DinnerDate: Installment Two at Canteen

While sitting down in the comfortable, red velvet-lined booth in Canteen, a new dig in North Adams, Caroline Messmer ’02 was comforted to realize that, even if the date didn’t result in everlasting love, at least our restaurant review would be stellar. “I should tell you that my favorite food is pizza,” said Mark Rothman ’05.

Well, at least that critic knew where he stood. No matter. Mark had already proved himself to be a good sport. He hadn’t crawled out of the car at any red lights, even as Caroline was telling him driving disaster stories the entire way up Route 2. On the other hand, there were no driving mishaps until the car almost hopped the curb in the restaurant parking lot. But since we had already arrived, it wasn’t critical.

We walked into Canteen. The set-up is a large room with a lounge-area to the left, booths lining the far wall, a smattering of tables and a large bar against the near wall, closest to the entrance. The décor is a melange between somebody’s classy, slightly worn-in living room and an art deco lounge. This in no way a euphemism for “shabby”; it’s just that there is a definite feel to the place.

A slightly perplexed waitress, who seemed a little bit confused by the dynamic duo that had walked in, showed the two of us to our booth. As a piece of meat, Mark is one fine rump roast. At the same time, it was pretty clear that this would be a functional, let’s-review-the-restaurant type of activity. Maybe it’s because Caroline’s first interaction with Mark was at a party where he was, to put it nicely, well beyond hammered.

No matter, though! We can still tell you how this restaurant functions as a datey type of place because we ran into one of the hottest couples of the Williams campus: Dan Doyle ’04 and Johanna Rodriguez ’04. They were out to celebrate Ms. Rodriguez’s 20th birthday and seemed to be having a good time. The atmosphere was nighttime cool, the lights low enough for a romantic ambiance.

Mark, the pizza lover, and Caroline, driver extraordinaire, sat down and perused the appetizer section. Mark provided his second gem of the night: “I really don’t like seafood.” No matter, since the entire appetizer menu was pretty much. . .seafood.

Regardless of Mark’s preferences, we ordered the Lobster Spring Rolls, which came on a platter in a whimsically deconstructed presentation. The spiced lettuce filling was spread in two piles with the fresh ginger in another pile. In the middle was a peanut satay sauce, with six pieces of spring roll flanking the center dipping dish. The spring roll was quite tasty, although the peanut sauce left a lot to be desired. Instead of being smooth, creamy and slightly sweet, it was thick, gooky and bland.

Mark took a brave little nibble, made a face and put it down. He did try a few more tasty morsels, but Caroline didn’t think he gave it a chance. On the other side, Mark remarked, “Considering I hate seafood and ate it, that means that it was pretty good, or Caroline told me it was not lobster.” Maybe failed communication doomed these two from the start. Other appetizers included a white bean hummus plate, cubano chili, grilled shrimp and swordfish brochette.

They also had a great bread basket. It was actually a bread pail, with several different types of homemade bread, light and dark, along with an assortment of shelled nuts. After explaining to Mark that one particular nut was a cashew and then realizing it wasn’t after Mark found the nutcracker to open it, Caroline ended that discussion with a rather lame, “Well, it’s a big nut either way.” Mark stated that some nuts were tough to crack but the provided nutcracker worked better than his wife’s divorce lawyer.

In moving onto the main course, we realized that not only is this place great for fools in love, it’s also wonderful for vegetarians. There isn’t a whole lot of choice, but what is on the menu sounds absolutely delectable. Caroline had the open-faced roasted eggplant, which, as described by their menu, is “a split baguette with white bean spread. . .filled with roasted eggplant, roasted peppers and melted mozzarella cheese.” The bean spread was out of this world, and the eggplant was tender and fresh. Caroline’s one complaint is that the cheese component was slightly skimpy, but as Mark pointed out, it was kind of weird to order the eggplant dish and then be surprised by the abundance of fresh eggplant. Caroline called him a stupid freshman and kept eating. Mark declined to try the dish, thinking that it looked good but was not his thing – much like his attitude toward underarm deodorant.

To finish up with the vegetarian angle, there is also a delicious concoction on the menu, made by Chef Kathleen, called the Zen burger, which sounds very falafel-like. It is described as a lentil-chick pea patty with cucumber-yogurt-mint sauce on a potato roll.

Completely switching gears, Mark had the steak frite, a New York sirloin strip steak served on a “bed of hand-cut french fries.” It was quite delicious, but Caroline thought it was over-cooked since he ordered it medium-well. Mark, however, enjoyed it a great deal and thought the accompanying fries and onion crisp sealed the deal.

After making a significant dent in our heartily portioned dinners, we leaned back, completely stuffed. The waitress came by and asked if we wanted dessert. After significant arm-twisting, Mark talked me into ordering three desserts for the table: tiramisu, a lemon mousse tartlet with a kick that would “make a Rockette proud” and a chocolate cake with a coffee mousse filling.

The tiramisu was another whimsical, deconstructed creation with coffee-soaked Ladyfingers torn up in the bottom of a red wine glass with the chocolate filling and marscapone cheese puffing out on top. It was very tasty – both sweet and bitter, combining the bite of coffee and the sweetness of the chocolate and cheese. Caroline was not as impressed with the lemon mousse tartlet or the chocolate cake, as the cake part in both seemed slightly stale and dry.

The chocolate frosting and the lemon mousse, however, were wonderful. We know you must be thinking three desserts are a lot, but when you are trying to review a restaurant in a serious, professional manner, you must try several things. Okay, that is a lie: the Record was paying and we could not resist.

Overall, this is a fun place for dinner. While not over-priced, the total can quickly climb up to $70-80 for two, including alcohol, entrees and desserts – which seems a little steep considering the uneven quality of the food. Haute couture fans should plan on going this Wednesday for the First Annual Pauper’s Ball, featuring the blues band Blue Fish. They feature a $10.40 dinner special and two special drinks, Daddy Warbucks martinis and champagne cocktails. Reservations are requested, but there is plenty of room in the lounge and bar for “those seeking strong waters and camaraderie only.”