1 Walden Galleria , Cheektowaga, NY 14225
Web: Bar Louie
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American Bars Cheektowaga Drinks East Amherst Italian Williamsville
"We wanted to be even more aggressive in ordering on this visit, but were so taken by Gate House's list of desserts that we couldn't dream of leaving without sampling them."
As we prepare for our next major food journey outside of Buffalo - details coming soon - we wanted to fill you in on a few of our recent restaurant visits inside Western New York. The places are very different from one another, yet they're all worth knowing about: first up is Bar Louie, a national chain bar and grill with a location at the Walden Galleria Mall, followed by Williamsville's homey, family-friendly Gate House Grill, and finally East Amherst's upscale date night Italian restaurant La Scala Ristorante. We've issued a final rating to only one of the three, but consider each to be worthy of future visits.
We actually hadn't planned to visit Bar Louie this week; due to its neighbor P.F. Chang's all but laughable "create a fake line" shenanigans, we gave up on trying to make a second visit, and instead opted to give Louie a try. If you're not familiar with the chain already, the easiest summary is three words long: upscale sports bar. Booth and table seating are offered alongside a long, flat screen TV-laden bar, all decidedly cleaner, better-lit, and more modern than most of the bars in the area. From a menu perspective, this is primarily a sandwich shop with a mix of interesting-sounding bar foods and entrees, including quite a few transplants from Asia - potstickers, seared ahi tuna, kobe hot dogs, and tempura shrimp to name a handful. If you want a burger, a fish sandwich, a pizza, or a salad, they're all options, too. Virtually everything save the "large plate" entrees is in the $8-$10 range; those dishes start at $10 and run up to $17.
Our group went with a variety of items that ranged from fair to quite good. We were especially impressed by the Southern BBQ Pork Sandwich ($10), a legitimately very good stack of sweetened pulled pork, grilled and topped with onion rings atop a beautifully butter-crisped bun. Served along with a good portion of fries, this was one of the rare breed of "take first bite, remember little except finishing last bite" sandwiches, interrupted only with mental notes on the tastiness of the properly cooked pork and bun. We also really enjoyed the four fat, coarsely salted Bavarian Pretzel Sticks ($7), served with three different dips - most notably a cool and different cinnamon butter spread - and the Monin Blueberry-Flavored Iced Tea ($3.49), which our server kept supplying without request as we kept downing glass after glass.
Feelings were mixed on the Crispy Calamari Buffalo Style ($11), served in an interestingly elevated serving basket: the portion size was decent, but the calamari rings and tentacles were covered in a merely decent wing sauce and a bunch of crumbled bleu cheese, a combination that put off two of the four people at the table. A basket of Chicken Nachos ($10) arrived interestingly covered in sliced jalapenos, plus awkward clumps of yellow cheese, squirts of sour cream, and burnt chicken meat. It was barely worth starting and definitely not worth finishing. Other items, such as a Grilled Veggie Wrap ($8), and a Hong Kong Tuna Salad ($14), were deemed fine to good, neither especially memorable or great. Portion sizes were consistently on the large side, however, and the service was consistently impressive throughout the meal. We're not ready to make a full endorsement of Bar Louie yet, but there were definitely enough positive aspects to make us want to give the place another shot.
Some of the articles on Buffalo Chow are the result of three or four visits to a restaurant; others appear after only one. Obscured in a strip plaza just past the Clarence Mall, Gate House Grill (8220 Main St., Williamsville, NY 14221, 716.565.0338) is a place that we've actually visited a couple of times now, in addition to having sampled its food at two different Taste of Williamsville events. After a pleasant but not especially memorable first visit, we really wanted to give it a proper second try before writing it up, and our feelings remain the same: Gate House Grill is the sort of place where families could come to enjoy reliably good, just north-of-middle class American meals, served by nice people at fair prices. Meals are served with baskets of complimentary, fresh Italian bread, with appetizers and sandwiches all in the $8-$12 range save for less expensive soups, and entrees running from $11 to $24, mostly in the $15 zone. The two-page menu has no surprises, relying on classic steak, rib, chicken, and seafood picks, but there's a truly awesome-sounding dessert menu on the wall when you enter the place. We were impressed by the quality of the service on both of our visits.
We ate too much on our most recent visit to fully describe in a brief review, but we were pleased by the bright red, mixed cheese-filled Stuffed Banana Peppers ($9), fine with a filling Seafood Platter, and more than satisfied by the surprisingly large side Caesar Salad that was included with the seafood. Ordered broiled, the plate of shrimp, scallops and haddock was unsurprisingly heavy on the haddock and too light on the shrimp and scallops for the price, with certain parts of the fish and all of the shrimp tasting a little too broiled, while other parts of the fish weren't quite broiled enough. Still, between the seafood, a side of vegetables, and that salad, it was hard to walk away anything but filled.
