I’ve never spent large amounts of time in Skaneateles, but throughout high school and a few times since, I’ve visited due to a long friendship with one family there. Us kids have grown up and moved away, which is why I haven’t been in so long, but as I drove in Sunday on 41N, barely managing to keep my car on the road due to my ogling of the gorgeous waterfront homes, I remembered why I love this place so much. Skaneateles is what would happen if Henderson Harbor, Sackets Harbor and Saratoga has a naughty night of passion followed by the birth of a love child: some very posh people and posh shopping can be found here, but it’s the lake that’s the draw. Skaneateles Lake is the cleanest of the Finger Lakes. Spring- fed and limestone-lined, the water is clear and blue – much more Caribbean than your typical finger lake. The combo of sparkling water, graceful homes, idyllic shops and fabulous restaurants are what made me hesitant to share my experience with you. It’s so perfect there: I’ll be jealous if you go and I can’t!
So, for Mother’s Day brunch, we went to a place I’ve been internet stalking for ages: Mirbeau Inn & Spa. Since this place opened, I have been dying to go to its spa. Problem: I am a normal, middle class girl who does not come from old money, or new money for that matter; the treatments at Mirbeau run roughly triple what I pay for services at August Moon. So I have watched and waited. And my chance to finally visit presented itself in the form of Mother’s Day brunch. Genius!
Just look at the grandeur of this place. It’s a Francophile’s wet dream, all Monet-inspired courtyard gardens, waterfalls, chateau chic and old world charm. My parents and I had a lovely stroll through the garden before brunch and marveled at the lush beauty. This place is like Disneyland for adults.
But alas, it was time for brunch. I set this meal aside as a cheat meal for the weekend, and tucked in with gusto. Our waiter, who I will leave nameless, was kind of a trip, in a borderline lecherous sort of way, interrupting our conversations to wax poetic on the beauty of women and the sanctity of motherhood. This was an immediate negative to the experience, though the rest of the staff was extremely pleasant and helpful in a non-intrusive manner. The dining room echoed the poshness of the rest of the inn: French country with a nice fireplace and a warm ambiance. I was excited for the food, and began with a plate laden with oysters, shrimp, pate and grilled zucchini.
I’ll start with the oysters, which I liked for their buttery, mild flavor, and the red wine mignonette, which I did not care for. This is my own fault; I know I don’t like red wine vinegar (classical conditioning from a traumatic stomach bug in my childhood), and I shouldn’t have tried it. For me, the red wine vinegar was much too acidic for the briny bivalves, and ruined their sweetness. The shrimp, as well, were not to my liking – they were flavorless and grainy-textured. The plate was redeemed by the pates, however. The liver pate was less salty than most of the chicken liver varieties I’ve been indulging in of late, but very rich and satisfying, while a vegetable tureen was mild, eggy and yummy. The grilled zucchini with oil-cured olives and feta was clean-tasting and delicious. Not overcooked; just right, while the brie was fine, funky and creamy.
For my second plate, I sampled my two favorite dishes as well as my least favorite. The duck l’orange was exemplary: crispy, sweet skin juxtaposed with savory, fall-apart tender meat. I would order this every time. It was fabulous. Equally terrific was the bread pudding-esque twice-baked French toast, which was awesomely sweet and cinnamony, creamy, custardy, ooooh yummmmm. And see the big, round, slice of beef in the bottom left quadrant of the plate? That would be my least favorite item, seafood-stuffed beef, from the carving station. This dry slab of protein did absolutely nothing for me. It’s wasn’t beefy, it was seafood-y, and it was so dry – despite a ladleful of au jus spooned on by the carver – I only managed two bites. Skip this one if you try out Mirbeau. Also adorning this plate was a mushroom risotto that was sweet and earthy (I think it may have included red wine, which was nice) that my Mom adored although it was a little tight for me. Risotto is all about the texture, and needs to be just slightly soupy. This was not. Also a seafood “Douglas” over jasmine rice. This yummy newburg relative was redolent of sherry and perfectly cooked scallops, but the rice itself was a little al dente – a mixed bag.
Between plates two and three, there was a hitch in our enjoyable meal. I had planned to return for a larger portion of duck and French toast, with some fruit to lighten things up – but the buffet was completely out of duck and low on the breakfast pleaser. While I was able to wait around for a delicious second helping of fresh French toast, the duck never did reappear. What’s up with that? Frankly, this buffet was $46 per person. Everything should have been hot and fresh at all times. There’s no excuse for this.
|A close-up of French toast, which would have been a lot happier sharing the plate with some duck|
The dessert table, too, disappointed me. Again, for a special occasion buffet that should have been lavish for its price tag, nothing really called to me from this array of truffles, lemon tart, carrot cake (which looked to be store-bought?), strawberry shortcake and black and white cookies. I went for the lemon tart, but it was completely boring – not overly tart, no strong flavors - and I only took a couple small bites. A true fine dining locale should have done something unique and gourmet to this classic dessert – but this was standard issue.
There were other items on the buffet I sampled and were fine, if unremarkable: roasted tri-color baby carrots were nice, if a little too crisp for my palate; potatoes dauphine were cold, although creamy and nicely flavored; the chicken cordon bleu on the carving station also was well-flavored but terribly dried out. Hey Chef – how about a supreme sauce to moisten things up? There also was an omelet station I didn’t try, and Dad had the mussels and said they were terrible, though he did enjoy the smoked salmon. Again, for a price tag north of $40, this is unacceptable, although overall, we had a great time here.
I’m struggling with a score, because while we said eight out of 10 onsite, in retrospect, I’m considering downgrading to a seven. You can’t deny that the place is lovely and the service, grand. But our personal waiter was annoying and intrusive, and the hold-up on food and some of the lackluster dishes were strong negatives. Yes, I’m sticking with the seven. If and when I return to Mirbeau – on that sparkling day I feel I can afford the lavish spa, I will order the duck and rejoice in eating as much as I want of this spectacular dish.
After brunch, we wandered the shops in “downtown” Skaneateles, soaking up the sunshine and enjoying the day. We reminisced about fun times with our friends who live in town, and wondered if we’d run into any of them during our day. We didn’t, but that didn’t spoil the experience one bit. I highly recommend Skaneateles for a day trip or a weekend getaway. There are idyllic B&Bs around the village, or you can stay at Mirbeau. Dine at village institution The Sherwood Inn, or next door at Kabuki, which I’m hoping to visit around my birthday this year. And enjoy – this is a magical place, nestled right under our nose in Central NY.
What did you do for Mother’s Day this year? Any great spreads I missed? Have you been to Mirbeau and actually pampered yourself in its spa? Tell us all about it in the comments, below! My hunger is big, my personality is bigger!