Originally published at Scott Edelman. Please leave any comments there.
While I was at the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, I was asked by dozens of my friends what awesome dining plans I had that weekend, for they know I always do make such plans, taking great care not to waste a meal when traveling. What I told them is what I already told you here —that the peak culinary experience of my trip wouldn’t be at the con, but after, at the eponymous Damon Baehrel.
What makes Damon Baehrel so special is not just its amazing food, but also its close relationship with a specific plot of land, a relationship which I don’t believe is replicated anywhere else in the world, as these words taken from the restaurant’s site prove.
In addition to the cultivated and native ingredients from our Sagecrest Native and Organic Gardens and property, all of the cheeses, cured meats, flours, vinegars, pressed oils, breads and butters (including cow, goat and sheep varieties) are hand prepared by Damon. Chef/Grower Damon partnered with a nearby organic farm long ago to raise these and other livestock, and whole animals have been utilized for the charcuterie and meat courses since day one. East coast seafood is personally selected by Damon for the popular seafood and vegetable courses. Damon also make all of the so-called “pantry” ingredients…including Fresh pressed Grapeseed oil, Sunflower oil, Nut oils. Flours: including Cranberry Bean Flour, Fava Bean Flour, Acorn & Hickory Nut Flour, Spruce & Pine Flour. (just to name a few) as well as over 60 Homemade Vinegars. Hundreds of powders & flours he creates to highlight his original Cuisine, Partridge Berry, Wild Fiddlehead Ostrich Fern, Smoked Cedar Berry, Wild Sorrel, Gem Studded Puffball Mushroom, Dandelion Root, Hickory Bark, etc. are just a few of the many ever changing tastes you will get to experience.
Now that I’ve experienced what turned out to be a seven-hour meal there, I’m being asked, “Well … ?”
And words fail me. Because in trying to explain what it’s like to have the privilege (and yes, that’s what it felt like, a privilege) of eating what Baehrel has dubbed “Native Harvest” cuisine, I feel as if I’m being tasked to describe the indescribable. I’ve been tossing out adjectives, which really explain nothing, and have been tempted to resort to one of the worst cliches of all—”You had to be there.” Which, while for the most part true, is tremendously unsatisfying for both of us.
So let me try to avoid that “You had to be there” cop-out and take you along on my journey as best I can.
It all began on January 7, 2014, when I was reminded by this Eater post that Damon Baehrel, located in Earlton, New York, was within striking distance of the World Fantasy Convention to be held the following year in Saratoga Springs. So on January 17, I shot off an email and hoped for a miracle.
Why would it be considered a miracle to get a reservation at a restaurant more than 22 months before the desired date? Because at the time I began my quest, there was a five-year backlog in place, and on April 1 of that year, just a few months later, Damon Baehrel stopped taking any new requests entirely, as there were already 100,000 reservation requests from 67 countries. Keep in mind that’s table requests, not just the number of diners, and that’s for a restaurant which only handles approximately 12-14 guests per seating, five days each week.
By May of 2015, I was informed that number had increased to 200,000 table requests from more than 80 countries, and with that increase, my hopes diminished. But (to make a long story short) eventually, miraculously, Chef Baehrel was willing to rearrange his schedule and open his restaurant for us the Monday after World Fantasy, on a day when he would normally be closed, a fact which I learned just two weeks prior to our meal.
And so, at around 3:40 p.m. on November 9, I pulled up to the locked gate at the mouth of the drive, filled with anticipation. And some justifiable fear as well. For how could anything possibly live up to that kind of hype?
(Spoiler alert: This anything did.)( Read the rest of this entry »Collapse )