Easter Sunday brunch is an occasion to celebrate family and spring; not necessarily a gourmet feast. And that is a good thing if you went to the buffet at the River Bistro in the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Binghamton. Aside from the beautiful weather and pleasant company of in-laws the affair was pretty much a disaster.
We arrived at 1:50 for our 2 PM reservation and were made to wait in a hallway with a small herd of misbehaved children and a large Easter Bunny until 2:10 when we were ushered to our table which had not quite been set. I had to ask that cups and saucers be provided at half the places. The tables were not, as we had expected, in the pleasant bistro overlooking the Chenango River but in an adjacent windowless ballroom of bland decoration and indifferent lighting. The pastel paper balls hanging from the ceiling and branchy table pieces holding Easter eggs added to the general institutional ambiance. The tinny, teeny-boppy music only added to the din. The long rows of numbered tables reminded me of the many business luncheons I had endured during my career, including some in that very room.
The buffet was set up in the hallway running alongside the ballroom. On the one side was an omelet and waffle station, a salad bar, lunch-y entrees, and a carving station. Along the other was a typical hotel breakfast bar familiar to any frequent traveler. I started with a sampling from the latter—scrambled eggs, a rasher of bacon, a few home fries. I completed my plate with a piece of foccaia, cold roasted vegetables, and some greens from the salad bar. I have no idea what the salad dressing was because there were no labels on the bowls on offer. Everything was, in a word, lukewarm, as was the coffee served at the table. The only thing that stood out on this pass was the foccaia which was rather stale.
Undeterred I returned for a pass at the lunch items. I tried the roasted fingerling potatoes and the stuffed chicken passing on the salmon. Again, lukewarm. The potatoes were greasy and the chicken overcooked in the best tradition of rubber-chicken business meals.
By the time I was ready to sample the carving station, the roast beef was gone. The rolls were, like the foccaia, quite stale. The lamb, however, was the highpoint of the meal. The carver served me a generous portion of crispy outside meat—lukewarm, of course, but very good none the less. The accompanying pesto and thyme butter were more a distraction than anything else.
Finally, inside the cavernous ballroom was a dessert buffet featuring Doubletree’s signature macadamia-chocolate chip cookies, ice cream with various topping, and selection of cakes and brownies. I treated myself to one of the latter, which was not bad.
The one bright spot of the afternoon was the service. A small army of black-clad waiters scurried about ninja-like cheerfully serving coffee (lukewarm) and carrying away empty plates.We were there near the end of what must have been a long day, yet everyone of them was chipper and alert. Well done.
So, all in all, it was nice to see my in-laws recently returned from their winter sojourn in Florida and to enjoy the lovely spring weather. But I would certainly give the River Bistro Easter Brunch a miss next time. And I hope that no one becomes ill from the improperly held food.