Saturday Night Taste Test: Hobson's ChoiceBy Susan Bush
12:00AM / Sunday, July 23, 2006
Williamstown - Hobson's Choice owners Todd Ruthven and Dan Campbell have learned a thing or two about patron satisfaction during the 15 years of restaurant operation.
The lessons go beyond the warm and welcoming ambiance. The dining areas are surrounded by barnboard and knotty pine walls, framed horse and snow scene prints, electric sconce and overhead lamp lighting and a mix of booths and tables. There are the customer waiting areas, which during July 22, were used by those who arrived either early for a reservation or without one. The charm extends to an open kitchen easily visible from the salad bar, and from time to time there is a bit of banter between those doing the cooking and those waiting to devour the foods being cooked.
What Ruthven and Campbell have mastered is their menu.
Many items are offered as entrees and, at a reduced portion size, as appetizers. Many items are also offered as full-size or half-size servings.
The Hobson's menu allows one to have their cake and eat it too.
For instance, those torn between a sea scallop or pasta meal needn't slight one to enjoy the other; potato-crusted and grilled sea scallops and angel hair pasta with marinara sauce are offered as appetizers and entrees. And as an entree, the sea scallops may be ordered as a full- or half-size serving. "Surf and turf" combos are left to the tastes of the diner and can be designed by selecting any entree and adding a half-portion of Alaskan King Crab [add $17 to the entree cost], shrimp [add $7 to the entree cost], scallops [add $7 to the entree cost] or lobster [add the market price, which will be specified by the server].
The menu offers 12 appetizers including shrimp cocktail, shrimp wontons, soup du jour, sauteed mushrooms and littleneck clams, priced between $2.50 and $8.50.
There are five chicken entrees ranging from grilled chicken to "Chicken Santa Fe," which is a breast of chicken sauteed with green chiles, fresh tomatoes, and cream. Full size portions are priced at $15 to $18, half-sizes from $12.50 to $15.50.
Beef and pork selections include New York strip steak, prime rib "while it lasts" and a boneless center cut pork chop. Full size portions are priced at $18 to $23; half-sized portions from $15.50 to $18.
Vegetarian entrees include "Vegetarian Pasta," which is described as fresh vegetables sauteed in olive oil served in creamy garlic sauce with pasta shells and topped with grated parmesan cheese. Four vegetarian choices are offered and are priced at $12.50 to $15.50.
Seafood entrees include seafood or lobster pasta, fisherman's marinara, Cajun barbecued shrimp and live Maine lobster served at 1 1/4, 1 1/2, or 2 1/2 pound servings. Prices are $18 to $40, with the lobster offered at market price. Most seafood entrees are priced at between $20 to $24.
Truly, No Grit
Our selections for the evening included appetizers of shrimp cocktail and steamed littleneck clams. Four jumbo shrimp were arranged along the rim of a footed serving bowl lined with dark green lettuce leaves and a cup of cocktail sauce. Firm and very tasty, the shrimp were clearly prepared properly and recently. The littleneck appetizer was delivered with 15 clams and drawn butter. My dining companion was very pleased with the size and taste of the clams as well as the total absence of grit.
Dinner Is Served
My meal, a full-sized portion of potato-crusted, grilled sea scallops, arrived as four large scallops arranged on a bed of rice pilaf and accompanied by green beans. The scallops were firm, moist and sweet. The rice pilaf was very good as well; the rice grains were cooked through but maintained a firm texture and the pilaf flavor came through.
My companion ordered a half-size of the prime rib, cooked medium. He was impressed with the half-order size ["I'm glad I didn't go for the full-size, I never would have finished it,"], and was really wowed by the roasted garlic mashed potatoes and the green beans.
"Taste this, taste this," he kept saying as he extended forkfuls of food in my direction.
Big And Rich Desserts
The dessert menu includes eight choices and "desserts of the day", which, like entree specials, are announced and described by servers.
"Death By Chocolate" is accompanied by a printed menu disclaimer: "You'll probably live", and the "Mud Pie" is offered as full-size or half-size portion. I opted for the half-portion and was surprised at its' generous size. The dessert is a chocolate cookie crust that holds coffee ice cream and is topped with chocolate fudge and fresh whipped cream. It is GOOD.
The plain cheesecake ordered by my companion drew favorable words as well.
"This is pretty good," he said. "Sometimes plain cheesecake is dry. This is nice and moist and doesn't need anything else on it."
Entrees are offered with salad bar, a choice of rice or potato, a vegetable and a small loaf of warm, crusty bread. Of note at the salad bar was the obvious freshness of the vegetables and the presence of sweet pickles.
The restaurant wine list is extensive and offers a very well rounded selection of red, white and "reserve" wines as well as champagne.
Specialty drinks include a "Purple Cow," made with black raspberry ice cream, chambord, creme de cacao and brandy, and a "Tumbleweed," made with brandy, kahlua and coffee ice cream. Most of the specialty drinks are available as "virgin," meaning without liquor.
There is a "light fare" menu which offers a "Hobson's Burger" at $7.50, a "Modified Hobson's Burger" with a choice of add-ons such as blue cheese or mushrooms [add $1 per addition], chicken [$7.50] or pork chop [$7] sandwiches served grilled, blackened, or teriyaki, and a wild salmon sandwich served grilled or blackened for $8.
A "house salad" and a "modified house salad" are included on the "light fare" menu.
There were no disappointments during dinner at Hobson's Choice restaurant. Of particular note is the generous size of the "half-portions" of the prime rib and the mud pie dessert.
Our bill, which covered appetizers, entree, and desserts plus coffee and a soft drink, totaled $65.25 before the state tax was added. A "tip calculator" is included on the dinner bill with tip amounts calculated at 15 and 20 percent. This is not part of the bill but is a nice way to suggest an appropriate server tip. As a former server, please let me say that there are those who need the suggestion. One can always adjust the tip based on quality of service.
New Hire, Great Job
Our Hobson's server was "Molly," an experienced staff person who kept up with the busy Saturday evening pace effortlessly and without appearing harried.
I am sending some special acknowledgement to "Joanie," a very recently hired restaurant bus person whom I mistook for our server. I am not only a former server but also a former restaurant manager. "Joanie" handled the situation exactly right. At no time did the words "I can't" or "I'm not..." pass her lips. She listened, she smiled, and she found someone who was able to fulfill my requests.
Hobson's Choice restaurant is located at 159 Water St. Williamstown, Mass.. All dinners are available for take-out. Dinner is served nightly beginning at 5 p.m.. Reservations are advised for weekends.
Additional information, including final seating times, is available and reservations may be made by calling 413-458-9101.
Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 802-823-9367.
|Sea scallops as prepared as an entree at Hobson's Choice restaurant in Williamstown.|