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12 for '12 A delicious dozen dining choices from the past year

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This is a great time of the year for me. I get to reread all the reviews I've written during 2012.

We had some bad experiences, some good ones and some very good ones.

Here are the very good ones — those that earned four forks (excellent) or better.

There was only one 5-forker (fabulous—don't miss it): Liquids & Solids in Lake Placid. Three were rated 4 ½ forks, better than excellent: Pete's Trattoria in Watertown, Alegria Garden Café in Lake Placid and Moon in Cornwall, Ontario.

The 12 reviews that make up the Best of 2012 are rounded out with eight reviews that received 4-fork (excellent) ratings.

I hope you enjoy reading them again as much as I did.

Liquids & Solids
6115 Sentinel Road
Lake Placid
1 (518) 837-5012
www.liquidsandsolids.com
RATING: 5 forks
Liquids & Solids

Why would anyone name a restaurant Liquids & Solids? The name is different, for sure. But maybe that's because the food and drink are different.

Liquids & Solids is an unpretentious, almost rustic place just past the downtown strip on the way to the ski jumps. It's a bar/restaurant in this tourist town with an obviously passionate food wizard in the kitchen.

The specialty drinks were most intriguing. The lavandula ($10) was a very large and beautiful gin cooler made with gin, raspberry puree, lemon juice and lavender syrup. Equally outstanding was the boozeless barracuda slice ($5), a combination of grapefruit, guava, apple, pineapple, lime, simple syrup and soda water.

We began with the poutine preparation of the day ($10), curried goat. The long, thinly cut fries and creamy cheese curds were doused in scrumptious, savory, curried meat gravy. The shredded goat meat was fork-tender.

Italian-style white bean and kale soup ($6) was an excellent balance of white beans and kale in a rich broth topped with a float of crisp-baked Parmesan over a slightly sweet dollop of tomato and basil jam.

Chilled pea soup ($9) was in fact a soup and sandwich. Mint and crème fraiche enhanced the flavor of the soup. It had a small, smoked-ham and cheese baguette sandwich tipped into it.

Zingy Brussels sprouts ($3) were one of the unexpected delights of the menu, quartered, flash-fried until the outer leaves were slightly crispy, tossed with olive oil and capers.

The charcuterie platter ($15) was something right out of Europe and included duck pate en croute, terrine of rabbit, duck prosciutto and smoked ham, all made in-house, along with baguette crostini, baby gherkins, pickled onions and dried-cranberry mustard.

Mussels with broccoli rabe ($10) were carefully arranged in a winey, garlicky broth with threads of candied lemon peel scattered on top.

The ratatouille ($10) was outstanding, a mélange of summer squash, zucchini, tomatoes, onions and herbs. The highlight was a lovely little individual goat cheese panna cotta with bits of basil.

The crispy beef tongue ($12) was quite surprising. It came burger-shaped with a crispy seasoned breaded crust, served on two thick slices of heirloom beefsteak tomato with basil-ricotta pesto in between. A very subtle tzatziki-like sauce accompanied.

Desserts followed the over-the-top adventurous theme. Chocolate bacon crème brulee was as rich and decadent as it sounds, chocolate custard poured over salty bacon bits. Then there's almond milk panna cotta served on an almond tuille placed on a bed of rhubarb sauce. More traditionally, the peach “shortcake” — fresh peaches and strawberries between homemade lemon shortbread, topped with real whipped cream — was just plain delicious.

Dinner for four cost $110.69.

The food was skillfully prepared and beautifully presented. The wait staff is enthusiastic and superbly trained.

Pete's Trattoria
111 Breen Ave.
Watertown
782-6640
www.petestrattoria.com
RATING: 4½ forks
Pete's Trattoria

If you weren't paying attention, you may not have noticed that Pete's Restaurant became Pete's Trattoria over Labor Day weekend.

