Arethusa Al Tavolo: From A Dairy To Dining Extraordinaire
Colorado lamb tartare tenderloin
By Jacque Lynn Schiller
By now, you’ve no doubt heard the backstory of Arethusa al Tavolo, or at least of the fashionable names behind the restaurant’s inception. If not, a quick primer: Partners in business and life, George Malkemus and Anthony Yurgaitis of Manolo Blahnik shoes fame bought a farm near their home in Litchfield, Conn. Over the course of the next decade, the dairy and vat-pasteurized milk business prospered, in 2012 expanding into a creamery and retail space housed in the Bantam firehouse, renovated by the duo, of course. Apparently the stylish team likes to keep busy, and a restaurant and wine bar opened the following year, located next to what once was the Village General Store.
What’s often left out of the tale, however, is the attention to detail and love of things done well that is evidenced in all endeavors under the Arethusa name. From the pristine barn stalls of the dairy farm to the crisp tablecloths and large format, playful pictures of the “ladies” of Arethusa (beautiful bovines) that welcome you in the dining room, a dedication to quality and appreciation of locale are always on display.
Quartet of Arethusa Farm deviled eggs
This proclivity towards excellence extends to the oft-changing, Progressive American menu. Chef Dan Magill is certainly reveling in the area’s bounty. Having fun with nearby food finds is often the lost ingredient when moving from farm to plate. Not here. Chef Magill inventively showcases both produce and protein, and brilliantly utilizes the incredible resource that is Arethusa’s dairy goods.
The farm is the exclusive purveyor of all things dairy at the restaurant. Their milk products pop up frequently and in the most delectable of ways, starting with a bite-sized cheese curd arancini as amuse bouche and an appetizer special of thin flatbread with truffled ricotta and farm cheese, foraged mushrooms and caramelized onions, a wonder of flavors. Other “Beginnings” of note are local squash blossoms in a delicate tempura crust and filled with romesco and farmer’s cheese. Served with ratatouille, basil aioli and tomato jam ($16), a salad is something we recommend you do not forego here. The local strawberries, watermelon and black mission figs with house-made ricotta, arugula and crisp prosciutto is delicious and remarkably light.
For those looking for a bit more heft, a long-running favorite is the quartet of Arethusa Farm deviled eggs. Chef Magill elevates a standard by incorporating surprising – and rich – complements such as foie gras, smoked potato-bacon and jumbo lump crab. If you’re a table of four, prepare to place more than one order or fight for a taste of each half. All of the first courses are actually quite substantial, with lobster and avocado salad or the amazing Arethusa Farm dairy cheese plate solid choices should you want a “small bite” while enjoying a drink at the bar.
And while we’re sidled up, we must make mention of Brian Khoo’s cocktail program. A considered list of classic cocktails concocted with a hat tip to summer, drinks such as The Huckleberry Sunrise, a punch made with 44° North Huckleberry Vodka, Sauza Blue Tequila, plus the juices of orange, grapefruit and lime sounds like an intriguing choice for those wishing to extend the season. So too the Pavan, Prosecco and passionfruit found in the bubbly Villa Vizcaya. Beer and cider selections are abbreviated but trustworthy (think Palm and Dog Fish Head) while the wine selection is a bit more robust. More than 30 wines are available at any given time, with a few tucked safely away in the temperature-controlled Cruvinet system.
Back to the food, and onto the Mains, with a stop in between for the breadbasket – housemade ciabatta with herbed butter sprinkled with sea salt. Someone in the kitchen knows a good thing when presented with it, and the gifts of Arethusa dairy just keep on giving. Now, onto the entrees. My only objection to an otherwise stellar dining experience is that sometimes there seems to be just too much happening with a dish. The desire to use every seasonal ingredient I’m sure is only heightened when you have such amazing purveyors and produce at hand, but dishes such as braised artichoke filled with matignon and foraged mushrooms ($17) suffers slightly from the addition of Tapping Reeve cheese, pickled lentils, sunchokes and tomato fondue. Any of these elements on their own is a standout, but eaten all together, some of the flavors get lost. Still, points for the pickled lentils.
More harmonious plates were presented in the hibiscus dusted Pekin – no g – duck breast with farro ($32) and the pan-seared diver scallops with broccoli, bacon, almonds, sultanas and verjus nage. The more straightforward the recipe, the more unusual ingredients are highlighted and we respect the chef for truly creating signature dishes.
That enthusiasm applies to the dining room itself, bustling with animated servers and tables full of diners talking excitedly between bites. Mind you, we visited on a weekend night so the energy was high. Brunch is a more relaxing affair, but I must admit to enjoying being in the midst of people enjoying themselves, so I don’t mind a bit of din. It lends a celebratory atmosphere to an evening.
