Dining: The Bocuse Restaurant at the CIA
By Don Rosendale
Ask of my most memorable meal, and I’ll tell you of a cream of sorrel soup at Restaurant Paul Bocuse, a 10-Euro taxi fare from the Lyon, France train station. Remembering that soup, every year I optimistically sow sorrel in the garden, but give up because I can’t distinguish sorrel from weeds.
But Air France passage, dinner for two at Bocuse in the town of Collonges au Mont d’Or, a bottle of Batard Montrachet and maybe a stop-off at the Ritz in Paris would take a $20,000 bite out of my bank account, so it seemed a good time to check out the eponymous Bocuse Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park.
The Culinary Institute version of Chez Bocuse is a $3 million classroom, where students learn what it would be like to cook and serve in a French restaurant with aspirations to Michelin stars. As Dr. Tim Ryan, the college’s president, explains, the idea is not to clone the original (though I spotted one Bocuse classic on the menu—black truffle soup, shown right) but rather to recreate the quality and ambience. The restaurant is named after Paul Bocuse, who has held trois etoile, the highest accolade from the Michelin Guide, without pause since 1965, and in 2011 he was honored as “the chef of the century.” American stars like Daniel Boulud apprenticed there.
There’s no potage germiny (the proper appellation for a cream of sorrel soup) in Hyde Park; the Bocuse at the CIA is not a franchise like those of a Joel Robuchon where the star lends his name, the menu is supposedly that of the flagship, and the chef shows up occasionally. Nor is the fare placed on your table a slavish tribute to classic French recipes. Helped along by contemporary kitchen innovations like sous vide and dry ice machines, it’s more like Star Wars meets Escoffier.
Bocuse at the Culinary does a good job of making you feel as if you’ve been transported to Taillevent in the eighth arondissement. The entryway winds past a wall of French vintages with breathtaking prices. The waitstaff is clad in butcher’s aprons with vests and neckties. The knife and spoon are real silver and of formidable heft, and the oversized napkins are Frette. But there are no tablecloths. (An environmental consideration, says Dr. Ryan, in deference to the gallons of detergent not used). There are extravagant flower arrangements throughout, alongside the fleet of ceramic roosters, traditional icons in French restaurants. The flacon of off-white salt on your table is said to be pre-historic and mined in the Himalayas. The dishes of the main course are delivered flamboyantly under silver domes… quiet a spectacle when four diners are served at once. One dining room wall is a glass storefront displaying stainless steel stoves, copper pots, and student chefs and instructors in towering toque blanche at work.
A bow to modern technology: the leather-encased wine list is not a book, but an iPad offering a hundred or so wines; I tried a $6 glass of a Drouhin Chardonnay that drank as if it were a $20 one.
The meal preface is an amuse bouche, a tidbit to “amuse the mouth”—in this case a postage stamp-sized ravioli in truffle sauce. The main courses are tiny, displayed like origami on hubcap-sized plates.
I started with the Dungeness crab or “Dormeu” ($9) which proved to be a brick of shredded crab with flecks of avocado and orange. Different from what I expected, but as fresh as if we were not far removed from an Alaskan fishing boat. The main course choice was identified as Pintaude a l’Etue — a slow-cooked guinea hen placed on a breathtaking sauce (shown right).
While I indulged in an after-dinner Chocolate and Chocolate dessert, two chocolate pastries accompanied by Grand Marnier and delivered in a frozen thimble ($12 and worth the calories), I noticed the tabletop across from me was covered in a mist. My waitperson, shy but informative Viola, explained that this was an ice cream dessert, and that the “fog” was created when tea and cinnamon are poured over a dry ice bed.
L’addition for lunch, with 17 percent service, was $67 per person. Lunch at a posh French restaurant in Manhattan the next day had less flair and cost $122. But go see for yourself; the experience cannot be duplicated this side of the English Channel, and we only have to go as far as the Hudson River.
The Bocuse Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America
1946 Campus Drive (Route 9), Hyde Park, NY
Open: Tuesday through Saturday
Lunch: 11:30 a.m.–1 p.m.
Dinner: 6–8:30 p.m.
Closed on Sundays, Mondays and major holidays.
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
A Free Range of Egg Sandwiches
Recently, a friend was singing the praises about the latest neighborhood du jour (not in the Rural Intelligence region, but you can probably guess) who said the restaurants are fabulous…except you can’t get an egg sandwich. And what’s a town without a good egg sandwich? Fortunately, our region has dozens to offer, and although we would have been happy to sample several of those dozens, our cholesterol levels demanded we conduct our survey in, as they say, moderation. Here, then, some excellent eggsamples.
On The Run, Lakeville
For taste, texture, form and value, nothin’ beats On The Run’s made-to-order egg sandwich, with sausage and cheese on a bagel. A large slab of scrambled eggs (at least two per serving) is the bottom layer to a smoke-flavored sausage patty and cheese (sharp cheddar, my personal favorite), which is then placed between a sliced bagel (everything or poppy-seed, here, thank you), individually toasted and buttered. The melted cheese, firm but light eggs, fatty sausage and seasoned bagel stay structured in textural balance all the way to the money bite. Delicious, and only $3.95 at that. —Mort Pesce
On The Run
4 Eathan Allen Street, Lakeville, CT
Bonfiglio & Bread Ltd., Hudson
The egg sandwich at Bonfiglio & SonsBread is simultaneously quintessential and gourmet. To start with, the breads at this Hudson Bakery are all unique and delicious, so when I say the quinoa toast this sandwich made its home in was good, it’s an understatement. The other ingredient they put their signature on is the bacon, which originates from Raven & Boar farm in Chatham, but subsequently sits in all its pork belly glory in a brine for ten days before it is deemed worthy. The menu says bacon or greens, but I am told that it really is an and/or situation, so I choose and. Cheddar cheese melted against grilled bread, bacon, two fried eggs over easy, mesclun salad that begins its graceful wilt as soon as it joins the party, and this breakfast sandwich is like no other. It’s $5 for the sandwich, $1.50 for the greens, $1.50 for bacon…an $8 breakfast sandwich that’s worth every penny. —Mary Vaughn Williams
Bonfiglio & Bread Ltd.
