filming something for German television,” said a woman who
stood in front of the restaurant Luna 61. “Doesn’t look like
she knows how to drive a stick.” The VW lurched from its spot,
stalled, was re-started and lurched again. I looked at the
restaurant hours, posted on the door. “We open in about half
an hour,” the woman said. “But you’re welcome to sit out here
and have a drink.”
dozen wooden tables sit in front of the restaurant. Although
the buildings on this stretch of the street are close together,
the sense, as we sat, was of pleasant intimacy—even with all
those film-crew people hanging around, conversing in a mixture
of German and English.
that the woman was Luna 61 co-owner Deborah Maisel. Her husband
Peter is the chef, and the number in the eatery’s name comes
from the address in nearby Red Hook that they occupied for
11 years before settling in Tivoli five years ago. With Bard
College a scant couple of miles away, the town is supported
by students, faculty and visitors—and a vegetarian restaurant
would seem to be a requirement for what’s been termed the
most liberal of the liberal arts colleges. (Bard has been
portrayed in works by alumni ranging from Mary McCarthy to
daughter and I sat at one of the outdoor tables, where she
sipped a mango iced tea and I enjoyed a Pinkus Jubilate dark
lager beer—organic, of course. It was nice to be made welcome
even before opening time, and Maisel wasn’t even taking for
granted that we’d stay on to dine. Which we should have done
inside, because the place is attractive, the walls hung with
a photo gallery, a spiral staircase taking you up to a smaller
dining area good for parties, the kitchen almost visible over
a room partition. But the day was too pleasant to spend indoors.
Once the film crew moved down the street, it quieted considerably,
although a trickle of dinner-seekers turned into a stream
has a restaurant row that includes places like Santa Fe and
Madalin’s Table, so it’s a safe bet you’ll find something
pleasing or surprising, depending on your ambition. I’m so
accustomed to meat-centric menus that it was refreshing to
deal with Luna’s approach, which stresses fresh ingredients
and homemade everything.
the seitan that figures into an appetizer satay ($9). Peter
makes it himself, a traditional wheat flour dough recipe that
yields what’s often presented as a meat substitute but works
just fine under its own aegis. Grilled strips are served with
a Sriracha-heated aioli, and, while the flavor is more restrained
if you’re expecting meat, it’s satisfying without that reference
hanging over it.
tofu is the other popular not-meatstuff, and it figured into
one of the day’s specials, a red curry stir-fry ($17). Oyster
mushrooms and rice noodles mixed in nicely, alongside cauliflower,
scallions, carrots and greens. Those components have to balance
with each other and not be overwhelmed by the sauce, and a
very good balance was achieved.
of the day ($5) was gazpacho, livened with nectarines and
peaches. Other starters include nachos ($8), tempeh fries
($8), a veggie sushi roll ($10) and scallion pancakes ($8).
You might be happy with the salad list—that’s where Lily found
her entrée, choosing the Land and Sea ($9), wherein arame
(Japanese kelp) is served with daikon, carrots and red
cabbage, tossed with baby greens and finished with a sesame
balsamic dressing. Again, the flavors blended well and it
satisfied my fussy child’s dietary rigors. Look also for a
warm tempeh salad, a mix of roasted root vegetables, wild
mushrooms, potatoes and kale ($9 each).
include jerk seitan chimichanga ($16), pad Thai ($15), sloppy
Joe (tofu) tacos ($15) and an ever- changing ravioli ($15).
Sandwiches include falafel ($8), a tempeh Reuben ($10), a
black bean and goat cheese burrito ($10) and a portobello
mushroom Cuban press ($10), all served with roasted potatoes.
brunch offers a choice of omelets ($7), breakfast burrito
($7), huevos rancheros ($7), French toast ($7) and
a scrambled eggs-on-a-baguette creation appropriately dubbed
Eggs McDeb ($5).
we could leave, we were blindsided by the dessert pitch. Turns
out most of them are made without refined sugar, which scored
big, and they’re all homemade. So we ordered a slice of chocolate
mousse cake and a slice of banana cream pie ($6 each), and
they were heavenly. And the mousse cake was sinfully chocolaty.
But dessert is still dessert and I was hardly halfway through
mine when I caught my daughter’s glare, the look that said,
“I’ve stopped. Can you?”
My body doesn’t regret it, but my palate sure does. Otherwise,
this was one of those summer dining experiences that seem
to come only once a season, where all the ingredients fell
into place and it couldn’t have felt nicer.