No shrimps among these scallops

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"There's a reason 'view' is the second word in our name, " says Harbor View Restaurant co-owner Ruth Stoyke. But it's the warmth and friendliness inside the restaurant that's more important, she says.

Two places come to mind when I'm at the Harbor View Cafe: Cape Cod and Key West.

There's a down-East feel to the main street restaurant in Pepin, Wis., overlooking the marina and lovely Lake Pepin. Maybe it's the marine-blue, wood-frame building with flower boxes, or the teeming shelves of well-loved books (including several I want to borrow), the old photos and nautical charts and other touches that make me think of the New England shore.

Then there's the Hawaiian-shirt informality, the flip-flops and swimsuits, the boating crowd for whom the Harbor View is headquarters in the summer, the far-from-home, Jimmy Buffett party atmosphere — it's as close to Key West as you get in the Rochester area.

"We're lucky enough to be in an extremely scenic setting," says co-owner Ruth Stoyke, who's been at the Harbor View for 23 seasons, as they say. "There's a reason 'view' is the second word in our name." But it's the warmth and friendliness inside the restaurant that's more important, she says. "We provide really good hospitality. A lot of our wait people, bartenders and back-of-house staff have been here 25-30 years, and many of our customers have been coming here for years. They know us. That kind of familiarity with the customer is unique."

Part of the attraction, too, is that it's not open year-round — it's a fair-weather pleasure, spring to late fall, and it's only open Thursday through Monday. You snooze, you lose. Despite that, they're able to keep their staff, customers and high-quality food year after year, and they have since 1980.


The menu, which is scribbled on blackboards above the bar and in the main dining room, naturally includes a boatload of fish and seafood. The beef, pasta and other options are excellent, too, but when you're on the lakefront and in a Key West or Cape Cod frame of mind, you can't do better than a plate of Atlantic sea scallops.

They're prepared in a few different ways — typically bacon-wrapped in a cherry tomato beurre blanc or pan-seared with house-smoked Alaskan halibut. I had the latter last week, and it's an easy Four Stars recommendation for great scallops in the area, along with Nosh , just across the lake in Lake City, and two Rochester landmarks, Sontes and Pescara .

Here's what I was looking for in a memorable plate of marvelous mollusks:

Fresh is best:More important is how the scallops were packed — hopefully dry-packed, not loaded with chemicals or pumped up with water.

Tender, not tough:They're not as easy to cook as you think. If they're not done, they're sushi and they'll put off customers who aren't crazy about seafood, and overcooked means chewy and flavorless. A perfectly cooked scallop has a relatively firm texture that quickly melts away into a delicately sweet flavor, with a whiff of the sea.

As Matt Bertelson, the 28-year-old head chef at Harbor View, says, "The biggest concern is to not overcook them. If you undercook them a smidge, they soak up some of the sauce and you can let the sauce do the work."

Pair it up with the right flavors:Scallops all by themselves on a plate are boring to the eye and eventually to the palate; they need bright colors and complementary flavors alongside. Some kitchens overdo it and bury them in veggies or gravy-like sauces, and simply wrap them in bacon and call it good. Real creativity and good taste is needed to make scallops an entree you'll order again.

What's next for your Four Stars investigator? Three years ago, I awarded the Four Stars of apple pie , but there's so much good pie with local apples out there at this time of year, it's time to revisit. The pick of the crop in October 2010 — the County Seat Coffeehouse in Mantorville, Better Brew coffeehouse in Pine Island, Grandma's Kitchen in Rochester and the famous Aroma Pie Shop in Whalan — already have their blue ribbons, so I'll harvest four new pie shops for you to enjoy.


Tell me about your favorite apple pies in the area — I already have a few in mind, on both sides of the big river — and I'll check them out. Then look for the next Four Stars column, plus a few pie recipes, on Sept. 24.

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