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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Phoenix of Paradise

From the Vault Dept.: Yesterday’s post told a story that took place during a trip to Lake Placid to write about the Mirror Lake Inn. It remains an outstanding resort, still under the same ownership as described below. The formal dining room now is called The View, and Carl Gronlund, who was chef in 1992, is now the hotel’s general manager.


BACK IN THE 1950s, a series of murals was painted on the walls of the Mirror Lake Inn by Averil Courtney Conwell, an artist who settled in Lake Placid and celebrated the village with these portraits of turn-of-the-century life. Most of the paintings were rescued from a 1988 fire that destroyed the main building of the Inn (some had to be chainsawed from the walls), and the then-94-year-old Conwell took on the task of restoring her work.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Not only did she compensate for water damage; she also took the opportunity to add new colors and a new youthfulness to her paintings. When the Inn reopened six months after the fire, the murals were framed and hung in the new dining room, which also was named after the artist.

That sense of a new approach has characterized many aspects of the Inn since the fire. Devastating as it was, the event allowed the owners to come up with an even better facility without sacrificing the hundred-year-old elegance of the place.

It goes without saying that when you feel comfortable in a dining room, the meal is all the more enjoyable. A resort like the Mirror Lake Inn, which stands with wonderful dignity at one end of the tourist-thronged village, needs to extend that comfort to all aspects of the place: rooms, grounds, activity areas. This is done to a large extent by keeping the staff happy. Thanks to the management style of owners Ed and Lisa Weibrecht, there's an infectious sense of peace.

You’ll be greeted by any passing staffer, for instance, a technique so simple and yet so effective that it prompted my wife to continue to spread greetings to every damn stranger we passed.

The greetings followed us into the dining room last Friday evening where it felt as if we’d been mistaken for some pair of celebrities. But that’s the way all are treated.

Not bad, of course, to dine with the view of a lake, especially with the remnants of sunset still kicking around. Better still when the room itself is superbly appointed. Nothing too ostentatious, mind you. Just the trappings of good taste, which is rare enough these days to be exceptional.

Chef Carl Gronlund, a young Culinary Institute graduate, has been with the Inn for only a could of years but is making his mark with a menu that combines the best of what’s long been popular and many of his other favorites, all with an eye to how it goes over in the dining room.

“I try to keep a little bit of an Adirondack feel here,” he says, “which is why I have venison on the menu as well as a lot of smoked items. For a while we were mixing Adirondack maple syrup with a more commercial brand during breakfast, but I decided we might as well go all the way with the real thing.”

The smoked items are prepared in the kitchen – as is practically everything on the menu. Using a slow-roasting oven and hickory pellets, such items as the Smoked Rainbow Trout are produced, which was my appetizer. The meat is still firm and fleshy, but the flavor has a pungent finish that goes well with the topping of horseradish dill sauce that’s been a house favorite for many years. Gronlund presents it with the traditional accompaniments of chopped onion, parsley, hard-boiled egg and capers, along with a sprinkling of fresh dill.

Long before you sample your appetizer, however, you’ll be served a small serving of fresh bread. It changes nightly; we were served a slightly sweet loaf touched with fennel and filled with golden raisins.

A house salad is served before the entree, unless you choose a Caesar or spinach salad, both available a la carte. But the house salad is delicious enough: a good selection of greens livened with fresh tomatoes. Susan opted for the house dressing, a puckery Dijon vinaigrette. I chose the unlikely-sounding Citrus dressing, which was a happy surprise (see below).

The range of entrees includes popular kinds of meat and fish and pasta prepared in traditional and unusual ways, including the provocative-sounding Pasta Adirondack Style, which mixes smoked shrimp and smoked trout amidst the strands and finishes it in a cream sauce, and a safe bet like pork loin with apples and onions.

On the reverse is the “wellness menu,” which reinterprets some of the regular items to reveal just how good-for-you they are, and adds a few more. It has a dauntingly technical appearance, breaking each item into is components of fat and sodium, calories and cholesterol; but if you’re going to spending any time at all in Lake Placid, you’d better eat sensibly. You’re surrounded by fitness nuts who parade in much too little clothing, and it’s enough to drive a fat man into horrified seclusion.

Susan therefore chose the pasta marinara (168 cal., 1.6g fat, 9 percent fat-cal., less than 1 mg chol., 315 mg sodium) and enjoyed a tasty tomato topping to just-right linguine, along with steamed broccoli and cauliflower.

My salmon piccata probably wouldn’t pass a wellness muster, seeing as how the otherwise healthy fish is dredged in egg batter and sauteed. A light lemon butter and a bed of fresh-cooked spinach complete it, along with a roasted new potato and the broccoli-cauliflower combo. It was a delicious entree, even if it made me no thinner.

Service is exceptional, with a captain-waiter system that assures you’re never neglected. Suzanne, our captain, was knowledgeable and attentive and a great help with everything except dessert, which she liked too uniformly to name favorites. Susan finished with a cup of rainbow sherbet, while I went “wellness” with a crepe and frozen yogurt combo, then spoiled it with a cherry-liqueur coffee.

Averil Conwell Dining Room at the Mirror Lake Inn, 5 Mirror Lake Drive, Lake Placid, 523-2544. Serving breakfast daily 7:30-11 AM, dinner 5:30-9 PM. All major credit cards.

Carl’s Citrus Dressing

A sensible policy of the Mirror Lake Inn is to make no recipe secret. Gronlund scoffs at the idea of hiding the preparation of anything that’s popular. They even have request forms that you can submit to the kitchen, which will mail you a detailed reply. Great idea, I told the chef. I’m going to request the citrus dressing recipe. He waved a dismissive hand. “That one’s easy,” he said. “It’s just a mixture of orange juice with a little garlic and some paprika, sweetened with honey. I thicken it by bringing it to a boil and adding a little bit of corn starch.” And so I share this with you in a chef-to-chef manner. Obviously, you don’t want to go crazy with the garlic, and remember to moisten the corn starch before you add it. (Its more costly cousin, arrowroot, will thicken the mixture without clouding it.) Season to taste and make it your own.

Metroland Magazine, 16 July 1992

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