There seems to be this desirable growing momentum in Niagara Falls of splitting from the MOR dining formula. A few new venues have recently opened their doors for culinary business that are attracting a lot of attention. Places such as AG, Koutouki, and Paris Crepes Bistro in the old downtown sections, are luring folks away from the multitude of humdrum dining establishments one goes to satiate between bouts of gambling or sightseeing In the heart of Niagara Falls. More and more couples like us, from locales nearby, are creeping stealthily into the home of the Maid of the Mist and the ever-so-classy Clifton Hill with the express objective of actually experiencing very good repast.
This particular little gem is off the beaten path of the franchise laiden blocks and promenades most of us associate with the touristy honeymoon capital. It stands out both in terms of ambience (once you're inside the hotel, spa and restaurant complex) and taste. The building, the Sterling Inn and Spa, houses the restaurant. It was initially a creamery built in the early twenties. The owners took great care in maintaining the architectural theme and integrity throughout the structure, while injecting it with very clean modern lines and styles.
We believe the AG's theme is contemporary cosmopolitan, though one might also envision a '60s New York City retro feel with highly contrasting tasteful colours, textures and materials. Red, white, black, pearl, walnut, stainless steel. To us, it felt like entering a Madmen episode on Madison Avenue, only with modern twists. While most of the clientele were younger couples, we (closing in on retirement,) nevertheless felt as comfortable as they. The seating configuration is multi-level and a mixture of lines of tables with well cushioned bench seating along perimeter walls, and corner "alcoves" with just the right amount of fabric partitioning to comfort the more private, romantic types. The bar is the first part of the restaurant you see upon entering the below ground level restaurant. Again; sleek, modern yet not so modern, well suited to Sinatra, martinis, shiny suits and slim ties. A group of couples, probably in their twenties or early thirties, entered and bantered jovially while sipping on cocktails around the long, curved bar prior to being lead by the host into their private dining room off to one corner of the restaurant. Once there, the restaurant was attenuated once again, with mostly more youthful moderns tunes as low-volume background music. My only constructive criticism of AG is - they could stand to either upgrade their sound system or tweak the EQ. It was tinny and their music choices out of synch with the otherwise very clean, stylish surroundings. I would also recommend some quiet jazz "a la" Coltrane, Davis, Holiday or, again, some Sinatra, Connick Jr. , Buble, Bennett, etc..
The wine list is all VQA - and that's a good thing. Our wines just keep getting more complex and layered with time and there's plenty available these days with the type and quality to at least adequately match the menu items. We chose a Strewn 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, appropriately priced for a restaurant, and it went very well with our entree choices of Roasted Autumn Red Deer and Hand Rolled Papardelle and Beef Tenderloin Pasta. These were preceded with “Just Veggin” Winter Leaves and “AG Caesar” Steamed P.E.I. Mussels. The chef, Cory Linkson, has taken great care in maximizing the use of very fresh Canadian and mostly regional ingredients. For my part, I am quite familiar with PEI mussels, having visited PEI numerous times and mixing and eating with the locals. This appetizer hit the mark - at least a dozen large and creamy smooth, fleshy morsels that just wouldn't quit. But it was the venison entree that simply blew me away. I tend to hone in on game meat when I can and usually pair it with an elusive earthy burgundy or local pinot noir. I could just as heartily have eaten this entree with Ribena because nothing was stopping it. Perfectly roasted at my preferred medium rare, the more than adequate cross-cut portions were dribbled with the reduction and mixed very naturally with the unique bread pudding and pickled cabbage. It was tender enough to be cut with the handle of a knife. Outstanding plate.
For dessert I chose the pumpkin cheesecake. It flowed with ease from the entree and while its menu's description smacks of sugar rush, it was surprisingly tame, in a sweet dessert sort of way. Perfect choice with my coffee. My wife's choices, mentioned earlier, were reportedly fine, fine, fine and left me to choose the right words on her behalf, but a calm glow and permasmile kind of said it all.
To top it off, we were greeted and served promptly yet never rushed, with consistent professionalism and charm from all staff tending to our needs that evening.
We aren't the easiest people to please when it comes to dining out. I make most of our meals from scratch at home and really enjoy it, almost as a hobby. When we do have an opportunity to dine, we soak it all in and certainly want to get our money's worth. In summary, a great evening, fully satisfied, and treated like a somebody by a great team.
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