Pretty to Think So Is a Moody, Magical Dining Experience in Rhinebeck

What happens when the team behind a secret hotel opens a restaurant? The results are bespoke cocktails and beautifully curated menus in Dutchess County.

It’s hard for anything to feel like a secret when it’s in the center of Rhinebeck.

Yet somehow {pretty to think so} manages to do just that.

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the Dutchess County restaurant is something of a newcomer in town. Or it could be its intimate location on Montgomery Street, where it resides cozily between galleries and shops that embody the town’s main drag. Admittedly, much of it probably has to do with the fact that the team behind the restaurant has more than a little experience with secrets, having crafted the oft-whispered-about dining and hospitality program at the now-closed The Dutchess property in Staatsburg.

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Regardless, there’s one thing about {pretty to think so} that’s absolutely certain.

If it is a secret, it won’t remain that way for long.

Rhinebeck restaurant interior
The interior at {pretty to think so}

And why should it? After all, {pretty to think so} is more than a little exciting within Rhinebeck’s restaurant scene. While the location itself is covetable, so too is the sophisticatedly sexy interior with the bar and dining program to match. The restaurant is a true collaborative effort for Mark Margiotta, Madeline Dillon, and Eric Mushel, three hospitality pros who met at The Dutchess and merged their skills to craft an unforgettable food and drink concept in the Hudson Valley.

The team at {pretty to think so}

In truth, the trio’s star power reads along the lines of a top-billing movie cast. On the dining side, there’s Chef Mark Margiotta, the Culinary Institute of America grad who went from apprenticing at his grandparents’ Hudson Valley restaurant to Poughkeepsie’s Brasserie 292 to Manhattan’s acclaimed Eleven Madison Park. At The Dutchess, he paired fine dining with farming, a concept he brings with him to {pretty to think so}.

“I grew up in the Hudson Valley and I love calling it my home,” Margiotta, who also lends a hand at Poughquag’s Maple View Farm, enthuses. “The natural terroir of the area is very special, and so is the seasonality of what we’re able to grow. I’m trying to raise as much of our own produce as I can and supplement from local growers.”

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Raw bar and crudo
The raw bar and crudo are standouts at {pretty to think so}

With the bar program, cocktail visionary Madeline Dillon oversees the libations that slide across the restaurant’s elegant bar. Prior to joining The Dutchess, Dillion helped to build up the bar team at RARE in Washington, D.C. As her drinks in Rhinebeck prove, cocktails can be just as inventive as any food menu, if not more so. At {pretty to think so}, she effortlessly balances artisanal cocktails with low-ABV options and non-alcoholic drinks that are every bit as delicious as the curated lineup of wines, beers, and ciders. Her ingredients are one-of-a-kind, handmade, and just the sort of stuff that embodies a farm-to-table beverage experience in the Hudson Valley.

Alongside Dillon and Margiotta is General Manager Eric Mushel, who oversees operations at the restaurant. Before refining his skillset at The Dutchess, Mushel garnered foundational and leadership knowledge in tech and finance in London. As he tells it, the partnership between himself and his co-founders was something of a universal aligning in which three highly creative individuals found themselves in the right place at the right time.

“Pure serendipity how it came to be,” he says. “A chef, a mixologist, and an entrepreneur met on a secret farm and discovered ourselves amidst nature, and {pretty to think so} is the beautiful result of that encounter. I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that I believe we’ve assembled the finest hospitality team in the Hudson Valley.”

Duck at {pretty to think so}
Duck shines on the menu at {pretty to think so}

The story behind the Rhinebeck restaurant

So how exactly did {pretty to think so} come to be? As all good pandemic stories start, it was all about the pivot.

Following the closure of The Dutchess in October 2021, the trio found instant demand for their catering services. At the start of 2022, they moved into the upscale catering spaces and launched Stem + Revel, their catering arm that still operates today. They partnered with the founder of ABC Carpet, who owns Taghkanic House outside of Hudson, and crafted multiple large, artistic, wood-fire cooking rigs. To conceptualize their event programming, they teamed up with Monica Relyea Events and began setting up remote kitchens in beautiful locations that dished wood-fired cuisine alongside a bespoke bar menu.

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With events going strong, they began to search for a commercial kitchen space in the region. It was around that time that Dillon received an unexpected call from an investor group looking to open a cocktail bar with her in Rhinebeck. After a nervous few days of sitting on the information, she called Mushel to explain the opportunity that she couldn’t pass up.

Fortunately for them all, cocktails and dining go hand in hand. The trio met with the investor group, led by Rachel Rouse, the principal of luxury real estate firm Rouse + Co., and Mike Hericourt, who also became the consulting contractor for the project. In no time at all, {pretty to think so} began to take shape.

