CHESTERTOWN The air was cool and invigorating, the peace broken only by the occasional passing car, and the view of the little Adirondack lake painterly in its pine tree frame. But all that was window dressing for the main event at the Friends Lake Inn, the food of Chef Matthew Bolton and his staff.
Beverly and I treated ourselves to dinner (and an overnight stay) at the inn for our wedding anniversary, and found ourselves in foodie heaven as we pored intently over the inn’s summer menu and its impressive wine list.
We had reservations for 7:30 p.m. and it wasn’t until around 10 that we dragged ourselves away from the table and headed for our room. Our experience left us sated, if not downright bedazzled, by a gourmet feast served by friendly and attentive staff.
We began our meal with appetizers — Pan-Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras for me ($18) and a Scallop and Lobster Corn Crepe for Beverly ($16). The foie gras (fattened goose liver), which is getting difficult to find in restaurants (it’s outright illegal now in California), was served with a mango and caramelized onion chutney on a sunflower bread crostini. It was exquisite, even though I felt I should be occasionally glancing around to see if the food police were watching or, heaven forbid, a cardiologist.
Friends Lake Inn
WHERE: 963 Friends Lake Road, Chestertown. 494-4751, www.friendslake.com
WHEN: Monday-Thursday 5:30-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 5:30-9:30 p.m.; and Sunday 5-8:30 p.m. Wine bar open Monday-Thursday 4-9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 2-10 p.m.; and Sunday 2-9 p.m.
OTHER INFO: All major credit cards accepted
Beverly’s crepe, which came highly recommended, was delightful — chopped caramelized scallops with pecan and pistachio praline and vanilla bean beurre blanc, all wrapped up in the delicate corn blanket.
Bean and elk soup
I ordered the soup of the day ($8), which turned out to be a thick and delicious white bean and elk potage. I ate it with some of the lovely bread that arrived at our table in a basket at the outset of our meal. Beverly had the Radicchio Salad ($10), crisp radicchio with grapefruit segments, shaved pecorino and crispy bits of prosciutto, a wonderful combination of flavors and textures.
There are eight or so entrees on the summer menu, most of which called to us in one way or another. The prices ranged from $24 for the Chef’s Vegetable Creation du Jour to $36 for Grilled Fillet of Certified Angus Beef with roasted tomato shallot butter over chive and tartufo risotto and summer vegetables.
Beverly loves Steak au Poivre and succumbed to the Friends Lake version an Angus Strip Loin Steak au Poivre served in wild mushroom brandy cream with spinach and quinoa ($34). Her take was that the steak was a bit lean for her taste, but perfectly tender and cooked exactly medium rare as ordered. I had a bite and thought the wild mushroom brandy cream added a touch of richness to the dish.
For my own entree, I selected the Summer Bouillabaisse — a feast of shrimp, Prince Edward Island mussels, sea scallops, red bliss potatoes, corn relish and a vanilla Cajun beurre blanc ($34). It was a symphony of flavors and textures in a generous portion and I savored every bite. The beurre blanc had a nice little bite, perhaps explaining the “Cajun” in its name, and the seafood was all cooked perfectly. It would have been a wonderful meal all by itself.
Besides a variety of bottles of wine available at the inn, you can order it by the glass, and we did so — a pinot grigio for me and a particular good pinot noir for Beverly.
But we weren’t finished yet. Desserts included one of our favorites — Bananas Foster (for two!) — and we ordered it without much debate over the other possibilities like the creme brulee. Part of the attraction of the Bananas Foster was that it was prepared at tableside and it’s a flambe. The young lady who cooked our dessert — sliced bananas in a butter and brown sugar sauce with rum and banana liqueur — confessed to us after the fact that it was the second time she had done the dish, which involves flames dancing over the top of the skillet as the alcohol is burned off.
It was served over vanilla bean ice cream, and it was truly ambrosia. We ate it between sips of coffee and contented little sighs.
Our tab, with tax and tip but excluding the adult beverages, came to $169.38 for what for us was an unforgettable dining experience, and we’re certain we’ll return, perhaps in winter when we can justify lighting the big fireplace that dominated our guest room. (On our way out, we ran into John Phillips, who, with wife Trudy, has run the place for the past nine years, and we commended him for his comfortable accommodations and, more important, his excellent chef.)
The elk meat in my soup du jour came from domestically raised animals, we were told, as did the antelope medallions which you could order as an appetizer with smoked balsamic dressing, mesclun greens and pickled red onions. The elk meat, to me, tasted like a cross between venison and the tender lamb you find in stew.
Before we left for Schenectady, we had breakfast at the inn — Eggs Benedict with maple sausage and scrambled eggs with smoked bacon from Oscar’s Smokehouse and sourdough toast and home fries, as well as fresh fruit and pastries, all for $14 each.
If you visit the inn, note that besides the main dining room and the breakfast room with its view of the lake, there is a wine bar with a friendly barkeep and separate dining menu.