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Restaurant Review: Cathyrn’s Tuscan Grill

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The Simple Life

Simple Tuscan cooking is raised to a higher plane  at the Cold Spring charmer, Cathyrn’s Tuscan Grill  

 

 

Years ago, when I was a 30-something, know-it-all city slicker living in Manhattan, I stumbled upon the Putnam County village of Cold Spring during a day trip away from the city. I was immediately enchanted. The car alarms, the congestion — all faded away as quickly as I could say, “I’m moving!” (It was actually years later before I ended up moving to nearby Beacon.)

This 160-year-old town, snuggled in the heart of the glorious Hudson Highlands on the east bank of the river, has it all. For starters, the river views are brilliant. Known as the “Rhine River vista of America,” you see spectacular Storm King Mountain on the left, Breakneck Mountain on the right. The town also has one of the best preserved 19th-century townscapes in the region, a friendly blend of charming residences, unique shops and galleries.

But now I’ve found another Cold Spring highlight: Cathryn’s Tuscan Grill. Tuscan-inspired cooking has its ancient roots in cucina povera, or peasant cookery. This simple but superior cuisine is known for fresh herbs, outstanding fresh-pressed olive oils, seasonal meats and seafood, and — of course — outstanding bread that is crisp on the outside, pillow-soft on the inside.

And so it is at Cathryn’s. Located on

Main Street

in the center of town, the restaurant is set back in a small but beautiful courtyard full of shrubs, flowers, herbs and, when we visited, one gigantic pumpkin. Upon arrival, owner Cathryn Fadde showed us to our table; it soon became clear that she is a mainstay at the restaurant and a hands-on part of the operation. She hosts, she bakes, she takes orders, she carefully selects each bottle of wine for her award-winning wine list — and she keeps many a regular customer returning year after year.

For starters, our table chose an eclectic mix of Tuscan classics. First up? Shrimp and Gorgonzola cheese, wrapped with prosciutto. We also ordered the risotto of the day; a bowl of steamed mussels; and a finely chopped arugula, endive, and radicchio salad with balsamic vinaigrette. The shrimp was outstanding. On the menu for years (and named Best Appetizer in HV’s 2005 reader’s poll), the shrimp was beautifully grilled and served with greens and white beans, in a delicate lemony dressing. With its bold, clean flavor, we could have easily called it a night and made a full meal of the shrimp alone. But we bravely soldiered on.

To me, risotto is a do-it-right or don’t-do-it-at-all proposition; Cathryn should keep doing it. Ours was delectably creamy, the grains perfectly separated and flavored impeccably with Gorgonzola and artichokes. The mussels were tender, fresh and sweet; the broth of roasted red peppers, white wine and garlic nicely complemented the meat. The arugula, endive and radicchio salad was piled high and topped with generous shavings of Parmesan. It was fresh and dressed with just the right amount of balsamic and oil.

Our table was given a basket of the aforementioned country bread along with Labbate extra-virgin olive oil for dipping. The oil was very fresh and had a smooth, rich flavor with just a touch of bite. While we waited for our main courses, Cathryn suggested we try a bottle of reasonably priced Colline Luchess Rosso doc San Gennero, 1999. It was an appropriate selection, matching up well with our varied dishes. It was a light, slightly tart and dry wine with pronounced tannins. As we neared the end of the bottle, everyone remarked how the flavor mellowed and grew in stature and likability.

We tried to order according to the specialties of Tuscany, and without much trouble we chose dishes that represented the cuisine very well. First up was the special fish of the day, merluzzo (known as hake, from the cod family). Thick, firm and delicate, its white meat beautifully sweet and slightly nutty — this fish was simplicity at its best. It was served with very rich and flavorful home-style mashed potatoes, as well as carrots and broccoli rabe. And vegetables are not an afterthought at Cathryn’s. Give me a chef who can cook vegetables and preserve their flavor, texture and color, and I’ll show you a master in the kitchen. Apparently the chef, Juan Tacuri, is just such a master. The vegetables were crisp yet tender — perfecto.

Next up was a split chicken, pan-fried with green olives, lemon and shallots. Another simply prepared dish that, when done right, is the ultimate in comfort food. This is a great example of how technique trumps ingredients. Crisped to a golden brown in a skillet and finished in the oven, this bird was juicy-moist, flavorful, and wonderfully accented by the olives. If I could say yummy in a restaurant review, I would. (There, I did it.) The grilled, marinated hanger steak with an espresso demi-glaze was extremely tender and grilled crisp to a righteous texture. The meat had a touch of sweetness, accented with the flavors of Frangelico, bitter cocoa, and butter. The pappardelle with pulled rabbit, seedless grapes and grappa sauce was rich, fragrant and also sweet — a luscious bowl of pasta. Handmade at age-old Raffetto’s on Manhattan’s

Houston Street

, the pappardelle could just as well have been whipped up earlier in the day in this Cold Spring kitchen — it was remarkably fresh. The rabbit was mild in flavor, resembling pork more than chicken.

For dessert, we shared crème caramel and caramel-apple gelato. Both were intense and, at the risk of repeating myself, delicious. I make a point of ordering crème caramel whenever I spot it on the menu. You might call it a hobby — some, like my wife, might call it an obsession — but I seek out the lightest and creamiest version of this dessert. How was Cathyrn’s? Exceptionally light with a bright lemony flavor. I’ve lost count of how many crème caramels have been sacrificed in the name of my obsession — oops, I mean hobby — but this one would rank in the top five for sure. The gelato was predictably sweet, rich, and dare I say, audacious in flavor.

The dining area at Cathryn’s is decorated in colorful but muted tones. Large murals adorn the walls and outsized light fixtures dangle from the ceiling. The lighting is warm and subdued, accented with candles on the table. The noise level was tolerable even though the restaurant was completely full. We were easily able to carry on a conversation until an especially loud guest nearby (who, coincidentally, we’ve heard in a restaurant elsewhere) made his presence (and opinions) known to all.

We found little to complain about on our night out at the Tuscan Grill. The service was friendly, though a bit harried, and our entrées were not quite hot enough, due to a packed house and the shortage of a server. But the food was, as I had hoped, full of authentic and interesting Tuscan sensibilities. The portions were generous, the prices modest, the ingredients pure, clean and fresh. The cooking techniques, though uncomplicated, were performed to perfection.

Ah, the simple life. I’ll certainly seek it out again at Cathryn’s Tuscan Grill.

 

Cathryn’s Tuscan Grill

91 Main St.

, Cold Spring. 845-265-5582;

www.tuscangrill.com

Open daily 12-5 p.m. for lunch; 5-10:30 p.m. for dinner; Sunday brunch is served 12-3 p.m. Appetizers range from $6-$15; entrées, $14-$28; desserts, $6-$7.

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