Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Saranac Lake, New York Winter Fun

Trip date: February 2023 

After a couple of days in Saratoga Springs, I hitched a ride with my friend John to Saranac Lake, which is where his company Rascal + Thorn would be putting on the dinner that I came to the area for.  It was a gorgeous, snowy, 2-hour drive through the Adirondack Mountains. 

We arrived at the Hotel Saranac and upon check-in they told me they had upgraded me to a bigger corner room. I would be working for the next couple of days so it was nice to have a proper desk and a great view of the town. And since the hotel is in the Hilton portfolio my status got me $15 credit per day to use how I liked. 

The hotel has a very good all-day restaurant so some of the event group met there for lunch. Afterwards John took me on a drive around the area and to Lake Placid. What a gorgeous area, especially for snow sports enthusiasts! And I got to see the famous hockey rink where the Miracle on Ice happened in 1980!

Back in Saranac we walked down to the frozen lake to check out the construction of the Ice Palace. Each February, since 1897, Saranac Lake puts on a big Winter Carnival. It's one of the oldest in the country and there are lots of activities like parades, concerts, curling, dances, etc but the pièce de résistance is the Ice Palace that volunteers construct using blocks harvested from the lake. 

They even had a small museum set up with photos from prior years. Some of the palaces were massive! I love small town stuff like this so I thought it all was very cool! 

That evening John invited everyone out to dinner at Red Fox which is a super old-school American Italian restaurant. Big martinis, shrimp cocktail, prime rib, veal parmigiana, and a lot of fun!  

Back at the hotel a few of us stopped into the Great Hall, the hotel's cocktail bar, where we found some really great prices on whiskey pours.

Besides its historical Winter Carnival, Saranac Lake is also known for it incredibly cold winter temperatures. In fact, it is regularly the coldest place in the Continental US. And when I woke up on Friday morning, that is exactly what was happening! It was -19F and -43 with wind chill. Holy shit!

I bundled up and braved the cold to make my way to Origins Coffee for a breakfast biscuit and latte. I was pretty much the only person outside! 

My shopping trip around town got cut short after about 10 minutes of being outside as it was truly the coldest cold I had ever felt (and I've been north of the Arctic Circle IN WINTER!). I headed back to my cozy room and worked until it was a respectable time for happy hour. A hot toddy was absolutely needed that evening!

On the advise of John, I had dinner one evening at the Fiddlehead Bistro, which luckily was just a couple of blocks away. I sat up at the bar and had a great meal including some lovely local cheeses at the end. 

It was -23F when I walked home! Actual temp, not with wind chill!

I took advantage of the hotel's spa the next morning and booked in for a relaxing massage and some time in front of their fireplace with hot tea. After warming up, I braved the cold again and walked down to the lake to see how the Ice Palace was coming along.

Unfortunately, even though it was currently crazy cold, the lake hadn't frozen early enough to harvest the amount of blocks needed for a large Palace, so the structure was pretty small. But still very cool!

Besides the Winter Carnival, Saranac Lake is also known as being the first place in America to open a tuberculosis sanatorium. Edward Trudeau opened the Saranac Laboratory in 1884, it's now a museum right in the center of town and right next to his old house.

Until 1946, when an antibiotic cure was found, the Saranac Lake Laboratory was the leader in research and administering treatment of fresh air and complete bed rest- the only known way to cure tuberculosis- to patients who came from all over. Dr. Trudeau treated many important people, including Robert Louis Stevenson. 

Around town you can still see homes with large porches called "cure porches", this is where people would sit and take in fresh air to stay healthy or recover from TB. 

It's a small and very interesting museum if you get a chance to go. And during the Winter Carnival there is a "pay-what-you-want" admission. Also the Trudeau name may be familiar to you as his grandson Garry Trudeau is the cartoonist and creator of Doonesbury.

Back at the hotel, I got ready for the reason for the trip; The Rascal + Thorn dinner! 

