Cripple Creek Restaurant
22 Garden St., Rhinebeck, (845) 876-4355.
Serving dinner Wed-Mon from 5 PM. AE, MC, V.
Entrée price range: $16.50 (vegetable risotto)
to $26 (dry-aged strip steak)
Ambience: elegant intimacy
Clientele: fans of the good life
Probably the only thing out of place at Cripple Creek is the
name of the restaurant, but even that, in the end, is fun.
It already had been established as Cripple Creek when its
owners decided to sell, at a moment most propitious for Patrick
Hays, Bing Yang and Dennis Giauque.
actually started in Paris,” says Hays, who, as general manager,
will greet and seat you, and even entertain you with his deft
way at the piano. “I was at a bistro there with Bing, and
we decided we needed to open a place like it in the Village.
Then Bing and Dennis bought property in Rhinebeck and we began
work on the restaurant there.” Just as the restaurant was
about to open, five years ago, a devastating fire hit. It
destroyed the building, but didn’t thwart their enthusiasm—and
the trio bought Cripple Creek, reopening it a few months later.
Yang and Giauque have since ceded ownership to Hays, who notes
that his former partners are on the verge of opening a more
traditional banquet house on their Rhinebeck property.
Although Cripple Creek has a strip-mall kind of exterior,
inside you’ll forget any such comparison. The ceilings are
draped with a diaphanous cloth that diffuses the light; the
walls are hung with Chagall lithographs. The tables are spanking
white with crisp linens, although if lint is a worry, black
napkins also are available. If you forgot your reading glasses,
you can borrow a pair. They even have distractions (including
Game Boys) for kids.
Each place setting sports a rose petal, which sounds more
precious than it looks. It serves as confirmation that you’re
going to be looked after as well as is possible in a restaurant.
During a recent visit, I crept in late, delayed by a longer-than-expected
concert, but Hays couldn’t have been more accommodating. He
delivered my friend and me to our seats, and soon thereafter
a soothing piano piece sounded. It was Hays at the keyboard,
a treat he delivers several times nightly.
The Cripple Creek menu is offered in à la carte and table
d’hôte versions, the latter a $32 three-course meal with an
occasional surcharge. The dry-aged strip steak, for example,
adds $2 to the fixed price; alone, it’s $26. And it’s worth
the premium, because the aging process brings out the flavor.
We’re accustomed to accepting the sight of a slab of meat
on a plate as something desirable, when in truth it’s a nasty
sight; here, the plates are so skillfully rendered that the
meat—balanced atop young potatoes—actually did look good.
Accompanied as well by an onion ragout, it mixed flavor components
as artfully as does a fine wine.
So it’s also no surprise that this restaurant is a consistent
winner of Wine Spectator awards for its varied list.
Chef Benjamin Mauk has been with the place for four years,
first as assistant to chef David Bruno, who returned to the
Culinary Institute, his alma mater, as an instructor. So now
it’s Mauk’s show, and the prizewinning chef (he was also first
in his class in two degree programs at the Culinary Institute)
brings a tastefully creative spirit to classic cuisine.
A “taste of the day” is served before your appetizer arrives;
on my recent visit, it was a small slice of fresh mozzarella
cheese with half a cherry tomato, a pine nut, and a drizzle
of balsamic vinegar—just enough to perk the taste buds. A
Nat Sherman’s cigar box yielded a trio of warm, crisp rolls.
Carrots and fresh ginger livened the coconut sauce around
the mussels appetizer ($8.75)—the large, green-lipped variety—served
on a handsome plate and with an accompanying finger bowl.
Other starters, all in the $8 to $10 range, include grilled
quail with avocado, tomato and corn salad; vegetable spring
roll; lobster-and- mango salad with pea shoots; and a salad
of asparagus and prosciutto. The fig and stilton cheese plate
features a bed of baby spinach and a crunchy piece of pancetta
to round out the flavors, a perfect blend of sweet and pungent.
A just-right serving of peach sherbet (no more than a tablespoon)
followed as an intermezzo. It may seem ironic to pay more
for smaller portions, but it means that diners like me, who
lack the discipline to pace themselves through the starters,
don’t arrive at the entrées minus an appetite.
Thus I was able to enjoy the slow-roasted halibut ($21.75)
all the more. Thanks to one of the several recipe sheets available
at the door, I see that chef Mauk bakes the fish in a 200-degree
oven long enough to firm the flesh without losing the juiciness.
And it’s served on a Mediterranean-flavored bed of garlic
and olives, tomatoes and sweet pearl onions, with a basil
purée drizzled around it. How simple it seems, but it’s a
labor-intensive dish that yields a blissfully complex result.
Other entrées include free-range chicken breast with ratatouille;
Hudson Valley duck breast with apricot ketchup; “crispy skin
wild king salmon” served with red onion, cucumber and cured-lemon
relish; and a multiple-mushroomed vegetable risotto.
Desserts tend toward the sweet and classic, such as crème
brûlée or a towering portion of English trifle. And don’t
overlook the chocolate truffles that decorate the check.
Service is so deft and polished that you’ll feel absolutely
pampered. Of course, that’s what fine dining is supposed to
be about—but how often do you find it?
With nearly 30 restaurants in the Rhinebeck area, this is
becoming a highly competitive market. Cripple Creek has clearly
positioned itself in the front lines of quality, enough so
that this Sunday’s New York Times will weigh in with
a piece about it in the Westchester section. I suspect that
seats in this restaurant will be fairly hard to get for a
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
North Pointe Cultural Arts Center (Route
9, Kinderhook) hosts its fifth annual Fabulous
Wine & Food Fest at 7 PM on Saturday, Sept.
13. Returning for a third year as wine sponsor
is Lewis Dimm of Fairview Wines and Spirits in
Hudson; he will provide an international selection
of wines. This year’s theme is Starry Starry Night.
Enjoy the wine under the stars in the romantically
decorated concert hall at North Pointe and taste
an assortment of creations by local caterers and
restaurants including Ca’ Mea, Chef Lisa, County
Route Catering, Good Food Catering, Spice of Life,
Olde Hudson, the Red Barn, Fay Prince Catering,
Dutch Desserts and T’Rave About. A silent auction
will be held in the coffeehouse with more than
60 items and services up for bid. Tickets for
the event are $75 per person. Event sponsors giving
$125 and above receive tickets to the champagne
reception held in a historic home prior to the
main event. Proceeds from the evening benefit
the live performances and art exhibitions of North
Pointe. To receive an invitation or make a reservation,
call 758-9234. . . . Pot roast with cranberries,
potatoes with rosemary, Sister Mary’s Zesty Carrots
and ginger cake are among the Shaker specialties
served at Hancock Shaker Village’s Shaker Suppers
this fall. Enjoy a beautiful evening in the
Shakers’ City of Peace, where you will relish
a hardy Shaker dinner in the candlelit 1830 Brick
Dwelling and delight in the beautiful sounds of
Shaker music in the meeting room. A guided tour
starts at 5:30 PM, and dinner is served at 7 PM.
The price is $50 per person for dinner, or $55
with the addition of a tour of the village. Dinner
will be served Sept. 13, 14; Oct. 3, 11, 12, 18,
19, 25; Nov. 28, 29; Dec. 27 and 28. The village
is on Route 20, five miles west of Pittsfield,
Mass. Reservations and prepayment are required.
Call (800) 817-1137. . . . Remember to pass your
scraps to Metroland (firstname.lastname@example.org).
fax info to 922-7090)