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The best of 2010

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I love this time of the year. Not because the hubbub of the Christmas season is behind us, but because I get to reread all the reviews I've done this past year to choose the best of 2010.

There were nine restaurants that fell into the four-fork category of excellent, two that earned four and a half forks and two that really stood out, receiving the top rating of five forks, or fabulous.

I hope you'll use these pages to guide you to some wonderful dining experiences our region has to offer.

And if you ever have any questions or comments or restaurant recommendations, or just want to talk about food, be sure to contact me at wsiebel@wdt.net.

Fireside at Partridge Berry Inn
26561 Route 3
Watertown, N.Y.
782-8401
5 FORKS

A restaurant that for years set the standard for fine dining in Watertown is back in operation again. The Partridge Berry Inn has a fresh new look, an amazing new menu and a new name: Fireside at Partridge Berry Inn.

The restaurant still maintains the rustic, old-world feel.

The menu is ambitious and extensive, with a dozen enticing appetizers and more than two dozen entrées — seafood, steaks and “Fireside's Favorites,” a selection of down-home comfort food like meatloaf, chicken Parm, pork chops and pasta dishes.

Excellent appetizers and soups were a good indicator of how the evening was going to unfold.

Baked French brie was a round of the creamy cheese wrapped in buttery puff pastry, topped with sliced almonds and a raspberry glaze, surrounded by wedges of apples and artisan crackers.

Asian-style ahi tuna was coated with white and black sesame seeds, quickly pan-seared, served rare and sliced to reveal a bright red center, and placed over seaweed salad (wakame). It came with teriyaki sauce served in a hollowed-out cylinder of cucumber, a cube of wasabi and a pile of pickled ginger.

Calamari fries were big strips of calamari steak dipped in buttermilk, coated with panko breadcrumbs and deep-fried, served with Dijon-horseradish aioli and chunky homemade marinara sauce.

New England-style corn chowder was a creamy concoction of sweet corn, onions, diced carrots and celery punctuated with flavorful pieces of applewood-smoked bacon.

Pasta fagioli, a traditional Italian soup of hearty chicken stock with white beans, pasta, tomatoes and herbs was one great-tasting soup.

Center-cut iceberg salad is the chef's variation on the iceberg wedge that's making a comeback. What seemed like a half head of lettuce was topped with creamy and crumbly blue cheese dressing, diced plum tomatoes, applewood-smoked bacon, red onion and chopped hard-boiled egg and finished with cracked black pepper.

Cedar planked salmon was topped with a swipe of rosemary infused Dijon, wrapped with prosciutto and served with great sautéed vegetables.

Flavorful beef hanger steak was enhanced with a savory wild mushroom demi-glace. Mashed potatoes and sautéed fresh veggies completed the plate.

Chicken Vendetti was very good, a chicken breast pounded thin then rolled around spinach, mushrooms, and creamy fontina cheese, encased in flaky phyllo and baked to a crispy golden brown, the chicken encircled with crema of roasted garlic and tomato-basil-infused olive oil.

The chef hit a home run again with homemade meatloaf. It was made the right way, with ground beef, pork and veal and all the right seasonings and was served with mushroom gravy.

Portions were generous, presentations ingenious.

Desserts were as impressive as the dinners, all made fresh on the premises.

Carrot cake was wonderful, moist and flavorful, covered in a caramel glaze. Cheesecake was lighter than expected, subtle cheesy-ness provided by cream cheese and a little bite from sour cream. Apple crisp was some of the best we've had; the apples were perfectly cooked, just the right sweetness, great crunch on top with a taste of oats and nuts.

The real standout was bananas Foster creme brulée. A large ramekin was filled with banana-flavored custard. Rather than the traditional caramelized sugar topping, sliced banana was carefully placed in a circular pattern.

Shawn Vendetti's eclectic American cuisine is outstanding. Owners Bruce and Lynn Strough have done a fantastic job restoring the restaurant to a comfortable and classy eating place.

Good Fellos Brick Oven Pizza and Wine Bar
202 W. Main St.
Sackets Harbor, N.Y.
646-3463
www.goodfellos.com
5 FORKS

The food at Good Fellos Brick Oven Pizza & Wine Bar has always been good. But when we visited last January, it was outstanding.

