LENOX, Mass. The afternoon sun was bright and warm enough to counter the nip in the air when the matinee of “Satchmo at the Waldorf” let out at Shakespeare & Company, and we were pleased because we had a little exploring to do before the hour of our dinner reservations.
Lenox is a tourist destination, undoubtedly, but it’s also a charming place after Labor Day when the last notes have rung at Tanglewood and the summer crowd has returned to the city. We had no trouble killing time, marveling at the beautiful New England greens and lovely old estates, browsing at an art gallery and a boutique before heading for dinner and then the drive back to Schenectady, which takes 75-90 minutes, depending on your route.
Aurelien Telle, general manager and co-owner of the Alta Restaurant and Wine Bar, welcomed us upon our arrival and checked on us a couple of times as we dined, which is always a nice touch.
Alta Restaurant & Wine Bar
WHERE: 34 Church St., Lenox, Mass. 413-637-0003, altawinebar.com
WHEN: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. (lunch) and 5 to 10 p.m. (dinner)
OTHER INFO: All major credit cards accepted
The restaurant does not have an extensive menu, but it offers some tempting entrees, along with a fine wine list (24 wines are available by the glass) and notably good service. (As we dined, I watched a server-in-training as he waited on guests under the watchful eye of a veteran staff member, and it quickly became clear that the management is exacting in its expectations for customer service.)
You can spend more than $100 on a bottle of French wine at Alta, but we were quite content with more modest potables — a glass of French pinot noir for Beverly and some 10-year-old Talisker single malt for me — $9 each.
We wanted to sample some of the appetizers, all of which sounded good, and Beverly chose the Vegetarian Provencal Tart ($11), an upside-down creation of summer squash, roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions and “Equinox greens.” It was a fine combination of fresh, seasonal veggies with a crispy exterior and flavors greatly enhanced by the roasting and the onions.
I went for the Roasted Beet Salad ($12), which included crumbled goat cheese, walnuts, a mesclun mix and balsamic vinaigrette. It was a good choice, the earthy beets with balsamic highlights contrasting delightfully with the creamy cheese morsels, and the walnuts providing a savory crunch.
Other possibilities for starters were a Tempura Fried Shrimp ($12) with arugula, alfalfa sprouts and wasabi and cucumber dressing, and a Foie Gras Terrine ($15) accompanied by peach and apricot chutney, a sauternes gelée and hazelnuts.
For her entree, Beverly chose the Pan-Seared Idaho Trout ($24). It was served with tarragon-shallot butter and sauteed vegetables, as well as mashed potatoes though she chose to substitute more veggies for the starch and was pleased with her decision.
The trout, delicate and easy to overcook, was “perfectly done,” she said, and I accepted her offer of a taste and agreed with her assessment. Its flesh was tender and flavorful, and it slipped pliantly out of its skin with just the gentlest nudge of the fork.
I chose the Grilled Free-Range Chicken Statler ($23), a lovely roasted breast of chicken with attached wing drummette on the bone. It was served with a preserved lemon and thyme jus, roasted fingerling potatoes and tomatoes and arugula. The menu didn’t say so, the velvety texture of the jus bespoke butter, and I had no quibble with that. Chicken can be boring, but there was nothing ordinary about this dish and I’d order it again in a heartbeat.
We didn’t want wine with our entrees, but the menu suggested that a 2009 Chardonnay from Napa Valley would have been a good choice with mine. Similarly, Beverly’s trout would go well with a French rosé of the same vintage. (It is a wine bar after all, and all the main dishes were paired on the menu with an appropriate wine, though of course you don’t have to order them.)
Other main course choices included Seared Sea Scallops with red pepper coulis, basil pesto, Chinese black rice, arugula and roasted tomatoes, a Pan-Seared Natural Duck Breast with a salty caramel sauce, mashed potatoes and local vegetables. You can get a strip steak with hand-cut fries too and a roasted pork chop with mojo sauce and mashed.
The Tomato Fennel Linguini, accompanied by artichokes, Kalamata olives, roasted tomatoes, arugula and caramelized onion, can be a vegetarian dish or you can add chicken, scallops, shrimp or salmon.
If you visit Alta for lunch, you’ll choose among salads, paninis, wraps, quesadillas and burgers, or the omelet of the day, among other possibilities.
The restaurant, which has dining on the porch as well as inside, is pleasant in design and decor, and the acoustics are such that you can have a conversation without obtruding on your neighbor, a quality I appreciate.
Our tab, with tax and tip for Arielle, our expert server, came to $107.88, for appetizers, entrees, coffee for me and an espresso for Beverly and a shared dessert du jour — New York-style cheesecake with fruit coulis and whipped cream.
Alta has a decidedly Mediterranean flavor, and little wonder. Telle, the general manager and co-owner, came to the United States after studying hotel and restaurant management in Thonon-les-Bains in France. He and his two partners opened Alta in 2007. Benjamin Daire, the executive chef, is also a native of France and came to Alta in October 2011. Alta has a sister restaurant in Lenox, a bistro called the Church Street Cafe.