For the better part of the last five years, I’ve developed dinner menus with the thought of matching the cuisine to a basic selection of wine. Well, that’s about to change as I will be taking over the kitchen of The Merry Monk in Saratoga as of Thursday March 24th. I couldn’t be more excited since I find food and beer pairings far more interesting than food and wine pairings. Overall, I find beer more interesting than wine.
Don’t get me wrong, I love wine. But the beer category has more varieties, styles, and flavors than wine could ever hope to have. While wine is produced well in a limited number of places, beer is produced everywhere, showing it’s versatility, its style, and its tendency to be loved the world over.
While beer is brewed all over the world, it is Belgium that is known as one of those special places for producing great beers, and having a long tradition of excellent brewing. I will not get into the history or the unique quality of Belgian beer against the often dull and pretentious nature of wine. That is an argument for another day as my focus is not on the merits of beer over wine, but the task of making The Merry Monk a great dining destination among the several good choices in Saratoga.
Recently, I was chosen to run the kitchen of a fine dining restaurant in Saratoga. I accepted the position with the hope that I’d be happy with an established system that has a deep-rooted customer base. I welcomed the opportunity to be part of a well-run organization with a long history of success. I had a delay in starting due to another hernia surgery which gave me time to lay on the couch and really think about what I wanted as my career heads into its later years. I had been unsatisfied for a while and was looking for something different. Parting ways with The Wine Bar didn’t bother me a bit, the relationship had run its course and it was time to move on for both parties. While I found an opportunity at The Inn at Erlowest that, through nobody’s fault, did not work out, I’m actually kind if glad it didn’t https://chefsday.wordpress.com/2016/02/07/no-room-at-the-inn/ .
So, as I deeply contemplated the ramifications of continuing to work in a fine dining setting, I got an offer to run the kitchen at The Merry Monk. At first I turned it down because I had already made a commitment, and I had convinced myself that it was a good move, but as the time drew near for me to return to the kitchen I became very apprehensive, and realized what I really want. I want to have some fun, and I haven’t had fun in a while. So, I had to go back on my decision once I learned that the position at Merry Monk was still available to me. I felt horrible, but what I figured was that it’s better to do it now than six months into a job that I didn’t want. I’ve taken too many jobs over the years that were not right for me and they have never ended well. What’s done is done, and I look forward to my new challenge.
Both the kitchen and the menu will be overhauled the first week of April, and a new sous chef and a couple of new cooks will be brought in. My new sous chef is Dan Chessare, who was my sous chef for a couple of years at The Wine Bar. We had a great working relationship and he’s a real professional. I’m pretty excited to be working with him again. I have interviews with a few cooks, some that I’ve worked with in the past. There are some spots open, so of you’re looking to join a professional team that will be delivering some great Belgian/European inspired food without the pretense of fine dining, let me know by sending a note and resume to firstname.lastname@example.org . The best way I can describe the cuisine is gastropub-bistro, if that makes any sense.
A basic outline for the menu is done, but not complete as there are many details to work out. Here are some of the ideas, keeping in mind that not everything is certain. Naturally mussels and hand-cut fries will be important and have their own menu section. There will be a selection of fun bar snacks, including fried smelts with a not yet determined dipping sauce, roasted nuts, flageolet humus with house made flat bread, smoked duck chicarones, and a variety of cheese and charcuterie. A vegetable section that will feature my 5-lily soup, and various Springtime salads and warm vegetable preparations like chicon au gratin. A small plate section will include fried oysters, steak tartare, whole chicken wings, Parisian gnocchi with black pepper sabayon and Spring vegetables, and roasted bone marrow. A street food/sandwich selection will have a great burger, a grilled duck confit reuben, a grilled Gruyère, Black Forest ham, and Dijon sandwich, various sausage sandwiches, lamb doner kebab, fish and chips, and a trio of flammkuchen, small German-Alsatian “pizzas” popular in Belgium. Large Plates will feature Carbonnade, Seafood waterzooi, bistro style roast chicken. choucroute garni, oven roasted whole trout, and of course, my steak frites that features a prime NY strip, duck fat fries, and bone marrow aioli. I’m also considering offering the same dish with a smaller hangar steak. Desserts will likely include Belgian chocolate cake or truffles, an apple tart, Dutch doughnuts, and of course a Belgian waffle.
As I move into this role, I look forward to the future. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll spend in a professional kitchen, and if I will ever get back to fine dining. One thing is for sure, I’m going to make it a priority to have fun, and really enjoy what I’m doing. I am inspired by places like The Ruck and Peck’s Arcade in Troy. It looks like they’re having a really good time. I’m going to enjoy the casual nature of what we’re doing, without trying to make every aspect of the dining experience perfect. I think my food will be better for it.