The Best New Restaurants
For a taste oftruly nouvellecuisine, try these18 innovative eateries
by Anitra Brown
Looking for someplace new to dine out?
You’re in luck. Top-level talents are opening restaurants all over the Valley, from Dan Barber’s experiment in agricultural-based cooking at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester to Jacques Qualin’s recreation of his native Franche-ComtÃ© cuisine at the
French Corner in the Ulster County village of Stone Ridge.
Our network of food writers, reviewers, editors, and fellow travelers scouted the Valley, looking for restaurants that opened in the past few years, and they’ve reported back with their favorites. We can honestly say that quality has never been better. Our list begins with the most recent opening and works back. All you have to do is take your pick and make a reservation. >>>
Locust Tree Restaurant
Opened: October 2004
Cuisine: Northern European
The Owners: Barbara Bogart is a Ph.D. in biology who hung up her lab coat to become a chef, and went on to stints at top name Manhattan restaurants like Tribeca Grill and Mesa Grill. When she and her husband, Frenchman Robert Khimeche, were ready to start their own restaurant, the old stone building at the country club outside New Paltz happened to be available, and they fell in love with it.
The Food: Using a European country inn as her model, Bogart is intent on creating high-quality food at affordable prices. “Everyone says to me, â€˜Oh, you’re that expensive restaurant.’ I’m trying to get the word out that we’re different.” Her cooking ranges from rustic to refined. Some crowd-pleasers from the wood grill include sardines with European potato salad ($7) and chicken breast fanned over a mushroom fricassee with light Marsala sauce ($15). “We use the wood grill a lot, much to the dismay of my cooks, who have to chop the logs,” says Bogart. On the refined side, there are sweetbreads with porcini mushroom crust served over a composed salad of vegetables and shaved fennel ($8), or seared scallops with English pea flan, sautÃ©ed pea tendrils, and a passion fruit sauce ($19). For dessert, how about Bananas Foster over vanilla macadamia nut ice cream ($7) or three-layered chocolate cake with a crispy fondat ($8). “We make all our desserts,” she says. “There’s no Sysco truck pulling up here.”
The Look: The 18th-century stone building is allowed to speak for itself; the wooden floors were restored, the walls painted a soothing green. The Tavern Room is casual, while the Victorian rooms offer formal, white-tablecloth dining.
The Crowd: Foodies, academics, weekenders, and city people, mostly 30s and up.
What People Are Saying: “We were swooningâ€¦and we aren’t the sort to swoon.”
Contact: 215 Huguenot St., New Paltz, Ulster County. 845-255-7888; www.locusttree.com
Opened: July 2004
Cuisine: New American
The Owners: When Rhinebeck’s highly regarded
The Food: You know things are going to be a little different when you get a cone of puff-pastry cheese twists instead of bread. The food is hearty and comforting, with influences ranging from Latin America to Asia to regional American. “Our menu changes every couple of months, as things come in and out of season,” says Mauk, “but a few dishes will always be around.” One best-selling appetizer is the crab and corn quesadilla with tomato and avocado salsa ($9). You can buy seafood by the pound, including clams, cockles, fried calamari, or peel-and-eat shrimp, starting at a quarter-pound. Comfort-food lovers can choose from three different steaks, including the “cowboy,” a bone-in ribeye ($24), and mix and match their potatoes and veg, while more adventuresome palates can opt for seared tuna with shiitake mushrooms, baby bok choy, and pineapple wasabi salsa ($19). And there’s a $9 kids’ menu with all-you-can-drink soda. For dessert, try the jazzed-up bread pudding ($5) with rum-soaked currants, white chocolate, apple cider syrup, and vanilla ice cream — made right on the premises, of course.
The Look: The location is very American — a strip mall — and so is the easygoing eatery atmosphere. A big, bright abstract mural by a local artist keeps things cheery.
The Crowd: Everyone from high schoolers on dates to food lovers looking for a fine, multicourse dinner.
What People Are Saying: “If you’re a real foodie, eat at the chef’s counter overlooking the open kitchen.”
Contact: 4290 Albany Post Road, Hyde Park, Dutchess County. 845-229-7094; www.letstwist.com
Blue Hill at Stone Barns
Opened: May 2004
Cuisine: Seasonal American
The Owners: Five years ago, David Rockefeller dined at Blue Hill in New York City, which led to a conversation with chef-owner Dan Barber (as well as his brother David, and sister-in-law Laureen) about plans to transform the Rockefeller Westchester estate into a paean to sustainable agriculture. Flash forward, and the Barbers have a hit restaurant that is literally on the farm. “We’re trying to tell a story about where our food comes from, and we do it by having diners overlook a field of vegetables,” says Dan, who owns the restaurant with David and Laureen.
