Clinton's new restaurant looks good, needs a few tweaks

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By Joan Neeno, Special to The Gazette
Wednesday, January 22, 2014

CLINTON—So many details go into opening a fine dining restaurant. There's the décor, the music and atmosphere, the menu and pricing, and training and staffing appropriately.

It's not easy. That was fairly apparent when we dined with a group of friends at Copper Falls, a new fine dining restaurant in Clinton, on a recent Saturday night. There were some good points and bad points.

The location is beautiful. The long, dark wooden bar and the light brick walls, topped with a richly detailed copper ceiling, are striking. The initial impression was that this is a pretty metropolitan place for little Clinton.

We were seated and things started to go downhill. The dining room was tastefully decorated with white linens and dim lighting. However, the music was loud and the hard rock was inappropriate to the setting. When Jim asked if they could turn it down, our server's initial reaction was less than friendly. However, the music was turned down.

Of the appetizers, the lobster quesadilla ($10.50) was a standout. It was a generously stuffed with lobster meat, fresh herbs, onions and peppers and served with a fire-roasted chipotle salsa. It had a little kick without overwhelming the delicately rich lobster. Very nicely done.

The other standout was the rare seared ahi sashimi ($10.50). The tuna was pan blackened and served with a wasabi-based sauce and Asian slaw. The tuna was melt-in-your mouth moist, and the sauce was exceptionally good.

Unfortunately, the Parmesan-crusted calamari ($8.50) were bland, and the sugarcane skewered shrimp ($9.50)—wrapped in bacon and glazed with cilantro jalapeno pesto—were overcooked and surprisingly bland as well.

Entrees come with soup or salad. For an additional $2, you can upgrade to the classic French onion or cream of wild mushroom soup. Many of us chose the mushroom soup, which was outstanding. The soup featured three types of wild mushrooms baked in a crock with shaved Parmesan and fresh herbs. It was light yet rich and filling. Hands down, the best dish of the night.

The entrees were a mixed bag.

Jim ordered the 16-ounce prime rib special ($28), which lacked the typical crust of seared seasoning on the outside. It so bland that he left most of it on the plate.

Nancy's roast chicken breast ($18), stuffed with asparagus, Jarlsburg cheese, fresh herbs and light cream sherry sauce, sounded fantastic on the menu. Unfortunately, it also was bland.

I chose the jumbo scallops and prawns ($26), served over pasta with a light sauce of lemon, tomato, Parmesan and garlic. It was the best entree at the table—nicely seasoned, and the shrimp and scallop portion was generous and beautifully cooked.

My husband, Richard, ordered the duck breast, which was seared and topped with a sweet cherry glaze ($25). The duck was not cooked properly, leaving the fat intact under the skin rather than melted into the meat. The glaze was a thick, sweet sauce that overwhelmed the duck.

Marcia's entree was the most problematic. She ordered the 10-ounce bone-in filet mignon ($36) and spent an extra $2 for baked mushrooms. The mushrooms arrived burned and piled on top of her steak, which was also overcooked. It should have been returned to the kitchen, but our server never came back until it was time for the check. Instead, we had a couple of teenage boys who kept our water glasses full. We didn't feel comfortable telling these nice young men to send back entrees.

Marcia said she would pay for her entree but asked the waitress to share her feedback with the chef. As we left, no one followed up with her.

We returned to Copper Falls with friends Dan and Shawn, hoping for a better experience. For the most part, it was.

I ordered the Pabst Blue Ribbon breaded fish and chips ($11.95). I tried the fried cod, and Dan ordered the broiled. I ordered a baked potato, which was mammoth. Dan tried the potato pancake, which was rather petite. The two cod filets on each of our plates were small, but I liked the flavorful, crunchy breading. We also got more fish when we asked.

Shawn ordered the fried perch special ($15.95), which wasn't all-you-can-eat. While she thought the perch was fine, the plate was so small that she was nibbling on the cheddar biscuit “bites” in a basket on the table. Richard had the fried shrimp special ($15.95), which was six medium-sized shrimp, a small potato pancake, a small cup of slaw and choice of soup or salad. He was still hungry and ended up eating the skin of my baked potato.

The service was better, which brought it up to average.

On the surface, Copper Falls looks great. The menu is creative and ambitious, but in my two visits there, the food was uneven in quality. The prices are as high as some of the finer restaurants in Madison and Milwaukee, but the quality of service and food doesn't justify the prices. Copper Falls has some work to do to reach its aspirations.

Last updated: 8:23 pm Wednesday, January 22, 2014

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