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10 Can't Miss Dishes

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In an uncertain world, it’s good to know there’s something you can depend on. In this case, something delicious! The dishes featured here are chefs’ recommendations, based on what their customers ask for time and again. So whether you’d like to get dressed to the nines to celebrate a special occasion, or you just want a relaxed meal in friendly environs, here are some temptations that are tried and true.

Cassoulet

Le Canard Enchainé
276 Fair St., Kingston
845-339-2003 or www.le-canardenchainesrestaurant.com

A lot of men take their wives to a romantic restaurant on Valentine’s Day. Chef Jean-Jacques Carquillat went one better in 1996, and opened a romantic restaurant for his bride, Jennifer, on Valentine’s Day. So French! Did he name it Jennifer’s? Um, no, he did not. It’s called Le Canard Enchainé, after a satirical newspaper. So… French.

The eatery, an anchor on Fair Street in Kingston’s historic district, is charmingly French all over. Most of the staff have a genuine Gallic accent, there are French posters and pictures on the walls, and there’s a menu of what has been critically acclaimed as “world-class bistro cooking,” which includes all the crowd pleasers — onion soup, escargots, moules marinière — as well as some nouvelle specials, like shrimp Indochine.

cassoulet at le canard enchainéCassoulet, the rich combination of white beans, duck, lamb, and pork — accentuated with herbs and wine — is a favorite at Le Canard Enchainé in Kingston

Photographs by Jennifer May

chef jean-jacques carquillat

Carquillat was born in Chamonix in the French Alps, and cheffed at the Ritz in Lisbon and equally ritzy restaurants in Paris, London, and New York before succumbing to the charms of Kingston, which he discovered through fellow expats at the now-defunct Auberge des Quatre Saisons. (Take that, glamorous international capitals!)

“Kingston is my home,” he says. “I have a house a couple of blocks from the restaurant. It’s beautiful here. I love being in the mountains. There’s good, fresh produce from the farms. And we’re close to New York so we can see a show and have dinner there, if we want to.”

As for Carquillat’s hearty cassoulet, he makes the real deal, from scratch, following the time-honored, laborious method that prevents most of us from making it at home. White beans get a two-day soaking before they’re cooked. Then Carquillat combines house-made duck leg confit, chunks of lamb, slab bacon, pork shoulder, and garlic sausage with fresh tomatoes, a sprinkling of herbes de Provence, and a “special mix,” he says, of red and white wine. The dish is topped with garlic bread crumbs and cooked for two to three hours before emerging fragrant and delicious — the epitome of robust French fare. Due to the special preparation required to make this Gallic goody, please call the restaurant to order cassoulet at least 72 hours in advance.

 
last chance antiques and cheese cafe fondue

Fondue

Last Chance Antiques & Cheese Café
6009 Main St., Tannersville
518-589-6424 or www.lastchanceonline.com

“When I find something I like, I stick to it,” declares Loren Kashman, citing his 40-year marriage, and 39 years running this quirky shop-café in Tannersville. Here, he has steadily served fondue through several cycles of fondue fashionability.

Brooklyn bred, Kashman moved with his wife, Anita, to Tannersville in 1971 “to try an alternative lifestyle,” as he puts it. That meant opening an antiques store that also carried what he merrily describes as “the biggest collection of bongs in the region… I was a long-haired hippie. Now I’m a pillar of the community!”

It soon became clear that he’d go broke selling antiques in a ski town. “The head paraphernalia wasn’t a big business, either,” he recalls. “But I sold a lot of munchie food. My dad had a store in the city selling smoked fish, caviar — Jewish specialties. So I knew food. I started selling soups and sandwiches.”

Kashman soon added imported beers and cheeses to the mix, and began serving the famous fondue. After a fire in 1977, he restored the gutted building and reopened half of it as a full-service restaurant.

Today, there are still antiques for sale, as well as about 100 cheeses, including local ones from Painted Goat, Old Chatham, and Byebrook Farm. You’ll also find dried fruits and nuts, local honey and syrup, Swiss chocolates, old-fashioned candy, and baseball caps with the Last Chance logo.

The beer list has grown to 300 brews, and the menu includes rib-stickers like chicken pot pies, meatloaf, and — a house invention — the knishwich; a knish topped with corned beef, pastrami or turkey, and melted cheese.

But fondue’s the favorite: “It’s an old-fashioned, romantic dish,” Kashman says. “You can have a bottle of wine, sit by the fireplace…” A pot of molten Emmental and Gruyère spiked with white wine, Kirsch, and garlic comes with fresh-baked bread to dip, sliced apple, or spicy sausage, if you like.

