Pleasure from the Pampas
With the opening of Sabroso, offering creative Latin fare, Rhinebeck has another culinary hit
By Alex Silberman
After driving through a drenching rain so heavy that, even with the windshield wipers going full pelt, we could barely see the road, we were relieved to find a warm welcome at Rhinebeck’s Sabroso. Apparently quite a few others had ventured out despite the deluge; the restaurant, if not overflowing, was pretty packed. Since opening last May, in digs formerly occupied by the well-regarded Cripple Creek (and briefly by El Toro Guapo), Sabroso has developed both a buzz and a following.
Latin World Cuisine is what’s on the menu, but there’s no discernible Latin ambience to the L-shaped dining room. Soft light, soft yellow walls, and soft linens signal Sabroso’s relaxed sophistication. The fiesta here is in the flavors.
Once the genial hostess had draped napkins across our laps, a black-clad waitress appeared to take our drink orders. Potent mojitos and caipirinhas (made with sugarcane rum) are available to spur your appetite, and a respectable and fairly priced wine list gives you the opportunity to sample vintages from Spain, Portugal, Argentina, and throughout the Latin world.
The menu is divided into Tapas and Platos Principales which, in this instance, can be safely translated as appetizers and entrÃ©es. Tapas are the ultimate grazing food, lending themselves to small bites, mingled tastes, and sharing. There are 11 tapas on the regular menu and nightly specials to keep the selection endlessly interesting. They’re served on a handsome variety of plates that relate to the sprawl or the height of the dish they carry — and the food here is so prettily presented you’re inclined to pause for a moment to take in the architecture and colors of your meal before digging in.
Tomato Cabrales Salad with avocado, red onions, and blood orange vinaigrette ($10.70) made for a nice display with the understated vinaigrette adding sparkle to the absolutely delicious cubes of Cabrales, Spain’s best-known artisanal blue cheese.
The soup lover in our party couldn’t resist the Sopa Del Dia, black bean with tropical salsa ($6). Chunks of pineapple and papaya provided a piquant counterpoint to the thick, hearty, and lightly spiced beans. We tried Yucca Frita with Tomato Mojo ($3.95) just because it’s so much fun to say. The huge chunks of yucca (also called manioc or cassava) provided all the pleasures of sweet potato fries but with a denser texture and earthier flavor. The mojo (dipping sauce) was tangy and complex, about the culinary opposite of ketchup.
Sugarcane-skewered shrimp over field greens with hearts of palm, papaya, and pomegranate ginger vinaigrette ($12.95) was even tastier than its name is long. Four medium shrimp, glistening from a wonderful chipotle citrus marinade and grilled to perfection, tasted both smoky and sweet. Slices of papaya and hearts of palm lit up the very fresh field greens. The succulent sugarcane was fun to chew on, and none of us felt embarrassed about disposing of the pulp.
Considering the size of the lively crowd, we were surprised at how quickly our platos principales arrived. But it turns out co-owners Christopher Long, Marcia Miller, and Erica Mahlkuch (the latter are the co-chefs) have worked together on restaurant projects for some time, and their techniques are well honed.
Entrana (skirt steak) with yucca fries and chimichurri ($21.95) was the sole beef offering on this occasion. The classic Argentinian dish came in Argentinian proportions: a huge rolled entrana with parsley and cilantro in a coriander-laden chimichurri sauce. Juicy and grilled to requested doneness, it was most satisfying. As was the duo of duck with chayote sweet potato hash and guava pan demi glas ($22.95). Fanned slices of duck breast and a confit leg nestled around a cubed squash-and-potato mÃ©lange, all happily glazed with delicious dark guava sauce. The combination of familiar and exotic flavors revivified this restaurant standard.
The waitress explained that fire-grilled tuna with a tropical salsa and quinoa salad ($20.95) was made with sushi-grade tuna, and would be served cold. Quick-cooked, so it was just barely colored on the outside, the tuna was rare around the edges and at the edge of raw at its center — and true to its promise of being sushi-grade. Again, the salsa did its job, coaxing additional savor from the luscious tuna.
The one special we sampled was coconut-crusted jumbo lump crab cakes on mashed yucca with guajillo sauce and tropical fruit salsa ($25.95). The cakes were creamy, with large morsels of flaky crab, while the texture and flavor of the mashed yucca complemented the crab so well we wished there had been enough of it to accompany every bite. Guajillo is a chili milder and sweeter than ancho, but here, as in all the dishes we sampled, the chef uses it for zest.
By dessert time, the crowd-to-kitchen ratio was slowing service down, and only one of our orders arrived. But the efficient hostess soon noticed our dilemma and apologetically chased up the others. They were worth the slight wait. The house-made trio of sorbet ($6) was lovely to look at and wonderful to taste, with clean, strong flavors as crisp as their colors. The dish offered generous scoops of mango, coconut, and strawberry sorbet, easily enough to satisfy two diners. A French silk cake with Venezuelan chocolate and banana ice cream ($6) was an intense marvel. Drizzled with chocolate sauce, the torte was dense and melting while the house-made ice cream concentrated its fruit deliciously.
Only the orange flan ($6), neither light nor orange enough, was having an off night.
Sated and cheered by the festive atmosphere, we went back into the sodden night feeling that Sabroso is a great addition to the area, suitable for the young and the not-so-young, the sophisticated and the adventurous, as well as those simply interested in well-prepared food with a little twist served in vibrant surroundings.