The old Pete's Restaurant had a devoted and loyal following for more than four decades. New chef/owner Geoff Puccia is a Watertown guy, so he understands the regulars' devotion to Pete's and he knows Italian food. He has taken over the place with an eye to keeping some of the old must-haves and introducing the old gang to some new tastes.

For appetizers, you can start in your comfort zone with Utica greens, half hots or a Caesar salad, or get a little more adventurous with roasted beet bruschetta, truffle fries or maple bacon Dijon scallops.

Same with the entrees: chicken riggies, manicotti or chicken Parmesan, or push the envelope a bit with pumpkin- and mascarpone-stuffed ravioli in brown butter sage sauce, prosciutto-wrapped shrimp served with butternut squash risotto, chicken breast stuffed with mozzarella, capicola and broccoli, or slow-roasted pork osso buco.

Geoff's half hots ($7) are made with large, locally grown Hungarian wax peppers filled with ground beef, rice and pecorino Romano, baked and served with a generous ladle of homemade marinara.

Maple bacon Dijon scallops ($9) were perfectly cooked, the bacon uniformly crisp, the maple Dijon cream sauce adding a touch of sweetness.

Frankie's marrow plate ($8) was an adventure. Three huge beef bones that would make a dog jealous arrived on a platter over an insanely flavorful reduction of beef stock. Parsley and pecorino were sprinkled over everything.

Beef short ribs ($23) was great comfort food. Put the fork-tender meat and the bones and the dark gravy over rich and tasty Gorgonzola mashed potatoes … it doesn't get any better than this.

The most unusual presentation was the stuffed squash entrée ($15). The end of a roasted butternut squash was lopped off, hollowed out, turned on its side to form a bowl and filled with butternut squash risotto.

Geoff's version of chicken saltimbocca ($17) rolls boneless chicken breast around prosciutto, cheese and sage, then sets if over homemade pasta aglio olio.

Sicilian cod ($20) was flawlessly cooked fish crusted with rosemary, basil, anchovy and lemon-zested breadcrumbs and capped with kalamata olive halves.

Desserts were prepared with as much skill and attention as the main dishes. The cannoli ($4) was great. White chocolate torte ($5) was a very dense, moist white cake with raspberries. Banana cream pie ($5) was fine, but our favorite was the lemon cheesecake ($5), a dense and delicious wedge about two inches high with a brown, crusty exterior.

Dinner for four came to $165.94 before tip.

Alegria Garden Café
2375 Saranac Ave.
Lake Placid
1 (518) 523-0342
http://www.alegriacafe.com/
RATING: 4½ FORKS
Alegria Garden Café

Alegria Garden Café is located in the Summit Hotel (for many years the Ramada Inn). It's a comfortable, open space with seating for about 50 guests. Owner Andrea Faurot's vision is to provide an experience of joy. “Alegria” means “joy” in Portuguese. She has the right location, the right chef and the right attitude.

As for us, we experienced an evening of joy at Alegria Garden Café.

There's a fully stocked 10-seat bar on one wall. A thoughtful, manageable wine list includes a gem in each category.

The menu is designed and executed by executive chef Richard Brosseau. In Lake Placid and the Adirondacks, Richard is somewhat of a celebrity chef. He has left his mark on a number of restaurants over the years — and now, Alegria Garden Café.

There are two dozen choices in all. Here's what we sampled:

The Artichoke Gratin ($5): A play on the classic artichoke dip, a smooth blend of artichoke with toasted slices of baguette for dipping. Parmesan on top was the “gratin.”

The Whipped Ricotta ($5): Ricotta was whipped to the consistency of Marshmallow Fluff (for lack of a better description) and topped with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of fresh thyme and sea salt.

The Tomato Crumble ($6): Tomato confit (slow-roasted tomatoes) with garlic and basil, topped with goat cheese crumbles and baked.

The Beet Carpaccio ($9): Beet instead of the usual beef — this was a salad of paper-thin slices of raw beet topped with arugula and tossed with a delicious citrus vinaigrette, surrounded by several almond-encrusted balls of goat cheese.

