BRASHER FALLS Erins Isle, a popular restaurant and bar in this small St. Lawrence county village, has a new owner and a new name.
Riverview Bar & Restaurant officially opened in March after a quiet transition over the winter. Young owner David Seguin has given the restaurant a bit of an Adirondack feel by adding outdoorsy stuff to the walls old snowshoes, skis, ski poles and the like. Theres even a real canoe perched on top of the restaurants free-standing sign out front.
Other than that, the Riverview has the same basic footprint as Erins: a cozy bar area, a spacious, open dining room and a large, covered outdoor patio next to the rushing St. Regis River for parties and live entertainment in the summertime.
We began our evening in the bar. Good move on Davids part, specifically putting bar in the restaurants name. It had always been a busy place for locals to gather, and a recent Wednesday night when we visited was no exception.
The standing-room-only crowd was there for wing night. You could tell it and smell it as soon as you walked in the door. The bartender, a friendly fixture in that capacity for many years there, made immediate eye contact with the out-of-town newbies. We had drinks in our hands before we could even take our coats off.
At the same time, David walked up a few steps from the dining area to greet us, asking us if we were there for dinner. A smiling waitress bustling by said hi to us as well. But the local ambiance at the bar snagged us for a minute. We got to chat with some regulars who didnt seem to care that the place had changed hands.
C.K. Mondavi is the house wine, and its pretty good stuff for $4.50 a glass. Two Chardonnays, a top-shelf mixed drink and a sweet, blue-colored margarita that could have used a bit more tequila (we got that because it looked like the drink of choice around the bar), all fit into a $20 bill with change leftover.
Eventually, we flagged David down and he seated us in the dining room, and we were soon greeted by the highlight of the eveningour server, Melissa.
The menu offers a wide varietyappetizers, salads, chicken, burgers, steaks, seafood, desserts and the specialty of the house, smoked meats, which actually turned out to be barbecuebrisket, pork and ribs.
We started with loaded nachos($7.95) and took advantage of the pulled pork add-on for an additional $3.
The nachos were typical fare, served on a large pizza traybagged chips, a good amount of premade kidney bean chili, fresh jalapeno slices and not enough cheese. We had to look very hard for the pulled pork. The whole mess was flashed under the broiler and became fused to the pizza pan.
It came with sour cream and chunky house-made salsa that had some unbelievable hot spots in it, more heat than an average jalapeno should dish out.
House-made potato chips ($2.25) came in a huge mixing bowl. Unfortunately, only about half of them were crispy; the rest were soggy and a bit greasyas though some had just been deep-fried and added to some that were lying around for awhile. Being in that big mixing bowl may not have done them any favors, either. Ranch dressing was perfect for dipping.
Ironically, we saw the same house-made chips at another restaurant a few days later.
In honor of wing night, we sampled some of the 50-cent wings. For sauces, we chose garlic Parmesan, Cajun and barbecue. Garlic parmesan was the most interesting, the wings doused with garlic butter with grated Parm sprinkled on top.
They were billed as jumbo wings on the menu. We felt they were medium sized at best. Not here, I dont imagine, but some restaurants actually serve smaller (therefore cheaper) wings on wing night.
Entrees are served with vegetable of the moment, choice of potato, and bread and butter. You can order a side salad for an additional $1.95.
The bread was very nice, a warm, crusty ciabatta roll served on a personal bread board. We went for a salad, romaine and iceberg lettuce tossed with grape tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion and croutons. Fresh and good. Balsamic vinaigrette went well with it.
We also tried a bowl of the soup of the moment, ($4.95), sausage Florentine. The soup featured large chunks of flavorless sausage in a not-very-flavorful chicken stock with a few wilted spinach leaves floating about.
A 10-ounce strip steak ($15.95) ordered medium arrived well done but was surprisingly tender and tasty. Roasted red-skin potatoes were a disaster, little cubes of potatoes that looked like hash browns, charred till black and close to inedible.
Even worse was the side of fresh broccoli. Fresh, as opposed to frozen, but about three weeks past its prime. You know how broccoli starts to turn yellow when it gets old? Thats what we got, looking up at us shamefully from its little side dish.
