It was a perfect evening for dining on the terrace of Geneva on the Lake, with the late sun bathing the trimmed formal gardens below us and dancing on the lake beyond. The colonnade where we dined was designed by artist William Schickel, who once owned the villa. It gave a sense of an outdoor room to the terrace without obscuring the view of the gardens or of the lake façade of the villa itself, which was modeled after the Villa Lancellotti in the Alban Hills near Rome.
That’s why the villa’s restaurant is called the Lancellotti Dining Room. And we were lucky to be there on a Tuesday evening in the summer, when it moves outdoors for a Candlelight Dinner. The piano moves outdoors, too, so soft music continued throughout the evening, pleasant for listening but not intrusive on conversation.
The menu gave us plenty to talk about. Most of us began with the Potage de Nuit, which that evening was a creamy soup of apples and root vegetables. I tasted sweet parsnips and a hint of celeriac, and potatoes gave it the creamy consistency. We were off to a good start.
I followed it with a salad of baby spinach with sliced Crimini mushrooms. Not a limp leaf on the plate, even when drizzled with the warm bacon dressing, the mushrooms were sliced just before serving, and the accompanying tartlets made with goat cheese from a local farm balanced the flavors and textures nicely.
Chosing an entrée was difficult. I bypassed the Chilean sea bass -- although it sounded delicious with a sherry and cream sauce – because they are endangered and I won’t knowingly contribute to the extinction of a species. The Florentine chicken breast sounded delicious, too, with ricotta, sundried tomatoes and spinach, finished with a fresh basil pesto and Asiago cheese.
I finally settled on a rosemary crusted rack of lamb, and was glad I did. It was served rare, exactly as I ordered it, pan-seared before roasting to seal in the tasty juices. It was sauced with a combination of local goat cheese (I certainly helped Lively Run dairy’s bottom line that night), Dijon mustard and Cabernet Sauvignon from a local vineyard. The chef and management at Geneva on the Lake believe in using local ingredients whenever it’s possible, and they credit the producers on the menu. The lamb was Frenched and served standing, plated with mashed blue potatoes and a mélange of fresh carrots, corn and Brussels sprout leaves.
Two others in my small group ordered the duck breast, glazed with orange and ginger, finished with a sauce of black cherries and a local Pinot Noir. Both of them and the other two who ordered the Filet Mignon and aged Angus strip steak respectively reported that they were also cooked exactly as ordered.
After all this and a couple of glasses of wine, there was no room for anything else, which was a shame because the dining room specializes in tableside flambéed desserts. When is the last time you saw Crêpes Suzette or flamed Bananas Foster on a menu?
I’m sure they would have gotten it just as right as they did everything else. Good conversation with friends, Finger Lakes wines (if you haven’t tried these recently, you should – they have come of age in the past few years), perfect weather and a dinner that delivered everything the menu promised. Life doesn’t get much better than that.
Geneva on the Lake is an inn with 34 luxury apartments, each completely different and retaining the decorative features of the original 1910 mansion. It sits overlooking the lake in Geneva, New York, in the heart of the Finger Lakes region. Tel: 315 789-7190.