Diamond Mills Hotel and Tavern, Saugerties, NY: New American Food and Dining in Ulster County, Upstate NY (Restaurant Review)

A tavern for all tastes: The eatery at the new Diamond Mills Hotel brings stylish fare to Saugerties



Eight years ago, Horse Shows in the Sun (HITS), a company that organizes equestrian events, opened a multimillion-dollar show ground in the blue-collar town of Saugerties. It was an unlikely location, but every summer since then, a horde of horsey types on the traveling competitive circuit has descended on the town, bringing their lovely money with them — an influx of cash and cachet that Saugerties coolly absorbed without losing an ounce of its character. Recently, HITS’ savvy president, Thomas G. Struzzieri, helped solve the problem of where those elite horsey types will stay during their sojourn by building a luxury boutique hotel on the banks of the Esopus. Diamond Mills Hotel and Tavern opened late last year.

To his credit, Struzzieri, a Saugerties resident himself, showed his respect for the town’s industrial past by having the hotel designed to resemble the abandoned Cantine paper mill, which burned to the ground on the site in 1978. This was a daring decision, given that mill buildings are rarely welcoming — and, in fact, the huge red-brick façade is somewhat forbidding. But once you’re through the doors, the mood is much warmer — although calling a sleek, 250-seat restaurant a “tavern” is a bit of a stretch.

tavern at diamond mills dining roomThrough the mill: The former site of an Ulster County paper mill is transformed into a sleek, modern hotel and restaurant

True, there’s a cozy taproom done up like an old-time watering hole, with dim lighting, a tin ceiling, a few tables, and a beckoning bar. But the main dining room is bright and expansive. The ceiling soars to 24 feet. An enormous arched window frames a view of the terrace and the rushing Esopus falls, which are lit up at night. There are high-backed booths on the edges of the room and well-spaced wooden tables in the middle. A billboard-size black-and-white photograph of the old Cantine mill hangs on one wall. On the chilly night we went, a gas fire was blazing in the big stone fireplace, where a horse weathervane on the mantel reminds you of the force behind all this. If you prefer a more intimate setting, you can eat in the adjacent library or the balcony lounge, but we found it pleasant to be in a large, modern room that doesn’t hit you over the head with faux rusticity.

CIA-trained chef Giuseppe Napoli has designed a seasonal New American menu that covers a lot of ground, offering charcuterie and oysters among the plates to share; five flatbreads (also shareable); salads; six first courses; pastas in full and half portions; and fish, meat and vegetarian mains — some 40 choices, not counting sides like hand-cut truffle fries that everyone (by which I mean me) wants. As we were trying to decide, we heard a “psst” from a booth nearby. It turned out to be Rich Reeve and Maya Karrol, owners of the Kingston tapas restaurant, Elephant, who told us they were ordering a variety of dishes rather than an entrée each. What a good idea! We decided to do the same.

Service is congenial, and although it took a while to get our bread basket, that may have been the Monday night blahs. When the bread arrived, we were delighted with the fresh assortment, particularly some crisp pretzel sticks that looked like ET’s attentuated fingers. (Breads and desserts are made in-house by pastry chef Andrew Comey.)

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» Visit the Tavern at Diamond Mills Restaurant in Saugerties, NY
» Visit Diamond Mills Hotel and Tavern in Saugerties, NY

» Visit Diamond Mills Hotel and Tavern’s Web site at www.diamondmillshotel.com/tavern
» Visit Hudson Valley Dining Guide for more local restaurants
» Visit Food & Drink Guide for more local dining services

 

executive chef giuseppe napoliExecutive Chef Giuseppe Napoli

After that, our dishes came out in swift, well-paced succession. A first course of Prince Edward Island mussels was terrific — juicy little mollusks in creamy coconut-milk broth, fragrant with cilantro and lemongrass, and flecked with chunks of Chinese pork sausage. Luckily, Reeve and Karrol had just polished off an order and warned us about the potency of the Thai bird chiles lurking in there. (Napoli later told me that they’re included to add flavor rather than to be eaten, so be forewarned.)

Diced red and gold roasted beets, another first course, were arranged in two neat columns, snazzily drizzled with aged sherry vinegar and pistachio oil, and festooned with bits of ricotta salata and blood orange. It was a nice mélange, with garlicky crostini a tasty counterpart. The flatbreads are more chewy and focaccia-like than your dainty, thin-crust jobs. The barbecued short-rib version was hearty enough that we ended up bringing some of it home, even though we were sharing. There was nothing shy about the flavor of this, either. Plenty of smoky meat, a generous sprinkling of smoky bacon, and some smoked mozzarella made for a smoky trifecta. Nicely caramelized onions, horseradish sauce, and an orange gremolata added sweet and piquant notes that married the flavors together. Pineapple chunks seemed like overkill, so I just picked them out.

The thing I liked best about the Tavern salad was the grilled rustic bread that came with it. Smoked bacon and a buttermilk-blue cheese dressing went well with the crisp wedge of iceberg lettuce, but the out-of-season tomato was tasteless. I guess the combination is a riff on a BLT, but it will be better when the flavorful, local Ts come into season.

tavern at diamond mills outdoor patioThe view of the Esopus falls from the outdoor deck

My favorite dish of the evening was the asparagus and rock shrimp risotto — a flavorful, creamy concoction made richer with some tangy goat cheese. Bits of prosciutto-like speck contrasted well with the sweet rock shrimp and perfectly al dente asparagus. Lemon zest added a fresh note, but the mint mentioned in the description was not discernible to me — and I didn’t miss it. Even though it was a half portion and delicious, I couldn’t manage the whole thing, but the leftovers were still good after a night in the fridge.

Meat dishes include a burger, a Cornish hen, grilled lamb, and the rib eye steak that we tried. Rib eyes come in three portion sizes here: 12, 16, and 22 ounces, cut in-house. The 12-ounce resembled a nice slice of prime rib — which is to say, not very thick. It’s awfully hard to get a char on a thin cut without drifting toward well done, which is what presumably happened to our medium-rare order. Nevertheless, it was tasty and tender, and the cilantro-chimichurri sauce kicked it up a notch. The vegetable hash side was a little too salty, but the truffle-parmesan fries that we couldn’t resist made up for it.

One of the Tavern’s best-selling desserts is the reconstructed candy bar — a clever rendition of the Take Five candy bar — combining chocolate cake, chocolate-covered pretzels, caramel, and peanut butter mousse. The chef said customers are also mad about the caramel tart, made with chocolate short dough crust. We’d eaten so much, we couldn’t even manage a frozen lemon parfait.

With a regional and international wine list that runs from a moderate $25 to $60 a bottle, and a well-thought-out menu that allows you to have either an affordable, casual meal or something fancier, Diamond Mills will surely please both hard-working locals looking to kick back in style as well as the summer visitors heading this way.

Tavern at Diamond Mills
Lunch Wed.-Fri., dinner daily; brunch on weekends. Shareable plates $12-$28; first courses $9-$15; main dishes $15-$38

» Visit the Tavern at Diamond Mills Restaurant in Saugerties, NY
» Visit Diamond Mills Hotel and Tavern in Saugerties, NY

» Visit Diamond Mills Hotel and Tavern’s Web site at www.diamondmillshotel.com/tavern
» Visit Hudson Valley Dining Guide for more local restaurants
» Visit Food & Drink Guide for more local dining services

 

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