The Fondue ($18): Classic cheese fondue with molten Gruyere and Emmentaler cheeses and white wine served in a fondue pot. Bring your friends along for this one after a day on the slopes — it's a great dish to share and there's a lot of it.

The Duck Confit Pizza ($15): A 10-inch pizza shell topped with duck confit, shiitake mushrooms, scallions, ginger and hoisin sauce.

The Scallop ($15): Two colossal pan-seared scallops perched on a bed of creamy chorizo sausage and potato hash, drizzled with saffron aioli.

The Pork Cheeks ($25): Pork cheeks are considered a delicacy. Slow braising tenderizes and produces a robust and complex sauce.

The Piri Piri Chicken ($24): Piri piri is Portuguese chili. In this preparation, the chicken is marinated in chili sauce, grilled and served over ranch fries.

Lemon-olive oil gelato with hazelnut meringue cookies ($9): Outstanding! Scoops of delicatehomemade lemon gelato shingled between thin hazelnut meringue cookies, drizzled with olive oil.

Almond cake with buttermilk ice cream ($9): A warm, moist and rich almond cake with creamy buttermilk ice cream.

Dinner for four came to $185.11.

Moon Thai & Japanese Cuisine
25 Second St. E.
Cornwall, Ontario
1 (613) 932-4700
www.mooncuisine.ca
RATING: 4½ FORKS
Moon Thai & Japanese Cuisine

There's a large sign in Moon's window touting the all-you-can-eat buffet. We had heard that their buffet is different. Very different.

There are two menus, one for the food we viewed online and one for the buffet — a little overwhelming.

Each of the more than 100 items on the buffet menu is made to order.

We knew when the pumpkin tempura arrived along with several maki rolls we were in for something special. Slices of ripe pumpkin were battered and lightly fried — truly delicious.

Snow dragon roll (tempura shrimp, cucumber, avocado, tobiko, topped with salmon) and golden dragon roll (the same, but topped with raw salmon) were absolutely spectacular. These were obviously prepared to order with presentation second to none.

Thai lemongrass soup (chicken broth, lemongrass stalks, straw mushrooms, chilis, cilantro) was subtle and perfectly balanced.

We ordered wonton soup, a benchmark for one of our team. He proclaimed the wontons “awesome — probably in the top 10 I've ever eaten.”

A cold mango roll (mango and vegetables wrapped in soft rice paper with hoisin) and a cold beef roll (barbecued beef, basil and bean sprouts wrapped in soft rice paper) were excellent, bursting with fresh flavors.

Hot and sour soup (tofu, bamboo shoots, black mushrooms, egg, Thai chili, chicken stock) was tasty, with just enough heat.

Soft shell crab tempura was served over a bed of artistically chopped cucumber tossed with a light vinaigrette, with ponzu sauce.

Shiitake mushroom sauté contained plentiful yummy mushrooms sautéed in a slightly thickened garlic butter sauce.

The mango salad was plentiful as well, shoestringed mango tossed with sweet peppers and onions, mint leaves, coriander, shallots and lime juice.

Salmon sushi pizza was a “crust” of deep-fried, flattened rice patty topped with raw salmon, tobiko and green onion in a spicy sauce.

Red snapper sashimi was as fresh as could be.

We enjoyed the tobiko sushi, nori wrapped around rice with bright red beads of fish roe on top.

Thai spicy noodles (flat rice noodles stir-fried with sweet peppers, basil leaves, garlic and fresh chili) was spicy, but not overly.

Ginger beef (sliced beef, spring onions, black oyster mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, Thai sauce) was quite tasty, maybe a little light on ginger for some.

Beef in thick curry peanut sauce (sliced beef in a sauce of coconut milk, peanut sauce, red curry, tamarind and kaffir lime leaves) was bold and perfectly spiced.

Ginger seafood consisted of shrimp and calamari with assorted veggies and a flavorful sauce.

