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Manchester Enlightened

The Reluctant Panther

17-39 West Road, Manchester, Vt., (802) 362-2568, (800) 822-2331, Serving dinner Tue-Sat 5:30-9:30. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: fancy continental

Entrée price range: $28 (chicken breast) to $39 (beef tenderloin)

Ambiance: refined

By B.A. Nilsson


Should a name change ever be con templated, I vote for “The Eager Phoenix,” although the panther, under its local moniker catamount, is a Vermont legend. Previous owners chose the name, enshrining the beast and ennobling the structure with a whiff of ’60s sensibility, and the Reluctant Panther it remained when Jerry and Liz Lavalley and family moved from Dallas two years ago to assume ownership.

But not for long. Thirty days after they took over, the big, historic main building burned to the ground, victim of a spark from a faulty commercial dryer. Rebuilt—to fussy Manchester standards—and reopened a scant couple of months ago, it’s once again a luxury haven for overnight guests, and it boasts a superb fine-dining restaurant.

This is in Manchester, the Vermont town that seems to have started the state’s trend of saturating its charming villages with rustically dressed outlet stores. But, just as you can visit Las Vegas and not gamble, so too can you stay in what must be the polar opposite of that city and not go shopping. Much.

But it’s a gorgeous town in which to relax, and the choices are many. The huge Equinox Hotel dominates the village center; the Reluctant Panther is one of several smaller destinations offering a more intimate alternative.

Chef Daniel Jackson oversees the kitchen. He’s a Culinary Institute grad whose extensive resume includes a successful stint as executive chef at the Woodstock Inn in central Vermont. “While I was there, I found myself spending more time in the office than in the kitchen,” he says, “so I’m happy to be in a place where I can be at the stove.”

His dinner selections, in common with many higher-end resort menus, take familiar ingredients and add to them varying amounts of exotic spin. The menu changes regularly, so what we sampled is representative only of our visit.

Duckling, for example, gets the typical sweet glaze, but what’s not so typical are the Asian seasonings that liven the glaze. A crisp wonton served alongside is confit-filled, and stir-fried vegetables and jasmine rice complete the dish ($29).

By now it’s a family joke that my wife is going to order the chicken—whatever the venue, no matter the cuisine. Bell & Evans is a Pennsylvania-based supplier of organic, antibiotic-free poultry, and the chicken breast thus obtained became the centerpiece of a $28 dish in which the flavor had the added complexity of morels and a champagne-based cream sauce touched with mustard. Pushing it over the edge was a wedge of firm polenta flavored with lobster.

It’s not just the food you’re looking at here. All aspects of the dining room—from the stark, black-and-white look of the tables to the muted colors of carpet and walls—have been skillfully designed, and the table service is a handsome variety that runs from Bennington pottery to Royal Doulton china.

The appetizer of Mediterranean tapas ($13) arrives on a large black plate, the better to set off roasted garlic hummus, locally produced feta, tabouleh salad, pita slices and more. Likewise, an ahi tuna roll ($12) shows up nicely against its own black dish.

I’m usually wary of a menu boasting “our famous” anything, but I gave the famous lobster and crab cakes ($14) a try and was especially pleased with the meaty richness of the cakes themselves, where the minimal breading served only to further the flavors. A spicy remoulade complemented the sweetness of the cakes.

But I was distracted from a thorough study of them thanks to the soup of the day. Bouillabaisse ($7) is the subject of much purist debate, and I’d be happy to join in were I not helplessly succumbing to the richness of a brilliant stock enhanced with a variety of common items—shrimp, scallops and the like—that took on a whole new sparkle in this context. The accompanying rouille and crouton were almost unnecessary.

The house salad ($9) features a mix of local greens, appropriately bitter, with crunchy endive spears, local goat cheese, raspberries and sweet glazed pecans mixed in the lightest of applications of a buttermilk-based dressing.

Not surprisingly, service showed the same care as the food preparation. The staff works as a team, so courses arrive when they’re ready and are cleared when you’re done.

The seared sea scallops entrée boasted three characteristics difficult to find in a scallop: size (they were huge), creamy texture and bold flavor. Beautiful edgings of brown gave them the look of dessert cakes, and the accompaniments—cornmeal- dusted shrimp and risotto—were superb.

It was the promise of savory bread pudding that prompted me to order the veal chop ($34). It comes from Azuluna, a Massachusetts-based farmers’ consortium that takes an old-fashioned (and more humane) approach, and it produces meat that needs little beyond, in this case, a trip across the grill. Not that the peppercorn-enhanced demi-glaze was unwanted. And the bread pudding added a dark-hued flavor complement.

You’re paying a good price for this meal, but you’re getting your money’s worth. So many smaller touches abound, from the homemade bread to the old-fashioned tea service, that it never stops being comfortable.

You can try the place more casually at the Panther Pub, a comfortable lounge with a lighter menu (smoked chicken and Vermont chèvre quesadilla, $11; goat cheese flatbread pizza, $10, for example) and an attractive bar.

And, of course, desserts, which echo what’s served in the restaurant. If you find the pistachio baklava listed ($8), grab it—it’s not the corn-syrup-sodden stuff too-often found. And the pear and crystallized ginger upside-down cake ($8) had just the right tartness to finish the meal.

Great dining should be a feast for the palate and a feast for the eyes. The Reluctant Panther makes it seem effortless.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


The further we get from 1609, when Henry Hudson hit Albany, the better the deal for Albany Restaurant Week. This year’s event, sponsored by the Downtown Albany Business Improvement District, takes place April 9 through 14, and gets you a three-course meal for $16.09 at participating eateries: Albany Pump Station, Amo La Bella, Bayou Café, Café Capriccio, Franklin’s Tower, Hudson Harbor Steak and Seafood, Jack’s Oyster House, Kelsey’s Irish Pub at the Crowne Plaza, La Serre, the Mansion Hill Inn, McGeary’s, Nicole’s Bistro, Pagliacci Ristorante, Pearl Restaurant, Savannah’s, The Comedy Works, V & R Restaurant, Victory Café and Webster’s Corner at the Crowne Plaza. Reservations are a good idea: Call the individual restaurants. . . . Sample the wide range of dining offered at the resort’s many venues during the Taste of Turning Stone, noon to 8 PM on April 14, in the resort’s Event Center (Turning Stone Resort and Casino. 5218 Patrick Road, Verona). Along with cooking demonstrations, food booths, ice carvings, gift baskets and more, there will be a 2:30 PM Celebrity Chef Cooking Show featuring Lidia Bastianich, who hosts her own PBS show, Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen, runs five acclaimed restaurants and has written three cookbooks. Admission is free; guests can buy tickets to sample the food. For more info, call (800) 771-7711. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food at

We want your feedback

Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore


Elaine Snowdon

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky

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