The Food: Farmer and chef can’t get any closer than this. The farm produces its own pastured poultry, heritage hogs, and year-round vegetables — with help from the kitchen crew. “We’re intimately involved in what’s grown, where it’s grown, and how it’s grown, and in the actual production, including picking, weeding, and composting,” says Barber. “What we’re known for is, come the second week of August, everything will have tomatoes in it. By the third week of October, no dishes will have tomatoes in them. We use them when they’re in the field, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.”
You can order plates from four different sections on the menu, such as “From the Pasture” or “From the Sea.” But the real fun is the Farm Feast ($95), a seven-course (or more) menu written up on the moment, based on what has come in from the field. Barber’s food is known for its sheer intensity of flavor, as exemplified by “Tomatoes,” which has layers of sliced tomatoes with a tomato water vinaigrette, tomato confit, and tomato sorbet all on one plate. “It’s simple, but it takes a lot of time to put it together,” says Barber. “It’s an experience of tasting the essence of tomatoes in many different guises.”
The Look: The restaurant is a 1920s dairy barn that has been restored with a feeling of rustic minimalism. The vaulted ceiling is criss-crossed by beams, and the room is decorated in dark woods, earth tones, and soft gray upholstered chairs.
The Crowd: Westchester’s elite (including the Clintons) are beating a path to the door, joined by a significant number of foodies willing to make the pilgrimage from all around.
What People Are Saying: “Sublime food in a magical setting. The hard part is getting a reservation.”
Contact: 630 Bedford Rd., Pocantico Hills, Westchester County. 914-366-9600; www.bluehillstonebarns.com
Opened: May 2004
Cuisine: Progressive American
The Owners: Jeffrey Gimmel and Nina Bachinsky both had big jobs in Manhattan: he was executive chef at Michael’s and she was the Stanhope Hotel’s pastry chef. But they chucked it all to run a catering company on Nantucket, go to New Zealand to work in the Vineyards, and learn how to make cheese at the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company. When they wanted to open their own place, they settled in Hudson, not far from Bachinsky’s hometown of Saugerties.
The Food: Whether it’s scallops from Maine, wild mushrooms from the Pacific Northwest, or local produce grown in the Hudson Valley, the best possible ingredients are the inspiration for Gimmel’s food. “We put it on the plate with the freshness intact and leave the integrity to the product,” he says. Try the charcuterie plate ($7), with dried salamis, duck breast prosciutto, and country pÃ¢tÃ©s all made right in the restaurant. Meat lovers go for the rich, juicy flavors of pan-seared skirt steak with spice rub ($17), served with a red wine sauce infused with lemon thyme, potato purÃ©e, and a giant slice of grilled Vidalia onion. The scallops and other seafood are a particular specialty. To the delight and occasional dismay of regulars, the dessert menu changes frequently. “Nina gets bored with it otherwise,” says Gimmel. “But we always have something chocolate — right now it’s crispy chocolate pierogies with rhubarb sorbet — and a custard or two.” In August, the dessert menu will be bursting with fruit. “We stop at all the different orchards and buy whatever they have that is ripe and perfect,” he says.
The Look: High tin ceilings, tile floors, and earth-tone colors are the backdrop for striking oils and pastels by Nina’s parents. There are flowers everywhere — fresh, dried, and potted.
The Crowd: Manhattan expats and artistic Hudson bohemians, 30s and up.
What People Are Saying: “It’s a gem of a restaurant, and a bargain to boot.”
Contact: 340 Warren St., Hudson, Columbia County. 518-822-8938, www.swoonkitchenbar.com
Valley Restaurant at the Garrison
Opened: April 2004
Cuisine: Seasonal American
The Owners: Chris and Sharon Davis bought the Garrison Country Club back in 2000 and then started pouring in money to transform it into a 300-acre resort open to the public. The restaurant, Bill Brown’s, was completely renovated and renamed Valley in tribute to its location, magnificent river views, and use of local ingredients.
The Food: The commitment to fresh, local food is so intense here that there are herb and vegetable gardens out back. The executive chef, Jeff Raider, is a local product, too, from nearby Yorktown Heights, though he earned his big-city credentials as Sea Grill’s chef de cuisine for four years.
