Restaurant Review - Canoe stays the course

Menu update rocks the boat, but doesn't tip it over

The throngs are gone. Thank goodness. Now that peace reigns — more or less — at Canoe, we have an opportunity to consider the latest incarnation of the menu.

I don't mean the usual seasonal adjustments. Come to think of it, though, the concept of seasonal adjustment did not run rampant in Atlanta when Canoe debuted on the banks of the Chattahoochee a scant seven years ago, to great acclaim and gridlock in the foyer.

What has made Canoe's name over the years is that, unlike many other room-with-a-view restaurants, the food holds up to the atmosphere.

That gustatory adventure is not, however, without its zigs and zags. Executive chef Gary Mennie and Carvel Grant Gould, chef de cuisine, have sharpened their menu, employing more spices and giving them more prominence.

Previously one could expect, for example, peppered scallops over bitter greens, mussel soup with lemongrass, grouper with roasted sweet corn and lobster succotash, or free-range chicken with garlic mashed potatoes and balsamic glazed pearl onions. Today, we are talking wild mushrooms and prosciutto, oysters and minced cucumbers, fish and Vidalia onions, duck and vanilla, and parmesan and citrus on your salad.

Individually, the flavors and ingredients are first-rate. Fish and shellfish, especially, stand out. But certain pairings do not do much for each other. I'm thinking, for instance, of oysters with cucumber and champagne mignonette (market price, $10.95 for a half-dozen the last time I ordered it). The diced cucumbers are fresh and clean tasting. Ditto the oysters. Together, unfortunately, the acidic cucumbers turn the sweet oysters sour.

Similarly, baby arugula salad should choose between the salty, savory bits of shaved parmesan and the sparkling sweet mandarin orange sections. Champagne vinaigrette is thoroughly wasted either way. (Canoe earns high marks for charging the same $6.95 for the salad at both lunch and dinner, though.)

Much to be preferred is the way Canoe dotes on salmon. The kitchen loves to grill salmon so much, it does so not only at lunch (with Yukon gold potatoes and French beans, $14.50) and dinner (with Yukon gold potato salad and French green beans, $17.75), but also at Sunday brunch (paired with basil mashed potatoes and citrus caper vinaigrette, $14.95).

Pasta appears only as an underpinning for something else. Ravioli is, usually, exceedingly tender dough triangles stuffed not with the usual meat or cheese, but with wild mushrooms or Vidalia onions. At lunch, the wild mushroom ravioli appears with Swiss chard, roasted butternut squash, pearl onions and prosciutto ($11.95); to begin dinner, it pairs with roasted pumpkin, prosciutto, foie gras and shaved pecorino cheese ($9.50).

Canoe deserves the thanks of us all for not treating lunch as an afterthought. Entrees include oak-roasted chicken breast with pumpkin tortellini, sage, hazelnuts and wilted escarole ($12.50); grilled filet mignon with root vegetable hash, red wine glazed shallots and grainy mustard ($15.95); and seared Maine scallops with hand-rolled angel hair pasta, shaved garlic, basil and radicchio ($15.25).

The dinner menu tempts as well with seared Georgia mountain trout with sweet onion tart, cumin, spinach and citrus caper salad ($16.50); roasted George's Bank cod with baby butter beans and lobster ($18.25); and grilled angus sirloin with mascarpone polenta, candied shallots, young garlic and wilted escarole salad ($21.95).

After offerings such as this, one needs only sorbet or pastry chef Sarah Koob's gorgeous chocolate and hazelnut panna cotta swimming in creme anglaise ($5.95).??