Hearty meats. Carb-rich potatoes. Calorie-ladden dishes. This is what you typically find in U.S. mountain resort towns, where people eat to fuel up for a day of skiing, hiking high peaks and climbing frozen cascades, and restaurants try to cater to a range of palates at once.
While still the dominant trend throughout Lake Placid restaurants, the village is beginning to experience a culinary revolution. Incorporating the growing farm-to-fork mentality where ingredients are sourced from nearby farms, a handful of local chefs are crafting innovative dishes that play with atypical ingredient combinations, complex flavors and contrasting textures, while Lake Placid bartenders dream up more inventive libation offerings.
Whiteface Lodge’s KANU Restuarant is an upscale casual restaurant spearheading the revolution. Executive Chef David Haick — a vegetarian who mainly eats vegan in his own diet — brings a more gentle and refined cooking style to the area. When creating dishes, his goal is always to do something different than what’s been done.
“I think of it as educating,” explains Chef Haick. “I know we should create items that are common, so that locals can identify with the cuisine. But, that will only take us so far; being creative and different will take you further in the long run. Inventive and being innovative is why most people come out to eat, for the excitement and the experience.”
An appetizer may be an apple carpaccio featuring Hidden Rose Apples from Oregon, a rare breed only cultivated by one single producer, while a Kilcoyne Farm Bone-In Filet allows diners to eat local farm-raised meat in an unusual cut that adds a richer, more beefy flavor. Don’t be fooled by a dessert reading “Fruit & Yogurt,” as what you’ll get is a deconstructed version of the typically simple staple, featuring blueberry cremeux, lemon powder, raspberry pearls, yogurt crema, yogurt sponge, carbonated blueberries, whipped blackberry, vanilla sable with almond, strawberry sorbet, and a side of strawberry-basil soda for a colorful and texturally diverse meal that would make Picasso jealous.
One creation Chef Haick is particularly proud of is KANU’s Pizza Margherita, which is delicious as well as authentic. Along with making their own sauce, Caputo flour and buffalo mozzarella are purchased from Italy. The tasty creation is baked to perfection in a real wood fire oven.
Helping to enhance Chef’s dishes is Sommelier Scott Waller, who doesn’t just serve wines but also beers, craft cocktails and rare spirits and aperitifs. For example, a cocoa-dusted day boat scallop with blood orange might be paired with an “All the Thyme in the World” cocktail, crafted with Carbay Blood Orange Vodka, Sorel Spiced Hibiscus Liquor, tamarind and pomegranate juices, and garnished with a grilled orange and a thyme sprig. Like the dish, this drink is thoughtfully prepared, the orange slice dipped into granulated sugar and roasted with a concentrated flame from a kitchen torch, and the thyme slapped to release the essential oils into the glass.
He also enjoys working with beer pairings, working to complement rather than contrast the flavors.
“Beer can at times be more complementary to dishes than wine,” says Waller. “One of the big differences between the two is acidity. Naturally occurring in wine, it gives wine its palate refreshing characteristics; however, there are times you want a dish to be supported, not contrasted. Beer also has the ability to be palate refreshing with its natural carbonation.”
In terms of drinks at KANU, what’s most impressive is the extensive after-dinner flight menu, which features 12 pages of ice wines, botrytis wines, ruby ports, tawny ports, sherries, madeiras, malt scotches, peat scotches, barrel scotches, aged scotches, ged rums, grand marniers, armagnacs, house cognas, calvados, grappas, amaros, tequilas, mezcals, bourbons, New York whiskeys and artisanal gins. There’s also a unique Blind Vodka Challenge, which takes the usual branding out of vodka and allows guests to sample a variety of tastings to learn what they genuinely like.
“We are becoming a go to spot for becoming educated on styles of spirits, wines and beers,” explains Waller. “We have a book of 25 different “flights” that offer samplings of spirits and dessert wines that normally you would only order one of. Our flights explain how each is produced, with flavor descriptions and are presented in sets of three small tastings within each category. This program gives our guests better knowledge and sensory experiences when they travel away from our resort.”
KANU isn’t the only one offering this new style of cooking. Freestyle Cuisine, one of Lake Placid’s newest restaurants open since June 2013, features a menu where Executive Chef Richard Brosseau enjoys taking creativity to the next level in the kitchen.
