The other night I tried the new Mediterranean menu from Dominic and Jennifer Colose of Yawning Duck. Flavors were bright, complementary and perfect for summer. But Chef Colose, recently of Chez Nous in Schenectady and before that the Wine Bar in Saratoga, is not offering this meal in a restaurant setting. It’s only available through catering or one of Yawning Duck’s special projects.
Colose left the restaurant business for personal and family reasons, as he explained in his blog. But his timing may be fortuitous. Across the U.S., same-store restaurant sales were down 2.4% in 2016, even worse at “casual dining” places like Applebee’s. As usual, the slump was blamed on millennials, who may not have the time or inclination to pay for sit-down service when they can get a quality “fast casual” meal at Chipotle for a fraction of the price.
To me, paying to eat someone else’s cooking is a price/value decision. It’s been a while since I dined at Applebee’s (the one in my town closed some time ago) and I mainly went for the salad bar, which came with a budget lunch entrée (a hamburger as I recall). You’re not going to find me spending a good chunk of my evening eating a formulaic meal served by indifferent staff and paying an upcharge for the privilege.
Yawning Duck’s catering is a restaurant alternative. Chef Colose stressed to me that “personalization” will be the factor that sets him apart as a caterer. If you host an event, you will have the food you want and you will be happy and your guests will be satisfied. Not having an event? Then come to one of their biweekly wine dinners or a pop-up like this one, happening Saturday June 17 at Rare Form Brewing in Troy.
I also like the idea of the “fast fine” concept which Wall Street Journal reporter Jane Black wrote about the other day. The food is at a fine dining level, but you order at a counter and pick it up when it’s ready. This leads to lower prices because there are fewer staff. Her example was Made Nice in Manhattan, where the chefs are serving dishes developed at Eleven Madison. Jane, a millennial, liked it a lot. Her father resented the lack of service. I may check it out when I’m in NYC for the Fancy Food Show in a couple of weeks.
Back to Yawning Duck, their tapas-style menu works really well for catering because most dishes can be enjoyed hot, at room temperature or slightly cooled. I tried roasted artichokes, sardines in a mild escabeche, potato and octopus salad as well as standbys like paella (with snails!) and gazpacho. My favorite items were a zucchini salad with mint and a hearty olive oil cake with dried cherries and pistachios. Definitely ask for these two if you engage the Duck. (The name came from a lazy quacker which joined them one day when Dominic and Jennifer were having a picnic in Congress Park, and seemed to embody an ideal attitude toward life.)
Serendipity Arts Studio, where the preview was held and where Yawning Duck will host biweekly wine dinners, provides hands-on cooking classes which are geared to your needs and interests—including children’s classes and special needs classes. Chef Colose will be teaching here among his other balls in the air. The kitchen and prep area is generous but contains mostly the same equipment you’d find in a home kitchen, which makes it easier to replicate your findings.
Soon it will be tourist season in Saratoga, and throngs will have a long wait for mediocre food served by temporary help. It’s a bubble; after Labor Day more than one of the new places is likely to close. I predict that Yawning Duck will endure.