Dano's Heuriger on Seneca Lake, Hector, NY

Okay. After three days of travel, tasting, talking, and typing, I bring you my taste of the Finger Lakes. Keepitcoming and I took a miniature vacation out there on Friday to conduct some research on my latest project and took the opportunity to get a taste of what the lakes have to offer.

First, a little bit about our trip. We stayed at a fantastic bed and breakfast, crushed cabernet frank with the wonderful staff at Hermann J. Wiemer, and enjoyed the breathtaking scenery in Seneca, Watkins Glen, and Dundee. However, one of the biggest successes of the trip was eating at this little restaurant on the Seneca Lake, Dano's Heuriger- a place that was so good, we made reservations on both our nights there.On our first night, we went all out with a charcuterie plate and a classic entree, as well as a side of spatzle, my new favorite food. To prepare for the next day's excursion, we opted to have a bottle of Hermann Wiemer's 2008 Semi-Dry Riesling, America's answer to the kabinett. We were worried that our selections wouldn't be enough for us to be fully satisfied, but were quickly proven wrong after eating.

I can't believe that prior to that fateful night, I had never been graced with the presence of spatzle. Fucking spatzle. It was a noodle experience like none I'd ever had before. These were a beautiful cross between noodles and dumplings and were perfectly seasoned. The bite was toothsome and comforting, with a simple buttered coating. I would have liked to eat more of these, but we were too full from the rest of our dinner! They were fantastic and perfect without any additional seasoning. These and the wiener schnitzel inspired a potential future trip to Austria! Delicious.The charcuterie plate was presented simply, but had all the rustic artistry of a beautiful landscape. It was incredible, with all of the ingredients smoked or prepared in house, and arranged around a central pair of condiments. (yes!!) Each component was carefully thought out and placed, with careful attention to detail on the flavors and sensations one would experience.The dish consisted of, (starting at twelve and moving clockwise) crisp flatbread, smoked chicken wings, duck and pork rillettes, (their take on a pate!) pickled green tomatoes, smoked pork loin, an apple and apricot membrillo, (another sweet interpretation of a pate) with a limburger cheese and brie, cornichons, smoked pork belly, fresh baguette, and Austrian garlic sausage. In the center of the plate were their two spreads, a housemade mustard and a cranberry chutney.

Each aspect of this plate was better than the last. We had so much fun mixing and matching the foods and really relished the flavors that came out of them. The pickled green tomatoes were a fun twist on a classic charcuterie component and brought our Riesling out to a more magnificent level of flavor and acidity. The delicacy and tiny portion of the chicken wings brought the normally robust and messy bar snack to a gourmet level, and they were tender and perfectly seasoned. The flavor of the meats was enhanced to a savory and zippy level with the mustard, which had a playful flavor without being too grainy and intense. This plate should be on their full-time menu. We really enjoyed getting small tastes of the foods, and found that the overall composition was thoughtful and varied.We also shared a plate of wiener schnitzel, a classic Austrian dish. This particular schnitzel stayed true to tradition and was made with a veal escalope base. I've never had schnitzel, but I have had veal and know that I love fried foods, so I was more than elated to try this.It was a simple preparation, with a wedge of lemon on the side, and we made short work of the dish. I don't think I've ever derived so much pleasure from such a simple and classic dish. The crust clung to the meat, which was pounded to a nearly invisible thickness, and the veal was tender and sweet, with the lemon providing a nicely acidic punch. It was crispy and addictive, and I wanted to order more and eat all the crispy edge pieces. None of it was mushy or stringy, and it was a dish that could have sated me and still made me crave more immediately after.After all that food and wine, we decided to try two desserts, the rigo jansci and their special of the night, a pumpkin crumble tart. The rigo jansci is a traditional Austrian dessert, a cube of chocolate cake with a layer of mousse and apricot jam in between. The pumpkin crumble tart seemed to be unique because of its featuring pumpkin puree as a key ingredient.And indeed, it was. The crumble had a predominantly squashy flavor instead of masking its true identity with an abundance of spices and herbs, and with a really delicious crusty base and decadent crumble, was the perfect fall fare. What was even more unusual was how much we enjoyed the whipped cream that came dolloped on the side. It was fresh and luxuriously flavored, whipped gently to stiff peaks. I could have honestly eaten an entire bowl of this for dessert, it was that good. It ranked above most ice creams I've had.The rigo jansci was also really delicious, with velvety soft chocolate cake in a neat cube, like an oversized petit four. It was stuffed with a thick layer of mousse, but still managed to retain its form. Between the mousse and the cake was a bit of apricot jam. The cake was delicious, if singular in texture, and was paired with a nice bittersweet chocolate powder on top. I would have preferred a little more oomph from the apricot jam. Again, the dishes were heaped with more of that addictive whipped cream.After that impressive dinner, we had no choice but to return for a second night! The building was aesthetically beautiful and had a large partitioned window as its largest wall, so we picked a time that would allow us to see the sunset through the windows. Unfortunately, it was a little rainy, but our second night brought more exciting selections and festive foods.

