Getting the food right is key, but it’s not everything.
By Hal Rubenstein
Seventeen years ago, long before Martha Stewart began chronicling her antiquing along Warren Street, or The Maker Hotel embarked on hosting slavishly devoted Vogue readers to Amtrak it up to Hudson, there was Astrid Jehanno, staking her claim on 6th Street with an outpost of her West Village café, Le Gamin. Astrid’s now a legend up here, due to her steadfast commitment to quality, her playful rapport with regulars, the Emma Stone-like rasp in her sexy alto voice and the deadly Thanos-like glare that emanates from her large blue eyes when asked something stupid like “How come you don’t have Wi-Fi?” (“Try having a conversation” is her answer, posted on a sandwich board in the street) or “Can I get an onion soup with the cheese on the side?” I apologize in advance for admitting to getting off on Astrid’s handling of the increasing raft of entitled day trippers. Oh, they’re so easily scared, often quivering once they discover that the customer isn’t always right. Astrid is. Let them call her an acquired taste. I find her delicious.
And I’m not alone, since so many have waited in eager anticipation for her chef/ husband Patrick to open his dream project, Shadow 66. Now that the doors are open, it’s immediately apparent what took him so long (three years including a break for COVID). No restaurant I can think of looks like this. With its dark wood walls, polished concrete floor, retro signage all in red, expansive wraparound bar (Jehanno built everything), flattering lighting and two gleaming vintage Citroëns dominating the space, Shadow 66 could be mistaken for the world’s most rustically elegant garage with a liquor license. (Whether you like whiskey or not, order an Inspection. Gin lovers will savor a Route 66). And if you’re looking for the coolest space in the Hudson Valley to throw a party for a few dozen people, you cannot best the diner, complete with soda fountain that Jehanno found, restored and affixed to the far side of the restaurant. Richie Cunningham never hung out anywhere this swell.
The best news is that Patrick Jehanno is as adept in the kitchen as he is on a scaffold and offers one of the only menus in Columbia County serving French bistro cuisine. Jehanno’s father was a chef, and after benefiting from his tutelage, apprenticed under Michel Guérard, one of the first proponents of nouvelle cuisine, which eschewed the rich sauces and densely layered preparation of classic French cuisine in favor of lighter sauces, shorter cooking times, local produce, smaller portions, brighter presentation. So, if you still harbor any hesitation about French food because of the calorie count (for the record, an 8oz portion of veal parmigiana is 500 calories), let it go, come here and enjoy a nearly flawless Gallic menu.
Here’s perfect onion soup laced with caramelized onions and topped by a sumptuous layer of Emmentale cheese (a version of Swiss). Ever tried snails? Of course not, but if you love garlic, you must, because the escargots are seductively reeking of alium cloves and parsley butter. The beef tartare’s listed as an appetizer but it’s so clean-the-plate substantial and satisfying, especially when scooped up with the accompanying French fries, it could sub as an entrée. The same goes for a hearty order of mussels, which can be prepared either Provençal, or—my choice—with a saffron base. I make damn fine crab cakes (adapted from Chef David Waltuck’s—former chef/owner of the sorely missed Chanterelle in NYC’s Tribeca—smart and doable cookbook, Staff Meals From Chanterelle) but Jehonna’s crab pillow is something slightly different and—hmph—slightly better. The lump crabmeat isn’t cooked but interwoven with smoked salmon and topped with a yummy sauce of mango and guacamole. And if you’re either flush with cash or dining on someone else’s dime, how can you pass up featherweight blinis bearing crème fraiche and caviar?
No need to ask your savvy server which is his/her favorite entrée because there’s no disappointing option. All three beef variations would do a red banquette framed steak house proud. But at Shadow 66, there is, or rather there are, a few firsts among equals: a crackling skinned, you-gotta-gnaw-the-bone-it’s-so-good duck confit, the tender braised beef soused in red wine, a splendid veal blanquette, which was a special the night we were there, but may be on the menu by now since our table became a broken record imploring Astrid for its permanence, and the chef’s signature dish, a smashingly irresistible Moroccan Couscous Royal, boasting most of the vegetables you ever and never wanted, sharing a fragrant cumin broth boasting meatballs, merguez sausage, chicken and lamb. Be warned. Should you order the couscous and offer your tablemates a taste, your entrée will become a share plate.
