Sunday, June 10, 2012

New Growth: Buffalo Style Part 2

Which of these things is not like the other? Mold. Rats. Homeless people. $20 salmon dinner.

One year ago, the first three items were easily synonymous with Buffalo's historic Lafayette hotel; it was rotting and crumbling in streets. Jon and I would walk past the structure every day on our lunch break and wonder what it used to look like when it was in full operation.

The hotel was built with the intention of being ready in time for the Pan American exposition in 1901, however, it was not completed until 1904. Nonetheless, it bustled with visitors and gained huge recognition.

The Lafayette hotel boasted hot and cold water in all bathrooms, a phone in every room, and in it's heyday, was considered to be one of the finest hotels in the country. There were bars made from oak, a crystal chandelier in the ballroom, and skylights - in the early 20th century, this was a huge deal. The Lafayette hotel oozed luxury and swank.

When Buffalo's industry began to decline and people stopped coming to the city, the Lafayette slowly stopped making money and the owners of the hotel (who did not live in Buffalo) kind of 'tucked the building under the rug' and left it to the elements.

There it sat for years, taking abuse from the weather and vagrants. The brick was left to crumble and the windows were shattered and broken. It wasn't until Rocco Termini (a well-known developer in Buffalo) purchased the hotel and set on a $35 million "rehabilitation project" to restore the building to it's former glory.

Jon and I have watched the local contractors transform the exterior of the hotel over the past year and marveled at their speedy, yet intricate work. We could only imagine the kind of magic they were working inside.

Well, Friday we were strolling past the hotel on lunch when I noticed there were people inside the restaurant portion of the first floor...and they were not contractors...they were regular people...and they were sitting...eating lunch! I was curious, so I dragged Jon across the street and poked my head in the open door. A waiter stood in the entrance and invited us inside.
"I was just curious." I told the waiter.
"Come on in! We're having a soft opening for's free." He said to me and Jon. We had just bought lunch from a nearby place and our lunch time was nearly up.
"We have to go back to work." I said with disappointment still straining to sneak a peek at the interior.
"Well, we're having a free dinner tomorrow night." He offered in consolation. I looked at Jon wide-eyed with hope and he agreed it sounded like a cool idea. We made reservations.

Dinner was in the Pan American dining room, and we had complete free range of their menu. Over and over, we marvled this was actually happening: A completely free dinner, whatever we wanted, how much ever we wanted, no strings attached.

We were excited to say the least.

We started with the scallop cakes. They were tasty, but had a tad too much bredding for my liking. The spicy sauce drizzled on top was great, though, and really pulled together the flavors.

For the main course, we both ended up getting the same dish: Alaskan salmon with wild rice pilaf and asparagus.

The portions were delightfully monstorus. The salmon had a smokey BBQ-type sauce on top and it was cooked to prefection - flavorful and juicy without being over-saturated in butter and oil (like salmon dishes so often are).

I wanted to finish my portion, but I knew there was dessert ahead and I should save some room. Boy, was I glad that I did . . .

I got the peanut butter pie (first dessert) and Jon got the Snickerbocker pie (seccond dessert). We devoured both in minutes. . .making sure no chocolate drizzle was left behind.

Afterwards, we settled our bellies by snooping around the hotel exploring the rest of the building.

Obviously, they're still putting the finishing touches on the rest of the building, but it's shaping up nicely.

We even went snooping in the flower shop and the owner gave me a tye-dye rose! I always wanted one, too!

It was a great night, not just because it was all free, but because Jon and I got to experience this historic structure and indulge in our wonder of the city's past.

If you're in the area, I definitely recommend looking up a little history and visiting the newly restored Lafayette Hotel.


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