Ulster County Restaurant Review: Bistro at Vineyard Commons, Highland, NY

The café quotient gets a boost from a newcomer in Highland

The word “bistro” suggests a cozy neighborhood cafe serving affordable, country-style fare — maybe French, or perhaps the mix we call New American. As far as the cooking goes, the Bistro at Vineyard Commons meets that expectation. Chef Mark Poirier, who last cheffed alongside Barbara Bogart at the Locust Tree in New Paltz, has designed a short, nicely priced menu of classics ranging from escargots en croute to pot roast and pork chops. It’s also a neighborhood place in a way, although in this case the “neighborhood” is the new apartment complex on 26 acres in Highland, described by its management as “a luxury rental community” aimed at adults who are “New York A-listers looking for a rural escape.”

bistro and vineyard commons dining roomThe bistro’s simple but elegant dining room

“Adult,” when it doesn’t mean something sexually charged, is code for “over 55,” of course, and the night we were there our fellow diners were mostly in their autumn years. (Whether or not they were A-listers was harder to determine.) When we called for a reservation, the hostess explained regretfully that the place was fully booked between 5:30 and 7:00, so it’s popular with the early bird contingent — who, it turned out, had scarfed up all the Saturday prime-rib specials before we late birds arrived.

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You wind your way through the pristine development to get to the bistro situated near the woods in back. The dining room is pleasant, with big windows, French doors, and prints of grapes and other vineyard-y images hanging on butter yellow walls. The kitchen is enclosed in what looks like half a giant wine barrel. The mahogany armchairs are comfortable, and the lights soft. But it’s a very big room, and you could drive a golf cart between the tables if they’d let you, so the intimate bistro feel is absent. It was teeming with rain the night we went, but the setting must be breezy and welcoming in daylight, and there’s a patio for when it’s warm.

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» Visit the Bistro at Vineyard Commons in Highland, NY
» Visit the Bistro at Vineyard Commons Web site at www.vineyard-commons.com/thebistro
» Go to our Hudson Valley Dining Guide

 

chocolate dessertA favorite dessert, the chocolate profiteroles combine chocolate ice cream with a dark chocolate ganache

Wines are inexpensive (the priciest bottle is only $34) and are offered by the glass, along with daily drink specials. Service is casual and obliging. Our waitress searched out a bit of cardboard to fix our wobbly table, and happily replaced a glass of wine that we didn’t like. As for the bistro eats, Poirier turns out classics, but often adds a little fillip to lift them up. For example, tender, fried calamari came with the usual lemon aioli and a spicy marinara dip but got some zing from flecks of pepperoncini, Parmesan and herbs; while pickled red onion and flash-fried capers did the same for the Scottish smoked salmon (which was served with a tasty, light, potato pancake). Zesty gremolata tempered the rich gaminess of my Syrah-braised lamb shank, and I loved the earthy, wild-mushroom polenta and root vegetables brightened up with diced beets. A bistro-style steak got its perk from Worcestershire-laced butter, melted on top. The potato gratin side was creamy and satisfying, too — this chef has a way with spuds, although, oddly for a bistro, there are no fries on the dinner menu. To finish up, we indulged in traditional bananas Foster, a soothing treat on that chilly, soggy spring night.

portabello mushroom burger

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The marinated portabello mushroom burger is served with goat cheese, pickled red onions, and baby spinach

Poirier says that as locals discover the eatery, a younger crowd is drifting in, especially for the simpler lunch menu and for Sunday’s brunch, when you’ll find standards like eggs Benedict and French toast along with fancier dishes like crawfish cornbread, and an Asian spinach and Soba noodle salad.

Considering its spacious setting and tony environs, this eatery should perhaps have been called a brasserie. But you get the sense that after a couple of visits you’d be treated like a regular, and that familiarity can create a casual bistro mood in any room.

» Visit the Bistro at Vineyard Commons in Highland, NY
» Visit the Bistro at Vineyard Commons Web site at www.vineyard-commons.com/thebistro
» Go to our Hudson Valley Dining Guide

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