A Kitchen To Call Home
In December last year we were invited to a Sunday afternoon kids’ birthday party at Miss Lucy’s Kitchen in Saugerties, a town on the Hudson River 100 miles north of New York. The exuberant event was packed with interesting characters, including a gregarious artist from Birmingham (England, not Alabama!), a musician playing Clash and Led Zeppelin songs on his acoustic, and no shortage of NYC expats and their kids, all of whom assured us that they were thrilled to have made the move from city to country. Most prominent among them were the restaurant’s owners, Marc Propper and Michelle Silver who, three years ago, with two babies at their feet, turned their weekend retreat into their full-time home, and swapped their successful Greenwich Village eaterie Grove for the risk of a new venture in a relatively tired small town. Miss Lucy’s, named for their now 7-year old daughter, was quick to garner positive publicity, and as one of four or five quality restaurants on a short strip of Partition Street, has been instrumental in turning Saugerties into a happening food destination.
Naturally, Miss Lucy’s is kid-friendly; it’s also far less formal than its web site might suggest. When we finally got to stop in for dinner last Friday, we were given a big bench-style table to sprawl out on, while Noel not only got a high chair but considerable attention from our waitress, herself the mother of a 16-month old. I opened up the laptop to show Posie something I’d been researching and immediately hooked into a free wireless network; later on, when Noel made a grab for the wine bottle tree behind him, I was able to take a photo, download it to the laptop and post it online within ten minutes – a relatively pointless but perfectly pleasurable exercise.
The novelty of not spending Friday night on the New York State Thruway was such that we went straight for the wine list. More on the bottles later; sticking with individual glasses for tonight, Posie’s Charles de Fere Brut NV Saumur, 100% Chenin Blanc, was a perfectly adequate Loire sparker, and my Le Rose des Tourettes was as full-on as you’d expect for a rosé from the excessively hot 2003 vintage. To accompany her fish main course, Posie went back for a Macon-Lugny Chardonnay that I thought had an inexplicably nasty green stalky quality, while my Domaine Dupre Beaujolais Terre Nois, unlike the bubble-gum Beaujolais Nouveaus of which we’ve previously discussed at this site, was almost black as night with little real flavor. Both these oddities were also from the 2003 vintage, which is such a complete anomaly that few conclusions can be drawn – except that only the Beaujolais cost $7 a glass; the others were a most affordable $6.
If you’re a regular visitor to this site you’ll know I suspect my wife of ordering fish at every restaurant merely to savor the inevitable disappointment. Not so on this occasion. Her pan-seared scallops were, she quickly exclaimed, the best she’d ever tasted. The underlying risotto met with equal approval. Fact, I’m not sure when I last saw her so excited by a meal. My pumpkin ravioli in a sage and butter sauce initially looked unfairly small in stature, but it was rich and satisfying on the palate. Big is not always better, it’s true. Still, Campbell’s serving of a simple pasta with butter from the kids’ menu was so small that we quickly had to order up a second helping. He’s getting on in size, I know, but I’d like to think a restaurant as kid-friendly as Miss Lucy’s could consider larger servings for children.
Still, there was no disputing the quality of the food. That’s partly down to the chef, for certain – no ordinary cook could replicate these dishes – but there are other factors at play, as explained via the mission statement on the restaurant’s web site.
“We are committed to serving fresh house made food using the finest produce from local farmers. All of our dairy, eggs, poultry and meats are local, all natural and hormone & antibiotic free. We serve only wild fish caught in an ecologically sound manner. Our pork products are smoked at Smokehouse of the Catskills in Saugerties using local hardwoods. Fresh herbs and many vegetables come from our garden. All of our desserts and ice creams are house made. We are lucky to be here in the Hudson Valley and are inspired by the bounty of fruits and vegetables each season has to offer.”
The menu at Miss Lucy’s changes almost daily; the evening’s desserts (repeat: all “house made”) were posted on a blackboard and though every one of them sounded delectable, the wife and I honed in on the same choice: a Black mission fig fruit tart with orange blossom honey mousse and concord grape sorbet that had possibly one ingredient too many but served the same purpose as a cup of espresso with far more delicacy.
That was us for the night. Campbell was eager to get home and play and a tired and emotional Noel was making his grab for the wine bottle tree behind him. On that subject, you wouldn’t know it from the individual glasses we consumed, but the full wine list at Miss Lucy’s is a Rhône/Provençe-lovers wet dream. Two half-bottles from the excellent 1999 vintage immediately caught my eye: a Domaine des Pallieres Gigondas at $29, and a Le Vieux Telegraphe Chateaüneuf du Pape for $36. Not cheap, I know, but allow that Le Vieux Telegraphe rarely sells for less than $60 a full bottle these days, factor in that it’s an awkward wine in its youth, and the half-bottle from the superbly approachable 1999 vintage suddenly looks like a bargain. The northern Rhône is also well-represented (as, indeed, are Burgundy and the better parts of America) but Miss Lucy’s list is most notable for its range of Bandol wine’s by that appellation’s prominent producer Domaine Tempier. If you read my review of Bandol here, you’ll know that the wines do not come cheap and do not come around quickly; so while, at $100, the Domaine Tempier “Cabassaou” Bandol 1998 seems exorbitant, for the right occasion and with sufficient decantering, I’m sure it would be worth every cent.
I was still salivating over that wine list for future reference when our check arrived, which provided the only downer of the night. We’d been charged a second kids meal for Campbell’s second order of pasta, and when we pointed out that it was not like he’d had a second drink or dessert, the waitress suggested she take a couple of dollars off the bill. On her way to do so, the boss must have intervened, as the check came back with the second helping striked completely. When you’re paying $100 for a meal out, that’s as it should be from the beginning, without the embarrassment of mutual penny-pinching.
I would love to state that Miss Lucy’s is typical of Hudson Valley restaurants, but that would be a lie. The quality of food and service here is way above average – not only, in fact, for our new home territory, but also for New York City. Any restaurant of equal caliber on our old 5th Avenue in Brooklyn – Al Di La being the obvious example – comes with smaller tables, bigger crowds and much higher prices, along with an unwillingness to accept babies in high chairs and ten-year olds in high spirits, let alone laptops. There are many other places I look forward to trying out across the Hudson Valley, but Miss Lucy’s is likely to keep getting in the way. Besides, I need to get stuck into some of those Bandols. Who’s up for being designated driver?