An expansion with décor reflecting Tannersville’s glory days will offer live music and finger foods for a target audience that, as Kashman puts it, “are in bed by 11:30, 12 o’clock.” Otherwise, Last Chance is much as it always was. And you can expect to find antiques, cheese, and fondue well into the future. As Kashman says: “My dad had his business for 50 years. I’m looking to beat his record.”

 
la porcini cucina rack of lamb

Rack of Lamb with Porcini Sauce

La Porcini Cucina
69 Broadway, Tivoli
845-757-1015 or www.porcinicucina.com

Some chefs become forever associated with a certain aspect of their craft. Bobby Flay: all things grilled. K Paul: the étoufée. Emeril: “Bam!” (Okay, maybe bam doesn’t count.)

In Wayne Smith’s case, it’s the porcini mushroom. Smith, who graduated from the Culinary Institute, spent 26 years as executive chef at eateries in the Catskills and surrounding areas. During that time he developed a recipe for a flavorful porcini bolognese and found that the sauce went well with several other dishes. “I built up a huge following over the years, and that sauce had a lot to do with it,” Smith says. “It became my trademark.” Naturally, when he opened a place of his own in Tivoli in 2008, he named it for his favorite mushroom.

Smith grew up in Marlboro, the son of an Italian mother and a father who’s a heady mix of German, Irish, French, and American Indian. In his Tivoli spot, Smith went with his mom’s cuisine — Old World Italian — offering perennial favorites like chicken or eggplant Parmigiano, seafood Fra Diavolo, and an array of richly sauced pastas.

His signature rack of lamb, which is usually about eight chops, comes from New Zealand. “It’s free-range grass-fed, so the flavor’s better,” he remarks. He lightly crusts the lamb with garlic and herbs, then pan-sears it, finishes it in the oven, and serves it with his trademark sauce, Parmesan mashed potatoes, and a fresh vegetable. “Everyone likes the zucchini with onions and roasted peppers,” says Smith.

Grown-ups usually prefer the mauve dining room; livelier types mingle with the Bard crowd in the friendly, casual bar, where there’s a pubby menu of burgers, wings, sandwiches, calamari, and mini-pizzas. Whether you’re in the casual side or the cozy side, you’ll find traditional Italian desserts like cannoli, tiramisù, and Italian-style cheesecake.

The restaurant business is risky at the best of times, but Smith embarked on his venture at the onset of the nation’s financial meltdown. “It’ll come around,” he says. “I’m holding my own.” Working hard, too, although he admits, “in the summer, I sometimes sneak away and fly fish.”

 
nantucket bay scallops at swoon kitchenbar

Nantucket Bay Scallops and Hazelnut Chiboust

Swoon Kitchenbar
340 Warren St., Hudson
518-822-8938 or www.swoonkitchenbar.com

Ten years ago, chefs Jeffrey and Nina Gimmel left Manhattan to run a catering business on Nantucket. “In some parts of the country, the first day of hunting season is an unofficial holiday,” says Jeffrey. “In Nantucket, it’s the first day of scallop season. Everyone goes out and rakes for them, and once you’ve done it, you can’t help but love them. They’re fabulous — larger and sweeter than the ones from Long Island or Cape Cod.”

Nantucket proved to be more seasonal than their business could tolerate, so after two years the Gimmels moved to Hudson, not far from Nina’s home town of Saugerties, and also close to Bard College, where she planned (as Jeffrey puts it) to “get a degree in a real school.” (He’s from Maryland.)

Nina’s original plan to be a ballet dancer was derailed by knee injuries (but not before she’d performed at Lincoln Center). “I’d always been a foodie, so I switched ideas,” she says. After interning at high-profile Manhattan restaurants like Le Bernadin and Union Square Cafe, she discovered she had a natural talent for baking, and enjoyed it, too.

The couple opened Swoon six years ago and immediately attracted Hudson’s transplanted New Yorkers and weekenders, who raved from the start about Jeffrey’s New American savory cooking and the fact that rarities like oysters on the half shell turned up on the menu. Nina’s desserts — well, they’re “beyond your wildest dreams,” swooned one critic. Big, jungly flower arrangements became a signature in the restaurant’s modern interior.

hazelnut chiboustHazelnut Chiboust: Lightened with meringue, this nut-flavored pastry cream makes a fine finale to Swoon’s caramelized scallops (above)

As for those scallops: Jeffrey quickly sears them in a hot pan with a little neutral oil, like canola. “The trick is to get caramelization but keep them moist and juicy,” he says. One possible side is caramelized cauliflower with toasted almonds, raisins, and capers.

