A Weekend in Hudson

A recent weekend saw a very rare occurrence, a weekend without kids or obligations.  It took us a couple of weeks to decide where to go, but one thing was certain, it had to include the kind of dinner we almost never get to go out for, and lots of strolling. Before we had kids Jennifer and I would spend a lot of our leisure time strolling up and down Broadway in Saratoga.  Sometimes we would take day trips to places like Lenox, MA, or Rhinebeck, NY for a change of scenery and an inexpensive lunch somewhere.  We were kind of broke and could rarely splurge in those days.  Fast forward to current times and things are different.  We have pretty good jobs, and can afford to choose to go to pretty much any restaurant we want.  Now is that we have offspring to care for we have few chances to have some time to ourselves.  Well, the stars aligned and we had an overnight in Hudson where we planned to have lunch at Swoon Kitchenbar, dinner at Fish and Game, and breakfast at Café Le Perche.  We added a couple of stops in between and had ourselves a fine holiday.

With Theresa at Nana and Pop’s, and Stella and Tate at Grandma and Papa’s, we were clear to head south and stuff our faces.  Our first stop was Swoon.  I’ve wanted to check this place out for a few years now because there was a sweet couple that came to The Whine Bar and always told me that my food reminded them of the food at Swoon.  We had a pretty light lunch of crispy artichokes, country pâté, and a few cheeses. Our only wish is that there was fresh baguette with our selections rather than crackers and crostini, clearly done well ahead of time.  We did however enjoy the busy place and I thought I would like to return for dinner as I was a bit worried about our upcoming dinner due to pretty lukewarm reviews on that interwebs for F&G.

After lunch we checked into our hotel which was within strolling distance from all our planned stops.  With dinner reservations at 6:30 we had plenty of time to walk and shop on Warren St.  We decided that either a cocktail or a cup of coffee was in order, so with a bit of booze under our belts from lunch we opted for coffee at Verdigris Tea and Chocolate.  We could have had tea, but tea is only for ladies, the infirmed, and the English.  We ordered two coffees for ‘here’ but were informed that they were out of mugs and did we mind if our coffee was in to go cups.  “You’re out of cups?” I thought, and I wanted to tell them to go wash some.  Imagine if I had a server tell a diner that I would be serving their dinner in a to go container because we were out of plates.  The coffee ran out after filling the first cup.  It wasn’t very good coffee anyway.  Should have had tea.  The Mast Bros. goat’s milk chocolate was good.

We arrived at Fish and Game a little early, but our table was ready and we were accommodated by a friendly and efficient hostess.  I was pretty excited about the upcoming experience because it is not often in life that I go to a high-profile restaurant despite my career and love of great food.  I also wanted to see which was warranted, the James Beard award or the 3 out of 5 star average on Yelp and multitude of poor reviews on Op en Table.  We started with a couple of $15 cocktails, not overly expensive for a well crafted cocktail, but these were small, very small.  My warm ‘Here comes Doctor Joe’ was good, but served in a demitasse teacup. I felt kind of dainty.  The meal followed from there, small and expensive.  Small is fine. As Thomas Keller says, a good portion leaves you wanting one more bite. Expensive is ok too, as long as you get what you pay for.  I won’t go into detail, but we did not get what we paid for. One thing I will mention in some detail is that we were served very rare and cold chicken livers (from the wood-fired oven).  When I pointed out to one of the service staff that we could not eat them she somewhat argued with me about them.  Perhaps she has blind faith in the kitchen and their ability to do things without flaw, but I do not after the experience, and I’m guessing that James Beard would not eat very rare chicken livers. After a few hundred bucks in on just small plates we decided to forego desert and get a sweet somewhere else.

We walked into one spot well-known for sourdough pizza and were real close to getting a table and a small pie. Yes, we were still hungry but we refocused on dessert and headed to Ca’Mea for Tiramisu, lemon tart and a couple of the grandest pours of Strega I’ve ever seen.  Strega is 80 proof, and I suspect the young barkeep was not aware of its potency as she likely doesn’t sell too much of this golden-yellow nectar of the gods.  The about 4 oz pours were a surprise, and at $9 we decided to have another round which made for a tough morning.

