Expect home cooking —raised to a higher power—at Marion’s Country Kitchen in Woodstock
By Alex Silberman
Have you noticed how large a role expectation plays in the enjoyment of a night out at a restaurant? When you dine at a spot that reviewers or your friends have raved about, your antennae pop way up. You can’t help but measure your tastes against their judgments.
Last spring, a study in the scientific journal Nature Neuroscience demonstrated that “taste is a subjective experience that depends on context.” Savvy restaurateurs, food producers, and anyone who has ever dined by candlelight have always known this, but now it’s official.
As it happens, when we went to dine at Marion’s Country Kitchen in Woodstock, we had no expectations whatsoever. Even though Marion’s opened in 2003, the place has stayed, surprisingly, under the radar. We knew it was there, but that was about it. Even Google yielded scant mention.
Off the beaten path (actually, off Rte. 375, a short hop from Woodstock’s center), Marion’s is on the grounds of the Woodstock Lodge. The parking area is large, the restaurant small — a kind of enclosed porch-like space seating about 45. (There’s also a large bar area.) Funky is the first word that comes to mind. The paintings on the wall are the sort done by friends rather than decorator outsource, and the dÃ©cor is generally comfortable and unprepossessing. The building is constructed on levels, so you feel you’re sitting amidst the tree branches. If you get a table smack in the middle of the room, as we did, you can look into the kitchen and see Marion Maur, German-born and Swiss-trained, concentrating as she slices, dices, and plates.
There was a single, tiny, dark green rosemary leaf placed on each of the white napkins at our table. Cute, but also, as it turned out, revealing. Flavor and presentation are very precise here.
We began with a Caesar salad ($7.50), fire-roasted calamari ($10), and (couldn’t resist) a half portion of lobster ravioli ($8.50). The salad was perfect. Chefs are often conflicted about anchovies, either timid or overbearing, but not here. The romaine greens were crisp, the dressing perfectly balanced and dusted with just the right amount of Parmesan. Two whole anchovies perched on top announced the piquant fishy presence.
The calamari was (to use an old Woodstock expression) out of sight. Nicely plated, with several splayed tentacles, lots of circlets, and a bright sprinkling of currants, it was dressed in white wine, currants, shallots, and a succulence of cherry tomatoes. Marion, we discovered as dinner progressed, is a master of vegetables, extracting the sweetness, maintaining the texture, concentrating flavor, and melding it all with the featured player. This was a “stand-up- and-cheer” dish.
The lobster ravioli was very good, too. Richly bathed in well-balanced Alfredo sauce and sprinkled with bright green peas, the lobster was used to good effect, sounding a deep flavor note with its unmistakable compelling sweetness.
Considering her origins, it seemed proper to sample the chef’s signature Sauerbraten and Kloesse ($19.50) — sweet and sour beef roast with the requisite potato dumpling and red cabbage. You may think that this dish would be too heavy for the last warm days of the year, but you’d be wrong. The beef was fork tender, and the red cabbage delicately sweet and sour, but not cloyingly so, allowing the raisins in it to accomplish their little explosions of flavor. The kloesse — a classic potato dumpling —was very satisfying, with a little crispness, a little chewiness, and a clean, simple potato flavor. It was altogether a very pleasing combination of textures and tastes.
While a number of the dishes on Marion’s menu are home cooking raised to a higher power, the special of pan-seared fillet of Copper River salmon ($23.50) could be an entry in the gourmet sweepstakes. The au point salmon was stuffed with an aromatic scallop mousse and slathered with dainty Riesling foam. It floated in a little sea of local seasonal vegetables — crescents of steamed fingerling potatoes, large dice of zucchini, yellow squash, and eggplant — that were not just sides, but an integral part of the dish’s flavor. I loved it.
The dessert menu at Marion’s is clever and varied, with something for both those who crave big sweetness and those who are ready for something more subtle. A trio of mousse ($6) comes down somewhere in between. Three large dollops of dark chocolate, white chocolate, and cappuccino-flavored mousse deliver distinctly different textures (from dense to aerated) and intensities of flavor. A fruit cobbler ($6), large enough for two, included a range of late summer fruits, and was a fine example of dessert comfort food.
This isn’t the sort of place where your silverware will be constantly replenished or your water glass kept topped off. The wine list is small (about 20 reds and a dozen whites from around the globe), though adequate and intelligently chosen to complement the fare. But the staff is very pleasant and present. Our cheerful (and very busy) waitress even took the extra step of finding out what tune was playing on the nicely chosen dinner-music mix in the background.
Having read this, you’re now burdened with expectations about dinner at Marion’s Country Kitchen. The only thing to do is try it for yourself. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.