Good Night in Woodstock: What Dreams are Made Up | Chronogram Magazine
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Good Night: What Dreams Are Made Of 

Equal Parts Design and Culinary Expo, the New Woodstock Restaurant from Silvia Proprietors is a Homerun

Last Updated: 08/01/2022 4:35 pm
click to enlarge NILS SCHLEBUSCH
  • Nils Schlebusch

Woodstock is emerging from a years-long reinvention, slowly hanging up its tie-dyed identity of yore. The full picture of this transformation likely won’t come into focus for a few more years, but at least one key aspect of Woodstock’s new identity is as a culinary destination. 

Perhaps the tidiest analogy for Woodstock’s transformation is the former Joyous Lake. Since late 2017 the raucous, iconic nightclub of the ’70s, which hosted live acts ranging from the Rolling Stones to Charles Mingus and, of course, the Band—has been operating as Silvia, an elevated New American farm-to-table restaurant.

A Family Affair

It didn’t take long for the region’s resident gourmands—and weekend visitors—to recognize that the seasonal, wood-fired food program at Silvia’s was among the best eating Upstate. And it wasn’t just the fall-off-the-bone, pastured pork chop or the seared Brussels sprouts, it was the whole experience—the elegant wine list, attentive waitstaff, superb craft cocktails, and the sensual, moody ambiance. “It got to the point where we were turning away 200 people a night on Fridays and Saturdays—and that’s just the folks that bothered to put themselves on the waiting list,” says Craig Leonard, one of Silvia’s four co-owners.

click to enlarge NILS SCHLEBUSCH
  • Nils Schlebusch

A true family undertaking, the restaurant was opened on a wing and a prayer by Leonard, his wife Betty Choi, her sister Doris Choi, and Doris’s husband Niall Grant. “We used to have lots of family cookouts and Doris would just make all these insane dishes, just incredible food,” Leonard recalls of the inspiration for Silvia.

Four years later, they have a thriving dining destination and each of the partners has carved out a distinct lane for themselves. Doris helms the kitchen as the executive chef, while Betty handles bookkeeping and office support. Grant, the only one with any prior experience in the industry, runs front of house and general management, and Leonard handles finance, design, and construction.

click to enlarge NILS SCHLEBUSCH
  • Nils Schlebusch

“Before the pandemic, we were already talking about expanding,” Leonard says. “Running a restaurant is tough. It’s two families—we have to make a living, so we planned on a second one. We thought we could do it, crazily.” Ultimately, it was the consistent turning away of guests at Silvia that convinced them that Woodstock could sustain a second restaurant. 

They found their spot around the corner from Silvia in a big barn at 15 Rock City Road (which, incidentally, is the location of another iconic ’70s nightclub, the Elephant). “When we walked in, we all said, ‘this is it,’” Leonard remembers. But the space needed a lot of work. Renovations took over six months and included replacing the entire post-and-beam support structure, building a 600-square-foot addition for the kitchen, and constructing a massive covered outdoor patio. But the hard work paid off, and in early November Good Night opened with the polished sophistication of a long-standing establishment. 

A Restaurant for Our Time

While Silvia’s menu has always included nods to Doris Choi’s Korean heritage, these have been more flavorful inflections than a culinary rallying cry. But at Good Night, Southeast Asian cuisine takes center stage, with a menu that spans Vietnamese, Thai, and Lao influences. “We didn’t want to compete with ourselves,” says Choi, who has slowly weaned Asian flavor profiles off the Silvia menu as Good Night ramps up.. Southeast Asian cuisine is something she cooks often for her own family, and that isn’t represented in the Woodstock food scene. “That is one thing I missed from the city,” she says. “The first thing I would eat whenever I went down was a Vietnamese dish or ramen or hotpots from Chinatown. I wanted to bring a little bit of that culture to Woodstock.”

click to enlarge NILS SCHLEBUSCH
  • Nils Schlebusch

Picking up where Silvia leaves off, Good Night’s menu is hyperlocal and seasonal. The combined culinary repertoire of Southeast Asian countries is a good match for the produce of the region, according to Choi. “As much as I love my own Korean culture, the food is kind of one-note. There are barely any salads,” Choi says. “Here in the Hudson Valley, the produce is so fresh and vibrant. You can work with so many different herbs and spices—cilantro, mint, basil. Southeast Asian cuisine has more range to incorporate those flavors.”

