Last night, Amanda and I made the 40 mile trip to Bemus Point, NY to dine at The Italian Fisherman. The restaurant sits right on the shore of beautiful Lake Chautauqua and offers two restaurants in one location, the fine dining Classico Gourmet upstairs, and the informal Al Fresco Water Grill downstairs. I decided that dining outside at the Water Grill was more fitting for my summer food tour, so we headed around the side of the restaurant to an outdoor patio with a floating bar. We were one of two parties seated on the patio when we arrived, so we had a completely unobstructed view of the breathtaking sunset sky and the lake. Though it was a breezy night, the peeking sun gave enough warmth for sitting waterside, but on chillier nights, large propane-powered heaters are provided. Heather was our server for the night and she was great. She gave us the rundown of the menu, told us about the specials, and offered some insight on diner favorites. After she brought us some drinks, I walked over to the outdoor kitchen and talked to the chef and a line cook to hear some of their favorites as well. Amanda had heard good things about the Italian Nacho appetizer so we started with that. For our entrees, Amanda decided on the Tacchino and, on a recommendation from the kitchen, I ordered the Baja Fish Tacos.
The nachos came out rather quickly and I was definitely surprised by what I saw. Heather warned us that they were big, but I still wasn’t prepared for the cheesy behemoth that was placed on our table. The square plate was piled close to a foot high not with tortilla chips, but with thin pasta dough that had been cut into chip-sized pieces and fried. The pasta dough made for surprisingly light and airy chips that weren’t at all lacking in crunch. The nachos were topped with Asiago cream cheese sauce as well as Italian sausage, Kalamata and black olives, green onions, banana peppers, and additional shredded cheese. They looked intimidating, but once we dug in, we discovered they were also really delicious. The filling nachos could have easily served as a meal for both of us. The rich cheese sauce was balanced well by the slight heat of the sausage and the tangy zip of the banana peppers. Each bite came with a different combination of ingredients and flavors, and the variety made this appetizer fantastic. While Amanda and I very much enjoyed the nachos and put forth a valiant effort, we still brought home two to-go containers of leftovers.
The rest of our meal came out shortly after we gave up on the nachos. Amanda’s Tacchino, which is Italian for turkey, was just that, an open-faced turkey sandwich. The menu made it sound amazing, but in person, it fell a bit short. A whole wheat pita had been split and one half of it was served inside-up. The pita was then layered with a mound of arugula, a few slices of honey baked turkey, sliced tomato and cucumber, an even bigger pile of sprouts, two slices of very thick Swiss cheese and then the entire stack was drizzled with ranch dressing. For starters, the turkey had a strange aftertaste. We weren’t sure if it was just the way it was prepared or if it was old. The portions of sprouts and arugula could have easily been cut in half and there still would have been too many sprouts. Nothing in the sandwich was cohesive and there definitely wasn’t anything to make it stand out. The ranch dressing drizzle topping the sandwich was also an odd choice. For a mostly healthy sandwich, thick-sliced cheese aside, the ranch dressing made it heavy and a bit greasy. A lighter vinaigrette or mustard would have been much more palatable with the rest of the ingredients. The Swiss cheese was the most mistreated ingredient in the entire sandwich. Because it wasn’t melted, as described on the menu, it wasn’t serving any purpose as a binder. I think it would have been better to place the cheese and turkey on the pita, heat the sandwich to melt the cheese and turkey together, and then add the rest of the toppings.
The Baja Fish Tacos that I ordered looked better than Amanda’s sandwich, so I was eager to give them a try. I prefer corn tortillas to flour tortillas in most all situations. I know that not everyone feels the same way, but for fish tacos, corn adds flavor and texture that you just don’t get with flour. These tacos were filled with grilled citrus tilapia, a handful of cilantro-vidalia onion slaw and, according to the menu, topped with a wasabi aioli. Served on the side were some lime wedges and a spicy salsa. The fish itself was grilled well and the flavor mild, but instead of a power-packed wasabi punch, which would have been awesome, the tacos had an overpowering Dijon mustard flavor which didn’t work at all with the rest of the taco. The cilantro-vidalia slaw gave some much needed brightness to the tacos and the lime juice gave additional tanginess. I really like tilapia so I found myself wishing that it had played a bigger role in the tacos than the pile of toppings.
Obviously I can’t say anything about the food from the fine dining side of The Italian Fisherman, but the food downstairs could really use some help, especially when you consider the price. I know that at a place like this, my money is going toward the view and location, but when I am paying $17 for nachos, and $15 each for two tacos and a turkey sandwich, I expect higher quality food. If we hadn’t ordered the nachos, we not only would have left more disappointed, we would have left hungry seeing as how neither plate came with sides. For a $50 meal, I could have eaten better in Erie and saved my car 80 miles in gas. This is another place I could see myself hanging out with some friends for a drink and a plate of nachos, but I wouldn’t make the drive for dinner again. Thanks to Heather for the friendly and attentive service.
Until next time,
Andrew — Beard vs. Food