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PHOTO: B.A. Nilsson

Not-So-Starving Artists

The Rose and Kettle

4 Lancaster St., Cherry Valley, (607) 264-3078. Serving Thu-Mon 5-9 until September, then Fri-Sat 5-9, Sun 5-8. AE, MC. V.

Cuisine: artisanal continental

Entrée price range: $21 (hanger steak au poivre) to $23 (grilled aioli-rubbed salmon)

Ambiance: antique elegance

 

By B.A. Nilsson

Even the town’s name strains credulity. Cherry Valley sounds absurdly nice or ironically Bates Motel-ish—but it’s a charming village with a Revolutionary War-era history that has welcomed the likes of Willa Cather and Allen Ginsberg. “The rumor is that there’s lithium in the water,” says Dana Spiotta, so maybe the name is appropriate.

Spiotta and her husband, Clement Coleman, own and operate the Rose and Kettle, maintaining a moniker used by a former owner but adding a fine-dining philosophy that centers around fresh, locally obtained ingredients.

Which is a recurring theme in these reviews of late. As it should be. As the mighty maw of Monsanto threatens to envelop all mega-farm fields, replacing heritage produce with frankenfood (even as it populated groups like the FDA with its own former employees), we have to depend on small-farm foodstuffs for purity.

Add to that the fact that food just plain tastes better when it’s humanely raised and freshly picked. This was a lesson Coleman learned during an art-school year in Italy, where he marveled at the close-to-nature nature of nearly everything he ate and thus became, as he puts it, “absorbed in food and cooking.”

And so he was led to the classic struggling artist’s path: pursuing the muse while waiting on tables. And cooking, making him a rare double threat in the business. The owner of a small clams-and-chicken joint in Martha’s Vineyard reinforced the value of fresh ingredients, a skill he carried to such places as Giorgio’s of Gramercy, an acclaimed eatery on Manhattan’s 21st Street, where he met his future wife.

Spiotta grew up in the Seattle area, and moved to New York—“and I’ve been waitressing my whole adult life,” she says. But she, too, was pursuing her muse. Her first novel, Lightning Field, made the 2001 Best Books lists in The New York Times and Los Angeles Times; her next one, Eat the Document, was a 2006 National Book Award finalist.

It was after the success of the first one that she and her husband decided to quit the city. A housesitting stint in Cherry Valley introduced them to the town; what clinched it was when they learned that a restaurant was for sale.

All of which makes for a rare muse-appeasing tale, but there’s another aspect further confounding the odds. What they’re operating is a magnificent restaurant, its ambiance subtly informed by the couple’s artistic sensibilities.

Not surprisingly, the place thrives on traffic from Glimmerglass Opera attendees, and the five-days-a-week summertime season generally requires reservations. The rest of the year, the restaurant is open three nights a week, offering the added pleasure of live music on Sundays.

I knew I was in good culinary hands when I spotted a leadoff entrée of Homemade VanCalcar Acres Lamb and Pork Sausages ($22). VanCalcar Acres (nys farm.com) is a sheep farm in Fort Plain that also happens to be my personal meat source, through a CSA arrangement. In Coleman’s hands, the meats were transformed into herb-rich gateways to Italy, boasting that inscrutable yet immensely satisfying quality of being sourced from the land right around you.

With six appetizers and five entrées, it’s a perfect-sized menu. It changes, of course, based on what’s fresh, so its intimacy promises a new experience each time you visit. “We always have a wild fish entrée,” says Spiotta, “and there will be chicken, steak, and lamb or pork. But the preparation changes, along with what accompanies it.”

Entrées are priced in the low-$20s range, and included pan-seared chicken, roasted and served with mashed potatoes; snow crab ravioli; and aioli-rubbed wild Copper River salmon. And for those who, like me, tend to think of steak as merely steak, the hanger steak au poivre proved to be a terrific variation on a traditional French dish, using a more economical but intensely flavored cut that’s gaining American popularity. The green peppercorn sauce was flavored with bourbon, further Americanizing the dish. Sides of creamed spinach and mashed potatoes gave it that mom’s-kitchen flourish.

Had you no appetizers, you ask? Fear not. The entrées were rendered all the more satisfying by what preceded them, chosen with great difficulty from a selection that included spring rolls with plum dipping sauce ($8.50), a market-priced cheese-and-fruit plate with homemade bread, and a simple green salad with citrus vinaigrette ($6).

Fellow opera enthusiast Richard satisfied the idea of dieting with the Rose and Kettle salad ($8), which fills out a plate of local (Sunset Hill Farm) greens by adding goat cheese, onion and almonds. To get my own goat-cheese fix, I enjoyed a flaky (texture, not disposition) cheese-filled tart with a tangy red-pepper coulis adding flavor ($8.50).

Our pleasant, attentive server was Spiotta herself, working alongside a staff that deftly moved the many diners through their courses and out in time for the opera. What makes this place work so well (besides having outstanding food) is the way concentric circles of family radiate from Coleman and Spiotta to include the staff, the customers and, I have no doubt, the town itself. Keep an eye on the Rose and Kettle’s soon-to-change hours, and see for yourself.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

As the summer’s sticky heat inspires dreams of air conditioning or the beach, a toothsome, seasonally appropriate alternative will be offered next Thursday (Aug. 9), at New World Home Cooking Co. in Saugerties: a backyard hoedown! Chef Ric Orlando and his crew will cook up a Tennessee barbecue with smoked pork, grilled trout, white bean chili, corn on the cob, fried green tomatoes, salads, sweets and more. Beer, wine, root beer, lemonade, and mint juleps also are included, for $35 per person (plus tax and tip). Dinner runs from 6 to 9, and includes a set of live music. The restaurant is at 1411 Route 212, and you can reserve seats or get more info at (845) 246-0900. Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food at 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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* E-mail address not required to submit your feedback, but required to be placed in running for a Van Dyck Gift Certificate.

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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