From the pasta section of the menu, we ordered pasta Florentine ($13.95) and went for the shrimp add-on ($4): Roasted red peppers, artichokes and fresh spinach in a white wine sauce over linguine.
The dish arrived with four flavorless boiled shrimp placed on top of a mound (more like a pound) of fettuccini with several strips of canned red pepper, a few traces of artichoke and even less evidence of spinach.
As for the wine sauce, it was like someone poured cheap white wine over the pasta at the endfar from a sauceso the only flavor we tasted was that of acrid wine little (if any) butter, oil, garlic or stock. And even after passing the dish around the table for all to try, the pile of pasta seemed just as big as when it arrived at the table.
Perhaps the best dish was chicken Neapolitan ($14.95), a moist chicken breast with prosciutto and mozzarella in a smooth garlic butter sauce. The chicken was tender and the taste was alive, a pretty good stab at chicken saltimbocca. Real mashed potatoes with standard gravy were fine, as well.
I looked for the prosciutto under the cheese, and eventually found it underneath the piece of chicken, as if someone had forgotten to flip the chicken as it came out of the sauté pan with the prosciutto stuck to it and then put the cheese on top. Oh well, tasted the same, I guess.
Finally, we tried the house specialty, their smoked meats. Melissa collaborated with the kitchen to make a combination platter for us ($14.95) so we could sample the ribs, beef brisquette (sic) and pork that they offer.
The beef brisket had a visible smoke ring and some bark, but it was quite dry. A vinegary steak sauce rescued this tough cut of meat.
We were expecting pulled pork, a barbecue staple, but they served sliced pork slathered in their own yummy house-made barbecue sauce with hints of vinegar, brown sugar and mustard.
The best of the trifecta was the ribsthe meat fell off the bones with very little tug. It was painted with the same zesty barbecue sauce as the pork.
We had asked Melissa for coleslaw, a must with barbecue, but the kitchen sent out the burnt hash browns and bad broccoli instead.
Had it not been for the sauces, we would have been disappointed with the barbecue. The meat really needed more time in the smoker to develop a deeper smoke flavor.
Apple raspberry crisp ($4.95)raspberries and apples topped with oatmeal crisparrived straight from the microwave and scalding hot. Once it cooled, it wasnt bad, but three small scoops of vanilla ice cream served alongside had virtually melted.
New York cheesecake ($5.95), allegedly house-made but looking suspiciously like a commercial product, was quite dense and not overly rich or creamy. It was a tall wedge that certainly looked authentic.
Crème brulee ($4.95) was a must. My friends at the table are pretty good cooks and were anxious to experience what the menu claimed, Prepared right in front of your eyes.
As we figured, it was finished, not prepared, at the table. Owner David emerged from the kitchen with the ramekin of custard in one hand and a big blue propane plumbers torch in the other.
He fired up the torch, a 6-inch flame shooting from the nozzle. A hush fell over the dining room and all eyes turned to our table. Caramelizing the granular sugar on top should have taken about 30 seconds. Instead, David stood next to our table for at least three minutes before finally setting the dessert on our table.
We knew there was a problem here. Either not enough sugar, or the top of the custard was wet when the sugar was applied (you cant caramelize wet sugar with a torch).
After three minutes of intense heat, the custard had turned to pudding. Sweet and flavorful pudding, though, with all the right ingredientsheavy cream, sugar, egg yolks and real vanilla bean, as evidenced by the flecks of bean in the custard/pudding.
Dinner for four, not including drinks and tip, came to $145.93.
The highlight of our night was our server, Melissa, who began last year under the old regime and stayed on with the new one. She guided us through the evening with ease, answering our questions with good humor and a constant smile.
Riverview Bar & Restaurant has the right idea and lots of potential. The staff and the customers give it the good vibe that we always enjoyed at Erins Isle over the years. Now they just need to get a crew in the kitchen that can match the level of competency out front.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Riverview Bar & Restaurant
928 Route 11C
Brasher Falls, N.Y.
Erins Isle has a new owner and a new name.
HOURS: Dinner served 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday
Bar opens at 2 p.m.