Distinguished Dining this December

This season, treat yourself to a meal at one of these local, upscale eateries

If Santa leaves a big bag of money under your tree or Hanukkah Harry schleps a sack of gelt to your menorah, here’s an idea: splurge on a once-in-a-lifetime meal.

Like at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, for instance. GQ magazine wrote that it should be on the list of the world’s best restaurants, saying it’s “not a restaurant. It’s an epic, 10 years in the making.” Chef and co-owner Dan Barber is acknowledged as one of the United States’ best, having received the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef in America, and was featured on Netflix’s documentary Chef’s Table. With cred like that, reservations are hard to come by, but the effort — and wait — is well worth it.

Blue Hill is situated in what was once the milking barn on the Rockefeller estate’s dairy farm, and the grounds serve as source for many of the ingredients that go into the day’s offerings — near 80 percent of them in the summer and fall — which change based on season and chef’s whim. Barber and his crew offer only what they call a “Grazing, Pecking, Rooting” menu, featuring 30-plus small plates for the day. Dishes lean heavily to the vegetarian, though meat does appear here and there. Each item is cooked and presented by a chef, who explains the ingredients and the thought behind his or her presentations.

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The entire experience can take up to four hours, so fidgety children are discouraged. So are casual clothes; jacket and tie are “preferred.” Cost is $238 per guest, exclusive of beverage, tax and gratuity, and a tasting menu is available at the bar for $188. Remember, you’re splurging.

For something more casually elegant — and not quite as wallet depleting — you could splurge at The Inn at Pound Ridge. It’s cozy and warming, set in an 1833 country clapboard that has been renovated with reclaimed wood, zinc, and marble stone, handsomely lighted by paper-shaded Edison bulbs. And the food is top-notch.

Delicately styled dishes at the Inn at Pound Ridge look as good as they taste.

Chef JeanGeorges Vongerichten, winner of Gayot magazine’s 2016 Best Restaurateur award, offers exquisite farm-to-table cuisine, featuring Hudson Valley- and New England-sourced ingredients as often as possible. That means the menu changes with the seasons, though you can always find chicken and fish dishes, along with exemplary wood-fired pizzas, versions of which reflect the vegetables and seasonings available at the time.

Good bets any time of year include the kale salad with Parmesan dressing, croutons and mint; pizza with black truffle and fontina; and any of the fresh pastas. Entrees thrive this time of year, prepared with fall vegetables like Brussels sprouts and parsnips. This is also a great place to indulge your sweet tooth with dessert. The salted caramel sundae with candied popcorn, peanuts and fudge sauce is supremely indulgent; seasonal glazed doughnuts only slightly less so.

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For those with an Uber account who are inclined to imbibe, the Inn also boasts a wine cellar that seats up to 24 diners. With stone walls illuminated only by candlelight, the cellar is a romantic space to dine and sample the many local wines, whiskeys and vodkas Chef Jean-Georges offers. Try the vodka thyme lemonade — it’s the house specialty. Starters and pizzas run from $12-$19; pastas from $19-$26; entrees from $28-$45.

The decor at Fish & Game is equally as fine as the food, an element that earned the restaurant recognition by the James Beard Foundation last year. 

Finally, consider Fish & Game. Since opening in 2013, this much-lauded restaurant has helped transition Hudson into a dining destination for those seeking New York City quality amidst Valley life and scenery — a perspective that could also characterize the proprietors: Chef/owner Zak Pelaccio and his wife Jori Jayne Emde are Manhattan expats who have fully embraced the Hudson Valley mindset and locality, transforming a former blacksmith shop into one of the most inviting and interesting culinary spots around.

You don’t have to take our word for it, either. Consider the awards it has won: 2016 James Beard Award winner for best chef in the Northeast; 2015 and 2016 Wine Enthusiast listing among America’s 100 best wine restaurants; 2015 James Beard Award Finalist for outstanding restaurant design; and 2014 James Beard semifinalist as best new restaurant in America.

The remarkable interior sets the scene for the venue’s gastronomic superiority, featuring wide-plank, dark wood floors, leather couches, custom-made furniture and red velvet wall coverings, all warmed by two stone fireplace hearths and overlooked by not-weird-at-all taxidermy. It’s a good idea to start with a bespoke cocktail and an appetizer in the beautifully homey bar and lounge, which complements the wood-and-brick space with Prussian blue wainscot and elegant lighting.

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Menus change often, as Fish & Game is militantly local, using grown and foraged ingredients sourced within an hour’s drive whenever possible. Pelaccio and Emde purchase whole, humanely raised animals and butcher them on site. They cure and preserve their own meats, condiments and sides. And Wine Enthusiast’s enthusiastic review praised the extensive wine list because it “highlights small producers who practice the same thoughtful farming practices that the restaurant demands of its food purveyors.”

All this labor and attention to detail come with a cost, of course.  Large plates, which are generally good for two people, are $68-$78; desserts about $15. Wine by the glass ranges from $15-$20, and bottles will run you $50-$300. But what the heck: Santa and Harry only come around once a year.

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