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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

A World of Flavor

By B.A. Nilsson

The Inn at Erlowest

3178 Lake Shore Drive, Lake George, 668-5928. Serving dinner Wed-Sun 5:30-9:30 (hours to change in the summer). AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: inspired new continental

Entrée price range: $24 (sage roasted game hen) to $55 (steamed Maine lobster)

Ambiance: relentlessly elegant

 

The finest meal I’ve ever eaten was served more than a decade ago at a luxury (and I do mean luxury) resort in Saranac Lake called the Point, given as part of an anniversary celebration that included a chef—and many ingredients—flown in from France. Had I been of a mind to assassinate some of my tablemates, I could have rid the world of a couple of its more repulsive CEOs. It was that kind of event.

I’ve finally enjoyed a dinner every bit the equal of that one, and without the costly frou-frou. (And refreshingly CEO-free!) I’m not surprised, because the meal was devised and prepared by certified master chef Dale Miller, the most acclaimed chef to emerge from this area. After showing his stuff many years ago at the Stone Ends Restaurant, he helmed the kitchen at Jack’s Oyster House, which was great for Jack’s but offered us much less of the Miller show.

Now he’s general manager and executive chef at the Inn at Erlowest, a beautiful resort on Lake George. Once home to the Great Escape’s Charlie Wood, the place dates back 110 years, when attorney-author Edward Morse Shepard planted this Queen Anne-style stone castle on the lake as part of the “Millionaire’s Row” of grand (I love this use of the term) camps.

You get that Manderley effect as you descend round the curves of the long driveway and the castle rises to view. The inside is even more remarkable, with a generous helping of antique furnishings amidst the beautifully decorated rooms.

What made the meal so magnificent was the ineffable combination of dining-room elegance—the linen, crystal and china harmonize wonderfully—outstanding food and a brilliant flow from one course to the next.

We amused our palates with a small, lovingly served shrimp. Just a single, spiral-cut crustacean, glazed with sweet plum, served over a tart bed of pineapple salsa. It was a swirl of subtle flavors tossed in the spicy-sweet salsa.

That taste of seafood linked us to the Maine lobster featured next—just a few poached slivers with a Thai-derived sriracha dressing, but served with caviar atop a translucent nugget of Himalayan salt, imparting its flavor as I swiped the lobster slices across its face. A thumb-sized summer roll of crunchy vegetable sticks with Thai peanut sauce complemented the course, and bridged to the flavor of the pea soup that followed, served in a nested trio of oblong bowls. Based on a cream-free velouté, the brew also featured flavors of asparagus and cucumber along with a presence of mint. A sprig of watercress concealed a single seared diver scallop.

That initial burst of salsa-based spice served as a placeholder for a flavor intensity that grew throughout the subsequent courses, from the lobster’s ocean-bottom sweetness to what came next: seared Hudson Valley foie gras, plump and buttery, sweetened by its cradle of strawberry-rhubarb tart. All of the crunch was muted; the flavor intensity, however, was great.

This course was served on another nest of dinnerware, this time a concentric foursome of Fortessa plates. A wide-brimmed bowl, looking like an inverted cartwheel hat, provided most of the next course, in which a nest of haricot verts tempura and steamed edamame concealed a lovely piece of sea bass. The rest of the course, a lemongrass broth, was poured at the table from a French press.

We eased from a hearty Raymond Amberhill Chardonnay to a rich Grayson Cellars Merlot, excellent complements attentively poured. Service was exemplary, and included the classic roll-by-roll bread service. Kudos to our waiter, Grey Hunter.

Meat was preceded by an intermezzo—a cherry-infused sorbet—and featured slices of charmoula crusted lamb and braised veal cheeks, with tomato figuring in the subtle sauces for both. Small portions of sweet corn crema and horseradish-cheddar macaroni gratin finished the plate. From there it was on to an outstanding cheese selection and distinctive dessert, but by now you’re wondering how to enjoy a meal like this yourself.

You have many options. The prix fixe menu offers three-, four- and five-course assemblies ($55, $70 and $85) from a menu divided into beginnings, seafood, meat, cheeses and desserts, but you’re free to choose anything, in any order. “Have an all-dessert dinner if you like,” says Miller.

A more conventional menu offers appetizers ($9-$24) and entrées ($24-$55) a la carte, but the best deal of all is available through the end of May: a 110th anniversary two-course dinner for $18.98, with a choice of soup or salad to start and an entrée of herb-crusted salmon, char-seared Black Angus sirloin or pan-roasted chicken breast in a Pinot Noir reduction.

Miller and his sous-chef, Michael Hinrichs, pay such fantastic attention to detail that you can’t help but find the meal not only delicious but also exciting.

What makes the inn an even more worthy destination are the accommodations: 10 rooms appointed to a fare-thee-well, some with lake views, some with fireplaces, one with a private porch, most with jacuzzi tubs and Bose wave radios. And flat-screen TVs, of course, but of what use are those?

Treat yourself to an overnight and, if the complimentary pastries and cheese plate haven’t done you in, you’ll enjoy a simple breakfast of eggs or pancakes that proves to be not-so-simple as all that, because it’s also touched with the elegance that consistently informs this place.

Having Dale Miller back in a kitchen of his own creation sets the highest of standards for area dining.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

You can make a difference in the lives of those affected by HIV/AIDS by dining out tonight (Thursday). Dining Out for Life is an annual one-day fundraiser held in to 47 cities across North America to benefit locally based HIV/AIDS service organizations; participating restaurants donate a generous portion of proceeds from the day’s checks to their local AIDS charity. Local venues include Bayou Café, Beff’s, BFS, Cheesecake Machismo, DeJohn’s, Grandma’s Restaurant, Justin’s, Magnolias on the Park, Nicole’s Restaurant, Provence, Scratch Bakery Café, Milano, Brindisi’s, Hattie’s, Longfellows, Mexican Connection, Olde Bryan Inn, Tiznow, Ambition, Flavour Café and Tosca Grill. Call ahead and mention Dining Out for Life. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (food at banilsson.com).



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