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At Panorama on Seven, close-to-fine dining close to arena

Since 2011, when the Buffalo Sabres last made the playoffs, dining options near the downtown hockey arena have expanded considerably. The Mahony, 716, Pizza Plant, Liberty Hound and Lagerhaus 95 now offer full-service menus a short stroll from center ice. There are also new bars offering food (Ballyhoo, Lockhouse, Cobblestone), but nothing aiming for the finer end of the dining spectrum.

Panorama on Seven arrived with the opening of the HarborCenter Marriott. It offers fine-dining-leaning dishes with a creative touch, and panoramic seventh-floor views of Canalside and downtown. It also offers views of travelers scooting their suitcases by your table, since it’s in the same room as the registration desk.

A recent visit left me well fed, but hesitant to call it fine dining, given its location amid the bustle and televisions of a hotel lobby.

The sun was beginning to set as we arrived for dinner. As we were led to our table, a server started closing drapes to block piercing sunbeams, but also the view west, of the Skyway and Buffalo River. A bit of adjusting left everyone happy.

Panorama on Seven Executive Chef Karl Stoehr presents the crispy skin salmon. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Panorama on Seven Executive Chef Karl Stoehr presents the crispy skin salmon. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Executive Chef Karl Stoehr fields a brief lineup that starts with basics then ranges to Italy or France. Sandwiches go from cheeseburger ($13), to a pork belly, egg and cheddar sandwich ($13) and a spin on the croque monsieur, French ham and Comte cheese griddled in BreadHive sourdough and covered in béchamel ($15).

We started with a basket of grilled BreadHive bread seasoned with oil and salt, and served with honey butter and housemade raspberry tarragon jam. Crusty, smoky, hearty, this was bread worth paying for.

Starters included two finer choices, halibut crudo ($13) and foie gras ($16). The crudo, sliced raw fish accented with orange supremes, scallions and ground toasted macadamia looked like it had been plated in a hurry, but the flavor was fresh and mild. The foie was excellent, a golden seared slice accented with cherries simmered in sweet Sauternes wine and brioche French toast.

Wings ($13) are available in standard Buffalo flavor but I chose garlic Parmesan, getting well-crisped chicken digits coated in Parmesan, but still best dunked in proffered blue cheese.

Panorama on Seven bartender-server Leacel Hillenbrand sets a table for dinner. The restaurant in the Marriott overlooks Canalside. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Panorama on Seven bartender-server Leacel Hillenbrand sets a table for dinner. The restaurant in the Marriott overlooks Canalside. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

A Nicoise salad ($14) was outstanding, from its seared-around-the-edges fresh tuna to its lightly marinated grape tomatoes, potatoes, sliced hardboiled egg, pitted Mediterranean olives, and crisp haricot verts. Anchovies were perched at the edge of the salad, to the relief of those who don’t dig stinky little fish. I’d do the Nicoise and grilled bread for a light meal for two.

A bowl of smoked Buffalo chicken soup ($7) was a hit too, creamy soup with shredded chicken, a modest dash of heat and a cheese frico to crumble into the broth as salty, tangy shards. The flavor of pork belly buns ($11), with pickled cucumber in folds of puffy white dough, was overwhelmed by overly spicy Sriracha aioli.

Duck two ways ($28) brought a crispy-skinned breast, rosy inside, with Swiss chard and a cake of shredded duck confit with potato. The fowl was fair fare but the greens were gritty and I couldn’t find the promised blackberry element.

Chicken and waffles ($26) had two buttermilk fried chicken breasts, bourbon-flavored waffles, bourbon maple syrup, honey butter and more chard. The sweet-salty combination and well-cooked chicken made it a successful breakfast-for-dinner dish.

Panorama on Seven's tomahawk steak is a 22-ounce center cut with truffle whipped potato, buttermilk onion straws, a Bordeaux and cherry reduction and foie butter. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Panorama on Seven's tomahawk steak is a 22-ounce center cut with truffle whipped potato, buttermilk onion straws, a Bordeaux and cherry reduction and foie butter. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Salmon ($26) boasted crackling skin, with a topknot of pickled cucumber and onion for a fresh element. Balanced on a chickpea cake, it was a decent piece of fish, even if slightly dry around the edges.

The 22-ounce tomahawk steak ($48) interrupted dining room conversations as heads turned, following it to our table. Steak like this is a group activity. There are bigger steaks on Buffalo menus, but when topped with a slab of melting foie butter, a few luxurious bites can satisfy many red-meat cravings. It was precisely medium rare and fancied up further with cherry-Bordeaux reduction. The whipped potatoes suffered from overenthusiastic application of truffle oil.

Desserts by Pastry Chef Bridget English ended the meal on a high note. A postgame detour to Panorama would be a sweet deke to dodge the usual traffic jams.

Panorama On Seven's sponge candy cheesecake.(Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Panorama On Seven's sponge candy cheesecake.(Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Hummingbird ($8) topped banana cake with coconut cream, in a pool of dark rum crème anglaise and slices of grilled pineapple for an engaging, not-too-sweet tropical treat. A seasonal fruit trifle ($7) where smoked bourbon cream was topped with Concord grape gel and snickerdoodle croutons was preposterously tasty.

[Related: Last week's dining review of My Tomato Pie]

The winner, by acclamation, was the sponge candy cheesecake ($7). It’s a caramel cheesecake disc with a chocolate shortbread base, enrobed in chocolate ganache. Then it’s smothered in smashed sponge candy, with cherry-vanilla compote. Its original Buffalo twist on traditional cheesecake set spoons scrabbling. Score.

Panorama on Seven offers the closest thing to fine dining close to KeyBank Center. It’s made for travelers, but has enough panache for a special night before the game, or after. And unlike the Sabres, Panorama on Seven can guarantee its customers a sweet ending.

Panorama on Seven - 7 plates (out of 10)

View, cuisine are good reasons to join travelers in Marriott hotel lobby.

Where: HarborCenter, 95 Main St. entrance

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days

Parking: Valet parking validated in restaurant.

Wheelchair-access: Yes.

Email Andrew Galarneau at agalarneau@buffnews.com

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