The menu, updated daily, is driven in summer by what local farms are producing. In winter, you’ll find comforting braised meats like veal rib and lamb shanks, or spice-rubbed skirt steak served with potato purée and grilled onions. Among the desserts there may be pear dumplings, or strawberry napoleon. New and no doubt swoon-worthy: hazelnut chiboust.

By the way, if you’re wondering about Nina’s “real school” detour, she studied photography, with plans to become a food photographer, but luckily for us soon realized she’d rather be in the kitchen.

 

tuna or alaskan salmonRare Sesame Crusted Tuna: This healthful dish is served with spicy sriracha, peanut sauce, pickled ginger and wakame (edible seaweed)

Tuna (or Alaskan Salmon)

Aroma Thyme Bistro
165 Canal St., Ellenville
845-647-3000 or www.aromathymebistro.com

When Chef Marcus Guiliano talks about his food, he’s likely to regale you with the provenance of a dish’s ingredients and its healthful properties before he gets around to mentioning its deliciousness quotient. That doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious — it’s just a sign of his commitment to sustainability and “clean” food. The onetime health nut who became a vegetarian to combat a range of ailments has today evolved into “more of a food advocate,” he says. “Food production is really the issue, where and how it’s produced. The healthiest foods are healthy for the planet, too.”

Okay then. The tuna. Guiliano gets his from small, Pacific Northwest, family-run day-boat operations that catch the fish one at a time, by hook and line. “Most tuna is caught on a hydraulic long line, and those machines are catching older fish, which have mercury,” he explains. The sashimi grade that he serves raw “tastes phenomenal. And it has 20 times less mercury than other tunas.”

marcus and jamie guilianoAroma Thyme’s Marcus and Jamie Guiliano

The Alaskan salmon also comes from hook-and-line fisheries. “I’m very strict about that,” Guiliano says, launching into a lively discourse on how the texture, bright color, and pronounced flavor of wild salmon is due to its vibrant, natural life and a nutritious diet of phytoplankton, which has the most powerful antioxidant properties. His enthusiasm almost makes you want to order a side of phytoplankton yourself.

Guiliano keeps the preparation simple — the salmon is pan-seared to medium rare, then served with a sauce made of gluten-free teriyaki, sake, mandarin-orange oil, ginger, and lemon. Sides might include a blend of four brown rices, and sautéed seasonal vegetables.

But the restaurant isn’t all bean shoots and Birkenstocks. Meat-eaters love the 50-ounce cowboy steak, Guiliano reports. “It’s from a ranch out west, antibiotic- and hormone-free — all that. And the Australian Kobe burgers are flying out of here.” As for desserts, the raw chocolate torte and wild blueberry crisp are favorites. The wine and beer lists include local and organic labels. You’ll even find a New York absinthe.

Guiliano, a 36-year-old Ellenville native who opened this stylish little bistro in 2003, does have a glow about him, as does his wife, Jamie, and their children, vegetarians all. “We eat fish regularly, and we’re hooked on hemp,” he says. “It’s incredible what hemp can do.” Find out more about how hemp isn’t just stuff they make ropes out of at Guiliano’s Web site, www.healthychefdude.com.

 
souffle at the arch

Dessert Soufflés

The Arch
1292 Rte. 22, Brewster
845-279-5011 or www.archrestaurant.com

Over the years, the menu at the Arch morphed from delicious, classic French fare to delicious eclectic dishes with a thought for one’s cholesterol level. Throughout the transition, what have been described as “dessert soufflés to die for” have remained a staple.

When people talk about the Arch, they use words like “Old World,” “classy,” and “pampering.” The 1918 stone house has a pretty carpeted dining room with silk curtains, gold walls and a fireplace. Soft lights cast a flattering glow. Most who go like to dress up and linger.

It’s romantic (and a little expensive), but as unstuffy as the amiable chef-owner, George Seitz. Seitz arrived in the Hudson Valley from Düsseldorf in the 1960s, coming via Panama, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Miami, and Long Island. “We have a saying in German: Man thinks and God guides,” says Seitz in the short version of how this journey came about. Seitz worked at the original Arch in North Salem, then bought the place, and took the name with him when he reopened in Brewster in 1977.