“When I’m creating a dish I like to re-invent a basic idea and make it new or take a new idea and make it old,” he explains. “I’m always trying to re-invent and become different.”
And he does a great job of this, with a menu featuring dishes like a foie gras burger with pan sauce and truffle mayo; beet and goat cheese terrine with honey sherry dressing; and hearts of palm and sweet potato falafel with spicy pumpkin yogurt dressing tossed with greens. For most dishes, ingredients are sourced locally within upstate New York.
On the cocktail front, “Freetender” (bartender) Paul Stelmack focuses on craft libations, making his own syrups, sours and, in the near future, bitters, to create a mix of thoughtfully-prepared classic and modern cocktails you can’t get anywhere else. For example, they offer a Smooth Ambler Barrel Aged Gin from West Virginia, aged for three months in oak. They use this to create a (currently unnamed) cocktail where the gin is steeped in rosemary and bruised with a mortar before being poured over rosemary for 45 minutes to extract the herb’s flavor. From there the drink is made with maple syrup, Breckinridge bitters, hot pepper bitters, and citrus bitters and served in a martini glass.
Some creations include a “Pumpkin Ginger Rickey” crafted with Bitch Vodka, pumpkin juice, ginger, blood orange bitters, benedictine, lemon juice and soda; an “Adirondack Painkiller” with bourbon, roasted sweet potatoes and fennel syrup; and an “Avocado Ice Cream Milkshake” with creamy avocado ice cream, tequila and lime. An extensive list of local and international wines and beers rounds of the experience, while new concoctions are constantly being added to the drink menu as Stelmack continues to experiment.
Another venue offering something inventive in Lake Placid is Liquids & Solids at the Handlebar, a hipster venue reminiscent of something you’d find in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In summer of 2010, Bartender Keegan Konkoski and Chef Tim Loomis turned a dive once known as The Handlebar into an eclectic gastropub — the region’s first — offering true farm-to-fork tapas, sustainable meat-infused desserts, craft cocktails, diverse wines, an expensive list of over 100 different beers (many written in black magic marker on paper bags behind the bar) and a quirky decor scheme focused on mustaches and bicycles.
“There was not much of a dining scene occurring. We wanted there to be one, so we created one for ourselves and people ended up liking what we did,” explains Konkoski. “We just do what we like. It’s how we cook and drink at home. It’s how we eat and drink when we go out of town.”
The idea of using local ingredients isn’t new, as Lake Placid resides in an agriculturally-rich area; however, the presentation and approach of the food and drink is novel for the area. Along with making almost everything from scratch, Loomis likes to play with unique ingredient combinations and flavors. And while some may have been skeptical at first, locals are opening up to the innovative idea as they come in and enjoy dishes like rabbit crepinette with lentils, hopped celery root cream, onions and peppers; confit pork belly with fingerlings, plums, chard, spicy walnuts and sherry vinegar; and chicken liver creme brulee with pumpernickel, red onions and pickled shittakes. Along with the above-mentioned restaurants, Liquids & Solids is helping locals and visitors of Lake Placid to become more adventurous while paving the way for new culinary concepts for the area.
Like the food menu, cocktails are crafted based on what’s in season, which not only keeps menu offerings fresh and delicious but also prices down. All syrups and purees are made in-house, while produce, herbs and spices are sourced locally. Some interesting concoctions one can sample include a “Smoked Ale” with spiced rum, smoked ginger, cardamom and coriander syrup, and soda water; a “Winters Cumin’” with pisco, cherry heering, cumin syrup, orange juice, cinnamon and soda; and a “Maple & Spice” featuring bourbon, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, lemon juice and apple juice.
“We want people to enjoy the experience of eating and drinking in a casual format,” says Konkoski. “I love overhearing the talk that a great meal evokes, whispers of other restaurants they have enjoyed and certain bites of food they remember. When you ask them how everything is so far, they reply with a noise, usually a low “mmmmmm”, or maybe even more guttural . That’s my favorite, no words until the last bite is gone. Then the reflection begins.”
While right now there are only a handful of restaurants broadening the palates of visitors and locals, there are new chefs coming into the area — such as Chef Richard Brosseau of the above-mentioned Freestyle Cuisine — looking to offer locals and visitors trying the Lake Placid restaurants something new and inventive. It’s a trend that seems to be well-received in the village, and one I believe will continue to grow to take Lake Placid beyond an outdoor adventure town offering meat and potatoes.
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