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SIMPLER PLEASURES AT THE ROYCROFT, A LESS COMPLEX -- AND MORE SATISFYING -- NEW MENU

ROYCROFT INN
*** 1/2
40 S. Grove St., East Aurora (652-5552). A painstaking and handsome re-creation of one of Western New York's architectural treasures, the inn offers several dignified dining rooms. At dinner, there's an extensive menu of contemporary food. Great place to take out-of-town visitors. All major credit cards.

BEST DISH: Potato Crusted Rack of Lamb.

NEEDS WORK: Food is of good quality.

PRICE RANGE: Dinner entrees from $12.95 include potato and vegetable. Most entrees in the $16 and up range.

SERVICE: Very good.

HOURS: Lunch, Mon. through Fri.; dinner, Sun. through Thurs. 5 to 9 p.m., Fri. and Sat. to 10 p.m.; Sunday brunch 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

HEALTH-CONSCIOUS CHOICES: Roasted Spring Chicken, Vegetarian Strudel.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.

PARKING: In the lot.
KEY: FAIR, GOOD, VERY GOOD, EXCELLENT, EXTRAORDINARY. Stars are awarded for the quality of the food only.

WITH THE holidays at hand and old friends drifting into town, East Aurora's Roycroft Inn could be an important addition to your list of activities. After all, this wonderful old building has been standing since 1905. This symbol of writer-philosopher Elbert Hubbard's Arts and Crafts Community has been granted National Landmark status.

It's an interesting place to dine in as well as look at.

The spacious public rooms in this inn, carefully furnished with original and reproduction craftsman furniture, surround a handsome peristyle, or open court. Right now that court is adorned with deeply colored autumn flowers, and one of the best-looking dining areas is in the glassed-in porch overlooking them.

Sit in comfortable wicker chairs; the tables are covered with heavy cloths. The china is modeled after handsome old green and black Roycroft design; the menus are printed beautifully on rich creamy paper stock.

And speaking of menu, there's a new chef aboard and they've changed it somewhat. When I reviewed the Roycroft at its reopening about a year ago, the bill of fare was just a tad too fancy. Too many ingredients does not a memorable entree make.

In fact, it often does the opposite.

But our meal at the Roycroft the other evening was a little more restrained than it was in the past. Now, if only they'd print up the evening special list (instead of making us commit it to memory), we'd really be in business.

Our meal began with an appetizer portion of Crabcakes, light and tasty. And also Chilled Seafood Ravioli ($7.95) filled with a smoked tomato and dill aioli -- think of it as a rosy mayonnaise, and it's vital to the success of this dish.

Once the ravioli had been dipped into the aioli, they were piquant and satisfying. Without the sauce, they were ordinary.

A Vegetarian Strudel entree ($12.95) sang a siren song. The flaky phyllo enclosed what the menu described as "pan-roasted seasonal vegetables." I enjoyed the dish, but to tell the truth, if you ask me exactly what vegetables were enclosed, I wouldn't be quite sure. The tastes all seemed to blend together.

Much more inspiring was a handsome Rack of Lamb ($21.95) encrusted with a potato herb mixture. The meat, ordered rare, was served rare -- juicy, too. Braised fennel demi glaze was a fine accompaniment.

Veal Medaillons ($17.95) were enlivened with well-flavored brown sauce. The sauces and accompaniments to the main dishes are innovative.

Gulf Shrimp and Lemon Garlic Ravioli is finished with beurre blanc and marinara sauces (two for the price of one, $16.95), and Beef Tenderloin turns up on a bed of caramelized mushrooms ($19.95).

Among the other meal accompaniments worthy of mention are the little restaurant-baked muffins, served warm and so crunchy that we sent back for more. Desserts are not made in house, however.

The Roycroft lunch menu features some unusual items you may want to know about, too. Phoenix Crepes filled with chicken and shrimp atop a dill beurre blanc are $7.95, and a Grilled Vegetable Fajita served in a tortilla bowl with red pepper salsa is the same price.
The Sunday brunch, served buffet-style, is $12.95 for adults, $6.95 for children.

SECOND HELPINGS
Katrina's 1/2 * (Oct. 18)
Katrina's, 657 Main St. (842-6400). This little Italian restaurant, which just opened in the Theater District, is wittily decorated and offers a small menu of freshly prepared dishes. Even the pasta is restaurant-made.
Hirsch's (Oct. 11
Hirsch's, 8445 Main St., Williamsville (634-7149). Attractive restaurant in an old house with well-spaced tables. Big menu of beef, seafood and Italian items.
Ditondo's Tavern 1/2 (Oct. 4)
Ditondo's Tavern, 370 Seneca St. (855-8838). This old-time Buffalo tavern features a limited menu of Italian-American favorites and limited hours. It also features unlimited lines.
Bristol Woods Inn 1/2 * (Sept. 27)
Bristol Woods Inn, 4409 South Park, Blasdell (824-0095). Wonderful old house converted to a handsome restaurant featuring American and contemporary cuisine.
Hillebrand's Vineyard Cafe * (Sept. 20)
Hillebrand's Vineyard Cafe, Highway 55, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. (800-582-8412). Huge windows overlook the vineyards of the Hillebrand Estates Winery; the food, which emphasizes seasonal produce, is notable.
Mecca * (Sept. 13)
Mecca, 206 Allen St. (882-1822). Authentic Middle Eastern cuisine is featured in this informal restaurant.
Dalhousie Riverboat * (Sept. 6)
Dalhousie Riverboat, Lighthouse Road, St. Catharines, Ont. (905-646-2628). Historic boat offers spectacular views.
Oliver's 1/2 (Aug. 30)
Oliver's, 2095 Delaware Ave. (877-9662). In the newly redecorated Oliver's the food does not come cheap, but it is well-prepared and innovative.
* Indicates restaurant is so new that this is a provisional rating.

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