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Marché at 74 State, Albany

Lots of chefs try to use local ingredients these days. But Brian Molino is really committed to the idea. Recently, he went searching for wild ramps along a shady streambed in Altamont and ended up picking 20 pounds of them. Half were immediately used for ramp and mushroom tortellini. The rest were pickled and preserved and put aside for the winter months, so they can accompany filet mignon and balance the richness of braised short ribs.

Many fine hotel restaurants go the safer route. But there’s far more risk-taking at Marché, located within the boutique hotel 74 State. In fact, the place has come to be largely defined by Molino’s meandering creativity.

 Executive Chef Brian Molino (below) was hailed as “practically perfect in every way” by the Albany Times Union.

It starts with the appetizers, including the exquisite goat cheese and butternut squash agnolotti — handmade pillow-shaped ravioli, served with roasted root vegetables. Another attention-getter: spinach salad, whose pickled red onions, guanciale (a cured pork spiced with coriander), and premium aged balsamic vinegar balance richness with acidity. The two roasted quail entrée with Saratoga apple sage stuffing, and citrus-cured hamachi with watermelon carpaccio, are both popular dishes that also take advantage of the local bounty.

Raspberry tiramisu is just one of the desserts captivating Capital Region diners at Marché

 

Unlike many fine establishments, not all the ingredients are included in the menu descriptions. That’s on purpose. “I like to let people know what they’re getting, while leaving a little bit to the imagination,” says Molino. “We want it to wow them every time it comes out of the kitchen.”

There are a variety of different people to wow at Marché: politicians and local businesspeople (IBM is right next door) clamor into the 75-seat eatery for lunch; while hotel guests, couples, families, and folks in town for a show enjoy the hotel’s old-fashioned elegance at dinner. In fact, the formal mahogany bar on the second floor, complete with a piano and panoramic views of bustling State Street, has been credited with helping to bring nightlife back to downtown Albany.

The restaurant has also made quite a name for itself in the dessert department. While the management scrambles to replace pastry chef Annie Callan (who’s moving to California), they’ll be holding onto some of her best-loved recipes, such as the legendary S’mores — made with her own blended marshmallows and graham cracker recipe — and plum-ginger fruit crisp.

Marché at 74 State. 74 State St., Albany. 518-434-7410. www.74state.com/marche.php

 

 

Perfect pasta: Cucina’s rigatoni with sausage, peas, tomato, and a touch of cream

Photographs by Teresa Horgan

Cucina, Woodstock

Cucina is a rarity for a fine dining establishment in the Hudson Valley. For starters, with 110 seats, it’s very large. Secondly, it serves pizza. In fact, the thin-crust, individual-sized pies (the most popular is the caprini: pears, figs, truffle oil, and goat cheese) make up 35 percent of the business. “If you want to spend $15 for a glass of wine and pizza, you’re as welcome as the guy who wants to spend $100. We have room to serve all kinds of people, and to host all types of occasions,” says executive chef and co-owner Gianni Scappin.

Scappin knows a thing or two about running a successful restaurant. Raised near Venice, he ran kitchens in culinary hot spots in Italy and Manhattan before heading to the Valley. And foodies have been waiting to see where he would land after leaving Rhinebeck’s Gigi Trattoria three years ago. Now, he and co-owner Lois Freedman have come together to run this “simple Italian restaurant,” which opened last May. After a long delay, the restaurant finally received a liquor license.

While the current style among world-renowned chefs is to create ever-higher towers of food in ever-more startling combinations, using emulsifiers, gelling agents, and foam sauces, Scappin doesn’t follow the pack.

“Instead of going forward with food, I decided to go back,” says Scappin. “For me the foam, bubbles, and applied color doesn’t make a lot of sense. My opinion is straightforward. When it’s duck, braised or roasted, everything should be based on the duck, and not on all the fanciness, the height, the layers of stuff. It seems a lot of people think the way I do. They’ve had enough of too much going on, or too many things on the plate. All of a sudden it’s not about the duck but about the mango, the sweetness, the sour, the spices, but the duck got lost along the way. I try to focus on the main item on the plate.”

