Located right on Riverside Dr. in the heart of the Village, ChannelSide takes up the vacancy left by the Riverside Café, and is run by the Beatties, of Attilio’s fame. They have completed a pretty stunning reno over the winter, so now, gleaming wood and stacked stone dominate the entrance and bar area, while the wood paneling in the back has been given a fresh coat of paint and the deck has been spruced up. As my parents and I visited at the start of the big Memorial Day weekend rush, cottagers up for their first night in paradise abounded.
We kicked off our meal with a doozy: fried cheese curds. This is a novel menu choice for Upstate NY. While we love our cheese curds, we don’t often take the step of deep frying them like our friends in the Midwest do. ChannelSide’s offering is light, with a slightly sweet batter that makes a fitting foil for the earthy, sharp cheddar curds. The accompanying horseradish sauce was a little mild, but delicious and creamy. It could have stood more of a kick and some more color, but wasn’t unpleasant. This was perfect bar food, and could honestly be kicked up and made extraordinary in any number of ways. Why isn’t anyone making jalapeno poppers with River rat cheese curds stuffed inside? Or topping the fried curds with bacon, cilantro and a spicy pico de gallo? A little imagination would take this dish from yum to Damn!
Salads were up next, and the house-made dressings were the star. Mom and I went for the house choice, which is a honey poppy seed, while Dad chose the balsamic. The honey poppy seed was a masterpiece: less sweet than I thought it would be, with citrus notes and an almost smoky undertone. Excellent. Even Dad’s balsamic was layered in flavor, and may have also counted honey among its ingredients. While the salad itself was kind of ordinary, make sure to sample the dressings when you dine here this summer.
Dad’s entrée, from the specials menu, was really nice: sea bass with pineapple mango salsa over sautéed greens. Because greens are so earthy and that salsa seems so light and summery, I had my doubts about this one. They were for naught, because the fish was cooked flawlessly, and the sweet salsa and crisp-tender chard played off each other really nicely. We heard from owner Bruce Beattie that the chef is named Clayton, which is cute since its IN Clayton. Good job on this one, kid.
My order also originated from the specials roster: pork medallions with mushrooms and truffle oil over garlic mashed. This uber mushroomy, earthy dish would have sung with something green on the plate, but was just slightly muddy as is. I loved the truffle kick; all lush, rich decadence, but it overpowered any flavor the velvety potatoes may have otherwise brought. The pork was fine, but again, not stronger than the shrooms. It could have been more tender, or even fattier. This was loin pork, and just kind of blah. Luckily, I love mushrooms, so I liked my plate, but there was some more work to be done here.
Mom stuck to an old standby for her entrée: filet mignon with rice pilaf. The welcome kick-in-the-pants here came from a gorgeous blue cheese cream sauce that she ordered on the side of her steak. It was heavenly, rich, indulgent, and addictive. I’m really hoping Ole Clayton, in the kitchen, cranked it out himself, because if I find out that was a packaged product, I might cry. We were even talking about how good that sauce would have been as the base for a soup with some corn or crab in it. Holy cow. The filet itself also was good, better beefy flavor than a lot of your run of the mill mignons out there, but the rice was completely flabby and insipid. Overcooked and boring.
Cindy Beattie, the other half of the Attilio’s legacy, makes all the desserts for ChannelSide. I went for the chocolate chip pie, or Kentucky derby pie, or whatever it’s called when it’s in a pie crust, but it tastes like a big, under-baked cookie. This is one of my favorite desserts. And while I only ate about 1/3 of this due to my oft-mentioned diet, I enjoyed the ooey, gooey chocolate, walnut, and sugary overload of it very much. The crust was very flaky, though not super flavorful. A scoop of great vanilla bean ice cream would have made this perfect.
With the exception of the sea bass, we felt like every dish here was solid, but could have benefitted from some creativity and adventuresome spirit in the kitchen. That’s what I love so much about places like Ithaca Ale House and chefs like Gabe Aubertine – you can tell someone is in the kitchen asking himself, “How could I push this dish over the top and make it awesome?” If Cindy and Bruce can give Clayton the carte blanche to do that in the ChannelSide kitchen, I think great things are possible. We scored ChannelSide an eight on the BHS scale. And it will do well in Clayton, due to its stunning location, outdoor seating and solid food. Give it a try this summer and let us know what you think! My hunger is big, my personality is bigger!
P.S. Some new graphics are on their way for Big Hungry Shelby, thanks to an amazing photo shoot last week with April McClintock Photography, with an assist from Michael J. Huxley Photography, Carrie Baker and Rosie Slocum, and The Boathouse and Hops Spot in Sackets. Here’s a tiny sneak peek for you, but what’s to come is WAY better! Note: April and I took great care that the bread loaf in the shot below didn’t look like a wandering wang in photos. I blame this on the fact that Hannaford in Watertown didn’t have actual French baguette Friday morning when I stocked up on treats there. How is this even possible? And how is it possible that errant phallic objects should even be of concern in my life?