The Polenta Saltata Con Parmigiano at Cafe Calamari in Williams Bay was one of two appetizers the Gazette’s restaurant review team The Four Dishes tried during a recent visit. The dish consists of a large, crisp slice of polenta, cut diagonally, in a tomato bolognese sauce.

Helene Ramsdell photo

Williams Bay

A lovely walk to watch the sunset, followed by a fantastic dinner—now that’s a good night.

Cafe Calamari is located in the quaint town of Williams Bay and is directly across the street from beautiful Geneva Lake. With a multitude of boats docked for the evening and the sun beginning to set, the view was like a postcard—absolutely stunning.

White lights twinkled in the trees to make outdoor seating very inviting on the mild fall evening we visited. But it was already packed outside, so we headed indoors instead.

Entering Cafe Calamari gives one the sense of taking a step back in time. The place has exquisite antique chandeliers above several tables, and vintage chairs hang from wooden dowels on the roughly plastered walls. Old light fixtures and a few timeworn brass musical instruments also decorate the walls to add to the elegant, low-lit ambience.

Café Calamari has a fantastic cocktail list with some unique concoctions. I’ll try anything that has ginger, so the red sangria ($8.50) with an orange vodka and ginger brandy was my choice. It wasn’t too heavy or too strong, and it went great with the appetizers we ordered.

Jennifer opted for the strawberry mule ($6). Pleasantly refreshing with a strong strawberry flavor, the drink was served in a copper mug with a huge lime wedge. She thoroughly enjoyed it.

Helene ordered a basil ginger daiquiri ($10) which, surprisingly, wasn’t too sweet. The pineapple juice cut the tartness of the lime and ginger liqueur while the fresh basil and rum smoothed everything out.

We love trying new and unique things, and the antipasta list had our mouths watering. The Strudel Ai Quattro Formaggi ($8) had flaky layers, soft cheese and a spicy diavolo sauce. It was tasty to say the least, but also high on the heat!

The Polenta Saltata Con Parmigiano ($10) consisted of a large, crisp slice of polenta, cut diagonally, in a tomato bolognese sauce. Both dishes were outstanding and worth trying.

The menu listed many great options, but it was a little confusing with several “build your own” offerings with a selection of sauces, pastas and additional toppings such as meatballs or scallops. Once our helpful waiter explained everything, we got to the business of ordering.

I wanted more of the diavolo sauce that came with the strudel appetizer, especially when I saw in the description that it contained fennel. I had it over bowtie pasta and added Italian sausage ($19). I did enjoy the fennel and want to rave over the sausage, but my favorite part of the meal was the house salad. I don’t normally like raisins in a salad, but it really worked. It also boasted walnuts and a wonderful light dressing with a hint of mustard.

Jennifer ordered the scallops and angel hair pasta with pomo fresca sauce. Four jumbo, pan-seared scallops arrived on a bed of pasta drizzled with a sauce made from fresh chopped tomatoes, slivers of fresh basil and garlic sautéed in olive oil. The scallops were mildly sweet and, with a touch of crispness on the outside, were moist and soft in the middle. The sauce tasted fresh from the garden, although Jennifer would have preferred a bit more olive oil to even out the flavors of the fresh vegetables.

Like many other menu selections, Nikki’s entree was customizable. Her first choice was meat: chicken ($19) or veal ($27). The sauce options were Marsala (wine and mushrooms), Parmesano (marinara and cheese), picatta (white wine, lemon and capers) or Victoria (artichoke, prosciutto and garlic). It was a tough choice, but the homey taste of veal Parmesano won out.

The breaded cutlet was served on linguine and covered with marinara and mozzarella. Nikki also tried the berry side salad ($5) that featured strawberries, mandarin oranges, blue cheese and walnuts on mixed greens with an orange raspberry vinaigrette.

Helene opted for the chicken Victoria ($19), which featured a deglazed white wine sauce over fettuccini topped with artichoke hearts, fresh tomato and basil, prosciutto and garlic. The dish was a bit skimpy on the vegetables, but the overall flavors were pleasant and not too heavy. The side of sautéed string beans also was lovely.

We were boxing up our leftovers and feeling so full we really couldn’t eat another bite ... until we heard there was gelato.

It was agreed, for research’s sake, that we needed to try the lemon gelato ($7.50). Served in a fluted serving glass, the gelato was imported from Italy, according to our server. We each savored spoonfuls of the delightfully creamy, very lemony treat, which capped off the dinner perfectly.

The Four Dishes—Nikki Bolka, Helene Ramsdell, Jennifer Spangler and Beth Webb—review regional restaurants for The Gazette.

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