As does dessert, and Pastry Chef James Arena keeps you in a party mood with decadent treats like peaches ‘n’ cream tres leche and a chocolate tasting of a mocha hazelnut brownie “ice cream bar,” malted milk chocolate Luxardo cherry trifle and a warm chocolate beignet with Valhona chocolate sauce. I would have been happy with just the latter. The trio made me ecstatic. All desserts are priced at $12 and if you can actually keep your temptation in check, for good measure you still may want to take home a pint of ice cream made on premises next door.
And lest you think that Mr. Malkemus and Mr. Yurgaitis have completed their renaissance of this little strip of Bantam, plans are underway to open a breakfast and lunch spot across the street from the restaurant and creamery.
Arethusa al Tavolo
828 Bantam Road, Bantam, CT
Saturday and Sunday 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Wednesday and Thursday 5:30-9 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 5:30-10 p.m.
Sunday 5-8:30 p.m.
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Gaskins Makes Germantown A Destination To Dine
Photo by Michael Kennedy
By Jamie Larson
It’s rare to see the successful intersection of modern, relevant fine dining and a family-friendly, neighborhood restaurant. But at the crossroads in the center of Germantown, New York, Gaskins is proof it can be done with a refreshingly casual sophistication.
Gaskins is gorgeous. The fresh coat of deep blue paint on the outside both stands out and fits in along the streetscape. Inside the old former grocery store (built in 1890), the total renovation is light and airy with white walls, black booths, marble tabletops and plants in the windows. There’s also an elegant bar divided off from the dining room, a huge barn-wood group table with plenty of space in the back and a sizable deck out front, enhanced by the quaint architecture of the town and the farmers’ fields beyond. There’s enough space and atmospheric latitude at Gaskins for a romantic two-top or a table lined with highchairs.
Photo by Michael Kennedy
The food is, of course, locally sourced and lets the quality of great ingredients shine through, but there is also a refinement of flavor and composition to every dish, tipping Gaskins’ hand that it’s playing with a stacked kitchen.
You can start with creamy burrata, punched up with garlic scape pesto ($14) or marinated peak-season heirloom tomatoes paired with peaches basil and chorizo ($12). All the small plates and mains rotate based on seasonality and whim, but a sampling of a recent menu gives you a sense that no matter when you come there will be something that will beckon, like the house-made fettuccine with a rabbit ragu, saffron and olives ($18) or the really classic wood-roasted mussels and clams with potatoes and corn ($21). To accompany, there’s a knowledgeably curated wine list, a bevy of good beer and even a selection of after-dinner drinks.
The Daisy Verde
While we’re on the topic of drink, it should be noted that the signature cocktails, inspired by classics but updated with seasonal ingredients and high-end mixers, are, in all seriousness, some of the best to be had anywhere in the region. Right now the bar is taking advantage of a small herb farm owned by one of its servers. The Other Mariann ($10) mixes herb-infused vodka with lovage, lime and sparkling wine; the Daisy Verde ($10) is a Hudson Valley-fied margarita with tequila, citrus, cucumber and basil. Always topping the menu is The Germantowner ($11), a fusion of bourbon, sweet vermouth and Field Apothecary bitters.
As any local joint should, they have some staples as well, including a stellar burger and fries ($14) and baked mac and cheese ($7) that’s only going to grow in popularity when the weather turns cold. And save room at the end for a cheese plate ($12), lemon polenta cake ($8), stone fruit crisp ($9) or just some great chocolate ice cream ($6).
A decade of New York City kitchen and front-of-house experience has served Gaskins owners Nick and Sarah Suarez well. Between them they’ve worked at Diner, Marlow & Sons, Romans, Franny’s, Gramercy Tavern and The Modern. They also operated a catering company for the last two years, Backyard Cooking Company, before setting up shop and moving into the upstairs of the big building in the middle of town.
The food and drinks menus are a reflection not only of the couple’s technical skill, but also take their inspiration from their life together.
Photo by Michael Kennedy
The fish tacos ($14), for example, are light and balanced with just the right amount of heat and are inspired by fish tacos the Suarez’s would get when, after a long weekend working, they’d go down to Rockaway Beach. Their personal stories are in the food, like an ingredient you can’t quite place.
Gaskins is simply a beautiful and delicious dining experience. Business is already booming, and for good reason; they’re doing all the little and big things right.
2 Church Ave., Germantown, NY
Open for dinner Thurs.-Mon., 5-10 p.m.
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Oh Crêpe! Is A Sweet And Savory Addition To Main Street
By Katherine Abbott
There’s a tendency to look askance when a new restaurant opens in a location that’s had a series of eateries come and go. Add in the factor of a town that’s valiantly striving to revitalize itself, and the doubt meter rises. But Oh Crêpe!, the newest incarnation in North Adams, Mass., may have found the ingredients to create a long-lasting fixture within one of the town’s anchors, the Berkshire Emporium, a two-floor, rambling antiques store in the middle of Main Street.
