IT LOOKS like the country inn of everybody's dreams. The imposing William Seward Inn stands on a green hillock at the edge of Westfield, close to Chautauqua and Lily Dale. Its stately pillars gleam whitely.
Though this antique-filled house built in 1821 functions as a country inn, it does serve dinner to non-residents throughout the year. And it's well-known in an area where fine dining places are not exactly thick on the ground. In fact, it just received an award for excellence in food and service from Upstate New Yorker magazine.
Reservations are a necessity, because you select your appetizer and main dish in advance -- this can be done by fax. The menu, which offers plenty of choice, changes with the season.
Four of us pulled up the other evening at exactly 7:45 and were greeted graciously by name at the open door. (A nom de plume, incidentally.) Then we were ushered into a handsome bright dining room and seated at an ample table. Our appetizers turned up quickly.
Exceptionally good, these; nicely presented, too. High marks to the Tuscan Roasted Vegetable Tart and the cleverly arranged Asparagus Spears with Ginger Orange Dressing. I was especially impressed by my choice -- a Tian of Scallops with Vegetables -- because the mollusks had been carefully cooked to the just-barely-done stage. That made them sweet and tender.
Another appetizer -- Pasta with Smoked Salmon and Lemon Creme Fraiche -- was not quite as unique, perhaps. But it was tasty. All appetizers were accompanied by some obviously freshly baked buns. Dinner-wise, we were doing nicely.
Terrific salads came next, with great fresh greens and a sesame dressing that is one of the best I've tasted. We were still on a culinary roll at this point.
But the main dishes ended it abruptly. Least enjoyable was the Pan Seared Sea Bass -- it turned out to be one lump of very bland fish. If the Burgundy Butter Sauce described on the menu was really made from those ingredients, they were hidden nicely.
Similarly underseasoned was theGrilled Veal Chop, supposedly adorned with Truffle Oil. The meat was tender, but salt and pepper had to be added at the table.
The Companion's Rack of Lamb with Herb Crust was properly cooked to the ordered "rare" stage, but my Chicken Roulades, stuffed with spinach and crab, were on the pedestrian side. Though the beurre blanc they rested in was as smooth as Chautauqua Lake on a fine summer's day, I could barely detect the lobster flavor.
Desserts made us feel happy once again. I liked my Homemade Ice Cream (though I could have used an accompanying cookie or two) and the Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake was a pleasure.
Even better was our third selection -- composed of every single loved childhood flavor you can possibly name. That Caramel Peanut Butter Tart was dreamy.
And so was the balance. The tart was cleverly saved from sugar overkill because it used good dark chocolate.
Kentucky Greg's Hickory Pit 1/2 * (July 18)
Kentucky Greg's Hickory Pit, 2186 George Urban Blvd., Depew (685-6599). This informal restaurant specializes in barbecue.
Grano 1/2 * (July 11)
Grano, 8900 Main St. Clarence (633-6972). Simply decorated, this brand-new little place features an elaborate and very sophisticated Italian menu.
Dacc's 1/2 * (July 3)
Dacc's, 3175 Millersport Highway, Getzville (568-2130). A bright, casual restaurant with contemporary touches.
Shaw Cafe & Wine Bar * (June 27)
Shaw Cafe & Wine Bar, 92 Queen St., Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. (905-468-4772). This expansive restaurant is quite informal and sports a menu of stylish salads, sandwiches and pastas.
Enchante 1/2 (June 20)
Enchante, 16 Allen St. (885-1330). A very French restaurant that serves carefully prepared food.
Grille on Walden (June 13)
Grille on Walden, 2040 Walden Ave. in the Sheraton Inn (681-2400). The hotel dining room features a standard menu well-divided between chicken and meat dishes.
Italian Fisherman (June 6)
Italian Fisherman, 5220 Broadway, Lancaster (685-0080). Attractive restaurant offers a huge menu of fish and seafood; meat is available as well.
Shepherds (May 30)
Shepherds, 8222 Transit Road, Williamsville (689-7802). A successful restaurant in a shopping plaza. It has a huge and varied menu.
Cambria's (May 23)
Cambria's, 6354 Transit Road, Depew (683-8843). Many variations of pasta, parmigianas and cacciatores served in a bright attractive dining room.
Peabody's * (May 9)
Peabody's, 423 Elmwood Ave. (881-6228). Attractive small restaurant offers innovative contemporary food.
Lone Star Steakhouse 1/2 (May 16)
Lone Star Steakhouse, 1459 Niagara Falls Blvd., Amherst (832-7877). Kansas-based chain arrives in Western New York with a Texan decor and a Southwestern menu.
Christino's * (May 2)
Christino's, 1340 Millersport Highway, in the Buffalo/Niagara Marriott (689-6900). Tuscan bistro with steak, risotto and martinis.
Old Orchard Inn 1/2 (April 25)
2095 Blakely Road, East Aurora (652-4664). New ownership, favorite dishes.
* Indicates restaurant is so new that this is a provisional rating.
** Rating based on the Early Bird special.
WILLIAM SEWARD INN
6645 S. Portage Road (Route 394), Westfield (326-4151). This beautiful 19th century Greek Revival building is long on charm and ambience, and the welcome is gracious. Dinners are very ample and elaborate; reservations a necessity. Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa.
BEST DISH: The salad.
NEEDS WORK: Pan Seared Sea Bass.
PRICE RANGE: Prix fixe dinners including appetizer, salad, main dish and dessert are $38 per person.
SERVICE: Very good.
HOURS: Dinner only. During the Chautauqua season: Weds. through Sun., two seatings at 5 and 7:45. Rest of the year: Thurs. through Sun., one seating at 7 p.m.
HEALTH-CONSCIOUS CHOICES: Pan Seared Sea Bass, Grilled Veal Chop.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: One narrow step.
PARKING: In the lot.
KID APPEAL: Not really.
KEY: FAIR, GOOD, VERY GOOD, EXCELLENT, EXTRAORDINARY. Stars are awarded for the quality of the food only.