PHOTO CREDIT: B.A. Nilsson
West Road, Manchester, Vt., (802) 362-2568, (800) 822-2331,
www.reluctantpanther.com. Serving dinner Tue-Sat 5:30-9:30.
AE, D, MC, V.
price range: $28 (chicken breast) to $39 (beef tenderloin)
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.
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
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
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.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
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 banilsson.com).
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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.
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
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!
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..