Valentine Reduction - The Turtle Island Cafe

February 16, 2010

I’m a romantic at heart and a pragmatist by nature, so the Valentine holiday is something of a conundrum for me, since I am a bit commercialism / market sensitive, and really do not enjoy the holiday expectations…luckily my sweetie is even more vehement about the pink and red sales  blitz, so the best thing we can think to do is to enjoy a fine meal and a fine bottle of wine.  Our dinners at home are something we take really seriously, and they are really a daily romance.  As such, they set a fairly high bar.  So we eat out infrequently, and extremely selectively.

We headed up north to the NY side of Lake Champlain, to check in with family that reside there and to have a special dinner at what is one of our most favorite restaurants.  It is a stunning length of lake shore that chraracterizes the area, with romantic views of the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks on each horizon.   The town is the home of my extended family, and it is home to a kitchen that produces food, that aptly befits the surrounds.

Willsboro, NY is an old Adirondack lumber and ice town with a large mileage of shoreline, due to the extensive peninsula that juts north into the wide part of the lake.

It is nestled between the lake and the adirondack foothills which drop dramatically into deep water on the western edge of the large Willsboro Bay.   The Bouquet River comes through the center of town from its source in the high peaks, having  greater vertical drop than any other river in NY.   Due to the natural beauty and some basic local amenities (village stores, diners, bar, bowling, boat launch, golf, churches, proximity to the Essex-Charlotte Ferry (not in service for winter - bridge repair project )) , its normally small population triples in the heat of summer, when folks from all points of the globe come to enjoy the clear air, the deep lake and the genuine hospitality of this quiet little town.  A most unsuspecting place to find a culinary gem in the limestone of the Bouquet Valley.

The Turtle Island Cafe, right downtown, used to be this little soda fountain place…and a local pharmacy before that. A few years ago an energetic an talented couple bought the place, and turned it into a fine dining restaurant. We were excited at the prospect, but worried for Dave and Mimi, that little Willsboro would not be able to support such a place. Never the less, we made the most of a great dining situaton, and have tended to try and frequent them most in the slow season, and leave the busy time to the visitors, in an effort to help balance their year out. Dave is a CIA graduate, who did his time at a super ADK restaurant before going it himself, is an all around master of the kitchen, a genius with soups ( from my personal record) . Anyhow, more than the normal three year survival mark, the Turtle is plugging along with a dedicated clientele, and a great connecton to locally sourced foods.


Dave has a deep wine cellar and more than what is on the list. I had alread looked at the menu ahead of time and knew what I wanted, it just so happened that my better half chose the same thing. We had a lucious crab cake appetizer with the house Brut that was being poured, and then after the house salad, the roast rack of lamb in pinot noir and cherry reduction sauce. For this I chose to pair the Zenato Ripassa 2005. It was the perfect pairing for lamb, with it’s lush silky mouthfeel, and deep sour cherry, plus anise mouthfull. Ripassas from the Veneto region of Italy are a really great deal, and sometimes beat out an inexpensive Amarone by a long shot in the QPR equation. Amaraone is made from grapes that have been raisinated on straw mate prior to fermentation…after pressing, that pomace is added to “lesser” wine to become Ripassa ( to pass again ). There is no reason to see the result as “lesser”. If you find yoursel in an Italian restaurant, and a wine list that you can barely comprehend, look for that word.

The Turtle Island Cafe was written up in the final issue of Gourmet Magazine, has been mentioned in the New York Times, and we are vary glad to see them get the recognition they deserve for providing and excellent mealtime experience, and a unparalleled community service to the eastern Adirondacks and Western shoers of Lake Champlain.


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