And what’s not to like being surrounded by this wild and whimsical treasure trove? A wooden counter runs the length of the compact space. Books line the yellow walls so that, sitting at a table, I am eye-level with Jessamyn West’s “Leafy Rivers” and Mark Hadden’s “A Pot of Bother.” On one end of the counter an old metal milk can has been turned into a water cooler, and on the other, filling me with admiring glee, there are three flavors of Assembly Coffee roasted locally in the central Berkshires. They also have a gluten-free cooking space.
Oh Crêpe! has a playful inventiveness to it. It’s a sunny space with colors that could have come from the crêpe of the month listed on the wall — lemon curd and whipped cream, garnished with raspberries and mint.
The crêpe in front of me is sunny, too: Mountain Girl Farm eggs, Cricket Creek Farm cheese, fresh spinach and bacon. This is the kind of place that relies on fresh ingredients and presents them simply. The eggs are rich and buttery, the cheese sharp, the spinach plentiful, the bacon lean and the crêpe itself soft, light, faintly sweet and faintly tangy. Together they are splendid comfort food. Prices for the crêpes range from $5-$10.
Finding new local ingredients has become a summer quest, co-owner Benjamin Lamb told me later. Well after I sampled his fare we met near his office in the Paresky Center at Williams College, where he is assistant director for Student Organizations and Involvement at Williams College. He and his wife, Emily Schiavoni, director of Residence Life at Southern Vermont College, live in North Adams and opened Oh Crêpe! together at the end of April.
“One of our main objectives is to leave as many dollars as possible in the local radius,” he said. And, he continued, to foster community between high school and college students, and the people in town. It helps that the two shops have developed a symbiotic relationship: people coming into one will often end up in the other. Oh Crêpe! has already grown a regular crowd coming in for their morning coffee.
“We’re on Main Street,” Lamb said. “We’re a place where people will stop in. The staff have to be cheerleaders for the city.”
Later, I tried the lemonberry crêpe of the month that won the last contest. The tang of lemon, blandness of cream, tart-sweet berries and sharp mint blend together into something rich and suave and unexpected. I’ll go back for more.
57 Main Street, North Adams, MA
Mon. - Fri., 7:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.; Sun., 8:30 a.m. - 4 p.m.
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The Taste Of Southern India At Home: Maya Kaimal Sauces And Snacks
Photo by Michael Kraus.
By Amy Krzanik
Indian food: a cuisine so delicious when served in a restaurant, yet so difficult to duplicate at home. No matter how many spices and sauces you buy or recipes you attempt to follow, your chicken tikka masala or saag paneer just never has that authentic taste. But that changes once you know about Rhinebeck resident Maya Kaimal and her brand of eponymous sauces and snacks which are here to help you recreate those flavorful Indian meals in your own kitchen.
Kaimal grew up in Boston with an American mother and a physicist father whose experiments carried on into the home with his take on the Indian dishes of his youth. As a child, Kaimal experienced the smells and tastes of homemade curries and kormas on frequent visits to her father’s relatives in southern India.
Kaimal poses in front of her billboard.
An art major at Pomona College, Kaimal worked in magazine publishing as a photo editor in New York City for 15 years, and during that time published two cookbooks inspired by her trips to India. Curried Favors: Family Recipes from South India, which won the Julia Child Award for best first book, came out in 1996 and Savoring the Spice Coast of India: Fresh Flavors from Kerala in 2000. Kaimal felt an urge to publish these recipes because most Indian restaurants tend to be North Indian.
“My family’s recipes have a South Indian bent,” she says, “and there’s a lack of understanding of that cuisine.” But it wasn’t until September 11, 2001, when Kaimal and many others around the country were laid off from their jobs, that she moved upstate (first to Woodstock and then to Rhinebeck, NY in 2006) and decided to change careers.
Toward the end of 2003, she and her husband, bestselling author and Rolling Stone contributor Guy Lawson, officially launched the Maya Kaimal product line. “I took what I learned from the books, and made the food more accessible to people,” she says. “It can be difficult to cook this food from scratch.”
Photo by Michael Kraus.
What really distinguishes the Maya Kaimal line from other Indian foods is their refrigerated sauces. The recipes have a fair amount of acidity as part of the flavor balance – mango, lemon, vinegar and similar ingredients — which helps give them a good shelf life. This allows the company to keep the sauces natural, without preservatives, and without having to adjust the recipes much.
What began with three flavors of refrigerated sauces that Kaimal shopped around herself from store to store in NYC, has grown to six refrigerated sauces including curries, masala, korma, vindaloo and saag; six shelf-stable sauces including spicy ketchup, and two varieties of snack chips.
