Restaurant Review: Farm to Table Bistro in Fishkill, Market Fresh Food and Dining in Dutchess County
Farm fresh: Staying true to its name, a Fishkill bistro delivers a delightful dining experience
Ode to organic: “Nobody goes out and thinks, ‘I’m going to order chicken.’ It needs to have something more to it,” says O’Brien about his popular smothered chicken dish (above), which features organic breast of chicken from Murray Farms. “Now it has some character”
Photographs by Teresa Horgan
“What’s in a name?” says Chris O’Brien when asked about the decision to call his Fishkill restaurant Farm to Table Bistro. After launching into a brief tangent about how the “two brilliant Jewish restaurateurs” behind Smith & Wollensky named their famed Manhattan steak house by blindly pointing to the phone book, he says simply: “I’ve always done farm to table, and this is a bistro. A bistro can be anything it wants to be, but it should be casual. I call this casual fine dining.”
O’Brien, a self-taught chef, has been in the restaurant business for more than 25 years, most recently at the now-shuttered MoJo Grill Hopewell Junction. “Man, we were doing some great things out there,” he says. “But when I opened there 13 years ago, a lot of people didn’t understand it. I remember one night we threw almost 100 pounds of ceviche away. I had to keep saying, ‘meat and potatoes, meat and potatoes.’ But diners are a little more sophisticated here now, which is good.”
O’Brien’s latest venture is all about catering to the newly sophisticated, “we want our food super-fresh and super-local” crowd that dominates the dining scene these days. A quick look at the menu makes that perfectly clear: There is cheese from Poughkeepsie’s Sprout Creek Farm, “healthy” bread from the Cohen Sisters of Ellenville, a partnership with the New York Beef Company in LaGrange (only grass-fed meat, of course), and organic chicken from Murray Farms in Sullivan County. “You’ve got to go out and shake hands and get to know the farmers,” says O’Brien.
Owner Chris O’Brien cruises all around the region to get the freshest produce. “If I have to go to northern New Jersey to get a specific type of corn that is grown there, then that’s where I’ll go,” he says. The restaurant’s signature dry rubbed and beer braised short ribs (left) are served with a sweet beer demi-glace reduction. Above right: O’Brien, his co-owner and fiancée Bridget Gekakis, and Chef Claude Guermont (formerly of Poughkeepsie’s Le Pavillon)
Of course, local is all well and good, but O’Brien knows it still has to taste great. To that end, he likes to add his own touch, even to classic dishes. One evening my companion and I shared the calamari appetizer. Breaded in panko, the generous pile of squid was cooked to perfection and served with a delectable chipolte aïoli sauce. O’Brien has since added the “a la Frankie” option, which adds banana peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and garlic to the mix. “It’s a big fan favorite,” he says. We also shared a classic Caesar salad and a plate of Prince Edward Island mussels, which were steamed with white wine, shallots, and several spices. Both dishes simply burst with freshness.
For my entrée that evening, I ordered the scallop special. While I love scallops, I sometimes hesitate to order them because of dual fears: there won’t be enough of them, and they’ll be overcooked. I needn’t have worried. The beautifully presented plate arrived with five oversized scallops that were succulent and flavorful. Large servings of bulgur pilaf, which was delightfully nutty, and fresh local snow peas that practically glowed completed the delicious dish. O’Brien later told me that the scallops had been dipped in porcini dust and pan-seared. My companion tackled the “smothered chicken,” one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. Sautéed in white wine, roasted garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and kalamata olives, the ample chicken breast (organic, of course) is then finished with soppressata — “from my friends on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx,” says O’Brien — and sharp Provolone. We both agreed that it elevated chicken to an entirely new level.
In good, sustainable style, O’Brien mixes up the menu depending on available produce, as well as customer reaction. This winter he has added coquilles Saint Jacques, the classic scallops and mushroom dish, to the regular menu. “It’s the hottest thing we have right now,” he says. One thing he will never take off the menu is the beer braised short ribs. “We take short ribs, we dry rub them, we pan-sear them,” says O’Brien, explaining a long process that involves cooking the ribs for six hours at 200 degrees and finally serving them with a one-of-a-kind molasses sauce. “I experimented with this for years,” he says.“It’s a lot of work, but we do a fabulous job.”
O’Brien’s desire to do something different is also evident in the inviting space he’s created. The quirky front bar room is chock-full of fun decorations, including a real wooden windmill mounted on the wall. The bar, the rafters, and almost all of the tables were made by hand from wood from a barn that O’Brien noticed while driving around Coxsackie, and bought on the spot. “I knocked on [the owner’s] door and told him I had $5,000 in my pocket,” says O’Brien. The main dining room is also attractive, but of particular note is the wine room, also known as the library: A large table with 10 seats is surrounded by “$80,000 worth of wine” on wheeled racks and a large collection of classic books, including some valuable first editions. The space is available for private parties.
Bibliophiles delight: Both the wine room (left) and the bistro area (above) are chock-full of books, including some valuable first editions. “A friend asked me if I’d like to store his library,” says O’Brien. “There are books from the 1700s”
A popular bar scene has sprung up here; there is live music every Friday and Saturday night, and they are known for their creative cocktails, including the Dragonfruit Mojito and the ever-popular Ginger Lemon Drop, although signature drinks do change weekly. Still, O’Brien says that 75 percent of what they serve is wine. “I go to Europe every summer and spend most of my time in the vineyards. Last year Provence, this summer Spain.”
Next up, O’Brien is building an outdoor seating area in the front of the restaurant — and a bier garden in the back. “It’s going to be funky, it’s going to be fun,” says O’Brien — who is also a partner in the newly reopened Woody’s Farm to Table Restaurant in Cornwall. “There is a lot going on,” he says. “We are out here trying to create things that are a little different.”
Farm to Table Bistro
Lunch and dinner daily. Appetizers/small plates $8-$16, entrées $14-$25, desserts $6-$12