New Faces On Old Places
By Alan J. Bedenko
East Amherst’s Salonika is now La Scala: an upscale northern Italian fine dining destination that has become something of a place to see and be seen in East Amherst. La Scala has a big menu with great daily specials, and the building’s renovation is truly first-class.
The Hourglass is now O’Connell’s Hourglass, and while the building hasn’t changed much, the food is very inventive. This is definitely a special-occasion place that could give Oliver’s a run for its money. The food is great, sure, but what really stands out is attentive, prompt service.
The Hourglass made the news some months back because an enterprising person bought the old owner’s famous wine cellar for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The fate of the restaurant itself remained up in the air.
But we’re here to report that the forecast is bright and sunny for O’Connell’s Hourglass. Owned by Channel 2 meteorologist Kevin O’Connell, the new Hourglass is a showcase for his son, who is a very talented chef indeed.
We dined on the second day they were open, and were warmly greeted by the wife of O’Connell-the-younger. We were seated in a small room off the main dining room, which features a semi-circular bar.
Everyone with whom we interacted, from the greeter to our waiter (including cameo appearances by a few Channel 2 celebs), was charming, gracious, and attentive. This is truly the way a fine restaurant should be operated.
I never had a chance to check out the old Hourglass, but, thanks to the tender loving care the building has obviously received over the years, its fifties-era design is wonderfully preserved. It doesn’t look dated or old-fashioned at all; the dining area, awash with dark wood paneling, mellow yellow accent lighting, and clubby atmosphere is now totally retro-cool. It’s downright trendy. With be-bop playing over the stereo, the Rat Pack would totally dig this place.
Seared dayboat scallops over baby
arugula salad, wrapped in prosciutto
with a smoked plum vinaigrette.
Photo by Jim Bush.
The menu itself is by no means overwhelming. A list of about eight starters ranges in price from $7-10. Entrees range from $18-30, with a daily lobster special available at market price.
We sampled the double ripe brie and artichoke gratin, which was served with slices of fresh baguette and chopped tomatoes. This goopy, almost fondue-type dip had a great savory, garlicky flavor. It was quite different and very satisfying.
The rich, dark lobster and white prawn bisque was served with a long crouton covered with chevre. It was hearty and full of sea flavors, including a hint of brandy and little bits of shellfish meat on the bottom. It’d be a perfect way to warm up on a cold evening.
It was genuinely hard to decide on our entrees. The choices all seemed great. My wife opted for the filet mignon with garlic mashed potato. The meat, cooked to order medium rare, was pink and juicy on the inside. The steak knife she received was completely unnecessary, as the tender meat could have been cut with a butter knife. The plating was beautiful, with fried string leeks crowning the steak.
Seared Hudson Valley duck breast on top of
white truffle and golden beet risotto.
Photo by Jim Bush.
I had the grilled chicken, which was stuffed with goat cheese and mushrooms, served over a walnut and chorizo stuffing, and topped with buttery glace de poulette. It was a hearty, cold-weather meal, served with firm, grilled asparagus covered in salted butter. The stuffing was spicy and a bit dry, but complemented the moist, tender grilled chicken very nicely.
I will definitely return to this restaurant, and when I do, I’m going for the dish over which I chose the chicken: a house dry-aged strip steak served with red onion marmalade and bearnaise sauce.
The menu also features lamb, halibut, salmon, giant scallops, and lobster.
We ordered a red wine to go with our meal, but didn’t notice until it was too late that we received the wrong wine. The one we got cost $10 more than the one we ordered, but it was so good, and complemented the meal so well (and we were so otherwise pleased with the food and service), that we let it pass.
For dessert, we ordered a crème brulee, which was served in an edible chocolate saucer, and had a chocolaty crust. Absolutely perfect.
Our daughter was well taken care of, receiving a nice little bowl of buttered pasta and kind attention from the superb waiter.
There is no weak link at the new Hourglassit’s been catapulted to the highest echelon of Buffalo dining.
981 Kenmore Ave. (near Colvin Ave.) Kenmore, 877-8788
La Scala is located in the space formerly occupied by the Salonika diner (which has since moved to Lockport). Located way up Transit Road in East Amherst, the building’s new owners have done an excellent job remaking that diner into an elegant Italian restaurant. There’s a large, comfortable dining room, a large bar with a big-screen plasma TV, and a separate room that has some seating and a pizza oven.
Upon arrival, it took a bit of time to be greeted and seated. Our table faced a glass object in which the name of the restaurant had been etched, with an accompanying waterfall.
Although Italian-themed, this is not a red sauce type place. Salads run about $7, and an antipasto can be had for around $10. Clams and oysters are available, and the otherwise Italian-themed menu does have some interesting Middle Eastern additions, such as Bethanjan, which is an eggplant stuffed with pine nuts, beef, and rice.
Various pastas in various sauces are available in small and large sizesa very smart thing to do on a menu that also features meat entrees, since it gives diners an opportunity to actually do the Italian thing and enjoy a “first plate” of pasta before moving on to heartier fare. There is an extensive specials menu available every day.
We ordered a dozen Malpeque oysters to share. We wondered whether they’d give us a baker’s dozen, but instead, when we counted, we noticed that we had been served only eleven. Our waiter promptly corrected that little mathematical error. The oysters were fresh, but not particularly chilled. The mignonette was made with a stunningly sweet red vinegar that didn’t quite work.
Our daughter ordered a pizza, which is available as a starter, and it was very nicely done, with loads of cheese and a flaky crust.
We ordered a recommended Coppola winery red, which had a hearty, peppery flavor. The small penne in vodka sauce was very fresh and tasty, with big tomato chunks and a tangy, creamy sauce.
From the specials menu, I ordered an enormous 14-ounce veal chop Saltimbocca, served over a fig risotto, which cost $34. It was stuffed with cheese and prosciutto, which was hearty and delicious. The char on the veal chop gave it a wonderful texture and flavor. The fig risotto was a meal in itself. Deliciously creamy, with a smoky-sweet flavor of the figs, this was a great accompaniment.
The entire dish was coated in a sweet-savory sauce that tasted somewhat similar to a balsamic reduction, which made an otherwise wonderful dish a bit busy. The beautifully presented veal was topped with some nicely grilled, firm asparagus.
For dessert, we tried a delicious hazelnut gelato, which was plated beautifully. The hazelnut flavor was perfect. An orange sorbet was served in a hollowed-out orange, and tasted creamy and refreshing.
La Scala is a wonderful leap forward for Transit Road dining, but could use a bit of tweakingespecially the relatively young and inexperienced wait staff.
9210 Transit Rd.
East Amherst, 213-2777
Alan Bedenko is a lawyer who lives in Clarence with his wife and daughter. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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