Dinner cost $119.61 in Canadian funds, including $13 in Canadian taxes.

We found Moon to be a wonderful restaurant and agreed we'd be there once a week if it was nearer.

The Paddock Club
1 Public Square
(in the Paddock Arcade)
Watertown
786-6633
www.paddockclubusa.com
RATING: 4 forks
The Paddock Club

In the historic Paddock Arcade just off Watertown's Public Square, the Paddock Club — proudly self-proclaimed as the area's only martini bar — is now serving food, filling a niche in downtown Watertown.

It's hard to escape the spirit of the place as a bar. Of the six panels on the menu, four of them list drinks — 80 kinds of martinis, eight beers on tap, 40 bottled beers, wine choices as well as all the popular liquors. The other two pages are devoted to their new tapas-like food format — more than a dozen made-from-scratch small-plate appetizers, a half dozen imaginative flatbreads as well as create-your-own traditional pizzas with a selection of 15 toppings.

Here's what we tried:

Panko-crusted goat cheese ($7.99): A wheel of goat cheese coated with coarse panko breadcrumbs, lightly fried and served with pita wedges and pomegranate sauce proved to be a substantial starter and one of our favorites.

Paddock skins ($6.99): Italian seasoned tomatoes, cheese sauce, fresh-cooked bacon pieces and shallots drizzled with peppered ranch dressing.

Coconut shrimp ($7.99): Five shrimp, hand-breaded and dipped in fresh coconut, fried to a golden brown and served with sweet-and-sour orange marmalade.

Queen Anne fried olives ($6.99): Two skewers of breaded, deep-fried olives, served with a pepper ranch sauce. Fun and different.

Mushroom risotto fritters ($7.99): A mix of mushrooms folded into risotto, stuffed with Fontina cheese, rolled into balls, breaded and baked, served in a pool of spicy tomato sauce.

Bruschetta ($7.99): French bread crostini topped with seasoned tomatoes, bacon and feta, draped with a leaf of arugula touched with balsamic vinegar

There are five flatbreads. We tried one with roasted cherry tomatoes and portobello mushrooms. This was an excellent treat, the flavor of the tomatoes intensified by roasting and the surprise of little blobs of chive cream cheese spread that added an interesting texture and taste.

When we visited, desserts were commercially made and of good quality.

Mango-guava cheesecake ($6.50), presented in a tall martini glass, was light and tasty. Chocolate cheesecake ($6.75) was a three-layer confection covered in chocolate ganache.

Food for five came to $82.43.

Vino Vidi Vici
160 Harte Haven Plaza
Massena
769-5050
www.vinovv.com
RATING: 4 forks
Vino Vidi Vici

We would classify the food at Vino Vidi Vici as upscale casual Italian: appetizers, salads, soups, specialty pizzas, pasta dishes and a handful of meat entrees.

For appetizers, we chose the risotto cake ($10), the Mozzarella block ($8), the pear and Gorgonzola salad ($10) and the small pesto pizza ($13).

The risotto cake consisted of a large puck of the starchy rice combined with butternut squash and pieces of scallop, coated with panko breadcrumbs, lightly deep-fried, topped with large shrimp and finished with a swipe of Alfredo.

The deep-fried mozzarella was a block of fresh mozzarella coated with crunchy panko and deep-fried to perfection. It was splashed with a very nice house-made marinara sauce.

The pear and Gorgonzola salad was a pleasing mix of fresh local greens, roasted red peppers, walnuts, candied pears and Gorgonzola.

The pesto pizza was a highlight — perfectly cooked, great crust, generous toppings (sun-dried tomatoes, portobello mushrooms, basil pesto and melted mozzarella).

The chicken Marsala ($15) consisted of two large, tender breasts of chicken smothered in a rich, deep brown Marsala demi-glace loaded with mushrooms.

The Mediterranean ($19) was awesome, a generous portion of linguini loaded with snappy shrimp, tender calamari and huge melt-in-your-mouth scallops sautéed with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and spinach.

