Butterfield at Hasbrouck House | Restaurants | Hudson Valley | Hudson Valley; Chronogram
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Butterfield at Hasbrouck House 

Fresh Vision

click to enlarge Chef Aaron Abramson leaving the smokehouse.
  • Chef Aaron Abramson leaving the smokehouse.

The commercial celebration of locally, organically, and sustainably grown foods—also known as farm-to-table—is largely recognized not just as a dining trend, but as a social movement.

Residents of the Hudson Valley, which is home to hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland, are plenty familiar with what ignited the movement—concerns around food quality, freshness, place of origin; environmental factors from carbon footprints to pollution and genetic modification; the treatment of animals; and the economic tribulations of small or family-owned farms—to name just a few.

While Aaron Abramson cares about the planet and loves kicking business to local growers, he isn't driven by social activism. His cultivation of a new food philosophy at Butterfield is rooted in a few other factors: the thrill of a challenge, a favorable division of labor, and an incomparability of flavor.

"That's the biggest thing I've learned being a chef: That the flavor of a vegetable straight from the ground is strikingly different." Executive chef Abramson is standing in the 80-year-old kitchen of Butterfield—the restaurant at the 260-year-old Hudson Valley inn recently reimagined as the Hasbrouck House—carrying out the ritual of making the daily bread.

"The vegetables you get at the grocery were pulled out of the ground 10 days, two weeks ago. That side-by-side comparison of the taste of a tomato that traveled across the country versus the one I just picked—it's unbelievable."

Hasbrouck House opened four years back, and since, it's experienced a complete overhaul of management. The stately stone house, cottage, and other facilities sit in the middle of a pastoral property just off Route 209, in the heart of Stone Ridge.

click to enlarge Poached halibut, summer succotash
  • Poached halibut, summer succotash

A world of amenities from spa services to nightly bonfires greets guests, while neighbors are welcomed to frequent morning yoga classes and summertime screenings of crowd-pleasing classics like Jaws and Back to the Future near an outdoor snack hut that serves local ales and cans of rosé.

Harvested to Order

Butterfield is being reimagined too. Abramson was brought on to helm the kitchen this spring, and already, he has no shortage of plans for the future: a resident forager, gardens all the way to the tree line, a Michelin star (or three).

He places a cup of flour on an electric scale as he relays his visions. For example: Because he believes freshly picked food has an appeal you can't man-make, he looks ahead to a day when a salad "harvested to order" is a Butterfield staple.

"We'll have one guy whose job it is," he muses. "When we get a ticket in: 'We need cucumbers! Go pick the cucumbers!'"

Abramson originally became obsessed with the superiority of fresh, local ingredients while a sous chef at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, an upscale restaurant that sources its ingredients almost entirely from a four-season farm and agricultural education center on an 80-acre sliver of the Rockefeller Estate in Pocantico Hills.

click to enlarge Shaved local radish salad, warm chicken vinaigrette
  • Shaved local radish salad, warm chicken vinaigrette

Or, he may have developed that passion earlier, during his tenure at Willows Inn on Lummi Island, off the Washington coast. In 2011, he turned down a job at Noma and came home from Europe to help craft the Washington destination into a James Beard Award winner.

"I have the highest standards in the world for seafood, and I like to think no one has better seafood than the Pacific Northwest," says Abramson, a native Washingtonian. "We had fish delivered to our door in rigor mortis every day," he reminisces while kneading a mound of dough. "And we dug the shellfish ourselves. You can't beat that."

Of course, it's possible he already knew about the next-level flavor of a dish made with the freshest, purest ingredients even prior to Lummi Island. And now, he's applying it now at Butterfield along with this very simple mantra: "Get the best ingredients you can, and take great care of 'em."

Creativity Rooted in Boundaries

Of the Butterfield kitchen's four walls, three have doors.

The westernmost doors open into a small parlor that abuts the dining room: a cozy, clean square room around a hearth, with modern black leather banquets and frosted gold sconces, one wall of stone with arched windows to the garden, the other walls the cool, dark color of a wild lowbush blueberry.

click to enlarge butterfield_067.jpg

The east doors lead out to a verdant path lined with green and sage grasses, lavender and hosta, a stand-alone cottage of guest suites with clawfoot tubs, and a gravel drive along which are tall pines, hammocks, and a bright blue pool.

We are walking through the single south door from the kitchen to the patio, past the walk-in refrigerator where Abramson gently places the bread dough to hibernate until dinner. Just outside is a fired-up, barrel-shaped metal grill, big enough for a whole pig. "When I got here it was full of trash," he says, staring into the logs and flames where he wood-fires beets and grills steaks. "Fixing it up was a no-brainer. One of the first things I did."

Opposite the grill is a small stone shed that looks as if it's about to be pulled to the ground by ivy, chimney protruding. Hasbrouck House figures it might be the oldest standing smokehouse in the state, built to preserve meats and fish before the refrigeration era 260 years back. (They won't know for certain until someone steps forward with an older one.)

Near the smokehouse, some herbs and vegetables dictate a corner of an otherwise wild raised garden bed. Star-shaped yellow blossoms hang on a cucumber plant. "One more critical thing I must show you," says Abramson, rounding the stout stone wall of the garden. "My ping-pong table." He goes head to head with other kitchen and hotel staff, and he's not undefeated, but at the time of this interview, he's seen only one loss.

