Welcome to our list of favorite dining destinations in New York's Hudson Valley and Adirondack regions. We visit restaurants, wineries, barbecues, and a smattering of off the beaten path culinary destinations like maple sugar shacks and fromageries. My friends and I have been dining out together weekly for over twenty years. The locations we write about are our favorite destinations. We are not claiming they are the best, just our favorites. The posts are not "reviews" in the classic sense. - we offer only our picks, not pans. We will leave the criticism to others. We are a happy blog. We much prefer a good bistro to "haute cuisine", especially if they also have a nice bar. We prefer a crock of cassoulet and a bottle of Beaujolais to just about anything else. If you enjoy simple home style rustic cooking with a decent (but not too expensive) bottle of wine, then pull up a chair and join us.

This Month's "Well Said!"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

Ferran Andria

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Artist's Palate - Poughkeepsie

The Artist's Palate
307 Main Street
Poughkeepsie, NY

Phone: 845 483 8074

The secret to success in the restaurant business is so very hard to figure out. It is usually some magic combination of people, space, menu and market; success or failure determined by how they all work together at that location. In some markets restaurateurs put up millions of dollars to fund a new enterprise, only to close it in six months for lack of business. These can be the same operators that own a fabulously successful restaurant and seemingly similar venue at another location. Sometimes it clicks. Sometimes it doesn't.

Megan Kulpa Fells and Charlie Fells have both worked, individually, at other notable locations. I first met Megan, a CIA alum, many years ago working at River Station. She later worked for the same owner at 23 Broadway in Kingston, before moving on to run food service at Dutchess Country Club. Her husband Charlie has also been around Hudson Valley food scene for decades, most recently running the kitchen at the now shuttered Busy Bee in Poughkeepsie. A few years ago they opened the Artist's Palate on Main Street in Poughkeepsie, in the space that housed the ladies clothing department at the old M. Schwartz and Co. Go figure. The space looks like it sounds with towering ceilings and industrial looking exposed brick walls. The modern blond bentwood furniture reminds me of the dining room from the Main Mall's Danish Design in the 1980's. If I had to pick the least promising space in the least likely place to open a restaurant hoping to serve an upscale dinner crowd, my short list would have included 307 Main Street. I would have been totally wrong. The space works. The place works. The menu is fantastic. The Artist's Palate just “clicked”.

I was introduced to the restaurant a few years ago by a client who worked in the area and suggested we meet their for lunch.
You enter into a small waiting area with a bar. The open view kitchen can be seen at the rear of a large dining room. The room, in the daytime, seems larger than it should be, brightly lit, and not what you would call intimate. There are no booths or secluded spaces to try and have a private discussion over lunch. You will see everyone in the dining room as soon as you enter, and they will see you. It sometimes makes business lunches problematic, with colleagues sitting three feet away, and frequent interruptions from friends and associates who stop over to see you. This feeling I have about the space is the singular reason I don't have lunch there more often, since most of my weekday lunches are business lunches, but I am obviously wrong on this count too. The Palate is usually hopping at lunch hour. In any event, the food makes it well worth a visit.

More often than not I have a salad for lunch. I like a good substantial salad and there are few places in Poughkeepsie that do a really good job of it. They do here. The Caesar salad is classically constructed with fresh romaine, a good house made dressing, really good home made croutons, plenty of sliced parmigiana cheese, and usually offered with a choice of fish or chicken. It is quite a meal, and one of the better Caesars in the area. Another interesting salad choice is the Warhol, a Greek style preparation with lots of feta cheese and kalmata olives, along with hard boiled eggs, slices of chicken breast, tomatoes, avocado, and thin slices of Bermuda onion. This and a few slices of crusty fresh bread and I'm a most happy fella. The sandwiches choices usually include a chicken panini, pressed with Gorgonzola cheese, baby arugula, and pesto sauce. Very tasty. Even better is the Reuben sandwich which the Fells prepare with their own house made corned beef. What's better than that?

A few months ago we found ourselves in Poughkeepsie on a Saturday night, I think because we were going to a show at the Bardavon Opera House . We decided to try the Artist's Palate for dinner, given the restaurant's proximity to the theater, and the good experiences we had at lunch. I can't tell you how surprised we were when we arrived for our 6:30 PM reservation. The place was rocking. Line out the door - cars lined up on Main Street dropping diners off - rocking. Everything I disliked about the space in the daylight totally worked at night. The dimmer lighting offset the high ceilings and open air feel of the dining room. Nobody was here trying to have a business meeting; it seemed that many of the diners knew each other and the room just felt like one big party of seventy five having fun. I also felt very old. This was a very young crowd, all out to dinner on a Saturday night on Main Street in Poughkeepsie, New York. I would have given Charlie and Megin 2 – 1 odds that they would never draw a dinner crowd downtown like this but the Artist's Palate is defying the odds. It just clicks. It is great to see.

We have stopped back a few more times for dinner and also have once had dinner right at the bar. On my last visit I started with an appetizer portion of the same great Caesar salad, and an order of pulpo (grilled Spanish style octopus), accompanied by a cassoulet. The pulpo was tender, sweet and quite delicious. The cassoulet was also quite good, if not baked-all-day tender the way I traditionally make this dish in the wintertime. This was a summertime version with crisp carrots and textured beans. Another great appetizer is the grilled flatbread, topped with a sweet onion and fig marmalade, bleu cheese, shreds of roast duckling, and arugula. Sliced hanger steak was offered as special on this visit, and was grilled a little shy of the medium rare we ordered, but was still quite tasty. I'm pretty sure it was not actually a hanger steak, but it seems like many restaurants now regularly substitute skirt or flank steak for this traditional French butcher's cut. Still very good, but someone needs to explain that to me someday. The restaurant also offers a New Zealand rack of lamb, usually served with a brussel sprout hash. I think the restaurant's signature dish should be the lobster mac and cheese, offered as an entree on the lunch menu or as an appetizer at dinner.

This fall the Fells are opening a companion restaurant – Canvas – next door to Artist's Palate. The plan is to offer a tapas style dining experience of small plates, apps, and cocktails. I look forward to it. Let's hope it "clicks".

In addition to the regular hours the Artist's Palate opens for lunch on ten Saturday's each season to welcome Bardavon patrons attending the Metropolitan Opera HD matinees, which are simulcast at the theater. The luncheon includes a talk by Leslie Gerber who presents a pre-theater “lunch and listen” introductory lecture prior to each opera performance. Last season many of these luncheons sold out, thanks to the menu and Leslie's wit.

Whoodathunkit? A thriving dining destination in the old M. Schwartz building in downtown Poughkeepsie. Add a MET Opera HD matinee at the Bardavon for $22 and you have the makings of a wonderful afternoon. What's better than that? Perhaps a stroll on the Walkway Over the Hudson when you're finished. 
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