Restaurants

Chef’s Tasting Table at Mohonk Mountain House

Accidental Locavore Mohonk Mountain House Fois GrasMohonk Mountain House is one of the Hudson Valley’s iconic hotels and has been a favorite place to stay for almost 150 years.

There’s plenty to do to build up an appetite and a massive dining room to enjoy a meal.

But everyone knows that.

Accidental Locavore Mohonk Mountain House OysterWhat you don’t know is that there’s a secret staircase in the back of the dining room leading to the massive kitchen that regularly puts out 500-600 meals every evening.

In the middle of that, is the space that only puts out 10 very special meals.

I was one of those lucky diners recently and was invited to experience the eleven-course Chef’s Tasting Table menu with wines, designed by Executive Chef Jim Palmeri.

It’s offered on Friday and Saturday nights at 6:30 with a six-person minimum. You can take your chances on an available spot (or two), or be a big spender and reserve the whole table for a very special occasion.  If you like wine, you might want to consider spending the night – the wines are lovely and well matched to the food, and the road home from Mohonk is not one you want to mess with.

Accidental Locavore Mohonk Mountain House RisottoThe menu changes depending on the season and what’s good locally. While Chef Palmeri and his team use local ingredients wherever possible, they do stretch the boundaries to include luxuries like black truffles and, for our dinner, mainly French wines.

If you think eleven courses sounds daunting, most of them are just a mouthful or two. The exceptions are the entrée (the only choice you have to make for the evening) and the dessert – so extraordinary it deserves and is getting its own post.

Mohonk Mountain House SashimiOne of the big treats for me as a diner has always been those meals where you just sit back and let the chefs do what they do best – cook. I love the combination of not having to make a choice and the surprise that each course and every mouthful brings!

To have something to refer to, I was given a menu at the beginning, but it got folded it up and hidden in my purse so as not to ruin the surprises to come.

Mohonk Mountain House DuckAnd, to not ruin your surprise, because you truly need to go there (I know you’ve got a birthday coming up), I’m just going to highlight some of my favorite bites and let you drool over the photos.

To book your own dining adventure (and don’t forget about a room) call: 845-883-3798.

My thanks to Chef Jim Palmeri, Executive Sous Chef Steve Anson, Robert Leduc and the amazing staff at the Mohonk Mountain House for a memorable dinner!

For more photos, check out HudsonValleyEats.com. Mohonk Mountain House Cheese Course

 

 

 

 

Pete Wells and Restaurant Reviews

  1. Accidental Locavore Restaurant Reviewer

The Accidental Locavore was reading about the restaurant reviewer for The NY Times, Pete Wells, in The New Yorker (check it out if you haven’t seen it).

According to the piece, before he writes a review he goes to a restaurant at least three times.

While it makes sense to give you a broader overview of the restaurant, does it work that way in real life?

No.

Maybe.

It depends.

Here’s why:

Pete Wells or his counterparts can be recognized.

And a chef friend told me that it’s pretty common for a restaurant that gets a good write-up from a prestigious paper to fire the chef and the team that got them the four stars since they think they can now live off that review.

“You only get one shot to make a first impression.”

Accidental Locavore Bad WaitersIf you like a place, you’ll go back even if it’s far away or a big splurge.

You’ll always tell your friends.

In glowing dish-by-dish descriptions.

You might post it on Instagram.

If the restaurant isn’t up to expectations, you’ll go once and cross it off your list forever.

You’ll always tell your friends. You’ll tell anyone who will listen.

In glowering dish-by-dish descriptions.

You won’t post it on Instagram. You might post it on Yelp.

Do any regular diners go back another two times?

Don’t think so.

Hey, our dinners aren’t being paid for by the NY Times, so we’re going to be pickier about how we spend our money.

Even when we’ve spoken to management (or they’ve seen the Yelp review) and been invited back so they can “make it up to us” we have never taken them up on the offer.

Prime example: Frank and I went to celebrate our anniversary. Friends had raved about the Red Onion in Saugerties and we decided to forgo our favorite, Les Baux.

