The Best of 2005
You voted, we tallied, and here are the results of our 19th annual survey of the Valley's finest: restaurants, shops, treats, people... In addition to your favorites, we've added a few of our own.
The Best of the Valley 2005
You voted — and so have we. Now here are the winners in our 19th annual survey of the region’s finest
by Lynn Hazlewood, David Levine, Ann Morrow, Polly Sparling, Reed Sparling, Robert Supina & Elizabeth Trickett
Ahi Tuna Taco
Sushi-grade tuna, marinated in a soy-honey-ginger concoction, is folded into flash-fried wonton wrappers and topped with fresh guacamole, scallions, and a dollop of sour cream. Served as an appetizer, this dish is packing them in at the (relatively new) downtown eatery.
Via Nove Restaurant & Wine Bar
Eaten as a snack in Sicily, arancini (the name means “little oranges”) are croquettes made with a mixture of white rice and other ingredients. Via Nove’s appetizer version includes green peas, Manchego cheese, and a hearty tomato sauce topping. Mangia!
Max’s Memphis BBQ
Red Hook (Dutchess)
The meats are hickory-smoked for anywhere from four to 15 hours, which means there’s no need for a knife. Those with super-sized appetites should go on Thursday night, when there’s an all-you-can-eat pulled pork dinner.
Goat Cheese and Red Pepper
Only $3.80 and packed with fresh French goat cheese, homemade basil paste, roasted sweet red peppers, and organic mesclun — all dressed with balsamic vinaigrette — this sandwich is a steal. Choose from focaccia, baguette, peasant roll, or garlic herb bread (all made from scratch) to assemble the perfect lunch. Bigger appetites can go for the large baguette or herb bread that serves three to five. It’s just $12.50.
You can go around the world at Country Inn, where owner Peter Rinaudo stocks some 500 bottles of beer and has a running rotation of 10 on tap, including brews from England, Germany, and Belgium. While he’s got all of the staple labels, Rinaudo’s specialty is seeking out the unique — everything from local microbrews to suds from Sri Lanka, the Caribbean, and Vietnam.
Best-Kept Dining Secret
Miss Lucy’s Kitchen
The secret’s out: chef Marc Propper’s upscale riffs on comfort food (and the desserts made by his wife, Michelle Silver) are drawing diners from all over the Valley and beyond. Just don’t get too attached to anything on the menu: it changes almost daily.
Aroma Thyme Bistro
Chef Marcus Guiliano has obviously struck a nerve with his whole-food creations that are both healthy and bursting with flavor. Ellenville is making a comeback, and Aroma Thyme is leading the way, attracting crowds from far and wide.
★Chocolate Bread Pudding
Blue Hill at Stone Barns
Pocantico Hills (Westchester)
Silence that sweet tooth with Dan Barber’s decadent dessert. Inside this “pudding” you’ll find a layer of caramel sauce and peanuts; outside, a crème brûlée-type crunchy topping is partnered with a scoop of banana ice cream. Dishes like this make it worth the two-month wait for a reservation at this red-hot restaurant.
Main Street Bistro
New Paltz (Ulster)
With omelettes, frittatas, flapjacks, breakfast stir-fries, and poached egg creations on the menu — not to mention a dizzying array of house-baked muffins and breads — Main Street Bistro offers a worthy reason for getting up early. And the prices (nothing is more than $10) will keep you smiling all day long.
West Point (Orange)
The spread is lavish (muffins and croissants; cold salads; hot selections such as eggs, sliced sirloin, and roast turkey; an omelette station; and a dessert buffet), the views of the Hudson Highlands are magnificent, and the service is first-rate. That’s why the Champagne Brunch at the Thayer keeps on winning.
The restaurant has changed hands, but — good news! — the renowned burgers are still there, as is the homemade ketchup that’s so savory it’s hard to stop ladling it on. Order the 12-ounce “regular” with cheese and, say, onions, and you’ll probably need a knife and fork to manage it all. Tasty sweet potato fries are a nice change from standard French fries.
This sea beastie can very easily get rubbery and tough, but here it’s delicate, tender, and delectable. The preparation couldn’t be simpler: the calamari is lightly floured and dropped into deep, hot oil. As soon as it comes to the surface, it’s done — and it’s perfect.
★Capital Region Pub
Mahar’s Public Bar
It’s all beer all the time in James J. Mahar’s faintly British–style pub. Twenty-some taps and hundreds of bottles offer beers from around the world. Regulars keep their engraved mugs here, computers track all the beers you’ve sampled, and patrons talk arcane beer trivia. And a lot of them are still not over the smoking ban.
