Have you been to Rhinebeck? Long before Hudson got cool, Rhinebeck was the destination for a Hudson Valley afternoon of fine eating and interesting shopping. The drive is lovely with many different roads which all lead there in a most scenic fashion, as I’ve experienced it, be it from the north, south or west and generally parking is available and free. It’s worth the slightly over an hour trip from Albany for sure and I recommend it as a terrific day trip for any season.
Yesterday, after an aborted attempt to partake in the offerings at Terrapin Restaurant, Mary Lynn and I decided to try somewhere new and found the specials board at Le Petit Bistro to be quite enticing. At just about 5:00 we made our way inside the cozy dining room and were offered a table in the front window near the door. Although it was a less than warm afternoon, we were very comfortable with the temperature of the restaurant and never felt cold despite our proximity to the door. It was a lovely table.
A chalkboard with the extensive list of specials was presented to us and a short while later a server came to provide details and descriptions of each of the items. We ordered drinks – a cocktail for Mary Lynn and a glass of sparkling rose for me, and made decisions about food opting for a bowl of asparagus soup, a fish taco starter and the sea scallop entrée accompanied by ramp risotto and hericot vert and the Cuban pork plate with black beans and plantains. Then we settled in to catch up with one another and enjoy our meal.
The fish tacos, two to a serving, were delicious with fresh flavors (cilantro!) and an assertively spicy kick. Paired with the soup, they were a perfect starter and very shareable.
Scallops with ramp risotto
Our midcourse salad, served with all entrees, was a traditional French green salad with a simple and tasty vinaigrette clinging to the leaves. I thoroughly enjoyed my entrée. The scallops were beautifully prepared and the accompaniments heralded spring beautifully. Unlike many risottos, cheese wasn’t a component and the result was a far lighter rendition of the dish than typical. I swapped a bite with Mary Lynn for a taste of plantain. I’m not a fan of bananas or plantains unless they’re cooked and my bite was exactly what I was hoping for – caramelized sweetness with a remaining firmness – delicious! We finished with a butterscotch crème brulee and a couple of coffees before walking back to our cars and heading off in opposite directions, satiated with hearts and bellies full.
Terrapin restaurant in Rhinebeck has been around for a long time, maybe 15 years at their current location inside a beautiful old church right on Route 9. Many years ago, I had dinner there with three other people and was completely put off by the service. I don’t remember anything about the food because the experience was so overshadowed by the snippy bartender and the inexperienced server. I vowed never to go back, a promise easy to keep since A. I don’t go to Rhinebeck frequently and B. There are so many other options in that area.
Today, though, I met one of my besties in Rhinebeck for a bite to eat and some catching up. I offered her two options – Gigi Trattoria, where we’ve been happy before, and Terrapin for a fresh chance at making us happy. She checked out their menus and decided on Terrapin and we agreed to meet at about 4:00.
I arrived first and found a seat at the bar, not a challenge with at least half of the bar stools open. Within a minute or two I was given a cocktail menu on my request. I started reading, pleased with the beer and wine selections. I wondered about their carafes and if they were filling them from draft lines and planned to ask whoever took my drink order about the set up. The man two seats away from me finished his drink and ordered another, as I was told by the bartender that she would be “right with me.” She wasn’t.
I changed my mind about the beer I had been thinking of ordering and selected a glass of wine instead. Unfortunately, I couldn’t share my decision with anyone because the bartender had yet to come over to take my order. The man near me began drinking his fresh Patron margarita, inspiring me to look at the cocktail list. I reconsidered my wine choice and began perusing the “available” cocktails. The sour cherry Manhattan caught my eye…
My friend arrived and I shared my menu with her. The bartender told us she’d be right over. She wasn’t.
The man next to us finished his drink and asked for a check. The bartender took care of that. We sat there, me with probably 15+ minutes invested without even the reward of a glass of water, another moment and then picked up our bags and left. I will never, ever, step foot in that restaurant again and this time I mean it.
The first week of spring, arguably the finest season of the year in upstate New York, was the worst week Lark + Lily has ever experienced. When I say “crappy,” I’m being literal, by the way. I arrived at the restaurant Tuesday afternoon and encountered the plumbers who were working industriously to unclog one of our two toilets.* Despite their best efforts, we were unable to open for service until 7:30 which means we lost 2.5 hours of service. Not a great way to begin the week.
That lack of business seemed to set the tone for the week and our numbers were dramatically down each subsequent night from previous weeks. I’ve said before that I didn’t buy a restaurant to make a ton of money, but
obsessively looking at my diminishing online checking account was, said the wine bar owner, sobering.
