Fat and Happy in the Hudson Valley: 5 Favorites

1) Crabtree Kittle House (Chappaqua): Food is easy to like; faults are easy to forgive. Not quite a rural retreat, but at least the golf course views are haute suburban.

Inn is lovely on the outside and up front, a bit run down in the dining rooms, which range from quaint tavern style to banquet hall bland. Still, tables are all pleasantly spaced. No bad spot to sit. Many good ones.GRILLED HUDSON VALLEY FOIE GRAS

Cuisine is new American with some Old World touches.  Grilled foie gras with quail eggs in brioche with black truffle sounds like too much and is, but gloriously so: A melting masterpiece, Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia on a plate meets Miss Havisham’s wedding cake.  This is a chef finding joy in great ingredients and passing it on.

For a little levity at the end of the savories, the Hudson Valley greens salad is superb. No sense of suffering or penitence here, just flavorful vegetables well combined and dressed. Even the raw hamachi is good.

With all the fun, there are a few flaws, especially in the front of house.  Table service can be amateur–some waiters’ English is weaker than it should be for a restaurant with these ambitions–but at least it’s warm. Wine service is also erratic, especially given the importance of wine to this restaurant’s reputation and bottom line.  Kittle House has some very knowledgeable wine stewards and a few trying to fake it; I’ve had both.  Either way, the selection is extraordinary. Go with a strategy (country, grape, etc.), read the wine tome ahead of time, or trust the stewards. The thousands of options are overwhelming.

Also make sure to stay on top of when your wine is served. I’ve had the half-bottle of white arrive well after the first course was served and I’ve had lovely, attentive service with different bottles for my spouse’s and my respective selections. You’ll need to be your own advocate.  Finally, stick firmly to your price range.  I’ve had three different stewards pick something right above my stated upper limit, 80 to a 75 ceiling, 100 to a 90 ceiling, etc. 

Wrap-up:

Great place to eat well, drink better and sleep or snuggle it off afterwards.  Helps to be rich enough to brush off the wine rip-off tricks.   This is not democratic dining.
 

N.B.: Two further warnings. Rooms are fine in the main building, but the annex is Newark Airport motel quality. Morning meal is airport (coach-class) food, so pay your bill and fly off to a better place to break the fast.

2) Flying Pig (Mount Kisco Metro-North Train Station): Best meal I’ve had in an American train station, yes, better than Grand Central. Perfect for breakfast after the Kittle House, or for dinner fresh off the train. This is a joy of a depot restaurant that restores travelers on their way into the Valley, while also rewarding destination diners. 

Great produce in the salads, amazing breakfast hash with, again, a fantastically flavorful egg on top (eggs, both quail and chicken, may be Hudson Valley’s best product these days). Reasonable and well-crafted espresso drinks are just one more way the Flying Pig confounds and exceeds expectations.

3) Blue Hill at Stone Barns (Pocantico Hills): Inspired space, inspiring food. Not the Republic of Berkeley but rather a repurposed old Rockefeller redoubt. Alice Waters East with way better dining and none of the dippy puritanism.  If only it had an inn.

Intention to work in daily slaughter/harvest of products makes for a perpetual Iron Chef challenge. Skilled staff turns the obstacle into an asset, tying together progressions of dishes with ingredient themes (you can also order a la carte).

While much of the food is grown or raised on-site, the Barbers are not afraid to Fedex forage, especially in the winter months. The Barbers also grant fish and citrus a dispensation from the local-only approach, just as they do in Washington Square Park.

After maxing out the menu, take a post-prandial stroll around the grounds, or come back for a morning walk. It’s much more fun than the Purina Farm tour, though I do miss the square eggs.

4) American Bounty at the CIA (Hyde Park): First of all, the best case of swords into plowshares, or crucifixes into cutlery, in the Hudson Valley. Thank God the monastery didn’t last and the CIA bought the place.

The setting is gorgeous, the restaurants are an exceptional value (especially the wine) and the tours are fun. Your nervous server may drop a dish, but he’ll be doubly sure to find a way to make it up to you.

I’ve dined mainly in the American Room, not the most ambitious space, but great for getting a feel of the place. 

The CIA’s collection of restaurants, like NECI’s, are and are not all about the food. It’s the food story that won me over, and the excitement about how much better these kids will be in a few years, and their joy in being here.  The personal interaction with the human side of fine dining outweighs what’s on the plate.   A lot of fun, easy on the wallet and plenty tasty.

5) Belvedere Mansion (Rhinebeck): A great slice of Hudson life. Favored for lodging more than dining.  Cozies are cheap, main inn is beautiful.

For the eater,  dinner is the meal, as breakfast is a prix-fixe after-thought.  The dinner menu is European, well-prepared, decently curated and worthy of at least one meal, if you’re staying overnight.  For guests, it’s a great way to roam a wine list without transportation anxiety. It’s a particularly great start or finish to a long weekend.

The little bar is also beautiful and worth stopping by for a drink, whether you’ve eaten in or out of house.

Honorable Mention 

Café Tamayo (Saugerties): An intimate space in a town centered on the rust and antique belts. The dish that blew my mind was an assortment of sautéed mushrooms. Never liked them as a kid, couldn’t get enough here. Warm light, warm service, with good and reasonable wines, made for a great excursion.  Don’t know much about the B&B part.

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