748 Warren Street, Hudson, NY
CrossRoads Food Shop, Hillsdale
You can’t really beat a classic egg and cheese breakfast sandwich…except at CrossRoads, where Chef David Wurth breaks the mold by adding sautéed onion and a homemade tomato jam to elevate the classic. For $5 you can customize it however you want, get the egg scrambled or fried, pick your cheese, replace the brioche roll with buckwheat (for gluten-free foodies) or for an additional $2.50 add locally sourced sausage and bacon. Whatever you choose, you can not go wrong with breakfast at CrossRoads. —Rachel Louchen
CrossRoads Food Shop
2642 Route 23, Hillsdale, NY
Rubi’s, Great Barrington
Here we quote from Rural Intelligence cofounder Dan Shaw, who regaled us with his experience as a barista at Rubi’s: “A dastardly piece of culinary engineering, [the egg sandwich is] basically a grilled cheese-and-ham sandwich with a medium-cooked runny egg in the center. How do you manage to put a raw egg between two slices of Pullman bread and into a panini press without breaking the yolk or having the white slither out? You take one slice of bread and make a depression in it with a rubber-gloved fist and then use your fingers to massage the cavity to make it as wide as possible without cracking the crust, which contains the raw, local farm-fresh egg like a seawall.” Inside there’s also Ranch ham and Petite Compte. “It’s entirely our own invention and we’ve never seen it copied. Took months to figure out,” says Matt Rubiner, the owner of Rubiner’s Cheesemongers and Rubi’s. “It’s unique, strange and defines physics.” Yes, indeed. An egg sandwich and physics lesson all in one tasty, toasty package, just $6.99.
Rubi’s Coffee & Sandwiches
264 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA
Back in the Kitchen, Amenia
Back in the Kitchen gets all the stars. The sandwich I ate for this review was one of the best I’ve ever eaten there, and I’ve eaten a LOT of them. The fried egg was slightly runny, but not too much that I couldn’t eat it on the go, and the bacon was perfectly crisp (soggy bacon is the worst). I always add hot sauce, avocado if it’s available, and a little salt and pepper. The ciabatta roll is best because it doesn’t limp if I decide to save half for later. The fontina holds it all together and won’t overpower the other ingredients like a sharp cheddar. The sandwich is $4.39 plus $1.50 for the avocado. (Hint from a regular: If it’s lunchtime, sub roasted tomatoes for the egg, ask for chips and a pickle, and order a cup of Kieran’s tomato soup. The soup is a sublime vegan surprise- — he uses coconut milk instead of cream!) —Breanne Trammell
Back in the Kitchen
3312 New York 343, Amenia, NY
Bob’s Country Kitchen, Lanesboro
You all can have your fancy cheeses, cured ham, ciabattas and tomato jams (not that there’s anything wrong with it). When I want an egg sandwich, I want one like my mom used to make when I didn’t feel well: egg fried hard between white bread toasted with lots and lots of butter. I went in search of one, and found a close match at Bob’s Country Kitchen, which is also your go-to place for Polish specialties (pierogi, kapusta, and a golomki dinner). Sure, you can order it with bacon, sausage or ham, on a hard roll or English muffin, but that’s not how Mom did it. Sweet, simple, and filled with memories of a time and person who no longer exist. That’s the ultimate comfort food, and only $2.99. —Lisa Green
Bob’s Country Kitchen
42 South Main Street, Lanesboro, MA
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
Dining: At Pizzeria Posto, The Pie’s The Thing
By Alice McGowan
It takes a certain amount of guts for a restaurant to offer a limited menu, even if it’s a pizzeria. Especially when it’s a pizzeria located in a region that’s nothing if not rich with New York pizza experts hungry for a pie that can at least come close to a favorite from the old neighborhood. But Pizzeria Posto in Rhinebeck ably brings its culinary confidence to the plate. This is pizza as good as it is in the city. But it’s different, too — more like what you might find on a lucky day in Italy.
Owner Patrick Amedeo opened his restaurant just one year ago, in the charming but easily missed courtyard off East Market Street. Amedeo, who formerly owned Amedeo’s Pizzeria in Lagrangeville, was an architectural designer, studied at the CIA in Hyde Park, and has been perfecting his artisanal pizza technique for more than 20 years. “I always wanted to raise the bar with pizza and offer something customers would really enjoy, so they’d leave my restaurant feeling like I took them on a journey they’d always remember,” he says. “Our menu is very small, so we can offer more precision in what we do.”
One not-so-secret factor in his success: the authentic Italian wood-fired oven that radiates warmth from a corner of the one-room restaurant. The oven was shipped from Modena, Italy, and constructed on site. Amedeo says that—even in recent weeks—he doesn’t have to dial up the thermostat; the oven provides plenty of heat and adds to the cozy, casual atmosphere of the compact space, which is lined with red banquettes against an ochre wall.