Here’s one of his favorite tales: In the early days, a party of three arrived to find their reservation missing and the restaurant packed. “We found a rusty terrace table, and they had to sit on old soap barrels,” Seitz says, bursting into laughter. “But I fed them, and didn’t give them a check. Next morning, Craig Claiborne’s secretary called!” Claiborne, probably the most influential food critic of the time, had been one of the three. “I said, ‘Please tell him it was just a bad dream,’ ” Seitz recalls. “But his secretary said, ‘Mr. Claiborne enjoyed it tremendously. He just wants to know what you’d charge.’ That put us on the map.”

Keeping them on the map ever since has been a menu of sumptuous dishes like beef Wellington, roast loin of Japanese Kurobuto pork (“wonderful flavor,” remarks Seitz), grilled antelope, and crispy sweetbreads. “The beef and veal are organic, grass-fed,” says Seitz. And as for desserts, those delicious soufflés come in flavors like chocolate, raspbery, toasted coconut, or Grand Marnier.

 
duck confit

Duck Confit

Zephs’
638 Central Ave., Peekskill
914-736-2159 or www.zephsrestaurant.com

“Global Soul Food” declares the tagline on Vicky Zeph’s highly eclectic menu, where, on a single day, you might find Vietnamese shrimp fritters, sauerkraut pierogi, Moroccan lamb, and Creole oyster cassoulette. “I stole it from a restaurant with a sign saying ‘Italian Soul Food,’ because I thought it makes you want to eat there,” says Zeph, in her wry, understated way. “Our theme is to take classics from different countries and do them really well. Or that’s our goal… It’s better than home cooking, all fresh. I try not to make it typical restaurant food.”

Zeph says the duck confit is the only dish that has consistently appeared on the ever-changing menu: “I think we’d go out of business if we took it off.” She gives the legs and thighs of Crescent Long Island duck a dry marinade, and then simmers them in duck fat until the meat’s tender. Crisped up, they’re served along with homemade fruit chutney, a potato cake, and maybe shredded Brussels sprouts and celery root. (“That’s a good way to get people to eat their Brussels sprouts,” she notes. “As long as they don’t see those little balls on their plate, they’re happy.”)

Zeph graduated from college “with a degree in mathematics and no plan. It was the 1970s,” she says, by way of explanation. “I really wanted to cook, and when I found out there was a school for it, I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll go to school again.’ ” Off she went to the CIA, and then spent two years cooking in France. She and her brother, Michael, who serves as the congenial host, opened Zephs’ 20 years ago, as Peekskill was in the nascent stages of its revival. The restaurant, housed in an old mill building, is relaxed (“funkier rather than plush,” says Michael), with mismatched chairs, gold walls, and wood floors. One decadent touch is Zeph’s creative desserts. She’s enthusiastic about a recent concoction — an orange almond cake. “It’s simple, just eggs, oranges, almonds, and a little bit of sugar. You take whole oranges and boil them for two hours, then grind them up and put the other stuff in. I’m serving it with date ice cream. It’s really neat.”

 
rock shrimp tempura

Rock Shrimp Tempura

Wasabi
110 Main St., Nyack
845-358-7977 or www.wasabinyack.com

Doug Nguyen’s favorite food is spaghetti and meatballs, which may come as a surprise to the chic set oohing and aahing over the Japanese fare at his sleek restaurant. But many of the highly original items on his menu cleverly blend Italian and Japanese cuisines — something that makes sense if you know his history.

Nguyen (pronounced “wing”) lived with his mother in Vietnam until he was 12, when she put him on a boat to escape the Communists. After a year in a refugee camp in Thailand, Nguyen was brought to the U.S. by a Rockland County family. His new mom was a good Italian cook, and his new dad a butcher. “My dad would come home with a big piece of meat, and my mom would throw it in some sauce,” he recalls. “I loved it. She still cooks for me now and then.”

doug nguyen

As a young man, Nguyen worked in Japanese restaurants. When he opened his own place in 2003, “I took the things that I liked and put them together,” he says cheerfully. “And somehow it came out good!”

Good is an understatement — foodies have dubbed the place “Nobu north” and Zagat rates it just one point below that Manhattan legend. The sushi and sashimi are pristine and presented with artistry, as are all the dishes. “But it’s the specials from the kitchen that drive people crazy,” says manager Adam Benjamin, noting that Japanese dishes don’t typically involve fruit, or cream and dairy products, as they often do here.

Truffle Gyoza, for example, mixes steamed pork dumplings with a creamy mushroom and black truffle butter. The rock shrimp tempura is served with a spicy yuzu aioli (yuzu is an Asian citrus fruit). Tuna pizza (sushi tuna atop a fried flour tortilla) might be the wittiest of Nguyen’s Italian-Japanese combos. And green tea mascarpone cheesecake is a dessert hit.

