LYONS FALLS River Valley Inn is open again!
After a brief hiatus, this unassuming little restaurant is back in business, serving up a diverse menu that includes burgers, wings and nachos, but also crab-encrusted yellowtail grouper, beef tenderloin medallions and coquilles St. Jacques.
Its a little difficult to find, tucked away on a side road 12 miles south of Lowville. Look for Burdicks Crossing Road and the Valley Brook Drive-In, a good landmark for the turn to the River Valley Inn.
We arrived early on a cold, blustery late winter evening to an empty parking lot. Inside, the dining room and bar area are simple and sparse, but with several upgrades since a previous visit. The bar is now subtly separated from the dining room by a half wall and a set of hanging panels decorated in pastel squares.
We started at the bar in search of adult beverages. Megan was our bartender and half of the husband-and-wife team that owns and operates the restaurant. After she set us up with a round of drinks (a bottle of Saranac Pale Ale as well as Gallo pinot grigio and merlot from small single-serve bottles), we were able to visit with her, learning about the restaurants history, her chef-husbands background and their dozen years of experience in the restaurant/hospitality business around the country.
Chef Andrew joined Megan behind the bar and we talked with him about food, its availability and preparation. Fun for the four foodies on this side of the bar who do their share of cooking at home.
Megan, now acting as hostess, invited us to pick any table in the spacious dining room, tastefully appointed with new wall hangings. We had evaluated the broad and ambitious menu while we were at the bar, so with just a bit of fine tuning, we were ready to get the eating portion of the evening underway, beginning with appetizers.
Calamari ($9.99), hand-breaded and deep-fried to order, was a good place to start. Perhaps the fryer oil was not quite up to temp, resulting in the ringlets of squid being less than crisp on the outside and a little chewy on the inside. It was served with a rather tame horseradish aioli. Nothing special here.
Louisiana crabcake was a different story. We chose the 5-ounce version ($7.99). Theres a 10-ounce one for $12.99.
The crabcake was nicely hand-formed, with an ample amount of lump crabmeat, delicately seasoned to not overwhelm the subtle flavor of the crab and perfectly cooked to a golden brown. No need for improvement here; just plain delicious.
Florida fried gator tail ($11.99) was obviously imported since alligators are hard to find in March in Lewis County, especially with the ground still covered with snow.
These little breaded and deep-fried nuggets were probably dropped off by their restaurant supplier, a commercial freezer-to-fryer product. While none of us really knew how alligator is supposed to taste, we did enjoy the breading and, had we not known we were eating gator, it could probably have been chicken.
Soup du jour was roasted red pepper and Gouda ($5.99/bowl). It was hearty and full-flavored with a rich red tone, and just thick enough to have some real substance without being too heavy. The creamed red pepper base was nicely balanced by the smoky Gouda cheese, making it absolutely yummy on a cold night.
Side salads were included with the entrees, served with a choice of standard bottled dressings as well as house-made Caesar or the house dressing, strawberry pecan vinaigrette.
The salad vegetables were fresh, cold and crisp. Lots of flavor in the strawberry pecan vinaigrette, but a lot of sweetness too, resulting in what seemed like preserves masquerading as salad dressing. Half joking, we thought they should put the vinegar back in the vinaigrette and save the strawberries for dessert.
By contrast, the Caesar dressing was perfect, a solid rendition of the favorite, making for a very satisfying selection.
Warm, delicate and doughy white rolls were served with the salads, standard fare, but very good just the same.
Entrees were chosen from a range of beef, pork, chicken, pasta and seafood dishes.
The RVIs version of osso buco ($18.99) adopted a Far Eastern theme and strayed quite a way from the Milanese classic. It featured a 22-ounce volcano-shaped pork shank, an accepted and affordable substitute for the classic veal shank.
It was plated to appeal to the eye, sauced with a Japanese orange barbecue sauce, sweet and smoky at the same time, and finished with sesame seeds. The meat was totally tender, as the menu boasts.
Hey, if a little smoky barbecue sauce and some sesame seeds make an Italian favorite turn Asian, thats OK with us, but a little confusing at the same time.
Homemade gnocchi, potato dumpling pasta, was served with a choice of sauces. We went with standard red sauce. The gnocchi dish is base priced at $11.99, but various add-ons are available. We chose veal, making our entrée weigh in at $20.99.
It was an appealing-looking dish, the gnocchi tossed with thinly pounded, bite-sized pieces of sautéed veal and the red sauce, enveloped with a blanket of melted mozzarella.
The pasta was light but a bit mealy to the bite. The sauce was thick and on the sweet side. The flavor of the veal was lost in the sauce, but we should have known better and just gone with the plain gnocchi dish.
The chefs choice steak of the week was as good as it gets outside of a big-city steakhouse. Chef Andrew outdid himself on this lovely and generous cut of delicious rib-eye, seasoned perfectly, totally tasty and cooked perfectly to our request of rare. A superior offering and one of the highlights of the night.
The curiosity award goes to the seafood scampi ($18.99).
The seafood was plentiful large shrimp and scallops dredged in flour, sautéed in butter and white wine, dressed with a lemon velouté, served over al dente capellini pasta.
The sauce was not the traditional butter/oil/garlic/parsley that you expect when you see scampi. It was more like a white sauce, and we couldnt taste the lemon and it was entirely devoid of garlic. The sauce didnt hurt the seafood; it just didnt do anything for it.
Desserts were a sweet showcase, headlined by The RVI ($4.99), a big goblet containing a double chocolate brownie, a layer of peanut butter, several scoops of ice cream and super-sweet strawberry preserves, topped with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Enough calories to make any weight watcher shudder.
Chocolate mousse pie ($3.99) appeared to be a commercial product, but that didnt really matter; the mousse was light and airy and it a very good dessert.
Carrot cake ($3.99) was made fresh the day we were there by our bartender/hostess and, did I mention, our server as well? It was authentic and wholesome, complete with gooey cream cheese frosting.
Dinner for four, not including tip and drinks, came to $140.82.
Megans service was good and attentive, certainly considering the sparse dinner crowd, approximately 20, including us. Several guests stopped by via snowmobile and frequented both the bar and the dining room.
River Valley Inn is an ambitious effort with young, hard-working owners who aim to please. They are to be commended for providing good food in a remote, almost frontier, location. Locals, snowmobilers and campers can find hospitality, attention to detail and a wide variety of offerings year-round.
Walter Siebel has been part of the Northern New York restaurant scene for more than three decades, cooking in restaurants from casual Adirondack eateries to fine-dining establishments, and lending his culinary talents to numerous charity events. You can contact him at email@example.com.
River Valley Inn
6670 Burdicks Crossing Road
(County Route36 toward Greig)
Lyons Falls, N.Y.
An unassuming little restaurant in a remote location offering a wide variety of food and drink, warm hospitality and attention to detail.
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
Noon to 8 p.m. Sunday
OUR PICKS: Crabcakes, roasted red pepper and Gouda soup, Caesar salad, chefs steak of the week, Asian osso buco, carrot cake