Executive Chef Gianni Scappin (below) brings years of culinary experience to this new venture. (Bottom:) The oversized communal table is the centerpiece of the dining room

Even with the emphasis on fresh, local produce, it takes confidence to put together a menu that doesn’t rely on heavy sauces. But there are exceptions. “A touch of cream” works just right with a rigatoni, sausage, peas, and tomato dish. “I’m not a big cream fan, but I compromised. People sometimes crave the creaminess of the pasta. Most of the time I purée vegetables and olive oil together. It’s one of the favorite pastas on the menu.”

For Scappin, who also teaches at the Culinary Institute of America, it’s about adding carefully chosen ingredients to traditional trattoria dishes. Fresh sage and rosemary spice up a warm shrimp and white bean appetizer. In an especially inspired dish, fresh peach is added to a mozzarella, Parma prosciutto, and mint salad.

Scappin’s aesthetic extends to the old farmhouse Cucina occupies. There are two large dining areas indoors, with outdoor dining on the porch when appropriate. Scappin and Freedman expanded the place, using wood recycled from area barns (think “trattoria,” not “formal Italian, red-cushions-everywhere” décor). The indoor centerpiece is the long communal table with 24 seats. “All our larger parties go there, but no, nobody has requested to sit there yet with a smaller party,” says Freedman. “I hope they do. It’s a great way to enjoy a meal, and this table certainly gives the place a good energy.”

Cucina. 109 Mill Hill Rd., Woodstock. 845-679-9800, www.cucinawoodstock.com

 

 

Dynamic duo: Steinberg and Combs bring a youthful energy to their new eatery

Photographs by Teresa Horgan

36 Main Restaurant & Wine Bar, New Paltz

I am a bit of a crazy wacko,” says chef Adam Steinberg. “And who I am comes out in my food.” Luckily, wacko works well — really well — at this interesting new eatery, which opened last April in the Main Street space that was formerly Biggy’s BBQ Bistro.

One look at the menu reveals exactly what Steinberg is talking about. What, for instance, is the Open Faced Pillow entrée? Turns out it’s a vegetarian dish made up of four separate components: tofu impastata, melted edamame, sweet miso candied peanuts, and warm charred-corn gazpacho. Even the most straightforward offering — say, organic breast of chicken stuffed with oven-dried tomatoes and house-made mozzarella — includes smoked mashed potatoes. “Everyone loves them, they taste a bit liked smoked Gouda,” says Steinberg. The filet mignon comes not with a standard baked potato, but with lobster home fries. “People can never figure out what they are,” he says. “Basically, they’re home fries that are sautéed in a lobster-infused oil. The potato tastes like lobster.

Counter-clockwise, from right:
Lemon curd with fresh
seasonal berries was a
popular dessert last summer;
stuffed chicken breast with
smoked mashed potatoes and asparagus picks up some
pink from a beet reduction;
“We want this to be a place
where people our age can
come with their friends,”
says Steinberg about the
restaurant’s cozy lounge area

“This is a gamble, and I want to see if it works,” admits Steinberg, a self-taught chef who’s been cooking since age six, and managing restaurants since he was 20 (he’s now 28). He came to the Hudson Valley to attend the Culinary Institute of America, but dropped out after three months. He stayed in the region, however, and most recently was the sous chef at Beacon’s highly acclaimed (though now defunct) OII.

Steinberg’s more-more-more approach is certainly within the comfort zone of owner-manager Kathy Combs, previously the manager at the nearby student hangout P&G’s Restaurant. “When he came in for an interview, he didn’t just start talking about food and the cut and seasonings and sauces and the ABCs of how a dish is prepared,” says Combs. “He went so far as to describe how it feels when you take a bite. The pull on the fresh mozzarella. The texture, how something in the mouth should feel, and the layers of flavor. The next thing I knew, four hours had gone by. We did an Iron Chef thing. I had a pile of food, and in two-and-a-half hours, he gave us a five-course meal.”

The energetic pair brings a fun and friendly vibe to this casually decorated eatery, which also has a lounge area with leather couches. “New Paltz is a big college town, but then there are also really expensive restaurants,” says Steinberg. “We want a place where people our age can go and have a glass of wine or bring their book clubs. So far, people are ecstatic.”

