Living it up at Lakeside Restaurant
Lakeside Restaurant is the perfect spot to reintroduce yourself to the splendid experience of fine dining. For more information or to make reservations (a must), please call Lakeside at (828) 526-9419. They are located at 531 Smallwood Avenue in Highlands.
It’s no coincidence that Tricia and I joined our friend Stuart for a languid meal at Lakeside Restaurant.
The three of us were finally fully vaccinated, and we were primed to shake off the anxiety that had shadowed our steps over the previous 14 months.
Set on the shores of Highlands’ little Harris Lake and arranged as though for a postcard, Lakeside is a little jewel that feels far more removed than simply a block from Main Street. It’s a different mindset and it’s relentless in its efforts to cajole you out of whatever remains of your Covid-induced listlessness.
The charm offensive is enhanced by the fun and just-this-side-of funky artwork that adorns nearly every inch of available wall space.
And, in our case, all that residual wariness was ultimately washed away by the irrepressible cheerfulness of our server Merrill. She was bright as a new dime and she consistently delivered what I can only describe as concierge serving service.
In fact, the first question she asked when we were seated was, “How’s Alex?”
Mind you, my son hasn’t eaten at Lakeside in six years. How’s that for a slice of small town goodness and grace?
And Merrill’s presentation was mirrored by the quiet presence of Owner Laura Huerta, gliding through the Dining Room as sweet as an apple on Christmas Day, and briefly stopping at each table to inquire about life outside the restaurant and the experience of dining within.
Even before we’d ordered our appetizers, Stuart and Tricia were served a pair of Dark ‘n Stormy cocktails. This subtle blending of dark rum and ginger beer is both bracing and oddly soothing, redolent of Caribbean noir. You can imagine Hemingway downing these as he finessed The Old Man and the Sea into existence, or John Huston ranting and pouring them down as he banged out the screenplay for Key Largo.
For appetizers, Merrill brought us a plate of Sweet Chili Calamari, adorned with toasted sesame, shaved cucumber, and all-important crispy wonton; Florentine Tomato Soup with its not-too-subtle notes of spinach and parmesan; and the Lakeside Wedge, a serving of iceberg lettuce.
(Some of you are shaking your heads in disbelief overlaid with a touch of pity. Why would someone (me) select something like the Lakeside Wedge? How does a serving of iceberg lettuce, the most humble product of the Salinas Valley, earn a place amongst Lakeside’s lineup of extraordinary dishes? Well, I’m already pushing the word count limit, so just ask me the next time you see me out and about. I can defend my choice and the integrity of Lakeside’s menu. Really.)
The three of us consumed our appetizers with unseemly abandon, which I’m going to chalk up to post-Covid exuberence.
Next, Merrill delivered Cast Iron Seared Scallops proudly arrayed upon a bed of lemon risotto and enrobed with spinach, basil pesto, roasted red pepper; Chicken Francese, served with capellini, asparagus, creamy lemon butter and white wine sauce; and Soy Demi-Glace Grilled Salmon joined by asparagus aux orange, and jasmine rice pilaf, and drizzled with coconut cream sauce.
All three were showstoppers, and all put a sudden stop to our animated conversation, which eventually resumed.
Finally, we sat back, vaguely stupid and deeply satisfied.
But Stuart and I mustered enough fortitude to order dessert. He raved over his rum-drenched Bread Pudding, but in honesty, how could it possibly compare to my Budino di Cioccolato?
The cynical among you are saying, “Luke, you started your meal with a hunk of iceberg lettuce, and you ended it with chocolate pudding? Whatever happened to your critical faculties?”
Well, let me summon a healthy serving of umbrage at your surprise outburst and answer that this wasn’t “chocolate pudding.”
This Budino di Cioccolato is the logical and final elevation of chocolate as a holy food first conceptualized by the Mayans in approximately 940 AD. It’s easy to understand why those architects of the first great New World civilization would incorporate this magnificent fruit of the cacao tree into their holiest of rituals. Just try the Budino.
I’m not saying I’d cut out someone’s heart for Budino di Cioccolato, but I might push down an old lady.
Fortunately, as long as Lakeside maintains its current menu, I won’t have to face that awful choice.