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Fine dining the way it used to be

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ALEXANDRIA BAY —After more than a decade, the Jacques Cartier Room at the Riveredge Resort is open once again.

Foodies and fans of fine dining used to flock to the Jacques Cartier Room back in the ’90s. It was a one-of-a-kind restaurant. The food was incomparable. The service was impeccable. The view was impressive.

On the drive to the Bay, I kept thinking… Is this going to be as good as I remember it?

We arrived at the Riveredge at 6:30 on a Monday night. A sign in the lobby directed us to the Jacques Cartier Room. A leisurely stroll from the front to the back of the building and we spotted the elevators.

Luckily I remembered it being on the fourth floor. There was nothing in the elevator to indicate where to get off for the restaurant. In fact, there was no sign anywhere that told you to take the elevator to get to there.

Even more unfortunate, we’d called a few days prior to make reservations and were told by someone that Jacques Cartier wasn’t even open on Mondays, despite a newspaper ad indicating otherwise. We called back later directly to the Jacques Cartier Room and secured our reservation.

The room is beautiful. Floor to ceiling windows line three walls, affording birds-eye views of Boldt Castle as well as downtown’s main drag bustling with tourists. The room is redone and looks sumptuous in royal blue, creams and golds. The tables are attractive: white linen tablecloths overlaid with a blue tablecloths, cloth napkins in the stemmed water glasses, and both white and red wine glasses at each setting.

An open kitchen takes up most of the remaining wall.

We were seated at our windowside table and immediately offered pillows to offset the hard backs of the bentwood chairs. That was a first for me. Our server then removed the napkins from the water glasses and placed them on our laps. Now that I’ve seen done before.

The menu was a lot to take in, not so much for the number of dishes—four appetizers, three salads and nine entrees—but for the descriptions. Layers of flavors and multiple interesting ingredients signaled a restaurant with a creative chef aiming for sophisticated dishes with tantalizing tastes using top-notch ingredients. We were psyched!

But first, a round of wine. Some very nice selections were available by the glass and the bottle.

We sampled a lovely Brancott sauvignon blanc ($8) from New Zealand and a bold Murphy Goode cabernet ($9) from California. The price was right and came with a generous pour.

Peter, our server, was cordial, efficient and informed, and took our orders without an order pad. I marvel at how people can do that and get it right every time.

He sure looked the part, too, outfitted in a long apron with a waist-level pocket full of ballpoint pens and a crisp white shirt. This wasn’t his first fine-dining gig, you could tell. He has worked in some high-end restaurants around the country, he told us later.

With our orders placed, a gift from the kitchen, an amuse bouche, was delivered to each of us. These two-bite treats consisted of chorizo-stuffed crisp phyllo placed over baby spinach and cilantro and a few strips of julienned red and yellow peppers, surrounded by dabs of cilantro aioli. A prelude to what lay ahead.

To get things started, we decided on two appetizers and two salads.

The ahi martini ($13) sounded intriguing: seared tuna, sliced and served in a chilled martini glass with grilled pineapple salsa, fresh cilantro in a sauce of fruit juices, coconut rum, triple sec, orange vodka and wasabi.

Sound busy? It was busy. Maybe a little too busy. The delicate tuna was literally and figuratively drowned out by all the other stuff in the glass. There were so many ingredients in the sauce it just ended up tasting like fruit punch with a punch.

Partially on Peter’s recommendation (“It’s buttery — you’ll like it!”) we ordered the cider-braised leek and crab strudel. However, the white truffle-scented lobster tart ($14) was delivered to the table. Somehow the wrong appetizer got entered into the computer.

So much for taking orders without an order pad. But Peter was quick to offer to correct the error. However, with this wedge of lobster goodness staring us in the face, we decided to stick with the tart.

Again, it was full of stuff: fresh lobster, caramelized onions, sweet red peppers, mascarpone cheese, fresh oregano and garlic, “brulee’d” and topped with white truffle-scented grilled peach chutney and balsamic syrup.

It was good, no doubt about it, and creamy and custard-y. But blindfolded (or not) I don’t think I could identify any of the ingredients on the laundry list except maybe the cheese. And possibly the lobster.

Tableside Caesar ($12) was a must. The maitre’d did the honors, rolling out his cart with all the Caesar salad components and went to town on it.

He muddled the garlic and anchovies in the wooden salad bowl with the back of a fork. (He asked how much garlic we wanted but snuck the little fishies in unnoticed—but we caught it). A squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a dab of Dijon, the yolk of an egg and some EVOO. Mix in some beautiful torn romaine leaves and you’ve got a great salad and a great show to go along with it.

The grilled scallop and arugula salad ($14) was perhaps the best first course. The fork-tender scallops were cooked perfectly, complete with attractive grill marks. They were served over baby arugula with sherry-poached pear slices, candied pecans and smoked blue cheese, finished with a sherry gastrique and Worcestershire syrup.

