Restaurant Review: Cucina

Gianni Scappin offers an up-to-date approach to Italian cuisine at Cucina



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Cucina, the two-year-old restaurant ensconced in a rambling yellow farmhouse on the edge of Woodstock, has been a roaring success since it opened. Chef and co-owner Gianni Scappin drew a following when he was wowing them at his previous Hudson Valley enterprise, Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck, and Woodstock’s hipsters were quick to welcome his modern Italian cooking, especially considering the town had no Italian restaurant.

» Cucina was named one of our Best New Restaurants in 2008

The farmhouse has seen a few eateries come and go. On the outside, it’s still all Victorian country charm, with an inviting wraparound porch where you can dine in warm weather. But once you’re in the door, the mood is buzzy and the look minimal yet warm. You enter via a small bar where glasses sparkle in front of a mirrored wall. There are dining rooms on either side. We ate in the larger one, which has tables arranged against banquettes around the edges, and a long, communal table for 24 anchoring the middle. Sleek pendant lights and sconces add to the polished look. Staffers are dressed in Woodstock-cool style: black on top and denim below (a look that some of the younger females expressed by wearing teeny skirts over leggings).

cucina interiorGather ’round: Located in one of Cucina’s two dining rooms, this family-style table seats 24 diners

Scappin is known for creating simple but sophisticated dishes using just a few choice, seasonal ingredients, so you can enjoy discernible flavors rather than wrangle a plateful of razzle-dazzle. His menu is divided into appetizers, salads, pizzas, pastas, and entrées covering the basics — fish, lamb, beef, pork, chicken — and there are nightly specials in each category. You can munch dainty, housemade crisp breadsticks or dip tasty, fresh-baked focaccia in fruity olive oil while deciding whether to go for the more expensive fare, or take the pizza and salad route. We figured — as we were there on a mission — that we’d do both, and decided to share a Tuscan kale salad and one of the super-thin-crust pizzas as appetizers.

» See which of Cucina’s meals we voted as one of our “10 Can’t Miss Dishes” in 2010

“Heavenly” is a word usually reserved to describe desserts, but I thought the kale salad was simply that. The uninitiated may grimace at the idea of raw kale, but the young leaves of lacinato, shredded and made tender by a lemony olive oil dressing, then sprinkled with toasted pine nuts, currants, and ribbons of tangy young Tuscan pecorino cheese was as rich and delicious as a raw vegetable can be — I could have eaten a bucket of it. Like its relatives, collards, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, kale used to have a bum rap, so it’s a treat to find it turning up on menus nowadays.

budinoButterscotch budino (pudding) with toasted coconut creme is a favorite dessert

The caprina pizza was a treat, too. The flat, crispy crust was topped with puddles of silky Coach Farm goat cheese and a savory fig-rosemary-shallot spread, with nibbles of sweet, soft pear and peppery arugula leaves — it was no surprise to hear it’s the house favorite. As my romantic husband noted, if we were divorced and he’d gone to Cucina by himself, a kale salad and a pizza would have made a more than satisfying dinner.

All the same, we ate our entrées with relish. Mine was fettuccine with scallops and cream, flecked with fresh parsley. It was that night’s pasta special, and a terrific example of Scappin’s approach: a straightforward dish executed perfectly, with the freshest ingredients balanced just so.

Mr. Romantic’s slow-roasted duck almost had the texture of confit, and a similarly concentrated flavor. Little chunks of sautéed apple — and the beety-bite of fresh wilted Swiss chard laced with garlic — were perfect contrasts as sides. The whole dish was so satisfying that we didn’t realize until we were talking about it on the way home that there was no starch.

The dessert lineup included the usual biscotti, tiramisu, sorbetti, and such. The warm chocolate cake with vanilla gelato is a big seller, as is the satiny butterscotch budino with toasted coconut creme, although I found the latter overly sweet (perhaps I was still in kale mode).

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