Newburgh’s Taste of Tuscany II: Il Cenàcolo

Our foodie’s Restaurant Week coup

We have a lot of good restaurants in the Hudson Valley, but only a handful rate an impressive 27 or 28 in Zagat year after year — and here I should mention that I’m the editor for the Hudson Valley edition of that illustrious guide, so I’ve been paying attention. And yes, since you ask, I do believe the scores count; I trust my fellow diners, whose votes create those scores. (And no, I don’t get to eat out for free. I wish.)

I’ve sampled most of the top spots: splurged and swooned over the food at Peter Kelly’s restaurants, saved up to indulge at the eateries at the Culinary Institute, and reviewed a few ritzy, pricey places. But I’ve missed a couple of high raters: Serevan, which is a long drive from home, and Il Cenàcolo, which isn’t that far. We’ve often gone to Cena 2000, the less expensive spinoff on the Newburgh waterfront, which is lovely when you can sit outdoors and gaze at the river — and the food’s pretty good, too. But Il Cenàcolo rates 28, and ranks as the best Italian restaurant in the region. Those who respond to the Zagat survey are always wittering on about how it’s like a trip to Tuscany.

So with no trip to Tuscany in the offing and Restaurant Week winding down, mio sposo and I decided on the spur of the moment to see if we could get a reservation at Il Cenàcolo for its fabulous, three-course, $20 prix-fixe lunch deal. Yes! We could! So we hopped in the car, and set off for Newburgh. By the time we arrived, it was well after 2 p.m., but the room was full of contented diners, murmuring over their bargain lunches.

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Outside, the place looks ordinary, but once through the door it’s delightful — softly lit, and rustically pretty, with rough-plastered walls the color that paint companies call Tuscan yellow. Pots and pans hang from the rafters. The aromatic antipasti station, set up like a welcome by the door, adds to the tempting aromas drifting through the room.

Here’s what we ate: caramelized zucchini with chewy Tuscan bread; savory, fresh sardines; silky smoked trout atop radicchio; pot roast, Italian style, served with velvety mashed potatoes; moist red snapper lightly cloaked in tomato sauce made tangy with olives and big, fat capers. Even the sides — broccoli and cauliflower florets — were dressed up with drizzles of truffle oil. And the bread pudding… Sali Hadzibrimi, the owner, makes it with fluffy Tuscan bread, cream, and raisins soaked in Marsala. Everything was sublimely simple and delicious.

Naturally, we had a couple glasses of Prosecco and a particularly nice Chianti, so we managed to jack up the tab, but it was a steal anyway. The regular menu is long, although the place is famous for its 40 daily specials — and the staff who can recite them. It’s not cheap, either. But don’t wait until next year’s Restaurant Week if you’ve never been.

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