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Cooperstown

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abrocadabro Aug 26, 2009 01:32 PM

My family, including kids 10 and 8, just returned from Cooperstown. We splurged and stayed at the Otesaga Hotel, which included breakfast in the main dining room. We are fans of the extravagant Marriott-style breakfast buffets and this compared favorably. Each day, the hotel had one or two omelette stations, where you could get eggs any style or Egg Beaters or egg whites. You got to select your own ingredients for the omelettes and filled a bowl with them. They also had side-by-side stations making waffles, cinnamon raisin French toast and pancakes. Chafing dishes included bacon, sausage, biscuits, scrambled eggs, and potatoes. Boxed cereals, hot oatmeal (too pasty, IMO), danishes, English muffins, sliced bread, croissants and fruit plates were also available.

Driving into town the first night, we stopped on Route 28 near Dreams Park for dinner at the Yum Yum Shack. It is decorated like a fish shack in Florida but was billed to me as having better food than the name might lead you to believe, and it did, though not as good as I had hoped. The inside is fairly small and was very hot and humid so we ate outside on the patio, If you do this, bring bug spray - we had a lot of flies etc, despite the citronella candles ringing the perimeter. Plastic chairs, plastic cups and washcloths for napkins. They have a halibut in curry which was very good, pleasantly spicy and slightly sweet at the same time. I had the salmon with wasabi mustard sauce -- I usually like my salmon more done than most people, but this was a little too well done -- the top was crusty and I thought the sauce was a little too thick. It was an OK dish, but not fantastic. Both adult dishes were on the large side. My kids had penne with a meatball and a fresh tomato sauce, and mozzarella sticks. The sauce was very good as was the meatball. The mozzarella sticks were nothing special and were deep fried. All came with perfectly cooked string beans (not over-buttered, like at some many places).

Lunch the next day was at Stagecoach Coffee, just off Main Street near the Hall of Fame. It's a small space, but they had a good selection of sandwiches. It was a good value in a town that has some places with overpriced food. We had the tuna panini (using canned tuna, but still well designed), "house panini" (basically, mozzarella, basil and tomato) and their version of a BLT. All came with chips and were on two large slices of peasant bread. This is a recommended value place for lunch. I hear the coffee is very good and they had a nice menu of shakes and other cold drinks.

Dinner that night was the highlight. We ate at Alex & Ika, on Main Street. The menu is interesting because it has some dishes that are fairly cheap and others than are very expensive, but the food overall was a hit. My wife and son had the hanger steak with fingerling fried potatoes (roasted steak, not grilled), but it was very tasty (around $22?). My daughter had the half-chicken, for $10 which was fantastic. Very crispy skin, cooked with lemon and thyme and flavorful and moist chicken (note: we tend not to like restaurant chicken, because we use Empire brand at home and find most restaurant versions to be too bland or dry or both). The downside is that no sides were included, but she ordered the fingerling fried potatoes (which came with a chipotle aioli, which went well, though she preferred ketchup). I got the most expensive dish, rack of lamb with risotto and artichoke hearts ($32). I didn't think this was outstanding, but it was very good. I've had more flavorful lamb, but it was still good. (I wouldn't get it again, though only because I think there are better values on the menu). Portions were very large for all dishes. Note that the fries are made by boiling fingerling potatoes, smashing them flat and then frying. They have a warm chocolate cake in creme anglaise which was out-of-this-world fantastic. My son orders this dessert everywhere he can get it at home in NYC and declared this version to be his favorite. We all ended up tasting it and loving it so much we went back the next night just for dessert (though it was Saturday and they were full so we missed out). We also had the maple creme brulee which is also excellent. I wanted to have the tarte tatin, which had been recommended, but they bake them fresh and it would have been a 15-minute wait, so I passed on it. Service is a little slow -- they are very busy and seemed a little understaffed, but our waitress was very helpful in making recommendations and in particular politely suggesting the doneness for each dish we wanted. Definitely make reservations a day or more in advance. It is casual style..

Our final day we lunched at the Doubleday Cafe on Main Street. It's a fairly standard diner but the food was a good value. I had a hummus and cucumber wrap, which was huge and tasty. Hummus compared well with the fresh hummus I can get near my home in Brooklyn (on Atlantic Avenue). The grilled chicken sandwich and bacon cheeseburger were also good.

For dinner, we ate at Nicoletta's, a southern Italian restaurant. Although cheaper than Alex & Ika, it appears more upscale (I was glad I wore pants and a collared shirt, as opposed to shorts, though there were a few Phillies fans there in uniform shirts and shorts). The food was good, but not great, the main issue being the saltiness (note: we tend to cook with very little added salt, so YMMV). The mozzarella sticks appetizer was very good quality mozzarella (thick and creamy in texture), though salty. Chicken parmagiana (my personal measuring stick for this type of place) with spaghetti was fine, but the chicken parmagiana was a little dry for my taste (it was essentially breaded chicken with good salty mozzarella on top and sauce on the side; I had to dredge it in the sauce from the spaghetti to make it OK). Linguini with clams was excellent and the veal saltimbocca was very good as well (even my daughter, who doesn't like spinach, ate half of it from my wife's plate). My son's spaghetti and meatballs got a good review (better than Yum Yum Shack). Service was excellent, despite being packed and they constantly refilled our water glasses.

As noted, we tried to go to Alex & Ika for dessert but couldn't get a table. Fortunately, we had some leftovers from Schneider's Bakery (also on Main, right by Alex & Ika). Everything we had there was fabulous -- macaroon, chocolate cupcake, large chocolate cookie and black and white cookie ("cake"-style). The chocolate cookie in particular was very chocolaty and rich.

All in all, dining was much better than I expected, though finding the better places in town is not cheap.

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