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Watertown Golf Club dinner outing has some hits and misses

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We were very excited when we learned several months ago that the Black River Valley Club would be running the restaurant at the Watertown Golf Club at Thompson Park this summer. I had been to the exclusive BRVC as a guest for lunch only once in the past and was very impressed.

We picked a perfect summer night to meander up the hill through the park overlooking the city of Watertown to the golf course. The club restaurant is open to the public. It's your typical golf clubhouse — the bar takes up more space than the dining area, but that's understandable. In fact, you need to go through the bar to get to the dining room.

There were several golfers quenching their thirst in the bar, so we decided to do likewise and got to know our friendly bartender, Sarah. She filled us in on the Black River Valley Club/Watertown Golf Club relationship: the Black River Valley Club virtually closes in the summertime except for private parties. By taking over the food and beverage operation at the golf club, the Black River Valley Club is able to keep its staff working during the summer. And many members of BRVC are also Watertown Golf Club members, so it all makes sense.

Sarah gave us menus to look over — stapled together photocopied pages – stating that the “real menu” was “in the works.” Hello, it's July. I would have thought the “real” menu would have been finalized months ago.

Anyway, off to our table in the rather small and boring dining room. Sarah was also our waitress. Seems they were expecting a slow night for some reason and sent the regular waitress home. As it turned out, it was a slow night. We had the only occupied table for the evening.

Appetizers were run-of-the-mill freezer-to-fryer things — chicken wings, chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks and onion rings. That's it.

There were a number of decent salads — cranberry almond, chef, grilled steak and Caesar. You could also get an Angus burger or veggie burger, Hofmann hot dog, open-faced Reuben or panini “sandwhich” (yep, that's what it said right there on the menu — sandwhich).

The dinner menu had five entrees, including a fish of the day. All dinners are served with vegetables and your choice of a side as well as a house salad. At a glance, prices seemed quite reasonable.

We didn't drive all the way up this hill for chicken fingers, so we gave Sarah our entree orders, and the food portion of the night was under way.

Our salads had a nice mixture of field greens along with cucumber rounds, onion and interesting paper-thin sliced tomatoes and boxed croutons. Salad dressings were institutional, your standard assortment, with the plus of a unique Vidalia onion dressing.

Warm rolls in a basket were pretty typical, too, but a decent quality restaurant service product.

We were just finishing our salads, and Sarah delivered some bad news. The New York strip steak (the only steak on the menu) was not available for some reason, but they could sub a rib-eye.

Fine, let's do it. But why did the kitchen wait 10 minutes from the time we placed our order to tell us that? Now we were in for another 10 minute wait while they cooked it. Thank goodness for good company.

Sarah was brilliant handling the bar and our table of four in the dining room. She never slighted us and still spent the majority of her time pleasing the all-guy golf crowd at the bar.

Well, the rib-eye ($14) wasn't the greatest. It was a skinny little thing, and tough — even difficult to cut with a steak knife. Sautéed mushrooms and onion on top were good. It came with a side of roasted potatoes — some crispy slices, other greasy slices — but nicely seasoned. Generally tasteless French-cut green beans were fresh, we were told, but I'm not sure about that.

Crab-stuffed haddock ($14) wasn't bad. But it wasn't stuffed. Slightly overdone haddock came with a scoop of real crabmeat plopped on top, then blanketed with a velvety, weak and bland Béarnaise sauce that countered the overcooked fish.

Dull green snap peas accompanied, cooked way beyond what any pea should have to suffer — limp, lifeless and tasteless. Gerber material.

Chicken Alaska was on the menu with the same preparation — topped with crab stuffing and Béarnaise. It couldn't get much easier for the kitchen. Even a trained monkey could execute this menu.

Fish of the day ($14) was salmon. Two little rectangular tail pieces of salmon, massively overcooked, dense and dried out. It was billed as applewood-smoked, but it was hard to discern any flavor other than char.

There was a second fish of the day choice, Ahi tuna. I had to ask the preparation, but Sarah gladly went to the kitchen to find out. “Cooked to your specifications, just like a steak — medium-rare, medium … like that.” And when she told us it came with wasabi, that was the clincher.

I ordered it rare, and they did a good job at that. But the fish itself had a tendon running through it which made eating it a challenge. And—I had to ask for the wasabi. Sarah ran to the kitchen, returning with three balls of the fiery horseradish, way more than needed.

Early on, Sarah offhandedly mentioned, “And you'll have free desserts coming.” We assumed someone at the bar was doing us a favor, but between the four of us, we didn't recognize anyone we knew.

The deal is, each night the house picks a table to surprise with complimentary desserts. We were the lucky table that evening. We were the only table that evening.

There were four desserts, made by the staff, so we ordered a round: lemon cake, a cupcake trio, cheesecake with blackberry sauce and coconut cream pie.

Poor Sarah. She had to cover for another kitchen screw-up. “You're gonna hate me,” she said, “but the box for the lemon cake is sitting on the shelf in the kitchen empty.”

Not a problem. We could share the three available.

Coconut cream pie was a dense custard in a flaky crust, but was overwhelmed by almond flavoring. A thick slice of rich cheesecake came with a red berry puree; the promised red berry sauce was likely a black raspberry sauce.

A trio of cupcakes was fun: banana spice cupcake with cream cheese frosting, lemon cupcake was a little old and dry with tart lemon frosting, and one that really intrigued us, chocolate/cucumber with peanut butter frosting.

We had to ask for an explanation of the cucumber deal. It was a puree of cucumber to add moisture to the cake, similar to adding applesauce to a cake.

All you could taste was chocolate, no cucumber.

Dinner for four (no appetizers, complimentary desserts) rang up at $63.57 before gratuity.

Sarah did an admirable job taking care of us in the dining room, along with her thirsty patrons in the bar area. We loved her “atta-girl” spirit. She was pleasant, as well as sincerely apologetic.

If we were to return, we'd be more likely to order a salad or a sandwich/which. The kitchen just doesn't seem geared up for the dinner crowd. The restaurant's connections to the Black River Valley Club should have ensured a decent experience, but as far as the food goes, that was certainly not the case.

You can contact Walter Siebel via email: wsiebel@wdt.net.

Watertown Golf Club
1 Thompson ParkWatertown, N.Y.http://watertowngolfclubinc.com/782-5606New this year — the restaurant is run by the staff and management of Watertown's exclusive, upscale Black River Valley Club.HOURS: Noon to 9 p.m. “or when things slow down” seven days a weekRATING: 2 forks
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