August 2009 (dt)
7.25 8, 7.5, 7.5, 7.5, 7.25, 7, 6 (1 absent)
Gobs of anticipation, a hint of dread, and a
tinge of fretting had hung over this DP8 visit this past month,
with anticipation roiling along as we pulled into the driveway of
The American Hotel in Sharon Springs.
How would our top rated restaurant fare five years after we had last visited? Given the fifty visits to other restaurants since, and given some evolving palates, would American Hotel once again wow us? Were we too easy in our grading the first time? Would it be just ordinary? All of this faced us as we walked across the full length front porch on a loury sky that threatened to deliver on the forecast downpour.
American Hotel is one of the very respectable hotels of the bath era heyday of Sharon Springs, three floors with full-length porches for the first and second stories. Wicker furniture and rocking chairs invite at least a minute seat-time for the rushed diner. A screen door and then the classic heavy door opens and we face the lobby of the old hotel which the owners have preserved so well.
A half-hidden bar and cozy alcove able to seat about twenty people lie straight ahead, leading to a rear yard patio that this night was a bit damp and becoming more damp. We sauntered around the lobby area, perusing the old photos and the clippings, waiting ten minutes before co-owner Doug ushered us to one of the front corners in the dining room.
And what a classic, cozy, old-hotel dining area. Its about a 40 x 30 space, with a couple of center-room columns that appear to be weight supporting. One is struck by the architectural detail, with the solidly ornate window trim; several doorways that lead to the various adjoining rooms, except for the one exterior door; and the white paneled and trimmed ceiling along, possibly, the old beams that visually break up a large ceiling surface.
Ambience starts with earth tone colors, with a wainscoting of creamy paint on the bottom and a cloth textured, noise-abating wall paper of a sand-neutral background with swirls and stems of a gold (Tim argued it was green!) hue. Window treatments of maroon drape the upper three feet of the tall windows. Large, non-matching area rugs add a softness to the room that holds about fifteen tables, along with the one 20-foot-long banquette. Lighting comes from a few chandeliers, with hooded lights; the same styled lights, about a half-dozen, individually arranged on the walls; several more similar lights attached to the center posts; and a few floor lamps, making for an upbeat but not too bright atmosphere. Nearly a dozen paintings adorn the walls, mostly of the vintage 19th century type of portraits and animals. We noted music on our first trip five years ago but there was none this time. We were quite able to hear all of our conversations around the table even though one might characterize the noise level as medium-loud, but only if one sat back and listened for the noise. The wallpaper and the table placement certainly helped. Somewhere in here, those sitting near the wall felt the very cool effects of the air conditioning, remedied by placing the pocketbooks on the grates.
The round table certainly was to our liking. White linens, a linen-wrapped set of silverware, and water glasses waiting to be filled were already set, while a small centerpiece of red flowers, babys breath, and a variegated plant added a dash of color and focus. Kilt-donned Doug presented some family kilt history and regaled us with other stories before the transition to waiter Heidi.
Water glasses were filled, menus presented, and Heidi presented the specials of the evening before taking our drink order (as it should be done but often is not in many places). A rather full menu momentarily rattled DP7 (Kriss was absent, tending to Delaware County events) even though we had looked at the website menu on the hours trip (50 miles in 60 minutes).
Two small plates of thinly sliced artisan bread, accompanied by whipped chive butter, along with two small plates of very al dente diagonal-cut carrots in a light sauce, arrived, absorbing our attention.
The drink order consisted of two bottles of Angeline 2008 Pinot Noir, a glass of prosecco and a diet soda.
The appetizer sampler special tempted us but the fullness of the entrée descriptions, along with an accompanying salad, stilled that idea. Three choices of accompanying salads, along with one salad special, awaited. Our choices included three Caesar salads (Tim, Ken, Deb K); one Steak House Salad with marinated red cabbage, crumbled bacon, croutons and bleu cheese dressing (Chay); and three salads of watermelon slices-onion-feta cheese-an Asian green-an Asian sauce (Deb T, Judy, Don) arrived. All were very good and the three special salad diners all noted how refreshing it was. We were off to a wonderful start.