With a list of just six 12-inch pizzas ($10-$16), Pizzeria Posto’s menu seems to offer an easy choice, but every one that my husband and I have tried has been incredibly good, so picking isn’t as easy as you might think. Although you can add additional ingredients, I strongly suggest you try one of the listed pizzas first; why tamper with success? Every ingredient is exceptional and the combinations are masterful. The sensational Mama Mia, a combination of fennel sausage with wood-fired onions and smoked mozzarella, was the first one we ordered and we absolutely loved it. But the Morandi, with pistachios, red onions, rosemary and Grana Padano (an Italian cheese similar to Parmesan), was equally wonderful. We finally tried a simple Margherita just to see if that too would be memorable. It was.
Part of what makes Amedeo’s pizza so extraordinary is the delicious crust, possibly the best I’ve ever eaten. “I’ve been inspired by the way that Italians in Italy make their pizza, not just in Naples, but in Rome as well,” he says. “We like to bake our pies not two minutes, but four to six minutes to caramelize the crust in the wood-fired oven. We want the crust thin, but with some puffiness near the edges.”
Then there are the salads, ($7.50-$12) and, like the pizzas, you cannot go wrong. The Mista [shown left], with fresh greens and finely diced tomato, comes with an inspired red wine vinaigrette. The Spinaci contains tender spinach with bits of mild goat cheese, bacon, mushrooms and a lovely sherry vinegar dressing. There is a brief list of antipasti, but we’ve found the complimentary fresh bread with olive oil is plenty—after all, you want to save room for the pizza!
Pizzeria Posto has a generous wine list, with many choices offered by the glass, including a tasty Chianti. The beer selection includes both Italian and American options.
43 E. Market Street, Rhinebeck, NY
Open Wednesday through Saturday 12 to 10, Sunday and Monday 12 to 9. Closed Tuesday.
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
Cheddar Making 101: Sharpen Your Artisanal Skills
By Betsy Miller
Peter Kindel demonstrates cheese-making techniques in a class on Burratta cheese held earlier this year.
Why, when every market, every artisanal shop and nearly every farm stand offers a variety of cheeses, would anyone want to make cheese from scratch? Nobody could argue with the fine cheeses available in so many locations, many of which are locally produced. But they don’t come with bragging rights. Or the cheesemaker’s own taste preferences.
Believe it or not, homemade cheese is easy to make. It’s healthier (no need for artificial coloring or milk with hormone additives) and relatively inexpensive to produce. It also fosters a discerning palate, because there are inevitably taste differences from batch to batch, wheel to wheel. Is this sharper? More earthy? Does it need more salt?
Peter Kindel is Hawthorne Valley Farm’s resident cheese maker. He says the variations in tastes are just beginning to be recognized as desirable in the United States. “It’s much harder to create a cheese that tastes the same from batch to batch like Cabot does,” the Chatham resident explains. There are different cows, different milks, different vats, different temperatures and different cultures. “And, on a small scale you have seasonality and more traditional methods, too. Those makers don’t alter the milk to fit the product,” he says. Instead, the variations are embraced.
For the cheddar cheese making class Kindel will be teaching at Hawthorne Valley in Ghent on Saturday, February 8, he’ll start making a preliminary batch at 8 a.m., four hours before the arrival of his students. “We’ll do the same thing again when the class convenes,” he says. “This way everyone can compare the progress of the curds side by side. In between, when the milk is cooking, settling or acidifying, we’ll taste several different cheddars so participants can decide which characteristics are appealing and which are less important.”
For Kindel, taste is everything. On a typical day at Hawthorne Valley, 8 a.m. is usually about the time he breaks for lunch; his day actually starts at 4:00 in the morning. “The raw milk is only an hour old then,” he explains. “The sooner it gets processed after milking, the better the taste of the cheese.”
Peter Kindel has been learning about cheese for 18 years. He’s studied in France, the U.K. and the states. He has worked at cheese outlets in N.Y.C. including Picholine, Artisanal, and Murray’s Cheese and is an alumna of the Vermont Institute for Artisanal Cheese, a blue-ribbon school that brought in cheese makers from all over the world to head up classes. But it was his time in Great Britain that sparked his love of cheddar.
“My wife and I could visit every single cheese maker in the entire country within a six-hour drive from London,” he says, “and each cheddar tasted differently.” It’s that individuality, resulting from variations in milk, in alchemy, in terroir, that fascinated him – and won him over. “Now, there are artisans everywhere,” he adds. “Each farm puts just a slightly different spin on its cheese.”
Hawthorne Valley wheel of wheel of cheddar in its cloth wrapping. (Photos courtesy of Hawthorne Valley.)
Artisan wannabes can learn how to make cheddar on their own in his three-hour, hands-on class. Kindel will cover the basics as well as pressing cheese, smoking, bandaging and discussing the variables of aging. “You can adjust your recipe so that it’s perfectly edible in three months,” he explains. “But it’s not illegal to eat it prior to 60 days if you want.” There is also the opportunity to eat squeakers – cheese curds that taste like popcorn and squeak when you bite into them.
“Generally speaking, the class draws budding cheese people who want a little more information and others who are into sustainable farming,” he says. “But I make sure that everyone gets all their questions answered. I want people to go home and make cheddar in their own kitchens.” After all, he concludes, “Cheddar is it. It’s the Holy Grail. When you get it right, it’s amazing.”
Say Cheese: Making Cheddar
Saturday, February 8 from Noon - 3 p.m.
Hawthorne Valley Farm Creamery
327 County Route 21C, Ghent, NY
(518) 672-7500, ext. 232
Class: $65.00 per person. Advance registration required with $20.00 deposit.
