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Going strong Sophisticated Hutch's lives up to its reputation

On a hot summer evening, plan to eat on the patio of Hutch's after 7 p.m. Once the sun dips below the treeline on the west side of Delaware Avenue, this awning-protected space is cool, pleasant and relaxing, with tables set far apart and a railing separating it from the sidewalk. Before that time, the patio can get mighty warm.

But oddly enough, even though it faces busy Delaware, the patio is quiet and restful when the busy interior of this popular restaurant reverberates. Hutch's is the third in our series of memorable outdoor terraces this summer, and it's a strictly urban scene.

But then Hutch's is a very urban restaurant. The food is sophisticated; the clientele youngish -- and also sophisticated. After all, chef/owner Mark Hutchinson is one of Western New York's celebrity chefs.

Its interior is divided into three rooms: one of the smallest open kitchens in the entire Western world overlooks the front one, which also happens to be the noisiest; the back room, up a step or two, is quieter but feels closed in; and lastly, there's the busy barroom, an amazing structure with bricks up to its very tall ceiling. That barroom is a fortress that looks like it could withstand anything the San Andreas fault might have in mind.

The printed menu is fine, but there aren't too many surprises. Large plates include Beef Tenderloin Au Poivre ($32), Steak Frite (Ribeye, steak fries $31), Chicken Milanese ($21) and Grilled Calves Liver with Caramelized Onions ($14.95).

The small plates on the printed menu are a little more edgy. There's Thai High Calamari (atop Asian vegetables, $9.50) and Eggplant Napoleon ($9.50), as well as a couple of substantial meal-type sandwiches.

But it's the evening specials list that hits the top. Samples from a recent visit that we tried: Crispy Soft Shell Crab with a Cajun Remoulade ($12.50) -- crisp indeed, since it is dipped in cornmeal before sauteeing; the sauce had a clever, sneaky heat to it. The Spiced Shrimp Salad with arugula, romaine, fennel, olives and oranges was a veritable symphony of contrasting flavors for $10.95.

Also appearing on the specials list that evening, interestingly enough: Ceviche, rarely offered around here. It's a South American dish in which raw shrimp, scallops and other seafood are marinated, firmed and actually "cooked" in lime juice ($13.50). We saved it for sampling next time.

Prominent on the special entrees list were two winners. The Bison Ribeye ($38.95) was a thick cut of grass-fed bovine, seasoned with rosemary and sage and served rare, drizzled with olive oil in apretty close takeoff of Tuscany's famous Bistecca. I was surprised at how tender and juicy the meat was. Our Wild Salmon was also cooked very rare and prettily served over wilted spinach ($28.95).

Desserts included Creme Brulee, which had a crunchy crust. But I cannot tell a lie: I've reached the point in my life when I no longer look forward to Creme Brulee. We also had Strawberry Shortcake (a bigger helping than other tables, I could not help but notice; they saw us coming). The berries were local and sweet, resting on a kind of shortbread, a bit too dry perhaps. I'd like to see them heaped on a biscuit. But that's a matter of opinion, I guess -- and unimportant, because the food is generally so good there.

No surprise that Hutch's, which has been around for several years, still sells out.

e-mail: jokun@buffnews.com

***

HUTCH'S

Four stars (out of four)

WHERE: 1375 Delaware Ave. (885-0074). The awning-shaded patio overlooks Delaware Avenue; inside is small and cozy. Evening specials are the most interesting. Reservations advised. Credit Cards: American Express, Master Card, Visa.

FAVORITE DISH: Bison Ribeye

NEEDS WORK: Food is of excellent quality.

PRICE RANGE: Small plates from $7.50; large plates from $14.95 (most large plates $20 up).

SERVICE: Excellent

HOURS: Seven days, barring major holidays. 5 to 10 p.m. during the week; 5 to midnight weekends.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Front room OK from Delaware Avenue entrance. For the back room, enter through the side (bar) door.

PARKING: On the street or in gas stations on the corner of Delavan.

RATINGS: Stars reflect the overall dining experience at the time of The News' visit -- including service, ambience, innovation and cost -- with greatest weight given to quality of the food.

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