Old Forge, New York

October 2010

Finding a really good restaurant in the middle of upstate New York, in the off-season no less, is kind of like having sex with the first boy you fall in love with and then later marry – it’s both a surprise and ultimately really exciting.

Old Forge, New York, is a summers-only kind of town where people from all over try to escape the urban heat and capture a bit of the cool Adirondack mountain air.  Somewhat of a family-oriented place with numerous miniature golf courses and a water theme park to boot, the restaurants here tend to cater to the people who are visiting.  Consequently, there are many family-type restaurants focusing on “red sauce Italian” kind of meals, pancake houses and a plethora of ice cream shops crammed in between.  Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon Sisters Bistro which fits none of the stereotypical eateries that abound in that neck of the woods.

Let me begin by saying that even though I tried to locate their website, I didn’t think it would be as literal as it was —  Basically I went there with little indication of their philosophy or more  importantly what they were serving.  I did however cheat a bit and read a few comments on Tripadvisor.  I’m actually not particularly fond of most of the comments posted on this website because invariably I find people comment on the one meal they’ve eaten out all year and then write in to complain about it.  Please.   That said, there were eight comments on Tripadvisor that had been posted regarding this one particular establishment and I was intrigued by people mentioning the small plate/tapas concept which they loved while others were complaining about a “large tab.” I ignored the large tab comment and thought, tapas and small plates in upstate NewYork?  I was definitely curious.

Driving through Old Forge, New York, on a rainy gray day with an occasional sleet shower thrown in, passing establishment after establishment that was already closed for the season, didn’t inspire confidence that we would be eating at any restaurant in Old Forge, let alone one that was supposedly serving tapas.  Lo and behold when we got into town, Sisters Bistro was in fact open for lunch.

Set in a Victorian house right on Route 28, we walked in and saw only one other table occupied for lunch. We sat at a large table for six, simply to be next to the gas fireplace which was heating up the room quite nicely.  We were handed the menus and the wine list.  I need to explain here that just because you are serving small plates doesn’t necessarily qualify them as “tapas.”  Tapas in Spain are considered a snack or even an appetizer before the meal. This menu had much more going on than your traditional tapas offerings. In fact, I was so überimpressed with what I was seeing, I actually studied the menu much longer than usual because 1) I had to concentrate on what I wanted and 2) there were simply too many wonderful dishes to choose from.

The only other couple sitting next to us for lunch were drinking large glasses of ice tea.  For some reason this annoyed me.  Wasn’t  the “bistro” concept all about the wine, too? They had just finished eating two small plates when we arrived so I couldn’t actually see what they were eating and then they moved on to dessert.  Three to be precise.  

Dessert for us is rarely a priority but wine definitely always is —  besides it was the weekend, we weren’t at work and we weren’t that far from the Red House.   We ordered a bottle of French Pinot Noir from a wine list that was eclectic both in varietals and in price points.  Most wines were under $25, a few slightly above that.  I was surprised to see a meager selection of California wines – Old World wines receiving preferential treatment at this establishment.

Yes, all the plates were small but they are grouped according to whether you should have them as an appetizer or as a main course.  Price-wise, most of the dishes were between $6 and $10; the most expensive dish on the menu, salmon, topped out at $13.  I thought this was a really neat way to eat.  Lots of little dishes that you could mix and match without having to spend a lot of money to do so.

To start, Lynn and I had what was described as a smoked “Waldorf” salad which while having similar ingredients, shouldn’t have given itself that old-school name.  This new “Waldorf” was a mix of field greens topped with chunks of creamy blue cheese, pecans, red grapes and paper thin slices of apple.  The salad was fresh, the vinaigrette tasty.  To accompany the salad, a small pasta “cassoulet” was ordered.  “Cassoulet” meant for them that it was plated in a small casserole dish – since nary a bean or piece of duck were in sight.  What was to be found in this small white porcelain dish were creamy elbow macaroni that had been baked with rich cheddar cheese with a few grape tomatoes thrown in for good measure.  We ordered one of these small dishes at the shockingly small price of $6. Not only did we nearly inhale this dish we loved it so much,  we easily could have eaten two…each.

We drank some more wine and chatted with our waiter who seemed truly interested in how the food was and what we thought of the concept.  Meanwhile, a few more people popped into the bar area and sat down to drink…coffee.  Which led me to think that perhaps in this town the bistro concept was interesting, but maybe what people really wanted was a Starbucks? (Not.)    

The next two courses were bought out.  Lynn had ordered a buffalo roasted duck leg – “buffalo” in that it was resting in a buffalo wing type sauce (it tasted a lot better than it sounds, really) with some pickled baby carrots on the side.  The duck was beautifully cooked, the meat was tender, the skin crispy.  I had the grilled quail which was delicious and plated with some thinly sliced celery root and a sauce that at first I thought was a deep red wine reduction but in fact turned out to be olive jus.  

We finished and drank some more wine.  I looked at the menu again and wanted to keep eating – at least another dish, preferably two.  There were just so many interesting combinations at Sisters Bistro to try.  We ultimately restrained ourselves and ordered one final dish – a trumpet mushroom and goat cheese strudel that while good (the crust and goat filling was terrific) I thought was slightly marred by mushrooms that were simply too chewy.  Dare I mention there was no mission fig jam to accompany it as had been written on the menu?

Off-season Sisters Bistro only serves lunch on the weekends. I didn’t get to meet the chef or either of the sisters, although I think I spotted one of them around the bar area.  My attention was focused on the food and the wine, which is where it should be. Open less than six months, I hope this place makes it because I can see it as a destination type of place given the inventiveness of the menu and the extremely high level of talent that’s bringing these extraordinary dishes to the table. 

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