Raider goes for the best ingredients wherever they come from — greens from the garden, free-range pork from Iowa, or exquisitely fresh seafood from Maine. “It’s not complicated food — there won’t be more than four or five ingredients on a plate — but we put a lot into the technique and seasoning and presentation,” says Raider.
Don’t miss the meltingly tender ravioli stuffed with Nova Scotia lobster served in a light, frothy sauce perfumed with black truffles ($14). One outstanding entrÃ©e is the silky, slow-roasted Pacific King salmon, with French bean salsa, lemon-scented mashed potatoes, and balsamic reduction ($25). And though the menu may always be changing, customers won’t allow Raider to take off the grilled Niman Ranch pork chop ($25), brined to keep it tender and moist, then brushed with Asian barbecue glaze and served over baby bok choy. Save room for Jerome Druart’s desserts. It’s great fun to work your way through the chocolate tasting for two, with chocolate malt shooters, a frozen hazelnut napoleon, warm chocolate cake with dried cherries, chocolate cheesecake, and a white chocolate pot de crÃ¨me.
The Look: Elegant country, with soothing beige and green interiors that don’t detract from the magnificent river views. In the summer, enjoy al fresco dining on the terrace or even at a special chef’s table in the herb garden.
The Crowd: This is a well-heeled bunch, 20s and up, who really love good food. The bar area gets its share of golfers.
What People Are Saying: “Manhattan level food, style, and service.”
Contact: 2015 Rte. 9, Garrison, Putnam County. 845-424-2339; www.thegarrison.com
Aroma Thyme Bistro
Opened: January 2004
Cusine: Healthy New American
The Owners: Marcus Guiliano was a successful chef in Colorado Springs before he decided to move back home to Ellenville with his wife, business partner (and high school sweetheart) Jamie, to raise their family. Not only have they given the area a great place to eat, they’ve helped revitalize the downtown.
The Food: An avowed health nut, Guiliano manages to work whole foods into all his entrÃ©es. “I don’t want to scare people away with the health word,” he says, “but that’s what we are. I use natural ingredients that are pure and wonderful.” With dishes like tempeh ProvenÃ§al with tomatoes, garlic, capers, and olives, and Nancy’s Indian-spiced chickpeas and braised eggplant (both $15), it’s a vegan’s paradise. But there are plenty of meat dishes, as long as the meat is free-range, raised humanely, or from a sustainable source. Try the pan-seared wild coho salmon with capers and kalamata olives ($19) or Brooklyn Brown Ale marinated hangar steak ($18). The extensive (and reasonably priced) wine list recently won an award from Wine Spectator, and lists nearly 20 organic and sulfite-free wines. Even the desserts, like a blueberry crisp ($6) made without refined flour or white sugar, are healthy (as long as you hold the Hagen Dazs).
The Look: Casual, with white tablecloths. Old-fashioned signs that look like they’re from the 1930s lend lots of character to the space, which has a long, gorgeous bar and a tin ceiling.
The Crowd: Thirties and up, year-round and weekenders. It’s a destination for vegans and vegetarians, but it also draws a substantial crowd of meat-eating regulars.
What People Are Saying: “Health-conscious food never tasted so good.”
Contact: 165 Canal St., Ellenville, Ulster County. 845-647-3000; www.aromathyme.biz
Daniel’s at Ogdens
Opened: October of 2003
Cuisine: Global Fusion
The Owners: PR specialist Ruth Fein Wallens teamed up with noted local chef Daniel Atsilov to restore Ogdens to greatness. The beloved Albany dining landmark had closed in 2001 after a fire.
The Food: For all the talk of fusion, at heart it’s an upscale steak-and-seafood place, geared to conservative, expense-account tastes. One of the best-selling appetizers is pan-seared foie gras with white truffle oil ($18). A favorite special is surf and turf ($59-$69), featuring Kobe beef, the pampered Japanese cattle who receive massage as part of their lifestyle. The best-selling seafood dish is grilled salmon with strawberry mango chutney ($19) and sea bass with a light lemon saffron sauce. Daniel’s signature entrÃ©e is filet mignon wrapped around New Zealand lamb with pesto. It’s encased in phyllo and finished in the oven ($30). All the desserts are made on the premises, including the house special, a flourless chocolate cake with white chocolate mousse ($7).
The Look: It’s a grand building from 1903 with walls painted in rich colors, fresh flowers, a 28-foot ceiling, and a stunning Art Deco chandelier. The best kept secret in summer is the garden patio with views of the Corning Tower lit up at night.
