Conceived by Janet Crawshaw of The Valley Table magazine, the event invites our best and brightest chefs to celebrate the Hudson Valley’s bounty. While the event takes place at a time when most fruit and vegetable farmers are just beginning to unfurl the plastic over their greenhouses, our cornucopias are hardly bare. Local meats, cheeses, wines and spirits take center stage in many inventive menus produced by chefs rising to meet the challenge of seasonality. The results are sure to please inveterate diners and special-occasion savers alike.
This year, nine Ulster County restaurants will participate: Boitson’s Restaurant (Kingston), Henry’s at Buttermilk Falls Inn (Milton), the Hidden Cellar (Marlboro), La Stazione (New Paltz), Mariner’s on the Hudson (Highland), New World Home Cooking (Saugerties), the Raccoon Saloon (Marlboro), the Ship Lantern Inn (Milton) and the Village Tearoom (New Paltz). Dutchess and Orange Counties boast approximately 20 each. The complement is comprised of Putnam, Rockland and Westchester eateries – and one lone star in Columbia County, the Greens Restaurant (Copake Lake).
A full list is available at Hudsonvalleyrestaurantweek.com, including participant particulars. Some restaurants are not open for lunch; others exclude Fridays and Saturdays; and a few add surcharges for certain dishes. Tax and gratuity are not included in the set price. Most restaurants strongly encourage reservations, as do I. On a weekend night, especially, a Johnny-come-lately may find himself barred from entrée by a prong-bearing throng of those who plan ahead.
With so many savory choices, where to eat? If I may pitch for the home team, I, along with current gas prices, strongly encourage supporting those nine fine Ulster County restaurants. In particular, the Ship Lantern has my heartfelt, stomach-approved endorsement. Black-tie service by waiters with more than 50 years’ consecutive years of service and tableside preparations of classic Continental cuisine never go out of style. The Ship reminds us of the distinction between eating out and fine dining. Exemplary dishes: Filet of Lemon Sole with Asparagus and Maryland Crabmeat with Roasted Shallot and Citrus Compound Butter; Chef’s Duck Preparation of the Evening.
Discover another spectacular dining experience at Il Cenácolo (Newburgh). A seemingly unremarkable rectangular building on South Plank Road belies a cozy, clandestine sunken dining room with warmth and white linens, capped by a handsome multi-tiered sideboard of colorful antipasti. A regular menu addendum encourages diners to “Ask about our 40 Daily Specials” – and it isn’t a joke. Restaurant Week or no, some table will be listening to the breathtaking no-notes recitation of the daily specials by the superstar waitstaff. It’s dinner and a show. Exemplary dishes: Filetto al pepe nero (Filet Mignon with Black Peppercorn, Brandy and Cream; Risotto alla pirata (Rice Stew with Spicy Seafood).
Less traditional but just as much fun is the Back Yard Bistro (Montgomery). You will need a reservation, if there are still reservations to be had; the tiny dining room only has seven tables. Chef/owners Susan and Jerry Crocker serve up four-star food in an understated atmosphere. Exemplary dishes: Potato Basket of Sea Scallops with Yellow Honey Squash, Tasso and White Wine Sauce; Fazio Farm Duck, Kaffir Lime, Lemon Grass Confit and Thai Grilled Breast of Duck with Vegetable Pad Thai Noodles. In Restaurant Weeks past, they have been very generous with the range of options available to Restaurant Week diners.
There are two participating restaurants that I’ve really been meaning to try: Crave (Poughkeepsie) and Red Devon (Bangall). Chef/owner Edward Kowalski of Crave serves New American cuisine: European and Asian twists on traditional dishes, with a dash of molecular gastronomy. Exemplary dishes: Scottish Salmon with Butternut Squash Purée, Brussels Sprouts, Crispy Pork and Grapefruit/Chive Beurre Blanc; Stone Church Farm Duck Breast with Sweet Corn Spoon Bread, Swiss Chard and Cranberry/Port Jus.
Red Devon is Dutchess County’s own farm-to-table temple. Owners Julia and Nigel Widdowson prize local seasonal ingredients, sustainable practices and green-energy elements at this market/restaurant/bar. Chef Sara Lukasiewicz’s Hudson Valley Restaurant Week menu is already available online at Reddevonrestaurant.com. I’d have the Handmade Cavatelli with Mushroom Ragu (Cremini, Shiitake and Oyster Mushrooms, Cream, Thyme, Arugula), Braised Pork Shoulder (Anson Mills Grits, Toma Celena, Sautéed Spinach, Garlic, Shallot) and the “Blondie” Sundae with Buttermilk Ice Cream.