Dinner with a view: Food, scenery eclipse service lapses at Delavan's Frontier
DELAVAN—The idea of dining near water is irresistible, particularly on a gloriously warm and breezy Friday evening when the lowering sun bathes the newly green trees in gold.
So we hopped in Jim and Nancy's car and headed to Delavan to eat at the Lake Lawn Resort.
Lake Lawn reopened under new ownership in summer 2011. Walking the grounds, it was nice to see staff planning activities for kids, neatly trimmed lawns, well-maintained gardens and that wonderful shoreline on Delavan Lake. It was surprisingly quiet that evening.
We made reservations online for the Frontier Restaurant, the resort's fine dining establishment. Richard's cellphone woke us up with a confirmation text just before 6 a.m. Friday, so we were surprised when we arrived and the hostess had no record of our reservation.
Although the dining room wasn't full—and wasn't all evening—our arrival seemed to cause a great deal of angst. We sat at a high-top table near the bar for a drink and enjoyed the boats going by until the staff sorted things out.
The hostess initially said she had no tables by the windows, but then we were seated as we requested. I'm glad of it. The views were beautiful from every angle. As Nancy said, the food didn't really matter all that much because the setting was so lovely and relaxing.
That turned out to be a good thing. It's the beginning of the summer season and half the wait staff looked like they were finishing up the school year, so I'm inclined to give them a pass. That said, the service was amateurish. Our server was excellent—very experienced, knowledgeable about the menu and a great sport when Jim teased her. She just didn't have enough support to keep up.
Three of us ordered the Friday Seafood Feast buffet ($20.95 for adults, $9.95 for children ages 4-12). Nancy needed a bit longer to decide. That turned into a lot longer before our server returned. The rest of us were starving, so we let Nancy sit with her salad as we descended on the cold buffet station.
The first station had fresh vegetables and dip, a salad bar, a selection of cheeses and meats, fruit, cabbage slaw, pasta salads, shrimp cocktail, marinated mussels, dinner rolls and homemade seafood gumbo soup. It was an excellent selection, and everything was fresh. The soup had a nice level of spice and was packed with vegetables, chopped shrimp and whitefish.
Jim ordered the three-cheese baked onion soup ($7) because it sounded so delicious. It lived up to its menu description, thick with caramelized onions simmered in port and sherry with a cheesy top.
It tasted great but was served about one to two notches over room temperature. The soup is broiled to melt the cheese, so we figured that it sat a while before making it to the table.
The same temperature problem was an issue for all the heated items in the buffet. All the entrees and sides were good. I especially liked the broiled cod and the Asian chicken dish. The seafood macaroni and cheese was rich and flavorful—it just wasn't particularly hot.
Richard tried the made-to-order shrimp pasta and said it was OK but should have been better, so I skipped the station. I was already stuffed.
While Jim, Richard and I made several trips back and forth to the buffet, Nancy waited. And waited. Finally, her peppercorn-crusted tenderloin ($33) arrived. Pan-seared with wild mushroom ragu, a zucchini potato pancake and roasted tomatoes, the serving of beef was generous. Nancy said it was quite good, although the view was what she cared about the most.
The dessert station was uninspired. That's not unusual for buffets and not surprising considering the salads, soups and entrees available at Frontier. The menu said the brownies, cupcakes and cake were homemade, but they looked and tasted pre-made. They weren't bad, just not anything special.
We were there on a relatively slow start-of-season Friday. My best guess is that most of the entrees were lukewarm because the pans of food on the warmers were too large for the dining-room crowd. The entrees sat for so long that the warmers couldn't keep up. The food itself was very good, and the selection was excellent.
This is a hard one to call. The uneven service could get worse with bigger crowds, or it could improve. With more people in the dining room, the buffet might offer hot, delicious food or the kitchen won't be able to keep up. I'm betting everything will be better once the staff hits its summer groove.
Considering the lovely view from the dining room and the promising food, I'm willing to keep the Frontier on the Friday fish fry list.