Mistake.

Big mistake.

It started when I got out of the car and stepped in a mud puddle.

The rack of lamb (a house specialty we were told) was overcooked and under seasoned (unlike mine in the photo).

Accidental Locavore Rack of LambPeas straight out of a big plastic bag.

A mountain of mashed potatoes that could have come from a box.

Two hockey pucks that were reputed to be onions.

Even if it wasn’t a 45-minute drive (in each direction), we won’t be back.

Sometimes it’s nice to have a blog where you can vent.

What’s been your most disappointing meal?

And no, that’s not a photo of Pete Wells, but who knows?

 

 

The Best Burger in America

accidental-locavore-best-burgerYou know you’d better watch it before you start tossing out superlatives like “the best burger in America.”

But, according to Forbes (and reaching my desk via Rural Intelligence) the best burger in America is in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Kismet.

The Accidental Locavore was heading there for lunch with a friend who is always interested in a good burger, so we quickly changed plans and met at Camp Fire.

Everyone has their own criteria for best burger – well, best anything.

A best burger to me has to have great fries.

There are a lot of good burgers out there that would be great with better fries.

And both the fries and the burger have to be hot.

There needs to be good pickles.

A toasted bun.

That’s my line in the sand(wich).

As for condiments, lettuce, tomato, even cheese–a really good burger should just be enhanced by them, not need them.

Back to Camp Fire and the best burger in America.

It’s a big open farm/rural looking restaurant. Nothing fancy, just clean looking with a lot of hard surfaces.

There’s a lot of interesting looking stuff on the menu, but we were there on a mission.

We got distracted.

By the mushroom soup.

A rich blend of wild mushrooms with a small dollop of sour cream and just enough truffle oil, it was the perfect starter on a raw afternoon.

accidental-locavore-best-burger-soupThen, the burgers.

Because we were afraid it would be too much food after the soup, we both opted for the Mini Meat, a quarter pound burger (the regular one is a half-pound) which comes on a potato roll with cheddar, pickles, aioli and fries

The verdict?

Great fries! Twice-fried (always a good thing), hand-cut and good-sized, piping hot, maybe a slight hint of rosemary.

I think I ate half of them before turning to the burger.

The burger was good.

Not the best burger in America.

What I didn’t like about it was that it was a thin patty that didn’t seem to have been hand-made. It was cooked the way I like it (rare) but it wasn’t very juicy.

The pickles were good, but the cheese and the aioli didn’t have a lot of flavor. The bun was fine, warm and I don’t remember whether it was toasted or not.

Here’s why I think Camp Fire could still have the best burger in America.

We ordered the wrong one.

Our waitress told us that both versions (mini and regular) were the “best burger” but everything that I was finding fault with may have just been because it was the mini version.

So, we’ll have to go back.

Great Northern Food Hall at Grand Central

Accidental Locavore Great Northern Food HallHo.

Hum.

Sadly, truth in advertising doesn’t apply to venues.

Or the Great Northern Food Hall would be in danger of being busted.

It’s not great.

It’s actually at the southern end of Grand Central.

There is food. It appears to be Scandinavian inspired.

There are drinks (and cocktails). They come in bottles and are (mostly) not Scandinavian.

Accidental Locavore Food Hall PorridgeThere are Danishes and croissants, neither of which originated from where you think they did and Denmark (where Claus Meyer the entrepreneur behind GNH hailed from) never comes into the story.

There is a porridge bar, because you never know when you’ll be on 42nd Street craving porridge. And not to be kvetching too much, but once again is Denmark the first country that comes to mind when you hear the word porridge?

Didn’t think so.

There are smørrebrødens, which, phew, are Danish open-faced sandwiches and each is a little work of art (and priced accordingly). Maybe it was my imagination but as I passed a pre-made smørrebrød it seemed to me that the corners of the bread were curling up as it’s prone to do when you make smaller versions (hors d’œuvres) before a party. Because they’re topless it may not be the best on-the-run or balancing on your lap snack.

