Restaurant is simply DIVINE
Not many towns have hotels named after angels or restaurants with heavenly names. Fewer towns restore an empty 1920s red-brick hotel and attach it to the famous 1946 Frank Capra movie, "It's a Wonderful Life."
In July, Seneca Falls, the town that calls itself the "real Bedford Falls" -- the setting for Capra's movie -- welcomed the new Hotel Clarence, renamed for the angel rescued by the film's hero, George Bailey, who jumps from a bridge to save him.
In what was once the Gould Hotel, the interior is re-created with modern designs in 48 guest rooms, restaurant, bar, ballroom and banquet facilities.
On a recent Saturday evening, we joined the local cheering section with a full house for the Divine Kitchen & Bar's popular top chef, Ed Moro, formerly at Mirbeau Inn and Spa in Skaneateles.
Moro's newly designed restaurant is a clever American black and white creation with a relaxed, informal setting with black wooden tables and chairs, heavy silver, white napkins, china and painted brick walls. Sliding glass doors let in the outdoors, and waitresses in blue jeans are eager to please.
An a-la-carte menu offers 14 starters ($6.75 to $12.99), four choices from the raw bar ($9.99 to $16), 10 entrees ($8 to $25), chilled seafood platters for two or four with three sauces ($34.95 and $60) and 10 barbecue entrees with a side ($8 to $22). Seven special dinner plates are for each day of the week ($16 to $23), and six children's choices offer chicken fingers, pizza, burgers, pasta and hot dogs.
We started with outstanding warm homemade bread with long triangles of butter and a bottle of Lamoreaux Landing's Seneca Lake Pinot Noir ($24) from a collection of Finger Lakes wines.
Corn and clam chowder ($8) filled a hot, deep bowl with a tasty combination
potatoes, corn kernels and seafood. Individual ingredients were recognizable in the light, well-seasoned soup.
Cornmeal-crusted crab cakes ($9) arrived as three small cakes on individual creamy circles. The crisp cornmeal coating, fiery crab filling and sauce made a delicious starter with mighty flavor kicks.
Food portions are not overwhelming nor are they too small for a single diner, and hot plates for hot food are always a treat. This newcomer delivered both every time.
Crispy seared haddock ($25) with lobster Americaine sauce was first-rate with white-wine sauce with shallots, tomatoes, garlic and bits of lobster for an elegant addition to a simple, moist fish fillet with a seared bottom skin. A small taste of pea-shoot salad added color and texture.
Steak Diane ($25) looked like twins, with two medallions of a medium-rare filet mignon. The grilled beef was full of flavor and especially tender at a time when too many beef cuts are taking dives.
Three deep-fried onion rings were perfect with the steak, but steamed extra-pungent broccoli rabe and thick Diane brown sauce with vinegar and peppercorns clashed for me.
Other entree choices include braised beef short ribs ($23.99), grilled pork-loin chop ($23.99), chimichurri rib- eye ($24.99), grilled soy-and-ginger marinated salmon ($19), sauteed New York state duck breast ($26) and vegetarian orecchiette pasta with broccoli, roasted red pepper and garlic cream ($13.50).
A separate menu for homemade Divine desserts charmed us to two of seven choices ($7 each). A Clarence banana split for two costs $12.
Warm and creamy bittersweet chocolate and croissant bread pudding was outstanding, and New York apple pie with pecan-caramel ice cream tasted as if a slice for every citizen in the state would send them off to enjoy "It's a Wonderful Life."
Chef Moro's kitchen takes reservations, and the hotel has plenty of parking behind the building.