The carbonara ($15) is a classic Italian pasta dish. Finely diced pancetta, peas and portobello mushrooms are sautéed with olive oil and tossed with fettuccini, then finished with a made-to-order heavy cream/egg/Parmesan cheese sauce.

Finally, we tried the ravioli with ratatouille and goat cheese ($15). The ratatouille-stuffed ravioli was fanned out on the plate with the goat cheese melted in the center, all bathed in a pretty blush basil crème sauce.

The cheesecake was excellent. The perfectly dense slice easily stood two inches high on a buttery graham cracker crust and topped with a drizzle of caramel. The flan was the light custard we expected. The Italian cream cake was a giant slice. The cannoli was decent, a commercial shell filled with their own sugary ricotta cheese mix.

Dinner for four came to $174.35.

Cavallario's Cucina
133 N. Massey St.
Watertown
788-9744
www.cavallarios.com
RATING: 4 forks
Cavallario's Cucina

Just when you thought the art of fine dining was a thing of the past, Cavallario's Cucina has gone the extra mile to prove otherwise.

Cavallario's just celebrated its 15th year in business. Owners Peter and Brenda Cavallario closed their restaurant temporarily in March to reflect on the past and renew their focus for the future. Today, you'll find a dozen new competitively priced dishes on the menu, an expanded wine selection, as well as upgrades to the bar and dining areas.

Bloody Mary steamed clams ($12) was a bowlful of top neck clams steamed in a spicy tomato juice and vodka broth.

Stuffed mushrooms Italiano ($10) were very good, five large caps stuffed with a mixture of sausage, sweet peppers, onions, cheese and breadcrumbs, awash with Cavallario's pomodoro (tomato) sauce.

Calamari Diablo($11) was a lovely departure from the routine rings. It's calamari “steak,” the solid body of a large squid cut into strips, deep-fried with a crispy coating providing a perfect foil for a delightfully spicy sun-dried tomato and garlic aioli.

Panzanella Tuscan bread salad ($11) showcased grilled yellow squash, zucchini, sweet peppers, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives and crumbly blue cheese together with crusty bread, tossed with a robust balsamic vinaigrette.

Mediterranean-style rosemary lemon chicken ($17) was a flavor bonanza — a sauce redolent with intense lemon, luscious with rosemary and garlic with hints of wine and olive oil over a bed of wilted greens.

Neapolitan manicotti ($17) was Cucina-made crepes filled with cheese as well as sautéed sausage, peppers and onions.

Gorgonzola sirloin salad ($20) consisted of perfectly sautéed tenderloin tips on spring greens, dressed with a warm Gorgonzola mushroom cream sauce, garnished with caramelized onions and grilled tomatoes and finished with a drizzle of aged balsamic reduction.

Italian luscious lemon cake ($5) was a three-layer confection, an impressive walnut crust, a layer of creaminess in the center, finished off with a bright yellow lemon custard on top. Cappucino cheesecake ($6.50) was flavorful and complex. Notes of cinnamon embellished the coffee-nuanced cream cheese.

Dinner for four cost $155.96.

Eight Zero Zero
800 Cumberland St.
Cornwall, Ontario
(613) 936-0322
www.eightzerozero.ca
RATING: 4 forks
Eight Zero Zero

Over the border in Cornwall, just a few minutes past the Canadian customs checkpoint, there's a new restaurant with an unusual name and an aura of sophistication: Eight Zero Zero, with the subtitle of fine dining.

The tasteful, contemporary interior creates an ambience that's bright, friendly and welcoming.

The menu will appeal not only to foodies but to anyone looking for an accessible, upscale dining experience.

For appetizers, we ordered steamed mussels ($10), shrimp Pernod ($12), seafood bisque ($10) and escargot ($9).

A huge bowl of steamed mussels was covered with a rich, thick tomato sauce with good flavor and well-balanced herbs.