After a nap in a very comfortable room at The Barlow, we made our way back out to Warren St for a nice walk and breakfast at Café Le Perche.  The entrance was stocked with some great offerings from an imported-from-France wood-fired brick oven.  We could have grabbed a couple of coffees to go with a fist full of croissant and been very happy, but the need for a more substantial offering due to the generous snifters full of after dinner drinks made us take a seat by the fireplace and enjoy a good French brunch.  When in Hudson again I would try them for dinner.

Well, I don’t know when we’ll get out again, but I’m sure the time spent together will be as special and as memorable as this experience.  I savor these times with Jenny.

Things I’ve Been Thinking About

I mentioned in my last post that I’m outlining a book about my experiences in the restaurant business.  I’d like to do a chapter called “The Best of and the Worst of.”  It’s a take on those “Best of” issues we see in various newspapers and magazines.  Here’s a preview:  Best restaurateur I’ve ever worked for is Angelo Mazzone.  Not necessarily my favorite (I liked working for him, it was at The Lodge for the summer of 2003), but certainly the best. The worst?

Can you be deeply passionate about what you do for a living and be easy to work with at the same time?

I often write between the lines.  Some of you can read between the lines, some of you cannot.

Century Linen recently changed from kitchen towels in flat stacks of 50 bound with a narrow plastic strap to wrinkled bags of 50 that smell like grease.  The sales rep told us we could have towels delivered the old way for 3 cents more per towel. So, we can get what are supposed to be professionally cleaned in industrial machines in smelly bundles, or clean, unwrinkled towels for an added price?  I don’t recommend this company at all.

I think I wrote and posted during last year’s Grammy Awards.

Vapid is underused.

They dug Celine Dion up.

Why after 50 years of life have my nose hairs decided to grow at an alarming rate.

I miss Dale.

Chefs are now putting the same stuff  that they used to put in tortillas in steamed buns, and thinking it’s innovative.

Chowderfest=Boozefest.

Some snippets are written for just one person. If you don’t understand a snippet, it likely has nothing to do with you.

Graduating from culinary school, or a culinary program does not make you a chef.  What it makes you is a culinary school graduate.  Doing what a chef does in a chef’s position is what makes you a chef.

Don’t participate in Chowderfest if you haven’t actually paid into the event and are officially part of it.  Yes, some restaurants do that.  Some even do that with Restaurant Week. For those places it should be called Restaurant Weak.

Schenectady Restaurant Week is soon.  Oh boy how I love restaurant week.  $25, two glasses of house wine, extra bread, and a $5 tip.  No, that’s not everyone, but it’s too common.

Keep an eye on The Duck, it ain’t dead.

I miss Tom, Anne, Mehmet, and Mary.

What the Hell happened at Rascals?  Ownership was either scamming or stupid.  Who puts $3.2 million into a place and lasts 7 months?  I find it difficult to believe that someone who can come up with $3.2 million is stupid.

Troy Kitchen had a couple of people move out of their food court recently.  Some of the comments and opinions I’ve heard come from people who don’t understand how this incubator works.  The Korean place was doing well and decided to move into their own place; the crepe place wasn’t, so it folded.  That’s how it goes.  An incubator is there so folks can go into business for a relatively small amount of money and see if they have what it takes to make it. If your favorite place moves out, there was a good reason for it.

I need an office of some kind, a place where I can have some peace and quiet sometimes.  The life of a chef is generally hectic, full of noise and questions from everyone else in the restaurant, calls from vendors, calls to vendors, and many other distractions to take focus away from your own cooking at times.  I suppose I should like the fact that almost everyone comes to me for answers about everything from kitchen questions and staffing issues, to customer requests and complaints about fellow employees.  I think my garage can use fixing up for a quiet space. Power tools and a laptop are all I need.  First projects are to work on my book and build a large farmhouse table that seats 12 or more.  The book is for therapy. The table?  Well, I think I may need that pretty soon.

Coming up:  A discussion of the importance of classic dishes in their original form.