Restaurant Review: Bird and Bottle Inn
Get a taste of American history at Garrison's Bird and Bottle Inn
A historic inn gets a new chef who reimagines American classics for modern diners
By Jorge S. Arango
I’m generally a live-in-the-present, carpe-diem kind of guy. But while I’m thrilled to see many old attitudes die, I still appreciate that there’s some truth in Oscar Wilde’s belief that “One’s past is what one is.” This can be especially important when it comes to the dining experience. I recoiled at Adam Tihany’s design for Le Cirque 2000 on New York’s Madison Avenue (now closed). He mocked the handsome Renaissance Revival bones of the historic Villard Houses (and the classic cuisine) with a three-ring circus of cartoonish furniture and gaudy color. I don’t mind this environment when I’m scarfing down popcorn and franks at Madison Square Garden and watching elephants dance, but it’s less attractive when I’m biting into a delicate magret of duck.
So I was happy to find that Elaine Margolies, owner of The Bird & Bottle Inn in Garrison, and her chef, 22-year-old Vincent Staropoli, have a healthy respect for historical context. Originally built as a tavern on the stagecoach road from New York to Albany in 1761; converted to a farm, gristmill and saw mill in 1832; and to an inn and restaurant in 1940, the Bird & Bottle exudes period charm — much of it lovingly restored by Margolies after she bought the inn in 2004. Inside the yellow clapboard Colonial structure, low ceilings with exposed beams hang over linen-bedecked tables that are surrounded by Windsor chairs. Brick-red painted mantels frame large cooking fireplaces, and country café curtains dress the windows. Margolies wisely reasoned that the current rage for experimental global cuisine “doesn’t fit here.” Edamame-stuffed ravioli and seaweed-wrapped fish in ponzu broth are indisputably delicious, but what would George Washington have done with those concoctions in a place like this?
So the innkeeper and her CIA-trained chef, who Margolies hired just last summer, have devised a seasonally changing menu that pays homage to traditional American staples like double-cut pork chops but updates them for today (they’re prepared with an apple cider-honey-pepper glaze instead of stewed apples). Despite the Olde Yankee-inspired fare, our initial impulse was to order French wine, but the Syrah we chose was out of stock. So I searched elsewhere on the well-rounded and reasonably priced list (which ranges from $28 to $265) and came up with a 2001 Bernardus “Marinus,” a California blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Its vigorous body and dried-fruit flavors served us well during the luxurious sensations that followed.
After lovely amuse-bouches of hot and cold smoked salmon, I started with an outrageously hedonistic duck confit and lentil salad. Staropoli finishes the lentils — which are cooked with bacon, chicken stock and mirepoix (finely diced onion, celery and carrots) — with a little cream and wilted spinach. Did the duck, already preserved in fat, need still more fat? In the face of these results, the question is practically spurious: its stick-to-your-ribs heartiness would have made our nation-building forefathers proud. Two of my dinner companions opted for Hudson Valley foie gras, the liver’s extravagant flavor perfectly tempered by the sweetened tartness of fresh Bing cherries that had been macerated in port. It was gorgeous, even if the three-ounce portion seemed a tad meager for the price. Our other diner ordered a special appetizer: mussels steamed with white wine, chorizo and marinara. The chorizo was a bit scant and the marinara heavy enough to steal some of the spotlight from the mollusks’ fresh, briny flavor, but it was a perfectly fine starter.
Undeterred by the sound of arteries clogging, I moved on to braised beef short ribs with maple-bourbon demiglace, Staropoli’s signature dish. I was happy to reap the abundant rewards of his patient slow-cooking (four hours’ worth), which ensured mouthwatering flesh that virtually fell apart at the sight of a fork and filled my chest with a glowing warmth as it went down. Meat is definitely Staropoli’s thing. A special of Arctic char with a basil cream sauce was dry as the Mojave, though the mushroom risotto that accompanied it was deliciously creamy and earthy. Double-cut lamb chops, however, were expertly pan-roasted — rosy and succulent — and the Madeira jus, blended with demiglace, was a sumptuous complement. It’s worth noting that these dishes were plated with scalloped potatoes Kathleen, a cheesy and lusciously comforting side dish named for the chef’s mother. Likewise, a grilled skirt steak came flawlessly seared outside, pink inside, and lacquered in a silken cherry-port reduction.
All our desserts were wonderful, particularly an Amaretto almond cream cake that tasted as airborne as old Ben Franklin’s kite, but yielded a much more subtle discovery. The delicately nutty cloud of pastry cream was fluffed with plentiful egg whites instead of the cumulonimbus explosion this dessert can have when chefs go heavy on the almond paste.
None of this is earth-shatteringly innovative, but it seemed just the right sort of food to be having in this sort of place. And the skill with which the majority of it was prepared belied the chef’s tender age; I would have believed you if you’d told me someone three times his age ran the kitchen. Staropoli is certainly mature enough to know that while you don’t have to serve porridge and mutton stew to produce flavors that are authentically American, he also knows you don’t have to deny almost 250 years of American culinary history to concoct something that has freshness and integrity.
The Bird & Bottle Inn
Open Thurs.-Sun. Lunch/brunch is served 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. on Sat. and Sun. only. Dinner is served 6-10 p.m. Thurs.-Sat., 4-8 p.m. Sun. Lunch/brunch is pre-fixe at $30, pre-fixe dinner is $54. A la carte dinner appetizers range from $7-$18, salads $8-$12, entrées $24-$38, desserts are $7.
Kid’s menu; catering available.
Caption: All-star entrée: Maple-bourbon braised beef short ribs rest on a bed of whipped Yukon potatoes, asparagus and crispy parsnips.
Caption: Colonial comfort: the Bird and Bottle’s interior is full of period charm.