36 Main Restaurant & Wine Bar. 36 Main St., New Paltz. 845-255-3636

 

 

Grilled Alaskan halibut with peach jalapeño salsa is popular among Global Palate’s regular customers

Photographs by Teresa Horgan

Global Palate, West Park

It would be easy enough to drive right past the Global Palate without even noticing it. The 60-seat eatery, which opened in February 2007, is housed in a nondescript building on a rural stretch of Rte. 9W in Ulster County. “We need to do a lot more advertising than if we were located in downtown Kingston, or in the middle of a village,” says chef and co-owner Jessica Winchell. “And we rely a lot on word of mouth.”

Luckily, “the word” is that Global Palate is a not-to-be-missed dining experience.

The special vibes begin as soon as you walk through the door. It’s not that the décor is anything out of this world (although Jessica and her husband/business manager Brad have brightened up the place considerably since it was home to Marcel’s). The cozy three-room restaurant is decorated in an understated manner with tall, dark wainscoting and white linen tablecloths. “We wanted a really casual atmosphere with a little bit of elegance. We get a lot of people celebrating special events, but we also don’t care if people come in wearing sandals and shorts.”

No, it’s the Cheers-meets-Cipriani atmosphere — combined with inventive and incredibly fresh food — that makes this place a winner. Whether you choose sitting at the lively bar munching on a cheese plate or marking a major life milestone, you get the feeling that the attentive staff knows exactly how to help you get the most from a meal, starting with their homespun cocktails. This summer, they offered the Mediterranean Martini: organic roasted tomato vodka shaken with olive juice and a splash of vermouth. “I made it up,” says Jessica. “The skewer of rosemary and cherry tomatoes and olives really did it. People love our new drinks.” (The Sun-kissed Flower — Gray Goose orange vodka with a touch of fresh-squeezed orange juice and elderflower essence — has been called transcendent by more than one local.) Jessica expects that their special five-course Scotch dinners (held twice in the winter) will continue to draw an appreciative crowd.

Chef-owner Jessica Winchell gained a loyal following when she worked at the Emerson at Woodstock. “I wanted to be a chef since I was three years old,” she says

The former executive chef at the Emerson at Woodstock, Jessica notes that the global palate concept means many of the dishes have far-ranging influences — think crispy fried whole dorade with ponzu sauce, purple coconut sticky rice, and Asian slaw. But a good number of the ingredients are grown right in the backyard. “We have a garden at our home in Ulster Park and an herb garden right out back here,” says Jessica. “So I’m out picking every day. All the flowers are grown here, herbs, tomatoes, squash, peas, chilies, garlic. I also have my favorite farmer from RSK Farms.”

The signature pork chops, all-natural Berkshire pork brined in apple cider and glazed with a savory apple butter that is made in-house, is served with the smoothest scalloped potatoes this side of Idaho. The pan-seared sea scallops, tender and succulent beyond belief, come with a tangy lime beurre blanc, sautéed sweet corn, poblano peppers, and roasted spaghetti squash with parsley-butter and garlic. Alaskan halibut is quickly becoming a crowd pleaser, too. The delicate fish is grilled with a red mole sauce, a jalapeño, and caramelized onion tamale. “These recipes just kind of work themselves out,” says Jessica. Brunch also offers its own twists on the classics. “We do a Benedict, but we always change it up. Sometimes we incorporate grilled zucchini, sometimes shrimp cakes. We even brine our own corned beef brisket right here.”

Perhaps the best endorsement is that the eatery is frequented by many locals. “People are really glad that we’re here,” says Jessica. We are, too.

Global Palate. 1746 Rte. 9W, West Park. 845-384-6590; www.globalpalaterestaurant.com

 

 

 Chef/owner Dave Nilsson (left) and Executive Chef Ola Svedman survey the scene outside their eclectic Hudson eatery

Photographs by Teresa Horgan

 DA|BA, Hudson

The Hudson Valley is not exactly overpopulated with Nordic restaurants, so when DA|BA snowshoed into downtown Hudson in 2006, it was a matter of some curiosity. Initially, the locals didn’t know what to make of the place, with its minimalist design, suspicious-sounding food (wild boar with gin and tonic glaze?), and a name that suggests a Swedish rock band.

