Rhinebeck

Willow Restaurant at the Mirbeau

by Anne Maxfield on October 21, 2019

Willow is the new Charlie Palmer restaurant at Rhinebeck’s Mirbeau Inn and Spa.

It’s always a bit risky (and some might say unfair) to hit up a restaurant in the first week.

And doubly so on a Friday night (with a chef in the party).

But we were looking forward to trying it–friends had “previewed” it at brunch on the opening weekend and wanted to go for dinner.

Unlike recent, much anticipated openings that were hugely disappointing, Willow came through with delicious food.

The room is much more formal than we’ve gotten used to seeing. No dark grey walls or Edison bulbs to be found. A fireplace at one end, with framed vintage Hermes (I’m assuming) scarves on the other and interesting carpeting to mute noise. It looks very much like what it is—a hotel dining room in an upscale inn.

I started out with the Shelter Island grilled oysters, with pancetta, garlic and parsley oil. They were delicious, plump and juicy and the garlic and parsley made a nice sauce for them.

Other appetizers that were passed around the table were a salad of beets and endive blanketed with a blizzard of ricotta salata. I’ll have to take everyone’s word that they were good. Frank had the tuna tartare Niçoise with olives, haricots vert, potatoes, radishes and a tiny “HV” quail egg. It was good, but someone went a little overboard with the olives—almost overwhelming the tuna. We were all happy when John went for the fois gras (and was willing to share). It was a nice piece of seared fois gras with a couple of brioche slices and a row of apple slices. All good, but as I said to John, almost everything goes with fois gras (and tastes wonderful).

Thinking there might be dessert, I went for the small portion of gnocchi with wild mushrooms. It was a risky move, as good gnocchi are rare, but the risk/reward paid off with delicate, melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi. The mushrooms led to one of the funnier moments of the evening. There was a small bunch of (I’m guessing) hen-of-the-woods and somehow my knife had disappeared. When I asked for a knife, the server returned with a huge streak knife, capable of doing serious damage. We will now jokingly refer to any steak knives as “gnocchi knives”.

We all decided that John’s halibut was the best-looking plate of the evening and the fish was perfectly cooked on a bed of risotto with chanterelles.

Frank had the chicken—it’s his new test for restaurants—how well can you do chicken? They passed with flying colors—crispy skin and tasty meat. He wasn’t fond of the sunchokes that accompanied the chicken—they seemed a little overcooked, but the “heirloom” spinach was very tasty. He also ordered the Brussels sprout side dish—roasted with an agrodolce sauce, chipotle aioli and another blizzard of ricotta salata. It was a good combination and once we got the grilled lime that came with it to actually produce juice, it made it even better.

Our other friend had the duck breast with farro and huckleberries. The duck was nice and rosy and tasted good, but I was missing the crunch of duck skin. The combo of farro and huckleberries was a nice change from the usual duck with a fruit sauce.

Having saved room for dessert, I went for the bittersweet chocolate cake with salted caramel and chocolate bourbon ice cream. After being assured by our waiter that the cake was nut free, I was surprised when the base of the cake turned out to be marzipan (almond paste).

Which brings me to the big issue. Service. Our waiter was a great guy, helpful, eager and completely overwhelmed. When asked, he admitted that his training was basically “sink or swim.” If you remember the scene in Ratatouille where Linguini is roller skating through the restaurant you get the idea.

Luckily, that’s something that some training can rectify, but it was a bit surprising in a fine dining restaurant that has Charlie Palmer’s name attached.

What’s more important is that we had a great time that night and the food was terrific. We’ll definitely be back and look forward to being there when the kitchen and staff have had the time to get into their groove.

 

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Lucky Dragon: Chinese Comes to Rhinebeck

by Anne Maxfield on May 20, 2019

Lucky Dragon InteriorI wanted to love Lucky Dragon.

I wanted to be willing to jump in the car and drive for 20 minutes for great Chinese.

I wanted the answer to “where do you go for good Chinese?” to be Rhinebeck, not Queens.

I’m in like not love, but love could be just around the corner.

Lucky Dragon is in the building that used to house Catch 38 and is being run by the folks who brought you the Amsterdam. It’s “farm to chopsticks” cooking.

Lucky Dragon PotstickersMy sense is that it’s a retro-influenced look back at all the classic Chinese restaurants where you would go on Sundays with your family, eat lo mein, and think you were very adventuresome.

If you’re expecting pages and pages of dishes, you’ll be surprised. They’ve edited the choices down to a manageable amount (just enough to fit on a placemat).

We started out with a bunch of appetizers—BBQ spareribs, chicken lettuce wraps, pork and chive potstickers and fresh spring rolls. The spring rolls were hot and crispy and came with a sweet chile dipping sauce and were a hit with everyone at our table.

The spareribs were good with a dark brown glaze and sprinkling of sesame seeds. Close to those lacquered red ones you might remember from days gone by, but nicely updated with what I’m guessing was a hit of hoisin.