Nguyen visits his “back-home mom” in Saigon and she has been here. “I couldn’t ask for better moms,” he says. “One gave me life, and one taught me quality of life.”

 
osso buco

Osso Buco

Il Tesoro Ristorante
6 N. Church St., Goshen
845-294-8373 or www.iltesoro.us

“A lot of what we do is peasant cooking,” says Sam Allen, the manager at this tiny Northern Italian spot. “But we don’t like to box ourselves in. We take classic Italian dishes and get creative from there.” It’s the “creative” touches — and a deft hand in the kitchen — that lift the cooking here above the norm. Regulars are accustomed to finding fare like tagliolini with shaved black truffles, pappardelle white bolognese (made with ground veal, white wine, herbs, and cream), or rabbit ragu. There may be a dozen daily specials. Vegetables change regularly, too, with preparations making the most of freshness. “We keep it simple on purpose,” Allen says.

Those in need of one of life’s most comforting comfort foods opt for the signature osso buco, a veal shank braised with celery, carrots, onions, red wine, tomatoes, garlic, rosemary, and thyme. Slow cooking melts the marrow out of the bone, adding rich depth of flavor. (Osso buco loosely translates to “hollow bone.”) The fork-tender meat is served over yellow loose polenta and topped with a traditional dollop of gremolata (minced parsley, lemon zest, garlic, pinoli, and olive oil).

Yoshiko Rizzo, the owner, is “the boss, the think-tank of the place, and the baker,” says Allen, who is her son and a waiter as well as the manager. Rizzo, who learned a lot about fine Italian food during the decade that she worked at Il Cenácolo, is locally famous for her desserts. “People are wowed,” reports Allen. “I think their favorite thing is that the list is so extensive. There are 20-something desserts, with different sauces, and everything’s homemade from scratch.”

Il Tesoro, with just 12 tables, is a relaxed, neighborhoody place. “It’s friendly,” Allen says. “We’re not trying to be sophisticated. But we’re pros. We know about wine, we know food, we can turn it on.”

 
venison with juniper crust

Venison with Juniper Crust

Xaviars at Piermont
506 Piermont Ave., Piermont
845-359-7007 or www.xaviars.com

“People want a little luxury in their lives,” declares Peter Kelly, who set out to provide some at his tiny, near-perfect restaurant in Piermont. Describing the appointments is an exercise in name-dropping: The show plate is Versace; the candelabra is Waterford; the salt and peppers are from Cartier. “And there’s a Baccarat figurine on each table — the touches you don’t run into in everyday dining,” says Kelly.

His New American menu reflects the same idea, offering fare that makes you think of butlers and fine country homes: squab, quail, partridge, pheasant, venison. Kelly adds contemporary flourishes to classic preparations, but don’t expect a lot of voguish, experimental cooking. “People go out to have a good time; they don’t want to genuflect at the altar of gastronomy,” he says. No genuflecting perhaps, but critics and customers have been singing his praises since he opened in 1987 — and Xaviars has been the top-rated restaurant in the Valley for years.

Kelly’s red-tail venison (farm-raised, so it’s mild) is cut into noisettes or medallions, then coated with a thin crust of toasted, pulverized juniper and dried ginger, which gives a “hint of the exotic on the outside,” he says. It’s pan-seared, then roasted, and served with a classic sauce Grand Veneur, sweet potato mousseline, roasted chestnuts, and späetzle.

Or perhaps you’d rather have Colorado rack of lamb with garlic flan, haricots verts and Parisienne potato. Or Berkshire pork medallions and braised fresh bacon, served with Swiss chard. For dessert, there may be a warm honey and fig tart with crème frâiche ice cream. Or maybe you’d prefer a hot praline soufflé?

“I tried to emulate the fine dining venues in the countryside in Europe,” says Kelly, who grew up in Yonkers, the tenth of 12 children, and was evidently born with good taste if not much money.

For all its fineness, though, there’s nothing stuck up about Xaviars — the mood is welcoming and the staff gracious. As Kelly intended, it’s a haven from a harsh world. It’s a little pricey (the 10-course Extraordinaire tasting menu is $90; the five-course Menu of the Moment with wines is $100 — or you can wing it and go à la carte), “but I think it’s good value,” Kelly says. “It’s more than just having dinner. You don’t eat here and go to a movie. This is the evening.”

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