass) served with brussels sprouts, truffled cauliflower puree, crisp jamon Serrano (similar to prosciutto), and basil puree ($29). I sampled it — an exquisite blend of flavors and textures.
The menu includes four meat dishes (skirt steak, duck breast, lamb and chicken ranging from $20 to $34), four fish entrees (Branzino, monkfish, Arctic char, diver scallops, $28-$36), a vegetarian offering, Yucca Wellington ($22), and a six-course tasting menu ($70).
There are four dessert items ranging from $7 to $10. Robert chose the Chocolate Lava Cake ($10). His evaluation: “While not a true lava cake, it is delicious nonetheless.” It was more like an erupted lava cake with the rich chocolate sauce outside instead of inside the cake.
My Tres Leches was ambrosia. Who would guess a 2-by-2-inch square of syrup-soaked cake sporting only a half raspberry for a garnish could be so heavenly?
According to the dessert menu, Tres Leches is a “rich and dense traditional South American pound cake given its name from the three milks [evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream] that are used to make the glaze and marinade.” It reminded me of Italian rum cake minus the alcohol.
Throughout the dinner, Jake, our attentive server, dressed in a business suit, visited our table to fill our wine or water glasses, remove dishes, or serve the next course. He was assisted by several other members of the wait staff.
Jake explained he was not only headwaiter but was also in charge of wine. I observed him functioning as maître-d’ as well, balancing all roles with finesse.
Jake told us items are added nightly to the menu in the summer, and that it changes three times a year to include fresh local products.
Robert and I ended our meal with coffee and an espresso — and a vow to return to Javier’s.
I found one explanation for the creation of lava cake. A cook was making individual cakes for guests at a dinner party, but removed them from the oven before they were fully baked. Not to have the dessert — or the evening — ruined, the chef presented the potential disaster to his audience with a new name: lava cake.