I don’t believe that I have ever seen a restaurant so consistently and enthusiastically positively reviewed on TA, particularly a new restaurant. With high expectations, family members and I made a reservation well in advance for an adventure.
The restaurant is located in a row of stores in a “challenged” part of the city. It was easy to find, and parking was plentiful. We were greeted warmly into this long, narrow restaurant, which of necessity has tables fairly close together. We sat at the table closest to the hostess stand, and when I looked to my left I felt like she was sitting with us at the table. Too close for my taste. The kitchen is open, and contained within the dining room, which made it VERY smoky. This dissipated with some time.
We noticed the bartender “muddling” mint, and immediately were in the mood for a mojito. They were well made, refreshing, and reasonably priced. While on the subject of alcohol, the wine list is deep, with both 3 oz. tastes and 5 oz. glasses available in many wines. The bottles are very reasonably priced. It is nice to see so many NY wines on the menu, albeit more whites than reds as would be expected. The beer list is broad and eclectic, filled with microbrews and arranged by state, a nice touch. Many Utica beers are prominently featured.
The menu is extremely complex and thoughtful, two qualities which are appreciated and unusual. There is a huge emphasis on local products, not just produce, but meats and cheeses as well. The menu is somewhat difficult to decipher, with terms such as “broiled Lorenzo” and “fiddleheads” leading to some questions. Fortunately our server was great, ready to answer any questions. She was attentive, and knew the menu extremely well. She readily gave advice on her favorites.
We started with appetizers, specifically the “broiled Lorenzo”, a sheeps’ milk cheese that the waitress honestly and helpfully described as “stinky.” She was correct, but also it was as she described. The chewy pungent cheese was served on a bed of potatoes which did “cushion” the flavor. Delicious tangy cornichons, dark well pickled whole small onions and a wonderful sweet fig chutney accompanied. As with much of the food that evening, it was “delicious and unusual.” The antipasto plate was not ordinary in any sense. Again with emphasis on the local, a wonderful variety of unusual meats and cheeses served on a flat plate with flatbread. Lastly, pan seared scallops served with vinaigrette and most curiously a “scallion and citrus picada”. I have never seen picada on a menu before….I am not sure that this was truly picada, which must contain almonds and bread. It may have been, and if so even more compliments are due. Again, a word such as this on the menu just points to the work, inventiveness and complexity.
It was a very busy night, which was great to see, however the service was slow. Sitting was certainly not unpleasant. Several of the party had steaks, which I thought were strips, however the menu online says hangar. One of my companions complained of some fat, but overall there were positive comments. Most impressively the three steaks were all ordered done to different degrees, and even on this very busy night they were done perfectly. Another of the party had the Moroccan Chicken, done in accordance with the cuisine with raisins, couscous with capers and lemon. The chicken was from a local farm. I had the Arctic char, a wonderful fish which is not served widely enough. The fish was pink/orange and extremely well cooked, tender yet meaty. Again, another testament to this menu, it was served with “starch and vegetable”, however in this case the starch was a quinoa and black currant salad, and the vegetable shallot and hibiscus confit. A wonderful “pea shoot pesto” made the plate more colorful and was great on the mild fish.
I have given you a lot of reasons to love this place …..the small things and touches can be just as important. In this case the menu continued to impress with the dessert and coffee, specifically the three different varieties of brewed coffee, arranged in order of potency. French pressed coffee sometimes sounds better than it is, and in this case the coffee could have been much warmer. The Ethiopian coffee was slightly bitter, in a good way. Strong, and a great way to end the meal, along with….
DESSERT! “Purity” ice cream was served, and it was only later that I found out that this is from Ithaca, “the ice cream of the finger lakes since 1936.” There was a generous serving of vanilla, creamy, however the taste that I had was icy. Very accommodatingly, chocolate sauce was provided to one of the party that is a sundae addict. The cheesecake was again made from local cheese…..it was substantial and creamy, but much too sweet for my taste. The crust was graham cracker with walnuts, sweetened I believe, and the butterscotch Frangelico on top put it over the glycemic top for me. It was not finished. The apricot bread pudding was nothing outstanding…..too dry for my taste. Many other desserts were calling to us….berry sorbet and buttermilk panna cotta were a couple of the tempting selections.
We passed on after dinner drinks, but again, so tempting. When was the last time that you saw “Meade” on a menu? When was “Beowolf” written? Muscat, Madeira….great menu.
We will be back. The two chef owners deserve a LOT of credit. The work and imagination that went into the concept and the execution is obvious and impressive. The commitment to local products is refreshing and admirable. This is a restaurant which is like few that are seen outside of major metropolitan areas. I hope it is recognized, and they prosper. When will the Summer menu be out? ☺