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PHOTO: B.A. Nilsson

A Fresh Take on History
By B.A. Nilsson

The Berkshires offer summer homes to New Yorkers, many of whom also spend year-round weekends there. You’ll also find some Bostonians. But add to the year-round identity a large number of artists, creating an intellectual level that’s undimmed even by the warm-weather population boom. Thus the quirky dining identity, unsullied, as yet, by too many of the chain and chainlike places.

You can’t recall the Stockbridge area’s eatery history without naming Alice’s Restaurant (which actually was on the road between Stockbridge and Great Barrington); less-famous, but nevertheless beloved, was Miss Ruby’s Café in West Stockbridge, a free-form mecca for summer people, artist types, you name it. You’ve endured my reminiscences about my days in the business; Miss Ruby’s was where my wife put in her formative kitchen years, before moving on to the old Beverwyck in Albany.

I learned to cook from a classically trained chef, a technique-based approach; Susan’s training, from the immensely talented Ruth Bronz, was more ingredient-based, and included a food philosophy well in line with what’s associated with Alice Waters and her followers.

This digression is to set the stage for Susan’s encounter with Mary Feuer at the Card Lake Inn in West Stockbridge. Did Mary remember Miss Ruby’s? Of course she did—and the women set off on a reminiscence spree.

Feuer and her husband, Robert, joined forces with three others to buy this place last year. They offer seven rooms in addition to the dining, and they’re members of the Berkshire Grown consortium that encourages members to buy locally grown ingredients.

With such a philosophy, I don’t think you can have anything but a splendid restaurant. And what this restaurant also exemplifies is the comfortable notion that fine dining need not be restricted to a room decked out with fancy linens. As you enter, you’re in the tavern, with a bar to your left and a scattering of tables there and to the right. Also to the right is a stage occupied by musicians when performances are scheduled (live jazz takes place on Friday and Saturday nights, for example).

Through a set of doors you’ll find the main dining room, but even here the feel is casual, almost rustic. A handsome display of paintings covers the walls; antique furniture sets off the corners of the room. Beyond this room is an outdoor, but covered, patio.

Choose your meal from one of the two single-page menus. Tavern fare includes baby-back ribs ($16, half-rack for $8), burgers (turkey or Angus beef, $10), a trio of crab cakes ($13), and even those ubiquitous, anatomically dubious chicken tenders ($7).

The caprese salad ($9, also available as an appetizer) pairs tomato slices (isn’t it a treat to be getting the real thing again?) with fresh mozzarella and basil slices, tossed in a light mix of oil and vinegar. Great flavors to kick off a meal.

Which brings us to the dinner menu. Five appetizers, a couple of pasta dishes, and four entrees, abetted by daily specials.

One of which was coconut shrimp ($8), that odd combo of fried, sweetened seafood. The bed of greens on which it (and other dishes) appeared told you much about this place: a mixture of fresh baby lettuce leaves, as good in its own way as that which it accompanied. And the shrimp was tasty, as expected, with a wasabi-spiked sauce in case you desire that extra fat content to prolong the lingering flavor.

New England clam chowder (or “chowdah,” as the menu styles it) is $4 or $2, so we opted for the former to allow the brew to circulate around the table. Not as sauce-thick or seafood-crammed as I expected, it still boasted a heady freshness of flavor only cream can impart.

Those aforementioned greens show up again in the house salads that precede most entrees, with the addition of homemade croutons and a splendid basil vinaigrette.

Co-owner Liz Waldman is the chef, and she has won my undying admiration for stuffing ravioli with broccoli rabe. What a brilliant idea! I can speed through mounds of the stuff when it’s lightly sautéed with plenty of garlic: to turn it into a creamy filling gives it a whole new dimension. As an entrée ($15), the pasta is served with a tomato-cream sauce that I found too distracting; a little garlic oil would have sufficed. Susan, naturally, disagreed, and found the whole shebang entirely to her liking.

We also sampled an entrée of lemon-caper chicken ($17), in which a split breast is egg-battered and sautéed, then served with a saute of artichoke hearts and tomatoes. And not presented over pasta, which can be a relief. The sides of rice pilaf and sautéed squash were just right.

Because I learned to cook in the classic French style, I have drowned many an entrée in a succession of too-rich sauces. I’m trying to move away from that, and Waldman’s swordfish special ($17) showed an alternative. The fish itself had a perfect, still-tender doneness, and was topped with a salsa made with blueberry and peach. This allowed the fish a much greater identity on the palate, and I hope to see more of this approach.

Peaches and raspberries starred in a dessert pie ($5), a fairly unremarkable compote that nevertheless ended the meal with sweetness.

The building started its life as a stagecoach stop, and has always offered food through the years. For us, it was a stopping point on a trip to Boston, and I see it beckoning with the months of Tanglewood ahead.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

One of the best in-state summer trips is a tour of the Finger Lakes wine country, where you can set up in a bed and breakfast and travel the length of the lakes. Add another stop to your journey by visiting the New York Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua (right on the lake, in fact). This newly opened facility features a training kitchen, a 44-seat demonstration theater, and a tasting room featuring the best of the state’s wine. There is also the Taste of New York Lounge, where you can pair food and wine samples, an outdoor orchard and vineyard, an exhibit hall with interactive displays and a retail center. It’s located at 800 South Main St., phone (585) 394-7070. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food@banilsson.com)


We want your feedback

Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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