Accidental Locavore Food Hall SandwichesTide stick anyone?

There is coffee. Known to be a big cash crop in Scandinavia.

Ha.

This is from Brownsville Coffee in Brownsville Brooklyn (which isn’t even in the northern part of Brooklyn).

There is a bar. You might need a drink.

This is a project seven months in construction. Like Vanderbilt Hall, a food hall highly anticipated by those of us who pass through Grand Central, hungry and on the move.

Like Vanderbilt Hall, a letdown.

The Accidental Locavore isn’t sure why the owners of Grand Central (and no, you can’t blame this on Metro North, tempting as it might be) thought that turning it into a Nordic theme park was a brilliant idea.

Besides Great Northern, there’s a hot dog sausage bar and a very fancy restaurant with $100-$125 tasting menus. If spending that much on sunflower seeds and more of that porridge seems like a better deal than a cheap seat to Hamilton, be my guest.

My bet is that Hamilton will be around much longer than smørrebrød at Grand Central.

 

Purdy’s Farmer & the Fish Restaurant

Accidental Locavore Farmer & Fish & FrankThe Accidental Locavore thinks that what goes on in the city should stay in the city, especially when it comes to the useless policy of not seating “incomplete” parties at restaurants. A recent trip to a Westchester restaurant, Farmer and the Fish, highlighted the inanity of this policy. We got there early, had drinks and oysters at the bar and were enjoying ourselves. The hostess came up to us and told us that our friends had called and said they were stuck in traffic and would be there as soon as they could.

As the bar was filling up and getting noisy, we asked to be seated and were told she’d have to check with the manager as it was against policy. Now, she knows that we’re there and our friends are obviously on their way, so it’s not like there’s going to be a no-show. Tim, the manager, refused her and then after a long conversation/disagreement refused us.

Accidental Locavore Farmer & Fish BarBesides being the worst sort of customer service, it’s a big revenue loser. Instead of sitting at the table increasing our check by enjoying a drink and maybe something to nibble, we were in the car fuming and trying to get a cell phone signal to find out how far away our friends were. And the table that they didn’t want to partially fill sat empty for a half an hour. Who does that benefit?

On top of that you know dinner is going to have to be spectacular to appease us. Why make the waitstaff and chefs bear the brunt of a stupid management decision? You only have one chance to make a first impression and my attitude was so abysmal that at this point it would take something like the escargots and chicken from L’Ami Louis (back in the day) to begin to make me smile. But of course, we’re not in Paris, and this is not L’Ami Louis.

Accidental Locavore Farmer and FishOur Empty TableI had a pork chop, which was weirdly salty throughout (probably brined and not rinsed well). Frank had a tuna burger which was much larger than its English muffin bun. Someone had a lobster roll, someone else scallops and there were more oysters for starters. For dessert there was a serviceable apple crisp/tart and an interesting-looking take on a bread pudding that everyone said was good.

The waitstaff was fine, friendly and helpful, but throughout the meal, Tim, the manager, was jovial with our host while subsequently managing to completely ignore us – hard to do, but he’s had practice.

Farmer & the Fish grow a lot of their own produce and source as much as they can locally, which is why our friends thought we would enjoy it and we might have, but sadly, an awful policy led to an evening best forgotten. Interestingly, on CBS This Morning, Saturday, Chef Mike Price was the guest and he said something that made me stop in my tracks. “You can look at people two ways when they walk in the door—like they’re lucky to be there or you’re lucky to have them.” Anyone at Farmer & the Fish listening?

 

Restaurants Cutting Corners: Do Patrons Notice? Oh Yes!

Accidental Locavore Restaurant WorkersDo you notice when restaurants start to cut corners? The Accidental Locavore and my editor started talking about things restaurants do to cut corners, thinking that patrons won’t notice or won’t care. But I don’t think they’ll ever really know, because people simply stop going. It really doesn’t just have to be cutting corners – ask any chef what happens when you change a menu item and you’ll get a quick reaction!