Le Canard Enchainé
Chef Jean-Jacques Carquillat makes the duck confit and garlic sausage for this bistro classic himself, then adds pork, lamb, herbs, white beans, tomato paste, and duck stock (for extra richness), and cooks it all very, very slowly until the meats are meltingly tender and the flavors melded into one succulent, savory, stick-to-your-ribs feast.
Full-flavored Mexican fare: the usual enchiladas, tacos, and burritos, as well as some specialties that rarely make an appearance at your typical south-of-the-border cantina. The portions are huge, the prices most definitely not.
Andy’s has been around, under one name or another, since 1948, and one reason it’s still popular is the chili, served in a heaping bowl topped with cheese and onions. You won’t need a fire extinguisher, but it’s plenty spicy. Plan to eat it on the wraparound deck.
Miss Lucy’s Kitchen
Garlic sausage and white bean ragout. Grilled pork chops. Beef chili. At Miss Lucy’s, you can treat yourself to many of the stick-to-your-ribs dishes that harken back to days of yore, when families still dined together. And just like mom’s, the menu changes daily.
El Mariachi Restaurant
Everyone knows Albany has no really good Chinese food, but it does have an excellent and authentic Mexican restaurant, and this signature dish of roast pork marinated in orange juice, achiote, and Mexican spices, and topped with marinated red onions, is muy great.
Iron Gate Café
Set behind the ornamental iron fence it’s named for, this daytime café offers seating in a charming garden courtyard across from a Victorian brownstone. Even so, the café’s to-go business is brisk, on account of a delicious and innovative breakfast-and-lunch menu.
Apple Pie Bakery Café
at the Culinary Institute
Hyde Park (Dutchess)
We’re partial to the Hudson Valley apple pie — it’s got just the right mix of tart and sweet — but everything here, from the peanut butter cookies to the blackberry lemon soufflé, will make you consider skipping the entrée and heading right to meal’s end.
It’s not often you see soufflés on a menu, and rarer still to
find the fluffy, light, delicious ones whipped up by chef Claude Guermont. Most people choose Grand Marnier (our favorite), raspberry, or chocolate, but Guermont will make any flavor you like: banana, praline, hazelnut, pear, strawberry — indulge yourself!
Off the beaten path for most of us, this raved-about restaurant is housed in a stately 1783 Dutch Colonial whose interior is adorned with antiques, flowers, and a copper-topped bar. Chef David Lawson’s menu of French-inspired country cooking highlights local seasonal ingredients. Who cares about high gas prices? Just go!
Hyde Park (Dutchess)
It’s got the classic ’50s chrome streamlined look and a menu longer than War & Peace (well, almost), which features everything from haute cuisine to comfort food. And you’ll hardly ever find it closed.
DePuy Canal House
High Falls (Ulster)
Everybody’s mixing it up these days, but chef John Novi, who invented octopus choucroute years and years ago, is still dreaming up delicious and daring combinations. If you’re not bold enough to try such delicacies as pig’s head cheese pâté, or unagi eel with matjes herring (served with a shot of black currant vodka), you can do what De Niro does, and go for the chicken.
Making the perfect confit is tricky, but James Tamayo has it down. His near-legendary signature version is perfectly seasoned; plump; moist, with just the right amount of saltiness; and (the trickiest part of all) it has a crispy skin. In short, it’s simply the best.
Chef Josh Kroner’s popular appetizer reflects his years spent at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill — but with his own unique twist. Barbecued duck is layered on a triple tortilla with fontina cheese, red onions, and jalapeño peppers, then topped with a mango avocado salsa. To die for.
Warmly decorated with an Egyptology theme, this homey little eatery is situated in the midst of Troy’s antiques district, where the friendly, attentive owners serve fresh, Middle Eastern–style lunches to merchants and shoppers.
★Filet Mignon Quesadilla
Diners at this cozy, candlelit spot clamor for this meal-size appetizer: tender slices of prime beef, sautéed mushrooms, and a zesty horseradish sauce are layered between two flour tortillas. Olé!
★Food Named After a Local Celebrity
John Gray Pizza
Named for the local TV anchor who invented it, this pie combines red sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage, red onion, broccoli, red and green peppers, and garlic on a tasty crust that’s crunchy but still moist and thick. Some say it’s the best pizza, period.
Valley Restaurant at the Garrison
The key to great salmon is to cook it just enough to keep it from turning dry and flaky. At the Valley, executive chef Jeff Raider grills the Pacific King salmon until it’s medium rare, tops it with a creamy roasted garlic and parsley butter sauce, and serves it with
a wild mushroom ragout.