The chef's shrimp preparation incorporated shrimp in a delicious, thick cream sauce with traces of shallot and minced tomato and just the right amount of Pernod.

The thick, chunky and filling seafood bisque contained scallops, shrimp and crabmeat in a base of tomato and cream.

The escargot dish came au gratin with blue cheese. The snails were plentiful but small. The creamy sauce, for having pungent blue cheese in it, was on the bland side.

Seafood Puttanesca ($24) combined mussels, scallops and shrimp along with kalamata olives and capers in a tomato sauce.

The signature Eight Zero Zero steak pasta ($24) featured grilled beef tenderloin, wild mushrooms, spinach, tomato concasse and linguini in a red wine and blue cheese cream sauce. It was superb, a lot like beef Bourguignon in a stroganoff-like gravy served with linguine rather than egg noodles.

Filet au Shroom Gratinée ($34) was an 8-ounce filet mignon topped with a thin layer of cooked-down wild mushrooms glued to the meat with melted Gruyere.

Four of us shared two desserts, crème brulée ($6.95) and chocolate lava cake ($6.95).

The brulée was served in a broad, shallow, scalloped dish, allowing more surface area for the caramelized sugar glaze. The chocolate lava cake was a nice twist on standard lava cake, with a molten white chocolate center that oozed out as you cut into the dark chocolate exterior.

Dinner for four cost $174.90.

Resturante de Ricardo
at America's Best Value hotel
1196 Arsenal St.
Watertown
RATING: 4 forks
Resturante de Ricardo

While Resturante de Ricardois attached to a hotel, the food is far from what we associate with “hotel food.” It was first-rate.

We shared three appetizers: Utica greens ($8.95), shrimp ala casa ($8.95) and flatbread pizza ($7.95).

The Utica greens were nicely done: escarole sautéed with garlic, sweet and hot peppers and prosciutto and finished with seasoned breadcrumbs and grated cheese.

The shrimp were noticeably small, served in a bath of garlic and olive oil. The garlic oil left behind was perfect for dunking the great crusty bread supplied on the table.

Ricardo's offers just one flatbread, spinach and artichoke. It's made with tomatoes, roasted garlic, olive oil, fresh basil, spinach, artichoke and mozzarella, and finished with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Haddock Oreganata ($12.95) was a nice piece of fresh fish topped with seasoned, buttered breadcrumbs and dried oregano. The fish was baked in a lovely sauce of butter, white wine and lemon.

We ordered a side of gnocchi with house specialty sauce — tomatoes, garlic, basil, butter and white wine. The gnocchi were good, but the sauce — excellent!

Chicken Piedmontese ($12.95) consisted of a large boneless breast of chicken topped with a generous amount of prosciutto then dipped in an egg wash and sautéed in butter, garlic and parsley, finished with chicken stock.

Frutti di Mare ($16.95) was a bowlful of shrimp, scallops, clams, garlic, basil, sun-dried tomatoes, white wine, butter and tomato sauce tossed with imported linguini. This was excellent.

Ricardo's pork tenderloin ($12.95) was a great one, wrapped with smoked bacon, skillet-seared, then baked and finished with a wine reduction.

For dessert, we shared miniature cannolis and a dish of spumoni, both perfectly acceptable commerciallymade confections.

Dinner for four cost $107.33.

The restaurant is not affiliated with Riccardo's Market, the Italian take-out place on Holcomb Street.

Gill House Restaurant
13565 Route 123
Henderson Harbor
938-9200
www.gillhouseinn.com
RATING: 4 forks
Gill House Restaurant

Although it has not operated continuously, the Gill House has been a fixture in Henderson Harbor for more than a century.

It has a charming exterior that looks like something from a Norman Rockwell painting. Inside, there's a small, cozy bar and a large dining room split into several seating areas with windows facing the lake, allowing for views of gorgeous summer sunsets.

The menu offers some new and exotic items along with some Gill House favorites from the past.