The brand’s chickpea chips launched last year and one of the flavors, Sweet Chili, won gold in the “Outstanding Savory Snack” competition this past June at the Fancy Food Show. The annual event is held by the Specialty Food Association, which also chose the Kaimal brand as one of only four makers to advertise on subway posters and a billboard by the Lincoln Tunnel.
Photo by Jessica Bard.
“It’s nice to get this recognition,” Kaimal says. “We’ve managed to be successful while also staying true to our values — making high-quality food without taking shortcuts or trying to cut costs with lesser ingredients.”
And people are noticing. The products have earned nods in publications that cover cuisine (Bon Appetit, Food & Wine and Saveur) as well as lifestyle magazines GQ, Men’s Journal, InStyle, Newsweek and others. A brand-new line of naan chips (in three flavors: sea salt, rosemary, and almost everything) has launched to a great reception and, no doubt, will be on the shortlist at next year’s Fancy Food Show.
You can find Maya Kaimal simmer sauces and snacks at Guido’s Fresh Marketplace, Olde Hudson, Sunflower Natural Foods in Rhinebeck, Otto’s Market in Germantown, Hawthorne Valley Farm in Ghent, and selected national supermarkets. Or go online, where you can shop and also find Kaimal’s own recipes for traditional dishes, as well as inspiring ways to add Indian flavors to wraps, burgers, grilled vegetables, fish, meatloaf and even sweet potato chips.
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Kiln to Table: Local Ceramics in the Dining Room
A dinner party with dishes by Mary Anne Davis
By Jamie Larson
Being able to locally source just about any conceivable ingredient is a gift from our region to the restaurant chefs who cook here and we spoiled diners who eat here. But a number of area restaurants are not only locally sourcing the food on the plates, but the plates themselves. This emerging culinary trend is not just a convenient way to further enhance the beauty of a dish. It is also a way to more holistically support our local, sustainable economies and showcase the stunning work of highly skilled regional ceramicists who deserve our attention.
Pasta and plate at Fish and Game
“You want to know who’s growing your food and who’s making your plate,” says Zak Pelaccio, chef-owner of the hyper-local restaurant Fish and Game in Hudson, New York. “(Fish and Game) has a very personal feel. It becomes this family thing.”
All the dinnerware at Fish and Game comes from artisans Pelaccio personally knows, all within a three-hour drive from the restaurant, including Tivoli Tile Works. A marriage of clean elegance and natural shape and edging, Caroline Wallner’s vessels become a piece of the restaurant experience. “The two inform each other,” Pelaccio says of dish and food.
Setting the table with Davis dishware.
Mary Anne Davis sells her beautiful wares from Los Angeles to Manhattan but she says there’s something fitting about seeing work made at her studio in Spencertown, New York used as intended by her neighbors. You’ve probably held one of Davis’ pieces without knowing it, like when you reached into the beautiful little bowls at The Flammerie in Kinderhook for some of their red beet died salt. She also just finished making her annual 50 mugs for the FilmColumbia Festival. As an ardent supporter of active local-centric economies, Davis sees restaurants supporting craftspeople as well as farms as the future of sustainability.
“It’s the next level, for the consumer to support local artisans as well as local farms,” says Davis, who will be participating at NY Now at the Javits Center this weekend (August 15-16). “I’ve tried to establish a way of making that’s responsible and friendly.”
Other local restaurants that are using more unconventional, regional ceramics as well as other kinds of locally made goods, from furnishings to fabrics, include Community Table in Washington, Connecticut, Crimson Sparrow in Hudson and The Corner at Hotel Tivoli in Tivoli, New York.
Plate or painting? Dinner at The Corner.
Throughout both restaurant and rooms, Hotel Tivoli uses an extensive and gorgeous trove of ceramics from the Tivoli Tile Works. While Wallner just recently moved her studio across the river to Bearsville, New York, the business still has strong ties to the area and the aesthetic remains as always, quintessentially rural Hudson Valley. Hotel Tivoli’s well-known artist-owners, Brice and Helen Marden, were collecting pieces from the Tile Works well before they opened the hotel, and infusing the eclectic hotel with the handmade ceramics adds much to the character of the restaurant and establishment at large.
“The Tivoli Hotel is a very personal experience in a lot of aspects,” says Hotel Assistant General Manager Janett Pabon. “(We) like things that are hand made. There’s a certain sensibility to the way (Wallner’s pieces) feel; no two dishes are the same. They don’t stack perfectly; you have to sort of cradle them. It adds to the uniqueness of every visit.”
