Best New Restaurants
New restaurants pop up throughout the Hudson Valley all the time. (Although the economy has certainly slowed that trend a bit.) But which ones are really worth a special trip? From an Italian trattoria to a swank hotel hot spot, these seven outstanding eateries, all of which have opened in the last two years, are not to be missed. So make your reservations — and get ready to enjoy a dynamic dining experience
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Perfect pasta: Cucina’s rigatoni with sausage, peas, tomato, and a touch of cream
Photographs by Teresa Horgan
Cucina is a rarity for a fine dining establishment in the Hudson Valley. For starters, with 110 seats, it’s very large. Secondly, it serves pizza. In fact, the thin-crust, individual-sized pies (the most popular is the caprini: pears, figs, truffle oil, and goat cheese) make up 35 percent of the business. “If you want to spend $15 for a glass of wine and pizza, you’re as welcome as the guy who wants to spend $100. We have room to serve all kinds of people, and to host all types of occasions,” says executive chef and co-owner Gianni Scappin.
Scappin knows a thing or two about running a successful restaurant. Raised near Venice, he ran kitchens in culinary hot spots in Italy and Manhattan before heading to the Valley. And foodies have been waiting to see where he would land after leaving Rhinebeck’s Gigi Trattoria three years ago. Now, he and co-owner Lois Freedman have come together to run this “simple Italian restaurant,” which opened last May. After a long delay, the restaurant finally received a liquor license.
While the current style among world-renowned chefs is to create ever-higher towers of food in ever-more startling combinations, using emulsifiers, gelling agents, and foam sauces, Scappin doesn’t follow the pack.
“Instead of going forward with food, I decided to go back,” says Scappin. “For me the foam, bubbles, and applied color doesn’t make a lot of sense. My opinion is straightforward. When it’s duck, braised or roasted, everything should be based on the duck, and not on all the fanciness, the height, the layers of stuff. It seems a lot of people think the way I do. They’ve had enough of too much going on, or too many things on the plate. All of a sudden it’s not about the duck but about the mango, the sweetness, the sour, the spices, but the duck got lost along the way. I try to focus on the main item on the plate.”
Executive Chef Gianni Scappin (below) brings years of culinary experience to this new venture. (Bottom:) The oversized communal table is the centerpiece of the dining room
Even with the emphasis on fresh, local produce, it takes confidence to put together a menu that doesn’t rely on heavy sauces. But there are exceptions. “A touch of cream” works just right with a rigatoni, sausage, peas, and tomato dish. “I’m not a big cream fan, but I compromised. People sometimes crave the creaminess of the pasta. Most of the time I purée vegetables and olive oil together. It’s one of the favorite pastas on the menu.”
For Scappin, who also teaches at the Culinary Institute of America, it’s about adding carefully chosen ingredients to traditional trattoria dishes. Fresh sage and rosemary spice up a warm shrimp and white bean appetizer. In an especially inspired dish, fresh peach is added to a mozzarella, Parma prosciutto, and mint salad.
Scappin’s aesthetic extends to the old farmhouse Cucina occupies. There are two large dining areas indoors, with outdoor dining on the porch when appropriate. Scappin and Freedman expanded the place, using wood recycled from area barns (think “trattoria,” not “formal Italian, red-cushions-everywhere” décor). The indoor centerpiece is the long communal table with 24 seats. “All our larger parties go there, but no, nobody has requested to sit there yet with a smaller party,” says Freedman. “I hope they do. It’s a great way to enjoy a meal, and this table certainly gives the place a good energy.”
Cucina. 109 Mill Hill Rd., Woodstock. 845-679-9800, www.cucinawoodstock.com