Story and photos by Barbara & Manos Angelakis
Troutbeck Estate Dining Room
Amenia, New York
Friends of ours that live in Connecticut recently discovered a restaurant at a nearby hotel/inn that they thought is exceptional and told us that “you must eat there!”
The venue is a little less than 2 hours scenic drive from where we live, in a tiny town of upstate New York called Amenia, near the Connecticut border.
The restaurant in question is the dining room of the Troutbeck Estate Hotel. The kitchen is presided over by the Michelin-starred Executive Chef Gabe McMackin who brought his love of simple but elegant dining to Troutbeck from his restaurant Finch in Brooklyn where he was awarded the coveted Michelin Star. Hands-on are Chef de Cuisine Vincent Gilberti referred to as “Vinny” and Sous-Chef Carlos. There is also a very good Pastry Chef… but more about the desserts later.
The philosophy of the kitchen is “zero miles” because all the dishes we had were created with ingredients as locally sourced as possible.
Chefs of note like McMackin are returning to basics but in a refreshing new way; they are going for fresh, locally sourced seasonal foods – often grown in their own personal gardens - prepared in exciting new combinations with the addition of international ingredients and spices. Smaller portions are favored, attractively plated, so that you are feasting with your eyes as well as your mouth for a total sensory experience. As the culinary saying goes “You eat with your eyes first!”
A reservation can be made by phoning the main number at the hotel to make a dining reservation. There are a number of a la carte dishes from a menu that changes practically daily, depending on ingredient market availability but there is also a chef’s menu or tasting menu that is not described in much of the venue’s literature but is available on request, and we highly recommend that you go for it.
The property’s web site has a sample menu and there are printed daily menus on the table but, because of the daily changes, I consider the on-line menu just a suggestion of what the kitchen can do. And they can create quite a lot of delicious dishes as we found out!
We had diners there on two nights, both were tasting menus.
There were supposed to be 5 dishes of the chef’s choice, plus dessert. In our case, Chef Vinnie, who was in charge of the kitchen the first evening, seemed to be inspired by our rave comments and delivered 8 exceptional dishes to our table. If we had not said STOP, I felt he would have gone on presenting us with the bounty of his imagination hindered only by the supplies available in the kitchen. A chef that loves to please to that degree and with his range and creativity is well on his way to his own Michelin star(s). On the second evening, when Carlos was in charge, we had a less overwhelming 5 very different dishes, plus dessert.
The cost is $150 per person for the food, plus beverages, plus tax and an obligatory 20% gratuity.
If you decide to eat there, when you call for your reservation ask to be given one of the tables Barbara, the waitress, is taking care of. Barbara is very very good at her job, knowing the menu and willing to ask the kitchen about anything she doesn’t know. She made sure none of the first evening’s dishes were repeated on the second day, even though the printed menu indicated a number of repeats. Also, she has a very good palate when pairing food with available wines. There is a limited suggested selection of wines marked on the small printed menu but, when I told her I did not see anything that I thought would work well with what we were going to eat, she came up with white wines from open bottles that were not indicated on the small menu but paired beautifully with what we were having. And that was for both evenings.
Our first tour de force dinner began with Tiny Sea Kist Oysters; petite and delicate bivalves decorated and flavored with a Ramp Mignonette that happily slid off their shell and down Barbara’s gullet.
Next came a deep green Chilled Asparagus Soup with Jonah Crab chunks and Chive Flower Buds floating on top. The rich creamy soup was light in texture yet with body enhanced by the chunks of crab meat.
The real surprise of the evening was a house specialty of large slices of Sourdough Focaccia (the house bread) spread with olive oil, grilled to crispy perfection and served with a divine dipping sauce of Whipped Ricotta and Lemon. A simple presentation that wowed us over with crispy, crunchy, creamy, mellow and tart flavors all at once… what a treat for the mouth.
A salad wreath fit to grace the head of Spring by Botticelli came next with Sugar Snap Peas, Charred Carrots, Asparagus, Radishes, Ramps, Flowers and leaves with Stracciatella.
But Chef Vinnie was just getting going because the next dish was in-house-made Garganelli Pasta with Blonde Morels, Ramps, Grated Parmesan Cheese and Smoked Egg Yolk. Our knowledgeable waitress Barbara explained the process to us but all I could do was roll my eyes and dive into the dish.
The next dish was also a show-stopper; Maine Lobster with an aromatic, creamy Granny Smith Apple and Vegetable Broth and Stonewood Farms Spinach. A spoon for the sauce was thoughtfully provided so none of the goodness was left in the bowl.
And the dish following was not shabby either; Pork Filet, Porcini Mushrooms and Polenta.
By now we were stuffed to the gills! But that did not stop us from enjoying our desserts.
A chocolate mille feuille and a Pavlova, a meringue-based dessert with a crisp crust and soft, airy inside with lots of Schlag i.e. whipped cream on top. This Pavlova was as exquisite as the one I first had years ago at Fauchon in Paris. The mille feuille was fine, but not as spectacular as the Pavlova.
On the second evening, we “only” had 6 dishes, including dessert. All were as delicious as the first evening’s offerings.
We started with a locally farmed crudo of trout; Italy’s answer to Japan’s sashimi. The fish is locally farmed, raw in mouth-sized bites, but bathed in a citric sauce like a South American ceviche. Outstanding!
The salad was Sugar Snap Peas with Lemon, Herbs and Stracciatella.
Then came a Connecticut-farmed grilled Branzino, over a mound of shucked baby clams and morels in a citric sauce laced with fresh dill, mint leaves, scallion rounds and lemongrass! East meets West delight.
The next offering: sous vide Beef Sirloin rondelles cooked with fiddlehead ferns, green garlic and what looked like wild greens.
Last was a cheese plate with slices of 3 different chesses, marinated fruit slices, honeycomb with fresh honey oozing out of the comb and two pieces of the aforementioned fabulous grilled Focaccia.
We finish with dessert; in this case an olive oil cake with caramel sauce and a side of homemade gelato. A vanilla pudding over bread-pudding was also served but it did not live up to our expectations based on the previous nights desserts… just as well we were so full we could not have done it justice anyway. It was washed down with a single espresso for me and a cappuccino for Barbara. Those desserts were the only items we thought lacking in the quality of the wonderful tasting experience we had at Troutbeck.
Al in all they were delightful dishes at Michelin-star level.
Food in New York State seems to improve every year not only in Manhattan, where there are numerous Michelin-starred restaurants, but even outside of the large towns in the suburbs, in the past mostly the purview of chain eateries and fast food franchises.
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