Thai mussels ($10) was a star appetizer. A generous two dozen small, plump mussels were presented in a delicious spicy red coconut broth with small pieces of baby bok choy.

Asian pot stickers ($9) — small dumplings made from won ton skins — did not disappoint. The pork filling was very tasty and nicely spiced.

Tomato basil soup ($3 a cup) was thick with tomatoes and sweet peppers, almost like a ratatouille or a thick, warm gazpacho.

The New York Almond Company salad ($10) consisted of garden greens, sliced apples, chunks of mild cheddar and cinnamon-and-vanilla-roasted almonds tossed with house-made cider maple vinaigrette and topped with flavorful grilled chicken slices.

Bam Bam shrimp ($23) consisted of jumbo tempura-battered tiger shrimp arranged in a tilted bowl with Asian noodles spilling out of the bowl and onto the plate underneath. Orange “Bam Bam” sauce (rice wine vinegar, hot sauce, sugar, garlic, mayo) was drizzled over the shrimp.

Bubba's Shank ($22), a house specialty, was a winner. A jumbo bone-in, meaty shank was glued upright on the plate with the help of mashed potatoes, covered with Carolina barbecue sauce, topped with deep-fried tumbleweed onions and served with sautéed zucchini and yellow squash.

Perch has always been on the Gill House menu ($21). Several large strips of ocean perch were battered and deep-fried till golden and crispy. The fish was moist. A mildly spicy mayonnaise-based sauce added some zest and interest to the dish.

Heirloom tomato chicken fettuccini ($17) was pasta tossed with multihued heirloom cherry tomatoes and chunks of grilled chicken.

S'mores for two ($7.95) was a hoot. A large wooden lazy Susan held the marshmallows, graham crackers, Hershey chocolate and fondue forks with a little hibachi burner in the middle to toast the marshmallows.

Dinner for four with two desserts came to $178.02

The seasonal restaurant closed in late September and will reopen in May.

Thousand Islands Club
21952 Club Drive
Wellesley Island
482-9999
www.thousandislandsclub.com
RATING: 4 forks
Thousand Islands Club

The Thousand Islands Club restaurant's new owners, Mike and Julie Chavoustie, have hired an experienced chef to run the kitchen and execute a totally new menu. At the same time, the expansive property has undergone a million-dollar transformation, restoring it to its luster of yesteryear.

We began with appetizers, including an appetizer-sized salad and a chilled soup.

Gruyere and tomato casserole ($9) was excellent. Soft, white beans were mixed with heirloom tomatoes, basil, roasted garlic and kalamata olives, baked with a breadcrumb topping and garnished with a large, round Gruyere cheese crisp.

Calamari steak ($12) is a slab of center-cut meat from a large squid, pounded, breaded, fried in butter and olive oil, finished with Asiago cheese and sauced with marinara.

Adult mac and cheese ($13) was very tasty, a nice combination of noodles, River Rat cheddar and lobster meat. A touch of white truffle oil added a unique taste.

We loved the gazpacho ($5), a chilled puree of tomatoes, sweet peppers, onions and garlic with a bit of a kick, served in a margarita glass, the rim decorated with minced parsley and a chilled shrimp hanging from it.

Compressed watermelon salad ($6), slightly frozen cubes of bright red compressed watermelon, were set over a bed of arugula, touched with vinaigrette and garnished with goat cheese and thin slices of red onion.

We shared a Margherita flatbread ($12), fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil baked with a thin, crispy crust, finished with Parmesan.

Colorado lamb rack ($34) was excellent, with a crispy Dijon-hazelnut crust, a framboise demi-glace with fresh raspberries, Anna potatoes (similar to scalloped potatoes) and fresh vegetables.

Pancetta-wrapped filet mignon ($31) was a lovely piece of beef tenderloin, served with a Cabernet reduction, parsnip puree and the same great, buttery Anna potatoes.