Accidental Locavore Bread BasketThe post in question mentioned that the bread came to the table and was slightly stale, appearing to have been cut before service, so that the waitstaff could just grab it and go. Which makes sense, especially since it was an extremely busy room. As the old saying goes, you only have one chance to make a good first impression and bread is usually that first impression. When your average check is in excess of $100 per person, don’t you think you could hire someone (at $15/hour, please) to slice bread during service? If you needed to monetize that, charge for the bread, like many places are doing. On second thought, don’t!

The restaurant at my golf club is another case in point. When the new owner came in, free refills on soda and iced tea became a thing of the past. Having done financial consulting for a bakery, I know what the costs (and margins) are on drinks, so having to pay an additional $2.00 for another hit of iced tea or  soda is simply ridiculous.

That sort of mean-spiritedness really backfires and shows up in the food. We used to blow through our minimums by the beginning of July and be into the restaurant for a lot of money by the end of the season. Now, we struggle to use it up, because the food is mediocre, and what used to be a pleasant place to hang out loses its charm when the owner is standing around glowering.

A reason that places like Billy Joe’s Ribworks are so successful, is that Jonathan, one of the owners, is always on the prowl. His mission: to give everyone a great time, and his energy and enthusiasm are contagious. You’ll see his staff firing up grills and handing out hot dogs when the spirit moves them. Not that you’d have any room for them since you’ve probably stuffed your face with their great ribs and even better smoked wings! Want a refill on that soda? Not a problem.

Accidental Locavore Billy Joes CrewOwning a restaurant is a tough business, so let’s support local eateries that go the extra mile and don’t try to put one over on their patrons just to save a couple of bucks. It costs them in the long run. What’s your pet peeve about a restaurant’s short cuts?

It Started With Olives

Accidental Locavore Green Olives and PitsIt started with the olives…small and green with garlic and herbs. Six, to be savored while sipping wine and waiting for the main course. Well worth searching out.

Accidental Locavore Nice PortTo be truthful, it actually started out the other day when the Accidental Locavore was walking around the port. In another year or two it will once again be spectacular, but for now, it’s a glorified construction zone, awaiting the continuance of the tram. I saw a cute place on the corner and the menu looked interesting, so I filed it away for a future lunch.

Accidental Locavore le Passe Plat InteriorLe passe-plat is an open room, casual, with lamps perched on top of piles of wine boxes. There’s an open kitchen – rare for here, filled with copper pots, mason jars with spices and a handsome chef, Anthony Coppet, straight from central casting, dark hair, piercing blue eyes and two days’ stubble.

I went in, curious about the pot au feu with Thai spices, but ended up with the plat du jour. On this particular jour, it was a veal steak with a wild mushroom cream sauce and mashed potatoes.

Accidental Locavore Veal With Cream SauceThe veal turned out to be grilled and had that great grilled taste. The cream sauce was wonderful, with lots of mushrooms and possibly just a hint of Roquefort. There were a couple of cherry tomatoes as garnish, roasted into sweetness. And what can you say about mashed potatoes? It’s France and they were great!

One of the things I always wonder about here is why most restaurant tables have four legs. It’s what French Morning NY would call a question bête, but here’s my answer – more room for dogs to stretch out. It struck me as amusing that the couple sitting by the window (with a dog) had risotto with scallops, which were served in a dish that had an uncanny resemblance to a dog’s bowl. Just saying.

Accidental Locavore Cheese Board in NiceExpanding on my vocabulary, I learned that the ardoise de fromages was what I was hoping for – a cheese plate, and since ardoise means slate, it arrived on a handsome slab. On the slate were a Brie, a chèvre rolled in herbs, a gooey vacherin and a semi-soft cheese like a mild Pont-l’Évêque. They were all good and worked well together and with the fig compote, but the chèvre was outstanding! Another thing to try to hunt down. I was happy and will be back to try the pot au feu soon.

