Zak Pelaccio’s Fish & Game Sets the Tone for Hudson Dining | Restaurants | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

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In a welcome attempt to curry favor with this reviewer, Pelaccio brought out an extra dish, a puffy, Thai-style omelet studded with lamb brains, garnished with cilantro and a rhubarb-chili gastrique. He and Emde both regularly come out to tables, carrying food and chatting up friends and new visitors alike. Pelaccio chose his station, closest to the dining room, so he can easily bring out a treat to a regular or check on a new arrival. Dietary restrictions are happily accommodated; a guest who can't eat dairy received a rhubarb sorbet for dessert instead of the chocolate cremeaux. Both were delightful. The result, after seven well-paced courses, is the sensation of being neither full nor hungry, but perfectly sated.

Small-Name Wine List

The wine list is extensive, organized by varietal, and heavily European, reflecting the couple's preferences. It includes some idiosyncratic choices, and some high geekery: the ribolla gialla section, for example, which includes Josko Gravner's (aged in huge clay amphorae), is a who's who of the great makers in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and Slovenia. There is only one Bordeaux, and just a couple of Californians, and no Australians; this list is admirably tilted away from the high-alcohol, food-crushing fruit bombs that overran the market in the last decade. There's nary a big-name trophy bottle to be found; they were all clearly chosen to accompany the food. "These are the wines we like to drink when we cook and eat," says Pelaccio of the list.

With precious few bottles under $50, and most well north of that, it's worth asking questions if nothing jumps out at you. A standout red for $55 is Olivier Cousin's "Pur Breton," a naturally made cabernet franc that's tangy and joyous. Cousin is in legal trouble for his deliberate yet unauthorized use of the region, Anjou, on the label of a vin de table, a punk rock snook-cocking that makes the wine a good fit with the couple's irreverent personalities as well as their food.

How About a Schnort and a Schnack?

For those not feeling the tasting menu, there is à la carte dining at the bar, with a constantly changing array of options, including a couple of drink-and-snack pairings like the "Schnort & a Schnack," a shot of Mezcal and a skewered lamb kidney. The bar offers standards and original creations; the latter feature some local ingredients like honey and sumac and they were subjected to the same rigorous technical trials as the food. Notable examples include the Tainted Lady (blood orange-infused tequila, chartreuse, charred meyer lemon, honey) and Where There's Smoke, There's Fire (Mezcal, chili-infused aperol, sumac, and lime).

Turnips with duck giblets.
Roy Gumpel
Turnips with duck giblets.

The ever-shifting ingredients present a challenge, but Pelaccio says that's the whole idea. "We speak the same language, so when things come in we can quickly figure out what to do with them before service starts." The result is a lot like seeing a band live: "More of a jam band, I guess, where it's often great and sometimes good and hardly ever sucks." He grins at the absurdity of that last part. "If one of us is having an off night, the others help out and make it work." It's an incomplete simile, however; though Pelaccio frequently talks about "those meals that only happen once, but that you remember for the rest of your life," those magical confluences of time, place, company, and ingredients, he follows up with "It's not like music, because it can't be recorded. It's a shared experience, and then it's a memory."

The construction delays have only made the food better, allowing the kitchen staff to refine their techniques and collaborate on a growing repertoire of combinations. Among Emde's many specialties is presiding over the rapidly growing array of preserves: pickles, chutneys, vinegars, ferments, elixirs, decoctions, and fish and Worcestershire sauces—a bank of seasonal bounty, in rows of mason jars—provide inspiration and add bright jolts of flavor. The service, which unlike the kitchen staff did not spend all winter perfecting itself, is still attaining fluency, but any lingering kinks should be gone by the time this sees print.

Hake just pulled from the wood-fired oven.
Roy Gumpel
Hake just pulled from the wood-fired oven.

The couple speak regularly about the beauty of the region, and the extraordinary farmers who work here; their stated goal is to do justice to the great riches of the place and its food, and to celebrate their lifestyle of diligent daily cooking and preservation. The virtuoso stoner aesthetic that made Pelaccio a success has matured into something subtler, and more collaborative, but no less pleasurable to eat. Rather than the almost violently addictive Malaysian sauces that compel one to wreck a bowl of crabs (and possibly a nice jacket in the process) this is grown-up food, presented elegantly, and sincerely striving to define the upper reaches of fine regional cuisine in the Hudson Valley.

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