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
Shunpike Dairy: Milk So Fresh, You Pour It Yourself
By Don Rosendale
Every day or so, Kelly Fierrevante drives to the Shunpike Dairy in Millbrook to fill a container of raw milk for her three sons. She says she makes the trip, and pays more than what she might for a quart of milk in the supermarket, not only because this milk is “creamier and more full of flavor” than the store-bought kind, but also because she is convinced it’s healthier.
Liz Baldwin [photo, right], who runs the dairy solely with the help of her son, Timothy, says there are around 500 other local people who visit the dairy regularly to pour their own milk for the price of $2 a quart or $6 a gallon.
The dairy, which straddles the country road that gives it its name, has 50 cows grazing on its 188 acres. Even a bovine novice would notice the different breeds calling the dairy home — five, in fact, and Baldwin proudly ticks off their breeds: Guernsey, Jersey, Holstein, Ayshire, Brown Swiss and Lineback. The milk of all these breeds is co-mingled because, Baldwin believes, it adds more flavor to the end product.
While the farm has been in the Baldwin family for almost 50 years — at one time it was known as Tonelwin Farm, an acronym derived from the family names of a former handyman — Baldwin ended her conventional dairying and started selling raw milk in 2010, when she received her New York State certification. It was economics, as well as the desire to produce a healthier product, that drove her into selling raw milk. The dairy, in the hamlet of Lithgow midway between Millbrook and Amenia, is situated in an area which was a major dairy farm center a hundred years ago. Today the farm is one of the few survivors, and by selling raw milk Baldwin can make a living from fewer cows.
Selling (and buying) raw milk isn’t all that simple. Once a month, inspectors from New York State Agriculture and Markets visit the dairy to test samples for bacteria and antibiotics. (While Baldwin’s cows are not fed hormones or antibiotics, the milk is not “certified organic,” which, she says, is a “whole different game.”) All of the milk goes into a 100-gallon tank with a spigot at the bottom. By law, Baldwin explains, customers have to open the spigot themselves, she can’t do it for them, and it can’t be re-sold in supermarkets. The milk drawn from that spigot is fresh within a day or so. With the “sell by” date for grocery store milk lasting a week or more, the question becomes, how can anything that far removed from the cow’s udder be nutritious?
t’s not just the “pour your own” aspect that makes the Shunpike Dairy’s milk different from grocery store versions. The big (and somewhat controversial) distinction: “It’s not pasteurized,” says Baldwin, as she gives a tour of the milking shed, dressed in a sweatshirt and muck boots. Pasteurized milk has been heated to 180 degrees, which many people believe destroys a lot of its nutrients. The milk also is not homogenized, which Baldwin says means spun in a centrifuge until the cream is disbursed through the milk. “If you let our milk sit in the bottle for a couple of days, the cream will rise to the top,” she explains, just like in the old-fashioned milk bottles with a bulge at the neck to accommodate the cream.
Whether or not raw milk is better for you than the pasteurized kind is the subject of considerable debate. On the one hand, many medical associations urge consumers to drink only pasteurized milk, while there is an equal body of professional studies which say children who are given raw milk have fewer allergies and a lower rate of asthma, due to pasteurization’s destruction of milk’s enzymes and half of its Vitamin C. And then there are those who don’t believe in consuming any milk at all — but that’s a whole other issue.
While raw milk is currently the bulk of her business, Baldwin is diversifying her farming operations. She sells free-range eggs and home-raised vegetables from an “honor system” roadside table and, this coming summer, visitors can expect to find a shed selling local cheeses made from the raw milk. But you’ll still have to get out of the car and visit the cow barn to pour your own milk from the spigot.(0) Comments
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
Breaking bread by the snap-crackle-pop of a roaring fire has the power to transport diners to new levels of Dickensian bliss. So get stoked about these eight restaurants, each of which features a working fireplace. Whether you’re sipping a bowl of Thai chicken soup at Great Barrington’s Prairie Whale or splitting a pot of fondue at the historic Stissing House in Pine Plains, the hearths and hearty fare at these eateries will keep you aglow all winter long.
The centerpiece of Prairie Whale (formerly Bell & Anchor), a farm-to-table restaurant in Great Barrington, is the cast-iron stove in its rustic dining room. If it’s your lucky day, a pot of mulled cider may even be simmering on the stovetop. Proprietor Mark Firth, a former co-owner of Williamsburg eateries Diner and Marlow & Sons, chopped down a cherry tree on his Monterey farm to provide fuel for the fire as well as wood for the restaurant’s bar and beams. The food is as local as the timber; winter favorites include duck confit with roasted potato, cauliflower and saffron aioli, and lamb gyro with flatbread, cucumber, yogurt and fries. Open on New Year’s Eve, the restaurant will offer a festive menu and a champagne toast at midnight. 178 Main St., Great Barrington, MA; (413) 528-5050.
Cafe le Perche
Curl up on a couch by the fire at Hudson’s Café le Perche with a petit brioche and a bissou—hot sipping chocolate with a shot of espresso and Grand Marnier—and you could swear you’d been whisked away to a French chateau. The restaurant, bar, and boulangerie is housed in a former bank built in 1842. The original dark wood wainscoting remains, but today Café le Perche offers farm-fresh Gallic food that’s as toothsome as it is unintimidating. Dishes range from traditional (coq au vin) to French twist (wild mushroom risotto, which highlights the best of the area’s cremini, shitake, oyster, and portabello fungi). Chef Robert Pecorino says the restaurant uses an exclusive Wild Hive flour blend, modeled after the grains found in France’s le Perche region, to keep its renowned baguettes and pastries both authentic and local. Join them for New Year’s Eve dinner; they have a few reservations left! 230 Warren Street, Hudson, NY; (518) 822-1850.
