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
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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”
“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.
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.
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