A special dish of gnocchi with various autumnal flavorings had caught our eye on the previous night, and we'd planned on ordering it upon our second visit, but they'd changed the menu and it was no longer available. We opted for a shared selection of a few sausages, two of their spreads, a salad, and bread on the side. This was easily enough food for two people, and we enjoyed making little open faced sandwiches with all the toppings.The sausages were presented with more of that fantastic housemade mustard, which we greatly enjoyed, and were boiled. I personally enjoy grilled sausages, but their flavors were bold and peppy. The Hungarian sausage was easily the more pungent of the two, with pork, beef, and paprika, and I found it a little rich for my tastes and could only finish half. However, it really combined well with the mustard, both being very intense flavors that played well together.

The bratwurst was my favorite of the two sausages, with pork and veal. It was mild and served as a juicy base for the sauces we put on top. It was garlicky and not too spicy or rich and had a dry but firm texture. Again, had this been grilled and in a bun, I would be hard pressed to not have returned for a lunch special! Especially with that mustard.For our spreads, we enjoyed two, a traditional liptauer, made with feta cheese, cream cheese, various spices, and most notably, carroway seed. This was present and gave the spread a quirky multi-dimensional effect not unlike time travel. It was creamy and tangy and was easily something I'd love to add to my morning bagel. It paired well with each sausage and made each even more divine. The texture wasn't weighty, it was whipped and rather delicate, making it easier to enjoy.The second spread was another I'd easily want to use on bagels and would have really savored in a roast beef sandwich. That was a horseradish walnut spread with a cream cheese base. It was a very versatile and surprisingly mild spread that benefited from a little mustard on top! I was a little taken aback that the horseradish played such a small role and was not typically spicy, but was pleased with the overall fresh effect it had on the spread as a whole. The walnuts were chopped up just enough to give the spread a nice crunch but not dislodge any teeth.With these small picnic-like foods, we shared a cucumber dill salad. This was a little less acidic than the pickled green tomatoes but was still a neutral and crunchy base to carry such a fresh flavor. The salad was both sweet and sour and was free of seeds, allowing it to remain firm and crispy.All of this food satiated us, because we also wanted to make room for dessert. This time, we shared a classic mohn torte, a traditional poppy seed cake. I tend to shy away from overly mawkish desserts, so I figured poppy seed would not only provide a nutty base, but be flavorful without saccharine. And it was! It was a crumbly cake dense with poppy seeds, probably a 50/50 ratio, with that luscious whipped cream.The cake needed no additional flavorings or garnishes and was perfect on its own. It was probably a little too crumbly for a portable breakfast cake, but I'd still love to eat this as an early morning or late night treat.Overall, we loved Dano's and if we ever end up returning to the Finger Lakes, would be delighted to return and enjoy more comforting, imaginative foods!

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