Falls Village Inn
At Falls Village Inn, an original 1834 tin roof and a brick fireplace face off for top showstopper status. The “Tap Room” and restaurant specialize in sophisticated comfort food like lobster macaroni and cheese and a burger topped with pecan wood-smoked bacon. For an elegant and mellow start to 2014, owner Colin Chambers invites all to reserve a spot at the inn’s New Year’s Eve dinner, which offers beef Wellington, Atlantic halibut, slow-braised lamb shank, coquilles St. Jacques, and homemade tiramisu for dessert. If you can’t make NYE, stop by for brunch on the first day of 2014. 33 Railroad St., Falls Village, CT; (860) 824-0033 .
John Andrews’ chef-owner Dan Smith grew up on a farm, so it’s only natural that his famed Egremont restaurant has been at the forefront of the local-foods movement since opening in 1990. Current seasonal favorites include steak with potato and red onion gratin, scallop risotto with braised leeks and parmesan, and delicate ricotta gnocchi with roasted pumpkin, floating in a pool of sage brown butter. A fireplace in the intimate dining room keeps guests warm on frosty nights, while bartender Eric Rudgunas makes Massachusetts history come to life with an apple brandy drink called Shay’s Rebellion. 224 Hillsdale Rd., South Egremont, MA; (413) 528-3469.
Red Lion Inn
From bowls of sugar-dusted gumdrops to a crackling fireplace to live harp music, Red Lion Inn’s lobby does cozy right. Dining options at the colonial-era lodge include the formal main dining room, which offers locally sourced American cuisine; the Widow Bingham’s Tavern, where antique pitchers and lanterns hang from low wooden beams; and the Lion’s Den pub, where diners can warm themselves by yet another fireplace and chow down on daily specials like Sunday’s $10 turkey dinner. Be sure to scope out the 200-pound gingerbread castle in the main dining room, but resist the urge to break off a peppermint — the confectionary mammoth was built in the 1970s. If you’re in the party mood, the Lion’s Den offers live music on both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. 30 Main St., Stockbridge, MA; (413) 298-5545.
Route 7 Grill
With stick-to-your-ribs fare like pulled pork and house-made salami, Route 7 Grill offers food fit for winter hibernation. But thanks to the BBQ joint’s lively atmosphere, there’s no danger of sleeping until spring. On a recent Thursday evening, owner Lester Blumenthal held court at the horseshoe-shaped bar, proffering samples of cabernet franc and Big Elm’s bourbon-barrel stout. The restaurant was decked out for the holidays with a twinkling fir, pine wreaths, and best of all, a geometric, 1950s-style fireplace commissioned from Monterey Masonry. Wine and dine at Route 7 on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day for fun specials. 999 Main St., Great Barrington, MA; (413) 528-3235.
The Stissing House in Pine Plains has hosted its share of historical dignitaries since it was built in 1782, including the Marquis de Lafayette. Were he alive today, the major-general would surely be pleased with Provence chef Michel Jean’s French-inspired menu. Fondue with Gruyere emmental cheese, white wine, and kirsch is the perfect dish to share fireside. The restaurant’s wood oven produces roasted clams and pizzas charred to perfection; try the Stissing House, topped with translucent purple potato slices. Make plans to visit Stissing House for New Year’s Eve and enjoy a special dinner menu, and dancing until 1 a.m. 7801 South Main Street, Pine Plains, NY; (518) 398-8800.
Vico Restaurant & Bar
Vico chef-owner Mark Ganem spent five years living in Tuscany, learning to craft Italian delicacies like linguini with clams and garlic butter sauce. Now Vico brings the region’s sunny, simple flavors to Hudson’s Warren Street. With 1960’s jazz on the speakers, leather banquettes, and a stand-alone fireplace, the space has a slightly retro vibe, though bright paintings by local artists are modern as can be. The family-friendly menu has something for everyone. Pappardelle al Telefono, a pasta dish with tomatoes and mozzarella that stretches into cheesy “telephone cords,” gives kids the perfect excuse to play with their food. Adults can dig into crab cakes and get into a bubbly spirit by sipping prosecco with a splash of St. Germain. Celebrate “Capodanno” (Italian New Year’s Eve) here for a night complete with a four-course meal, bubbly, and good cheer. 136 Warren Street, Hudson, NY; (518) 828-6529.
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
Route 7 Grill Comes of Age in Its 8th Year
It’s taken nearly eight years for the Route 7 Grill to become an overnight success. When Lester Blumenthal opened his restaurant south of downtown Great Barrington on Route 7 in 2006, he envisioned an updated version of the classic American roadhouse. A native of Brooklyn who’d been living in the Berkshires since the mid 1990s, he’d become friends with leaders of the local Slow Food movement—organic farmer Dominic Palumbo and cheesemonger Matthew Rubiner—so he decided that Route 7 would be a “farm-to-table” restaurant before that phrase became a culinary cliché. He settled on a menu that would be heavy on barbecue and smoked meats because he thought there was a niche for hearty, honest food that would appeal to working-class locals as well as food-savvy weekenders. “I wanted to create an environment where you might see the farmer who raised the beef for your burger or the carrots in your salad sitting at the next table,” he says.