One thing this new trend is not is an indictment of the white plate. There’s a time and a place in all art forms for a blank canvas, and local artisans make those, too. The increased use of natural forms in plating also doesn’t mean the kiln-to-table relationship doesn’t take place in more classic fine dining restaurants. The ornate gold and platinum rimmed plates at The Old Inn on The Green in New Marlborough, Massachusetts are made just down the road in Great Barrington, in the world-renowned studio of Michael Wainwright.
A mesmerizing dish by Michael Wainwright.
No matter how elaborate Wainwright’s art may be, it isn’t meant for a wall, it’s meant to be touched with knife and fork.
“I’m making functional wares. I want my pieces to be the frame for the artwork. I want to assist,” Wainwright says humbly. “It’s wonderful to have the Old Inn serve on my dishes; so many people come into my store because they ate there.”
Perhaps the best thing about local restaurants supporting local artisans (of all stripes) is that it just feels better and a bit prettier. It makes for a more uniquely regional experience. Plates made here feel like here. This approach, being adopted by more and more restaurants, gives a diner an even fuller sense that, just by eating out, they are a present part of a cultural and economic ecosystem that is sustainable and profoundly beautiful.
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Green Goats: The Coolest Vegetation Removal Business Ever
Munching on poison ivy.
By Andrea Pyros
If you think about it, it’s extremely rare to have an idea that taps into the Hudson Valley’s local/eco-friendly/farm-based economy and also happens to be so ridiculously cute as to sound like the plot of the best kid’s film you never saw (working title: Goats That Garden). But with Green Goats, a Rhinebeck-based business where the adorable and the brilliant combine, that’s the case.
It’s the brainchild of Ann and Larry Cihanek, the married couple who run the environmentally-friendly goat vegetation removal service, renting out goats to a variety of sites in the Northeast that need weed and vegetation removal, particularly large sites on hills or with overgrown areas where it’s too challenging for humans and their machines to work.
Cihanek drops off the goat to work on Staten Island.
The Manhattan-born Larry didn’t grow up farming. Instead, he spent 40 years in advertising. When he was ready to leave the industry, he relocated to Dutchess County where he’d spent weekends as a child.
“This is the prettiest area in the country,” he says. “It has a wonderful mix of sophistication and a sufficient amount of rural to keep me going.” He decided to keep a few goats as a hobby.
“I thought I’d make goat cheese,” he admits, but it turns out his goats were destined for greener pastures. Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island sent an email to 400 New York-area goat owners explaining that the site’s tree roots were splitting the rocks in the fort and could anyone — and their goats — help. “Eight of us responded, and the other seven said it could not be done,” Larry says, “but we tried it. And did it.” That was nine years ago, and Larry’s doubled the number of clients and the number of goats he owns every year since then.
Tragically, this past February a fire raged in the Red Hook barn where the Cihanek’s housed their 100 goats, and the entire herd perished. These were beloved animals. “They all had names and we knew them and they knew us. You’d call and say, ‘Sally it’s your turn,’ and she’d come. They could be 200 yards away and I’d say ‘Hey, ladies,’ and they’d come flying.”
“After the fire, people were so amazingly generous,” Cihanek says about those dark days. He and his wife assumed they’d need to go out and buy goats to replace the loss, but instead they received not only money, but also goats as donations from far and wide.
Clearing the brush at Pelham Park in the Bronx.
“The average goat herd in the country is seven goats,” he explains, “And they’re your friends; you can’t just send them off to the auction, but all of a sudden you have 11 goats and only have space for seven, so people are thanking us for taking their goats and we’re thanking them for giving them to us!” Goats past a certain age can no longer make cheese or win shows, “but for our purposes, they all eat bushes and they are all friendly and we’ll keep them.”
If you’re wondering what makes goats superior to that pricey new Toro mower you bought, it’s not just their charm and sweet disposition, it’s also their ability to eat… and eat; to happily munch on poison ivy without breaking into a rash; and to reach those tricky spots (never seen a goat on a cliff? Check ‘em out!).
“Goats don’t recognize hills as being hills,” says Cihanek. “Like at Vanderbilt Mansion where I have to put my hands on the ground to walk, they don’t care. They think it’s level.” Jobs vary depending on the needs of the client, taking into consideration the size of the spot, how hard it will be to build the fence necessary to keep the goats safe, how often the Cihaneks will need to revisit the site, and the status of the vegetation. As few as four or as many as 20 to 25 goats will be sent to work. Cihanek says, “The whole business is goats du jour — what are you trying to accomplish and how many goats do you need?”
The goats help maintain the lawn at Wilderstein Historic Site.
This season, the goats’ first job was at a cemetery in Staten Island where the staff wanted to go in and cut trees and vines, but the poison ivy made that prohibitive, so Cihanek brought 28 goats for about five days, which he refers to as a “flash mob.” In most cases, though, the goats stay for the entire growing season.
