Last weekend, I surprised my wife with a trip to the Niagara region and we stayed at the Sterling Inn & Spa. Despite finding very little on the web (including Chowhound) about their new restaurant, AG, we decided to try it out and put it to the test by selecting their tasting menu.
The hotel is only a year old and the restaurant is even younger than that. So while both are arguably the best (hotel and restaurant) in Niagara Falls proper, they're not without rookie mistakes.
The style and decor of AG, as with the hotel, can be best described as "boutique meets Stanley Kubrick". If you don't like red, white and leather, it's the dining room is probably not for you. But it works. We walked in for our early dinner and chatted with the dining room manager for a few minutes before being led to our table. We were presented with our menus and ordered drinks. However we were never informed about a tasting menu, even though I had read about this on the hotel's website and called earlier in the week about it. When I inquired about the tasting menu, the server did say that they could offer one, but then went on talking about the experience as if I was unfamiliar with the concept - even though I was the one who asked. This reminded me of some condesending service I had a while ago at Susur's, so I guess they are in good company in that respect. But overall the staff was very friendly and eager at AG's and my wife and I arranged for a 5-course tasting menu w/ wine pairings for $100 apiece. (without the pairings would set you back $65)
The 5 dishes we received ranged from good to outstanding and the chef definitely knows how to match flavours; my only complaint has to do with the flow of the menu.
The first course was single piece of strong sheep's milk cheese served atop their take on a Waldorf salad - substituting the apple with cold spiced poached pear. This was great; my only criticism being that the wine pairing, a somewhat weak-tasting Riesling, was the poorest of the night. But an excellent dish in itself.
Course number two was a halibut dish which included clams, boar sausage and broccolini. It was served in sort of a nage and was remarkable.
After the fish came a rabbit dish which I actually mistook as the main course. A saddle of perfectly cooked rabbit was wrapped in prosciutto and stuffed with a truffled fig and boar sausage stuffing. This was placed on a puree of butternut squash and pieces of rabbit leg meat were placed on the side. It was served with a potato Rosti. This was my favourite dish - albeit indulgent with the taste of truffle, fig, prosciutto and smokey sausage (some of my favourite things).
So THEN came the main course, which was essentially duck, served in exactly the same manner as the rabbit. Duck breast, thinly sliced in the traditional style, was served with rapini, a potato galette (see rosti above) with confit on the side (see rabbit leg pieces above). After seeing such creativity earlier in the meal, this dish fell a little flat. The duck was perfectly cooked however.
Dessert was a white-chocolate and vanilla mousse, topped with a layer of orange gelatin and candied orange. It was also paired with a generous amount of cabernet franc ice wine :)
So the food overall was sohpisticated and worthy of high praise. But this is why this repition of cooking styles and ingredients - boar sausage, two ways (breast & leg) - or similar ingredients - broccolini/rapini and potato galette/rosti - made me feel a bit cheated on having chosen the tasting menu. I would definitely go back, but next time I'll order a la carte.