A modern restaurant opening for service, ready to meet its customers’ demands, impresses me as much as a jetliner lifting off the runway. So much planning and engineering, diligence and skill has gone into the moment when it tucks landing gear into fuselage and climbs for cruising altitude.
A recent dinner at The Mahony, in the Fairmont Creamery building, reminded me of airline travel. Not the miracle-of-flight part, but the part where I’m stuck in a seat with air whooshing by my head. My meal arrives, and I wonder: They make this thing fly, but can’t give me chicken without rubbery skin?
The Mahony is a roomy restaurant, with about 190 seats, a spacious bar and patio seating. Former Seneca Allegany Casino chef Brian Mahony opened the restaurant March 31, in the first floor of the Fairmont, rehabilitated by Ellicott Development and home to Pegula Sports and Entertainment.
The location, a block from Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino and five blocks from First Niagara Center, is well positioned to serve arena crowds.
My party was led to a table underneath an air conditioning vent. The hum and rushing air, which did not stop during my visit, lent an industrial undertone to a room already somber from the complete absence of windows.
The table was bare, the napkins paper, the water glasses thread-necked jars like the ones I’ve emptied of olives. The menu offers American standards with a twist, with some mild ethnic presence drawn from Mexican and Asian cuisines. A seafood stew of shrimp, salmon, scallops and clams ($30) comes in cilantro-lime-coconut broth instead of the usual tomato. Pork tenderloin with sautéed arugula, spinach and mushrooms ($26) gets cream flavored with poblano chiles.
Sometimes you just want wings, though, so we ordered a single, hot ($12). They arrived soft-skinned instead of crispy, in a sauce that was sweet, between mild and medium. Blue cheese dressing was in another little screwtop jar that complicated the essential task of getting to the last bit.
A seafood cocktail ($12) of calamari, white anchovies pickled cabbage, greens and cilantro arrived piled into in a little canning jar, with hinged lid and rubber gasket. I plucked the two jumbo shrimp off the lip and thought about tipping the jar out, then shrugged and picked out the contents. The calamari and shrimp were cooked right, and I welcomed the presence of greenery, but the anchovies dominated its flavor, and I found the serving style jarring.
An arugula salad topped with roasted beets and candied walnuts ($8) hit the spot, with sweet, earthy beets, shaved red onion, plenty of crunchy nuts and a delicious citrus-thyme dressing. Another salad winner was the grilled romaine hearts with calamari ($12). The lettuce had a lightly smoky perfume from its trip on the grill, the calamari was crispy-tender, and its surrounding cast of zucchini, banana peppers and a zippy tomato-basil dressing made it my favorite dish of the night.
Among our entrees, scallops ($30) and sautéed shrimp with risotto ($29) pleased with precisely prepared seafood. Seared scallops, arranged around sautéed snow peas, shredded carrot, red bell pepper and zucchini, got an Asian spin with a gingery hoisin-like sauce. Shrimp was joined by lemony, pancetta-enriched rice and properly grilled asparagus.
A coriander-dusted N.Y. strip steak, ordered medium-rare, arrived medium, with no discernible coriander flavor and undercooked potatoes. My roasted chicken breast carried a tasty garlicky cheese concoction under its skin, which was unfortunately flabby.
Desserts ($8) perked up our party. Mahony’s warm deep-dish apple pie was excellent, with crumb-topped tender apples piled high in a crust you’ll want to eat, not push aside. It was accented with bourbon caramel and whipped cream. A pecan chocolate caramel tart was worth the calorie splurge, an indulgent note on which to end a meal.
While I generally applaud restaurants offering creative ways to feed customers, different is not necessarily better. Nothing tastes better for arriving in a container that makes you think of the dishwasher. That’s true for food, too. Dinner at The Mahony made me wish it was more consistent with the basics. Creativity is only a plus if you can stick the landing; a twist that falls flat makes a louder thud.
The Mahony - 6 plates (out of 10)
Inventive menu doesn’t always soar at new restaurant near downtown arena.
WHERE: 199 Scott St. (783-8009)
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday.
PRICE RANGE: Starters, salads $8-$14; burritos, sandwiches $11-$14; entrees $24-$36.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.