Before you get excited about the idea of having the hungry crew show up to help out with your yard (I know I was), Cihanek says it’s not practical for either him or the homeowner.
“If it’s green, the goats will eat all of your plants,” without discerning the weeds from the prize flowers, although he admits that there’s a goat owner in Paris who rolls five goats around and hires them out to whoever needs a quick mow (or should we say chew?). “There are no limits to this business. The only limit is your imagination.”
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Fish & Game Turns Tasting Into An A La Carte Option
By Jamie Larson
When star chef Zak Pelaccio opened his Hudson restaurant Fish & Game in the spring of 2013, he took the “farm-to-table” ethos and aesthetic to its pinnacle with a seven-course, tasting-menu-only dining experience. It was all about taking one hundred percent local ingredients and presenting them in the most delicious and beautiful way possible. But for some, the menu was — while incredible — limiting.
Now, with a major switch to a full, a la carte menu, Pelaccio is challenging himself, his kitchen and his business model to continue the impressive culinary orthodoxy while opening the restaurant’s doors to a larger audience of palates.
“The reason we did it now is we asked ourselves, ‘Is this the way we want to eat every weekend?’” Pelaccio says. “The answer was ‘no, sometimes I want to sit down to a simple, beautiful, perfectly fire-roasted whole chicken and a bottle of wine.’”
Because every single ingredient at Fish & Game is laboriously sourced from local farmers with whom Pelaccio has cultivated personal relationships — as well as being curated, crafted, cooked and artfully served — offering only a tasting menu (still available with 24 hours notice) made sense. But it did create a barrier of entry.
“I’m not an ideologue and I don’t want to force people to eat a way they don’t want to eat. It’s a product of our time. People want control over every part of their lives.” Pelaccio says. “But one thing I do know is we’ve wanted to do larger format cooking [which the old menu didn’t allow].”
The new menu will rotate about a third of its dishes in and out as ingredients — and the whim of the chefs — change with the season. Its first iteration is, not surprisingly, impressive, including starters that also serve as a great way to build your own tasting menu, like 24-month house-aged prosciutto, seafood sausage ($22), seafood sausage with nasturtium sauce ($18), Malaysian-style fish soup ($16), a soft boiled egg from the restaurant’s own free-range farm chickens, topped with house-cured Northeastern smelt and smoked summer squash ($12) or 20 grams of American sturgeon caviar with the traditional accompaniments ($85).
The mains range from sea urchin tagliolini ($32) and ravioli featuring summer squash and smoked and braised lamb ($25) to smoked and grilled pork belly ($25). There are also sides, a wonderfully collected wine assortment and a cocktail menu featuring ingredients as local and inventive as anything else at Fish & Game.
“We see the results of being adventurous. We are doing things like whole rabbit on the grill,” Pelaccio says. “There are so many amazing options available to us here. Winter was challenging and it will be interesting to see how that affects the new menu.”
There is still a twinge of conflict in the chef’s voice. He’s doing a balancing act familiar to successful artists of all mediums throughout time; staying as devout to your truth as possible while continuing to satisfy your audience. Because Pelaccio has placed such strict ingredient sourcing rules upon himself, deciding what his diners eat also made as much sense business wise as it did creatively.
“I still think it’s the best way to run a restaurant,” Pelaccio says of the fixed menu. “But we’ve gotten to a place where we can manipulate our system. We know our purveyors really well. Now it’s a dance of being able to get the right amount of what we need. Nothing in our kitchen ever goes to waste. Nothing rots unless it’s intentional rot. We are big fans of intentional rot.” (Try the house-made kimchi, used for the wood-oven-roasted oysters with kimchi hollandaise. Two for $12, four for $22).
There’s another aspect of Pelaccio’s thinking about the new menu that resonates back to the core of the restaurant’s mission. He said when he decided to commit to opening this restaurant in Columbia County it was because of the availability of high-quality ingredients. Now that he’s been here and built relationships with his producers, he wants to be able to give back a menu more affordable than one creeping close to $100 per person. Though the food is worth it and the pricier options are still on the menu, Pelaccio wants to be able to still, in his words, “close the circle of sustainability.”
Fish & Game
13 South 3rd Street, Hudson, NY
Thursday and Friday, 5 p.m.—close
Saturday and Sunday, Noon—3 p.m., 5 p.m.—close
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Elixir: Eat, Heal, Repeat in Great Barrington
By Nichole Dupont
“Make your food your medicine and your medicine your food.” The concept is an ancient one, but the carrying out of the creed is still one of the greatest challenges in this country. So many bad choices to make. Obesity rates and disease rates indicate that in our society, food and medicine live in separate houses, on separate lands.