Entrées arrived about 75 minutes after seating, a leisurely and comfortable pacing, especially with our tangents of conversation. Deb T, Judy, and Chay ordered the Shrimp, Pan Seared Scallops and 1/2 Maine Lobster entrée, all judged excellent with the searing of the scallops and the preparation of the lobster (cut out of shell and placed back), rice and spinach accompaniments; Tim had the Center Cut Filet Mignon, medium-rare and Baked Maine Lobster, complimenting the lobster especially; Ken had a special the strip steak, medium and thought it excellent; (both the steaks had mashed potatoes); Deb K had the seafood enchilada an array of seafood baked in the generous tortilla excellent, and Don thought it an excellent and creative choice also; and Don feasted on Seafood Stew, with chunks of shrimp, scallops, lobster and fish excellent broth and meat.
Dinner had almost settled when Heidi passed the dessert list. Before she took our order, co-owner Garth introduced himself and the desserts, building details that enticed us all. Although the dessert list feels almost limited, Garths descriptions built layers of anticipation.
Three orders of the Maple Cream Layer Cake (the Hotels best seller) with vanilla ice cream were enjoyed by Deb T, Judy and Ken. Barely a hint of sweetness came from the cake, just a creaminess and smoothness, and the scent of maple wafted as it passed along the table. Tim sipped his usual Frangelica and Chay his Sambuca. Don scraped every last trace of the Chocolate Pot de Crème, topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a dash of spice depth-of-soul satisfying; and Deb K had the goat milk cheese cake with sour cherry compote a smooth, understated silkiness, and Don agreed. One of the evenings highlights was Judy sharing a piece of cake, openly, with Deb K, an event as rare as sighting Nessie in Otsego Lake!
Service was excellent throughout, even on a hectic night at the restaurant, at high season and on an opera night at Glimmerglass. The owners met with the table, gave excellent information about food, told a few stories, connected with Greenville and Freehold, and presented themselves and their restaurant as few other establishments do.
Waiter Heidi personified excellent training and a thoroughly competent performance. Quietly efficient, she took orders and was able to deliver without having to ask who ordered what, a talent we have grown to appreciate. Heidi answered our questions about food and preparation, filled water glasses regularly, whisked away empty dinnerware plates, updated us on Hotel changes (and personnel) since our last visit, recounted Rachel Rays visit three weeks previous, and proved to be a capable and highly qualified server who exemplifies the American Hotel spirit. Seven meals were presented to all in a short time span (the only way of shortening that time span is with two servers). Thanks, Heidi. During the evening, another of the waitstaff helped with water and cleared some plates. (We need to alert the waitstaff about DP8 Rule #7 Kens coffee.)
The bill came to $150 per couple, including drinks, tax and tip, the most we have spent in quite some time but, as we all agreed, we had again savored one of our most impeccable dining experiences. Hurrah for America Hotel and Doug and Garth and Heidi.
The evening had started at the Teators, on a
day that was another in a string of very uncomfortable humid
days. The day before had seen tremendous downpours in Catskill
but relatively little in Freehold.
Bowls of mixed nuts, bread sticks, crackers, cheddar cheese, half slabs of cream cheese topped with either raspberry honey mustard or garlic raspberry jalapeno mustard, hummus, and a broccoli-cauliflower with ranch dip kept most munchers busy. Drinks consisted of some Saranac beer mix, a Mirassou pinot noir, a McGregor cab franc, and a Hudson-Chatham seyval blanc.
We caught up on the months events, ... with Jen Ms engagement ... Chay and Deb were back from the Caymans, Tim and Judy from DC and planning for Paris, Don and Deb to the Finger Lakes, and everyone commenting on weather and work or work-coming-soon.
The drive took exactly 60 minutes, although Deb K may have noted straining to keep up with Don, especially up that hill out of Middleburgh. The drive back in the dark took ten minutes longer, if not more, because of the dark, the several deluges that made seeing the road difficult, and the trip through Cobleskill.
The other part that makes our group so satisfying is the other topics of discussion. Kriss absence was duly noted, and she might have blanched, more than usual, at our sophisticated and elegant commentary. .... (And, Ken, we were pleased that you were with us this evening.)
... ... ....