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, November 15, 2010

Gigi Trattoria - Rhinebeck, NY

Gigi Trattoria
6422 Montgomery St
Rhinebeck, NY 12572

Phone: 845 876 1007
Lunch & Dinner - Seven Days

The choice of vegetables in autumn is bitter sweet for me. Some of my favorite dishes are available this time of year, but I look forward to them with mixed emotions. I know that this week's brussel sprouts and kale and butternut squash risotto will be the end of fresh veggies till spring. Soon we will cursing the hot house tomatoes, but right now we still have some of my favorites.

We try to seek out restaurateurs who support the local farms and showcase the valley's bounty on their menu. Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck was at the forefront of the local farm to table movement, and that is one of the reasons we love to stop in for dinner whenever we are in Rhinebeck. I categorize Gigi's menu as “rustic Italian”. This is one of my very favorite styles of cooking, and we are blessed to have a few very fine such eateries in the valley. Included on our list of favorites are Aroma Osteria in Wappingers, Il Cena Colo in Newburgh, Il Barilotto in Fishkill, Mercato in Red Hook, and Gigi's. This style of cooking -  cucina rustica -  uses pure home style preparation. No haute cuisine, just meals prepared the way your mother prepared them, especially if your mother was a country girl from a farm in Italy. 

In farming communities the meats are butchered in the fall and cured and preserved for future use. The salamis are stuffed, the prosciutto pressed and salted and hung until spring, or maybe longer. The vegetables and fruits are preserved and stored in the pantry.  It happens this way all over Europe, but for my money the Italians do it the best. Or is it the French?  Maybe the Basques. Maybe I need to compare everything one more time. 


Gigi's is also one of the very few restaurants in the area open on a Sunday afternoon, and for some reason we find ourselves looking for a Sunday afternoon meal out more frequently than you would think. This weekend we were heading to UPAC in Kingston to see Pink Martini, which gave us the excuse to stop at Gigi. Like we need an excuse.

As we settled in and looked around the dining room, it seemed that many people had just stopped in for a pizza – or skizza - which is what the restaurant calls its thin crust flat bread pizzas. I have tried the margherita as an appetizer, and highly recommend it. You can easily make a meal of some of the other offerings – including a “bianca” pizza topped with local Coach Farms goat cheese, along with mozzarella, preserved figs, pears and arugula, and drizzled with a truffle infused olive oil.

The salads are first rate, which comes naturally when you use fresh ingredients from local farmers. My favorite is simplicity itself, which is what rustic cooking is all about. The Rhugetta salad starts with baby arugula from Sky Farm in Millerton, dressed with a spritz of fresh lemon and drizzled with a good extra virgin olive oil, and topped with thin shavings of parmigiano. How simple is that? And fabulous. If you are looking for something more substantial, try the Barbina ($11.75), constructed with baby lettuce greens, also from Sky Farms, roasted beets, butternut squash, mushrooms, Coach Farms goat cheese and toasted walnuts, tossed with a sherry shallot vinaigrette. Mary ordered this dish with the express understanding that I would help her finish what was a very substantial serving. I never got the chance. Gone. I heard it was great. Gigi's proprietor, Laura Pensiero, is taking her salad creations to new heights; she is a partner in Just Salads, now with multiple locations in New York City.

I started with a platter of fried calamari ($15), which the restaurant prepares with an interesting twist. A goodly portion of very tender tasty squid was tossed with some julienned strips of summer squash, which were floured and deep fried with the calamari. A spritz of fresh lemon and a little salt - it could be my new favorite way to serve calamari fritto misto.

We moved on to our entree orders, which I personally selected by very purposefully not looking at the regular menu. The story behind this seeming dichotomy is that the regular menu includes a roast game hen, prepared in the classic style - pressed “under a brick”. It's great – crispy skin, moist tender center. If I see it I will order it. Every time. The only way to avoid ordering it is to not open the regular menu, and just order the special. Of course if you do not open the menu you will miss the sauteed rapini (broccoli rabe), some of the best french fries in the Hudson Valley – served Tuscan style with cheese or herb topping, and what should be Gigi's signature dish – the fiaschetto – braised gigandes white beans with parmigiano and sage. I managed to order last night without any of these favorite dishes included. I just never opened the menu. Out of sight, out of mind.

Last night there were two entree specials offered – a bronzini ($28) , and a porchetta ($27). We ordered both. The sea bass was served whole and on the bone, and was accompanied by a side dish of escarole. The fish was wonderful; the escarole was worthy of its own separate post. Sauteed with chorizo sausage and braised leeks, it was a meal in itself. My porchetta, which is a classic holiday festival food in central Italy, and an all day undertaking to prepare, was just fabulous. Traditionally seasoned with lots of rosemary and salt, the porcine wrap was stuffed and roasted and full of earthy herbal flavors, and served atop a puddle of celery root puree. Just fantastic. We enjoyed a glass of Paggialupi ($9) with our dinner, a sangiovese merlot blend which paired perfectly with my pork. My dish was also accompanied by a seasonal vegetable side – a bowl of sauteed brussel sprouts. November is for brussel sprouts! The last of the garden's offering is sitting in my refrigerator and is about to be sauteed up with some olive oil and bacon. Gigi's did theirs with a simple brown butter sauce. No need to get complicated when simple lets all of the season's flavors stand on their own. There is nothing complicated about Gigi's. We finished with a delicious espresso and Sambucca Romano, and headed across the river to Kingston.  


Gig's has been and still remains, one our favorites.  Chef Wilson Costa expertly prepares  the classic rustic family fare using traditional techniques and quality fresh local ingredients. It is a recipe for success in the kitchen and obviously a recipe for business success too. The restaurant enjoys a well deserved reputation as one of the best in the Hudson Valley. We couldn't agree more.


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