A Culinary Masterpiece
The inventive menu of Serevan’s Serge Madikians hits one high note after another
By Bernadette Vail
Imagine a meal so original and dishes so multilayered that you could talk about them endlessly. It’s a testament to the extraordinary talents of chef-owner Serge Madikians of Serevan Restaurant in Amenia, Dutchess County, that when a group of us ate in his restaurant, we actually talked about food throughout the entire meal, forgoing the usual banter about kids and work. Chef Madikians, an Armenian who grew up in Tehran, is a genius at blending flavors and ingredients from disparate cultures. Days later, my friends and I were still calling each other, marveling about Serevan.
The restaurant is situated in a house built in the late 1800s. A handsome bar area leads into the warm, intimate dining room, with blazing fireplace, dark wooden floors, and elegant appointments. The aromas emanating from the open kitchen add to the country-farmhouse feel. Service was knowledgeable, friendly, and efficient throughout the night.
Our first inkling of what might be in store came with our first sips of drinks ordered from a house cocktail menu. The pure, refreshing Serevan martini ($10) — made from Ketel One vodka, cucumber water, and fresh lime juice — was incredible; we were instantly hooked. The Topaz’d Apricot ($10), consisting of Grey Goose vodka, Grand Marnier, pomegranate syrup, and apricot nectar, left no doubt that there was alchemy going on in this place. Our meal confirmed it.
An appetizer of hot organic yogurt soup ($8) perfectly showcased the chef’s masterful blending of textures and flavors. The tang of yogurt, sweetness of currants, toothsome texture of barley, heat of curry oil, and flavorful mix of fresh herbs (chives, cilantro, parsley, and mint) worked together beautifully. It was exquisite. Fresh green beans ($8.50), dressed in a light basil crÃ¨me fraÃ®che dressing, were tossed with slivered almonds and Armenian Basturma, a dry-cured beef. Spicy house-made harissa added the perfect note to this symphony of flavors.
Another winning combo was olive oilâ€“ poached tiger shrimp and East Coast oysters ($11), which were paired with a cumin emulsion and wilted spinach. The delightful coarse country pÃ¢tÃ© ($8), perfumed with herbs, was served with pickled garlic, cornichons, olives, sourdough toast points, and a lightly dressed frisÃ©e salad.
The entrÃ©es were dazzling. Local free range chicken ($18), with picture-perfect golden skin, was perched atop a mound of flawlessly cooked, buttery couscous flecked with herbs and studded with radishes, oranges, and diced cucumber. Pieces of preserved lemons and olives ringed the plate to add even more depth to this dish. In Madikian’s capable hands, even a simple roast chicken shines. The tender rack of lamb ($29) was served with herbed labne, a thick sauce made with strained yogurt, which was delicately flavored with mint. A touch of citrus could be detected, which turned out to be a sprinkling of dried lime, skillfully offset by fragrant Persian-style basmati rice and sweet Medjool dates.
The special that evening was pure perfection. Large diver scallops with roasted tangelos, butternut squash purÃ©e, white and green asparagus, and a cassis purÃ©e ($28) — it was a visual masterpiece of contrasting colors. The large, fresh, crisply seared scallops were the centerpiece, and each forkful of food unveiled a wealth of complex flavors amazingly conjured from just a few ingredients.
Desserts again showed the chef’s originality and use of eclectic ingredients. The brittle-like saffron-caramel cashew tart ($8.50) was served with a curry crÃ¨me anglaise and an intense Concord grape sorbet. We loved it. Warm, creamy rice pudding ($7) was subtly flavored with rose water; the center of the dish was filled with figs and prunes soaked in 18-year-old Armenian brandy, orange peel, and white wine. A dark-red drizzle of reduced sour cherry purÃ©e and a dollop of homemade apricot sorbet put this treat completely over the top. And for chocolate lovers, there is a deeply flavored, individual chocolate Devils Cake ($7.50) paired with an aromatic cardamom-beet sauce and pistachio ice cream.
Each wine featured on the mostly European, reasonably priced list comes with a brief description, which is helpful when deciding on a bottle. Based on the short narrative describing its pure cherry and cassis essence, we chose a 2001 De Forville Barberesco ($65). Of the 35 bottles offered, 15 are sold by the glass.
Growing up in Iran (where his family has owned and operated restaurants for two generations) has certainly influenced Madikians’ techniques and style, as well as his distinctive use of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors. But his inventiveness and passion are truly his own. He creates his eclectic dishes using a variety of foods and spices to create layer upon layer of flavor culminating with one last, often surprising flourish. Don’t miss the chance to taste these masterpieces for yourself.