 

 

Modern Taco

Accidental Locavore Modern Taco TacosAlways on the prowl for good Mexican food, the Accidental Locavore was quick to pick up on the rumors that there was a good new one, Modern Taco, in nearby Red Hook (Rhinebeck’s shyer sister). An added bonus was that we knew the chef/owner Mark Brocchetti, the chef from our golf course dining room, back when the food was enjoyable, interesting and made by someone who cared.

With my friend Laura in tow, we arrived one Saturday night to check it out. It’s a charming room, with Mexican touches, that reflect Mark and his partner’s take on Mexican food. Luckily he has no fear of venturing off the taco, burrito and enchilada trail that is actually more TexMex than anything you might actually eat south of the border. No gloppy refried beans here. When beans appear they’re in a slightly spicy black bean soup with crema drizzled on the top that’s better than any other black bean soup I’ve had in a long time.

Accidental Locavore Rabbit QuesidillaThat night the special – a rabbit quesadilla with a mole sauce – was right up my alley. The rabbit was nice and tender and the mole sauce was good. A little bit more of the sauce would have been nice, and it could have taken a bit more heat (however, if you’re not a spicy person, this is one of the milder dishes).

Another special was what Mark calls Mexican breakfast. If it’s not on the menu when you’re there, beg. It’s a great mix of chorizo, potatoes and caramelized onions with a fried egg on top, served in a cute little cast iron skillet.

Accidental Locavore Mexican BreakfastLaura was thrilled with the stuffed poblano with quinoa, tomato and corn, resting in a great poblano cream sauce. It’s a great vegetarian option.

Working his way through the taco menu, Frank chose the fish taco and a fried avocado taco (because we were all curious about the fried avocado). These are soft tacos, crammed with filling, just like you would get in any taqueria in Mexico. The fish was really good, but the fried avocado wasn’t my favorite. In fairness to Mark, it may just be that I don’t love cooked avocado – I’ve grilled them and don’t think it’s worth the effort.

Accidental Locavore Stuffed PepperEven though we were stuffed to the gills, Frank and I happily worked our way through the chocolate pot de crème, spiked with habanero. If you’re not familiar with pot de crème, it’s essentially a cousin of chocolate mousse. Creamy and rich, this had a subtle kick from the habanero.

A week later, we were back with two other friends. Once again I opted for the special, that night a duck quesadilla. Our friends went for the steak and the chicken quesadillas so we got to taste all three. Everyone’s favorite was the spice-rubbed duck with the steak a close second.

Frank went for two other tacos, the pulled pork and the shrimp, both of which were really good. If I were choosing from the ones we’ve tried, it would probably be the pulled pork and the fish.

The guacamole is good, but might be weird for Americans used to a chunky version. This one is truer to its taqueria roots, smooth and creamy and good with the freshly fried chips. The roasted salsa is a great choice as is the pico de gallo – fresh with good (I don’t know where he got them in December) tomatoes, cilantro and a touch of lime.

Modern Taco is open Thursday through Monday for dinner only. Lunch is promised for the summer. Enjoy!

 

Memorable Food at Cafe Miranda

Accidental Locavore Cafe Miranda ExteriorAfter looking at comfort food, the Accidental Locavore began thinking about the difference between memorable food and comfort food. We all have dishes we get nostalgic about, but to me, memorable food (or meals) have almost as much to do with the time, people and place as it does with the food.

And then there’s food that just is the absolute right dish at the right time. Such was the amazing duck dish I had at my last visit to Cafe Miranda. After a day that could only be described as ghastly, we managed to catch our breath and be just a bit late for our perch at the bar.

Accidental Locavore Miranda MenuI’ve written a lot about Miranda, as it’s been a favorite of ours for years. Generally, a careful perusal of the menu will take at least twenty minutes – yes, there’s that much on it, and most of it has multiple ingredients. Somehow, that night, within 30 seconds of looking at the menu, “Let’s Get Dangerous” – a duck dish based on that 90’s cartoon Darkwing Duck – caught my eye and I was done.

