Friday, May 12, 2006

Food Destinations: Seneca Lake, New York State

We interrupt this regularly scheduled recipe blog for the following restaurant rundown. Maki over at I was just really very hungry is hosting a Food Destinations carnival and the following is my entry.

The Finger Lakes are booming. We’ve got the lakes, wineries, forests, waterfalls, farms, arts, crafts venues, and culture, attracting more and more tourists each year. (Really, you haven’t lived until you’ve spent a spring day sailing on one of the lakes, a summer morning swimming beneath a waterfall, or a crisp fall afternoon sipping wine and taking in the color. The winters, however, you should spend in Florida.)

As more and more people visit the region, more and more restaurants are popping up. Some you’ve heard of – the Moosewood Restaurant ring any bells? – but I’d like to highlight some of spots that aren’t as renown; spots that I love. The follwong four spots are all situated around Seneca Lake, the "heart of the Finger Lakes."*

Moving from New York City to a rural area was not easy, but one restaurant got me through those nights of missing great NYC food: Ports Café. With an emphasis on using local ingrediants, Ports is a popular destination featuring entrees ranging from a shrimp boil to smoked spare ribs to a bacon cheddar burger. Not only do they have an extensive menu but each night features numerous (five to ten, I’d guess) additional specials to choose from -- bacon wrapped filet mignon and apple and cheddar topped pork chops make frequent appearances.

I almost always order the Winter Night Salad to start – a combination of mixed greens, apples, dried cranberries, glazed walnuts, and gorgonzola crumbles tossed in a raspberry vinaigrette. Delicious. Two years ago , however, I was fortunate to taste their blueberry red wine (cold) soup, finished with a bit of crème fresh and lemon zest. It was so good that, two years later, I’m still thinking about it. (I’m sure it will be back on the menu, I just haven’t been there when blueberries are in season.)

The one thing Ports doesn’t do so well is desserts. It’s not that they’re bad, but spend your calories elsewhere. In the summer, you won’t have to go far. Adjacent to the restaurant is a burger shack also owned by Ports. They serve great hard and soft ice cream – I recommend the soft-serve vanilla root beer float. (You can get great grilled sandwiches and French fries at the shack, too).

Fox Run Vineyards is home to a wonderful café run by chef Frank Caravita (a very nice acquaintance of ours). The café is a great lunch spot. You can choose from a number of gourmet sandwiches at their deli counter and eat them cold or grilled. Those can be accompanied by a number of Fox Run wines or something lighter: a soda, French lemonade, a fruit spritzer. Add some kettle cooked chips or a cookie (baked daily by Frank – who knew a plain sugar cookie could be so good?) and enjoy your meal inside or, on a nice day, on the deck, overlooking Seneca Lake.

Kyo Asian Bistro recently changed owners and, by all accounts, that’s for the better. The “new” Kyo has a full bar which packs people in but the food and atmosphere keep it from becoming just a watering hole. Girl-drink consumer that I am, I like the KyOto Sake Martini, made of Sake, raspberry wine, peach wine, pineapple and cranberry juice. Kyo recently introduced a “small plates” menu, similar to tapas – a number of choices (Phad Thai noodles, spring rolls, Miso, etc) in tiny, tiny portions to either whet your appetite or create a mini buffet. The big plates are very good as well, especially the Kyo Drunken duck rubbed with “Chinese 5 spices” and served in plum sake sauce with sesame-crusted rice cakes. Their Maki Rolls, sushi and sashimi are also very good. For dessert, I usually order the Banana-Walnut Spring Rolls, which are filled with walnuts, banana and toffee bits, fried, and served with caramel-run sauce and banana ice cream.

My new favorite is Dano’s Heuriger on Seneca. A Heuriger (HOI-rigger) is sort of an upscale Vienneise pub, though it’s not at all formal or stuffy (you can wear blue jeans and a clean polo shirt and fit right in). The space is somehow both elegant and comfortable. Chef Dano Hutnik, his family, and staff work hard to make you feel that you’re their guest whom they want to see satisfied. The kitchen is completely open; when walking in from the parking lot, you can see Dano and his staff buzzing around their immaculate kitchen. As for the wait staff, they’re impeccable. Not only do they cater to your every need, they do so with an easygoing air and smile. Between orders, Dano will come out into the restaurant and say hello to each table, perhaps sharing a joke with his honored guests.

But let’s face it: we’re here for the food. And Dano’s does not disappoint. I have yet to taste anything that wasn’t superb. There are so many wonderful things to eat that I can’t possibly do them all justice here. Shane’s favorite is the weiner schnitzel: tender veal pounded thin, breaded and fried to perfection. All it needs is a squirt of lemon juice and it’s ready to devour. I’m crazy for the red cabbage, horseradish beat salad, and the pork shank. The pork is so tender and succulent that it falls off the bone. It will be gone before you know it. We both love the liptaur, a zippy, salty cheese spread that tastes great on everything, especially the freshly made bread. For dessert, there are many choices but you can’t go wrong with the fruit struedel (the flavors change frequently) or – my personal favorite – the linzer torte, made with a hazelnut crust and vibrantly flavorful raspberry preserves. The pastries are created by Karen Gilman, Dano’s wife, and if you’re bored (though between the food and the gorgeous view of Seneca Lake, I doubt you’ll have time to let your mind wander) you can debate who does a better job in the kitchen.

Dano's Heuriger on Seneca.

If all this sounds good, book yourself into one of the many B&Bs, scout the wine trail and make sure you stop and eat at Ports, Fox Run, Kyo, and Dano's (especially Dano's). Enjoy, and bon appetite.

*Almost everything here calls itself the "heart of the Finger Lakes," so take that with a grain of salt.

Many thanks to Maki for hosting this event!

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