Couples, suited businessmen, and the occasional family comprise the dining crowd at River Bistro; note the absence of “college students” from the list. The restaurant, located on the second level of the Doubletree Hotel downtown and overlooking the Chenango River, merits meticulously set tableware, plenty friendly staff, sleek wood accents, and exudes an elegance that for us, necessitated a half-hour conversation on dining etiquette. You get the gist.
River Bistro is just one of the many restaurants offering a three course dinner option for $25 (or a three course lunch for $12). Here are some highlights worthy of a trip and your time:
Seafood bisque and crispy fried polenta opened the meal. The former, topped with poached lobster bits and cream, was thick – but not heavy – and well-seasoned.
Stacked fried (yet greaseless!) wedges of light polenta came next with chilled tomato salsa and drizzles of sweet mango chutney. I’ve had awful experiences with congealed, cold polenta blocks in past restaurants and this particular version dispelled all previous prejudices against the starch. Texture, flavor, and temperature wise, this appetizer was full of great contrast. While at our table sat three meat and seafood fanatics, we all agreed this vegetarian dish was the very highlight of our meal.
Our seafood entree option featured grilled squid, wild mushroom risotto, and a rich, peppery buerre blanc. The charred smoky tentacles and tender squid bodies offered bright lemon and thyme flavors. The only thing missing was a heaping side of bread to soak up all the delicious buttery emulsion.
The second entrée is for the red meat lover – two sizable slabs of charred tenderloin are served with a potato and blue cheese mash and a fruity port reduction.
Our third entrée was a crispy skin-on chicken breast with thick, blanched asparagus spears resting in a pool of tangy horseradish butter sauce. Our particular dish was aggressively salted, but that tangy horseradish sauce more than made up for it.
As for the two dessert options, the brown sugar crème brûlée emerged victorious, although I missed the crispy thin coating of caramel on top. The custard is a bit thicker and eggi-er than most brûlées I’ve had (but is that really such a bad thing?), and the dessert curiously borders savory with its lingering saltiness. For those of you who are familiar with salted egg yolk centers in Chinese mooncakes, it’s the closest parallel I can draw.
River Bistro may not rank high on your dining priority list, but it certainly should be. And while the Denny’s frequenters might find such an atmosphere intimidating, the affordable contemporary fare offered during Restaurant Week should be enough of an incentive to make a break from your comfort zone.
Address: 225 Water St, Binghamton, NY 13901
Times of Operation: Mon-Thurs 6 am-10 pm; Fri 6:30 am – 1 am; Sat 7am – 1 am; Sun 7 am – 9 pm
A special thanks to River Bistro for providing us with a Restaurant Week tasting for this review.