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The Inn crowd

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There’s no doubt that Inn on the Lake is a gorgeous setting for anything from a weekend getaway to a wedding—this “unique airport hotel” sports a sandy beach on Lake Thomas, tennis courts, a pool and beautifully appointed rooms.

Recent renovations have turned the dining room and bar into equally lovely settings. The more casual Oliver’s is done in “Olde English” pub style; Encore, the fine dining restaurant, has an Art Deco feel. Wrought iron, stained glass, deco light fixtures and Frank Sinatra on the sound system set the expectation of an elegant dining experience.

That is, until we open our menus. Chicken Kiev, chicken cordon bleu, escargot, shrimp cocktail—these are dated dishes that belong in culinary textbooks. There’s nothing wrong with any of them, but to see them all on one menu is too retro. A dining room as beautiful as this deserves an equally well thought-out new menu.

For starters, we try the seafood chowder ($8.50), escargot ($9.25), soup of the day ($5.95) and spinach-artichoke dip ($9.50). Escargot (snails) with garlic butter is pretty good (but I think anything in garlic butter is good). They’re chewy without being tough.

The soup is broccoli and cheddar; although thin, it has a nice, natural broccoli flavour. By far the best appetizer is the seafood chowder, a large bowl with bay scallops, shrimp and haddock in a deliciously rich broth. It’s filling enough for a meal on its own. A close second is the spinach and artichoke dip, made from a “time honoured recipe” which apparently calls for the spinach and artichoke to be left in larger pieces (usually you find this dish pureed to a pulp). Served with toast rounds, it’s warm and very good indeed, and big enough for two.

Despite the dated menu, the preparation has been good and we look forward to mains. Chicken parmesan ($16.95) is perhaps the most visually unappealing version of the dish that I’ve ever seen, and the taste isn’t any better. The chicken is covered with a thick layer of nearly burned cheese, the pasta is overdone and mushy, the sauce skimpy and bland. Striploin steak ($25.95) appears to have been cut from the end of the loin; it’s full of gristle, thin on one end, thick on the other, and horribly overcooked. Good thing there’s a passable peppercorn sauce ($3.25) on the side. The most expensive entree, herb-encrusted rack of lamb ($31.95) is also cooked way past the requested doneness, and although it’s flavourful, the toughness of the meat mars the enjoyment of the dish. The best of the lot is the Scotch salmon ($23.95); even though it too has been cooked for too long, the nice Scotch glaze saves it.

We try two desserts, a coconut cream pie ($6.25) and a chocolate pate ($7.50). Both of these make us forget the main courses. Oh. My. God. Made on the property, the pie tastes so made from scratch I can easily picture someone in the kitchen hacking apart coconuts. It’s a thing of beauty, the most amazing pie of any kind, anywhere, that I have ever dug a fork into. The chocolate pate is also fantastic, sporting a rich, deep, chocolate flavour without the cloying sweetness of other desserts of its ilk.

The service ranks up there with the dessert—Rob is a consummate pro, the kind of server who can read a table and adjust his service style accordingly.

I might not drive out again for a main course, but you can bet I’ll be back for an “Encore” of dessert.

Inn on the Lake3009 Lake Thomas Drive, Fall River 861-3420Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.Liz Feltham’s encore is on the web: www.foodcritic.ca

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