But what a joy to find out that it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a healer in town who promises to be serving the masses once the word is out. Elixir is a tiny café tucked in next to the Triplex Cinema off of Railroad Street in Great Barrington. Its chairs and tables spill out on to the concrete patio of the building, immediately endearing patrons to the casual feel of the place, like a small café in Naples that’s been there for decades. Inside is a museum of mason jars and glass bottles, all filled with wildflowers and herbs and liquids at varying stages of “tincturing” and fermentation. A bowl overflowing with rose petals adorns a large center table.
We order tea. My husband and partner in almost all culinary crimes orders chilled pomegranate; I choose green Moroccan mint. And we wait, making small talk. A table of women is clearly having a girls’ night out. A man in a linen shirt is waiting for a date that is standing him up. Amazing, familiar, but not-from-this-continent smells are coming from the tiny kitchen area.
It’s when the tea arrives, on a silver tray, in a Turkish tea pot, pre-sweetened with honey and perfectly minted; that’s when the healing begins.
“God, this tea is good,” I say, reveling in the refreshing fresh mint and the ornate blue shot glass that I continually pour my tea into. I’m already starting to get that weird feeling of being in another place.
Elixir has only been open for four weeks and for now (and I hope forever), owner/chef/herbalist Nancy Lee is keeping the menu simple and the flavors complex. On this humid summer night, we set our gaze on hummus and vegetables —labelled simply as “snacks” — and potato leek soup. The hummus is a surprise. It’s creamy, and has a heat to it that is authentic. The soup is green, not overrun by the potato starch.
“This soup is different,” says my vegetable-reticent companion. He holds the spoon for me to taste. “Those leeks will not be ignored,” I say. “Not this time.”
We clean our bowl/plate, anticipating the entrees. The server (a really fabulous, kind of shy young woman who is learning the ropes about all the tinctures and herbal ingredients) brings our food…it wafts from the interior out into the street. He dives into his tempeh Reuben, I take a minute to smell my jasmine rice with Thai butternut-curry. There are plenty of crisp vegetables in just the right amount of sauce. The dish is piquant yet light, and colorful. It has not taken on the blandness of color that can sometimes befall anything with zucchini. It is, in essence, perfect. I am not hungry anymore, which is often my chief complaint besides being tired from rigorous physical activity sans meat.
“How’s your Reuben?” I ask. My husband has been more quiet than usual throughout the meatless meal. I assume it’s out of disappointment.
“It’s…amazing. You need to…just try it. The combination is amazing.”
He practically throws a chunk of the sandwich at me. The tempeh is a great texture, not rubbery, it’s got a slight smoky flavor to it. It’s smothered with spicy/sweet mustard and pickled beets (there might be an onion in there, too) and the whole thing is so crisp and tangy it may actually take the sweat away from the summer evening.
The mosquitoes take interest in our revitalized blood so we move the party inside, as there is still dessert to be eaten. Please trust me when I say that this is the kind of café where you do not ask for the check after the main course is eaten. Stick around for the dessert. Seriously.
Strawberry short cake with maple whipped cream — all totally fresh. Fudge made with currants, almonds, coconut sugar and drizzled with a honey lavender sauce. It is dizzying but so good. While lapping up the honey with the textured rich fudge and breathing in the lavender, I realize that there is no other name for that café.
“I feel good,” says my husband.
“I think that’s the point,” I say.
70 Railroad St., Great Barrington, MA
Open 10 a.m. -10 p.m. every day but Tuesday.
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Review: The Bistro Box Is A Roadside Classic
[Editor’s note: We’re bringing back one of the most visited stories of last year because The Bistro Box continues to draw rapturous fans. Go and enjoy.]
By Nichole Dupont
There are those places that are just cursed. You know the kind. Switches hands every 1 to 3 years, nobody really knows what kind of food they serve anymore. You tentatively step into each new rendition only to leave disappointed or gripping your stomach with regret. There are a few “cursed” eatery locations here, so when I saw the new sign along Route 7 in Great Barrington I groaned. The perpetually red summer hot dog shack was now freshly painted and the new sign was up. The Bistro Box. I was skeptical.
But I should not have been. The Bistro Box, true to its name, is a roadside eatery that offers up fresh, homemade, hard-working picnic food. It’s a place you can take a lunch break or where you can proudly take a date for a vintage-inspired evening sitting under a pine grove enjoying the company of true love and damn tasty onion rings. On a beautiful day (which we’ve had several of), the parking lot is indiscriminately packed with vehicles and people – Ford F150s, Audis, minivans, grandparents with their grandkids, golfers, contractors taking a break. This is a place for everyone to enjoy the fleeting months of summer and the nostalgia of a perfect ice cream float.
