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Thomas Dallal

Class and Sass
By B.A. Nilsson

Red Onion
1654 Route 212, Saugerties, (845) 679-1223. Serving dinner Mon-Thu 5-10, Fri-Sat 5-10:30, Sun 5-9. Sunday brunch 11-3. AE, MC, V.

Cuisine: Continental eclectic
Entrée price range: $8.50 (burger) to $22 (lamb chops)
Ambience: Earth-toned elegance
Clientele: Shrewd foodies

‘We want this to be a community restaurant,” says Kevin Katz, chef-owner of the Red Onion. “You can come in here for a burger after you’ve been out hiking. It doesn’t have to be just a place to go for your anniversary dinner.”

It’s not, literally, a white-linen restaurant, but that’s only because there’s no linen on the tables. Otherwise, the food and service are what you’d expect from a top-flight eatery, but the Red Onion (on Route 212 in Saugerties, near Woodstock) makes no pretense of excessive formality.

It’s a modest looking old house on the outside, pleasantly blending with its rustic surroundings; on the inside is a thoughtful design approach. Sponge-painted walls in a warm earth tone—Pompeii Orange, it’s called—add a welcoming feel, as do the colors at the bar.

They take drinking seriously here, which means there’s some fun to be had. Along with a well-chosen wine list are any number of more spirited libations, many of them served in oversized martini glasses.

Front-of-house operations are under the aegis of Tim Alles, who has traded the chaos of running seven restaurants at Harrah’s Casino Hotel in Atlantic City for the relative quiet of the Catskills. The staff is so well-trained that the operations seem transparent: Servers are attentive and knowledgeable, pleasant and unobtrusive. The sense of well-being this imparts, combined with the stunning food, is what dining out is all about.

“The menu has a broad focus,” says Katz, whose recent offerings typically include a half-dozen starters, a few salads and eight or so entrées. A daily menu of specials also is offered. Back in December, those specials included a superb serving of calf’s liver ($18), with red onions caramelized in Balsamic vinegar as well as the traditional bacon topping; old-fashioned mashed potatoes and crunchy green beans gave it that comfort-food appeal without sacrificing any of the flavors these ingredients offer at their freshest.

The potatoes were reimagined slightly as accompaniment to grilled escalare ($20); in keeping with the more subtle flavor of the fish, a heartier mix of garlic and olive oil informed the dish, with escarole and roasted peppers also garnishing the plate.

Skillet-roasted mussels ($8.50) emerge on a griddle and bear the flavor of their skirmish with that skillet, but another preparation was offered more recently, pairing a bowl of steamed mussels with a coconut-milk-based Thai green curry sauce ($9.50). The balance between that and the component chili peppers and lime juice was sweet and superb, with just the right amount of cilantro to truly exoticize the flavors.

A picture of batter-coated bar food crossed my mind while contemplating an appetizer listing of fried baby artichokes, but they’re deep-fried without any such coating, crisping the leaves and making them an ideal vehicle for the accompanying aioli. And even as simple seeming a dish as guacamole ($7) benefits from being absolutely fresh, with a side of tortilla chips fried in-house.

At $8.50, the burger is a bargain. I know this burger from visiting the Red Dot in Hudson, where Katz was chef just prior to opening the Red Onion exactly one year ago. Which means the accompanying fries also set a standard.

But I was deflected by an entrée of seared rare tuna over a roasted Vidalia onion purée ($21). The purée is chutney-like, a powerful confluence of sweet and sour to tug at the more cautious flavor of the tuna, itself a beautiful hunk of fish that quickly segued from a crisp crust and a thin layer of opaque white into the rich red of the raw center. A sweet red-pepper coriander sauce completes the flavors.

Part of the talent of successfully bringing together such disparate flavors is innate; the rest is experience. Katz began his restaurant career in Woodstock at the Bear Café, and went on to work at Le Pavillon in Washington, D.C., and then to some of San Francisco’s more innovative places. The return to the Woodstock area, then, is a homecoming for him.

Perhaps that’s why it feels so welcoming. A simple entrée like roasted chicken ($17) manages to be both accessible, an important aspect of that welcome, and surprising. The meat itself, from Stone Church Farms, is unlike the store-bought stuff. Flavor is more concentrated, and thus suits the roasted-corn and shiitake-mushroom ragout that accompanies it.

A vegetable curry ($13), one of several available vegetarian dishes, mixed broccoli, cauliflower, peppers and zucchini in a light sauce over basmati rice, with a concentration of spices that would seem pallid were it not for the fact that it gave the vegetables themselves a chance to speak.

It should be no surprise that ice cream and sherbet are made on the premises; a dish of caramel ice cream is a light-textured wonder. But end, if you can, with the mousse. Served in one of the trademark martini glasses, it features three layers of whipped chocolate that grow progressively less sweet as you near the bottom.

Woodstock’s restaurant scene has been quietly burgeoning. And the Red Onion is one of the ingredients that will help keep it pretty classy—and even more worth the trip.

TABLE SCRAPS

Speaking of the Woodstock area, it’s the 10th anniversary for New World Home Cooking Co. (Route 212, Saugerties), and there’s a celebration today (Thursday, July 3) with a luau! For a mere $20 per person ($5 for those under 12) you can enjoy Ric’s Slow and Low Spit-Roasted Kalua Pig, steamed mahi mahi in banana leaves, wasabi shrimp, hot hibachi shiitake mushrooms, fresh veggies and tofu, and an all-night pu-pu platter. And more. Call (845) 246-0900 to reserve space. . . . Can’t get enough of celebrating independence? Celebrate Bastille Day in the French manner at Ferrandi’s Restaurant (322 Route 67, Amsterdam), with a four-course meal that starts with your choice of Mussels Marinière, Escargot de Bourgogne, Onion Alsacienne Quiche or Goat Cheese Salad; an entrée of Lamb Shank à la Provencale, Bouillabaisse de Marseille (add $5), Coq au Vin de Bourgogne or Steak Tartare; a degustation plate of three French cheeses; and Profiteroles au Chocolat for dessert. Parties of six or more get a complimentary bottle of wine. The menu will be offered July 11 through July 14, and it’s $29 per person. Call 842-6977 for more info an reservations. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (food@banilsson.com).

—B.A.N.

(Please fax info to 922-7090)

 

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