The ambiance is hip and trendy, with a big wood-fired pizza oven the focal point, high tin ceilings with exposed ductwork, and a long, comfortable fully stocked bar.

We began with a wood-fired pizza. There was no lack of tasty toppings on our pizza Bolognese (tomato sauce, mozzarella, prosciutto, sausage, crumbled bacon and pepperoni). Its thin crust and distinctive wood-fired taste made for a great starter.

Tuscan white bean tuffo was a tasty treat — whipped roasted cannelloni beans, calibri chilies and fresh lemon juice topped with an olive caponata. Pesto-crusted crostini accompanied.

Good Fellos antipasto for two was really enough for four, a platter piled high with spring mix, artichoke hearts, black olives, peppers and Asiago cheese, dressed with balsamic vinaigrette. Large slices of paper-thin prosciutto were draped on top.

Steak Florentine was amazing, a large rimmed bowl filled with charcoal-grilled New York strip — lots of it — thick-sliced and served with roasted potatoes, asparagus, red pepper pesto and a complex tomato-based sauce.

Penne Gorgonzola e pollo consisted of sautéed chicken, roasted red peppers, prosciutto and basil tossed with penne in a creamy Gorgonzola sauce, finished with walnuts and crushed red pepper flakes.

Grouper Persillade was a beautiful presentation of baked grouper served over a “salad” of haricot verts, celery, fingerling potatoes and prosciutto touched with lemon vinaigrette, finished with a crust of roasted garlic, parsley and whole-grain mustard.

Desserts were all homemade. “Death by Chocolate” was a nice-sized piece of moist chocolate cake with chocolate sauce in the center. Peanut butter pie was a melt-in-your-mouth creamy delight. Cheesecake was among the best we've had anywhere.

But a lot can happen in a year. We see on their Web site that much of the menu has changed, and we have heard on good authority that the five-fork experience we enjoyed last January may no longer be the norm.

Rainbow Shores Restaurant
186 Rainbow Shores Road
Pulaski, N.Y.
298-5110
www.lakeontariovacations.com
4.5 FORKS

Rainbow Shores sits along the shore of Lake Ontario on the outskirts of Pulaski.

Now I know that doesn't sound like a place you'll want to rush to in the middle of winter, but don't worry — it's not open in the winter. However, after reading this review, you're going to want to mark your calendar for opening day this spring.

A stately hotel back in the days of Prohibition, today it looks more like a big, welcoming country home.

The real beauty is in the menu: Gorgonzola fondue, mussels steamed with garlic, curry and white wine, Coquilles St. Jacques, Alaskan king crab legs, steak au poivre, three preparations of filet mignon and veal, chicken and pasta dishes.

Gorgonzola fondue was perfect for sharing, a delicate, creamy sauce of warm, melted Gorgonzola, served with slices of toasted focaccia.

Bacon-wrapped scallops were cooked perfectly, enhanced with a buttery-tasting maple syrup and mustard sauce.

Crab cakes were equally enjoyable, four golf ball-sized crab cakes, crispy on the outside, each topped with a dollop of slightly spicy aioli.

Crab bisque was delicious, more like chowder than a bisque, tomato-based with bits of real crab, carrot and celery.

Veal Alfredo was an interesting combination of three thin slices of veal, three hefty shrimp, artichoke hearts and green onions, topped with a rich and buttery homemade Alfredo sauce.

Filet mignon, perched on top of a sautéed portobello mushroom cap, came with a flavorful cognac cream sauce.

Coquilles St. Jacques was traditionally presented, scallops and mushrooms in a wine, cream and cheese sauce, surrounded by a wreath of piped mashed potatoes.

A dish unique to Rainbow Shores is chicken Mason, fork-tender chicken breast topped with perfectly cooked shrimp and scallops with a garlic cream sauce.

Creme brulée was a larger-than-normal portion, silky smooth vanilla custard with that caramelized sugar top finished with a coil of dark chocolate. Cheesecake, homemade with a chocolate crumb crust, was finished with a hefty drizzle of raspberry coulis.

Brownie sundae was served in a parfait glass, brownie buried on the bottom, smothered by two scoops of vanilla ice cream and lots of chocolate syrup, garnished with a small rectangle of brownie protruding from the top.

We really liked Rainbow Shores. The atmosphere is casual with an upscale kick-back feel to it. It's open from April until October.