Do not mistake roadside shack fare for “options limited: just deal with it.” The Bistro Box has all the basics but they’re the kind of “basic” that harkens back to a time when toys didn’t break on the first go-round: Wholesome, actual good food made from real ingredients (not pre-frozen, pre-packaged imposters). Take the onion rings for example. Fresh, dipped in a golden batter with a hint of cornmeal, lightly fried and served with a ketchup aioli (they call it box sauce) that we couldn’t get enough of. Fried dill pickles, same signature batter with a homemade buttermilk ranch dip. The menu also includes burgers and dogs, paninis, hand-cut fries (lots of choices like garlic and fresh herbs, parmesan and truffle oil, chili cheese), cold-brewed coffee, savory salads, and for starving, newly minted vegetarians, the falafel burger: a homemade chickpea patty topped with crispy “quick” pickles and red pepper feta spread.
Because we are talking essentially about a roadside stand, I have to mention that nothing that emerged from The Bistro Box was drowning in grease (which is the expectation for these little places). The food is crisp, the portions are perfect, and everything is reasonably priced (only the BOX Burger is more than $8). Obviously a lot of love has gone into making the little Bistro Box a place to come back to. Owners Nick and Birdie Joseph opened The Bistro Box in 2010 as a mobile food business. Their adventures have taken them from Nantucket to Florida to the Caribbean but they’ve always had an eye toward the Berkshires (Nick grew up in the area). When the little red shack went up for sale this past winter – they’ve been eying the place for awhile – the couple scooped it up immediately and so far everyone has pulled out of there with a faraway smile and maybe a little chocolate on their lips.
In a busy world, The Bistro Box is the perfect oasis of milkshakes (made with local ice cream) and memories. Get out of your car, stay and enjoy an impromptu picnic. No T.V., no iPhone, just you, your honey, and some damn fine food.
The Bistro Box
Rt. 7—937 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA
Monday and Tuesday 11 a.m. - 4p.m.
& Thursday - Saturday 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m.—4 p.m., Closed Wednesdays.
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Lenox Innkeeper Collaborates On Cookbook For B&B Foodies
By Lisa Green
“It was like giving birth to an elephant,” says Ellen Gutman Chenaux about the process of collaborating and producing Eight Broads in the Kitchen, a cookbook inspired by the friendship and recipes of eight innkeepers from across the United States. Chenaux, who owns and runs the Birchwood Inn in Lenox (voted Best Breakfast in New England by Arrington’s Inn Traveler magazine), will be signing the book as well as offering tastings of one of her recipes at Guido’s in Pittsfield on Saturday, May 30.
It’s not hard to understand why this cookbook would have a long gestation. It started years ago as a friendship between the eight bed-and-breakfast owners, who met at innkeeping conferences and forums. Geographically distant (they hail from Hot Springs, Arkansas; Seattle; Chestertown, Maryland; Danville, Ohio; Ithaca, New York; and Gettsyburg and Lancaster, Pennsylvania), they were drawn together by their love of food. They formed a blog to feature their recipes.
“All of us share a passion for cooking and sharing information,” Chenaux says. “We’re all strong, independent, opinionated women who have different styles of cooking. We’ve developed a deep friendship — we’re like sisters.”
At first it was going to be just a food blog. But eventually the Eight Broads started giving cooking workshops and demos at innkeeping conferences and they’ve become regular contributors to Innkeeping Now magazine. The modest food blog has evolved into an incorporated business they attend to as carefully as they run their inns. The women meet twice a year for intense planning meetings attended by a facilitator and a public relations consultant. Being B&B professionals, the women don’t meet in just any old Holiday Inn. No, they’ve opted for a farmhouse in the south of France, California wine country, Santa Fe and, coming up, Key West.
A former magazine writer and editor, Chenaux has run the pristine-but-comfy Birchwood Inn for 16 years. Originally looking to buy an inn on the Jersey shore, she was visiting a friend in the Berkshires and was charmed when people saw her looking at a map and asked if she needed help. “I decided I wanted to live in a place where the people were like that,” she says.
And now her guests want to stay in a place where she makes breakfasts with menus that include, for instance, sunflower oatmeal bread, blueberry buckle, roasted bosc pears with pomegranate glaze and fondue Florentine soufflé. Her menu is always evolving; after all, she prepares more than 300 breakfasts and afternoon teas at the 249-year-old Birchwood Inn each year.
“Women choose a B&B for its romance, and they convince their husbands to go along with it because of the breakfasts,” Ellen says. The cookbook, with more than 150 recipes contributed by the Eight Broads, brings that romance home.
On Saturday, Chenaux will be signing the Eight Broads cookbook and sampling one of her favorite recipes, County Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler. “Rhubarb is the first happy sign of spring,” she says. “I’m just not sure how many to bake.”
Our advice? A lot.
Ellen Gutman Chenaux Tasting and Eight Broads in the Kitchen Signing
Saturday, May 30, 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Guido’s in Pittsfield