Blumenthal was determined to do things right. He designed graphics with a hip but nostalgic sensibility. He hired Mark Mendel of Monterey Masonry to build a two-sided stone fireplace worthy of a Rocky Mountain ski lodge. He made partnerships with local pig farmer Paul Paisley and greens king Ted Dobson of Equinox Farm. He hosted community pig roasts to support Project Sprout, the student-run farm at Monument Mountain Regional High School. He got advice about sourcing from locavore chefs like Brian Alberg of the Red Lion Inn. He hosted monthly Green Drinks happy hours with Orion magazine. But the one thing he never did was hire a mature, well-seasoned chef who would revel in the challenges of updating the menu daily to reflect the seasonal bounty (or lack thereof.)
When Blumenthal hired Christophe Jalbert last summer, he finally had someone running the kitchen who not only shared his vision but also wanted to expand it. A native of Maine, Jalbert had learned to cook at Portland’s renowned Fore Street restaurant. He had worked as private chef for a demanding French family for several years, and he’d owned his own restaurants. “Christophe made changes right away,” says Blumenthal. “He insisted on baking our own brioche buns for the grass-fed burger and our pulled-pork and pulled-chicken sandwiches. He suggested we move the firepit to the lawn on Route 7 so passersby could watch us roast a whole pig. He became friends with the local farmers.”
Together, the men decided that, instead of being a restaurant focused on barbecue, Route 7 Grill should become a restaurant that celebrates cooking over wood, recasting the menu to include dishes such as poached lobster-and-Zehr mushroom risotto and house-made mozzarella panzanella salad (made with roasted red peppers instead of out-of-season tomatoes.) The epitome of the revised farm-to-table formula is the build-your-own charcuterie plate that has become the restaurant’s signature. Served on a handsome cutting board shaped like a pig, it includes a piquant pate (made with chicken liver from Abair Farm), silky cold-smoked salmon; a Long Island duck confit with a crispy, delectable skin; a housemade Merguez sausage (made from Mayflower Farm lamb); and crunchy, house-fermented sauerkraut; all of which is accompanied by buttery toast made from the house-made brioche.
Blumenthal (at right), who was severely tested when his Route 7 was completely flooded by Hurricane Irene in 2011, also changed his role in the day-to-day operation of the restaurant. He started bartending four nights a week, getting to know his customers in a new way and developing an appreciation for the challenges his staff faces in trying to deliver the best customer service possible. He was tutored in the art of mixing cocktails by Chris Weld, the founder of Berkshire Mountain Distillers, which is just down the road in Sheffield. A specialty of the house is the Old Fashioned ($7) sweetened with local maple syrup. He befriended the owners of Big Elm Brewing in Sheffield and now has three of their beers on tap. “The quality of the beer is exceptional, and if I forget to reorder, as I have been known to do, I can call them for a last-minute delivery,” he says.
With the encouragement of Jalbert (left), he decided to open the restaurant for lunch seven days a week and to offer a daily $7 lunch special that would attract diners who’d never eaten at Route 7 before. “As everyone knows, local food is more expensive, so we are really trying to make an effort to be accessible,” he says. Certainly, a locally raised roast chicken entrée for $18 is a bargain in locavore terms. A recent menu listed entrees ranging from $14 for a bacon cheeseburger with fries to a “spicy basil beef strip steak” for $34. It also included the now de rigueur mission statement plus an impressive list of 40 farms and other local food-and-beverage purveyors who supply the restaurant.
Route 7 Grill is not perfect—yet. Blumenthal acknowledges that the main dining room still is not cozy enough despite the mammoth wood-burning fireplace because the lighting is too bright. “We are going to work on cozying it up this winter,” he vows. It makes sense that someone whose vision was inspired by the Slow Food movement would have the patience and fortitude to allow his restaurant to evolve and mature organically. Now, after nearly eight years, Route 7 is a very good restaurant on the fast track to becoming a great one.
Route 7 Grill
999 Main Street, Great Barrington
Lunch Daily, Noon – 3 p.m.
Dinner Daily, 5-9 p.m; until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
Ben Gable Savories, Chatham’s New Hotspot
By Marilyn Bethany
“People kept telling us we were moving to the wrong end of town,” says Ben Gable, co-proprietor with Michael Gray of Chatham’s new eat-in, take-out specialty food boutique, Ben Gable Savories. Upon closer examination, it seems fair to say that whichever end of town Ben Gable Savories occupies ipso facto becomes the right place to be.
A year ago, when they bought the then derelict building in anticipation of a move from the heart of hippest Brooklyn, the couple no doubt observed that the location on the recently reconfigured Central Square was amidst some of the village’s best old buildings (including the eccentric charmer occupied by the Blue Plate Restaurant). They also may have noted that the municipal plantings in the square out front (then the handiwork of landscaper Wendy Carroll who, alas, has since departed to ply her trade full time at Steepletop, the Edna St. Vincent Millay historic property in Austerlitz) were terrific—a cut-far-above-the-norm. But to hear Ben and Michael tell it, it was the building itself, a two-story board-and-batten late-19th-century vernacular, that stole their hearts.
Now, after a top-to-bottom rehab, it is stealing ours too, though it’s the wares served therein that are the real draw—tarts, salads, soups, baked goods, and (hallelujah!) world-class coffee—Stumptown’s Hair Bender, either brewed or put through the paces of a dazzling La Marzocco espresso machine.
“We opened the week of the Chatham Film Festival,” says Ben, “It got kind of crazy but it was a good introduction.” With the paint on the wainscoting barely dry, the place suddenly was packed with the very sort who most enjoy the bragging rights that go with being the first to know. Drawn by the festival from near and far, they stood five deep at the counter, demanding sustenance, and fast, lest they miss a frame of the next film. Like the proverbial unknown suddenly thrust into the spotlight, Ben Gable Savories became a star overnight.