The evening started with passed canapes of foie gras mousse in pani puri cups, caviar on sourdough crackers, and spiced lamb skewers. They were all absolutely fantastic! Hosts, John and Charles introduced the dinner team of Chef Erik Anderson Chef Alex Lempka (from Hamlet & Ghost), and Will Wyatt (owner of Mister Paradise and Pretty Ricky bars in NYC).

We all found our way to our seats where a lovely cocktail awaited the first course. We would have 4 courses and dessert, each one paired with a cocktail made by Will.

The entire evening was just fantastic! There was a soft scrambled maple egg in its shell, some stunning raw steelhead trout with egg yolk and trout roe, roasted squab with shiso and caviar, perfectly cooked Mack Brook beef with potato cake, and burnt sugar and rosemary pudding for dessert. 

These folks really out did themselves! And the Winter Carnival had a big fireworks display that we all got to watch from the warm dining room during the dinner!

The next morning I said goodbye to everyone and took a "local taxi" to Adirondack Airport. That means I got some names of locals with trucks from the hotel concierge and paid one to drive me. Small towns are very funny!

At the Cape Air check-in counter I had to provide my weight, as well as they weighed my bag and carry on. Turns out I was flying on a TINY 8 person prop plane to JFK! For those of you who don't know me personally, I'm actually an extremely nervous flyer so this sounded terrifying!

Add to that the airport couldn't serve alcohol until 10am (because it was Sunday), and my flight left at 10:30. I basically shotgunned a mimosa at 10:03am! 

I still don't really know how all that luggage fit; they were putting things in the nose, the wings, etc! We weren't allowed to have anything in the cabin except for what you could hold in your hand (like a book or your phone). 

We were seated so that the weight distribution was even and one couple was very upset that they couldn't sit next to each other. I mean we are in a minivan with wings and he was right behind her! 

Luckily the weather was good so the 2 hour flight was pretty calm. It was crazy flying that low over the Adirondacks and into JFK though! I was very tense the entire time and was super happy when we landed!

Since I had a 4 hour layover in JFK, I went to spend some time in the TWA Hotel where for $25 you can lounge in their rooftop pool which is heated to 95F and overlooks the runway!

I had planned this, so I had my suit in my carry-on and a staff person locked my suitcase up in a closet for me. I had to change in the restaurant bathroom which wasn't great though. I kind of expected them to have a little locker room or similar. But it was super relaxing to take a soak and watch the planes. 

The rooftop restaurant is like a ski chalet in the winter so I stopped in after for some lunch, but it was really basic food and wine. All served on disposable and very overpriced. Not sure if it is always like this or if this was a holdover from Covid. The space is super cute though.

And walking back out through the hotel to the main concourse was super fun with all the old TWA memorabilia, 70-style bar, and retail shops. There is even an old TWA plane that is now a cocktail bar but it wasn't open yet when I needed to leave.

I made my way to my terminal and checked out the newly opened Alaska Air Lounge real quick before boarding my flight from JFK to Seattle. I had used points for a First Class, always nice on a 6 ½ flight! This one even served little cans of Straightaway cocktails and containers of Salt & Straw ice cream for dessert! 

It had been such a great trip! So fun seeing friends and great meeting all the chefs. Upstate New York is truly gorgeous... AND COLD!

All Saranac Lake photos here

Previous post from this trip: 24 Hours in Saratoga Springs

Friday, January 26, 2024

24 Hours in Saratoga Springs, New York

Trip date: January 2023

My friend John lives in Saratoga Springs, and I had never been there. I mean, that is enough for me to buy a plane ticket! But when I saw that John and his business partner Charles were putting on a dinner in the area with Chef Erik Anderson (currently at Barndiva in the Napa area) I knew it would be a great time to visit.

John and Charles run Rascal + Thorn, a company that specializes in culinary travel. I went on a Northern Spain food & wine tour with John years ago and it was awesome! 