A cocktail at {pretty to think so}
A cocktail at {pretty to think so}

All in a name

With the concept for the restaurant established, the trio worked tirelessly over the course of nine months to tear it all down and build it back up. Dillon worked with Manhattan-based head designer Bradford Louryk, while Mushel worked with designer and architect pal Tomasz Low on construction. They sourced fabrics from Clarke + Clarke via Kravet, wall coverings from Schumacher, stone from Barra & Trumbore, and lighting from Tom Dixon via Hundred Mile and Troy Lighting. The resulting design is one that’s a little bit moody, a dash mysterious, and entirely alluring to behold.

In the kitchen, meanwhile, Margiotta, dove headfirst into a full kitchen rebuild that included an entirely new floor, with plumbing help from Salvatore Legname for SJL Plumbing and Heating.

“It took a lot of literal blood, sweat, and tears,” Mushel admits. “The idea we would ever open was an abstraction for months.” That being said, “we wouldn’t trade a moment of the process for anything. It was a special time.”

When brainstorming for the restaurant’s name, they drew inspiration from the Lost Generation of artists moving to Europe. Since the space in which they’re now housed was originally the Starr Institute, a library and reading room built by a woman in 1860 as a center for enlightenment, it felt natural to look to the writers of the time. So, when Dillon came across the last line of Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises, she knew she had hit upon just the right pairing of words.

“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

“’Pretty to think so’ is a line that recognizes beauty and happiness can exist in a world where they often don’t win the day,” Mushel observes. “We wanted to offer a place where people could at least pretend they just might.”

Dining and drinking at {pretty to think so}

As one might expect, savoring a dinner at the Rhinebeck restaurant is an experience from start to finish. From the kitchen, Margiotta serves luxurious ingredients like a present in each dish. Truffles turn everyday baked potatoes into something that almost seems sinful to taste. Caviar is another star player, elevating any dish it touches (caviar frites with sexy ketchup, anyone?). Duck, meanwhile, functions as an unconventional, albeit highly enjoyable protein on menu, featuring in everything from crispy duck confit with pickled wild mushrooms to dry-aged duck breast with charred greens and rhubarb mostarda.

“We had no idea how our use of caviar would be received, and it’s been a huge hit,” Mushel enthuses. “During the pandemic, so many worldly people have found a new home outside the city and settled in the beautiful Hudson Valley. This local clientele with refined taste is driving this demand for a world-class menu with ingredients like caviar and truffle.”

While the terrain-focused fare is certainly worthy of celebration, the seafood-centric dishes shine just as bright. Margiotta’s briny, beautiful oysters, which come from Island Creek Oysters out of Massachusetts, are a delight to savor. Similarly, keep an eye out for anything with scallops on the menu. The scallop crudo is fresh and flavorful, while the seared scallop special – when available – will leave you dreaming about it for days.

Understandably, of course, food is only half of the story at {pretty to think so}. Over at the bar, Dillon is a master of unique ingredients and unexpected pairings that result in cocktails that are made to be sipped and savored.

“Our goat cheese washed vodka/gin dirty martini is one of the most perfect cocktails ever created,” Mushel notes. “Also, The White Cheek, a clear negroni inspired by the white side of Snow White’s apple, has been a hit. We also offer an absinthe service that is unique to the area; and many people have been experimenting with our Public Enemy No 1, a super distinct absinthe sour cocktail.”

In addition to standard cocktails, Dillon also embraces the low- and no-alcohol movements, with enticing options for both parties available. (Ruby Slippers, made with red bitters, pink vermouth, chile de arból, strawberry, sparkling water, and gold luster, is a low-ABV standout with a powerhouse color.) For vino aficionados, the restaurant has a relationship with wine supplier Angela Kahn, of Bonhomie Wine Imports, for its curated selection of pours.

Cheers to the future

While {pretty to think so} is still in the early days of existence in the Hudson Valley, the trio behind the restaurant are excited to see what the future holds. With the opportunity to change their menus as their hearts desire and an excited entourage of food lovers placing reservations each day, the partners have their work cut out for them.

At the same time, they look forward to continuing events with Stem + Revel both this season and in the future. They’re already booked for a two-day wedding event in Barcelona in July, with more happenings to come in 2024.

“We’re really trying to stay in the moment and enjoy the inception of {pretty to think so},” Mushel says. “We only get to open our first restaurant once in our lives, and we want to feel each moment. Our guests have been making us feel very loved; it’s a special, unique time.”

{pretty to think so}
6417 Montgomery St, Rhinebeck
Thursday – Sunday, 4:30-11 p.m.

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