Dish Mahopac Restaurant, Mahopac
Where to eat in 2013: Bistro and wine bar in Putnam County
Tiny treasure: Big flavors from a small kitchen
Photographs by Jennifer May
If you want to dine at Dish Mahopac, you’ll probably need a reservation. Not only because this bistro/wine bar is wildly popular, but also because this slip of a space with cozy red-lacquer walls only has 30 seats.
Limited room drives the menu, too: “Our kitchen is small, just six burners, a double convection oven, and a grill — half of which is a dedicated vegan grill — so I have to make connections between everything,” says chef/owner Peter Milano.
Imaginative use of ingredients is a signature of the restaurant. “It’s all a reflection of my travels,” says Milano, who at age 26 has visited more countries than most people twice his age. He’s hung out with farmers in Ireland, monks in Belgium, and street cooks in India — and although he’s had no formal training, he’s learned from all of them. He took the helm here in late August, completely overhauling the menu. “I try to bridge international influences in my food. Each dish tells its own story,” he says. A case in point: the bistro’s much-acclaimed duck tacos (shown), flavored with hoisin BBQ sauce and served on a handmade tortilla. It’s an unlikely combination of Chinese, French, and Mexican flavors that really works. “We literally have people close checks and get up to leave and then sit back down and say, ‘We want another duck taco,’ ” says Milano. The dish was originally going to be served with crepes rather than tortillas, “but we wanted to offer more gluten-free options.”
Milano is a confirmed Japanophile, and he visits there annually to study the culture, eat (naturally), and practice jujitsu (he’s a third-degree black belt). Many of his dishes reflect that Asian vibe, including the Pacific Po’boy, a popular lunch item featuring chili and garlic shrimp, wasabi aïoli, and Asian slaw, served with oven-roasted frites. Those same frites mix and match with another lunch favorite: the grilled Gruyère and bleu cheese sandwich, so familiar and French and yet offbeat at the same time.
Despite the close quarters, the bistro has a substantial and ever-changing beer and wine selection (with the help of sommelier/beverage consultant Brian Mitchell). Milano blogs constantly about new quaffing possibilities — whether a Principe Di Corleone Sicilian wine or a Belgian abbey ale. Hint: Go to his Facebook page on Saturdays to learn about small-batch beverages available by request only. The restaurant’s Facebook can also clue you in to dishes the chef is working on before they hit the menu.
If you’d like to give the bistro a whirl without committing to a big meal, stop by for Aperitivo Time, weekdays from 4-6 p.m., when guests can come in for appetizers and receive one free at the cedar-topped bar. There is also an after-hours menu from 9 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, so you can decide on a whim to have a quick bite. Try Belgian frites with a suite of dipping sauces, including traditional mayonnaise or curry ketchup. Or graze on a Mediterranean Platter, loaded with homemade hummus and warm pita, served with a side of Sriracha Rooster Sauce, the hipster’s hot condiment of choice.
This month, Milano is planning a trip to either Japan or Austria — he’s not sure which. “But wherever I go, it will influence the menu when I get back.”