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Small Ontario town offers a fine-dining destination


OXFORD MILLS, Ontario — Get your GPS out, we're crossing the border at Ogdensburg and heading for Brigadoon Restaurant in Oxford Mills.

Half kidding; half serious. We set out with some pretty good directions to this out-of-the-way fine dining restaurant in Canada and still had trouble finding it. Missed the turn right after the exit on 416. Took some dirt road in the general direction of Oxford Mills and finally stumbled on the historic, old-time restaurant in this quaint little town.

We'd heard the food was good. Pretty fancy, worth the drive.

Even though it was dark, our first impression was a good one: a classy old stone building on a corner in a town with barely two corners. It was tastefully decorated to the hilt — inside and out — for the holidays.

Stepping inside, you feel as if you're stepping back in time. The building, built in 1853, was once a general store and post office. The dining room really feels like an old general store. Floor-to-ceiling shelves, once stocked with necessities, are now filled with old bottles and plates, books and magazines and other assorted tchotchkes.

The bar (a service bar only) is fashioned from original store counters. The tables are handmade from pine planks that used to be stair treads to the second floor.

While the place definitely has an old feel to it, the menu is a mix of classic and creative cuisine. Escargot. Lobster and avocado mousse. Seafood Newburg. Warm brie, bacon and mushroom salad. Prime rib. Salmon. Duck. Sea bass. Chicken. Wild boar.

Back in the day, our waiter could have been the store proprietor or the postmaster, soft-spoken, well seasoned and on top of his game. He was quick to make recommendations and knew the menu inside and out.

We began with three appetizers: wild mushroom puffs ($10.95) and tomato with brie and pesto ($8.95) — and we just had to have the lobster and avocado mousse ($10.95). All were quite good and artistically presented — almost too pretty to break into.

The mushroom puffs were dainty and delicate, four small puff pastry cups filled with sautéed wild mushrooms finished with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. A lovely salad of watercress and lightly pickled shaved fennel served as a centerpiece and offered a palate-cleansing crunch.

Sliced tomatoes were carefully placed over a bed of pesto, then topped with a very thin coating of brie and quickly broiled. Despite the tomatoes having that unavoidable midwinter less-than-farm-fresh look to them, this just-warm appetizer was full of vibrant flavors that transported us back to a sunny day in August. Toast made from pieces of baguette sliced lengthwise accompanied.

The mousse — described by Bruce, our capable server, as "like a paté" — was very, very good. A silver dollar-sized disc consisted of two layers, the light green avocado mousse and the pinkish lobster mousse, decorated with pea shoots on top and accompanied by wafer-thin crostini.

Except for a glass of Pinot Grigio ($9.95), we didn't partake of the well-tailored, extensive wine list with selections from Argentina, Australia, Italy, Spain, France, New Zealand, Chile and California. It was interesting to note that no Canadian wines were offered.

It was difficult, but we narrowed down our dinner choices to the duck, sea bass, a chicken dish — and how could we not get the wild boar? Like the appetizers, all were artfully arranged on the plates and generally very good.

Thinly sliced local duck breast ($28.95) was an ample serving, with a nice ladle of black currant cassis jus helping to moisten the quite lean meat. We were expecting something a little nicer from a farm-raised bird. Unfortunately, we had to deal with a certain degree of chewiness.

On-the-bone boar ($29.95), the wild ancestor of the domestic pig, was not your average pork chop. It definitely required the services of the serrated steak knife that came with it. There was an additional piece of off-the-bone meat that was a little more tender, but all in all, it would have benefited by being braised rather than grilled. A shiitake/port sauce was tasty, although noticeably light on the distinctly flavored mushroom.

Both the duck and the boar came with a brick of sweet potato and spinach, tasty and different. Roasted baby carrots, asparagus and jicama were great. For most of us at the table, it was the first taste of jicama, a root vegetable with a sweet, nutty flavor. We each vowed that we were going to buy that intimidating-looking vegetable next time we saw it and cook it up at home.

Chilean sea bass ($28.95) was a nicely cooked filet placed over a bed of sautéed vegetables and topped with a slightly spicy Bombay chutney. Rather than jasmine rice that usually comes with it, Bruce arranged for us to substitute roasted red pepper risotto that came with another dish on the menu. While it didn't have the appearance we expected, it had lots of roasted red pepper flavor.

As it turned out, the entrée we liked best was chicken Drambuie ($22.95). A pounded chicken breast was rolled around capicola ham and smoked Gruyere cheese, sliced into rounds and served with a smooth and creamy sauce with just a hint of Drambuie liqueur. The tender, moist chicken was served atop a combination of regular and spinach fettuccini, which was nicely al dente.

Desserts were all good and all nicely presented, priced at $9.95 each. Tough to pick a favorite.

Bumbleberry pie was a blend of blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and perhaps more. Warm caramel sauce was a great alternative to ice cream on a chilly early winter evening.

Trifle was fresh and delicious, layers with fruit, custard, cream and sauces. However, the sherry-soaked sponge cake wasn't sherry soaked, and that made an unfortunate difference.

"Chocolate Glory" was indeed glorious, a pie-like wedge with three layers of chocolate: French chocolate, white Lindt mousse and dark Lindt mousse crowned with home rum truffles. It was light, not too sweet, a nice mix of chocolates and textures.

Finally, an extraordinary banana strawberry phyllo. The menu description is all you need to know: "Crisp phyllo pastry baked with pecan crumbs, layered with crème brulée, topped with brandy flambéed bananas and strawberries."

Dinner for four came to $186 before Canadian taxes were applied ($26) and tip was added. Drinks were additional as well. The Canadian dollar is just about even with our dollar right now.

The Brigadoon is a destination dining place. The historic building is beautiful, warm and cozy, even more so this time of year.

Our waiter offered impeccable service, balancing four dinner plates with ease, always placing each dish in front of the proper recipient. He kept our water glasses filled, quietly replaced silverware as needed and graciously answered questions and offered information.

If you plan a visit to Brigadoon, we recommend checking directions closely in advance, before you find yourself wandering the countryside of Leeds-Grenville like we did.

You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via e-mail:

Brigadoon Restaurant

11 Bridge St.

Oxford Mills, Ontario

1 (613) 258-4433

Fine dining in a historic atmosphere in the quaint village of Oxford Mills, Ontario.

HOURS: Lunch and dinner are served all day every day except Dec. 25 and 26. They'll also be closed Jan. 1-13.

APPETIZER PICKS: Lobster and avocado mousse, tomato with brie and pesto.

ENTRÉE PICKS: Chicken Drambuie, sea bass.

DESSERT PICKS: Chocolate Glory, banana strawberry phyllo.


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