I knew of Anderson from when he was chef at Nashville's Catbird Seat, but when I had the opportunity to eat there Anderson had just left days before! This seemed like a perfect opportunity to finally visit my friend and eat some delicious food! When John found out I was interested in attending the dinner he graciously invited me to come to Saratoga Springs first. 

I booked a United flight in first class from Seattle to Albany, NY which connected through Chicago. It was a quick layover but I made sure to grab some popcorn from my fave Garrett's while walking to my gate. And thank God I had that popcorn as my next flight served only pretzels during dinner time! The flight attendant kindly snagged me a tapas box from the paid cart. 

January in Upstate New York is COLD! And snowy!! I called an Uber at the Albany airport and a huge pickup truck showed up! It was a 30 minute ride to the Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs where I was upgraded to a bigger room and given free daily breakfast- so posh! haha! 

The hotel offered a free shuttle within a 5 mile radius so I took it to Hamlet & Ghost, as it was the only place in town still open at 10pm. But it turned out to be a great choice, as I ran into John and Erik who were just finishing dinner. 

I had a couple of drinks in their very pretty bar before heading back to the hotel. The kitchen was closed for the night, but the menu looked fantastic. I'd definitely book here if I was back in the area.

The next morning, after my free breakfast, I had the hotel shuttle take me to the Roosevelt Baths & Spa
The city is known for its naturally carbonated mineral waters that flow from 20 different springs around town. Each spring has its own makeup of vital minerals and carbon dioxide gas and are known to have numerous healing properties. The water from each spring also has very different tastes!

There use to be a number of baths in the area where people could "take the cure" but The Roosevelt Baths are the last remaining historical baths in the town now. Opened in 1935 as a health center, people would usually come for a 3-week stay that included daily baths in the bubbly waters, diet, exercise, and rest. 

I would just be there for the morning and had an appointment for a 20 minute soak followed by a 50 minute massage. While the waiting lounge was very comfy and modern, the treatment rooms are very clinical and old school. The tub had been filled for me, and it was explained that the color was normal and also that the water was very bubbly and I would probably float, which I did!

Unlike many springs on the west coast, the water here isn't coming from hot springs. The mineral water is cold from underground springs, then the spa mixes it with warm fresh water to a comfortable temperature. It was very relaxing and quite an experience feeling all the bubbles on my skin! My massage was also great and super relaxing. And the residue from the water does not look appetizing but it does taste pretty good!

The shuttle picked me back up and I had them drop me off at First Fill Spirits which is owned by John's biz partner Charles. This is the whiskey shop that every city dreams of having! Charles has put together a really thoughtful collection from around the world and was nice enough to give me a few tastes!

Before heading back to my hotel, I had a quick lunch at the historic Adelphi Hotel, which is right on the main drag. Saratoga is a very cute town, founded in 1776, it still has a lot of Victorian and Renaissance Revival architecture.

I walked through Congress Park which has both a Civil War Memorial, and a World War Pavillion. The park was really pretty, especially in the sunny winter weather. There are also 2 active springs here, Congress Spring and Deer Spring.You'll see Columbia Spring also, but that has dried up and is just the city's normal water now.

That evening John and his wife Kitty had invited Chef Erik, Chef Alex Lempka (from Hamlet & Ghost), and Will Wyatt (owner of Mister Paradise and Pretty Ricky bars in NYC), who would be working the event. Their significant others joined, as well as the couple who own Mack Brook Farm (local beef farmers). I was thrilled to be included in such a fun and delicious night!

Chef Erik and John cooked up a storm! There was lobster and beef and duck! There was a magnum of 1995 Beaucastel and a gorgeous Kistler Pinot Noir. 

Charles brought a bottle of Akashi Whisky for us all to taste and Kitty made individual crostatas. 

And for cheese, I had sent a huge can of Cougar Gold White Cheddar. IYKYK!! It was a hit! 

I absolutely loved getting a chance to see where my friend and his family live, and also meet these amazing folks in the restaurant/bar industry. 

I was really looking forward to heading to Saranac Lake the next day!

All Saratoga Springs photos here.

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