When we first sat down for dinner at No. 9 in Millerton on a recent holiday weekend, one of my dining companions immediately noted that the table was just too wide. We were a party of three that evening and were in a celebratory and chatty mood. It was partly the extra day off; partly the road-trip feeling we had after the picturesque, hour-long drive from Beacon; and partly the anticipation of dining at a restaurant that has quietly but consistently been generating positive buzz since opening in November 2009. So, while it would have been easier to share the bonhomie if we were a little closer together, I’m happy to report that the table’s wide girth was pretty much the sole complaint we could muster about the otherwise enchanting evening.
“We got a great reception right away,” says Chef Tim Cocheo, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife Taryn. Previously, the couple had run the well-regarded Bottle Tree in Ancram, but that eatery was open only on weekends and was “in the middle of nowhere,” says Cocheo. “We wanted to open a full-service restaurant with a full bar and more capacity.” The pair, who have lived in Millerton since 2008, realized that their funky little northern Dutchess village — the one with both an independent book store and an independent movie theatre — “needed more restaurant options.” So they soon moved into the small space at the back of the Simmons’ Way Village Inn.
Co-owners Taryn and Timothy Cocheo inside their eatery
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While the Victorian inn oozes quintessential country charm, Cocheo wanted a different look for the restaurant. “The inn is all floral, and we wanted a modern, sleek look. We wanted to update it,” he says, noting that he stripped the space (formerly Martha’s) of the flowery wallpaper and opted instead for mustard-yellow walls, triangular-shaped skylights, and a tiny bar with just a few stools neatly tucked into an alcove. The fact that you enter the cozy restaurant (it seats 45, with room for another 18 outside) from the back of the inn adds to the feeling that you are part of a select group being let in on a great secret.
Cocheo says that their biggest selling specialty cocktail is the $12 spicy tomato martini. “We infuse our vodka with tomatoes and horseradish, and use local tomato water that we make here,” he says. As tempting as that was, we all opted for wine by the glass. (There are five whites and five reds served this way.) We ordered three appetizers. I was excited to try the wild mushroom risotto, which was prepared with Parmesan cheese and truffle oil. To me, an expertly executed risotto raises the level of the whole meal, and I was not disappointed: this one was creamy perfection. “Anybody can put truffle oil on something,” says Cocheo. “But it’s the process of making it. Some people take shortcuts. But we do it the right way, slowly, mixing it the whole time.” Another gasp-inducing winner was the Foie Gras au Torchon, which was served with a quince currant compote and port wine. The sweetness of the fruit perfectly brought out the savory foie gras accents. Cocheo says that our third appetizer, lobster spring rolls, is very popular. And although we happily ate them all, compared with the other two standouts, we found them simply average.
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While we waited for our main course, the restaurant quickly filled to capacity, and a pleasant buzz permeated the room. Despite the hustle and bustle, the service was excellent. “Some people come for special occasions,” says Cocheo. “But we also get a lot of regulars who come every weekend or every other weekend: people from the city who have weekend houses up here, and lots of locals, too.” We considered ordering the Wiener Schnitzel, which Cocheo says he perfected after having worked in several Austrian restaurants. “Some people come in just for that,” says the chef, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute. And while he tries to use as many ingredients as possible from local farms, Cocheo says that he doesn’t officially call the restaurant a farm-to-table eatery. “That term is thrown around very loosely these days,” he says.
The menu is constantly updated; on the night we went, I ordered the grilled hanger steak. It was perfectly executed and served with an ample amount of sautéed spinach, a wonderful wild mushroom sauce, and hand-cut French fries. Cocheo uses a high-quality grill pan to roast beef scraps and bones — the secret behind the smoky, almost coffee-flavored jus that is served with the steak. “That is probably one of our most popular dishes because it is reasonably priced ($19) and it is a good, hearty dish,” he says. One of my companions had the pan-roasted duck breast, which is served in a slightly spicy sauce with braised red cabbage and wild mushrooms. It was simply the best duck dish I have ever tasted. My other friend had the fish special, a crispy black bass, which was served with bok choi and shiitake mushrooms. It, too, was delectable.
The chanterelle mushroom risotto appetizer is a crowd-pleaser
Somehow we managed to save room for dessert — which was a good thing, since they were all showstoppers. The caramel soufflé is gaining quite a reputation in Dutchess County, and deservedly so. Served with a bittersweet chocolate sauce, the two pungent flavors combined so exquisitely that all three of us continued lifting our spoons long after we thought such a feat was impossible. The dark chocolate molten cake was also an embarrassment of riches, and was perfectly complemented by the cooling effects of locally made pistachio ice cream. My panna cotta with strawberries was an appropriate foil to the other two heavy offerings.
On our way out, I stopped by the ladies room. “Stopped by” is not quite the right phrasing, as it is necessary to weave through various hallways at the inn to find the facilities. The bathroom was old and somewhat unclean — so there you have it, another small complaint about our experience. And while we had a good laugh about that on the ride home, mostly we sat in satisfied silence. Finally, my one friend remarked, “Wow, that was one great dinner.” And there isn’t much more to say than that.