The shrimp and scallop entrée ($27) was large shrimp and plump scallops pan-seared along with lentils, Asian vegetables and candied walnuts, finished with soy cream and served with “forbidden” rice.

Grilled ahi tuna ($29) was served rare. The beautiful piece of fish was quickly seared and served over a bed of white beans, capers, olives, red onion, cherry peppers, fennel and arugula.

Lobster ravioli ($22) consisted of large, house-made ravioli filled with lobster and scallops, served with a Cognac lobster sauce and garnished with chives and crispy leeks.

Dessert “shooters” was an assortment of three-bite desserts served in oversized shot glasses. The peanut butter shooter was good. The tart rhubarb pie shooter was even better, and how could you not like the one made with velvety chocolate mousse?

We also tried the key lime pie ($6) which was excellent, an authentic recipe straight from the Florida Keys made with a graham cracker crust and topped with raspberries.

Dinner for five came to $231.66.

Channelside Café
506 Riverside Drive
Clayton
686-2940
RATING: 4 forks
Channelside Café

There's nothing better than a good dinner on a comfortable deck overlooking the beautiful St. Lawrence River on a perfect summer evening. That's what we experienced at the Channelside, formerly the Riverside Café, whose new owners have modernized and lightened up the interior.

A Margherita flatbread pizza ($8) on an extremely thin crust was made with fresh tomatoes and basil along with melted mozzarella.

Deep-fried cheese curd ($8) was made with local River Rat cheese. It was beer-battered, light and crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.

We got a pear and goat cheese salad ($10) to share: mixed greens with crumbled goat cheese, sliced pears, mandarin oranges and candied walnuts tossed with poppyseed vinaigrette.

Truffle fries ($9) are kind of trendy, a plate of french fries splashed withwhite truffle oil, tossed with grated Parm and some sea salt.

Arancini ($7) are deep-fried rice balls. The two meatball-sized “stuffed” rice balls (rice and cheese with a few peas, from what we could tell) weren't half bad, breaded and fried till crunchy on the outside, served with “tomato relish,” basically marinara sauce.

Scallops on a creamy polenta cake ($20) was delightful, drizzled with lime aioli and served with fresh asparagus.

Seared tuna ($23) was a healthy 8-to10-ounce portion, sesame crusted, sliced and attractively fanned on the plate. Creamy wasabi and a hoisin/terayaki-like sauce accompanied.

Bone-in frenched pork chop ($22) was a big, fat 16-ounce chop, juicy and flavorful and absolutely delicious.

The salmon filet ($21) was a nice, sizeable piece of fish, lightly dusted with Cajun spices, pan-seared and finished in the oven — crispy on the outside, moist, flaky and flavorful on the inside.

Finally, we absolutely had to get the “St. Lawrence Guides Shore Dinner Experience” ($27) described in the menu as “a three-course river guide tradition. To start, a fatback and onion sandwich served with a river salad (lettuce, tomato, onion and cucumber with 1000 Islands dressing), followed by lightly breaded perch fried in the fatback and served with a bowl of salt potatoes and a half-ear of corn on the cob. We finish with a double-thick slab of fried french toast served with real maple syrup. A shot of Jack Daniels can be added to the top of the toast for a true traditional touch.”

This really is an authentic river guide tradition, we're told. And we must have missed the drum roll for this dinner, but for sheer fun, it deserved one.

Desserts were all made in-house. The rice pudding was exceptional, topped with whipped cream and a dash of cinnamon. Graham cracker Napoleon-like éclair cake was light and not too sweet. The Toll House pie was full of chocolate chips and reminded us of eating cookie dough.

Dinner for five came to $181.19.

The Channelside has a welcoming atmosphere, the food preparation and presentation were noteworthy and the service was no-nonsense and totally competent.

We assume the restaurant has closed for the season since a call to the number above indicated the phone had been disconnected.

Contact Walter Siebel
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: wsiebel@wdt.net">wsiebel@wdt.net
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