Fortunately, nearly a decade of practice, practice, practice preceded that fateful October 2013 debut. Back in 2005, Ben, fed up with selling fabric to a dwindling Manhattan-based garment-manufacturing industry, was eager to plot a new course.
“I’d always loved cooking and entertaining,” he recalls, “so I looked for an item that I could make in the kitchen of our garden apartment in Carroll Gardens [Brooklyn] and sell to restaurants and specialty food shops in the neighborhood.” A self-described “not a sweet person,” Ben settled on savory tarts, pairing Julia Child-inspired fillings with an Alice Waters-influenced crust. The results were outstanding and word quickly spread through artisanal-anything-obsessed Brooklyn. “Eventually, I was making and delivering 120-dozen tarts per week, all out of our home kitchen,” he says. “That situation had maxed out. I could not do any more than that from home.”
Meanwhile, Michael Gray, who at least in theory shared that “home” kitchen, watched his own world at Rizzoli (“I opened their Soho store in 1984”) falter, along with that of the entire book-publishing and -selling industry. The time was ripe for a co-adventure. But what and where? They had often visited Chatham to see old friends, Bob and Kaarin Lemstrom-Sheedy, both of whom have shops there (Bob, a former colleague of Michael’s at Rizzolli, owns Berkshire Books, while Kaarin is the eye behind PookStyle, an exceptionally gifted gift shop). In the almost random way that momentous decisions often get made, they spun the arrow and when it stopped, it pointed toward Chatham.
How lucky for Chatham and, it would appear, for Michael and Ben as well. The film festival crowd has long-since dispersed, yet the couple are pleasantly surprised by how busy they still are and, even more so, by the community they find themselves serving. “These hip young people come in,” marvels Ben, “and I ask, ‘are you just visiting or are you, like, here?’ And they reply, ‘Oh, we’re here. We’re definitely here.’” For upstate hipsters and many of their elders, the easy sophistication of the food and ambiance at Ben Gable Savories hits just the right note. A sandwich of fennel salami on an excellent baguette is topped with roasted fennel, slivers of parmagiano and a smear of orange aioli ($7.50). Tomato soup comes with a dollop of mascarpone and a swirl of basil pesto ($6.50); a delectable, butter-crusted broccoli tart is accompanied by a mixed green salad ($9.50) whose dressing (wonder of wonders) has first-rate olive oil as its principal flavor note. As with many other dishes on the menu here, this last is served with a side of “couture ketchup”—one of the sweet/savory jams by “Three Little Figs” that they also sell by the jar ($14 - $16).
“Some dreams just stay inside the head,” says Ben. “Or you think, ‘maybe we should have done it when we were younger.’” Lucky for us, Michael and Ben took a leap and landed in Chatham, in what now turns out to be the most savory part of town.
Ben Gable Savories
17 Central Square
8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday
8 a.m. - 7 p.m. Friday
8 a.m. - 3 p.m. Sunday
Closed Monday & Tuesday
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
“Farmhouse Rules” Brings Local HV To National TV
By Jamie Larson
Nancy Fuller has been a part of the Hudson Valley food community for, essentially, her entire life. From growing up on her family’s farm in Columbia County to running the multi-million-dollar Ginsberg’s Foods alongside her husband David Ginsberg, Fuller has also become one of the most effective advocates for the region’s hard-working farmers and the fresh food movement.
Now, with the launch of her new show on the Food Network, Farmhouse Rules, her message and the Valley’s farms will be showcased in a way they never have before. Although Food Network seems to be carving out her niche as the “warm, loving mother of six and grandmother to 13” who offers delicious, simple meals from the heart, Fuller views the show as an exciting opportunity for the Food Network’s vast audience to see what Hudson Valley farmers have to offer. While those of us who live here and in surrounding areas are already familiar with the concept, the show, says Nancy, will help people appreciate the connection between the food we make and the land it comes from.
During the program, airing Sundays at 11:30 a.m., Fuller collects ingredients straight from the source and then cooks classic comfort dishes that highlight the quality of their parts.
“I have a responsibility to the Hudson Valley, the people we live with, and the local farmers,” Fuller tells RI. “I’m absolutely blessed to have this opportunity.”
An opportunity that Fuller fell into almost by accident. A producer filming a segment at a local market loved the casual way she was explaining local produce to a friend. And so Fuller went from candidly explaining how to tell the freshness of a head of lettuce by weighing it in her hand, to having her own show.
“It’s a little bit surreal,” she admits. “I just think I have a story to tell.”
That story, Fuller says, is encapsulated in the three meanings of Farmhouse Rules. The first meaning, she says, is that rules used to be the term used by her grandmother for recipes. The second is, of course, that farms and farmhouses “rule.” And the third “rule,” perhaps most important to the family-oriented Fuller, is passing along the rules and traditions of proper country family living to future generations.
“It’s important that you and your children eat healthy,” Fuller says, “and that you sit down at the table with a napkin on your lap and turn off the electronics. If you sit down at the table with each other, you’re relating and conversing and showing love.”
She believes this attitude fosters respect for one another and translates into respect for the food being served. Fuller’s family is featured prominently in the show. She takes her grandchildren to the field to gather potatoes, then brings them right into the kitchen to see how the fruits of their labor become the meal.
“To be a farmer is a passion. They need the exposure,” Fuller says. “I want to give credit where credit is due. I want to include anyone who’s out there working so hard in farming.”
Having grown up on a dairy farm, she’s passionate about farming that’s both sustainable for the land, as well as for farmers and their families.
