After 25 years at the center of Ellicottville, Dina’s Restaurant is as much a fixture as the hills surrounding this ski town turned year-round resort. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, serving as both a site for upscale apres-slopes dinners and a haven for hangover-beleaguered visitors seeking recuperation time, nutritional support and coffee on an IV drip. ¶ Dina’s expanded last winter, increasing its seating, redoing the interior with gold-plated cattle skulls and other tony touches downstairs, and easing the restaurant’s amenities up a notch, like its shiny onyx bar and wall of wine bottles under glass. The result is that Dina’s customers, largely drawn from municipalities larger than Ellicottville (2010 census: 1,598) can now enjoy its wide-ranging menu in surroundings that are rather more metropolitan.
Our table, by the first-floor window looking out at Ellicottville’s main drag, also gave us a view of the new décor, with blond wood flooring and banquettes in black gold-backed faux animal hide. Our arrival came as the menu switched from lunch to dinner, so we ordered a pizza from the lunch list to tide us over until dinner dishes could be fired.
The Sean L pie ($18), loaded with cup-and-char pepperoni and ground sausage, minus hot peppers at our request, was a worthy Buffalo-style pizza. The cheese was plentiful, the crust stout.
A chopped chicken salad with Thai peanut dressing ($12.95) had chunks of grilled chicken breast tossed with shredded cabbage and carrot, peanuts and cilantro. The dressing had zip but dry chicken overwhelmed the vegetative components. A fresh and hearty vegan quinoa salad ($9.95) blended quinoa, sweet, crunchy corn kernels, celery, mango, bell pepper and black beans in a cumin-touched dressing, over arugula, grape tomatoes and cucumbers.
I was intrigued by an appetizer of scallops with jalapeno and strawberry ($16), even after our server warned it was spicy. Three fat, seared scallops were tasty, but the cooked salsa of berries and pickled peppers underneath them was tipped too far toward heat, obliterating fruit flavor. I like spicy as part of an ensemble, but it’s a lousy soloist.
My pecan-crusted walleye ($24) offered moist fish and toasty nuts, reinforced pleasantly by the wild rice underneath it. It came with dill cream squeezed into a steel ramekin like toothpaste. The fish was under-seasoned, and I grabbed salt and pepper shakers. Asiago Alfredo pasta ($18) arrived barely warm, which thickened the mild cheese sauce. The flavor was amiable but could have used more zucchini and red bell pepper.
A full rack of baby back ribs ($29) were quite tender, the meat separating cleanly from the bone. Judiciously charred on the grill and covered in sticky glaze, they tasted mostly of sweet barbecue sauce instead of pork. Sides of mashed potatoes and corn were fresh and enjoyable.
The pork tenderloin ($24) and a special of chicken Wellington ($27) were terrific. The pork was well-seared but still pleasantly moist, and decked out in a honey chipotle barbecue sauce and a bright relish of fresh mango, red onion and bell pepper that was as eye-catching as it was tasty. Its risotto accompaniment was rich and cooked precisely, as were spears of fresh asparagus.
The Wellington was a chicken filet topped with mushroom duxelles, wrapped in pastry and baked. The earthy fungus gave the chicken heartiness, and an Alfredo sauce beneath it gave it another touch of luxury. A saute of zucchini, yellow squash, spinach and red bell pepper added color and vitamins to the plate, and there was more of those good mashed potatoes.
Dessert was a variety of cookie bars ($3.25 each), including a buttery shortbread topped with raspberry jam, fudgy walnut brownie with chocolate icing and a seven-layer bar with chocolate, coconut, pecans and caramel. They were all enjoyable, and ended the meal on a homey note.
Other than hotel restaurants, with their captive audiences, places that try to serve all three meals while transcending traditional diner fare are rare birds indeed.
After dinner there, I came away thinking how you feel about the food could depend on what role it fills in your life. If I considered Dina’s everyday fare, a diner that can punch up in weight class, our entrees surpassed expectations. If I held its food to fine-dining standards, I’d have to call it a mixed bag.
Either way, we had a satisfying meal. As it heads into its second quarter-century as a ski crowd favorite, Dina’s proves that life after 25 isn’t all downhill.
Dina’s 7 plates
Bigger, fancier after having work done, resort town mainstay still delivers.
WHERE: 15 Washington St., Ellicottville (699-5330, dinas.com)
HOURS: 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday (except closed 4:15 to 4:30 p.m.).
PRICE RANGE: Breakfast, $2.95-$12.95; lunch, $4-$20; and dinner, $8-$48.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.