ADAMS — "Our passions are the true phoenixes; when the old one is burnt out, a new one rises from its ashes"
The words of philosopher von Goethe accurately reflect the storied lives of Lori Wells and Lisa Reed, owners of Café Mira in the village of Adams. Their prominent upscale restaurant was ravaged by fire just a year ago. But perseverance, persistence and passion have brought back a truly extraordinary dining experience.
Every inch of the place has been painted, polished and restored to its former luster. Arch top front windows have been hand-painted by a local artist, giving the illusion of stained glass in the setting sun. The tin ceiling destroyed in the fire was matched and replaced, thanks to the magic of the Internet.
There's not a trace of smoke smell, a major miracle considering the extent of the damage.
The grand piano is back. So is pianist Mike Tyo, filling the restaurant with perfect dinner music. Lisa is back working the front of the house, meeting, greeting and seating guests. Lori is back in the kitchen, executing a better-than-ever menu: some tried-and-true selections from her previous menu and some tempting new dishes as well.
There are two dining areas. The main seating is on the first floor; upstairs there's a cozy, quiet room with the feel of a private club. We chose downstairs near the small bar that gave us a view of the action in and out of the kitchen.
As we looked over the menu, our server, Carolyn, started us with warm baguettes served with traditional butter and homemade tapenade. Decisions were tough — we wanted to try everything. But we were well satisfied with all our choices. Let's begin with appetizers.
Oysters "Jonah Daniel" ($13) were a take on the Rockefeller preparation, but so much better. Six large oysters were served on the half shell, baked with creamed spinach, bacon, garlic and nutmeg, then topped with panko, Parmesan and butter and finished with a quick flash under the broiler.
Ahi tuna ($13) was delightful, rubbed with Chinese five-spice powder (cinnamon, clove, fennel, star anise and peppercorns), perfectly seared, then sliced. It came with fried seaweed (wakame) and a just-hot-enough wasabi and sesame mixture.
"Excellent," said the tuna specialist at the table.
The real hit was the escargot appetizer ($13), extra-plump Helix snails in garlic butter kicked up with lemon, capers and cream. The sauce was what made it — bursting with flavor — and great for dipping.
Pan-fried artichokes ($9) didn't do much for us. Artichoke hearts were Dijon-egg battered and pan-fried, served with a creamy Dijon sauce that contained local maple syrup. We weren't getting as much mustard taste as you would have thought, and wouldn't have known there was maple syrup in there if the menu hadn't told us.
Salads come with the meals, a fresh mix of greens with shaved carrot, halved grape tomatoes and tangerine segments. We loved the homemade balsamic vinaigrette with blue cheese crumbles.
Bouillabaisse ($26) is a classic French seafood stew — but here, with a twist. Shrimp, scallops, mussels and lobster were swimming in a tasty fish stock with tomatoes, wine, garlic and saffron.
But what's that at the bottom of the neat cast-iron bowl? We thought we had it figured out, and Carolyn confirmed it: mashed potatoes. It added a certain thickness to the bouillabaisse that was totally unexpected. A real standout dish.
Cowboy steak ($28) was a manly 14-ounce portion of choice rib-eye, bone-in and frenched (the meat pulled away from the bone), making for a great presentation.
It was cooked perfectly to our request of medium and arrived with attractive crisscrossed grill marks. The plate was completed with al dente green beans and roasted potatoes, soft and warm on the inside, a slight crisp on the outside.
I'm fussy about my veal. If I'm gonna pay the price, I don't want to be hacking through a gristly piece of meat with my serrated knife. So I asked a few questions, and Carolyn assured me that Lori would use only the best.
It was the best, and the best preparation I've had in a long time. Veal Romano ($22) consisted of Parmesan-crusted, thinly pounded slices of top-quality veal quickly sautéed and served with a creamy to-die-for sauce containing bacon, mushrooms and peas — and LOTS of heavy cream.
Sometimes bacon in a cream sauce can taste like bad breakfast gravy at one of those faux Southern eateries along an interstate. Here, the talented chef used just enough to give it a smoky personality but not overpower. Cheesy mashed potatoes were phenomenal. This dish was really, really good.
The duck entrée ($22) consisted of a boneless breast seasoned with salt and pepper, char-grilled and sliced. The raspberry and mango habanero sauce drizzled over it really complemented the duck cooked medium-rare, the way both we and the kitchen agreed it should be served.
Except for one, there was nothing fancy about the presentation of the desserts — and there didn't have to be. Each was totally delicious on its own without plate painting or other adornment.
A generous slice of coconut cream pie sported a marvelous flaky crust and a light and airy melt-in-your mouth cream filling. Lemon cheesecake had the right texture and just enough lemon flavor — simply done, but done right. Berry cobbler — fresh berries, ice cream and whipped cream — was served in an old fashioned parfait glass.
Crème brulee was just a little different. The smooth vanilla custard arrived at the table with the customary burnt sugar crust, but then it was topped with a small shot of Grand Marnier and flamed tableside. The orange flavor from the liquor really enhanced the custard, and the caramelized sugar gave it a crunchy texture.
Quite an impressive presentation.
Desserts are made by a local baker and cost $7 apiece.
Dinner for four totaled $199.07 before tip and before figuring in a nice bottle of Kendall Jackson Merlot ($32). Be sure to explore the complete menu on their attractive, well-designed website: www.cafemira.com
Carolyn's service was professional, friendly and experienced; she offered advice on dishes when asked and provided insight into the restoration of the restaurant.
A year ago, I honestly thought Café Mira would never open its doors again.
But Lisa and Lori have done it — with strength, courage, conviction and passion.
Café Mira is back, better than ever, with an elegant, accessible fine dining experience that you won't want to miss.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
14 Main St.
Café Mira is back after a devastating fire, more beautiful than ever and with a better-than-ever menu.
HOURS: 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday
APPETIZER PICKS: Escargot with garlic butter, lemon, capers and cream; oysters "John Daniel" with creamed spinach, bacon, garlic and nutmeg
ENTRÉE PICKS: Veal Romano in a sauce of bacon, mushrooms, peas and cream; Bouillabaisse with shrimp, scallops, mussels and lobster
DESSERT PICKS: Coconut cream pie; lemon cheesecake; fresh berry cobbler
RATING: 5 forks