GANANOQUE, Ontario A friend across the border suggested we visit Gananoques Trinity House Inn, which he mentioned has a good reputation for Italian food.
I checked out the menu on their website. Sure enough, theyve got zuppa (soup), insalata (salad), primo or starter course, entrees and enticing sweets labeled as dolce. But surprisingly enough, there werent a whole lot of Italian offerings under each heading.
Nonetheless, a trip to Gan was in order. Gananoque is a bustling riverfront town in the summertime, much like Clayton is on our side of the border. This time of the year, however, things are pretty quiet, which worked to our advantage at the Trinity House.
Owner/innkeeper Jacques OShea graciously greeted us as we entered the vestibule of this old Victorian home turned into a homey restaurant and inn. He showed us to our table in one of the cozy little dining rooms and turned us over to Clarice, our pleasant and courteous server.
There was only one other table occupied when we arrived and only one other after we were seated. So we had Clarices full attention for the evening, and Jacques was able to visit our table for a brief chat every so often.
Our party of five allowed us to sample most everything on the compact menu. We began with Tuscan onion soup ($9) and the chefs daily creation, cauliflower soup ($8).
If you were expecting French onion, you might be disappointed. The soup was a clear broth, most likely chicken stock, with sliced white onions and chopped pancetta (often called Italian bacon). The onions werent caramelized at all; in fact, they still had a crunch and a sharp onion taste.
If you were blindfolded you wouldnt know there was any cauliflower in the bisque-like cauliflower soup. It was tasty, but tasted like leeks or onions, not cauliflower.
Like the onion soup, it was a decent serving in a modern oval-shaped soup bowl.
We got to try each of the appetizers.
Bruschetta ($11), five small, two-bite pieces of toasted crostini, had a fresh and flavorful house-made topping of diced tomatoes, onions, garlic, basil and olive oil.
The crostini might have been a bit over-toasted, causing them to fall apart as you bit into them.
Scallop Parma ($15) could well have passed for an entrée. Five plump, perfectly cooked scallops were finished with a blush sauce, basically an herbed tomato-cream sauce. Very nice. The menu said the scallops were crusted with Parmesan and sea salt, but we didnt see any evidence of that.
Escargot ($12) was outstanding. Tender snails (they can sometimes be rubbery) were tucked into crimini mushroom caps along with mozzarella cheese, baked just right and touched with a delicate garlic velouté. It doesnt get much more French or better than that!
Heres an appetizer that could have passed for a dessert: the baked brie wheel ($13). A small disk of brie was crusted with walnuts, gently baked, then finished with a delightful apple rum cream.
On to the salad course.
Fall harvest salad ($9) consisted of a colorful medley of julienned apple, carrot, pear and candy cane beets over mixed greens, lightly dressed with cranberry vinaigrette.
OK, youre thinking, what are candy cane beets? Technically, theyre chioggia beets. Cut one in half and the pink and white rings make it look like a red onion. Julienne one lengthwise and youve got what looks like the stem of a candy cane. The effect tends to disappear when the beets are cooked, so in a salad, raw, they look amazing!
Apples and cream ($10) was another interesting salad mixed greens adorned with slices of brie, sliced apples and candied walnuts. A very smooth and subtle vanilla cream dressing was a welcome change from ho-hum commercial dressings.
The pungency of the brie made us think it was a little over-ripened. One of my guests suggested it tasted a little like limburger. Well, it is hunting season
The Caesar salad ($9) paled in comparison, but its a good choice for the less adventurous. Crisp Romaine was nicely chopped to easily fit on a fork. The traditional dressing wasnt overly garlicky, another plus. House-made croutons, like the crostini earlier, were a little difficult to negotiate with senior teeth.
Entrees were all good, nothing particularly outstanding.
Fettuccini del mar ($22) arrived as a perfectly formed pile of pasta tossed with the same blush sauce that came with the scallop appetizer. You had to do a bit of hunting to find the shrimp and scallops hidden in the pasta pile. The scallops werent nearly the size of the appetizer scallops.
