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Course Correct: Zak Pelaccio’s Fish & Game 

click to enlarge Jori Jayne Emde pouring hollandaise onto aspargus. Zak Pelaccio prepping greens.
  • Roy Gumpel
  • Jori Jayne Emde pouring hollandaise onto aspargus. Zak Pelaccio prepping greens.

In this month's installment of "Why Hudson Is Hipper than Your Town," we visit Fish & Game, the restaurant just opened by Zak Pelaccio, former wunderkind creator of the Malaysian-inspired Fatty Crab in Manhattan and Fatty 'Cue in Brooklyn, and his partner Jori Jayne Emde. The new venture is a world away from the brash, rock `n' roll mashups that made his name, the country estate to the Fatty franchises' noisy clubs. Years in the planning, it represents the distilled experience of both chefs before and since their move to Old Chatham six years ago. Right out of the gate, this is one of the most interesting restaurants in the region.

Almost all the food, with the usual exceptions, is produced in the area, much of it from within a 40-mile radius of Hudson. Fish & Game orders only whole animals, from trusted farms, and they use every possible piece from each one. The nose-to-tail ethos extends to all the ingredients; vegetable trimmings like carrot and turnip tops are macerated in alcohol and then distilled in a rotary evaporator to make essences that will find their way back into dishes and drinks in dozens of ways. The cycle of the seasons means that the roster of ingredients will change almost daily, along with the menu; the point of the restaurant is to embrace that flow and ride it, with great care and skill, toward a distinct culinary identity for the Hudson Valley.

Luxe & Louche
The brick building, once a blacksmith's shop, took longer to renovate than anticipated; the opening was originally slated for fall. Outside, there's a front patio with two-tops and metal chairs, and flickering gas lamps flank the entrance. The interior, designed by architect Michael Davis, handsomely straddles Hudson's trademark blend of rustic comfort and high-end refinement. Burgundy velvet burnout wallpaper looks straight out of a Victorian bordello, and the couches in the bar are seductively enveloping. The effect is both luxe and louche. The furnishings show the same local ethos as the ingredients: The tables and the bar were all built by woodworker Peter Heilman, and the plates and bowls were thrown by Caroline Wallner in Rhinebeck and Bob Golden in Amagansett.

click to enlarge Asparagus with holandaise and salty ham.
  • Roy Gumpel
  • Asparagus with holandaise and salty ham.

Two fireplaces provide ambiance, heat, and food; the one in the bar is equipped with an iron raclette and on the dining room hearth during recent meals a motorized rotisserie quietly revolved a couple of ducks, which gradually darkened to a seductive russet patina. Executive chef Kevin Pomplun, appearing periodically to baste the ducks with a citrus glaze, explained that they were poached first in maple sap with soy and fish sauces. The fireplaces, along with the wood-burning oven in the kitchen, were built from brick salvaged during the renovation. Substantial, sensual materials abound: tall stemware, heavy flatware, and soft linen napkins rolled into black steel rings.

Changing Tastes Each Day
Diners get a seven-course tasting menu—regular or vegetarian—for $68. On the back of the menu, printed anew every day, is a list of all the "farms and artisans" who produced ingredients for the meal. Small bowls of broth, deeply flavored, often appear as a first course: mushroom, or overwintered carrot (they convert starch to sugar when left underground) or "various game birds." On another night, those sweet carrots appear in a bowl, glazed with maple sap and garnished with a thin curl of cured and smoked pork jowl: überbacon.

The salad, billed as "an assortment of leaves," is dressed with a whiff of their own barrel-aged fish sauce vinaigrette. It's masterful; the faint funk of fermented fish perfumes the squeaky leaves like it was spritzed in the air, cologne style, and the leaves sauntered through it on their way to the chunky walnut bowls in which they appear. A glimpse of vintage Pelaccio appears in the thick "vinaigrette" smeared on the plate under a petite ingot of charred Arctic char: spicy, sour, funky with some fermented seafood or another, it was a winning condiment that lingered in the mouth long after the plate was clean.

click to enlarge Clams with grilled bread.
  • Roy Gumpel
  • Clams with grilled bread.

Another home run of a dish was the asparagus with duck egg hollandaise and grilled bread: nothing remarkable on paper, but a sublime symphony of the subtle overtones that result from top quality seasonal ingredients, handled properly, at the peak of freshness. What looked like a grilled lamb steak turned out to be a section of neck, cooked sous vide for hours until loin-tender and then finished on the fire, with a little copper pot of velvety potato purée for two alongside. While superbly tasty, the cut could have been a touch thicker, especially given the size of the bone in the middle.

  • Peter Barrett reports on the long-awaited opening of Hudson's new eatery.

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