Candlelight Restaurant & Lounge
380 S. Railroad St.
Parish, N.Y.
625-4005
www.thecandlelightbar.com
4.5 FORKS

Candlelight Inn & Lounge reopened in May. The space has been totally remodeled, with a spacious lounge and an equal-sized dining room.

There's a nice selection of casual food, perfect for the pub feel of the lounge. For dinner in the dining room, you'll find appetizers, soups and salads, steaks, prime rib, shrimp, haddock, scallops and several chicken and pasta dishes.

Crab and artichoke dip had a creamy texture and a mild crab flavor, with chunks of artichoke and a smattering of spinach mixed with cream cheese, topped off with bubbly melted Monterey Jack cheese.

Chef Karl's bruschetta was outstanding: plum tomatoes, a bit of green bell pepper, scallions and garlic marinated in olive oil, served atop grilled crusty bread.

Tucsan chicken and rice soup was definitely homemade, with lots of chicken and rice along with celery, green pepper and red pepper in a tasty chicken stock.

A large crock of French onion soup had a mild but complex flavored stock that complemented the onions. It was finished with croutons and melted provolone cheese.

We had fun “custom ordering” our salads via an order check sheet. You got to choose your own greens and your own “fixin's” — a great way to get exactly what you want and a salad made fresh to order.

Chicken Marsala was a large portion of tender chicken breast sautéed with fresh mushrooms and finished with a very rich Marsala wine sauce. This dish came with wild rice and fresh-cooked veggies.

The grilled frenched pork chop consisted of a large, juicy chop with caramelized onions on top and cinnamon-baked apple slices on the side.

Seafood scampi was loaded with big shrimp that popped in your mouth, plump scallops and a generous amount of crabmeat swimming in a souplike sauce of butter, wine, olive oil and garlic tossed with penne.

Chicken and shrimp riggies consisted of strips of grilled chicken and large shrimp along with ricotta-stuffed rigatoni in a rich and spicy tomato-basil cream sauce.

Desserts were not homemade, but perfectly acceptable. Alpine berry flan and Snickers pie were surprisingly good.

There's something special going on at the Candlelight. The food is well prepared, the staff is well trained, and the place has a comfortable down-home feel.

G&F Italian Pizza and Restaurant
2972 E. Main St.
Parish, N.Y.
625-7177
www.gandfpizza.com
4 FORKS

Ironically, in the tiny village of Parish, we found another great restaurant.

G&F Italian Pizza and Restaurant is a little hole-in-the-wall place, but the food is real Italian and real good.

Several things set the scene for us as we entered. A sign on the door boasted fresh-breaded calamari. Just inside, the aroma of garlic and cheese hit us. The selection of pizzas on display rivaled that of any chain pizza restaurant.

Sal, our lighthearted and talkative waiter, is the real deal, with a thick Italian accent. He's one of the owners, usually in the kitchen cooking, but was pressed into action out front the night we stopped by.

There are lots of out-of-the-ordinary offerings on the menu: specialty pizzas like white tomato, onion and basil or pizza “campagnola” with broccoli, spinach, fresh tomatoes, roasted red peppers and garlic. Homemade specialties like sausage rolls and broccoli rolls and tempting calzones and strombolis. Pizza by the slice with everything imaginable.

The more “upscale” dinner menu is handwritten on big sheets of paper on the wall: things like lobster ravioli, crab cakes, stuffed shrimp and stuffed haddock, along with some unusual chicken and veal dishes.

We started with the calamari, a large plate piled high with excellent hand-breaded squid. Homemade marinara and wedges of lemon came with it.

Then came a plateful of amazing garlic rolls, light and airy, made from fresh dough, baked and rolled in garlic butter sauce.

Chicken Rossini was an excellent dish, fork-tender chicken breast pounded thin and sautéed in olive oil with roasted red peppers, plum tomatoes, chunks of garlic and finished with melted mozzarella.

Veal saltimbocca , a classic Italian entrée, utilized tender veal, finely chopped sage, prosciutto and melted provolone in a buttery sauce.

Chicken Parmesan was very good, strips of tender chicken breaded and browned, topped with their great red sauce and melted mozzarella. It came with a big mound of sauced ziti.

Stuffed haddock was two pieces of fish sandwiched with buttery crabmeat stuffing. A side of linguini covered with sauce filled out the plate.

