The executive chef at a world-class destination hotel walks a tricky tightrope. It’s a helm from which a significant reputation can be achieved, which invites the pursuit of innovative fare. It also hangs a bull’s eye on your back as you struggle to satisfy the culinarily timid.
Jarrad Lang moved into that position at Lake Placid’s Mirror Lake Inn just after Thanksgiving. He’s young, talented, tasteful, ambitious. He inherits a kitchen that has won acclaim for decades, including 26 consecutive years of the AAA four-diamond award.
“I keep my style classical and simple,” says Lang. “It leans towards French, of course, but I’m also influenced by the Northern Italian emphasis on fresh ingredients. These days we see influences from all over the place, but I appreciate fusion cuisine best only when it’s done very well.”
Lang comes from a family of Adirondack natives and spent part of his childhood in Crown Point on the family’s dairy farm, but soon moved with his family to New Mexico before settling in the Schroon Lake area to finish high school. “I entered Paul Smith’s in 1997, and as part of that I spent time in France, where I was able to work in a Michelin three-star restaurant,” he says. “I worked in Boston for a while, then I moved back here and worked for Paul Smith’s as a chaperone for trips to France, which allowed me to work in some country inn-type places there.”
The Mirror Lake Inn is an impressive amalgam of country inn and big-time resort, with rooms spread over four buildings that either adjoin the lake that gives it its name or overlook it from a handsome hillside. It evolved in the late ’70s from cottages to the kind of buildings you see today. I last wrote about it in 1992, when it had been rebuilt after a fire took out the main building.
Since then, the inn has constantly invested in improvements, turning up the elegance quotient even as places like the Whiteface Lodge and Lake Placid Lodge have emerged to raise the bar. Accommodations go the extra distance, all of it particularly distinguished by a staff that is unfailingly helpful and friendly. This reflects the hands-on attitude of owners Ed and Lisa Weibrecht, who have maintained the same family spirit about the place that we enjoyed nearly 20 years ago.
With Lang steering the kitchen, the emphasis has become a melding of classical cuisine with local ingredients. “We wanted to make use of the surroundings,” he says, “and use more local stuff. We’re committed to using the best products we can find, and some of them are the meat and cheese we get from local farmers.”
One of the meat purveyors is Pat Kilcoyne, who raises Black Angus cattle. “We don’t pay all that much more for the Kilcoyne Farms product than we do when we buy it from the big distributors, and it’s worth it to know where it’s coming from,” Lang says. A half-pound burger made from that meat is available for $16 at the hotel’s Taste Bistro, a casual dining spot.
The jewel of the place, however, is The View, a formal dining room that overlooks the water and gives you the full high-end treatment, again with an emphasis on quality food sources.
Although Strauss Free-Raised is Wisconsin based, the product is raised in a humane manner—including the veal, which Lang uses in his osso buco. Magic lurks in the rich brew of a braised preparation. It can be enough to brown the meat and simmer it in a wine-and-tomato mix, accompanied by vegetables, but Lang’s preparation takes it further, producing the best-tasting sauce I’ve ever sampled for this dish. Once the meat is cooked, the sauce is reduced, strained and fortified with more veal stock, resulting in a dark, rich syrup to which the vegetables—carrots, parsnips and rutabaga—are added back.
“This isn’t necessarily healthy cooking,” says Lang. “That’s not what I do here. This is about indulging yourself. People tell me that my mashed potatoes are the best they’ve ever had.” (They’re served with the osso buco. They’re insanely good.) “They’re filled with butter.
“I struggle with the health food thing, but we do have healthy dishes.” These are listed on the menu as spa items, fare that includes a roasted free-range chicken breast served with white truffle risotto ($32).
Hudson Valley foie gras, featured in an appetizer ($20), comes from a special breed of duck that’s raised cage-free. The meat is buttery tender, and Lang pairs it with its physical opposite: a slice of toasted brioche that crumbles to the taste where the foie gras melts. It’s finished with a dried cherry compote and fig molasses
“Some things come about from a happy accident,” says Lang. “Like the scallops and ravioli.” This is a pairing of plump, pan-seared diver scallops with butternut squash ravioli ($35) that happened because both items were being prepped as individual dishes and Lang gave in to what seemed like a crazy urge to put them together. There’s a textural harmony between the tender seafood and the pasta, with the squash adding a burst of sweetness to the mix.
More traditional is the grilled Chinook salmon ($38), served with small slabs of fruitwood-smoked bacon and an unexpectedly good preparation of red quinoa and wilted Swiss chard greens.
Given the talent of pastry chef Paul Menard, who makes his own puff pastry from scratch, it’s difficult to choose between a sweet dessert and a cheese plate. “Some of our best cheese comes from Clover Mead Farm,” says Lang, “the only organic cheesemaker in the [Adirondack] Park. We also get cheeses from Asgaard Farm in AuSable and from Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery, including the butter we serve.” But that’s up against such items as coconut cream with caramelized pineapple, served in the airiest of pastry shells.
“When the kitchen is really busy,” says Lang, “it’s like walking a tightrope and juggling at the same time. The smallest mistake can wreck the whole show, but then you do it and it went well and you sit back and say, ‘How did I do that?’ You have to be cut out for this. You have to think on your feet.”
The View at the Mirror Lake Inn
77 Mirror Lake Dr., Lake Placid, 302-3000. mirrorlakeinn.com/dining-theview.cfm Serving breakfast 7:30-10 Mon-Fri, 7:30-11 Sat-Sun, dinner 5:30-9 daily. AE, D, MC, V.
Cuisine: continental gourmet
Entrée price range: $25 (farro and wild mushroom risotto) to $44 (rib-eye au poivre)
Ambiance: elegant, with a view