On lake time
Rose Tavern sails toward destination dining in Canandaigua; photos by Tomas Flint
770 S. Main St., Canandaigua
The Lake House is no secret in the Finger Lakes. Since the boutique hotel opened in 2020, everyone from Vogue to Travel + Leisure has sung its praises.
The property once called Inn at the Lake received a Cinderella-like transformation with the help of New York–based design groups the Brooklyn Home Company and the Post Company. Now it includes 125 premium guest rooms, a timber-frame event barn, pool, year-round hot tub, and spa. Attached to this lakeside paradise is Rose Tavern, its signature restaurant with high vaulted ceilings and a blazing wood-fire hearth.
It seemed like everyone I knew had stayed at the hotel for a self-care staycation last summer, but mentions of the restaurant were oddly absent. But that’s starting to change.
In December, the former chef at Radio Social, Steve Eakins, became the property’s executive chef. The Fairport native spent his summers in Canandaigua and always wanted to return. “I’m super passionate about this area,” he says.“My mission, first and foremost, is to tell the story of the Finger Lakes and Western New York, from the purveyors, the farmers, and the makers of all the artisanal things we have locally.” Shortly after, John Bard, who worked at Swedish Hill Bakery in Austin, took over as executive baker, and the ethos around the restaurant seemed to shift.
“The accolades of the hotel are incredible, and they speak for themselves if you’re able to enjoy an overnight here,” says Eakins. “We want to fall in line with the same experience from the food and beverage point of view. The property is immaculate, so when it comes to the restaurant, everything should be on the same line.”
The new rallying cry of the restaurant is destination dining.
“We want to establish ourselves as the destination food and beverage outlet in the Finger Lakes, not just in Canandaigua,” says Nicholas Massimilian, the restaurant’s director of food and beverage. He explains that the team aspires to get a James Beard nomination or rated in the Michelin guide. “These are very lofty goals, but we think those lofty expectations should be our standard. That’s why everyone is here—they’re all trying to achieve something greater than what they could working at any restaurant.”
There’s so much energy in the space, and you’d never guess the restaurant has been open for nearly two years. During my visit, everyone from the servers to the bartenders excitedly talked about the menu items and how they do things a bit differently.
Something that immediately struck me was the multiple nonalcoholic cocktail options at the bar—and their panache. I ordered the Beets a Hangover ($10), made with beet shrub and Seedlip, and my virtuous fuschia drink was actually complex and not-so-sweet. Plus, it had a stylish garnish: a sprig of rosemary threaded through a striped Chioggia beet chip.
Eakins says they’re looking to elevate the experience by bringing as much of the food production in-house as possible. When Bard joined the team, he added freshly baked burger buns and buttery Parker House rolls ($4) to the dinner menu. Early risers can sample assorted pastries ($6), from flaky croissants and danishes to blueberry coconut muffins and bagels for breakfast and Sunday brunch.
Handmade pasta, showcased beautifully by the truffle pasta rotolo ($28), plays another significant role on the menu, and it’s an area they’re looking to expand.
“We want the food to be comforting, of course delicious, but we want it to create a sense of nostalgia in certain moments of the experience,” says Eakins.
By and large, the menu is pretty approachable. You’ll find hearty proteins grilled over an open hearth and plenty of seafood dishes, like charred octopus ($16) and Atlantic sea scallops ($38). It’s all meant to be shared or enjoyed as individual servings. But Eakins has a few showstoppers up his sleeve.
My favorite was the Maple Leaf rotisserie duck ($40). The sliced breast meat comes with elegant cucumber matchsticks, lettuce, sticky rice, bing bread—sort of a cross between naan and tortilla—and a mountain of fresh mint, parsley, and cilantro.
This dish, similar to Peking duck or Korean-style lettuce wraps, is designed to be interactive. Different from the fourteen ounce grass-fed strip steak ($55)—which was equally delicious—I got to curate each perfect bite. Sometimes I dabbed my little wrap with the sweet chili sauce. Other times, I packed it full of fresh herbs and crunchy vegetables. It was such a fun and delightful break from eating with a fork and knife.
For lunch, the restaurant reimagines the duck legs as a corn dog ($15) with honey mustard and truffle ketchup.
“I’m hoping it will catch on,” says Eakins, explaining that it’s a fourteen-day process, from aging to assembly, to put it together. “It’s a labor of love with that dish.”
It’s that zeal that makes the restaurant feel different now. Eakins is excited to use the slow, gentle heat of the wood-fire hearth and the rotisserie—more traditionally used for proteins—to bring complexity and flavor to fish, vegetarian, and vegan dishes.
“It feels like the most natural way to cook,” he says. “We’re going to continue to push what we can do there creatively.” That, paired with thoughtful sourcing from local farms like Deep Root in Macedon and Rosenkrans Natural Beef in Waterloo, create a unique experience that is hard to match in the area.
“We want to be the catalyst for growth in the Finger Lakes region and our community,” says Massimilian. “Any way that we can support local vendors while giving our guests wholesome products that are flavorful and have integrity behind them, that’s a priority for us. We don’t want to just be independently successful within our community.”
In the Cinderella story of the Lake House, Rose Tavern is finally blossoming with an original and delicious point of view on what fine dining can look like in the region. Come for your staycations but please, come for dinner and breakfast, too. You won’t be disappointed.