Over the past four years running the kitchen at Silvia, Choi has moved more and more in the direction of plant-based cooking. This open-armed embrace of vegetables is well-timed for the moment we are in, as diners become increasingly environment- and health-conscious with their choices. Choi’s menu takes into account common dietary needs and lifestyle choices without sacrificing the integrity of the dishes. “What I realized about Southeast Asian cooking is that as things keep moving toward dairy-free—that is just the menu without even trying,” she says. “Our menu has no butter, no dairy, no cheeses. I only use coconut milk. It’s also 95 percent gluten-free by nature.” A scallion pancake and an egg noodle dish are the lone exceptions. 

click to enlarge Fried shan tofu, served with green mango, kumquat, mint, cilantro, pickled pear & chili vinaigrette, and almond crumb. - NILS SCHLEBUSCH
  • Nils Schlebusch
  • Fried shan tofu, served with green mango, kumquat, mint, cilantro, pickled pear & chili vinaigrette, and almond crumb.

Tradition with a Twist

In mid-November, the Good Night menu boasts a whopping nine apps and eight mains, and Choi is still adding dishes here and there. “Not everyone eats the same exact way,” Choi says. “ I want everyone to feel there is something for them, and not just one thing—several options.” (Dairy-free desserts in the Southeast Asian flavor palette, like coconut ice cream with ginger caramel and peanuts or a yam-based creme brulee, are coming soon).

The appetizer list is split into hot and cold. The grapefruit, avocado, and daikon salad ($12) is a delightfully light, zesty, and balanced opener, served with a mix of Thai herbs and chili, peanuts, and Vietnamese nuoc cham vinaigrette. In short, a perfect salad.

click to enlarge Mixed chicories and pear salad, served with radish, snow pea shoot, pine nut, tahini-ginger dressing - NILS SCHLEBUSCH
  • Nils Schlebusch
  • Mixed chicories and pear salad, served with radish, snow pea shoot, pine nut, tahini-ginger dressing

On the hot side, the tofu dish may surprise you. It arrives with five croquettes leaning on a salad tower that sports green mango, kumquat, mint, cilantro, and almond crumb ($14). Dipping sauce is notably missing from the arrangement, and would be missed if the tofu itself weren’t whipped into a creamy ecstasy. The salad, a bouquet of aromatics perfectly dressed with a pickled pear and chili vinaigrette, is the only accompaniment you need. You really shouldn’t leave without trying the crispy blowfish tail and shrimp dish ($18). Breaded, fried, and coated in a sticky-sweet chili sauce that is reminiscent of classic Sichuan cooking, this dish is the star-crossed marriage of high-brow/low-brow, indulgence and elegance. Served with crispy Thai basil, blistered shishitos, and peanuts, it’ll have you reaching for the Wet-Naps, that is, if you don’t lick your fingers clean first. 

As far as mains go, the confit chicken congee will surely cure all your ailments ($26). This hot Asian rice porridge, made here with bone broth, seasoned with scallion and ginger oil, and topped with yolk and crispy shallots, doesn’t hit you over the head with flavor but rather delicately delivers a balanced and subtle profile that matches the tenderness of the sous vide chicken. The Vietnamese grilled pork dish ($28) is a show stopper—charred, juicy, luxuriant with flavor. The cold rice noodles don’t pack much of a punch on their own, but the housemade chili garlic and nuoc cham solve this—apply liberally. And don’t skip the ribbons of pickled carrot, cucumber, and jalapeño that top the dish. Along with the cilantro and mint, these provide valuable flavor balancing. Here, the art is in making the perfect bite. 

click to enlarge Sichuan filet mignon carpaccio, served with crispy shallot, hot & sour mustard-yolk, crispy lotus root - NILS SCHLEBUSCH
  • Nils Schlebusch
  • Sichuan filet mignon carpaccio, served with crispy shallot, hot & sour mustard-yolk, crispy lotus root

Other big-ticket items include the smoked five spice duck breast, which is served with pickled celery, green apple, scallion, pancake, fig-hoisin sauce ($30); and a grass-fred, dry-aged red miso steak, served with grilled daikon, a green apple and perilla salad, toasted sesame, and chili ($48).

