Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More Goodness in the Finger Lakes


I'd like to say that there are benefits to being dragged along to a gas guzzling event in Watkins Glen, NY, really- the fact that there are wineries, fresh eats, and fresh air! 

After visiting the Watkins Glen/Seneca Lake area last year, it was love at first site. Sure, I was still in New York State, but with rolling green hills and wineries surrounding beautiful Seneca Lake, I sometimes had to wonder if I had been transported to the German countryside. Why Germany? As someone in the Chateau Lafayette Reneau winery told us, our climates are so similar that the rieslings, gerwurztraminers, and other German wines made in the Finger Lakes region have actually won European wine contests. I won't argue with that, so cheers to some good, dry white wines!

More importantly, I've found it's easy for vegetarians and vegans to eat up here, MUCH more so than other parts of upstate. We revisited the delicious Stonecat Cafe in Hector, where last year, I saw the wait staff picking fresh herbs from the back garden and bringing them back to the kitchen (I know!!) and enjoyed a hearty maple tofu entree. This year, I've got a new resto to rave about- Suzanne's Fine Regional Cuisine in Lodi.

I know, I also wanted to make a joke about upstate's "regional cuisine"- when a town's popular joint is called "Mr. Chicken", you have to worry- but Suzanne's highlights all that is seasonal and locally grown. Guaranteeing that there's always at least one vegetarian entree on the menu (and they seemed flexible enough where if you called ahead about vegan items, they would certainly make something!), I knew I'd at least have one option, and Suzanne's exceeded my expectations for that option. The restaurant itself, a landmark home built in 1903, is it's own beautiful, unique fine dining setting (my boyfriend and I had the entire "library room" to ourselves and perused old Alice Waters cookbooks as we waited for our meal!) and if you can snag a reservation for the front porch, you'll be treated to a picturesque view of Seneca Lake and a romantic sunset if you time it right!

I enjoyed a tomato-fennel salad appetizer drizzled with balsamic- so simple, yet because the ingredients were so fresh, that's really all you needed to make a fabulous appetizer. My entree was a vegetable lasagna, which easily could've been made vegan if they omitted the cheese on top. The awesome part? There was no cheese or pasta in the lasagna- fresh zucchini, yellow squash, spinach, and herbs were layered with tomato sauce and thin, crispy potato slices rather than pasta layers and served in a little thick tomato broth. It was definitely the most creative take on lasagna I've had, and likely, a lot healthier than any other lasagna I've eaten. I'll definitely be attempting this at home! Though Suzanne's is pricier than most other restaurants in the area (entrees started at $22), it's certainly worth it for a romantic night out or a special treat. Not that a weekend of wine tasting isn't a treat enough, of course!

As far as wineries are concerned, we loved the fact that we could spend $6 (for the souvenir glass pictured, $5 for a regular glass) and taste 17 different wines at Chateau Lafayette Reneau (again, I know!!) We sampled a few more great, dry whites as well as beer at Wagner Vineyards, which is both a winery and a brewery with the communal beer garden seating that I adore, and we even sampled some good reds at Castel Grisch, though I probably won't go back to the restaurant again- a Gardenburger with a side of bacon potato salad (seriously, why would you pair this with a veggie burger?) was not the most interesting veggie option I've had, and $10 for a Gardenburger, why?

I'm hoping that it's not another year before I head back up to the Finger Lakes- it's officially my favorite part of New York outside of the city. 

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