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From New York:

Dining in New York's Hudson Valley

A River Runs Through It

by John Mariani

Hudson Highlands surrounding Valley Restaurant at the Garrison

Henry James called the Hudson River "a great romantic stream, such as could throw not a little of its glamour over the city at its mouth," a river that enthralled James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving, and even had its own school of painters, including Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Church, Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, George Inness and John Kensett.

The majesty of the Hudson River Valley, however, has only recently been matched by the opportunity to dine well near its banks. In the last few months, two restaurants of daunting beauty and excellence have made gastronomy as much of a lure to the region as its Palisades and mountains.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns is set on some of the most extraordinary farm land you'll ever see, as if created for a movie set for a Jane Austin or John Galsworthy novel. And well it should be, for this was a Rockefeller estate and that kind of money begets beauty in a farm. For eight years (and with $30 million), the Stone Barns property has been in development as a work-in-progress: part classroom, part laboratory, and part restaurant, all designed to "reflect the spirit of the farm, the terroir, and the market." Overseeing the restaurant are Dan and Laureen Barber, who opened Blue Hill in Greenwich Village four years ago.

The main dining room, once home to cows, retains its old stonework, with new steel girders; its focal point is a beautiful, muted landscape of the region. The Barbers' food, which in Greenwich Village comes from a small kitchen, here takes advantage of the 80-acre farm, vast state-of-the-art greenhouse and huge, modern kitchen. Their cooking stresses few ingredients, impeccably rendered to respect their provenance, and you may hear more than you want about all this from the waitstaff.

Deeply flavorful chicken soup contains rosemary dumplings, sweetbreads and baby zucchini. Baby lamb is braised and roasted with a quinoa crust and healthful-sounding "vitamin greens." The braised bacon and roasted pig is a hearty, delicious entrée, bulked up with cotechino, a purée of kale and a cheese-rich potato gratin. Rhubarb soup is a lovely summer ending, dotted with fromage blanc sorbet and mint "iced" milk. Three courses are $46, four $56, and five $66, with an extensive wine list featuring a few notable Hudson Valley bottlings.

Valley Restaurant at the Garrison

While not so extravagant in its size or structure, Valley Restaurant at the Garrison is gorgeously situated on a golf course, with a "Mind Body Center," at a particularly lovely stretch of the Valley near Bear Mountain Bridge and Storm King Mountain. The white dining room is done in country period furniture, with Windsor chairs, pretty plaid fabrics, flowers and a wall of wine.

Valley, too, has its own garden and chef Jeff Raider, previously at the Sea Grill in Rockefeller Center, takes every advantage of it for dishes like roasted corn soup with crispy lardons, scallions and a drizzle of basil oil, and his heirloom tomato salad with Gorgonzola cheese and basil. Hudson Valley foie gras is quickly seared and served with black Mission figs and a Port reduction, while Atlantic halibut is roasted to sheer succulence and served with the garden's spinach, piquillo peppers and lobster butter. Baby chicken is lacquered with honey and comes with toasted cashew and citrus-dotted couscous with pea leaves. There is also a fine vegetarian entrée composed of several preparations, and right now the dessert to have is the warm chocolate walnut cake with banana praline ice cream and fresh, ripe raspberries. There are also generous raw bar platters, ranging from $21-$68, incorporating Little Neck clams, Kumamoto oysters, jumbo shrimp, Prince Edward Island mussels, lump crabmeat and Nova Scotia lobster. Otherwise main courses in quite ample portions will run a very fair $25-$29.

Equus

The Hudson Valley has one other property of munificence, a literal 125-room castle built by a Civil War general. It lies on a hillside in Tarrytown, above the broad Tappan Zee Bridge and adjacent to Marymount College, whose golden dome gleams like a beacon for miles around. The Castle on the Hudson's guest rooms are spacious and rich in antiques, and the restaurant here is called Equus, set within three baronial rooms—the Tapestry, Garden and Oak Rooms—that just beg an appearance by a lord of the manor or a Hitchcockian hero. Here you sit down to a lavish repast: pea soup with lump crab meat; hazelnut-crusted foie gras with apple chutney and a Dutch apple fritter; Dover sole sautéed with citrus-brown butter; and the Castle Chocolate Cake with berry sauce. The four-course $64 dinner is a lavish spread indeed.

For something far closer to the type of tavern atmosphere Washington Irving might well have enjoyed along the Hudson, there is the quaint, pretty little Brasserie Swiss in Ossining, where Chef Rolf Baumgartner serves up hearty classics like raclette Valaisanne, Rahmschnitzel with noodles, calf's liver cooked in Chablis and, of course, fondue.

Harvest-on-Hudson

Our favorite French bistro on the river, set in an old Dutch-style house, is Buffet de la Gare, for more than twenty years an ideal spot to stop after touring the Valley. Chef-owner Gwenael Goulet is a rigorously French cook, turning out hearty fare like saucisson on lentils, a garlic-rich gigot of lamb cooked to a turn and a luscious Tarte Tatin. There is a convivial oak bar up front.

There is also good Spanish food and tapas to be found at Solera on Hudson, fine northern Italian fare at Lago di Como in Tarrytown and great pizza served with a magnificent view of the Palisades at Harvest-on-Hudson in Hastings-on-Hudson. And if you crave great sirloins, one of the best steakhouses anywhere in the U.S. is in Briarcliff Manor—Flames—whose wine list is also one of the richest in the region. Ask owner Nick Vuli for his recommendations, and then agonize over whether to have the Prime beef or gargantuan lobsters.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns
630 Bedford Rd.
Pocantico Hills, NY 10591
914-366-9600
www.bluehillstonebarns.com

Brasserie Swiss
118 Croton Ave.
Ossining, NY 10562
914-941-0319
brasserieswiss.com

Buffet de la Gare
155 Southside Ave.
Hastings-on-Hudson, NY 10706
914-478-1671

Equus
The Castle on the Hudson
400 Benedict Ave.
Tarrytown, NY 10591
914-631-3646
www.castleattarrytown.com

Flames
533 North State Rd.
Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510
914-923-3100

Harvest-on-Hudson
1 River St.
Hastings-on-Hudson, NY 10706
914-478-2800
www.harvest2000.com

Lago di Como
27 Main St.
Tarrytown, NY 10591
914-631-7227

Solera on Hudson
1 Bridge St.
Irvington, NY 10533
914-591-2233
www.solerany.com

Valley Restaurant at the Garrison
2015 Route 9
Garrison, NY 10524
845-424-3604
www.thegarrison.com


John Mariani is well known for his frank and poignant writing in Esquire, Wine Spectator, Diversion and the Harper Collection. He is author of The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink, The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink and co-author, with his wife, of the Italian-American Cookbook.

(Updated: 09/18/12 DL)




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