Poughkeepsie’s newest bistro, Crave, is located under one end of the Walkway Over the Hudson, so it sounds like it would be easy to find, right? We trusted MapQuest for directions from across the river, which seemed to suggest turning the wrong way onto a one-way street, and wound up going in circles for half an hour before we discovered the place is actually not that out of the way. Anyway (I’ll reveal right now), it’s definitely worth the effort to find.
First, it’s so stylish, you feel pretty stylish yourself just walking in. Interior designer Darren Andress obliterated all signs of the grungy college bar that once occupied the small storefront space. One wall is brick, mounted with dozens of tealights; the others are painted a deep chocolate with white paneled wainscot. Andress himself applied a snazzy faux-copper finish to the coffered ceiling. (His Wappingers Falls company, FW Interior Design, is known for beautiful faux finishes.) Dark brown napkins match the walls, and — on the night we went — the flowers matched, too — each table had a deep purplish-brown calla lily set in a small heavy green stone vase. All very chic. Tables are well spaced, there’s a snug little bar in the back, and the lights are soft, so this would be a sweet spot for a date.
What we yearn for: Crave interior (above left); at right, Executive Chef Catherine Williams, owner Eddie Kowalski (center), and Executive Sous Chef Craig Capano at Crave
Chef Edward Kowalski opened the restaurant last December. Since 2005, he and his wife, Laurie (who works behind the scenes), have run Lola’s Cafe, a sandwich spot next door that also serves as a base for their catering business. Given Lola’s success, Kowalski says, it made sense to start this new venture when the space became available, even though, as he puts it, “it’s pushing the envelope for Poughkeepsie.” Maybe so, but if our dinner is anything to go by, it’s a risk that should pay off.
Kowalski says he brainstorms with Executive Chef Catherine Williams and Sous-Chef Craig Capano to come up with a changing New American menu built around seasonal produce. That’s the norm these days, but this talented young trio comes up with unusual combinations that sound so tempting, we couldn’t decide which to choose. Here are some examples from the late summer menu: Cajun spiced shrimp and cheddar grits with a smoked tomato vinaigrette; pan-seared chicken suprême over warm black beans, roasted corn, hominy, ancho chili and cilantro broth; roasted duck with polenta medallion, Swiss chard, and foie gras in a blackberry demi-glaze. I wanted everything.
Finally, we asked our personable waiter which dishes were most popular, and went for those. Oddly, an amuse bouche — a spoonful of tiny chunks of melon topped with crisped proscuitto — was ho-hum compared with the delicious food that followed (better that, though, than the other way around).
Crave’s Thai crab salad combines jumbo Maryland crab with Thai chilies and Kewpie mayo and is served over avocado soup
A tangy Thai crab salad, tossed with chilies and Kewpie Japanese mayo, came with a refreshing avocado gazpacho. It was composed in such a way that each light bite was slightly different, with the taste of crab surfacing at the end — a real success. I loved the duck confit and oyster mushroom risotto — a rich, creamy dish finished with truffle butter and topped with crispy, frizzled leeks. It was a medley of intense flavors, but each held its own. Even though it was a generous serving, I couldn’t resist finishing it.
Scottish salmon, pan-seared on one side to give it a slight crust then quickly flipped, sat in a light cream sauce made delicately zesty and smoky by tiny bits of rendered andouille sausage. A ragoût of fava beans, roasted sweet corn, and medallions of fingerling potatoes made a tasty side. The rack of lamb was also a knockout: the four double chops, perfectly medium rare, couldn’t have been more flavorful or tender. They were arranged over fresh grilled asparagus and paired with a warm, sweet potato salad and an herb chimichurri. Each dish was remarkably well balanced, and nicely presented without being too fussy.
The well-chosen, affordable wine list included several good choices by the glass. Because of its name, we couldn’t resist a velvety, aromatic California Zinfandel from Steele called Writer’s Block, although I went for a dry sparkling white to drink with my salmon.
We finished up this rich meal with a rich dessert: a delectable flourless chocolate torte that’s been a Kowalski staple since he graduated from the CIA in 1998. It’s a lulu. A couple of cappuccinos and we were ready to drift out into the night. Considering the quality of the ingredients and the sophisticated preparation, prices are more than fair. At a time when we’re all concerned with value for money, you find it at Crave.
Dinner Tues.-Sun., with tapas-style plates served until 1 a.m. Thurs.-Sat. Appetizers range from $10-$17; entrées $24-$29, desserts $6-$7.
129 Washington St., Poughkeepsie. 845-452-3501