On the vegetarian front, the crispy egg noodle dish ($26) shines with local oyster mushrooms plus shiitake and beech, watercress, and mustard greens piled high atop a crispy block of fried noodles. As you make your way through the dish, the experience evolves as the heat from the greens and brown garlic and ginger sauce permeate the core of the noodles, softening them.

However, it’s the humble workhorse of the walnut larb that best encapsulates what Choi is trying to do at Good Night ($14). Larb, a classic dish in Laos and Vietnam usually made with ground meat and served on lettuce leaves, is reincarnated here as a vegan delicacy. Choi soaks and brines the walnuts before hand-chopping them to soften the edge of crunch and give the texture of ground protein. “The walnut larb to me is special,” she says. “Taking a dish that is so pervasive and doing it with walnuts so that every person, no matter what their preference is, can enjoy it is what I am trying to do. Even people that eat meat say, ‘I can’t believe this is vegan.’ And it’s not gratuitous. It’s better than a meat dish.”

click to enlarge NILS SCHLEBUSCH
  • Nils Schlebusch

Tradition with a twist—this is Choi’s sweet spot, the seamless union of classic flavors with a modern sensibility that breaks open our limited conception of what plant-based cooking can be while quietly doing its part to reduce our impact on the planet. 

Everyone Wants the Corner Table

“We wanted to make it a place that was kind of decadent and celebratory—we really wanted to focus on friends and family, shared meals and connection,” Choi says. This ethos of festive yet intimate connection permeated the design of the space. The vaulted, open-plan barn structure could have easily felt cavernous, but partner Craig Leonard, who spearheaded the design, masterfully turned it into a space that is both cozy and effortlessly chic.

“Everyone wants the corner table—it’s the best seat in the house,” Leonard says, sharing an early lesson from Silvia. Using banquettes to create a square in the center of the room and lining the walls with bench seating, Leonard managed to make the dining room almost exclusively corner tables. The plush velvet seen at Silvia carries over to Good Night, trading green for rosier hues of coral, cognac, copper, and gold. 

click to enlarge NILS SCHLEBUSCH
  • Nils Schlebusch

Impressive twin chandeliers dangle delicately from the highest point of the ceiling, like upside-down wedding cakes formed from convex tongues of milky white and pale pink glass. In fact, the light fixtures throughout the space are impressive—vintage from the ’60s and ’70s, which Leonard sourced online from Rome, Berlin, Amsterdam, Budapest, Copenhagen.

But the true focal point of space is the curving, 28-foot bar that lines the entire right side of the space. Like the tables throughout, the bartop is a sumptuous pink marble with green veining, fabricated and installed by Barra & Trumbore. Behind the bar, a tiered, backlit shelf turns the liquor display into another facet of the decor. 

click to enlarge NILS SCHLEBUSCH
  • Nils Schlebusch

The space has a sort of old Hollywood glam. Subtle soundproofing lines the sloped ceilings, but a lively din still permeates the restaurant. In another era, people would have dressed to the nines to come here and drink cocktails while smoking cigarettes and mingling at the long bar. 

Back in the ’40s, this same building was the legendary local watering hole the Sea Horse. In his 2016 book, Tales from the Sea Horse, Wallace Siff called the spot “a funky, scruffy, smoky, dimly-lit meeting place, with strong character and special magic to it.” And while no one, by any stretch of the imagination, would ever define Good Night as scruffy, there is certainly a special magic to the place that is sure to write it into the next chapter of Woodstock’s history.

Good Night
15 Rock City Road, Woodstock
(845) 684-7373
www.goodnightwoodstock.com

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