Chicken Parmesan ($23) was a demure piece of tender chicken carefully topped with cooked-down tomato sauce sprinkled with freshly grated Parm. It was accompanied by a little bed of buttered noodles.
Beef tenderloin ($32) was a little on the dry side, probably our fault for ordering it medium-well. Pumpkin port reduction, while seemingly right in tune with the season, didnt go well with the meat for some reason.
Rack of lamb ($36) actually a half rack of lamb (four chops) had a nice ground almond crust and was topped with a house-made pear-mint chutney. I was hard-pressed to taste any mint, but thats OK I didnt want to be reminded of that mint jelly that used to always be served with lamb.
The lamb was ordered medium-rare. Some of it was, but toward the center it was very rare. Fine with me, although it made it a little difficult to cut between the bones. Had to give the meat more than a few shakes of salt to bring the seasoning to where it should be.
Catch of the Week was cedar-planked salmon ($27 ). What a great presentation that is. We originally thought the fish appeared overcooked, but in fact it was right about where it should be. It flaked easily with a fork and was nicely seasoned.
Gorgonzola-whipped potatoes came with most of the entrees and were a little overpowering due to the strong cheese. Fresh vegetable medley of red and yellow bell peppers, broccoli and baby carrots was cooked perfectly and added color to the trendy square plates.
Desserts came from one of their suppliers, and were quite good, priced at $8 apiece.
Ever heard of tartofu? We hadnt. Its chocolate ice cream formed around raspberry ice cream then rolled in cocoa and served with fresh berry compote and whipped cream. Different, and very enjoyable.
Everyone knows what chocolate lava cake is warm chocolate cake filled with molten chocolate. Whats not to like? Trinity House went one step further, drizzling some caramel sauce on it.
Sugar pie was a takeoff of the pie many grandmothers made years ago called poor mans pie kind of like pecan pie without the pecans but with extra sugar.
It was OK, but Grandma Reffs is better.
Well, if you were adding up the prices in your head as you read the review, you shouldnt be surprised to learn that dinner for five came to $325.44 before tip. It did, however, include four glasses of house wine and one mixed drink.
We were surprised that our waitress, who has worked there for five years, rarely knew who ordered what. There is a system to it, and its not very complicated.
Perhaps because of the pricing, or because some of us had dined there in the past, we expected more from the Trinity House. Dont get me wrong the food was good. It just wasnt exceptional. And for $77 a person once the tip was added in, thats a little steep, no matter who you are.
■ This coming Saturday, Nov. 11, theres going to be a beer tasting at the Blackbird Café in downtown Canton.
According to their website, the tasting will feature hand-crafted brews from all over the Northeast, including Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, Cisco Brews from Rhode Island, Peak Organic Brewery in Maine and Sly Fox Brewery in Pennsylvania and a very special surprise from the Blackbirds very own home-brewing connoisseur and owner, Ken Hebb.
The tasting will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. You can purchase tickets in advance by calling 386-8104.
■ Food Network now has a cooking magazine. I picked up a copy of the November issue last week and spotted a recipe for sweet corn ice cream topped with caramel corn and a splash of bourbon.
I had just put my ice cream maker away for the season, but Ill be pulling it back out of the closet this week.
You can view the recipe by going to the Food Networks website: www.foodnetwork.com and put sweet corn ice cream in the search box.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trinity House Inn
90 Stone St. So.
Fine dining in a Victorian home turned into a homey restaurant and inn
HOURS: Dinner reservations are available starting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Be sure to make reservations if you plan on dining during the week.
If no reservations, they may not open for dining. Their official quiet season is December through April, when they will only be open on weekends
APPETIZER PICKS: Escargot, scallops Parma
SALAD PICK: Fall harvest
DESSERT PICK: Tartufo