“I want to promote that, and show that farmers are so important,” she said. “In our [second] episode we went to a sheep farm and then went back to the kitchen to make lamb stew. I’m not just telling people where the food comes from, I’m showing them the farms.”
It’s her fervor for this idea that has driven her to work with farming support organizations in the region. She praised the work of the Hudson-based Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation and is a major supporter of its Hudson Valley Bounty organization. Fuller has been involved as either an organizer or advocate for countless local events including the yearly Taste of Chatham and the Hudson Valley Chili Cook-Off.
Though she takes all these local food issues very seriously, Fuller is also known for her recognizable laugh and the lighthearted attitude she brings to her work. She hopes that also will be transmitted to the viewers of Farmhouse Rules on Sunday mornings.
“It’s about making everyone smile,” Fuller says. “That’s one thing I hope people take away from the show.”
(All photos courtesy of Food Network.)(0) Comments
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
Provence In Pine Plains: Stissing House
By Don Rosendale
To see Michel Jean perched at a table in his Pine Plains restaurant, Stissing House, evokes thoughts of a French Impressionist self-portrait. Except that Jean is an artiste of a different sort, his brush a whisk at what many will say is the best French restaurant north of Yankee Stadium.
But he leaps to correct the notion, with his thick-as-bouillabaisse accent, that Stissing House even is a “French” restaurant. Jean was born in a small town above Nice, in the Provencal district of France, and he gestures to his right as if he were standing on the Boulevard de Anglais in Nice, with the Mediterranean at his back. “Over here, we have Italy,” and then to his left, “Over there is Spain, and then Morocco is right across the Med. And my cuisine is Provencal, which is a blend of all of them.”
As a boy, Jean says, he wanted to cook and travel, and he figured that as a chef he’d satisfy both of these yearnings, so he enrolled in the French equivalent of the Culinary Institute, the Ecole Hoteliere in Avignon. After he graduated in 1968, he began a journey that took him from cruise ships which traveled half the world, working apron-to-apron with chefs who had three Michelin stars (the highest possible rating from that guide), to the kitchen of the king of Morocco, to Aspen, Colorado where he skied by day and cooked by night, and finally to New York where he was the dashing tuxedo-clad maître’d at Regine’s in New York City, a boite where you dined on Michelin-caliber French cuisine and then discoed until dawn.
It was there that Jean met his wife, Patricia, who minds the front of the house at the Pine Plains restaurant, and who, because of her striking looks, is sometimes identified as a “former model.” Jean corrects that—she was an artist studying in New York. At this point, he decided with his new bride that it was time they owned a restaurant, and they found “this lovely little place in SoHo with a garden out back” and in 1986 opened a restaurant called, perhaps predictably, Provence, which won plaudits and multiple stars from The New York Times.
But Jean longed for a life in the country, like his boyhood in Provence. “I like to hunt,” he says, once again expressively holding an invisible shotgun to show what kind of hunting he means, “and ride horses. I wanted a house on a hill that I could restore.” In 1989, he found them both in Pine Plains, two miles from Stissing House.
What is now Jean’s Dutchess County restaurant began life in 1782, and over the centuries served as inn, tavern, restaurant, bawdy house, and sometimes hotel; one of its 18th Century guests was, appropriately enough, the Marquis de Lafayette. In the 1990s, it underwent a total renovation that left its Revolutionary era beams, bar, and fireplaces intact but added a wood-fired pizza grill facing the tap room and a new open kitchen. Despite the renovations, the dining spot didn’t take off until 2006, when the Jeans closed Provence, moved to Pine Plains full time, and stepped up to the Pine Plains plate. (The Jeans actually don’t own the building, but rent the space.)
Jean, who tends to measure stars by the Michelin standard, says, referring to a publication he doesn’t recall the name of, “There is this newspaper. I don’t know how many stars they give, maybe five, but they never give anybody five, but they gave me five.” Since then, a crowd with a taste for a better quality French—sorry, Provençal—dining has worn a path to his door.
Stissing House is only open for dinner Thursday through Sunday, with brunch on the weekend. The menu changes every week, depending on what is fresh from the market; the Stissing House menu lists its local farm-to-table sources. Last week the specialties were Dover Sole meuniere ($36), pot a feu ($32), and a yellow beet and gorgonzola pizza. On the regular menu, popular entrees are organic chicken ($26) or a trout Grenoblaise ($24). With the emphasis on fresh produce, the locavore-oriented Jean defends one of his exceptions, the Dover Sole, which comes from France: “It is not frozen; it’s shipped by air fresh from France, and I can only do this because the supplier is a friend of mine.” Jean says that he likes to work with “classic” dishes such a rabbit and ox tail, although they’re not always popular because “people aren’t familiar with them, or they are counting calories.”
What distinguishes the Stissing House from other white tablecloth restaurants in the region is the breadth of its wine list—with New York, California, French, Italian, Argentine, and New Zealand wines, priced at only a slight markup over wine-store prices. (There’s my favorite Bordeaux, Chateau Priure Lichine, at $85, and a Pouilly Fume, at $45). Get a table in one of the small dining rooms off the main taproom, pair the Lichine with the $29 braised short ribs or the duck. Reserve early, and tell Jean how many stars you think his cuisine rates. And don’t go to Stissing House to count your calories.
7801 South Main Street
Pine Plains, NY
Thursday: 5:30 - 9 p.m.
Friday: 5:30 - 10:30 p.m.
Saturday: 12 - 3 p.m.; 5:30 - 10:30 p.m.
Sunday: 12 - 9 p.m.