For dessert, Sal offered to make fresh fried dough for us. They were the best “frittas” we've ever had, covered in sugar with just a touch of cinnamon — warm, light and unbelievably tasty.

I don't care where you live — this place is worth the drive. And be sure to say hi to Sal for us.

1025 Ruyi Japanese Steak House
1025 Arsenal St.
Watertown, N.Y.
405-4501
Reservations: 405-4883
www.1025ruyisteakhouse.com
4 FORKS

Ruyi is one of the newest and most unusual additions to the Watertown culinary scene. It has an extensive menu, and everything is prepared to order.

The metal-trimmed entry door and vestibule set the tone for the newly remodeled restaurant. Inside, the floor is an illuminated walkway of glass over white sand, shells and dried sea critters.

Contemporary Japanese music is piped into the open dining room, mixing with the click-clack of knives and spatulas of the hibachi chefs. The hibachi dining area and bar areas are separated by a half wall, so that the “show” can be viewed from all seats.

First a stop at the saki bar. Ruyi has nearly a dozen different sakis. We made our choices, then ordered some sushi: tuna and avocado California roll, yellowtail sushi and flying fish roe sushi, all quite acceptable.

Meanwhile, the clatter of cooking utensils and Japanese-accented voices coming from the hibachi tables was growing louder. You can eat at one of the hibachi grills or at a traditional table; we had reservations to do hibachi, so off we went to the dining room.

There are more than 100 items on the menu, if you choose to dine at a traditional table: soups, salads, appetizers, sushi appetizers, California rolls, special Ruyi rolls and teriyaki, tempura and noodle entrées. Choices include miso soup, seafood soup, avocado salad, seaweed salad, fried rice balls, beef tataki, edamame, barbecue squid, yakitori, spicy salmon crunch roll, inari roll, sushi and sashimi combo, steak teriyaki and tofu teriyaki.

At the hibachi tables, a Japanese chef cooks your meal in front of you. You begin with osumashi soup, a clear broth with bits of mushrooms and scallions, and ginger salad, iceberg lettuce, cucumber and carrot with a mild ginger dressing.

Our chef arrived with his stainless-steel kitchen cart containing the uncooked food and sauces necessary for preparing the meals.

First, eggs for the fried rice. The chef gave them a little spin on the grill, then flipped one in the air, cracking open as it hit the hot flattop. He flipped the second one in the air with his spatula and caught it in his chef's hat. That got our table going.

Now the entire grill was loaded with meat, seafood and vegetables. The chef's dexterity with his grill spatula and large fork was quite impressive.

Impressively tender and tasty filet mignon came off the grill first, cut into bite-sized pieces by the chef. Salmon next, a large filet. The shrimp and scallop combo was excellent. Ringlets of calamari were perfectly cooked. Chicken came off the grill last along with the vegetables — carrot, broccoli, zucchini and summer squash.

All in all, the food was well prepared and the show well done. We're anxious to stop back and try some of the nonhibachi entrées.

Coleman's Corner
849 Lawrence St.
(off Coffeen Street, behind the Fairgrounds Inn)
Watertown, N.Y.
782-6888
4 FORKS

Coleman's Corner is back, more Irish and pubbier than ever.

This popular Watertown eatery reopened last summer after being closed for renovations. The place is fresh, clean and attractive.

The bar is long enough for several groups to gather — the dressed-up, after-work crowd elbow to elbow with the dressed-down, on-their-way-to-the-bowling alley crowd.

Coleman's menu contains old standbys from the previous incarnation with lots of new Irish favorites, plus a smattering of upscale dishes — garlic and Guinness mussels, tuna carpaccio, Irish nachos, Blarney cobb salad, pastrami and Reuben sandwiches, burgers and traditional fare like Irish beef stew, shepherd's pie, corned beef and cabbage, fish and chips and bangers and mash.

Shrimp cocktail contains the largest shrimp you've ever seen, cooked and chilled perfectly with a nice snap, served with a zingy cocktail sauce.

Pub wings were a treat — plump and meaty, covered with a sweet and tasty and somewhat goopy “Guinness gold” sauce.

Shepherd's pie is the ultimate Irish comfort food — ground sirloin, peas, carrots caramelized onions and garlic in a savory brown gravy, topped with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and melted aged cheddar cheese.