The Crowd: During the week, it’s business and legislative, with rich suburbanites coming in on the weekends. While the place may look fancy, you don’t have to wear a suit and tie to eat there.
What People Are Saying: “Don’t miss the grilled seafood appetizers.”
Contact: 42 Howard St. (at Lodge), Albany. 518-694-5320.
The French Corner
Opened: September 2003
Cuisine: Regional French
The Owners: Jacques Qualin has one of the Hudson Valley’s most impressive rÃ©sumÃ©s, with high-ranking posts in such distinguished Manhattan kitchens as Jean-Georges and Le PÃ©rigord. He and his wife, Leslie Flam (who runs the front of the house), were weekenders who decided to open a restaurant here because it reminded him of Franche-ComtÃ©, his native region of France.
The Food: Qualin combines ingredients and dishes from Franche-ComtÃ© with local produce from the Hudson Valley. “I’m finding out new things about Jacques,” says Flam, who marvels that he does everything from smoking his own salmon to making all the desserts to baking his own French bread. (No one else’s was good enough.)
Expect to be presented with three menus, which can be confusing for newcomers. “We call him Mr. Menu,” says Flam. The first is a prix-fixe menu of two courses for $25. It includes rustic dishes like house-made pÃ¢tÃ© and roasted salmon with braised red cabbage, huckleberries, and juniper sauce. The regular menu has more refined fare like shrimp risotto with beets and parsley ($13) and a dish Qualin made famous at Le PÃ©rigord: turbot with a ComtÃ© crust made with a Gruyere-like cheese, served with sautÃ©ed spinach, chanterelles, and Champagne sauce ($32). The third menu has all the specials for the day. Desserts ($7) include a lemon tart made to order and an ever-changing cast of crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©es, like Earl Grey with sautÃ©ed peaches.
The Look: The onetime rustic German eatery has been transformed into a country French restaurant, decorated with a few choice French antiques, including a grandfather clock and a 200-year-old stove.
The Crowd: Mostly 40- to 60-year-olds who live in the area full-time. Lots of regulars come every week for the prix-fixe menu.
What People Are Saying: “He’s a major talent in a small town.”
Contact: 3407 Cooper Street (off Rte. 209 on Rte. 213
South), Stone Ridge, Ulster County. 845-687-0810; www.frcorner.com
Opened: September 2003
Cuisine: New Japanese
The Owners: Doug Nguyen is a Vietnamese refugee who was sponsored to come to America by a Rockland County family, who raised him as their own. He started out washing dishes, but owned his first restaurant by age 25. The super-hip, super-successful Wasabi is his second —and he’s still just 35.
The Food: This is out-of-the-bento-box Japanese food that pairs yellowtail with jalapeÃ±o and adds interesting sauces to the sushi. “A lot of the customers are shocked,” says Nguyen. “They see tuna with strawberries and they say, â€˜I’m not going to eat it.’ But they taste it and they like it.” While you can get big boats of sushi, it’s more fun to go for the “Omakase Creations,” cool dishes like Tuna Millennium ($12), a piece of tuna tempura cooked for just a second, then sliced and layered over a creamy Japanese mayonnaise with wasabi and flying fish roe — served in a martini glass. The “Wasabi Small Plates” are warm, filling dishes, like baked black cod ($15), an exquisitely silky piece of white fish cooked with sake and served with sweet, dark eel reduction. It takes about six dishes to fill you up. And speaking of tuna and strawberries — it makes a fine finish.
The Look: It’s super-hip — a long, narrow space with a black ceiling, large black-framed mirrors, and vivid green- and mustard-colored walls. The tiled sushi bar in back gets a lot of action, as does the cocktail bar in front.
The Crowd: The beautiful people of Nyack, from gorgeous blondes with cell phones and highlights to teenagers out dining with their parents.
What People Are Saying: “Nobu, watch out!”
Contact: 110 Main St., Nyack, Rockland County. 845-358-7977.
Miss Lucy’s Kitchen
Opened: June 2003
Cuisine: American Farmhouse
The Owners: Marc Propper and Michelle Silver owned Grove Restaurant in the West Village for 10 years, but after 9/11 they moved to their Saugerties farmhouse full-time and opened Miss Lucy’s, named after their young daughter.
The Food: It’s best not to get too attached to any one dish because the market menu literally changes daily. A member of the Slow Food movement, Propper is unusually dedicated to fresh, local, and sustainable food, going so far as to buy whole hogs, lambs, and sides of beef direct from a farmer who raises and slaughters them. Instead of picking one prime cut that is on the menu every night, he works his way through the animal. “W