Under the Covers 

At the quiet and cozy Joseph's Hatch Cover

I know when you hear the words "New York," you immediately think of the city -- the tightly packed, tightly wound bundle of humanity hemmed in by skyscrapers, hot dog vendors and the Atlantic Ocean. No one will ever mention New York again without Sept. 11 springing immediately to mind. But I'm going for a different New York. Think about the Adirondack Mountains (OK, so they're only demi-mountains compared to the Rockies, but beautiful just the same). Think about the part of the state that borders Canada, where rivers, lakes and streams are plentiful, where cows -- and deer -- outnumber the human population, and the entire month of January can pass without the sun ever shining or the thermometer ever getting above 10 degrees. Picture mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds; horseflies the size of robins; towns without sidewalks, post offices or traffic lights (or the need for them); and a large class graduating from the local high school numbering around 35.

That's where I grew up. My graduating class had a whopping 32 people in it, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that one of my classmates was living here in the Springs, 2,000 miles from dear old Knox Memorial. Once we connected, we figured the best way to reconnect was to drag our husbands out for dinner, so we could bore them senseless with conversation about people and places we knew 20 years ago, while trying to figure out who is doing what now, and where.

If you haven't visited Joseph's Hatch Cover recently, it's a great spot for a leisurely meal that involves lots of catching up, or even a quiet dinner for two with some intimate conversation. It's a quiet, candle-lit place with strategically placed tables and mirrors, so even when there are lots of other diners, you maintain a feeling of privacy and coziness. About four years ago, it went from being the Hatch Cover to being Joseph's Hatch Cover, and Joseph has made extensive changes. The menu has been revamped and revitalized, the wine list has been expanded, and the interior has been completely refurbished. If this was an old favorite, it's worth taking a new look.

In the past, the Hatch Cover was mostly considered a seafood restaurant, and while they still offer some excellent choices in that area, they've expanded their menu to include some exceptional choices for meat lovers as well. But before we get to the entrees, let's talk about what precedes the main course.

Out of several appetizers, we chose the calamari and the stuffed mushrooms. The calamari was a flawless rendition -- crispy, slightly chewy and not greasy. The mushrooms were sublime, stoutly filled with an herby, substantial filling that didn't crumble or become mush. I could easily have eaten an entire plate of these myself, and I think I showed admirable restraint by not licking the luscious, rich sauce off the plate. After all, I wouldn't want my old friend to think I had developed no manners in the last 20 years.

The salad course is like dinner and a show. Both the Caesar salad and the spinach salad are made tableside, with subtle flourishes and flair, by your waiter. The Caesar comes out perfect, the dressing appropriately garlicky without being harsh or bitter. The romaine is crisp, in bite-sized pieces, and the croutons are small, crunchy and lightly seasoned so as not to conflict with the dressing. The spinach salad has a warm, tangy bacon dressing that is lightly fruity (from raspberries) but not sweet enough to be cloying.

When the entrees arrived, with enough breathing space after the salad, we were mostly delighted. The Chutney Steak is flambed to order at your table, flavored with the traditional Major Grey's Chutney, and the New York strip, ordered medium-rare, was tender, succulent and perfectly cooked. The Steak Diane was a bit of a letdown in its ordinariness, but the Crab-stuffed Trout was outstanding. The trout was de-boned but intact, draped over a mound of lightly seasoned crabmeat stuffing that didn't overpower the delicate, sweet flavor of the trout. All the entrees came with either rice or garlic mashed potatoes, and a colorful melange of vegetables that were just lightly finished with butter -- not too rich and retaining a bit of crunch.

Save room, time and money for dessert. There are several cakes listed on the menu, but we immediately knew we had to have the two flambed desserts, Bananas Foster and Cherries Jubilee. It was yum to the tenth power. The aroma of butter and brown sugar melting together wafts across your table, making you realize that yes, in fact you did save room for dessert. The bananas are flamed with a bit of rum, swirled in the lovely caramelized sauce flavored with fresh orange juice, and poured over vanilla ice cream. The cherries get a similar treatment, with an added dash of cinnamon and a cherry liqueur. It was a lovely way to extend the evening and linger over our memories.

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