Bangers and mash is sausages and mashed potatoes. Tasty pork sausage links were accompanied by the same great Yukon Gold mashed that crowned the shepherd's pie.

Fish and chips — beer-battered fish with sliced potatoes deep-fried like potato chips — were great with the whiskey gravy that came with them.

An upscale offering, “Jamie's scallops” were delicious, cooked in a delightful garlic and herb white wine sauce.

Desserts, like the rest of the food we'd sampled, were big portions, but they didn't measure up to the quality of the rest of the meal.

What we have with the new Coleman's is more of what made the original Coleman's a success: a friendly, pub atmosphere, good bar, good service and good food.

Maple Leaf Restaurant
65 King St. E.
Gananoque, Ontario
1 (613) 382-7666
www.mapleleafrestaurant.ca
4 FORKS

What a great discovery! An old world-style restaurant serving schnitzel, spaetzle, goulash, paprikash, sausages, dumplings and sauerbraten just across the border.

While the menu at the Maple Leaf Restaurant includes a smattering of standard fare and upscale diner-ish dishes, our interest was in the Czech/Austro-German selections.

For appetizers, we tried marinated herring with sour cream and salmon dill paté with rye bread. The herring was done right: pickled herring and sliced onions in a punchy, vinegary brine. Salmon paté was more like salmon salad with dill and sweet pickle relish.

The borsch tasted great — a bowl filled with julienned beets and cabbage in a vegetable stock, lavished with sour cream.

The Maple Leaf offers over a half-dozen schnitzels. Rahm schnitzel was classic pork schnitzel, a cutlet lightly fried and perfectly seasoned, with a touch of creamy mushroom sauce. Homemade spaetzle came with it. Holstein schnitzel was a classic schnitzel topped with sautéed onions, a fried egg and capers.

Pork paprikash offered fork-tender chunks of meat in a dark, paprika-laden gravy.

This was true comfort food.

Sauerbraten was an ample portion, but if you're used to the vinegar/red wine/clove/gingersnap kick usually associated with sauerbraten, you might be disappointed.

For dessert, apple strudel was a right-sized portion of puff pastry with a filling of sliced apples, cinnamon and raisins. Blueberry tart was a special the evening we were there, and nicely done.

They're serious about serving authentic old-country food at the Maple Leaf. The restaurant is closed for the winter but will reopen in late April. I suggest you make it a point to go.

The Ivy
61 Shipman's Lane
(off Thousand Islands Parkway)
Ivy Lea, Ontario
1 (613) 659-2486
www.ivylea.ca
4 FORKS

There's an excellent fine dining restaurant just across the border in Ivy Lea. The Ivy is perched on a knoll overlooking the St. Lawrence River.

We enjoyed an ambitious menu with sophisticated yet unfussy cuisine, ingredient combinations that teased and pleased the palate, and presentations that enhanced meticulously prepared food.

We began with appetizers that were easy to share, “blazing” California roll and Moroccan bisteeya .

The California roll wasn't exactly “blazing” but it was certainly enjoyable, allowing for the taste of real crab to predominate. The bisteeya was a filling of duck confit, ground almonds and mango wrapped with phyllo and cut into discs.

Entrées were very different, with some interesting and inventive ingredient pairings.

Mushroom-crusted halibut had a smattering of lovely wild mushroom duxelle pressed into the top side of the portion of fish.

Roasted pheasant supreme was nicely presented, two bone-in pieces placed over chopped Brussels sprouts, finished with a delicious fig-and-ginger glaze.

“Steak and fries” was a nice portion of Black Angus tenderloin topped with garlicky herb butter and served with truffle french fries .

The sauce really made the braised Sicilian short ribs special — tomato-based with a bit of a kick, plus chunks of celery and carrot reminiscent of a beef stew.

Lobster Caramella was matchstick strips of lobster and butternut squash wrapped in homemade pasta, tossed in a subtle blue cheese cream sauce.

On the dessert menu, homemade doughnuts were marble-sized doughnut holes filled with Bavarian cream. Toffee bread pudding with maple caramel sauce was rich and dense.

The food at The Ivy was wonderful. Their hours are limited in the winter, so be sure to give them a call before you journey across the border.

