j. t. baker's in greenwich (near albany)
I wanted to encourage all and sundry to try out J.T. Baker's in Greenwich before they shut down at the end of this month. Chef Jason Baker is becoming chef de cuisine at Inn at Erlowest. We have thought about going for sometime but never made it, so Jack and I went last night. We had a 7 course tasting menu that was really imaginative and with many more hits than misses (some favorites: a "rabbit taster" with sous vide rabbit loin, rabbit liver and deep fried rabbit kidney with white chooclate emulsion and mushroom foam; sous vide duck breast medallions in korean bbq spice with a "bruleed" round of sweet potato; beet juice palate cleanser, and a mix of lamb shoulder, pork heart and beet.) The food was really tasty and really imaginative (dehydrated capers, peanut butter powder and puffed rice - so fun!) and the service was very personable and mostly carried out by his wife (and the pastry chef) Suzanne Baker. Prices seemed reasonable at $75 for a 7-course tasting menu, plus amuses, which was a lot of food. They make literally eerything in house but their ice cream. I had to give more than half my plate to Jack on at least three occasions simply because I was full. Wine list is limited but offers a good mid-range quality-to-price ratio. We were able to get wine pairings at about 1/2 glass per course for $5/person/course. One could pay less ordering by the glass or by the bottle, but the pairings were mostly done quite well. Ambiance is minimal - it's a storefront operation with a somewhat "zen" atmosphere. Still, we are hoping to make it back for the 11-course tasting meal before it's too late.
So, as promised, here was our menu – I am trying to read Jack’s horrendous handwriting, so apologize for any errors:
Amuse: synthetic crab with three preparations (beet, seaweed and miso.) As the chef charmingly noted later, this was an example of “trying to shine – you know, something else,” but it was really about the various sauces and accompaniments. This was where the dehydrated capers and onions and puffed rice came into play. Not bad at all, considering…..
1: escolar chips with mustard mousse. This was the biggest disappointment to us. He did have an interesting breading (can’t remember the details now) but it still detracted from the richness of the escolar, and the mustard sauce was a bit much. It was a great pairing with an Italian Insolia 2007.
2: kitchen grown lettuce with truffled citrus vinaigrette and puffed walnuts, grape halves and orange sections. Light and tasty – I was surprised that the truffle flavor worked so well. They paired this with an off-the-menu Gruner Veltliner that was disappointing. It’s hard to pair with a vinaigrette anyway but this was nothing special on its own either.
3: rabbit taster – so good! Sous vide tenderloin that was perfectly done (though not super-flavorful – it was still tenderloin, after all.) Fried tempura kidney – amazing! Crispy coating and a tender interior. Liver was delicious – Jack would have preferred more pink (he likes his just barely cooked..) Mushroom foam and white chocolate miso emulsion. This was paired with a 2007 Albarino – no notes on the wine and it’s unmemorable.
Palate cleanser – chilled beet consommé shooter. I really loved this – it was much more complexly flavored than I’d expected. Jason Baker brought out the next course a bit early so we could try it w/ the shooter as well as the wine.
4: lamb/pig/beet – pig heart braised 18-hours, lamb shoulder, beet sauce. I was a bit surprised he would offer up pig heart to unsuspecting patrons, but it wasn’t an issue for us – we like offal. The pig heart was really delicious. Lamb was fine but not as amazing – maybe just a bit dry. Jack was crazy for this dish – I was getting pretty full so he devoured his and claimed ½ of mine. It was a great pairing for the Pinot Noir (looks like he wrote Angeline, 2006.)
5: sous vide duck breast with Korean bbq spices and rounds of bruleed sweet potato. Just incredibly, incredibly good; beautiful and delicious. We were falling over with happiness at this dish. Also a great pairing with a 2006 Red Dust Shiraz.
6: trio of cheeses with homemade lavash “snakes” and pear slices. I got a local feta (it seems they try to get local ingredients when possible, per conversation with the chef) prepared with olive tapenade, quince, and a fruit compote. The quince was unlike the typical quince paste and was the star. Jack is not a bit feta fan so he got Maytag blue with the same accompaniments except for something substituted for the olive – no notes on what but somehow I am thinking squash? Very pretty, neat presentation of the lavash. Cheese slightly colder than we prefer. This was paired with what looks like a Santa Caroline 2006 Carmenere. The wine was fine, pairing was fine.
7: flourless Belgian chocolate torte with caramel, cream, and peanut butter powders. This was very tasty (made by pastry chef Suzanne Baker.) By this time I was getting really full and Jack ate both ½ my cheese and most of my torte. Paired with a tasty Bin 27 Fonseca port.
Mignardese – tiny skewers of candied pineapple, wolfberry and currant.
Overall we were very happy – in fact, we are planning to go back for the 11-course at the end of the month. It’s not a 3* Michelin restaurant – it’s more of a casual, homey place that happens to be doing some interesting things, food-wise, and the prices seemed very reasonable to us for what we got.
I did not try this resto but new of Jason through his stay at Bistro 120 in schuylerville, nearby his own resto. I know that chefs move but this one seems to move a lot! I will qualify this post that I worked with Jason at 120 and knew the owners of 120 well. I always found Jason's food well crafted and imaginative but he left them (120) high and dry, after they based their concept around him. His business skills and plans seem based on his next step. I also work in Greenwich and his community contacts and the interface with this rural population seemed OK but not stellar. I hope he continues to have some success but his track record leaves some burned bridges.......I think he had a better chance to help make 120 work than he did making something like he opened with the physical plant he had to work with work.....
We can't believe this place lasted as long as it did! (A year or so?) What a poor attempt of so called "molecular" cusine. Food was inedible! No ambience! Poor wine selection & cheap wine glasses. We still would like our money back! P.S. This place was about 45 minutes from Albany at best! Glad you had a better experience than we did.
You're right - not near Albany per se, but as this is the Tri-state region board, I thought people would want something in the subject line to indicate this was the Greenwich near Albany, not the Greenwich in CT.
The ambiance was definitely nothing special (Jack was actually a bit annoyed by the spa-like new age music.) Apparently the site used to be a pizza place and while they fixed it up a wee bit its definitely not a high-end atmosphere. But we were very happy with the food. I wouldn't call it molecular gastronomy, but it was quite imaginative, especially for this area. And what we got was really delicious - he did say it was kind of a "greatest hits of the winter" menu, so that could be part of it. I should note that the restaurant didn't fail - he just got a chance to take over the kitchen at a swanky Lake George resort hotel, Inn at Erlowest.
I would actually love to try places with more imaginative and interesting cuisine - any recommendations for us?