PULASKI — OK, so I'm driving down some godforsaken dirt road along the shore of Lake Ontario on the outskirts of Pulaski. Nice cottages. Dumpy cottages. Is Rainbow Shores, the fine dining restaurant I heard about, down this road somewhere?
Just as we were ready to turn around, there it was — I can't remember if it was the commercial ice machine out front or the big telltale exhaust fan sticking out of the kitchen wall, but I knew we were there.
It didn't look like much from the outside. Or the inside, for that matter. But knowing we were about to dine in a century-old hotel, it was just about what I expected. And I love old places like this, even though I'm sure they're a shadow of their former selves.
But the charm is still there. It was part of an exclusive country club back in the days of Prohibition, a perfect destination for bootlegged booze from Canada.
There's an old bar that probably has lots of stories to tell. A young bartender with lots of new stories to tell. Small dining rooms that appeared to be added on over the years. More like a big welcoming country home than a hotel.
It was another one of those glorious evenings we've been experiencing this summer. Clear skies, 80 degrees, low humidity, little wind.
We headed directly to the patio out back, literally a stone's throw from the water, where century-old oak trees provided welcomed cover from the summer sun.
The real beauty is in the menu: Gorgonzola fondue. Mussels steamed with garlic, curry and white wine. Coquilles St. Jacques. Alaskan king crab legs. Steak au poivre. Three preparations of filet mignon. Three veal dishes. Four chicken preparations. Three pasta dishes.
As soon as the first food hit the table, we knew we were onto something great.
Gorgonzola fondue ($7) was perfect for sharing, and perfect in its own right. A delicate, creamy sauce of warm, melted Gorgonzola (similar to blue cheese) filled the bottom of a shallow bowl. Slices of toasted focaccia surrounded the rim, just touching the fondue.
The focaccia disappeared in a hurry, so we dug into the basket of crusty baguettes on the table to continue the mopping. And, man, was this great bread, all by itself.
We assumed it came from a bakery in Syracuse or Watertown, but our server, Leslie, told us it was made right there. And had we not found the baguettes I believe we would have licked the bowl clean, if no one had been watching.
Five good-sized bacon-wrapped scallops ($9) were cooked perfectly, enhanced with a buttery-tasting maple syrup and mustard sauce. Yum.
Crab cakes ($9) were equally enjoyable, four golf ball-sized crab cakes, crispy on the outside, filled with goodness on the inside. I'll bet they're made with snow crab, rather than lump crabmeat, equally good in my book. Each was topped with a dollop of slightly spicy aioli. Sesame ginger seaweed accompanied, a nice touch.
Soup and salad bar are included with the entrées. I'm not a fan of salad bars, especially in a fine dining restaurant. But we went along with it, walking back into the restaurant to sample the offerings: crab bisque, fresh salad greens, cherry tomatoes, red onion, broccoli florets, cuke slices, croutons, pickled beets — and great salads: pasta, potato, cabbage and a very interesting rice salad. Plus a half-dozen commercial dressings.
It was neat and clean and well organized. The crab bisque was delicious, more like a chowder than a bisque, tomato-based with bits of real crab and carrot and celery visible. The salads were particularly appealing, full of herbs and spices and intriguing flavors. The rice salad had a creaminess to it, bits of mushrooms and scallions throughout.
The entrées were, in the syllables of one of my guests, "FAN-TAS-TIC!"
Veal Alfredo ($21) was an interesting combination of three thin slices of veal, three hefty shrimp, artichoke hearts and green onions, topped with a rich and buttery homemade Alfredo sauce. This was a great creation — a real treat for the taste buds.
Leslie suggested getting it over pasta, but we opted for the red-skinned mashed potatoes and al dente asparagus spears. A nicely-presented plate.
Perched on top of a sautéed portobello mushroom, filet mignon with cognac cream sauce ($23) was done just the way it was ordered — rare! Thank you to the kitchen for paying attention to this often overlooked detail. Juice flowed onto the plate with each swipe of the knife, mixing with the flavorsome cognac sauce. A good portion of meat, too, at least 8 ounces, I'd say.
Coquilles St. Jacques ($23) was traditionally presented, scallops and mushrooms in a wine, cream and cheese sauce, surrounded by a wreath of piped mashed potatoes the restaurant called Duchess potatoes, broiled until barely browned. The scallops were beautifully done, plump and tender. The wine sauce was lacking the distinctive Gruyere cheese flavor characteristic of this dish. Sautéed baby carrots and asparagus accompanied.
A dish unique to Rainbow Shores is chicken Mason ($23), two pieces of fork-tender chicken breast topped with shrimp, scallops and a garlic cream sauce. The shrimp and scallops were cooked absolutely perfectly. The sauce was like a garlicky Hollandaise, but noticeably more salty than the sauce on our other entrées.
People ask me why I don't weigh 300 pounds after eating all this food week after week. It's easy. I just pass the desserts off on my guests and listen to what they have to say. OK, I have a small bite of each ...
Crème brulée was a larger-than-normal portion, silky smooth vanilla custard with that caramelized sugar top finished with a coil of dark chocolate. Real vanilla bean was used, evidenced by the flecks in the bottom of the dish.
Cheesecake, homemade with a chocolate crumb crust, was "creamy and dreamy," according to one person at the table, finished off with a hefty drizzle of tart raspberry coulis.
Brownie sundaes are appearing on many menus these days. Dessert comfort food, I guess. This enormous rendition was served in a parfait glass, brownie buried on the bottom, smothered by two scoops of vanilla ice cream and lots of chocolate syrup, garnished with a small rectangle of brownie protruding from the top.
Homemade coconut sorbet was offered. They'd run out, so Leslie instead brought what she was calling Heath Bar sorbet, a creamy, toffee/mocha/caramel-tasting dessert. If it had cream in it, it couldn't be sorbet. Sherbet, maybe. I would have just called it ice cream, because that's what it tasted like. Whatever it was, it was very good.
Leslie was very pleasant and professional, leaving us alone to our conversations but never too far away to tend to our needs or answer our questions. A seasoned server. She told us that she, along with most of the wait staff and kitchen staff, return to the restaurant year after year.
The only snafu of the evening was the arrival of our entrées before we'd finished our salads. Minor, but noticed by all at the table.
Dinner for four, excluding drinks and tip, came to $150.
More relaxed food is offered for lunch and at the bar. We were there on a Wednesday, wing night — a dozen wings for $5, with a dozen sauces available. Thursday has all-you-can-eat crab legs on the dinner menu.
There's a great selection of wine, both by the bottle and the glass.
We really liked Rainbow Shores. The atmosphere is casual with an upscale summery kick-back feel to it. It's a bit of a trek to get there, but well worth the effort. It's a seasonal restaurant, open from April until sometime in October, so there's still plenty of time to make plans to stop by this fall.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via e-mail: email@example.com.
Rainbow Shores Restaurant
186 Rainbow Shores Road
Fine dining indoors and out directly on the shore of Lake Ontario
HOURS: Monday through Wednesday, dinner from 5 until 9 or 9:30 p.m.
Thursday through Sunday, lunch is also served and begins at 11 a.m. and goes into the dinner time.
APPETIZER PICKS: Gorgonzola fondue; bacon-wrapped scallops with maple syrup and mustard sauce
ENTRÉE PICKS: Filet mignon with cognac cream sauce; veal Alfredo with shrimp and artichoke hearts
DESSERT PICKS: Cheesecake with chocolate crumb crust; brownie sundae
RATING: 4 1/2 Forks