SARANAC LAKE If youre traveling to Lake Placid for a getaway this winter, you may find yourself driving right through the quaint village of Saranac Lake, just 10 miles from the Olympic Village. And if you want to avoid the predictable hustle and bustle of the busy restaurants in Placid, I discovered a neat little laid-back eatery in Saranac Lake that you should know about.
Blue Moon Café in downtown Saranac Lake has been around for more than a decade. Its a delightful little place. Actually, not that little, as the storefront may lead you to believe.
Its a mishmash of floor coverings, wall hangings, mismatched tables and chairs, ceilings with exposed pipes, pastry display cases, open kitchen, exposed prep area, homemade baras though it started small and has been enlarged over the years as money permitted.
The menu, like the décor, is all over the map. Adirondack spring rolls; shrimp, melon and prosciutto; gravlax; gumbo; ratatouille and ribs. Theres cassoulet and quesadillas, curry bowls and pastas. You can get Thai-spiced mahi mahi and grilled lamb skewers; homemade bratwurst; Asian-spiced duck noodle bowl; fresh salmon; jerk chicken, and shrimp and grits.
So much food and so little time. And only four of us to try as much of this diverse, eclectic menu as possible.
The Blue Moon got its beer and wine license just a few years ago. Like the food menu, theres plenty to choose from.
Beers are divided into categories: imports, North American beers, regional beers and microbrews. Wines are categorized as old world, new world, blush and sweet and sparkling.
Our choices were a chewy Davidson brown ale from Portland, Maine, a fun-to-say Dogfish Head Punkin Ale from Delaware, a Fox Run Cabernet Franc from the Finger Lakes (pretty good for a New York wine) and a fruit-forward Malbec Syrah from Argentina.
Now to the food, starting with four appetizers.
Tuna Bulukumba ($8) was a skewer of chunks of tuna marinated with Indonesian spices. It was presented over sticky rice cradled in a romaine leaf.
The tuna was cooked just right, still pink on the inside. We werent sure what to expect from the marinade citrus? curry? ginger? but we couldnt detect any of those flavors. Just as wellit allowed the delicate flavor of the tuna to dominate.
By the way, Bulukumba is a city in Indonesia. Thank goodness for Google.
Cheese and garlic sausage en croute ($8) was a tasty little starter, a homemade sausage wrapped in pastry, sliced into bite-size pieces that made for easy sharing. A little soufflé cup contained country stone-ground Dijon mustard that complemented the sausage perfectly.
Can you believe the Blue Moon cures its own salmon? Gravlax ($10), a Scandinavian specialty, was served traditionally open faced on toasted bread, topped with diced red onion, chopped hardboiled egg and capers, drizzled with sweet dill mustard. This was really good.
One of the more standard appetizers was bruschetta ($8). You pick your topping: a peasants sauce (a fresh, chunky tomato sauce with garlic, olive oil and basil,), sautéed greens or hummus and tapenade. We choose the latter.
A generous cupful of hummus was topped with house-made tapenade (a paste made from capers, anchovies, black olives and olive oil). Six or eight pieces of toasted homemade bread (we could smell the aroma of bread baking as we entered the restaurant) accompanied. There was plenty of hummus leftover to take home.
Now for the entrees, two seafood and two meat.
When Im down South, I always look for shrimp and grits in a restaurant. When I saw Shrimp N Grits ($17) on the menu, I just had to have it.
A humorous disclaimer states, Theyre not really grits. We use a fine Italian cornmeal (polenta) and mix it up nice and creamy ) Unfortunately, it wasnt creamy, which is what had sold me on it it was quite dry and barely warm.
But the shrimp on top were very nice, sautéed with applewood smoked bacon, onion, tomato and a touch of hot pepper, true New Orleans style.
Seafood quesadilla ($17) was mixture of shrimp, scallops, crab and cheese stuffed between two large flour tortillas, then grilled. It was certainly satisfying in terms of portion size, and there was plenty of seafood flavor. We couldnt detect any of the cilantro or lime mentioned in the menu description.
Grilled lamb skewers ($16) consisted of tender pieces of marinated lamb served over greens on a homemade potato flatbread topped with chopped romaine, red onion, tomato and Greek tzatziki sauce (yogurt, cucumber, garlic). Lot of flavors going on here.
Finally, Jerk Bird ($16).Half of a hormone-free chicken, still mostly on the bone, was rubbed with Jamaican jerk spices (allspice, cloves, cinnamon, Scotch bonnet peppers), baked and served over Cajun dirty rice and mixed greens.
The chicken was nicely cooked, but could have used more of the jerk seasoning. Same with the dirty rice: It needed more bits of meat (traditionally chicken livers or gizzards) and minced vegetables (onion, green pepper, celery). It came off more like plain Uncle Bens long grain and wild rice than the Cajun classic it should be.
Our table was situated right next to the pastry display case, so naturally we had to sample some of the sweets wed been looking at all night.
Rugalach, a triangle of dough wrapped around a filling of raspberry and cheese, reminded us of something Grandma would make with leftover pie dough. Carrot cake had all the right stuff (carrots, raisins, nuts) but might have been in the case a little too long.
Sometimes you cant handle a big dessert after a big meal. We were happy to have a large, crisp butterscotch-flavored cookie covered with oats, an oatmeal scotchie. A chocolate cupcake with buttercream frosting was very enjoyable, three or four bites to satisfy the sweet tooth.
Total for the desserts was under $10.
Total for the entire meal with desserts but without beer and wine came to $117.70
Service was courteous and casual and generally adequate, although our waitress rarely knew who got what. And while we can appreciate the need to adhere to closing times, the practice of turning off lights and cleaning the floors while guests are still dining can certainly make patrons feel uneasy.
But we all agreed the place had a comfortable, laid-back Adirondack feel while the food projected a sense of elegance. Thanks to hard-working owners Ken and Trish Fontana for proving this unique eatery in the Adirondacks, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blue Moon Café
55 Main St.
Saranac Lake, N.Y.
1 (518) 891-1310
A laid-back Adirondack eatery with a rustic feel, serving food that projects a sense of casual elegance.
HOURS: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday
7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday
APPETIZER PICKS: Cheese and garlic sausage en croute; house-cured gravlax
ENTRÉE PICKS: Grilled lamb skewers
DESSERT PICK: Raspberry and cheese rugalach