Accidental Locavore Dangerous DuckIt was a duck leg confit resting on a bed of noodles in a coconut curry sauce, with a cooling salad of cucumbers on the side. The leg had been cured in a blend of Szechuan peppercorns, tamarind paste and cloves. After having a nice, slow bath in its own fat, it was finished by tossing it into the wood-burning oven. Rich, dark spices, meltingly tender duck, great crispy skin – it was the absolute perfect dish!

Even Kerry, the chef/owner thought it was amazing. I’d offered him a small bite when he came in. Since it was a new dish, he hadn’t had a chance to taste it from the line and he was quick to praise his line chef, Andrew.

The only problem with dishes like the duck is that you’ll want to order them over and over again. Possibly they won’t be as good as you remember, or there may be something else on the menu equally delicious. We were recently back to our counter perch at Miranda and I had to make sure it was as good as I remembered it being (it was!), but that was the first time in many, many visits there when I didn’t order something different. What do you think? Do you go back to the “old reliables,” or do you live on the edge and try something new?

Dinner at the Seafire Grill

Accidental Locavore Seafire Grill InteriorRecently the Accidental Locavore was invited to try out the (new to me) Seafire Grill. It’s a big room on East 48th Street. When you enter, there’s a large, active bar to your right and a long dining room behind that. We were warmly greeted by Aron the manager, sporting a good-looking pink tie.

Even though it was a Wednesday night in the summer, the bar and restaurant were packed, with large parties enjoying themselves. That didn’t keep the service from being perfectly attentive, a sign of a well-run restaurant.

When you sit down, a basket of flatbread crackers and focaccia arrive at the table with the house specialty – a very tasty whitefish spread. It had a nice smoky flavor, which distracted from the slightly stale focaccia.

The wine list is extensive and interesting, with plenty of selections, both red and white, at all price points. We decided on a lovely Sancerre from the list of half bottles.

Accidental Locavore Oysters RockefellerWhat’s interesting about Seafire Grill is that it’s run like a steak house. Large, generally unadorned portions of seafood can be complimented by a host of side dishes and vegetables. While several of the dishes have an Asian flair, there’s nothing “weird” on the menu – it’s all pretty straight-forward.

Our self-imposed ground rules were that we couldn’t order the same thing so we could taste as many different dishes as two people could. We started out with the tuna tartare and oysters Rockefeller. The tuna came on a bed of seaweed salad which was a little sweet, but the tuna was perfectly fresh and nicely prepared. Oysters Rockefeller are a pretty traditional dish, but every now and then they hit the spot and these certainly did! The addition of some pink peppercorns gave the well-prepared oysters a nice punch.

Accidental Locavore Arctic CharI opted for the daily special of Arctic char over julienned zucchini and soba noodles. Perfectly cooked, it was nicely flavored and the pickled ginger that topped it was a good addition.

After a short debate as to whether swordfish was still on the do-not-eat list (if it’s American it’s okay) my friend had the Montauk swordfish. It came with two sauces, one an avocado, similar to a guacamole, and a Seafire version of a remoulade. Again, it was a perfectly cooked piece of fish, well-spiced and enhanced with the avocado sauce.

Accidental Locavore Seafire AsparagusWe were encouraged to order some vegetables and since kale always sounds too healthy, we went with the asparagus. It was billed as having black truffles and Parmesan (definitely not as virtuous as the kale). Five average-sized spears came to the table. Sadly there was no sense of either truffle or Parmesan – just some balsamic-colored sauce with no discernible flavor.

If you’re not a fish lover, there are plenty of meat options, including a good variety of steaks and surf & turf, if you’re really on the fence.

Desserts were tempting, with a good selection of the classics (cheesecake, crème brûlee, molten chocolate cake) to what looked like a nice trip of cheeses but we were way too full from the generous portions to indulge.

The night we were there it was pretty noisy, but there were two large tables behind us which probably created the din. We both remarked that the wait-staff was exactly attentive enough – a delicate balancing act, especially as it got busier and busier. Prices are what you would expect for midtown, with all the fish being pristine and perfectly cooked.

I’d like to thank both Aron and Alex, Seafire Grill’s managers, for a lovely dinner and Janet, for putting it all together.

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