Communal Dining at Cucina in Woodstock, NY
One of the Hudson Valley’s 12 best dishes in 2012: Communal dining at Cucina in Woodstock, NY (Ulster County)
Clockwise, from top left: Rigatoni with sausage, peas, tomato, and a touch of cream; risotto with scallops and porcini mushrooms; and funghetti pizza with mushrooms, tomato, fresh herbs, and ricotta
Photographs by Jennifer May
When the old farmhouse that became Cucina was being remodeled, co-owner Lois Freedman dreamed up the idea of putting a long, communal table for 24 down the middle of the main dining room, and what she calls “a miniature one for 12” in the smaller room. “It’s partly to create a visual separation,” she says, “but also because communal dining creates a festive atmosphere. You can meet new people, be in the middle of the action. Sometimes people even share food; they’ll say, ‘Here, take a piece of my pizza.’ ”
You can be in the thick of things, sharing (or not) chef Gianni Scappin’s delicious modern Italian fare: crispy thin-crust pizzas (the Caprina — with goat cheese, fig-rosemary spread, pear, arugula, and truffle oil — is a favorite) or a pasta dish (perhaps rigatoni with sausage, peas, tomatoes, and a touch of cream), or something fancier like short rib stew with polenta, grilled lamb chops, or slow-roasted salmon. Although it’s not mentioned on the menu, groups at the communal table sometimes ask for a chef’s tasting menu, and share whatever Scappin wants to make.
The communal table at Cucina brings groups of diners together for food and conversation
Stargazing always makes an evening memorable. What celebrities might you spot at Cucina? Freedman, a cheerfully self-confessed blabbermouth, recites a small galaxy: “David Bowie and Iman, Heather Graham, Natalie Merchant, Anne Hathaway, Natalie Portman, Frank Langella — but they usually sit at private tables. Kate Pierson from the B-52s has had the communal table; she has large groups all the time.
“Communal tables are great for single people, too,” Freedman continues, recalling an anecdote from a restaurant in her past. “I had a single woman at the communal table, and a single man came in and I thought, ‘Hmm, let me put him across from her, maybe they’ll strike up a conversation.’ It turned out they hit it off. They left together, and I got a postcard a few months later from Hawaii — they were a couple!” Has such clever matchmaking occurred at Cucina? “Not yet,” she says. “I’m still working on it.”