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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Inventively Local

By B.A. Nilsson

 

Swoon Kitchenbar

340 Warren St., Hudson, 822-8938. Serving lunch noon-3:30 Fri-Sun, dinner 5-10 Mon, Thu, Sun, 5-11 Fri-Sat. AE, D, MC, V..

Cuisine: locavore gourmet

Entrée price range: $16 (small pasta plate) to $26 (local duck breast)

Ambiance: spacious, friendly

For diversity of storefronts, Hudson’s Warren Street may be the area winner. The street is sinuous in its changes, with antique shops nestling amid retailers, professional offices near the windows of businesses gone under. But woven throughout is a series of restaurants that aspire to combine charm and a high-end approach to food service—which by-and-large succeed. It’s fascinating. It’s distracting.

And it’s been a boon for Jeff Gimmel and Nina Bachinsky-Gimmel, whose restaurant, Swoon Kitchenbar, occupies a storefront behind a unique array of shrubs and other greenery, a philosophical foretaste of what’s within. When they opened, six years ago, it was with a mission to present an inventive menu based on what’s locally available. With Jeff as chef and Nina moving between kitchen and floor (she’s the baker), they’ve crafted a style epitomized by a succinct, intensive menu and casual ambiance.

The dining room is deep, offering three somewhat distinct areas: a scattering of tables by the front window, offering a view of sidewalk activity; a cluster of tables in the general bar area; and a kind of backroom, set off only by low dividers that let in light from the afternoon sun. Behind the bar is a tall series of shelves reminiscent of an old-fashioned hotel-desk keys-and-letters rack, but with the restaurant’s wines on display alongside the usual array of stronger waters. It’s the kind of place where you’d expect to dine on linen. There is none. The attractive tables are better off without them. The furnishings are contemporary, hewing to a blond-wood theme that also characterizes the bar and the trim pieces.

“I’m at Swoon!” a woman was shouting into a cell phone as I neared the entrance during a recent early-evening visit. “Swoon! SWOON!” Pause. “No, it’s the name of a restaurant!” Up to that moment, I was only a curious passerby. Hearing the evidence of her caller’s confusion convinced me to try the place.

Patrons were scattered in little clusters among the different areas; my seat in the center gave me a great view of the operation, letting me study the style of service. I liked what I saw. The friendliness with which servers talked to one another was the same kind of friendliness I felt in their attention—not a self-conscious attempt to be impressive but the ease with which you welcome a guest to your house.

The menu changes daily, as befits a fresh-that-day culinary approach. You can see sample menus on the Web site, and there’s a Meatless Monday table d’hôte offering (e.g., miso mushroom buns, chilled local baby bok choy, asparagus risotto and warm strawberry cobbler).

You can’t be involved in the carnivore world without exploring the art of sausagemaking and other charcuterie. It’s a passion among the most creative chefs I know, and Gimmel is no exception, offering a selection of his creations on each new bill of fare. Pâté, for example, was a recent offering in two different styles: a mousse of duck liver and a traditional country pâté, offered alongside a serving of house-cured bacon, cut thick and served with pickled radish ($10 apiece).

Appetizers range from $10 for a salad of Sky Farm baby lettuce to $16 for Duxbury oysters. Smoked bluefish pâté ($11), braised short rib tart ($12) and sautéed Point Judith squid ($13) exemplify the range of items.

But let’s start with beets—roasted beets, in fact, which to my palate beats all hell out of the boiled variety. Beets are earthy, of course, but with a sweetness that leaps out when the sugars within are caramelized. Goat’s milk is also earthy; well, all milk is, but we’re so accustomed to it that we rarely, if ever, think of it in those terms. Cheesemaking distills and concentrates that earthiness, also spiking it with concentrated sweetness. Paired with roasted beets, crumbled chèvre offers contrasts that orbit one another amid textural similarities close enough to be amusingly confusing. The well-chosen vehicle for this combo was frisee, a curly lettuce related to chicory, lightly, lemonly dressed. Simple as this salad sounds, it was assembled and seasoned in such a way as to preserve the uniqueness of each ingredient.

Entrées when I visited included pasta and risotto in two sizes ($16/$23), a handful of meats (duck breast, $26, skirt steak, $24, among them) and five seafood dishes, including Montauk fluke ($26) and crispy monkfish cheeks ($26).

The last time I had a great piece of bluefish was decades ago when I worked in a restaurant owned by a family that loved to fish and frequently returned with this particular pomatomida. But, taking Swoon on its promise, I was served an eye-pleasing plate with a bottom layer of white-bean purée (good for collecting stray fish flakes) and atop it a spread of local broccoli rabe, steamed to shake out its toughness without sacrificing the crunch. Then there was the excellent piece of bluefish, which by itself would have been formidable, but it shared its layer with slices of Gimmel’s chorizo, an unexpected but oddly resonant partner.

The Gimmels put in a decade in New York City, but each of them knocked around various aspects of the restaurant business in and outside of the city—notably in Nantucket, whence the love of fish. Nina is from Woodstock, and her parents have a Hudson-based antiques business, so the connection was in place well before Swoon’s debut. Part of the fun of running the restaurant, she explained, is visiting the farms from which they buy ingredients, a listing of which is on the Web site and the back of the menu.

I’d put it this way. Next time you walk through a local farmers market, imagine the finest, most flavorful preparations you can from the items at hand. Then seek out Swoon to enjoy them.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Schenectady Day Nursery’s 11th annual fundraising event, “A Little Bit of Jazz & More,” will take place from 5:30 to 8 today (Thursday, April 29) in the Fenimore Gallery at Proctors Theatre (432 State St., Schenectady). The “more” part of the proceedings includes a cornucopia of food, including a carving station with turkey breast and roast beef, a pasta station, an hors d’oeuvres display and, if you don’t want to fetch your food, circulating trays with even more hors d’oeuvres, including sesame chicken, a Mediterranean artichoke tart, shrimp Wellington, spanakopita and more. There will be complimentary beer and wine and Chocolates by Lindt. The jazz part is a performance by Colleen Pratt and Friends. The event includes a benefit drawing with a choice of a $500 gift card at either Town TV or Empress Travel, and gift baskets sponsored by the Schenectady Day Nursery Board of Directors. Reservations are $50 per person or $100 for honorary committee status, and may be made by calling Jim Kalohn at 894-6305. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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