After major renovations, The Bar at the Rhinecliff, the new eatery at the famed Rhinecliff hotel, reopens with an updated look and a varied menu
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Stick to your ribs: Nieman Ranch short ribs are braised in red wine and served with caramelized root vegetables.
On my second visit, on a weeknight when the room was three-quarters full, service was very pleasant — and much improved. The Spanish-born chef, Rei Peraza, comes from the hotel and resort world, including a tour of duty at the highly rated Salish Lodge and Spa in Snoqualmie, Washington. His menu melds brasserie fare, bistro dishes, bracing American standards, and, not surprisingly, English mainstays like shepherd’s pie and fish and chips.
The latter arrived in a megaphone-sized cornet weighed down with golden chunks of cleanly fried monkish set over French fries, with a zesty, lemony vinegar dipping sauce. A twist on shepherd’s pie may surprise traditionalists, but it’s a savory twist: luscious braised oxtail along with caramelized root vegetables and wild mushrooms, all mired in a stout beef stock. My only quibble is that it was a tad too soupy. Then there is the British back-of-the-refrigerator staple called bubble and squeak, a sizeable and savory dish. It has many iterations, but typically it’s a skillet-fried combination of cabbage (or brussels sprouts), celery, parsnips, and leftover mashed potatoes. Chef Peraza’s crispy, herb infused adaptation certainly makes a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
One of the more curious offerings was a tongue-in-cheek take on shrimp cocktail. I didn’t much care for it: cooked prawns presented in a cocktail glass partly submerged in a light tomato-based sauce zapped with a bit of Tabasco. Also added to the mix is samphire, the briny saltwater greens that sometimes are called sea asparagus. If you benefit from congenitally low cholesterol, go for the rich and well seasoned rillettes of pork (chopped or shredded pork cooked in its own fat and served with toast and pickled vegetables), or the absolutely delicious purée of carrot soup. There is a nice cheese selection as well.
Appropriate for a brasserie, the beer list is extensive, and eclectic. (Skullspliter from Scotland, anyone?) The wine selection is limited but adequate, leaning toward France and Italy. Prices are generally fair, with plenty to choose from in the $30-$40 range. Among reds, if you want to splurge you’ll get your credit card’s worth with the silky Gigondas from Dom Brusset, Le grand Montmirail, 2005 ($49), or the fruity 2005 Vietti, Nebbiolo Perbacco ($41).
Having cleaned out the bread basket, Sean ordered the hamburger and pronounced it “good,” although dad found the French fries a bit greasy. Designer beef from northern California's celebrated Neiman Ranch was put to better use in lusty short ribs braised in red wine with caramelized root vegetables.
The one excursion into Italian cuisine (a special) was very pleasing: a nice mélange of rigatoni tossed with arugula, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and pesto. Another seafood dish was sautéed skate wing, the boney, fan-shaped denizen of the ocean floor whose succulent sweet flesh is reminiscent of scallops. It was enhanced by a sharp-sweet sherry-tarragon reduction aromatic of lemon and thyme.
For dessert, you might return to the motherland for a winsome concoction called sticky toffee pudding. Essentially a dense cake base sweetened with gooey chopped dates, it’s slathered with toffee icing (brown sugar, butter, and cream). Hey, the Brits love it, so at least give it a try. Another winning option is the lovely anise-tinged quince bread pudding.
The dining room at the Lazarus-like Rhinecliff hotel can be likened to the proverbial dog walking on its hind legs: it may not be done flawlessly, but you’re impressed that it’s done at all. What is more, this well-intended institution represents a colorful thread in the region’s historical tapestry — another reason to lend support. And while the restaurant can be recommended even at this adolescent stage, it has the potential to become the newest “destination” dining room in town.
The Bar at the Rhinecliff
All meals daily from 7 a.m.-9:30 p.m. (to 10:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat.). Appetizers range from $6.95-$13.95; entrées from $13.95-$23.95, desserts $5.95-$7.95.
4 Grinnell St., Rhinecliff. 876-845-0590