The Mansion at Bald Hill, South Woodstock
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A goat cheese tart, however, falls short. There’s no law saying a cheese tart has to be custardy, but the texture of this one resembles library paste. We like its fresh, tangy flavor and the caramelized onions, fig preserves and balsamic-dressed greens served with it, but the crust is underbaked and cold.
Entrées include fish, fowl and shellfish plus lobster mac ’n’ cheese served as a main course or for $8 as a side. Veal Toscana turns out to be the tenderest, tastiest veal cutlets we’ve had in ages. Marinated in olive oil, lemon and rosemary, sliced thin but not too thin and cooked sans breading, they’re served with tomato-and-caper tapenade, asparagus, Gorgonzola and caramelized onion “smashed” potatoes.
Salmon Oscar is also an over-the-top creation, with lump crabmeat, fresh asparagus and spinach mashed potatoes all in a heap and blanketed with a ton of béarnaise sauce. The components are delicious, but would look prettier and taste cleaner if they were allotted separate spaces on the plate.
Hudson Valley duck breast in juicy slices is plated with potato pancakes, a mountain of root vegetables, rivers of sauce and red onion black currant jam. Digging through this mélange, we hit something solid. Mystified, we consult the menu and see that the duck breast has been “grill roasted on an applewood plank.” Serving grilled food on a cedar or fruitwood plank is a theatrical flourish that doesn’t work when the food and the plank are completely buried under a welter of contrasting textures and flavors. As for the discomfiting sensation of encountering a foreign object on the plate, it’s no big deal, but it is a missed opportunity.
The Mansion’s rack of lamb, however, gets everything right. The two double-thick chops, medium-rare as ordered, are flavorful, tender and juicy. Crusted with chopped pecans and a hint of horseradish, they’re accompanied by a few pan-roasted fingerlings and honey-roasted cubes of beets and squash.
A side of lobster mac ’n’ cheese, which we had ordered for the table to share (what were we thinking?), is surprisingly light and fluffy, with baby shells and chunks of lobster in a white-cheddar cream sauce.
Do we have room for dessert? Of course not. Do we order dessert? Of course we do. And we’re glad. The chocolate lava cake is an excellent rendition. Apple crisp is warm and homey, with caramelized baked apples and a crispy oat topping. And “White Chocolate Croissant Custard,” an outrageously voluptuous bread pudding made with croissants, white chocolate, dark chocolate and raspberry sauce, seduces us all.
The Mansion at Bald Hill
20 Plaine Hill Rd., South Woodstock (860/974-3456, mansionatbaldhill.com)
Dinner Tuesday through Thursday 5 to 8:30, Friday and Saturday till 9, Sunday 4 to 8. Wheelchair access. Major credit cards. Price range: appetizers $8 to $12, entrées $18 to $32, desserts $6 to $9.