For the Love of Ives Hill

The second weekend in September is birthday weekend in my family. We celebrate my Mom’s (9/10), mine (9/16), my stepmother’s (9/22) and several of the other Virgo women in my family. The weekend always involves lots of food, lots of hugs, lots of presents and loads of fun. I was feeling under the weather last weekend – thank you business travel – so I kept the hugging to a minimum, but the weekend was a blast nonetheless. As it also coincides with the advent of fall, we generally avoid the waterfront locales and flip over to the more cold-weatherish haunts of Watertown.

I told you a couple months ago that I would be back to Ives Hill Country Club for a full review, and as I pass into another year of life, I intend to keep my promises. My parents and I went there last Friday night for dinner in the dining room, after I dragged my cold-riddled and exhausted butt into town that afternoon. And this fantastic meal was exactly what I needed after a long week of travel, cold medicine and insufficient sleep! I’ve told you before about the attractive dining room overlooking the golf course, and on this night, the handsome bar was bustling. We were given our choice of tables, and chose one by those pictures windows. Our server, Rachel, took great and attentive care of us, starting us off with delicious salads featuring real kalamata olives (no canned black olive substitutes) and a crab bisque that was rich, with a complex seafood broth, shredded super fresh crab and a creamy, but not too thick consistency. We were very pleased with this as a first course. The bread basket was somewhat less successful: doughy, large rolls served with a bland EVOO and balsamic mixture. The rolls were sort of nondescript, though adequate, but the plate of oil and vinegar really added nothing. The balsamic should either be of a higher quality, more sweet and syrupy, or the concoction needs to be enhanced with some cracked black pepper, sea salt, or Italian seasoning.

The rolls did come in handy for our appetizer, however. Dad and I ordered the sand flats half hots, which were outstanding, but spicy as all get out! I mean, we expected spicy – and I needed something to clear out my sinuses – but I actually started hiccupping after my first bite and the shock of the fire! The two long, green, hot peppers were stuffed with a savory and fiery sausage and served under a smooth marinara with terrific, smokey, grilled bread. This should be the bread they serve in the bread basket – it was flavorful and fantastic. But the rolls did come in handy to scoop up bites of this atomic appy – and overall, we loved this painful dish – it hurt so good!

Ow. Yum. Ow! Yum!

Dad ordered the blacked salmon, which was served over a bed of steamed spinach in a pool of wild honey. At first, after the tongue-searing half hots, I think he was worried about the blackened spices. He quickly recanted that woe with a groaning, “yuuuuuuuuuuuuuuum.” This creative, fantastic dish was a home run, and it’s the honey that made it so. The salmon was perfectly cooked, not overly flaky but not rare, either, and the spinach provided a great foil between the sweet sauce and the spicy seasoning.

Dad’s salmon

Mom got the shrimp alfredo, and was really pleased and enthusiastic about it. I took a bite, natch, and agreed with her. It wasn’t the best alfredo I’ve ever had, but was a true homemade alfredo sauce, made with lots of parmesan and cream, and probably no flour, which keeps it light and fresh, not gloppy like commercial alfredos. The shrimp were fresh and perfectly cooked without being dried out – very good. I’m betting she’ll order this again when we’re back for more of what Chef Geoffrey Puccia is serving up.

Mushroom risotto was on the specials menu. Risotto is one of my favorite dishes, and mushrooms, one of my favorite ingredients, so the ordering of this was a foregone conclusion. It was served as a gigantic portabella mushroom cap covering a generous portion of cremini-laced Arborio rice. When I first started eating it, I fear my taste buds had been a little overwhelmed by the half hots, and I couldn’t fully detect all the flavors going on. My initial note was that, while it was satisfactory, I would have been more impressed had there been a greater variety of shrooms in the dish – some shitakes or a little dried porcini maybe, to give it some zing. But then, as I was eating down through the portion of risotto, I noticed, with glee, another flavor developing…ladies and gentlemen, we have truffle oil! Like a birthday present just for me, the risotto was laced with a wee bit of this pricey condiment – the essence of one of the world’s most valuable ingredients, truffles, captured in flavorful olive oil. And just like that, this dish was elevated from good to great. The risotto was perfectly al dente, like any seasoned Italian chef would make it, and overall, I give it an A.

The truffle oil is hiding; I should have brought along a pig to sniff it out!

I should add in that while I have not visited the bar area at Ives Hill, the plates of food heading out there through the dining room looked amazing. They have a separate pub menu, from which we saw golden brown fries, gigantic chicken wings and humongous burgers being delivered. In addition, Dad has a gin and tonic which he pronounced as excellent, and noted that he believed one of the Marzano daughters tends bar in there, and she’s a fab barkeep. So you may want to add Ives to your Friday night happy hour to do list – it sounds like a legit place to unwind after a tough week slaving for The Man.

We ordered two desserts to go: banana cream and key lime pies. We all agreed that the pies were fine – not amazing, but good. However, both were served with a little side dollop of homemade whipped cream laced with some sort of liqueur that was fab. I would order dessert again just to get that whipped cream, for sure.

This was not an inexpensive dinner, but we took a vote and came out with a 9 out of 10 rating – one of the highest we’ve given as a family for a local restaurant. I would say Ives Hill is right up there with Ryan’s Lookout; there are extremely well-thought-out dishes and gourmet touches, and yet the menu is not so fancy or upscale that local folks who just want good food have to feel like it’s out of their reach. We were not particularly dressed up, and felt comfortable in the lovely dining room, and I literally can’t wait to go back and try the bar. As my parents live just around the corner from Ives Hill, I can’t see this becoming a habit.

Just a reminder before I wrap up that it’s fall in the Northcountry! You know what that means – Burrville Cider Mill time! The Burrville Cider Mill is the oldest building in Jefferson County, serves up killer, made-on-premises apple cider, cider donuts and hot spiced cider, sells apples by the bag or bushel, and is a rite of the season for many families. You can also get local fudge, pies, maple syrup, honey, croghan bologna and cheese in their little store. Because I’m such a fan of buying locally whenever possible, I really appreciate The Steiner Family gathering all these goodies up in one place, complete with picturesque waterfalls and the dulcet tones of fresh apples thudding through the mashers in the back room. They’re only open until Thanksgiving, so find a free afternoon, bundle up the kids, and head out for good old fashioned family fun!

And you know I love some family fun, whether it be old fashioned or new fangled. That’s because I’m Big Hungry. And I’m Shelby: My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

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