In addition to the poor week at the restaurant, a fierce early spring cold made for a rough week at home. Quinn, who recently was treated for a mean case of strep throat, came down with a dreadful cough complete with a headache and body soreness. The poor guy was just down for the count. Naturally, he required a lot of coddling and cuddling and he generously returned the favor of my attention by sharing his germs with me. Thanks for the cold, Quinn.
As with any week, there were good things, too. The guests we did have at Lark + Lily, including one who I had only previously “met” online (Hi, Bill!), were great and I believe they all left satisfied with their experience. I went to an awesome wine dinner, ran 20+ miles, including once with both of the lunar b*tches, and hiked a peak (more about that experience soon) in the Catskills. We had some beautiful weather with temperatures that invited bare legs and arms to meet the sun and I got in some quality time at the golf course in advance of the takeover on 4/1 by the golfers. Saturday’s family dinner, an early Easter meal, was an effortlessly delicious treat and provided me with the perfect starter for a killer split pea soup. There was even a brief dining room dance party with Quinn inspired by his favorite Ray Charles song, Mess Around.
I guess it wasn’t really that bad of a week after all, was it?
*Ladies – let’s make a deal, ok? You refrain from tossing personal items in the toilet and I’ll remain open during hours of service. Thanks!
Filed under Albany, Boys, Exercise, family, friends, musings, Normanskill, Observations, Restaurants, running, sick, Spring, stress, Uncategorized
I don’t know if you’ve ever been able to sit with the owner of a winery or a winemaker and listen to them speak about their product, but it will forever change your perspective about that stuff in the bottle. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a number of winemakers/winery owners and those encounters have forever changed the way I view a bottle of wine. After walking through a vineyard, tasting from a barrel or simply talking with a winery owner, viewing a product becomes a much more personal experience.
Tuesday night I had a rare opportunity to attend a wine dinner, hosted by one of my sales reps, downtown at dp’s. I say rare opportunity because most of these events are either during a time when I’m not available or are held out of town. The timing for this, though, was perfect and I was thrilled to sit down with Andrew Tow of the Withers Winery, along with a handful of other industry professionals, to learn about some wines of which I had no prior knowledge.
Here’s what I learned –
- Andrew Tow is an articulate, passionate man who helps to craft wines that are elegant yet accessible.
- Although the Withers Winery has only been in existence for a few short years, it has achieved remarkable success and earned accolades from numerous national publications.
- Their wines sell out – especially the rose and the chardonnay. I’ve got my hand out hoping to land some of the rose at the moment. My luck will be your luck, friends.
- Everything we tasted was enjoyable and seemed to be equally adept at being paired with foods or sipped sans food.
- The project has some rock star investors – like Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi. Cool, right?
- The wines are affordably priced, in fact, part of the impetus for Tow to produce his rose was a desire to drink something delicious without breaking the bank. If I can land any I’ll probably price it between $30-35 a bottle which makes it on the higher end of my roses, but within reach of most diners.
- The Pinot Noirs are dynamite. I don’t have room on my list right now, but when I sell a couple of my higher end Pinots out, I hope there are still a few bottles of the English Hill for me to buy. When I tasted this the other night, the nose was so damn heady it almost satiated my desire to consume it without even taking a sip. Wow.
If you were to look at my wine list at Lark + Lily you’d see approximately 100 different labels. I’ve selected probably 65% of those labels with the others coming as an inventory purchase when I originally opened last fall. The bottles that I find myself reaching for when a guest asks for a recommendation are the ones that I can share story about – the Hendry, the Biale, the Bonny Doon. These are wines which were introduced to me by their producers – I walked the vineyard with George Hendry, ate lunch and tasted wine with Robert Biale, barrel sampled at Bonny Doon. Hopefully, one day, the Withers will have a similar presence on my list.
During my years as a server, I’ve been asked this question dozens of times so forgive me if I stumble over my answer these days. After decades of saying “No,” my new affirmative answer still feels a little odd coming out of my mouth. But, I’m getting used to it.
It’s an interesting thing, owning a restaurant after working in so many throughout the years. The other night I apologized to a guest for not having tea available. He quickly said “Oh, it’s not your fault,” to which I replied “Um, yes, it kind of is.” It’s my choice to not venture at this time down the expanded hot beverage route due to space and time constraints in an 11 table restaurant, but I am sorry.
The follow-up question, nine times out of ten, to “Are you the owner?” is “Are you Lily?” Well, yes, sort of…in all honesty, I’m not even a little offended when people use my last name as my first name. I understand – I suck at remembering names, and I really don’t care if anyone calls me Lily instead of Silvia. It’s all good.
Sometimes I think that buying a restaurant has provided me with two more bathrooms to clean and three more “children” to supervise. Regarding the latter, I’m not suggesting that my front of the house staff is immature or requires parenting, it’s more that I observe their interactions and individual personalities and sometimes find myself steering them in the direction where I want our service to be. Service is so very important to me and I’ve learned from the best that treating guests with considerate attention is the foundation for success in the hospitality industry. That is what I want to do in the restaurant of which, yes, I am the owner.
