At Savor, enjoying the benefits of a culinary education

[Buffalo News] At Savor, enjoying the benefits of a culinary education

Savor is an upscale dining restaurant staffed by students of the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute. It opens three days a week for lunch and dinner when school is in session, and offers savvy diners an extraordinary value in a properly serene setting.

In exchange, students get to practice on you and yours.

It’s a fair swap. Putting myself in the hands of beginning cooks and servers gave me reason to lower my expectations. Yet what my table experienced was a fine meal, less clunky than many recent outings at twice the price. Plus, Savor’s plush décor and comfy chairs make it the most comfortable classroom I’ve ever visited.

Dinner at Savor is prix fixe, with at least three choices for each course, including vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. Three courses at dinner ($30) and two at lunch ($17) don’t count the bread service that starts each meal.

The school’s bakery students need to get into the action, too. That means fresh housemade rolls in two or three flavors, herbed butter, housemade pickles and hummus.

One of the benefits of eating lesson-planned food is that nothing comes in stripped-down economy format.

From the lunch first courses: Grilled broccoli salad with smoked cabbage, craisins, almonds, scallions and red wine vinegar aioli. Roasted tomato and blue cheese soup with grilled cheese croutons, spicy on request. Shaved Brussels sprout Caesar salad, with shaved Parmesan and housemade dressing and croutons.

Lunch mains include a burger, of course. At Savor, that means house-smoked bacon, smoked Gouda, Bibb lettuce, crispy shallots, pickles and roasted garlic dijon aioli. Grilled chicken sandwich? Sure, with whipped feta, basil aioli, arugula and shaved onion.

Dig into spaghetti Amatriciana with house-cured pork and spicy tomato sauce. Curried butternut squash and chickpeas with cashews on spiced rice is the vegan option.

At dinner, the values deepen. Leading the charge is the Cut of the Day, which is always an admirable chop or steak, veal, sirloin, or similar caliber carnivore bait. Which one is served depends on what the butchery class has been working on cutting properly that week.

Our hunk of sirloin arrived properly medium-rare, sporting a fetching sear of caramelized beef fat, with hearty jus, mashed potatoes and a round of herbed butter slowly melting its way off the peak.

Chicken comes as a bone-in airline breast, cozied up on mushroom risotto, basil butter and carrots. Other than my usual quibble about mushy risotto, it was well-executed, juicy poultry.

Salmon, too often the poor cousin of entrée rounds, comes out as a towering plate of buckwheat noodles crowned with a teriyaki-marinated filet. There’s scallions, cilantro, edamame, cashews, miso vinaigrette and a topknot of crunchy rice noodles, for a relatively light celebration of texture and Asian flavors.

Blackened shrimp alfredo pasta was the decadent one. Bucatini, the chubby spaghetti hose pasta, gets cheese sauce, blackened shrimp, sweet cloves of confit garlic and more of that house-smoked bacon. Vegans and vegetarians were offered roasted acorn squash with a quinoa pilaf with dried apricots, cranberries and macadamia nuts with a maple drizzle, not too shabby.

Baking students have a pastry course, turning out a lineup of A-plus assignments.

The most dazzling example was an apple linzer torte that alternated strata of spice cake and caramel apple mousse, crowned with dabs of cream cheese icing. Accented with cider syrup and candied pecans, it was an artful celebration of autumn, presented with finesse. That's not to dismiss the trio of gelatos, the pumpkin cheesecake with gingersnap crust and caramel bourbon sauce and pepita brittle, chocolate pot de crème with chocolate-dipped almond biscotti and Chantilly crème. All were first-rate, a reminder that most restaurants don’t have pastry chefs and that forces them to rely on purchased sweets.

Sure, there were minor service hiccups, like empty plates lingering in front of guests until I asked our server to clear them. It takes experience for a server to develop accurate telemetry for that timing, so I was happy to provide calibration data.

That’s better than looking up to spot your main courses incoming while appetizer round wreckage yet blocks the landing strip, a stumble that I see most weeks from professional servers. Compared to the average skillset of today’s Western New York upscale restaurant scene, Savor’s students passed with flying colors.

Since the Internal Revenue Service won’t let students accept tips, gratuities go to the school’s scholarship fund. So how about showing some gratitude for the money you saved by helping a student build a career?

The food is good enough to earn my praise, but that’s the cherry on the sundae, as they say. At the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute’s working classroom, you can contribute to strengthening Western New York’s dining culture, by helping young servers and cooks become professionals.

Now that's a sweet ending to savor.

Savor, at the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute

28 Old Falls St., Niagara Falls, niagaracc.suny.edu/nfci/savor, 716-210-2580

Prices: $30 three-course dinner, $17 two-course lunch.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, through Dec. 16.

Atmosphere: subdued chatter

Parking: street

Wheelchair accessible: yes

Gluten-free options: yes, all courses

Outdoor dining: no

Send restaurant tips to agalarneau@buffnews.com and follow @BuffaloFood on Instagram and Twitter.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy. Andrew Galarneau

Food editor

I am on a mission to find the best new sensations and old favorites. Send me a note and tell me about that dish I ought not to miss. I know I know nothing without my readers, who give me the clues to the buried treasure.

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Source: Buffalo News