Ice Cream Stand (TIE)
Debra T’s Ice Cream Café
Red Hook (Dutchess)
For a frozen treat, these can’t be beat: the long lines at both are all the proof you need. In addition to your typical van-choc-straw (soft or hard), both offer some unusual flavors (such as Holy Cow’s Blueberry Pie and Debra T’s Roadrunner Raspberry), as well as sundaes, milkshakes, and yummy ice cream cakes.
Many have swooned over the Peruvian-style lamb riblets, seasoned with lime and cayenne, finished in a fryer for extra flavor, and just begging to be picked up and gnawed (delicately, of course). But whatever the cut or preparation, the lamb at Relish (like all the high-quality meats there) is grass-fed, free-range, free of antibiotics — and mouthwateringly good.
Hyde Park (Dutchess)
The cone of puff-pastry cheese twists, served in lieu of bread, give notice that you’ll be having an otherworldly dining experience. From there, chef Benjamin Mauk’s hard-to-pin-down cuisine, touching on every place from Latin America to Asia, just gets better and better. Welcome!
New Paltz (Ulster)
Cordon Bleu–trained chef Barbara Bogart mixes up the cuisines of France, Northern Italy, Germany, and Austria with great flair, using local produce to create dishes like sea scallops with English pea flan, grilled sardines over European potato salad, and Normandy duck breast with crepe ribbons. On special occasions, you might even find suckling pig.
It’s got a thin, crisp crust and just the right cheese-to-sauce ratio. In fact, it’s so light, you won’t feel at all full after several slices. That’s a good thing, because you’ll have room for a homemade cannoli. Another plus: the service is as friendly as it gets.
★Place for a Crazy Meal
“Pazzo” may mean crazy in Pisa, but here in Potown it stands for “pasta” and “panini.” Diners go nuts trying to decide on an entrée — you can choose from a selection of seven pastas and 12 sauces. And the café’s choice of 10 paninis (all made with homemade bread) is insane.
Place to Eat with Kids
Bugaboo Creek Steakhouse
Wappingers Falls (Dutchess)
The place looks like Grandpa’s cluttered hunting lodge (if granddad were Teddy Roosevelt), and the moose on the wall talks. If that’s not enough to keep the tykes enthralled, the free ice cream they get with their meal should do the trick.
Hudson’s Ribs & Fish
Most restaurants start you off with a basket of bread or rolls, but not Hudson’s. Freshly baked popovers — light and flaky, and served warm with strawberry butter — welcome patrons of this popular Route 9 eatery.
It sounds so simple: a portobello mushroom, a little olive oil and salt, some garlic and white wine, a bit of butter, chicken broth, and parsley. But when prepared by the experts in Guida’s kitchen, it becomes an appetizer that is molto delizioso. Ask for varieties prepared with Gorgonzola or rigatoni.
Definitely authentico, this huge menu offers about 270 traditional dishes from every state in Mexico. Everything’s made fresh daily, including the salsas and sauces, and if the list’s too daunting, go for the popular seafood seviche or the chicken mole tamales served with pico de gallo. A jukebox playing popular Mexican music adds to that south-of-the-border feel.
Restaurant with a View
Mohonk Mountain House
New Paltz (Ulster)
It’s hard to pull yourself away from all that gorgeous Shawangunks scenery around the venerable hotel. Fortunately, you don’t have to at mealtime: the dining room’s tall windows look out on a sublime view of the Catskills. Your best bet: the buffet lunch.
We love Gigi’s barbina salad, comprised of crunchy local greens from Sky Farms and chock full of plump red beets, crisp asparagus, and mushrooms. It’s topped with a homemade sherry shallot vinaigrette and finished off with toasted chopped walnuts and crumbled Coach Farm goat cheese. No rabbit food this!
Panini are the name of the game at this popular Poughkeepsie hangout. You can design your own or opt for such tasty fillings as grilled portobello mushrooms, sweet Italian sausage, or spicy pork. They come on a fresh ciabatta roll with chips and a green salad.
Cathryn’s Tuscan Grill
Cold Spring (Putnam)
This delectable morsel is simplicity itself: take a slice of prosciutto, spread on some creamy Gorgonzola, add a jumbo shrimp, and roll it up. The combination of sweet shrimpiness; salty, smoked meat; and pungent cheese is a robust taste of heaven. Cathryn says if she ever took this one off the menu, “there’d be a riot.”
Seafood & Fish Market
Gadaleto’s Seafood Market & Restaurant
New Paltz (Ulster)
Fresh-out-of-the-net seafood, simply and expertly prepared, and with live music to boot. If you’d rather make it at home, go to the adjacent market, which supplies dozens of other restaurants in the area.
The favorites at this family-friendly restaurant ar