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Fresh catch on the Bay, in the dead of winter

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ALEXANDRIA BAY — Alex Bay in February is a very different town than Alex Bay in July. There's not a tourist in sight. Hardly a car on the streets. Tough to find a restaurant open.

But we did find one at the Riveredge Resort — a new one, Holland Street Bistro. It's in the room known as Windows on the Bay. With the hotel's business slower in the winter months, they've changed the Windows menu to a more casual, locals-friendly bistro menu with prices to match.

First impressions are important. The curtains were drawn so we didn't have to look at the cold, wintery evening outside — except for the side facing beautifully illuminated Boldt Castle. Subdued lighting. Tables were outfitted with linen. Candles glowed on every table in the room — and it's a big room. Music played at the right volume.

The menu includes soups, salads and appetizers, a "build your own" pasta section, and a nice selection of entrées that includes steaks, seafood, chicken and pork along with several Italian dishes.

We very much enjoyed our appetizers, and they worked out great for sharing.

Stuffed mushrooms ($8) were delicious and different, four nice-sized mushroom caps stuffed with a mixture of cream cheese, baby spinach and real crab meat, finished with melted mozzarella.

Lump crab cakes ($9), four generous mini crab cakes with a nice, crunchy outer coating, were served with a not-too-spicy Cajun remoulade on the side.

Jumbo scallop skewers ($9) consisted of four scallops, not quite jumbo size, each wrapped with bacon and served on a plate that had been drizzled with honey. The scallops had nice taste and texture. The smokiness of the bacon worked well with the sweetness of the honey.

What better to share than a flatbread pizza ($10). It's billed as "the chef's daily creation," and what a treat it was. Hand-pulled pizza dough was generously loaded with shaved prime rib, tasty caramelized onions and roasted red peppers, finished with just enough melted cheese to hold all the toppings together. The crust was a little soggy in the center from all the fillings, but perfectly crisp around the outside.

The house salads had a nice offering of mixed greens, julienned carrots, sliced red onion and grape tomatoes. We were told that the dressings were all made in-house, so we went with Thousand Island, raspberry vinaigrette and make-your-own balsamic, served in individual cruets for each guest.

T.I. dressing was excellent — thick and creamy, "just the way Mom used to make it." (One of my guests grew up in Alex Bay.)

Holland Street Chicken ($16) was a boneless breast of chicken stuffed with prosciutto, caramelized onions and smoked gouda, and finished with a honey-Dijon sauce. We were expecting great flavors from the stuffing, but nothing jumped out at us.

This had the potential to be a terrific dish, and it did look great on the plate, but the chicken was cooked too long, making it quite dry. Whipped garlic mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus were just OK.

Veal Marsala ($14) also had great potential that wasn't quite realized. The veal, billed as veal tenderloin, had alternating bites of tenderness and chewiness, unfortunately more of the latter. The Marsala sauce with wild mushrooms was cooked down a little too much, rendering it overly salty.

Soft, warm bread sticks were supposed to come with our salads, but arrived halfway through our entrée course. It took a while to get our waitress's attention to bring some butter to the table, so the rolls had cooled, but we could still tell that they were a very good product.

Pistachio tilapia ($14) was a nicely presented entrée — lots of textures and colors on the plate. The nut-crusted fish was baked, served over a bed of sautéed vegetables, and finished with lemon zest and lines of balsamic reduction.

Tilapia is a very mild fish. Unfortunately, with all the "stuff" around it, it was nearly impossible to appreciate the flavor of the fish.

Finally, we were looking forward to the shrimp and scallop scampi ($18). The scampi sauce was quite simple: oil, garlic, lemon, parsley and wine, and just enough to coat the perfect al dente angel hair pasta.

So if you were expecting a puddle of sauce to mop up with your bread sticks, it wasn't there. Not a bad thing — just a "buyer beware" thing. And even though the price seemed reasonable, we were expecting more than three shrimp and three scallops with the dish.

Our waitress tantalized us by bringing a tray of desserts to the table. They all came from one of their suppliers, she told us, but the restaurant is planning on making some of their own during the busier summer season.

We selected the Italian lemon cake, the crisp, freshly filled canolis and New York cheesecake with raspberry topping. Of the three, the multilayered lemon cake was our favorite. Not a total surprise, because we remember having the same dessert at another restaurant in recent months.

Desserts we sampled were priced at $5 each.

Dinner for four came to $138, which included three glasses of house wine and sales tax. Gratuity was additional.

The ambiance at Holland Street Bistro was warm and welcoming, as was our waitress. The food was certainly better than average. We enjoyed our appetizers a lot, but were let down by glitches with our entrées. And it wasn't like the kitchen was getting slammed — we were one of only two other tables being served the night we visited.

You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via e-mail: wsiebel@wdt.net.

Holland Street Bistro

at the Riveredge Resort Hotel

17 Holland St.

Alexandria Bay, N.Y.

482-5010

1 (800) 365-6987

www.riveredge.com

Upscale casual dining in a warm and welcoming setting.

HOURS:

Lunch: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday

Dinner: 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday

Stuffed mushrooms, crab cakes and bacon-wrapped scallop appetizers were nicely prepared.

So was the flatbread pizza of the day: shaved prime rib, tasty caramelized onions and roasted red peppers.

RATING: 3 forks

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