Other items were pretty good, including a beautifully gravy- and mushroom-drenched Meatloaf entree ($14), and an order of Lollipop Lamb Chops ($12), which like the ones we'd tried at Taste of Williamsville were tender and tasty, though a little too small and light on sauce; dots of the garlic and red wine sauce were thankfully left for dipping. We'll also mention that on our earlier visit, we tried local standards such as the Beef on Weck ($8), Chicken Wings ($8), and Baked French Onion Soup ($4.50/bowl), finding them all to be competent, while a good Fish Fry is served every day for $11.
Though we wanted to be even more aggressive in ordering on this visit, we were so taken by Gate House's list of mouth-watering desserts that we couldn't dream of leaving without sampling some. Warm Gingerbread Cake? Spiced Pumpkin Panna Cotta? Pan-Grilled Shortcake? Coconut Cream Pie Brulee? Warm Chocolate Bisque? It was just a list of wows, recalling the Coconut Panna Cotta with Passion Fruit Gelee that we'd loved at Taste of Williamsville. Our table of four wound up going with two picks: the Maple Glazed Bananas ($6.50) and Pear & Pepper Sorbet ($6), which couldn't have been more different from one another. Served warm atop a rum butter cake with a tiny ball of very lightly cinnamon-flavored ice cream, the Maple Glazed Bananas were so good that we wished there had been more of them: there may or may not have been a single full banana there on top of the cake. Here, the strong, sweet maple flavor mixed wonderfully with both the fruit and slightly rum spiced bread, and we wanted to lap up the remaining glaze on the plate once we'd finished the ice cream and single sliced strawberry. By comparison, the Sorbet plate was a truly awkward dessert, served almost like a constellation of objects floating around on a clear plate. On one edge sat the fine, small ball of sorbet with some blueberries, while some dry Russian tea cakes, three different pieces of cheese, more blueberry and strawberry pieces, and a pool of syrup and cream were scattered around elsewhere; sprinkles of powdered sugar filled some of the gaps. The items didn't strike us as going especially well together, and accentuated a plating problem that began with the Bananas: smaller plates and/or slightly bigger portions would do better at dessert time. A little fine-tuning could do wonders here, but there's already a lot to like at Gate House Grill, and we consider it worthy of a 2.5-star overall rating.
Last but not least is La Scala Ristorante (9210 Transit Rd., East Amherst, NY 14051, 716.213.2777), which we're holding off on rating until we've had a chance to pay it another visit. Fancier inside than might be expected from its exterior, La Scala is a dimly-lit, largely Italian restaurant with a decidedly upscale menu and intimate seating. Including appetizers and desserts, expect a meal to run roughly $40 to $50 per person before wine or drinks, with some heavy hitter entrees that will tempt you towards the higher end of the scale. Bread is offered a little too sparingly with olive oil before the meal, but the quality was impressive enough to make us actually want more.
The highlights of our meal were the entrees, starting with a high-class, legitimately wonderful Osso Bucco: a thick veal shank with a thick, meaty glaze, served on a really nice bed of yellow risotto with three attractively peeled asparagus tips. Without repeating the trite references to succulence and richness that typically accompany descriptions of Osso Bucco, it suffices to say that the two-hour preparation process this meat typically requires makes it hard to find and a real treat to eat: butter-soft, the lines between meat, gravy, and fat essentially blur to the point where you just don't care anymore as long as there's more to eat, and the idea of removing the marrow from the bone seems like a good idea until you realize how much it feels and tastes like slurping pure fat. Even then, that wouldn't stop some people. We also were thrilled by the Sesame-Crusted Ahi Tuna, with eight thick slices cut from a big piece of fish, perfectly seared and just a little too heavy on the white and black sesame seed coating. Either of these dishes would be easy to order again any time.
Less impressive was a really pathetic Calamari appetizer, which arrived looking as if someone had already eaten half the dish: the plate was extremely heavy on tentacles and light on rings, all from relatively tiny squid. Neither the cornmeal dusting nor the runny marinara dipping sauce did much for the Calamari, and we wished we hadn't ordered it. An "Authentic Caesar Salad" was also served sparingly, with a peppered single slice of uncut romaine serving as the bed for large shavings of parmesan cheese, while cracker-like croutons and a piece of proscuitto sat off to the sides. The ingredients were individually good except for the overly crunchy croutons, with the thin piece of cured ham as an especially neat touch, but it just didn't come together properly, and we say that as big fans of full leaf Caesars.
Our meal at La Scala ended on a sweet note: there were a number of desserts that were worth considering, but we went with a plate that included three miniature cannoli cones - surprising mostly in how many tiny chocolate chip flecks had made their way into the cannoli filling. Creamy and satisfying after the filling entrees, they were good enough that we'd order them again even in the face of other and potentially more tempting alternatives; the only question we're leaving for our next visit is whether they're among the area's very best. We think the answer might be yes, and will let you know for sure in the near future.