SARATOGA SPRINGS — Tucked away in a renovated historic building along—no surprise here—Church Street in downtown Saratoga, 15 Church just celebrated five years spent serving up everything from prime filets to lamb to scallops, and everything in-between.
The menu is somewhat hard to categorize, as Chef Michael Mastrantuono, alongside owners Paul McCullough and Thomas Burke, have looked beyond classic American fare to take cues from Asian and Italian cuisine, among others.
“At 15 Church we pride ourselves in our cooking style mainly because we don't have one,” said Mastrantuono. “We do everything from Korean fried lobster to the best eggplant parm you ever had in your life.”
“We call it new age American, but it’s still classic,” said Monica Kessler, guest relations manager since before 15 Church even opened its doors.
With regard to the latter, she’s quick to mention that everything on the menu is less conventional than the phrase might typically suggest. That’s thanks in no small part to Chef Michael’s attention to detail and precision when it comes to flavors, she said, which have helped him make his mark on the restaurant since joining in the summer of 2017, after a stint at Roux in Slingerlands, in addition to a few other area restaurants.
Mastrantuono said he loves to cook because it makes people happy. But he also loves the literal fire that it sparks, both within and without: “I love the intensity of a kitchen, the passion and the amount of drive it takes to be successful in this business.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by McCullough, who said that he still gets psyched up like it’s the Super Bowl nearly every night, rolling up his sleeves and running food.
“I bus more tables than the bus boys,” he said. “And I love it.”
Part of that boils down to the team he has surrounded himself with, not to mention Mastrantuono, whom McCullough describes as “the best chef in the Capital District.”
Which is to say he’s a fan of the food: “I consider myself a specials guy—whether they’re soft shell crabs from the Chesapeake or Ipswich clams.”
When it comes to the regular menu, standbys include appetizers like their Ricotta Gnocchi alla Bolognese, finished off with a bit of grana padano (a hard Italian cheese similar to a parmigiano reggiano) for $16. These are meant to be shared, Kessler said, commenting that the Italian dish has been one of their go-to menu items since the very beginning.
“They’re little fluffy pillows of goodness,” she said. “They’re homemade, and lighter than most gnocchi you come across.”
If you’re in the mood for something buttery and fried, she recommends their Buttermilk Crispy Oysters, served over baby mustard greens with creamed leeks and caviar, and made with foie gras butter for $21.
“It’s just an absolutely beautiful presentation,” she said.
In terms of entrees, Kessler is quick to mention two mainstays which guests order on the regular, if you’re of the less decisive sort and looking for a hot tip: their Chilean Sea Bass ($44) and their 10 oz. USDA Prime Filet Mignon ($54).
“The sea bass is done with a miso glaze which soaks right into the fish,” Kessler said. “It’s just brilliant, and aesthetically wonderful to look at.”
It features baby bok choy, toasted sesame and hon shimeji mushrooms.
As for the filet, Kessler had this to say: “Chef is very good at what he does.”
She’s referring to the fact that Mastrantuono cuts the meat himself—a prime, wet-aged center cut filet mignon—before preparing it with gorgonzola butter and red onion marmalade, then serving it over a bed of spinach.
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“He finishes things off with a drizzle of roasted garlic demi and crispy onions,” she said.
To round things out with a bit of sweetness, Kessler offered one suggestion: “Zeppoles.” As in, you’ve got to try their cinnamon dusted ricotta doughnuts served with vanilla custard and salted caramel sauce for $12. This is a hands-on affair, she said, as diners are given little bottles of sauce so they can inject the donuts themselves.
“We’ve had this on the menu for years,” she said. “Since the beginning.”