Sherwood Inn
28 W. Genesee St.
Skaneateles, N.Y.
685-3405
www.thesherwood inn.com
4 FORKS

The Sherwood Inn is a 200-year-old inn that takes up much of downtown Skaneateles. Fine cuisine is served in a lovely dining room that exudes old fashioned elegance.

The menu caters to all palates, with entrées like Yankee pot roast, penne with chicken and andouille sausage, pecan-crusted salmon, sriracha-spiced swordfish, orange-glazed duck breast and seared sirloin Diane. Sea scallops, cod, swordfish and salmon are available in several preparations.

Our waiter started us out with a basket of assorted artisan breads and a wonderful house-made cheese tapenade (shredded cheddar, chopped olives, capers and anchovies).

Strawberry and ricotta galette, a rectangle of puff pastry, was topped with sweet herbed ricotta cheese and fresh strawberries, served over baby greens and drizzled with balsamic glaze.

Vegetable gnocchi — house-made ricotta gnocchi tossed with tomatoes, roasted leeks, baby spinach and fresh mozzarella, finished with basil-infused olive oil.

We ordered the small portion of hearts of Boston bibb with crumbly blue cheese vinaigrette drizzled on top, crowned with julienned radish and an oblong slice of English cucumber.

One of the “Sherwood Classics” is pecan salmon, pan-seared and crusted with crushed pecans and drizzled with maple syrup. Fresh asparagus accompanied, along with house rice pilaf.

Seafood pappardelle consisted of shrimp, scallops and mussels tossed with fresh tomatoes, roasted fennel and leeks along with pappardelle (flat ribbon pasta) in a saffron-thyme cream sauce.

Colorado loin lamb chops were charcoal grilled to a perfect medium-rare, finished with a port wine demi-glace and served with white cheddar au gratin potatoes.

Grilled New York strip steak was excellent, topped with roasted wild mushrooms and finished with a truffle compound butter.

Apple crisp a la mode was a bowlful big enough for two. The apples were definitely fresh, with a perfect firmness. Nantucket tri-berry tart, fresh berries and whipped cream overflowing the pastry crust.

The inn has received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence every year throughout the last decade.

Service was friendly, relaxed and professional. The Sherwood Inn is always a very special experience.

Brigadoon Restaurant
11 Bridge St.
Oxford Mills, Ontario
1 (613) 258-4433
www.brigadoonrestaurant.com
4 FORKS

Cross the border at Ogdensburg and head for Oxford Mills, where you'll find fine dining in a historic atmosphere at the Brigadoon.

The building, built in 1853, was once a general store and post office. While the place has an old feel to it, the menu is a mix of classic and creative cuisine — escargot, lobster and avocado mousse, seafood Newburg, warm brie, bacon and mushroom salad, prime rib, salmon, duck, sea bass, chicken, wild boar.

We began with three appetizers.

The mushroom puffs were dainty and delicate, four small puff pastry cups filled with sautéed wild mushrooms, finished with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Sliced tomatoes were carefully placed over a bed of pesto, then topped with a very thin coating of brie and quickly broiled. Baguette crostini accompanied.

The paté-like mousse was very good. A layer of avocado mousse and layer of lobster mousse came with pea shoots on top wafer-thin crostini on the side.

Entrées, like the appetizers, were artfully arranged.

Thinly sliced local duck breast was an ample serving, with a nice swipe of black currant cassis jus.

Grilled on-the-bone boar was very tasty, but required the services of a serrated steak knife. A shiitake-port sauce complemented nicely.

Both entrées came with an ingenious brick of sweet potato and spinach. The veggies — roasted baby carrots, asparagus and jicama — were great.

Chilean sea bass was served over a bed of sautéed vegetables and topped with a slightly spicy Bombay chutney.

Our favorite entrée was chicken Drambuie, a pounded chicken breast rolled around capicola ham and smoked Gruyere cheese, sliced into rounds and served with a smooth and creamy sauce with just a hint of Drambuie liqueur.

Bumbleberry pie was a blend of berries drizzled with warm caramel sauce. Trifle consisted of layers of fruit, custard, cream and sauces. “Chocolate Glory” was three layers of chocolate — French chocolate, white Lindt mousse and dark Lindt mousse — crowned with homemade rum truffles.

Our favorite was banana strawberry phyllo. The menu description is all you need: “Crisp phyllo pastry baked with pecan crumbs, layered with custard, topped with brandied bananas and strawberries.”