As we walk back into the kitchen, there's a commotion at the south doors: Leah Wesselmann has arrived bearing armfuls of shopping bags stuffed with 18 pounds of oyster, lobster, and chanterelle mushrooms. The kitchen staff gathers around her. She peers into the middle bag. "I think these are the best ones," she says.

"Amazing," says Abramson. He turns a bright mustard-colored colony of oyster mushrooms over in his hand, surveilling Wesselmann's take. Looks of satisfaction and victory are exchanged.

Wesselmann has foraged "a couple hundred pounds" of mushrooms for Butterfield so far this year, not to mention huckleberries and sassafras root. And in line with the charms of a small town, "She's also our dishwasher's substitute science teacher," says Abramson.

This week, the oyster mushrooms before us could find themselves simply sauteéd in butter, glazed with a stock made with the trim and scrap left after cleaning them (toward a goal of no waste), and served with a grilled green garlic aioli. Next week, they could be cooked and tossed with Catskills huckleberries, dressing a grilled leg of Kinderhook Farm lamb.

Beyond what Wesselmann forages, and what little so far Butterfield grows on site, Abramson sources most ingredients from local farms via Hudson Valley Harvest, an aggregator and distributor of local farm-fresh goods, that connects him with area farmers as easily as sending a text.

He finds out what's available, what's exciting, and designs the menu accordingly. (It changes quite often). "It's one of my favorite ways of cooking. I didn't set out to be a farm-to-table chef who only uses ingredients from within a certain radius, but I figure, let's try to offer something unique. Let's force ourselves to create boundaries in the interest of pushing our creativity."

What's available on Butterfield's home turf is often of the produce persuasion, and their presentations are deliciously creative: Try the Ember Roasted Beets ($13) with crispy quinoa and Butterfield mustard greens, plated in a burst of color on a slate board, and with a wood-fired flavor lending something savory and new, or the Heirloom Tomatoes ($14) with baby greens. A garnish of flowers and a sweet corn creme the texture of caramel makes this almost dessert-like. The meat dishes, like the Aged Duck Breast ($29), are elegantly dressed in fruits and vegetables—in this case, local beets and blackberries.

Beyond that rush of creativity that stems from boundaries, Abramson finds farm-to-table cooking to be a favorable division of labor. To him, it's just a new way of delegating: "The farmers are doing all the work. They grow this squash from a seed, spend six weeks of pulling weeds out of the ground. All I do is sauté it, add a little lemon and a pinch of salt."

But he's just being humble. With a look at the Butterfield menu you'll note there's a fair amount of curation involved.

And, to a chef like Abramson, growing a perfect organic squash from seed is a small miracle, but growing a successful upscale restaurant in a small village with wildly varying seasonal attitudes is no cakewalk either.

click to enlarge butterfield_124.jpg

To strike a balance, he keeps his menu welcoming and elegantly simple, foregoing the 12-course taster plus wine pairing. His favorite farm-to-table point of reference, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, serves a $258 menu dégustation nightly, but there's no call for such a thing at Butterfield. It's breezier than all that.

In the Gloaming

It's early in the dinner service on a Sunday evening, and a summer evening gloam is floating in from the garden windows and lighting up the table tops. Ice cubes clink around the bar where seasonal classic cocktails and local ciders (Esopus, Stone Ridge), kombuchas (Cooperstown), sour ales (Newburgh, Poughkeepsie) and pales and pilsners (Accord, Peekskill) are being served across a white marble bar.

click to enlarge Dinner on the patio at Butterfield
  • Dinner on the patio at Butterfield

The dining room is gently abuzz. A mother is dining with her grown daughter in the corner booth. At a round table across the room, three young women converse in Spanish. Opposite the fireplace, a couple who have lived in the area for just a few months make jovial conversation with the waitress, and two guests at the inn are dressed up to celebrate a birthday. There's a gentleman dining solo whom the staff greet familiarly and a lady with a notebook and pen, marveling over the wonderfully subtle lavender notes of a perfectly crisp-topped crème brûlée (that's me)... Abramson is still in the kitchen; unbeknownst to the guests, he short-staffed this evening and running the show.

"If I've learned anything about destination restaurants," and he has, "it's this: there is no room for error. To succeed as a destination restaurant, everything has to click into place. And it's hard work... Every morning I wake up and think 'Today I'm gonna make this place a three-Michelin star restaurant,' and by mid-afternoon, I've been at it for hours and have ten more to go and think 'OK, baby steps...But maybe next year.'"

Long days aside, Abramson couldn't wish for a better place to plant this seed. "Those days I'm in the kitchen in the morning, getting deliveries of all these amazing ingredients, it takes me back to my twenties. I had this book with all the countryside restaurants in France, and I'd circle the ones I dreamed about cooking for one day. That was the dream. And looking at this place," Abramson says, giving a nod to the smokehouse, the stone walls, and the garden, "I think I'm there."

Butterfield at Hasbrouck House

3805 Main Street, Stone Ridge

(845) 687-0887; Butterfieldstoneridge.com

Dinner: Wednesday to Sunday, 6–10pm

Brunch: Saturday and Sunday, 9am–1pm

Closed Monday and Tuesday.

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