After an active weekend and the theft of an hour, I wasn’t feeling much like cooking. When the opportunity presented to meet Aloysius for dinner it felt like the ideal way to punctuate a weekend and I jumped on it. As we considered a comfortable meeting spot, Woodstock’s Cucina popped into my mind with an undeniable vengeance. A finely mixed cocktail and pasta were exactly what I was seeking and based upon my prior visit with the girls, I knew I would not be disappointed.
I arrived a few minutes later than expected and found Aloysius at the bar enjoying a beer. I took a quick look at the cocktail menu and selected the Orient Old Fashioned, which I believe is the same cocktail I had on my last visit. Bulliet and house made ginger simple syrup simply calls my name, what can I say?
As we caught up and sipped our drinks, I eyed the plate of a gentleman sitting near us at the bar. The tuna served with white beans, micro greens and thinly sliced spicy red peppers helped to seal deal for both Aloysius and myself and we decided to go with the very reasonable 3 course Prix Fixe menu for $33 per person beginning with the tuna as our first course. It was excellent with a hint of heat, beautifully firm beans and tender and flavorful tuna.
We diverged for main course selections with Aloysius going with a pork dish loaded with mushrooms and served with polenta. The taste I had was delicious, but I was really satisfied with the pasta dish I had selected – taleggio filled ravioli with a porcini sauce. The ravioli were delicate and tender and just filled with flavor. Aloysius barely got a forkful.
The pasta, along with the dessert, probably would have been more than enough to eat, but I do like to eat a vegetable, too, so I added a side of broccoli rabe. It was very similar to how I make it, al dente and generously seasoned with garlic.
I finished with a butterscotch, salted caramel confection that I’m pretty sure I had last time around. I inhaled it so quickly that there wasn’t an opportunity to take a photo. This is the dessert of my dreams and if you want to be my favorite, show up at my door with an order of this and you’re in – guaranteed. I’m not willing to wait another 2 years before getting a spoon into this stuff again.
Cucina remains one of my two favorite spots in Woodstock and I’m already mentally trying to arrange a rendezvous with the girls to get there again. Dinner for two (not including the drinks at the bar, but with a beer and a glass and tip set us back $125. This place absolutely rocks.
Filed under Aloysius, Dinner, Eating, friends, Recommendations, Restaurants, road trips, Spring, sunday, Uncategorized, upstate New York
It’s been nearly 4 months since my brother and I closed on our purchase of Lark + Lily. Sometimes it doesn’t seem possible that a third of a year has already passed, other moments it feels like it’s been forever. I’ve consciously kept the restaurant stuff away from the DelSo stuff, for the most part. After talking with one of the people who months ago helped convince me that I could take on this project, I’ve decided to allow myself a bit more freedom in mixing personal and professional. Hope that’s ok.
Although I never addressed any of the comments made on Table Hopping, there was one that absolutely cracked me up. It was the one when someone questioned my ability to run a restaurant based upon my experience as a part-time server. Maybe there have been people who have made the leap from part-time server to owner, but that’s not my reality. I’ve worked in the restaurant industry for a long time – waiting tables, tending bar, hostessing, washing dishes and even cooking. Let’s not discount that.
Owning Lark + Lily has confirmed some of my sensibilities about hospitality. People want to feel welcome and appreciated when they enter (and depart) a restaurant. Clean bathrooms and fresh flowers (thanks, Trudy,) make a positive impression. Promoting other businesses helps to lift the entire industry and builds a community. Speaking of community, our First Friday drink special has evolved into a monthly cocktail special with half of the proceeds being donated to a local not for profit. I’m excited to write a check at the end of the month and make a donation to an organization that needs a boost.
I’ve learned that while we can’t make everyone happy, we are successful meeting that goal much of the time. I know it’s early and there’s plenty of room and time for negative reviews, but right now we’re enjoying the positive press and feedback we’ve received. It seems like folks are receptive to what we’re doing – providing thoughtfully prepared, quality food and beverage to both regulars and newcomers. Maintaining all the social media platforms (Homepage, Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, etc) can be a bit intense at times, but it is remarkably satisfying when efforts pay off, like last weekend when I tweeted out one of our Valentine’s weekend cocktail specials and Tito’s Vodka gave us a boost by retweeting us to their 45,000 + followers. Validation feels good.
If you’ve been to Lark + Lily, thank you. It is truly appreciated and I hope we met, or even exceeded, your expectations. If you haven’t yet come in to experience what we’re doing, please consider this an invitation to join us for a drink and something to eat. Hope to see you soon.