Lucky Dragon Spare RibsChicken lettuce wraps had chunks of chicken with scallions, slivers of bamboo shoots, sesame seeds and a light sauce, all of which fit perfectly in the lettuce. They were a bit hit with everyone at my table.

Lucky Dragon Chicken WrapsThe potstickers were pan fried on one side and served with a soy, scallion sauce. I would have preferred the sauce on the side, as it made them a little soggy, but they were still tasty and not too heavy as potstickers can be.

Trying to be a little healthy, we opted for two of the vegetable dishes, a classic bok choy with sesame and soy, which was well prepared and the Szechuan eggplant, which was one of my favorites of the evening. Small slices of eggplant in a spicy (but not killer) sauce with lots of flavor.

Lucky Dragon EggplantFor mains we went with the shrimp in black bean sauce, Szechuan chicken and pork lo mein. The lo mein was everyone’s favorite—it had great flavor and the noodles were well cooked, but sadly the pork in it was really tough.

Lucky Dragon ShrimpThe Szechuan chicken and the shrimp had a lot of the same ingredients, chunks of red and green peppers, beansprouts, water chestnuts and both were in a soy-based sauce. The big difference was that the chicken was a bit spicy and there were some black beans with the shrimp. We all agreed that we might have ordered two very similar dishes, and then mixed them up on our plates, blending them together so they were indistinguishable.

Lucky Dragon ChickenWe all also agreed that we’ll be back. The Peking Duck that needs to be ordered in advance, is tempting, as are some of the other classics like General Tso’s and some of the other appetizers we skipped over.

The manager was truly interested in our comments, and after hearing that we thought the pork in the lo mein was tough, presented us with a box of cookies as we left and said she was going to take it up with the kitchen right away. So, I have faith (and hope) that the menu will continue to evolve, and we’ll end up in love. I’ll keep you posted.

Update: Overheard in another restaurant someone referring to “Yucky Dragon” and after a second meal that echoed the first, I’d have to agree. So disapointing.

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The Amsterdam Restaurant Rhinebeck

by Anne Maxfield on July 24, 2017

Amsterdam restaurant interiorDoesn’t everyone look forward to a new restaurant opening?

The thrill of the chase (am I the first of my friends?).

The anticipation of something new and different (will we have another place to add to our list of favorites—or the old standbys as my mother would say?).

What will we love and look forward to on the menu?

Those are big shoes to fill and the Amsterdam burst into the Rhinebeck dining scene ready to take them on.

Currently it’s open for dinner (but open 7 days a week) with lunch and brunch “coming soon.”

Menu item are seasonal and locally sourced, but thankfully the restaurant doesn’t feel the need to spell out the latitude and longitude of the radishes mixing it up with the pork chop special.

Accidental Locavore Smoked Salmon at the Amsterdam RestaurantWe started out sharing the house-smoked salmon with a big potato pancake (described on the menu as “hash brown”), a dollop of crème fraîche, a few fried capers and some micro-greens for décor. The salmon was delicious, silky with a nice punch of smoke and the hash brown was nicely crisped on the edges and creamy inside.

Accidental Locavore Rabbit Pate at the Amsterdam RestaurantThe house sent over a plate of rabbit pâté with bourbon-soaked cherries. It was terrific and the trio of pickled fennel, shallots and pickles were fun to mix and match with it (note to the squeamish, I can guarantee that you would never guess it was rabbit, so just order it and enjoy).

Accidental Locavore Gnocchi at the Amsterdam RestaurantI’m a sucker for gnocchi, so I had to try the farmer’s cheese gnocchi with mushrooms, asparagus and a nettle pesto. It was a big, hearty serving of tender gnocchi. I’m not sure exactly what a nettle is supposed to taste like but the pesto was good and worked well with the mushrooms and asparagus.

Janet went with the pork chop special. It was a great tasting chop, perfectly seasoned and cooked and according to her “the best pork chop I ever ate!” The chickpea tart that came with it was interesting and unexpected. The only downside was that as much as pork fat is great, this particular chop was incredibly fatty, making the serving only about 6 meaty bites (and we wanted more—a good thing).

We skipped dessert. 4 selections on the menu, three of which had nuts so not for me. You can also opt for some nice cheeses from the area.

Accidental Locavore Spring Cassoulet The Amsterdam RestaurantThe service is young and friendly and if you’re there on a Friday night like we were, the crowd is eclectic with a lot of people looking like they just escaped BK.  For summer, the restaurant opened up the outside space, so you can dine under the stars and toss a few boules in the court between courses.

A second, weeknight dinner, showed a more confident kitchen, consistently turning out really good dishes and according to a friend, a perfectly made Whisky Sour. For me, a small morsel of cheese made a perfect dessert, but it still seems IMHO to be the weak link on the restaurant’s menu.

If you go, let me know in the comments what you think. Enjoy!

 

 

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