September 6, 2015
This might be the most delicious chicken I've ever eaten. If you want to taste it too, you need to go to Fish & Game, Zak Pelaccio's ur-local restaurant in Hudson, New York. It's a beautiful restaurant, a former blacksmith shop that's all dark wood and local craftsmanship, with an open kitchen and the scent of wood-smoke wafting through the romantically-lit room.
But it is definitely not for everyone.
If you're intrigued by the notion of a restaurant so dedicated to using local products that the chefs make their own fish sauce, their own Worcestershire sauce and spend the summer canning vegetables to use in winter, you'll want to eat here. Fish & Game does more than pay lip service to the notion of local food; they're serious about the whole notion of local, seasonal and nose to tail. But like all great restaurants, this kitchen disdains the notion of playing it safe; the chefs are constantly experimenting, and not everything succeeds.
But first, the chicken: an exciting expression of how great simple cooking can be. The menu says it serves 2, but this prodigious bird (which costs $65) is easily enough for 4. The skin is so crisp it crackles, the flesh so soft, smooth and velvet-tender that had I not seen the bird emerge, whole, from the oven I would have sworn the breast had been cooked sous-vide. We tucked in, eating it with our fingers, savoring every seductive bite.
I've always believed that meat is sweeter close to the bone, and I sat there, unabashedly stripping the meat away, placing it on the damp, rich bread tucked beneath the bird. Saturated with the moist bacon-scented drippings, this was a Tom Jones moment. But the best was yet to come.
I woke at 4 a.m. with the bright light of the crescent moon pouring into the bedroom. Outside the tree frogs were having too much fun. I looked up to find Orion spread across the sky. Tiptoeing into the kitchen, I snatched the chicken from the fridge and took the carcass outside. Alone in the clear, star-dappled night I listened to the wind calling softly through the leaves, eating the last of the chicken.
There were other fine moments in this meal. These oysters, with their spicy vinaigrette:
Lobster fried rice, an irresistible tangle of textures and a symphony of sensations: rich, soft, crisp, crunchy, the lobster gentle among those brittle fried grains of rice.,
And this corn with clams and caviar – an inspired combination. The brininess of the clams underlined the sweet intensity of the corn in the most wonderful way.
Beans, tossed with all the herbs and vegetable of the season, pure summer.
And a puree of potato that paid homage to the great Robuchon dish – pure decadence – a mountain of butter with a bit of potato whisked in.
It would be difficult to end on a higher note than this simple panna cotta, sparked with plum, zinged with balsamic, just the right note of sweetness.
The wine list is impressive. We drank an extremely delicious Sicilian rose – Susucaru – from a slightly mad winemaker who, like the restaurant, is rigorous, organic and iconoclastic. Still, I wish there were more affordable wines on this list. The wines are fairly priced, but it's for rich people; there's almost nothing below $60.
The food is also fairly priced; you're going to spend a lot of money, but if you're a food-focused person you'll think it's worth it to experience this intensely focused kitchen. And if you're not….. you may just be annoyed. There's a cool arrogance to this restaurant, which leaves you feeling that they're more concerned with what they're doing than how you're feeling. They have a mission, but it's not, ultimately, about making you happy. I know people who hate this place. And I understand why.
As for me, I admire what they're doing. But you'll have to excuse me; I have a chicken carcass waiting to become soup.
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