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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Getaway, Not Far Away

By B.A. Nilsson

 

Madalin’s Table

53 Broadway, Tivoli, (845) 757-2100. Serving dinner Wed-Sun from 5 until closing. AE, MC, V.

Cuisine: fresh American

Entrée price range: $$9 (vegetarian burger) to $26 (grilled lamb chops)

Ambiance: storybook hotel

 

In a sleepy hollow of Dutchess County, sloping up from the Hudson River’s bank, the little village of Tivoli yawned and allowed itself to become a ferry site. Soon, or as soon as things happened in the 18th century, it became home to Hudson fishermen. Times passed. Brickmaking ensued. Then the village began attracting Utopian sects, most notably the Dorothy Day-inspired Catholic Worker Farm, although none of them got closer to the village than its outskirts.

Easing to the end of the 20th century, the pace quickened. Real estate was sold. Somebody tried to buy up the downtown. The slow northward surge of Manhattanites drew near, and nearby Bard College grew from a haven for brainy postwar refugees to its present reputation as red-diaper heaven. Well-heeled Bard kids looked for fun. They found downtown Tivoli.

It seems to offer more restaurants per square inch than many a city, and those eateries tend to be simultaneously trendy and wise, finding and following new cuisine tributaries well before they get anywhere near the Albany area.

Helped, of course, by the nearby Culinary Institute of America, which churns out impressive numbers of ambitious chefs each year. Brian Kaywork is a 2002 CIA grad, and was tapped to head the kitchen of Madalin’s Table as Joseph Cicileo, Anthony Cicileo and Domenic Scarpulla launched into buying and refurbishing the place.

Built in 1909, it was the Hotel Morey for a good long time, but it changed hands, the hotel business fell off, and it declined into a past-its-prime bar. When the Cicileos and Scarpulla got hold of it, they spent two years refurbishing its 11 rooms, bar and restaurant, which reopened in 2006.

Kaywork already was known for his work at the now-shuttered Mina in Red Hook, and thus was familiar with nearby sources for meats and vegetables, which is as local as it possibly can be.

And he achieves his acclaimed cuisine through simplicity and detail. Sweetbreads, for example, served as a $14 appetizer during our visit, were presented with fresh string beans and a sauce of butter and vermouth. The sweetbread itself, sautéed to an elegant crispness, perched atop, halved, otherwise unadorned. Flavors spoke for themselves.

A broad, covered porch wraps around two sides of the hotel. Not surprisingly, it’s crowded with tables and makes a very comfortable dining spot because the village itself is so picturesque and the Bard-ites trooping through with family and friends are no less colorful.

Inside is a glorious old bar, nearly 20 feet long, with a few casual tables nearby; across the hall is a more formal dining room that was completely empty the afternoon of our visit. “Nobody wants to sit inside on a day like this,” said Dolores Cicileo, mother of Anthony and Joseph and usually to be found at the front desk.

We settled on the porch, sipped drinks, relaxed. Thought briefly about seeking out some Utopians to show us the way, then decided that menu was as good a road map for life as anything.

Finger food can be exotic, as in the roasted quail appetizer ($14) that was one of the daily specials. You do have to work at the bird, but the meat is rich and thus rewarding and it was served with seasoned farro, a spelt-like grain, cooked with the giblets in a dirty-rice-like manner.

Soft-shelled crabs were another appetizer special ($14), and these were plates you could treat like tapas if you’re there for a cocktail (peach bellini for me, thanks). Among the regular-menu appetizers are Moroccan fried chickpeas ($9), a Niçoise salad (available in two sizes, $11 and $18), seared scallops in pesto and truffle oil ($14) and a not-so-simple mesclun salad ($9) that proved to have pickled beets and spicy pumpkin seeds among its tasty components.

Entrées range from a vegetarian mushroom lasagna ($18) to grilled lamb chops with tomato-kalamata olive chutney ($26); we sampled the shrimp risotto ($14 and $21, with the smaller one quite sufficient), prepared gumbo style with smoked chicken, a good amount of garlic, and onions, tomatoes, and red bell peppers giving it color and spreading the flavors.

Want a good chicken dish? It’s the invariable choice of my “I’ll-be-safe-with-that” spouse, who enjoyed the roasted bird ($22) on its bed of broccoli rabe. The chef works a prosciutto stuffing into the critter, and livens it with poultry’s natural herb accompaniment, thyme.

With the river so close and the hotel atmosphere so much of the past, I got to thinking about when seafood was uncontaminated and plentiful, and ordered the (not from the Hudson) rainbow trout ($22). Leave the tail and head in place: I’m not squeamish. Besides, the skin was given a brittle, crisp finish, so I gave myself the option of sneaking a taste or two from the nethers.

Served with a bacon-shallot vinaigrette, the fish yielded cutlets of sweet, punchy flavor with the expected tenderness, enhanced by an accompaniment of cooked-just-right veggies.

We were there on the early side for dinner, and the place filled quickly as we eased towards the end of our meal. It was after the entrée service that things fell apart, which is the fate of having a single server exclusive to your table. Dessert took so long to arrive that I sent mine back. (Good business sense would suggest that the other dessert that was served would have been comped, but I fear they were too harried to be so hip.)

Other than that, Madalin’s Table offered what you hope for in a vacation dinner out, even if you’re taking that vacation not very far from home.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

New lunch and dinner menus, a Friday happy hour (or three hours, from 5-8) with complimentary buffet, Tue-Thu $20 dinner specials and a martini menu are some of the new features at Parisi’s Steakhouse (11 N. Broadway, Schenectady). Among the dinner offerings are veal saltimbocca ($20), chicken piccatta ($18), pork osso bucco ($26) and, in an intriguing concept, ravioli au poivre ($20). And, of course, Parisi’s signature steaks, including an 8-oz. filet mignon ($29), a 16-oz. Delmonico ($32), a 16-oz. New York strip ($30), and the mighty chateaubriand for two ($70), all served with your choice of the restaurant’s eight signature sauces, including a caramelized onion demi-glace, a Béarnaise, and one that’s built on a shot of Jack Daniels. Call 374-0100 for more info. . . . Honest Weight Food Co-op has launched a new website designed to make your shopping easier. The site (honestweight.coop) now sports tabbed navigation so you can quickly find the current sale info, calendar of education events, features on local producers and information about healthy food and sustainable agriculture, among many other topics. The site was designed by HWFC member Karen Schlesinger, of Digital Artist’s Space. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (food@banilsson.com).



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