PORT CLINTON — Arriving early is key to avoiding a wait at Mon Ami Restaurant & Winery, where it’s first-come, first-served and reservations are taken on just six holidays.
We arrived with rumbling bellies at 6:45 p.m. on a toasty Saturday and learned there was a two-hour wait. I added my nom de plume (these are, after all, secret reviews) to the wait list, checked out both large dining spaces (one old teetering on charming/ dated, one new with a dance floor and band), and then meandered, taking in a giant Jenga game being played by youngsters on the green, two wedding receptions, tables on rocking platforms, and attractive plantings. Then, off to the gift shop where we spent an hour sampling wines ($1 per).
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★ ★ ★ ★
Address: 3845 Wine Cellar Rd., Port Clinton.
Category: Business casual.
Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. noon to 9 p.m. Sunday (see review for note on Sunday brunches).
Reservations accepted only for Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s and Father’s days.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Average Price: $$$
Credit Cards: AE, Dis, MC, V.
Web site: monamiwinery.com
An 8 p.m. check at the reception desk indicated we were next to be seated: actual wait time, 80 minutes. But what sharpens taste buds more than hunger?
The rustic main dining room (thick stone walls, paneled wood, beams), was full and loud. At this moment, an amuse bouche (a complementary snack) would have been perfect, mais non a Mon Ami; it’s not that haute cuisine. It is, however, good American food with no surprises and a couple of delights.
Two hot little loaves in paper bags soon appeared (and were quickly disappeared) along with a cream cheese spread enlivened with honey and pecans.
A big draw from 4 to 9 p.m. Saturdays is the seafood buffet ($35) and do bring an appetite: it’s full of rich dishes, from salads, veggies, and entrees to desserts (Bananas Foster, Rice Krispy Treats, more). Among the offerings: pan-fried walleye, perch, mussels, stuffed clams (with red and green peppers and a cheese sauce), blue marlin (in a tomato-cabbage salsa), seafood bisque, salmon croquettes, Alaskan snow crab legs, shrimp, as well as tender prime rib and chicken marsala. No regrets here.
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There’s more fish than meat on this menu and what we had was great.
Three small salmon cakes (medallions, $25) with orange butter were delish. Pretzel-covered halibut ($30) with a grainy honey-mustard sauce, was scrumptious, its white, lean meat firm with mild flavor.
A filet mignon (8-oz., $33) barely adorned with a scallion-butter, was appreciated for its delicious simplicity. And chicken marsala was fork tender, its brown gravy scrumptious with bits of mushrooms and onions (yes, they brought more).
A disappointment: requesting to swap the side of green beans for a bit of salad would have meant an additional $5 charge. Happily, the green beans were not an afterthought (nor were fingerling taters) but were steamed beautifully and at their peak of ripeness.
Creme brulee ($6) is one of the few desserts made in-house and it was quite sweet and a bit runny. Better was the cheesecake drizzled with chocolate, garnished with fresh strawberry and whipped cream.
Eight sandwiches, the usual suspects, range from $7 to $14 and include coleslaw or fries.
Business was brisk at lunch on a Sunday, when the newish Chalet room was open. It’s got a huge bar in the center, dance floor (bands Friday and Saturday nights), and clear-windowed garage-door-style walls that open in gentle weather onto a large lawn. Surrounded by algae-free water, Catawba Island is all about boating, and the lawn provides additional seating with scores of tables and a bandstand with music Sunday afternoons.
The asparagus caprese appetizer ($12) was skimpy with skinny spears of the featured veg, scant mozzarella, and less than a leaf of snipped basil. Entrees, however, were most satisfying.
Deep sea scallops ($27, three large) had a splendid maple-flavored pecan glaze, a tender bed of seafood risotto, along with summer squash, red and green peppers, and onions. Two good-sized pieces of lightly breaded, sauteed walleye ($25) were excellent. And angel hair pasta was yum with six big shrimp, feta chunks, and artichokes, kalamata olives, sun dried tomatoes, and onions, all tossed with a garlic/oregano-infused extra virgin olive oil. From Toledo, Mon Ami is an hour’s drive, mostly along the coast. Grape vines grace the entrance, but for decades wine has been made 10 miles away at Firelands Winery in Sandusky. Service rates a C+.
More than once on each visit we were feeling nincompoopish, waving arms across a crowded room to flag down our server. Neither server could answer some food-prep questions.
Notes: Sunday brunch ($18.99) is 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday champagne brunch ($22.99 includes unlimited mimosas), is 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Sound advice: While some like the happenin’ stance of a crowded place, noise levels are shout-across-the-table-high on summer weekends when both rooms are full.
Contact Bill of Fare at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Port Clinton winery is worth the drive, wait