The Brigadoon is a destination dining place with great food and impeccable service. The historic building is beautiful, warm and cozy, even more so this time of year.

Red Lobster
20831 Route 3
(outer Arsenal Street)
Watertown, N.Y.
786-1016
www.redlobster.com
4 FORKS

You may find this hard to believe, but I'd never set foot inside a Red Lobster until last February.

First impressions are important. Our silverware was wrapped in cloth napkins. A card on our table planted the seed for their new wood-fire-grilled fish. Our well-trained waitress was there at just the right time to get things under way.

She started us out with a basket of Red Lobster's tasty signature biscuits, lighter than traditional baking powder biscuits, a little garlicky and a little salty with just a hint of cheese.

Appetizers were original and flavorful, prepared and presented just right.

Bacon wrapped peach-bourbon barbecue scallops were cooked on the wood fire grill. Great peach-bourbon sauce.

Mango-jalapeno shrimp skewers had just the right mix of sweet and zing, presented over onion rings, also prepared over the wood fire.

Stuffed mushrooms were wonderful, filled with ground lobster and crab, smothered with Monterey Jack cheese.

Here's a new one: lobster nachos — crisp tortilla chips topped with lobster meat, cheddar and Jack cheeses, sour cream, jalapenos and a touch of pico de gallo.

Entrée choices naturally include shrimp, lobster, crab, flounder, salmon — but also chicken and steak.

Wood-grilled scallops, shrimp and chicken was delightful, the smoky flavor from the grill adding an interesting dimension.

From “Today's Fresh Fish” menu we got the trout, boned, butterflied and prepared on the wood-fired grill. Shrimp bruschetta topping really kicked it up.

For steak, we went with the peppercorn sirloin and shrimp combo. The steak was expertly cooked on the wood grill. Skewered shimp were nicely seasoned.

Desserts were good, too. Warm apple crumble was very tasty and attractively served. Chocolate chip lava cookie resembled a short muffin full of chocolate goo, topped with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce.

There's an impressive selection of wine and beer, too.

Maple Room Steakhouse at Akwesasne Mohawk Casino
Hogansburg, N.Y.
1 (888) 622-1155
www.mohawkcasino.com/diningretail/maple-room-steakhouse
4 FORKS

Maple Room Steakhouse opened in the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino in May. It's got the décor and feel of a big-city steakhouse.

The menu says steakhouse all over it: classy appetizers, classic salads, pricey steaks, upscale seafood, typical steakhouse sides and a few pasta dishes.

Appetizers were all attractively served, the food clearly well-handled.

Bruschetta pomodoro consisted of toasted crostini each with a swipe of hummus and kalamata tapenade, finished with diced roma tomatoes, set over a bed of field greens.

Light hand-breading on the calamari revealed very tender ringlets and tentacles of squid, enhanced with a gingery fruit-based dipping sauce.

Crab cakes were also good, with plenty of identifiable lump crabmeat.

A basket of lovely, crusty baguette slices was a hit. Softened unsalted butter was appreciated, too.

Caesar salad had a nice lemon-olive oil dressing, easy on the garlic.

A wedge of crisp iceberg lettuce was covered with creamy blue cheese dressing and crumbles of applewood-smoked bacon. Little wedges of blue cheese dotted the plate.

Lobster bisque was full of flavor and so thick you could almost stand a spoon up in it. The taste of sherry added a nice depth of flavor.

Filet mignon was an excellent choice, with blue cheese dipping sauce served on the side. Starch of the day was a potato pancake. Broccolini completed the plate.

New York strip was a 16-ounce bone-in portion, juicy and tasty. Other steaks available are Delmonico and porterhouse cuts. They also serve prime rib nightly and offer lamb chops.

Chilean sea bass was simply presented, topped with a lovely mango avocado salsa.

Mediterranean seafood consisted of shrimp and scallops nicely sautéed in garlic, then tossed with spinach, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives and sundried tomatoes with fettuccini.

Dulce de leche caramel cheesecake was fantastic, as was the maple creme brulée. Deep-fried ice cream was rolled in crushed corn flakes; mixed berry shortcake was very nice.

All in all, it was a very pleasant experience. The food was well-handled and well-considered; the service attempted to be top-notch traditional and managed it pretty well.

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