I’m indebted to Chef Gianni Scappin for adding pizzoccheri to the roster of cool-weather dishes at our house. It’s his favorite, and when I interviewed him a couple of years ago, he told me roughly how to make it: Boil cabbage and potatoes with buckwheat tagliatelle, then toss with fresh sage leaves frizzled in lashings of butter, and Fontina and Parmesan cheeses.
Although it’s truly tasty, you’re not likely to see pizzoccheri on any of Scappin’s menus because, as he pointed out, most people are turned off by the words “cabbage” and “buckwheat.” It’s not lovely to behold, either, at least the way I make it. I’m sure Scappin’s version looks more appetizing, and I’ve no doubt that, if he chose to, he could transform the old-fashioned recipe into something more like the contemporary Italian fare he’s known for in the Valley — first when he worked at Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck, and then at Cucina, the popular restaurant he opened in Woodstock several years ago.
Which brings us to Market Street, Scappin’s newest venture in Rhinebeck. The Italian-American menu runs along the same lines as Cucina’s — small plates and appetizers (including a delectable organic Tuscan kale salad), pizzas (here with a leavened crust and cooked in a wood-fired oven; the Caprina, with goat cheese and fig-rosemary spread, is a winner), pasta and risotto, entrées, and a selection of cheeses and salumi. Everything we tried confirmed that Scappin’s signature style — marrying a few high-quality, seasonal ingredients in deceptively simple dishes — is in evidence. There are plenty of choices for vegetarians as well. At brunch, served on weekends, you’ll find sandwiches and panini, along with what the menu describes as “eggs and not so Italian” offerings.
Left: Chef Gianni Scappin with his Margherita pizza; at right, pan-roasted halibut is served with local morels, asparagus, ramps, and potatoes
Market Street is set in the rehabbed space where Mill House Panda used to be. It’s now done up in shades of gray, with banquettes upholstered in Belgian linen, wood pedestal tables, and filament light bulbs casting a flatteringly dim glow. There’s a busy little bar dispensing the ubiquitous specialty cocktails (you can eat there, if you like); a second one faces the pizza oven in the back. Pickled driftwood floors, marble countertops, dishtowel napkins, and a few vintage tins and doodads add to the low-key, nouvo-rustico atmosphere. It’s not as deliberately hip as Cucina, but we found the comfy-chic, buzzy (but not raucous) atmosphere very welcoming. Service, too, was efficiently breezy. Speaking of breezes, in warm weather, you can dine on the small front porch and watch the passing parade.
Prices are fair; you can nibble and graze, or spring for a multicourse meal depending on your appetite, mood, or budget. The wine list features mostly Italian vintages, many of which fall in the $35-$40 range, with a few bottles that sell for as little as $25. Wines by the glass — including wines on tap — run from $10-$12. Those watching the pennies will appreciate the three-course, $32 prix-fixe menu that’s offered Sunday through Thursday.
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Roasted in a wood-fired oven, Spanish octopus comes surrounded by potatoes, peppers, and onions
I started with oven-roasted shrimp — a special that day. The dish consisted of three big, plump shrimp that were so juicy and tasty, I was tempted to eat the tails. They came perched on a little mound of baby asparagus spears along with sautéed cherry tomatoes. A bed of velvety baba ghanoush with lemony highlights was an unexpected and clever match.
My spouse continued in his quest for the holy grail of that Italian staple, fried calamari, which here were accompanied by herbed aïoli. An ample portion of golden rings and tentacles left him silent for several minutes before he raised his head to murmur words of praise. The aïoli wasn’t especially distinctive but it didn’t matter, given the tender squid and ethereally crispy batter crust. Holy grail? Could be.
His penne puttanesca was also a simple dish taken to a higher level. The red sauce was so deep and rich it had almost a roasted- or sun-dried tomato undertone, although apparently neither of those ingredients was in it. The savories — capers and olives — were well-balanced, and the penne was cooked just as it ought to be.
Coconut shavings, crème fraîche, and sea salt dress up the butterscotch budino
My delicate, moist, perfectly prepared swordfish (also a special) was the freshest I’ve had this far inland for a long time. It was served along with tiny asparagus spears, thin-sliced mushrooms, and medallions of baby Yukon Gold potatoes, all delicious, and then cast into the realm of wonderful by a garlicky ramp coulis. It was like the essence of spring.
Years ago, I worked with an editor who loathed what he considered the chi-chi-ness creeping up the Valley from the big city, and was charting its course by the increase in restaurants offering tiramisu — a phenomenon he called “the tiramisu belt.” Rhinebeck has been well inside the belt for a while, and tiramisu itself is almost a cliché; so even though I could hear my old colleague’s disparaging voice in my head, I ordered the tiramisu. It was creamy and delightful. If restaurants of Scappin’s caliber are part of the chi-chi-fication of the region, I’m glad we’re in the tiramisu belt.
Dinner daily; lunch Fri., brunch Sat.-Sun. Small plates and appetizers $8-$14; pizzas $15-$17; mains $26-$33
19 W. Market St., Rhinebeck. 845-876-7200; www.marketstrhinebeck.com