It was imperative to get a little bit of everything with each bite to savor all the flavors together. This was one tasty salad.

The open kitchen was now in full gear. Christian Ives is the executive chef, a local lad who started his cooking career at the Gran View restaurant just outside Ogdensburg. He spent some time at Emeril’s Restaurant in Orlando, Fla., as well as the Edgewood Resort in Alex Bay. He also works for Clayton’s Coyote Moon Vineyards, where he creates special menus for the private dining room.

While we waited for our entrees, Peter delivered a palate cleanser of lemon-lime sorbet—a delicate swirl in a pretty stemmed glass. Very classy.

Sometimes restaurants impress more with their appetizers than with their entrees, but this was not the case at the new Jacques Cartier.

The black pepper encrusted veal chop ($36) was fantastic, a huge hunk of veal with a bone sticking out of it, grilled and served with a wild mushroom-Boursin cheese risotto and finished with crispy prosciutto-tomato bordelaise.

This was a gorgeous piece of meat, and the risotto was great, too. All the components worked well together.

Lobster and tasso carbonara ($34) was made with plentiful chunks of lobster tail meat and smaller-than-bite-sized cubes of spicy, smoky tasso ham. The silky sauce—just the right amount and right consistency—included wild mushrooms, baby spinach and roasted red peppers, all tossed with corkscrew-shaped cavatappi pasta. Another winner.

Yet another outstanding entrée: brown sugar-chili rubbed duck breast ($30). It was cooked exactly to our liking, medium-rare, sliced and served with (now get this) “roasted beet-whipped Yukon gold mashed potatoes with smoked blue cheese maple butter.”

And if that wasn’t enough, the duck was “topped with candied foie gras and lavender-scented Worcestershire syrup.”

The duck was excellent, the potatoes a dirty cream-colored (must have used yellow beets) mish-mash of flavors — not objectionable, just…busy. And candied foie gras? Even that one stumped our sagacious server. But there it was, a scant teaspoonful of the love-it-or-hate-it fatty goose liver.

Finally, pan-crispy lemon-thyme halibut ($32) with grilled asparagus-jumbo lump crab salad was full of lively flavors, additionally garnished with anisette-infused carrot and herb coulis.

Halfway through enjoying and dissecting the dish, we realized that we hadn’t gotten the entrée we ordered—an Asian-themed sea bass. Too late (and too good) to send it back. We finished it without letting on to Peter that he had entered yet a second food item incorrectly.

The desserts are all “homemade” and priced at $10 each.

Chocolate peanut butter cake was enormous and delicious. A good portion of it went home to be enjoyed the next day.

Mascarpone cheese torte had a nice firm, thick chocolate cookie crust with a tiny mint sprig for a garnish.

A citrus and lavender-infused crème brulee was creamy and yummy with subtle flavors.

For a fitting conclusion to the evening, we brought the maitre’d and his rolling cart back for another tableside treat: bananas Foster ($12). It was a showy and dramatic act of flambéing rum, banana liqueur, brown sugar and sparkly cinnamon. Flames shooting to the ceiling, cinnamon catching fire as though a sparkler had been lit at the table.

The caramelized sauce was poured over sliced bananas that were in turn placed over several scoops of vanilla ice cream. Enough to share, for sure. Enough sugar to make your teeth buzz.

And if the amuse bouche and the sorbet courses weren’t enough, we were left with a final gift from the kitchen, an impressive chocolate-dipped strawberry.

We were also left with the bill. Dinner for four — four starters, four entrees, four desserts and a couple of cups of very nice coffee—came to $249.12 before tip.

For being open less than a month, the Jacques Cartier Room is definitely on the right track. The superb food, the professional service and the elegant ambiance are definitely worth the splurge.

This is fine dining like it used to be, from a bygone era, perhaps. But judging from the number of tables that were occupied on a Monday night—and with little fanfare or publicity—there still are enough people around who understand and appreciate the art of fine dining.

Now all we have to do is get Peter an order pad.

You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: wsiebel@wdt.net.





The Jacques Cartier Room at the Riveredge Resort Hotel

17 Holland St.

Alexandria Bay, N.Y.

482-9917

www.riveredge.com



The restaurant that set the standard for fine dining in Alex Bay is open again.



HOURS: 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Monday. Closing for the season around Columbus Day.

STARTER PICKS: Tableside Caesar, grilled scallop and arugula salad

ENTRÉE PICKS: Black pepper-encrusted veal chop, lobster and tasso carbonara, brown sugar-chili rubbed duck breast

DESSERT PICKS: Tableside bananas Foster, chocolate peanut butter cake

RATING: 4½ forks

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