Over time, though, word got around that whatever was going on in the kitchen — and not all dishes are so outré — it was something special. Daniel Nilsson, the chef and owner, and Ola Svedman, the executive chef, forged a menu that is contemporary and global, winsomely presented, and rife with surprises. Before long DA|BA attracted patrons from up- and downriver.

(Below) A DA/BA server attends to guests as they mull over the menu;
(bottom) The caramel mousse is served with crisp apple chips and a lemon fennel sorbet

 

Nilsson explains that his restaurant is not really Swedish, but rather “a restaurant with two Swedes in the kitchen, and we do everything, including some Swedish specialties.”

One of the best Swedish specialties is duck breast that is encased in a salty meringue before cooking. This yields an amazingly tender filet with a pleasant salty edge. It is garnished with crispy fried duckskin that lives up to any Chinese joint in the area. The lobster bisque has to be one of the best in the Valley — intensely flavored but lighter than most bisques, and garnished with curls of deep-fried carrots.

For those who yearn to sample bona fide Scandinavian cooking, there is a meaty Arctic char that is brined and seasoned with dill. The fillet is slowly poached until it reaches a buttery consistency. It comes with a sweet pear-and-horseradish broth, which may be Swedish, probably not.

You don’t find elk chop on many menus. It is a lamentably overlooked specialty, a cross of beef and venison, and not at all gamey. Lamb chops are embellished with a sauce combining white wine and delicious little dried cherries. On the side are sautéed nectarines with more dried cherries.

Choosing wines for a menu as wide-ranging as this is a challenge. DA|BA’s list is thoughtfully assembled with the food in mind — and prices are reasonable.

Clockwise, from top left: Executive Chef Ova Svedman prepares a beef tenderloin dish with a blueberry vodka sauce, fava beans, and potato purée;
DA/BA’s Peach and Pear dessert features samples of white chocolate cheesecake, soft pound cake, frozen pear parfait, and a pear marshmallow, all of which incorporate peach or pear;
one of the restaurant’s most unusual dishes: a quail egg shares the plate with a water-smoked squab leg, squab mousse, toasted coconut, and chocolate balsamic reduction

Desserts could not be described as strictly Scandinavian, but they pack enough calories to fuel a Norseman for a day of marauding. Chocolate crème brûlée, dense and bittersweet, turns up in a stout cocktail glass and with a sugar glaze of perfect consistency.

Something called “chocolate indulgence” is essentially a white and dark chocolate mousse, while caramel is silken and semisweet, paired with superb vanilla ice cream.

While DA|BA is one of the most ambitious restaurants in the area, owner Nilsson also wants it to be a casual hangout for those who are not in the mood for elk chops and caramel mousse. The flip side of the menu carries pub grub — burgers and fries, soups and the like — with everything under $8. Dried cherries are extra.

DA|BA. 225 Warren St., Hudson. 518-249-4631; www.dabahudson.com

 

 

The everything-bagel crusted salmon makes for a colorful dish

Photographs by Teresa Horgan

Bungalow, Croton Falls

Rather than provide elaborate menu explanations, Bungalow chef-owner John Reynolds describes his dishes in Zen-like fashion. “Tartare tuna and salmon, ponzu-sesame oil, wasabi dressing on wonton crisps,” for example, is a listing bound to spark a diner’s imagination, bewitching the palate even before the food arrives. “Part of the challenge is, how do I captivate what’s interesting in the dish without making it overwhelming,” he says. “I’m looking for what’s harmonious rather than what could clash.”

Bungalow — in Reynolds’ words, a “warm, comfortable, mid- to upper-scale, family-friendly place” in the Westchester hamlet of Croton Falls — celebrates its one-year anniversary this month. Why Croton Falls? “A lot of reasons,” explains the chef. “I’ve lived in nearby North Salem for eight years. When I went to buy my own place, I wanted to cater to a demographic that I’m familiar with.” That demographic would be similar to those found at Willy Nicks in Katonah, the Hudson House in Nyack, and Raoul’s in New York City — all kitchens where Reynolds honed his culinary skills. But he’s quick to point out that he wants Bungalow to be a “neighborhood place — not just where you think to come for an anniversary or birthday.”


