By B.A. Nilsson
signifies harvest season, which is the time to think again
about the 100-Mile Diet Challenge. Eating locally is about
fueling your body with the freshest possible ingredients,
but it’s also much more: It’s a way of rebelling against the
corporate control of farming; it conserves that tremendous
amount of energy wasted on food transportation; and it offers
the probability that your food hasn’t been genetically debilitated.
The Mohawk Valley is an especially bounteous area, offering
not only plenty of produce but also a wealth of small farms
that specialize in conscientious meat production. The menu
at Church and Main in Canajoharie makes a point of listing
those purveyors. Free Bird Farm and Hand’s Honey are from
the western Montgomery County neighborhood; somewhat farther
afield are Highland Farms in Red Hook and Newport’s Sunset
Hill Farm. Local co-ops also provide ingredients.
The restaurant, which opened in 2004, originally wasn’t intended
to be so inclined. What happened? “I got pregnant while we
were renovating the building,” says co-owner Robyn Dousharm,
“and that convinced me to start learning more about the food
I was eating, and the food my child would eat.” Her husband,
Michael Lapi, is the restaurant’s chef, and he embraced this
concept right away, developing a menu that recontextualized
his culinary prowess.
The couple met while working together in a restaurant downstate
in Red Hook; the return to Lapi’s native city was supposed
to give Dousharm a chance to pursue a job related to her teaching
degree. Then they found the empty building at Church and Main.
It’s a big, old-fashioned space, with wooden floors and high
ceilings and a well-chosen array of paintings on the walls.
We dined near a front window, giving the servers a skating
rink-sized area to traverse from the kitchen.
If you’re using chickens, you’ll have chicken livers on hand.
So there’s a risotto appetizer ($10) made with innards sourced
from Free Bird Farm birds. Risotto, which we seem to be sampling
week after week, is a creamy rice dish that serves as a palette
upon which the colors of other ingredients are mixed. Complementing
the liverish flavor were lemon and scallions, which suggest
something light and summery—and which therefore made for a
deceptively filling starter.
The rest of the chicken was slow-roasted into a $24 entrée
that boasts a richer flavor than supermarket hen ever can
achieve. Served with its own juices, accompanied by just-right
sides of green beans and a salad of quinoa and purple potatoes,
it was a tribute to simplicity. Assuming your simple kitchen
Free Bird Farm also is the source of salad greens, served
in a salad ($8) that also boasted hard-boiled eggs. Sourced
elsewhere, no doubt, is mojama, a new-to-me tuna preparation
that’s salt-cured in a Spanish style. Completing the salad
were fresh basil, croutons and an aioli dressing.
Living and eating close to the farm means using all possible
ingredients. Sweetbreads, for instance, the thymus glands
of a calf, which were offered as an $11 appetizer, were ordered
out from under me by my daughter, who is determined to continue
expanding her culinary horizons. Properly cleaned, lightly
sautéed, sweetbreads deserve their ironic moniker. A terrific
Caraquette oysters ($14) are a small salty oyster harvested
in New Brunswick, the flavor of which is all about summer
vacation. They were served appropriately unadorned.
Consider the ugly skate, a fish that looks like a squid with
wings. Those wings, deboned and sautéed, have a scallops-like
consistently and a unique flavor that makes it a delicacy,
although one that’s often hard to come by. The classic preparation,
with black butter ($26), was expertly done, served with a
mix of mahogany rice and lentils alongside sautéed radicchio.
Part of our dining strategy was to order items we wouldn’t
ordinarily consume, and so my wife chose the polenta cake
($24) because she’s so rarely satisfied by this simple cornmeal
preparation. Lapi seasons it so that it’s tangy without losing
the sweetness of corn, and presents it with mushrooms (chanterelles)
and braised Swiss chard, two of Susan’s favorites—and the
real reason she ordered the dish. Until the polenta proved
Those side dishes are masterworks in themselves. The pan-roasted
cod ($26) came with roasted beets and pattypan squash, while
the braised goat shoulder ($35) was presented with fried potatoes
and leeks and caramelized baby carrots. A word about that
goat meat: it suggested a hint of gaminess, but only in the
good sense of being more complex than what we expect from
all that chicken we consume.
Dousharm makes the desserts, and we indulged in pannacotta
served with (local) honey-drizzled cantaloupe, flourless chocolate
cake, blueberry bread pudding with basil sauce and, for me,
homemade biscotti with a cappuccino.
Canajoharie native James Arkell made a fortune by inventing
folding paper bags; his son Bartlett started Beech-Nut, and
the family went on to establish the Arkell Foundation, which
has funded many important area arts-related features, not
least of which is the performing arts center at the local
high school. Arkell money went into the city’s impressive
library (now reopened after flood-damage repair) with its
astonishing art collection—you’ll see paintings by Winslow
Homer, Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt and many others—and the
city’s downtown is sparking its own slow revival.
So this is a city with a culturally hip core. But you don’t
find it reflected much in the downtown shops. Let’s hope that
Church and Main is a harbinger.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
74 State Hotel’s Marché restau- rant in
Albany is hosting a Farmer/Beer evening at 7 PM
Friday, Sept. 14, that features ingredients from
Indian Ladder Farm and Flying Pigs Farm, pairing
each of the courses with an appropriate beer.
The seven-course tasting menu will spotlight fruit
from Indian Ladder, a fourth-generation orchard
in New Scotland, and pork products from heritage
Tamworth and Gloucestershire breeds at Flying
Pig Farms. On Oct. 5 they’ll present a five-course
meal featuring wines selected by noted négociant
Joseph Carr. Pricing for both events is being
determined this week, and reservations are required,
so call 434-7410 to get the scoop and nab a table.
. . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland
want your feedback
you eaten at any
recently reviewed restaurants?
Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...
address not required to submit your feedback, but required to
be placed in running for a Van Dyck Gift Certificate.
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.
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
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!
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..