There’s always a buzz when new restaurant appears in Saratoga Springs.
The natives were restless long before the doors opened at 15 Church. What was happening inside that dumpy purple building, they wanted to know.
For 20 years, it was empty and boarded up. During the renovations at Church Street and Long Alley, curious passers-by would press their noses against the windows, trying to get a look inside.
What began as a buzz has become a roar, if a recent Friday night is any indication.
When we made our reservations, our only choice was 5:30 p.m., since the place was booked until 9:30, and as we stepped inside, Happy Hour was in full swing at the bar.
Owned by Albany native and veteran restaurateur Paul McCullough, with award-winning chef and Greenwich native Jason Baker in the kitchen, 15 Church is a small place, with five tables, four booths and a couple of high tops, and its vibe is unpretentious. Cocktail dress or jeans. It’s up to you.
WHERE: 15 Church St., Saratoga Springs, www.15churchrestaurant.com, 587-1515
WHEN: 5-9:30 p.m. Tues.-Thur., 5-11 p.m. Fri. and Sat., 4-9 p.m. Sunday.
HOW MUCH: $104 without tax, tip and alcohol
MORE INFO: Reservations strongly suggested. Parking ramp nearby. All major credit cards accepted. Accessible.
As Hubby and I eased ourselves into the marshmallow-soft, high-back chairs, our eyes and ears were drawn to the boisterous bar, which dominates the front room dining area.
The decor, including the chairs, is subdued 1960s retro, in shades of cocoa brown. Bubble-shaped lights dangle over the bar. The atmosphere is more intimate in the four cushy-looking booths tucked into the back of the restaurant, nearly hidden behind the front room.
“This place is for people who want to treat themselves,” Hubby said, as he sipped his martini.
I usually turn up my nose at the bread basket, reserving the tummy for the main attractions.
But how could one resist these melt-in-the-mouth Parker House rolls, slathered with Vermont butter that was sprinkled with black sea salt?
For an appetizer, Hubby selected a lobster and crab cocktail ($19) served in a martini glass. He liked the creamy dressing but invited me to polish off the discs of fresh ginger in the bottom of the glass.
The Alsatian Tart du Jour ($12) was my choice, and I was expecting something round and pastry-like. But this was more like a crispy pita, sporting a riot of lively toppings: tiny crumbles of bacon or pancetta, corn, tomato confit, chives and bleu cheese.
“That looks like something you’d get on ‘Chopped,’ ” said Hubby.
“Do you eat it with a fork or your hands?” I inquired of the waiter as I sipped a lovely glass of Cave Springs Gewurztraminer from Canada’s Niagara Peninsula.
For our entrees, I picked monkfish, ($32) a special of the day, and Hubby went for the 15-Hour Braised Veal Cheeks ($27).
“Oh my God, it’s wonderful,” he said, biting into one of the twin buttery cushions of meat, which rested in a ragout of artichokes, mushrooms and white miso.
My monkfish was a green delight in appearance, as the pale white flesh was adorned with a heavy sprinkle of finely chopped fresh herbs. Broccoli rabe and black lentils were tucked underneath.
While the dish was nicely seasoned, the texture of the fish didn’t seem quite right. It could be that I haven’t eaten the dense fish in a long time and had forgotten that it wasn’t my favorite.
As we were dining, we were pampered by anaffable and attentive squad of servers, attired in black pants and white shirts.
The owner, McCullough, was also on hand, greeting guests and bringing food to tables.
“What do you need?” he asked us.
After the appetizers, crumbs were wiped off the table. As we ordered dessert, one of the waiters straightened my napkin and silverware.
We split a crème brulee ($8), which was a bit runny, and garnished with strawberries and blueberries, and Hubby relaxed with a decaf cappucino ($6).
“I would come back here in a heartbeat,” he said.
“Me, too,” I replied. “And I know where I want to sit, in that booth way in the back, the one with the window that looks out on Adirondack Trust.”
Saratogians have been drinking and dining in this 100-year-old building for generations.
A reputable Spa City source tells me that more than 20 years ago, it was the Third Base Pub, and before that it was D’Andrea’s, Villa Rustica and The Gold Lion.
Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.