Reynolds also includes California-style tapas among his offerings

Mission statement: Bungalow’s Arts & Crafts-inspired dining room

 Both Reynolds and his wife Banu are fans of the Arts & Crafts movement, the early 20th-century aesthetic that championed hand-crafted products with clean, simple lines. Physically, Bungalow reflects this style: the décor in the 50-seat dining room is dominated by natural fabrics and an abundance of wood, much of it in deep, rich tones.

Using local, seasonal ingredients whenever possible is one of Reynolds’ objectives. Rich foods (Brie baked in puff pastry) are paired with elemental ones (seasonal berries and wheat crackers). The Lower East Side meets the Far East in the “everything-bagel crusted salmon,” which mixes everyday spices with panko breadcrumbs, forming a crunchy coating. This fall’s menu includes Long Island duck served three ways (Asian-spiced confit, breast meat rillette, and frisée salad topped with duck skin crackling). Prime-grade sirloin tournedos come bathed in a mushroom and caramelized onion demi-glace, and are plated with bacon and Gorgonzola mashed potatoes. For dessert, the ever-popular figgy pudding — a rich, dense cake made with figs, and topped with caramel and Devon cream — is a house favorite

The 50-seat restaurant was once a private home

The small but expanding wine list includes well-chosen vintages from France and California as well as Australia and Chile, with a strong selection of offerings by the glass. You can bring your own as well, and have it uncorked by the wait staff for a $15 fee.

Overall, the dining public has responded “very well” to his new venture, says Reynolds — who admits he “changes light bulbs and washes dishes” as well as prepares the food. “It’s truly a labor of love.”

Bungalow. 166 Stoneleigh Ave., Croton Falls. 845-669-8533, www.bungalow166.com

 

 

Latin warmth: the restaurant’s inviting interior

Photographs by Teresa Horgan

Union Restaurant & Bar Latino, Haverstraw

People are never quite sure what kind of restaurant we are at first,” says Manager Paulo Feteira. “They think we’re Mexican or Cuban. Some people think we’re Colombian. But we’re not from one country. The best way to describe it is that it’s David Martinez-style cooking. He has his own way of doing everything.”

Chef Martinez and Feteira, who honed their skills working at Peter Kelly’s Freelance Café before launching the 95-seat eatery in September 2007, set out to do something different. “That’s not always so easy in the suburbs,” says Feteira. “People are not always as adventurous.” But by all accounts they’ve succeeded. The ambitious business is leading the charge for change on Haverstraw’s long-struggling Main Street. More importantly, the charming hacienda-style place — with exposed brick, antique yellow walls, and a live tree growing toward a skylight — oozes Caribbean warmth, while Martinez’s food pulsates with exotic flavor.

Grilled Alaskan wild salmon is served with grape tomatoes, broccoli rabe, avocado, and a balsamic glaze (below).
Chef David Martinez (bottom) puts a unique spin on a wide variety of dishes

Take the pinto bean ravioli. “People don’t expect to find ravioli at a Latin restaurant, but it’s different,” says Feteira. Made with white truffle oil, chorizo, and Parmesan cheese, it can be served as either a “small plate” or entrée. “It’s become a huge, huge success,” he says. “Everyone is talking about it.” Then there’s the equally famous ceviche: a tantalizing mix of shrimp, calamari, mussels, and crab meat tossed with an intriguing lime juice dressing — a tasty, sweet-and-sour combination. Although you can opt to have ordinary cocktail sauce with the fried calamari, by all means indulge in the mango chili sauce. Of course, not everything is that offbeat. Vaca Frita Cubana — braised skirt steak served with rice, beans, and plantains — is a menu staple.

Martinez, who worked as a car mechanic before leaving El Salvador 20 years ago, is a self-taught chef who is constantly studying, reading, and experimenting with ingredients. He and wife Maria often spend their one free day each week testing things out in their home kitchen. And Maria is responsible for creating the one traditional El Salvadoran entrée: Pupusa Mextas, a homemade pancake stuffed with cheese, black beans, and bacon. “But even she uses a different cheese than what is traditional,” notes Feteira.

So try a mojito or a glass of wine (all reasonably priced), and take a cue from master chef Kelly. “He came down recently on a Sunday. He gave us a few pointers,” says Feteira. “But later he E-mailed me to tell me how much he liked it.”

Union Restaurant & Bar Latino. 24 New Main St., Haverstraw. 845-429-4354

 

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