Fish & Game, Hudson NY
Zosia Swidlicka discovers that sometimes you don’t need to travel far to cover a lot of ground.
120 miles of train tracks follow the river through the valley. Tower block greys blend into leafy greens. I notice the way the odd ray falling on the cliff face makes it look worn and rugged. The conductor passes through the carriage. “Hudson! Next stop, Hudson!” We bundle up our things and jump off the train. Our feet hit the gravel and I realise there is no platform, nor station in the traditional sense; just a little red building on the other side of the tracks proudly displaying the destination.
We walk along the main street past antique shops and cafes, feeling tall between the two-storey houses on either side. A guy walking a Border Collie smiles at us. A woman in a pair of muddy boots comes out of the deli carrying groceries. We take the next right and there it is – a drawing of a fish and a rabbit on a metal sign, swinging above large arched windows and a heavy front door. We are at Fish & Game, a fine dining farm-to-table establishment, and we’ve travelled 2 hours from New York City to eat.
While the exterior hints at the building’s former life as a nineteenth-century blacksmith shop, the interior feels a little like an upscale country lodge. Exposed brick walls, black walnut tables and velvet wallpaper provide the backdrop for a couple of open hearths and a scattering of artfully placed stuffed animals. We walk through to our table in the dining room. Around us, parents visiting college students hand out life advice, couples on weekend getaways snuggle in the leather seats, local ladies catch up over glasses of wine.
Zakary Pelaccio, the owner, circles the room with a bottle of artisanal wine. He’s talking about its maker; a French woman in the Beaujolais who works with nothing more than her own hands, a few barrels and a very old manual wood press. I flick through the wine menu; it’s more like an atlas of natural wines from around the world. I note with some interest that selected sparkling wines are available in jeroboam size.
There is no food menu to peruse. Instead we are handed a glass of maple sap extracted from trees at the restaurant’s own farm with a white pine needle preserved in fino sherry. It’s the beginning to the evening’s 7-course wine-matched tasting menu of locally-grown, raised and gathered produce. Much of it originates from their own farm just 5 minutes away and is accompanied by condiments and sauces fermented in-house.
The bread basket arrives. We slather fluffy pretzel rolls, aromatic pumpernickel and toasted sourdough with butter that’s been churned with yoghurt. The first course arrives just as we inhale the last crumb. Deep-fried oyster, grilled squid and cabbage kimchi: a cacophony of textures and flavours strewn together on the plate in a ramshackle pile. “The chef spent a lot of time in South East Asia,” the waiter tells us, presumably in response to our puzzled faces. I smile and finish off my glass of Pamina Chardonnay.
The next course arrives shortly after and the “I don’t get it” feeling is swiftly replaced by relief. Sea perch dumpling in a red pepper broth is served in a couple of beautiful ceramic bowls. A sliver of red pepper forms a bright speck in the centre. It’s balanced atop a soft, cylindrical form. The waiter trickles the blushing broth into the bowls with a hushed reverence. I am so struck by the patience that must have gone into arranging this dish that I vow to maintain its beauty and with the first prick of the fork inevitably capsize the little tower into its mini red pepper moat. A feeling of immense sadness crashes down on me as I look at the disturbed composition. At this point I tell myself there’s nothing else for it and I pop the firm flesh in my mouth, allowing the subtle sweetness of the red pepper to meet the slight saltiness of the fish. My taste buds go swimming somewhere off the coast of Koh Lanta and I am so happy I am only capable of emitting “mmm” sounds until all that’s left in the bowl is a little pink puddle of brothy remains.
The next few dishes are a departure from these Asian shores in what can only be described as a marriage of French class and American audacity. We are brought pork loin, sliced thin as paper and served with Daikon ice pickle. A “croissant”, which my French companion mutters is actually more like a bouchée à la reine, at least in shape and size, flakes into an aromatic braised lamb curry. Smoked venison sits atop slow roasted onion and brunoise sauce. We sip and slurp our way through a world of wine, tang, tingle, citrus, smoke lingering on our tongues.
By the time dessert arrives two hours have gone by, and it’s not just my stomach that feels like it’s gained something from the experience. Living in New York City, where the food is as fast as the lifestyle, being able to enjoy the fresh taste of local produce, meeting the people who cultivated it and seeing the farms where they do so felt truly indulgent. So when we finish the meal with a strawberry vinegar curd and caraway tuile followed by a fluffy pain perdu, gooey timberdoodle (a firm cheese from nearby Vermont) and tangy kohlrabi kraut drizzled with the farm’s own maple syrup, I am sure of one thing. We covered more ground in that dining room than we did getting here.
Words: Zosia Swidlicka
Food shots: Peter Barrett
Exterior and interior shots: Nick Wood