Rivers Ridge is a tale of two establishments. On the one hand, it's a lovely, well-stocked bar with a devoted following. And on the other, it's a restaurant with white linen tablecloths and courteous service. The problem is that the two don't always mix very well. On the Friday night a friend and I visited, we practically had to shoulder our way to the hostess station to get past the throng at the bar, and then we had to yell at each other to be heard over the flat-screen TVs and the bar crowd while we ate dinner. Fortunately, my second visit was at lunchtime, and it was much quieter.
Bill Cabaniss, the man behind Rivers Ridge, is charming, and he made sure to touch base with the diners at each and every table.
The service on both visits was equally pleasant. Our waiter at dinner was better informed about the dishes than the server at lunch, who kept having to check with the chef when we inquired about a preparation or ingredient, but neither hovered, and both of them were attentive while letting us set the pace for the meal. We were told by our dinner waiter that the menu had just changed, which happens every two months, making his knowledge even more impressive.
We started with the Mussels Citroen, which were steamed with fresh tomatoes, Citroen vodka, shallots and thin strips of basil. They were tender, with a hint of citrus, but a number of the shells were empty, and, sadly, the little morsels were not at the bottom of the bowl. We felt a bit robbed because they were so good.
The hot crab dip was a better version than most. Creamy and chock-full of chunks of crabmeat, it could have used a bit more hot sauce, as just a mere hint came through. It was accompanied by homemade crackers and potato chips. Light and crisp, the crackers served as a good foil for the dip; on the other hand, the potato chips were a bit thick and didn't really add anything to the dish.
The lamb medallions were described as being served with a demi-glace, but they were literally drowning in it. Once I scraped away the sauce, however, the lamb itself turned out to be cooked medium and was quite tender and tasty.
The shrimp-and-grits special was the best thing we ate that evening. Three bundles of two shrimp each were nestled together to form something akin to the Chinese symbol for yin and yang. These were wrapped in pancetta and then grilled and served over grits that were laced with cheddar cheese. The balance of smoky, sweet and savory flavors made the dish quite toothsome.
The lunch menu is a fairly standard assortment of salads and sandwiches. We started with a bowl of butternut-squash soup. Reminiscent of pumpkin pie in the spices used (cinnamon, nutmeg), it was a little bit too sweet for my taste, but I enjoyed its rich, creamy texture.
The Porto Burger sounded delicious, with a portobello mushroom, roasted peppers, provolone cheese and sour-cream/horseradish spread. Unfortunately, the portobello was overly marinated and vinegary, I never did taste the horseradish spread, and the bun was soggy, making the overall sandwich a mess to eat.
My friend ordered the chicken-and-spinach salad with Riesling dressing. The dressing was fruity and light, but the salad just didn't come together very well. The chicken breast was cold and dry; the salad was not well mixed, leaving all the candied walnuts and cranberries at the bottom of the bowl; and there was too much spinach in proportion to the other ingredients.
On two visits, I sampled four different desserts. The crème brûlée's torched sugar top was still warm, and the cream underneath was cool, making for a very nice combination. The turtle cheesecake provided another pleasant mix of textures and flavors. An individual ramekin-sized serving was drizzled with chocolate and butterscotch sauces, sprinkled with walnuts and topped with whipped cream. The chocolate dome cake had a dense, fudgy center and was topped with marshmallow. It was too sweet, despite the darkness of the chocolate. The flourless chocolate cake was served in the same dish as the crème brûlée. Topped with a strawberry and surrounded by whipped cream and decorative chocolate designs, it was delicious.
I enjoy the experience of dining out for a variety of reasons, including food, ambiance and service. Rivers Ridge has very good service, but the food needs to become more consistent, and its split personality left me feeling frustrated.
403-B N. Ridge Road (Tuckahoe Shopping Center), 288-0633
Soups, salads and sandwiches $6 to $12. Entrées $18 to $30. Desserts $5 to $6.
Lunch is served Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner is served Monday to Saturday,
4:30 to 11 p.m.; and brunch is served on Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.