Cow on the roof

It’s hard to miss the giant cow perched over the entrance of Riverside Clubhouse. But though the owners (the Haines brothers of 33rd Street Bistro fame) have refurbished the mascot of the former Hereford House on Riverside Boulevard, this is no recreation of the old-fashioned steakhouse. The biggest bovine presence inside is the cowhide lining the oval bar that dominates the main room.

The restaurant has been beautifully renovated with an edgy, quirky eye. Your eye might skip right over the gas fireplace in the bar area, but take a second look. Those flames leap out of a bed of shimmering glass pebbles that reflect the light in an appealingly hypnotic fashion. Past the bar, a spare, small dining room leads out to the patio via several glass roll-up doors. The patio is especially appealing, with a copper-sheeted wall fountain running along its entire length and a tri-level gas fireplace ornamented with iron sculptures resembling something from Tim Burton’s fertile brain. More warmth is provided by radiant heaters set high above diners so that they’re unobtrusive yet effective.

The design ethos is industrial chic, with concrete floors and Villeroy & Boch silverware, molded plastic chairs and high-end cuisine. It works, though. Riverside Clubhouse has not been open long and is already doing a booming business; it was packed on a recent Sunday afternoon.

But it seemed the serving staff was still feeling its way. Although the restaurant obviously has an extensive wine and beer list, we never saw a drinks menu. When we inquired about dessert, our server had to return to the kitchen to find out what was available. When questioned about one item, she couldn’t provide any information. These are small glitches, which it is hoped will be ironed out over time.

A carefully crafted menu presents diners with the delicious problem of deciding what to order. We started with slow-roasted baby back ribs ($6.95); the odd thing is that this is not a smaller version of an entree, but appears only as an appetizer. These little morsels were fall-off-the-bone tender and came bathed in an espresso barbecue sauce with a deliciously bitter undertone. The only complaint? There were only three mini-ribs, not nearly enough.

I had a similar issue with the size of my entree, lobster ravioli with seared prawns ($16.95). Riverside Clubhouse doesn’t have to go to chain-restaurant extremes with its servings, but even given the richness of the sauce, I was still hungry when I finished. The restaurant indulges in one of my least favorite trends: separately priced side dishes. I’d rather be charged an extra $2 or $3 than have to order my carrots, spinach or mashed potatoes separately at $4 or $5 a pop. And those side dishes are not listed on the lunch menu. Portion size is not an issue with the sandwiches, which come with a huge mound of matchstick potatoes.

The saving grace is the quality of the food. The aforementioned ravioli was wonderful, plump with lobster meat and served in a rich, creamy sauce topped with sautéed wild mushrooms, caramelized onions and a handful of not-really-seared prawns. Other entrees include spit-roasted duck lined with prosciutto, garlic and rosemary; a pan-seared veal chop; and spit-roasted chicken garnished with fried lemons.

There are several salads on the menu, including a trendy retro wedge of iceberg lettuce served with “2000 Island” dressing or Maytag bleu-cheese dressing. Riverside Clubhouse has a nice selection of sandwiches, as well, including a croque monsieur and the requisite newfangled BLT with hand-cut apple-smoked bacon and lemon aioli on country bread. My husband tried the spit-roasted sirloin dip with manchego cheese ($10.95). Though I wasn’t crazy about the house-made dip, the sirloin itself was tender and tasty, and the cheese provided a nice mellow bite. The fries, cut whisper thin and addictively crunchy, were a huge hit at our table.

As for dessert, we tried the crème brûlée cheesecake, which brilliantly solved my biggest dessert predicament by combining my two favorites. Think New York-style cheesecake topped with a crisp, caramelized-sugar crust, with a drizzle of caramel sauce and some sliced, perfectly ripe strawberries. Heaven on a plate. The crust got mixed reviews at our table, however; my husband loved its doughiness, but I would have preferred something less substantial.

Riverside Clubhouse has gotten off to a quick start as a dining destination. The appealing ambience and superb food will provide it with staying power, once those opening bugs are worked out.