The Cove Restaurant at Hotel Canandaigua: More than Just Water Views
By Allison Zimmer, A-List Food Editor
In an age where takeout rules, many restaurants are coping with a shortage of staff, and the rest of us are experiencing a shortage of patience and goodwill, The Cove Restaurant, located inside the gorgeous Hotel Canandaigua, has brought back the magic of dining out. The talented Chef Dan Hixon and his team are reviving the art of hospitality while enticing our palettes with innovative, exciting dishes worth going out for.
I stopped in on a cold, snowy Tuesday night where the soft glow of string lights and the good cheer of the bar staff made it feel like summer, a time when the restaurant thrives, benefitting from its scenic lakefront location and expansive patio, which diners and bar patrons can visit by car, boat – or for the more well-heeled or adventurous, seaplane.
Even in the late autumn chill it was easy to see why tourists and locals alike are flocking to the Cove. More than just a summertime destination, The Cove boasts a rich calendar of events year round, starting with warm weather favorites that include live music on Friday nights, grill nights, a seafood raw bar, and more. Grab a seat at the Birdcage bar – the padded chair in front of the mural of wings is a favorite – and sip one of their craft cocktails while looking out over the water.
The fun doesn’t stop when the snow begins. For starters, the huge outdoor (heated) pool and hot tub are both open year round. The restaurant is serving Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. Follow the hotel on social for a first look at their plans for January’s Fire & Ice Festival and summer events.
Cozy Up To the Bar
The warm, friendly waitstaff greeted me at the bar and seemed genuinely excited to take me behind the scenes of their seasonally changing menu. The dedicated team makes all of their simple syrups – that’s 11 and counting as of this writing – in house, including a beet shrub simple syrup that in spite of their humility, one can tell is a true labor of love. They’re also freshly juicing all the juices for each cocktail.
With such an extensive wine list – more on that in my next piece – and a drink menu that insists I return soon, it was hard to choose where to begin. However, I’m a sucker for an old fashioned, especially when the snow is falling. I’m pleased to say that The Cove’s Caribou Old Fashioned ranks among my top 3 – not just in Rochester, but all-time.
Made with Canadian whiskey, maple syrup, blueberries, rosemary, and just a kiss of smoke, it is light and well-balanced, landed neither too heavily on on the side of sweet nor of smoke, as many similar cocktails tend to fall. A smoke whiskey cocktail done well is a delight, and this one was executed brilliantly, with just a hint of rosemary on the nose without making the drink piney or overly herbaceous, and just a kiss of the citrusy acidity that helps to define an old fashioned.
Let’s Get This Party Starter-ed
I adore an appetizer. Like dessert people who skip directly to the back, the first place I search out on a menu is the starters section. You can tell a lot about an establishment by their starters. The Cove has considered its small plates as carefully as its large, and the result is dishes that fulfill their purpose: they excited us for what was to come. Though plenty robust in size, they gave both my dining companion and I bites so rich in flavor and experience we needed only a few bites, making them ideal for sharing.
The calamari pad Thai completely exceeded my expectations. A starter menu staple, calamari is rarely executed so well. Chef Dan Hixon of The Cove clearly saw an opportunity to offer a whole new experience with an old favorite, and I – and I don’t say it lightly – loved this dish. Crisply fried – and it should be noted, well-seasoned – calamari, over a lime-chipotle aioli, tossed with bean sprouts, fresh, crunchy bell peppers, and a hint of cilantro made the dish interesting and complex, giving you heat, fat, spice, and a bright freshness in every bite. The candied lime is genius and was my favorite part of the dish. I had to stop myself at a few bites in order to savor what was yet to come.
Elevated Comfort Food in Comfortably Elegant Surroundings
For my entree I chose the pappardelle, ‘cacio e pepe’ house made pasta, braised veal, sheep’s milk, peppered brown butter. Pappardelle is one of my favorite pastas, and again, it exceeded expectations. It really is incredible how much flavor Chef Dan is able to pack into every single bite. In many pasta dishes, the disparate elements are each delicious on their own, but in this dish they all melded together to create a beautiful, rich, comforting and yet elevated bite of food that had us literally rolling our eyes back in delight. The hours spent braising their veal, hand making that luscious pasta, it call came together to create a memorable dish I look forward to enjoying again and again.
The beautiful dining room was as welcoming as the staff, who couldn’t have been lovelier or more charming. When I remarked to one of the managers on duty that they all seemed to really like each other, her face immediately split into a huge and sincere grin. “We do work really well together. We just all really like each other and like being here. We’re proud of this place.”
That level of service, commitment and camaraderie not only showed in the food and drink; it contributed to a homey atmosphere that felt as comfortable to me as if I’d been dining there for years.
Noteworthy Wines and Desserts
Each course was paired with a wine from their extensive wine list, larger than I’d expect for the area. A number of local wines are featured within it as well. The Cove will host the Canandaigua Wine trail dinner in January 2024 where all of the associated wineries will present a wine.
Each of the beautiful wines paired perfectly with our selected dishes and my dining companion and I couldn’t have been more pleased – that is, until the carrot cake came out and, simply put, we lost our minds.
I’m going to share something here, A-list friends, and I need you to suspend disbelief (and judgment): I had never had carrot cake before. I know, I know, it’s clearly a defect in my character, but what can I say? I’m a salty starter kind of gal (note to self: possible title for my autobiography?). When I do order dessert, it is usually a small scoop of something chocolate. I am not ashamed to say that in this instance, I had several large forkfuls of velvety, dense, moist (sorry, but it’s the word I needed), rich, sweet cake, layered with delectably creamy, tangy, magnificent cream cheese frosting.
My only complaint is that I believe The Cove has now ruined me for carrot cake. The bar is just too high.
It was a wonderful night with a wonderful friend, and I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed dining out so much. I am already looking forward to my next visit so I can share more insights on their wine pairings, upcoming seasonal changes to the menu, and more.
Until then my friends, you’ll just have to try it for yourselves.
Read more A-List articles by Allison Zimmer
For a first look at events happening year-round, follow Hotel Canandaigua on social.