First Course: The Scarlet Knife
SLAH ventures south of the Twin Bridges to try Latham's hottest new farm-to-table restaurant.
Forget everything you know about the KMart that was on Troy-Schenectady Road in Latham until about 10 years ago: That bygone bargain shopping destination has been utterly transformed into the Capital Region’s newest fine farm-to-table dining destination, with only one cheeky nod to the property’s big-box past bridging the gap between department store deals and decadent Duck Cassoulet. But I’ll get to that later.
The Scarlet Knife, a brainchild of Chef Paul Dimm and his brother-in-law, James, celebrated its grand opening this past Saturday, November 12, some 18 months after the owners set out with a concept, a small team and a giant, empty room. It was hard to envision what the space would become, Paul, who came to The Scarlett Knife from Sea Oaks Country Club just north of Atlantic City, told me this past Sunday evening between the appetizer and entrée he made specially for my annoying, vegan self. (If you have any dietary restrictions, just tell your server, and the kitchen will be happy to accommodate.) “You could see straight through to Vent Fitness,” he said of the restaurant’s neighboring business. Now, it’s hard to imagine the thoughtfully decorated, high-ceilinged, 16,000-square-foot restaurant was ever anything else.
When you walk in, to your left is a live music space (the restaurant will host local acts every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening) and a gigantic bar, which seats 27 including two handicap-accessible seats, and is actually shaped like a knife if you were to look at it from above. Twenty-two more high-top seats round out the full-service bar area. Dividing the main dining room is a row of roomy booths; on the other side is table seating and the biggest chef’s counter you’ve ever seen, allowing diners an unobstructed view into the state-of-the-art kitchen from pretty much anywhere in the dining room. “I’ve been doing this a long time,” Paul said. “I’ve never worked in a kitchen as nice as this.”
What Paul failed to mention when I was talking with him is that he played a fairly important role in making that dream kitchen a reality. “Most restaurants are designed by designers,” general manager Alex Sisca told me the day after my dinner. “This restaurant was designed by the chef. He wanted it to be food focused, so they designed it from the kitchen forward.” Some features an untrained eye may not pick up on when peering into the gaping window to the kitchen? The sauté guy has his own workspace on the hot line, as does the grill guy; there’s a separate dishwashing machine just for glass (a rarity in the restaurant world); and the plating area has the exact same lighting as the dining room, so the cooks see the food heading out of the kitchen just as the diners do.
When our food came out, though, I couldn’t have cared less what lighting it was under. First up was an off-menu beet tartare served with seaweed, rice, edamame and sesame seeds, which Paul whipped up with only a few hours notice, followed by a glazed oyster mushroom dish topped with sprouts and flower petals. After asking every person who came over to our table—our server, Alex and Paul—for their entrée recommendation, my omnivorous companion opted for the duck, which came served in a skillet atop a bean stew with Brussels sprouts. The Duck Cassoulet, Wild Boar Chop Guanciale and French Roast Chicken are the most popular orders so far, Alex told us. Our server’s personal favorite dishes (she’s tried them all) are the vegetarian Gnocchi and melt-in-your-mouth Braised Beef Short Rib. To wash it all down we opted for cocktails (the Cucumber Mule was positively refreshing) and local craft beer, which, looking back, might have been an insult to the restaurant’s wine list, which was so big, they call it a wine book.
Boasting some 3,800 bottles and 120 varietals, a number Alex says will more than double in the next year or so, the wine list includes many that are a rare find in the Capital Region—or anywhere. For oenophiles looking for something new, there’s an esoteric corvina from northeast Italy, a steak-worthy tannat and an Armenian areni noir, an ancient and cherished grape. But there’s no need for casual wine-drinkers to fret, as the robust list features many crowd favorites, from Veuve Clicquot Champagne and Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio to the famous Merry Edwards Pinot noir and Cakebread Cellars sauv blanc. Diners can peer into the glass wine room on their way to the Gallery Room, which will showcase art by local artists and provide overflow seating to the main dining room, and adjoined Reserve Room, which has a large table and AV capability, and can be rented for private events. On the other side of the wine room, though, is the real treat. Literally.
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