Not Just Antiques
The eclectic fare at Swoon Kitchenbar is another reason
to visit downtown Hudson
by Ann Morrow
For many people on an antiquing jaunt, the hunt for something old and wonderful is followed by a search for someplace new and wonderful to eat. Along Warren Street in Hudson, there are so many enticing storefronts that it’s hard to know where to begin, let alone where to end up. But here’s a clue: look for the hanging sign with a flourish-y “S” on it. When you see it, you’ll know that you’re nearing Swoon Kitchenbar, a place you won’t regret stepping into. If you’re not in the vicinity, go there anyway. Barely nine months old, this creative and affordable eatery is worth a drive from almost anywhere in the Valley.
After working up an appetite by window-shopping the entire length of Warren Street, we (me and two companions, a Europhile and a Midwesterner) were immediately charmed by the look of Swoon, a “neighborhood bistro” with the ambience of a French-country hideaway. The entrance ramp is half hidden behind a bench and potted shrubbery; this slightly wild-grown motif is continued through the interior, which features rugged floral arrangements in antique urns, rustic-style artworks, and a long bar made from a wooden beam. Decoratively painted wood furnishings (an old icebox serves as the hostess stand) go beautifully with the sun-baked color scheme.
In deference to the Europhile, a well-traveled mixologist, we began at the bar, where he proclaimed his extra-dry Hendricks Gibson ($8) to be perfect. And we all enjoyed having our by-the-glass wines decanted into individual carafes. The wines, a Rhone ($7), a good red ($8), and a white Marsannay ($12) that was lighter and crisper than Chardonnay, were selected from an ample and interesting list.
One quick glance at the menu and we were as charmed by the offerings as we were by the surroundings. An assured list of seven or eight appetizers and as many entrÃ©es, the changing menu concentrates on seasonal, mostly organic ingredients from local farms. Once seated at our corner-booth table, hunks of warm crusty bread arrived in a little produce basket. Perhaps it was the same basket that brought the robust leeks that went into one of our appetizers, a luscious leek tart topped with delicious slivers of crispy duck confit ($7). Or maybe it transported the endive that, mixed with tangerine, sat atop gravlax ($10), the whole thing finished off with a dollop of crÃ¨me fraÃ®che. In contrast to the rich, creamy tart, the gravlax was an experience in sharp, clean flavors, with super freshâ€“tasting salmon accented by a citrus tang. A mussel special ($7) completed our appetizer trifecta. The plump little bivalves came in a delectable wine broth with garlic and flaked red pepper. The simplest of the evening’s dishes, it showed how much oomph a talented chef can get out of just a few fresh ingredients.
That chef is the owner, Jeffrey Gimmel, whose rÃ©sumÃ© ranges from Michael’s in midtown Manhattan to Le Moulin du Mougin in the south of France. He operates Swoon with his wife, pastry chef Nina Bachinsky, a native of the Valley and formerly with Le Bernardin. The benefit of Gimmel’s enthusiasm for local agriculture was most apparent in the pork entrÃ©e ($15). Slowly braised in red wine and soy, the hand-cut pork was amazingly flavorful (this little piggy was born tasty) and practically melt-in-the-mouth tender. Delicious in every detail, the dish included a crunchy sesame rice cake and a stir-fry of crisp Asian vegetables. I had the Maryland crab cake entrÃ©e, a smooth oval of well-seasoned crabmeat and aiÃ¶li topped by a shaved-fennel salad with a tangle of grilled radicchio. Although I found some of the chicory to be overly bitter, the Europhile liked the extra bite it gave to the crab cake.
Our Midwesterner, a transplant from the cheddar heartland, was leaning toward the pappardelle noodles with sheep’s milk cheese in mushroom sauce ($16), but he hesitated at the idea of fromage from woollies. Assured that any cheese made by the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company was well worth trying, he took the plunge, and described the dish as a lighter and more interesting version of stroganoff, with the mild yet distinctive sheep’s cheese nicely matched to the hearty mushrooms and sheets of homemade pasta. Other entrÃ©es often on the menu are wild king salmon, pan-seared skirt steak, a seasonal vegetable risotto, and marvelously briny jumbo “day boat” scallops with piquant sweet-potato puree.
At this point, we were seriously impressed. And then the desserts arrivedâ€¦ A perfectly caramelized crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e with a hint of fennel ($6) was adorned with a chocolate truffle and a scoop of palate-popping tangerine sorbet, while the earthy, chocolate-cardamom cake ($6.50) was paired with zingy ginger-vanilla ice cream. Bachinsky’s hand-crafted ice creams can most easily be described as rapture on a plate. And her pear dumpling ($6) is sensational: an artful heap of warm pear slices and yummy dumplings drizzled with raspberry-licorice sauce and topped with crÃ¨me fraÃ®che. All three desserts came with the surprise of candied citrus rinds.
Well-chosen background music at a just-noticeable volume contributed to Swoon’s pleasing atmosphere, as did the unobtrusive service from a team of denim-clad waitresses. We left Hudson without an antique or even a single tchotchke, but what we did take with us was the thrill of discovery in having come across this gem of a restaurant, and a bargain to boot.
Swoon Kitchenbar, 340 Warren St., Hudson, is open every day except Wednesday. Lunch is served 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m; dinner is served 5-10 p.m. Sun.-Tues., 5-11 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. Appetizers are $6-$8, entrÃ©es $15-$17, and desserts $6-$7. 518-822-8938.