It's like Sex and the Suburbs and 30 Rock all rolled into one…
I’m a big fan of casual elegance. Yes, it’s fun to dress in a slinky sexy cocktail dress and roll out the white linen table cloths, but on a hot Friday night, there’s nothing better than slipping into a jersey knit sun dress and sandals and heading to a relaxed place riverside. As a native of the mid-Hudson Valley, despite what Anthony Bourdain thinks about our cuisine, I’m a bit spoiled. My childhood home is literally five houses down from Ric Orlando’s first New World Home Cooking. Five minutes away is a French bistro with a kitchen staffed with people from France. One of New York’s finest microbreweries, Keegan Ales, hails from the place of my birth. (And hey Tony B – why didn’t you highlight these amazing places?) It was my mom’s birthday, and she wanted to go to the Rhinecliff Hotel‘s bistro.
I remember the Rhinecliff; we used to anchor on the river to listen to the horrible bands they’d book. Thing is, it was a dive when I was growing up. Not so much anymore. It’s new, with a new chef – Brian Kaywork. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Western Maryland College, and has worked in Southern California, where he first began cooking. In 2002, he came to Hyde Park to attend the CIA. He admits he loves French-based fine dining and was a sous chef at The CIA’s Caterina de Medici. Already some of these techniques are finding their way into his new dishes at The Rhinecliff. His externship was at the Little Palm Island resort and spa in the Florida Keys. He uses local ingredients, so the menu changes day to day.
We entered during Happy Hour, a lively affair of middle-age men in khaki J.Crew shorts, white polos and navy Sperry’s. My sister ordered two cocktails – she found them both to be very strong. My father ordered a gin martini and found it to be warm. The bartender did not add enough ice for the sweltering heat and when my father offered feedback, the bartender did not make good. However the wine list was fantastic and my mother was very pleased with her merlot and her espresso martini for dessert. As it was hot, I got two Ithaca apricot ales and was completely satisfied.
We got two appetizers – truffle popcorn and the BBQ pork belly. As a vegetarian, I don’t eat the flesh of the piggie but was advised to give it rave reviews under threat of having to do my own laundry. The popcorn was okay. I would have ordered something else, but my family is a sucker for truffle oil and therefore it had to be on our table. Not a soul was displeased with their meal.
A traditional French meal is mussels and pomme frits. While our local bistro, DP’s, has it as an entrée, at the Rhinecliff it’s something that you must specially order. The mussels are an appetizer and the pomme frits a side. First two admissions: I sometimes cheat with fish. The omega threes are good, and it’s entirely doubtful that clams and mussels comprehend the pain it’s dubious they feel. Furthermore, mussels are a self-sustaining source of food. Oh, and when we vacation in Cape Cod, I enjoy the best sea food this nation as to offer, and enjoy it sometimes right out of the ocean. My mussels were fresh and cooked in a spicy tomato broth, which is the only way to cook mussels. The pomme frits were thin, salted perfectly and crispy without being burnt. I’m sure they used peanut oil to fry them. It was perfection on two plates. I ordered extra bread to soak up the broth.
But while dinner was very very good, dessert was the pinnacle of the meal. We ordered two desserts – bananas fosters and what’s called a malted and salted.
The bananas fosters was made in front of you, at your table. Our waitress explained what she was doing, why and the science of it. And then lit the entire thing on fire. Meals that are flammable are always special. She poured it over a gigantic bowl of the best vanilla ice cream I’ve ever had. But whatever. So it was better than New World. My dessert, the malted and salted, kicked its ass.
It was, simply put, an explosion of everything wonderful and great about candy right in your kisser. The bottom layer was melted salted caramel, that had been spread on a cold plate to solidify. Sweet and salty right there. On top of the sauce was a flourless chocolate cake with the consistency of the richest fudge you’ll ever have. It was sold. On top of that was a light and airy chocolate mousse. Sprinkled on top of that, crushed chocolate malt balls.
If I were Anthony Bourdain I would end this with some life lesson about how the Hudson River is making a comeback, or how good food can be found anywhere. But no, I’m going to say that I think my life needs an expense account and a camera crew so I can eat fabulously, video tape it and write about it.