It took longer than usual this year, but always, as soon as the snow is gone, I have an irresistible urge to drive out of town, preferably to an attractive restaurant, preferably one with a view, and preferably (although there are times when they have their own appeal) for something more substantial than a hot dog and fries.
Sometimes I have to go far afield; sometimes I'm lucky enough to find something closer to home, and for elegant country dining it doesn't get much more elegant or closer to home than the restaurant at Larters golf course. It's an easy drive (approximately 25 kilometres, depending on where you start from), mostly on Highway 9, which no one would describe as lovely. The reward comes when you reach your destination.
The clubhouse has two dining rooms, both with expansive views of the 18th green, and, beyond it, the river. The large, more casual room seats 80, but elegance was what we had come for, in the smaller (40 seats), more intimate room which is called Oscars at Larters -- a mystery, since the executive chef is Cam Huley, and there is no Oscar.
It's a striking, multi-windowed octagonal space, with a soaring, octagonal, tepee-shaped wooden ceiling. There are white linens on the tables, comfortable tapestry-upholstered armchairs, and a fireplace for cooler days -- a much swankier spot than is common beyond the city limits... or within them, for that matter.
It also has generally well-prepared food, and a few dishes that are well above average. The same menu is available in both dining rooms -- such usual clubhouse offerings as sandwiches, burgers, fish and chips, plus a few pastas and such starters as Vietnamese summer rolls; calamari; house-spiced chicken wings; and Asian marinated beef skewers with peanut sauce ($6.75 to $15, with fries or salad). We were tempted by the clubhouse of both smoked and peppered salmon with avocado, and the orcchiette with chorizo, red peppers and arugula, but we opted for the dinner menu, which is available from 4 p.m. daily,
We started with big grilled prawns, which had been split lengthwise for easy access, and came with a lovely chimichurri sauce on the side (five big ones for $12.50). The mussels weren't at their plumpest, briniest best, but they were acceptable and beautifully prepared -- with bits of chorizo and roasted garlic in a spicy saffron broth ($12). However the manner of serving was very awkward, crammed into a deep bucket which made getting at the broth almost impossible, and there was no bread with which to sop up that lovely broth. Bread (we were told) comes only with the main courses, so we asked to have ours a little early, and they turned out to be wonderful crusty little rolls -- made in-house, according to our server.
The top-rated main course of the evening, by far, was salmon, poached to fresh, juicy perfection, under a coating of light hollandaise sauce ($24). Tender, moist bison short ribs were also good, and the jalapeno corn bread with them was a rare treat ($22.50). Half a rack of Texas style baby back ribs were meaty, but didn't taste particularly Texan, coated with barely a smear of some unidentifiable sauce ($25.50). An eight-ounce rib-eye steak was tender but didn't have much flavour, was cut too thin and grilled beyond the medium-rare requested ($23). All the garnishes were excellent, though -- deep-fried mashed potato puffs, simply but perfectly prepared asparagus and slightly sweet red cabbage.
Other possible main courses include half a roast chicken, marinated with fire-smoked paprika ($23.50); a 10-ounce boneless pork chop with smoked tomatoes and bacon compote ($24.50); a six- or eight-ounce beef tenderloin with b©arnaise sauce ($38/$40), a New York strip loin with mushrooms ($29) and halibut and chips ($18.50). According to our server the chef has spent some time in Asia, and there are also such Asian-inspired dishes as a teriyaki stir fry with chicken, beef or shrimp; pad Thai with chicken; and green curry shrimp or red Thai shrimp ($13 to $15.50).
The fabulous churros alone might be worth the drive -- four crisp, puffy fried dough strips, dusted in cinnamon sugar and accompanied by little dipping bowls of chocolate ganache, creme anglaise and a lovely, light fruity sauce. The creme brªl©e had a fine smooth texture and would have ranked higher if its raspberry flavour had been more pronounced. Other possible sweets include a pie or cheesecake of the day, panna cotta, shmoo torte or brandy snap with rum raisin ice cream ($4.50 to $6).
The coffee was excellent, and the wine list small but adequate. It's impossible to predict how the service might be on a busy night since we were the only ones there, but our server was certainly excellent -- friendly and casual, but knowledgeable and thoroughly professional.