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Hutch's earns 10 plates

For years, I’ve badgered Buffalo diners for the names of their favorite restaurants with the unflattering tenacity of a dachshund on a chicken bone. One name kept resurfacing, like that guy who pops up in your Facebook feed with bewildering frequency. Except this name was offered as a confession. “I’m sorry,” an urbane and well-traveled friend told me. “I don’t really have a list because I stopped going to other places.” What sorcery is this? On a Saturday night I got a table for four, and became quite possibly the last diner in the Greater Buffalo metropolitan area to say: “I’m glad we went to Hutch’s.” ¶ Mark Hutchinson, who opened the place in 1995, is still at the stove one or more nights most weeks. Yet Hutch’s wouldn’t have its footprint on the Buffalo dining consciousness without Mike Haefner, who has been with Hutchinson from the beginning. Every talented chef wishes they could clone themselves to cover more ground. Hutchinson has managed it, or near enough.

It was Hutchinson we glimpsed in the kitchen as the hostess took us to our table in the dim recesses of the restaurant before obliging our appeal for a patio table. “One just canceled,” she said, and led us through a cobbled-together door into one of the few perfectly breezy Saturday nights Buffalo is allotted per annum.

Hutch’s menu has a core of legacy dishes, which draws sniffs from innovators, but it avoids staidness with an extensive specials list, with 19 dishes at my visit. Halibut and Copper River sockeye salmon (both $34) plus soft-shell crabs ($31) were entrees, along with a bison strip steak ($53). That’s a bundle, but it was fine meat, with more character than feedlot beef, cooked precisely. Its accompaniments of braised cippolini onions, grilled bell pepper and green beans were on point too, along with remarkably light, almost fluffy mashed potatoes with scallion.

Fried calamari ($12.50) arrived with tender squid in a crunchy greaseless crust, accented with fresh corn relish, black beans and a sprightly housemade sweet chili sauce. Ceviche ($14.50) offered fresh chunks of scallop, shrimp, lobster and silky avocado in a jicama wrapper, accented with cilantro and lime. A thick slab of housemade bacon ($8.50) was ideal, with crisp edges and a center of smoky melting tenderness. A soft-shell crab appetizer ($13.50) boasted another spot-on crust, with fresh pico de gallo and spicy remoulade.

The only dish I was lukewarm about was the eggplant stack ($11.50), where stiff tomato slices brought down an assemblage of fried eggplant slices, mozzarella and prosciutto. It was merely good.

The hits kept coming with our entrees. My grilled loin lamb chops ($39.95), charred precisely, arrived with old-school demiglace and roasted garlic cloves. The potato was a 25-layer gratin, its earthiness finessed with cream. Sesame-crusted tuna ($34) topped with dabs of wasabi and pickled ginger, was another spry menu relic, savory and nutty with stepped-up soy and roasted redskin potatoes. Cat’s halibut ($34) was a creamy slab surrounded with potatoes, shiitake mushrooms and fresh asparagus and peas that had spent their morning at the Bidwell Farmers Market. A light white wine sauce flavored with thyme added flavor without heaviness. Soulfully simple.

All those dishes and their attendant silverware came and went without a fuss. Water levels never fell below half-glass.

Our server was a canny veteran with impeccable timing, helpful suggestions, and a touch of deadpan humor. We felt well cared for.

The efforts of pastry chef Debbie Romaneo impressed from start (a breadbasket of housemade focaccia and baguette) to finish (desserts like a vivid lemon curd-semifreddo combo and fresh berries and mango served in a lacy almond tuile “bowl” with whipped cream – a sweet that has been on the menu since Day One).

Besides the almond-cookie fruit cup and lemon semifreddo, desserts ($8.50) included a milk chocolate creameux, too delicate to call pudding, topped with Frangelico crème anglaise and toasted hazelnuts. You can get a brownie with mint ice cream lots of places, but not like this: the flourless double chocolate brownie topped with housemade mint chocolate chip gelato (one of seven Hutch’s gelatos and sorbets on offer that night) redefined a diner classic.

Inventive? Not at all. But perfectly executed, a shatteringly crisp caramelized almond lattice coaxed into a container for pristine fruit, augmented with whipped cream and caramel sauce.

New ideas in food can be stimulating, even enchanting. But a well-done classic will always trump a genius notion that didn’t deliver on the menu writer’s promise.

Perhaps that’s why a generation of Buffalo restaurantgoers have come to value Hutch’s so. It’s not just the presence of first-class food and service; it’s the absence of unpleasant surprises. In the world of fine dining, Hutch’s is the closest Buffalo comes to a sure thing.

email: agalarneau@buffnews.com

Hutch’s - 10

Playing Buffalo’s oldies and new specials, veteran-led place is surest bet in town.

WHERE: 1375 Delaware Ave. (885-0074, hutchsrestaurant.com)

HOURS: 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 5 p.m. to midnight Saturday; and 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday.

PRICE RANGE: Appetizers $10-$5, entrees $14.50-$65.

PARKING: Lot at corner, street.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes, except for the widest models.

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