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A lesson in fine dining at Paul Smith’s

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PAUL SMITHS — We discovered one of the best-kept secrets in the Adirondacks.

It’s the St. Regis Café in the Joan Weill Student Center at Paul Smith’s College. Students, with the guidance of their instructors, learn classic culinary techniques and American service and put them into practice here. The students, who are majoring in hospitality management and culinary arts, prepare and serve lunch daily in the café, as well as a weekly Wednesday night buffet. Both are open to students and the public.

The meals are served in a beautiful, modern, Adirondack-style dining room overlooking the serene Lower St. Regis Lake. Although the room can easily accommodate 60 or 70 guests, seating is limited to 30 indoors and 12 on the wrap-around deck. Limiting the seating and requiring reservations ensures an appropriate learning environment.

A friendly young student hostess showed us to our table. No silverware wrapped in paper napkins here. We’re talking cloth napkins skillfully folded and standing upright at each place setting, fresh flowers on every table as well as eye-catching pastel-colored tablecloths. Impressive.

Rayna, our student waitress, presented us with lunch menus. The menu changes weekly with a different theme; the theme carries over to the Wednesday night buffet.

When we visited, the theme was “A Taste of the Caribbean.” It’s a prix fixe menu — $12 per person — with three courses, and three options for each course. There were three in our party for lunch, so we got to try everything on the menu.

For beverages ($2 each), there are spritzers made with their own house-made syrup — ginger, lemon, mint, rosemary or tarragon. Fresh-brewed iced tea and lemonade are available as well, along with Saranac soda by the bottle.

The students produce and bottle their own St. Regis Café birch beer, a nonalcoholic drink reminiscent of root beer. We tried some. It’s really good!

There’s also a selection of wine — three whites and three reds — and a limited beer list.

We ordered wine by the glass ($7) — a chardonnay, a pinot grigio and a sauvignon blanc — all upstanding, name-brand selections. Rather than serve us filled glasses, an assistant server brought each bottle to our table. Rayna then allowed us to view the label and offered us a taste of the wine (customary when purchasing a bottle) — a nice touch, we thought.

The food — each and every selection — was nothing less than amazing.

For the first course, there was corn and coconut soup with fresh crab; grapefruit and orange salad with roasted peanut dressing; and a tilapia and crayfish cake with mango salsa.

The soup had a coconut milk broth that included some chopped red pepper, onion and a green vegetable we think was kale. There was a generous portion of real crabmeat in the center. We found it necessary to add a pinch of salt to enhance the flavors, but it was satisfying nonetheless.

The salad consisted to two perfectly cut wedges of iceberg lettuce, orange and grapefruit sections and a light, subtle peanut dressing. Curried toasted peanuts garnished the plate. It was a nice blend of flavor and texture, a perfect salad for a warm summer afternoon in the Adirondacks (or a warm winter afternoon in the Caribbean!).

The panko-crusted fish cake was perfect with its golden fried crust. Its mild seafood flavor as nicely complemented by the mango salsa. The bonus to this dish was a small pile of lightly dressed microgreens, which added an extra dimension to the plate.

The second course was even better than the first.

Jerked mahi mahi was served over jasmine rice and topped with a sweet tomato relish. Squash puree decorated the plate. The moist fish, with a mild jerk seasoning, was perfectly cooked. A hint of lime and some visible lime zest added a refreshing touch to the rice. The relish made it a perfectly balanced dish.

We know what jerk seasoning is but thought we’d see if our trainee server knew. Rayna nailed it. “It’s a dry seasoning blend, generally a combination of chilies, thyme and spices like cinnamon, ginger, allspice and cloves along with some garlic and onion.”

In most reputable kitchens, the chef will explain the dishes and ingredients to the wait staff just prior to service. This appeared to be the case here, and it was the first day of the new menu, so Rayna caught on quickly.

A grilled pork chop with barbecue sauce came on a mound of perfectly textured (just a few lumps) mashed sweet potato with a slice of grilled pineapple completing the plate.

The homemade barbecue sauce was spicy and flavorful without being hot. We picked up some flavors of Caribbean spices, and perhaps molasses and pickapeppa sauce (made from cane vinegar aged in oak barrels). We all agreed this barbecue sauce would be tasty on most anything grilled.

We liked it so much, we asked Rayna to find out if we could get the recipe. She came back from the kitchen saying, “They can’t give it to you, but they could sell it to you.” Which we took to mean no. Oh well, it was worth a try.

Black bean cakes with poached eggs and Creole hollandaise was the perfect dish for the vegetarian in our party. In fact, the carnivores were pretty excited about it as well.

The eggs were perfectly poached, setting atop a nicely spiced rustic-textured black bean cake. The hollandaise was the perfect consistency, with hints of lemon and a lingering touch of heat from the Creole seasoning.

After the first two courses we could hardly wait for the third, dessert.

Chocolate rum and toasted coconut mousse would make any chocoholic happy, and make a convert of anyone who doesn’t like chocolate (if there is such a person). The chocolate and coconut were a perfect marriage with just a hint of rum in this creamy concoction.

We were all curious when we saw avocado cheesecake on the menu. It was a crustless cheesecake served in a ramekin topped with whipped cream and slice of avocado. The taste of the avocado was bright, followed by the cheesecake flavor. It was a colorful, unusual and delicious dessert.

Gateau patate with cinnamon crème anglaise was delightful. Gateau is French for cake; patate means potato. It’s a dessert cake made with potatoes — sweet potatoes, we figured.

Raisins and spices in the slice of potato cake made it reminiscent of pumpkin pie. The crème anglaise (a light custard of sugar, egg yolks and hot milk) really made the dish.

This was a lunch that we’d go back for in an instant. The food rivaled that of any fine-dining restaurant anywhere. The setting couldn’t be better. The service was just a bit tentative at times, but we did have to take into consideration that the students rotate positions frequently, serving tables one week, working the kitchen another, and it was the first day of the new weekly menu.

We were in the process of paying our bill ($41 for the food, birch beer and coffee, $21 for the wine) when the faculty chef appeared at our table. “Who wanted the barbecue sauce recipe?” he asked. He told us to just leave our email address with the hostess and he would send it to us. They had made the sauce for the first time that morning, making some notes right on the recipe. He wanted to clean them up before giving the recipe to us.

The restaurant will be open through the summer session, which ends Aug. 15. It will be open throughout the school year except for college holiday periods. We understand that most days are sold out in advance, so it is important to make reservations.

You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: wsiebel@wdt.net.





St. Regis Café at Paul Smith’s College

Routes 86 and 30

Paul Smiths, N.Y.

(518) 327-6355



www.paulsmiths.edu/stregis



A lovely restaurant at Paul Smith’s College run by the students majoring in hospitality management and culinary arts



HOURS: Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday

Buffet: 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. every Wednesday



OUR PICKS: Everything on the menu when we visited was excellent. Since the lunch menu changes weekly, you will most likely not get the same food that we did. But we feel that whatever the menu, it will be worth the journey to the St. Regis Café in the Adirondacks.



RATING: 4½ forks

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