Since Silvia opened its doors in Woodstock two years ago, the farm-to-table restaurant has served a menu of simple, rustic fare with ingredients harvested from neighboring Hudson Valley farms and dairies.
“We don’t really do a lot of bells and whistles,” said Chef Doris Choi. “We let the ingredients shine through. We can do that because we feature seasonal vegetables, seasonal items. It’s just really basic back-to-earth cooking.”
Choi owns the restaurant with husband Niall Grant, her sister Betty Choi and brother-in-law Craig Leonard, all of them NYC-expats who shared a vision of a veggie-forward menu that relied on local organic bounty. Before the restaurant opened, the owners visited area farms to see which they would work with, but once word got out, suppliers called on them.
‘People come to us now because they know that we are genuinely farm-to-table,” said Choi. “We really like to support people, especially small farms. It’s a symbiotic relationship.”
The restaurant’s success promotes a micro economy of healthy food production, local farms, and purveyors in locations such as Callicoon, Copake, Schoharie, Milton, Ghent, Granville, Poughkeepsie, Rhinebeck, Woodstock, Warwick, and Kingston. Milk hails from Ronnybrook Dairy in Ancramdale, bread is made with local, organic grains. Beef comes from farms where cows are grass fed and finished and the chicken is pasture raised. Then Choi imbues these regional ingredients with seasonings from around the globe—zaatar, fermented miso garlic paste, togarashi—to emphasize their natural appeal.
Although Choi, formerly a private chef, caterer, and food consultant, was previously active in the raw, vegan movement, Silvia’s menu offers options for various dietary restrictions and preferences——from paleo to gluten-free to pescatarian.
“It’s something that we had in mind when we opened,” said Choi. “We wanted to make sure there was a whole section on salads and a whole section on vegetables, because when I go to eat in a restaurant like this, the menu is often too protein-heavy. I wanted to create a menu that anyone, regardless of dietary restrictions, could come and enjoy.”
For meat lovers the menu’s options, include a succulent wood-smoked and brined chicken with roasted baby carrot, thyme and roasted lemon pan sauce, as well as a superlative wood-fired pork chop with savoy cabbage, peaches, mashed root vegetables, and apple cider au jus. But the menu also includes vegetable dishes such as seared green beans in chili-garlic sauce with shallots, plus grilled yellow squash with olive tapenade, almond and parsley.
One of the appetizers is a mushroom and lentil paté with walnut, pickled vegetables, horseradish mustard, flanked by charred toast, while another is grilled halloumi, with watermelon, radish, mint, cilantro, jalapeno and lime vinaigrette.
In homage to the Choi’s sisters’ Korean heritage, there’s also a brightly flavored bibimbap (mixed rice dish) with mushrooms, greens, zucchini, cabbage slaw, kimchi, brown rice, fried egg and gochujang, plus a Korean BBQ beef appetizer that rolls beef in lettuce wraps with cabbage salad, kimchi, and fermented miso garlic paste. The kimchi, miso garlic paste and gochujang are made in house.
An evolving seasonal menu makes it difficult for Choi to name her favorite dish, but, if pressed, she would pick the mushroom lentil paté.
“A vegan paté to me bridges the gap between how people eat,” she said. “It’s vegan, but people eat it even if they are not vegan. It’s a lovely introduction to how you can make foods delicious, that are normally not perceived as delicious without bacon or butter. It’s a staple in my menu that I don’t think I’m ever going to take off.”
The wine, cider and beer list also draws from local sources, such as ale from Arrowood Farms in Accord, cider from Westwind Orchards, also in Accord, and pilsner from Peekskill Brewery.
“With the wines, we try to do the same thing as we do in the kitchen,” said co-owner Niall Grant, who also brings decades of experience working in the food industry. “We try to find purveyors who are local. Between the three of us, we sit down and taste wines from boutique distributors, who might only have a few cases of a certain wine, so the wine list is always changing. We buy small batches.”
Silvia’s inventive cocktails are charged with the flavors of fresh produce. Summer crops inspire a Watermelon Lemon Verbena Margarita or a drink known as the Lavender Mezcal Penicillin, which not only tastes of lavender but also lemon and ginger. The Szechuan Peppercorn and Star Anise Moscow Mule has a tasty kick further flavored by lemongrass and lime.
Meals are prepared in an open kitchen, so diners who sit inside, rather than on the leafy, shaded deck, can see food prepared on the woodfire grill, participating in the process
“We are a restaurant that is completely open and transparent in what we do,” said Choi. “Our practices, how we source our food, how we serve it. That’s something that’s really important to all of us.”
The area’s culinary resources initially helped bring these city expats north.
“It’s a great place to live a healthier lifestyle for all of us,” said Leonard, who moved his family to Woodstock a decade ago. “The pace is a little slower, but there’s plenty to do here and you’re right in the middle of all these farms with access to high quality produce.”
After enjoying food-centered upstate family visits for years, Grant and Choi also moved to the Hudson Valley.
“The wonderful products you get here are great for opening a restaurant,” said Grant. “It’s easy to do this here and it wouldn’t be so easy in the city. A restaurant in the city may say they are farm-to table but they don’t know farmers. We know farmers and it’s great to be able to showcase what they have.”