From the day it opened, The Terrace has offered one of Buffalo's great fair-weather tables, simply because of its location. To get there you amble past the Delaware Park rose garden, and into the Marcy Casino alongside Hoyt Lake.
Designed by famed Buffalo architect E.B. Green, rebuilt for the 1901 Pan American Exhibition, it's a tangible link to Buffalo's Gilded Age glory days, refinished in style, with a grand (gas) fireplace and knotty wood floors.
The view from its north-facing terrace has another reminder, the Buffalo History Museum, and on a quiet night you can follow along with the Shakespeare in the Park actors emoting one meadow over. The vista is genuinely metropolitan in a way that few Buffalo vantage points can match, and even fewer with a full bar.
Too bad the dishes and staff at a recent visit left me feeling I'd wandered into dress rehearsals.
Jason Davidson, Mike Shatzel and others responsible have my thanks for doing the work and weathering the challenges to turn the building from a wedding venue into a public amenity. It feels right that a little slice of every beer sold goes to the Olmsted Parks Conservancy, to water the rose garden or whatever. (Rent paid so far is $165,000, Davidson said.) I'm glad we have The Terrace.
Having been presented such a grand stage, though, I wish the performance was tighter. We waded into the cluster of drinkers in the cozy bar, and watched beleaguered runners climbing the stairs from the basement kitchen to offload dishes onto the end of the bar.
If the Sabres game had been on, maybe we wouldn't have taken such an interest in observing the plates of cooling food, servers trying to figure out what went where after they scooted back to grab more, at times narrowly avoiding bumping their co-workers.
The woman who greeted us walked away without words. We looked at each other. A few minutes later she came back to lead us to a lovely terrace table. Our server took our drink order, then returned 15 minutes later with an apology about the bar being backed up.
Let me tell you about some of the delicious things we ate. Thick slices of crispy-edged pork belly in puffy white buns, accented with hoisin, scallion and cucumber, sweet and rich ($12) were so scrumptious we wished there were more than two to an order.
A she-crab bisque ($10), poured tableside, was a velvety distillation of crab essence and shreds of crab that needed none of the additional offered sherry. A fried egg riding atop grilled asparagus ($11) added oozy yolk to a thankfully restrained dose of black truffle vinaigrette, for a classy vegetable dish.
Plump bivalves were plucked out of the bucket of mussels Allagash ($16), steamed in beer and bacon, and the grilled bread was used to mop up the juice. Mussels accomplished. The Terrace chopped salad ($11) included blue cheese, cucumbers and pieces of grilled chicken breast, some dry and stringy. Still, artichoke hearts abounded and astringent radicchio made this a salad with character.
Of the big plates, both steak with chimichurri ($26) and Korean marinated and grilled short ribs ($24) shone. Bright herbs and zesty garlic in the chimichurri was a breath of fresh air among beef accompaniments, especially with properly medium rare steak. The patatas bravas, fried potatoes with smoky chile aioli, were so satisfying I wished I'd ordered a full side ($7).
The Korean ribs were crusty cross-section slices of bone-in beef, marinated with sweet soy, garlic and ginger, made for good eating with lightly pickled cucumber threads, onions and legitimate housemade kimchi. I wish I knew what to make of the cold ball of rice beside it, topped with furikake, a Japanese seasoning sprinkle.
Other disappointments included Lebanese wings (six for $13), which were decent but plainly flavored grilled chicken wings, dollops of yogurt and cold rice, scant on flavor.
Dessert included Exhibit 27 in my case against verbal menus. Our server told us about several delicious sounding sweets, including a mascarpone cheesecake ($8). It arrived accented with a copious drizzle of vinegar reduction, unmentioned by the server, and mistaken for chocolate in the dim lighting. "Who put salad dressing on my cheesecake?" was the result. We scraped it off and enjoyed the light, rich delight of a dessert.
It's possible that vinegar and cheesecake might go together, but that sort of leap has its best chance at landing successfully when the diner's mind has been readied to meet an unusual juxtaposition.
We also got a s'mores tart, which contained the requisite elements - toasted marshmallow, chocolate, graham-crackery crust - but lost its luster for not being remotely warm.
As the sun sets on its initial summer, I'd recommend The Terrace for drinks and eats with a historic view. That's a lot better option than the city had two years ago. It can get better still.
The Terrace – 6 plates (out of 10)
199 Lincoln Parkway (886-0089)
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
Prices: Snacks and small plates, $5-$16; entrees, $11-$26.
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Gluten-free options: Salads, most seafood, asparagus.