Each of the five dessert options is a quintessential version of a classic. The tarte Tatin is deservedly a staple at Le Gamin Country. But the café doesn’t offer the guilt inducing delight of these airy profiteroles with three different ice creams, or the ethereal, and for me, addictive pairing of peaked meringue with crème Anglaise known as Floating Island. “This is my dream,” confessed Patrick Jehanno, “I’m sorry it took so long but I wanted to honor the cooking of my father, and my love of French cooking.” Oh, no! No apologies necessary. Because what could be better than someone who’s living their dream while letting us all share in his joy. And if that’s not wonderful enough, Shadow 66 doesn’t offer Wi-Fi either. So, if you’re from a generation that’s often challenged by face-to-face conversation, Astrid suggests you find something to talk about. If you’re stuck, start with the Citroëns parked in the corner.
47 Old Post Rd
Ghent, NY 12075
open: Wednesday-Saturday, 5:30pm – 9pm
I admit to a slight bias toward End Cut, since Chef/Owner Jordan Schor also considers his place the realization of a dream he had with his dad, and I adored mine, plus his father worked at The Homowack Lodge in Wurtsboro, NY. I spent most of my childhood summers in the Catskills, and we’d always hitchhike to The Homowack because it was the only hotel in the Borscht Belt with a bowling alley and one of the first to have an indoor pool. And finally, the last time we were heading to End Cut, we hit a nasty swath of going nowhere traffic, guaranteeing our arrival minutes before the kitchen’s 9pm closing time. When I called Schor to inform and apologize, he replied, “Don’t worry. Focus on the road and you’ll get here when you get here. I’m not going anywhere, and it will be good to see you.” With a reply like that, we were tempted to drive along the shoulder. Instead, we walked in at 8:57pm. Schor greeted us at the front door with an easy smile and a sweeping hand to wipe away our apologies.
What’s so cool about End Cut is that it’s local. All by itself along Route 9W, the space is not big, but it’s not cramped. The bar, which takes up about a third of the room, is directly opposite the entrance, allowing house regulars to see everyone coming and going, so they may talk to you, but that’s what happens at a you’re-always-welcome local spot, so don’t be a shit and ignore them. The staff, who know how to handle this, fit the room like a glove: comfortable, warm, unflappable and assuring. There’s live music on the weekends, but Schor has found the rare pianist who knows this isn’t his debut at Carnegie Hall. Consequently, his playing and pleasant baritone never dominate the room. In fact, his selection of Tin Pan Alley (look it up!) post-war (II in case you don’t know what that phrase usually refers to) standards is so appealing, diners sometimes get out of the chairs to dance for a bit cheek to cheek. If such sentimental spontaneity and the occasional, impromptu bar regular quip throw you, you’ve been in Manhattan for too long. It’s charming.
Despite its name, you won’t find red banquettes here either. Nevertheless, End Cut can hold its own as a steak house thanks to prime cuts, cooked as ordered, with perfect crust and no culinary curveballs to diminish the indulgent succulence of those who crave ruby red beef. But there’s lots more temptation on the menu. Order the warm homemade dinner rolls and naan-like flatbread from nearby Hudson Valley Bakery along with a soothing drizzle of ricotta and honey. Meatballs arrive with the added surprise of bits of broccoli rabe and mozzarella. Huge, juicy, Homowack Lodge-worthy stuffed clams are so golden and so good (somehow New York-centric Jews believe there was some divine intervention that still keeps them from eating pork—except in Chinese restaurants—and milk with meat—except for cheeseburgers—but give them dispensation to eat seafood). Naturally, there are large, tasty shrimp encrusted in coconut, but the apricot chutney could use a dash of heat to tone down the sweetness. Crab cakes, however, tastes like crab instead of breading and a splash of sriracha gives the accompanying remoulade that desired kick of fire. Onion soup is exactly what you were hoping for. Clam chowder’s even better.
There’s a thick yet juicy double cut pork chop (ask if they would undercook to have a hint of pink), with a delish side mélange of potatoes, apples and bacon, and a superior rack of lamb which you should snare whenever it’s a special. Though I’m prone to steer clear of pasta in creamy meat-based sauces (see parenthetical in previous paragraph), the ricotta laced lamb ragu is solid. Equally pleasing is the chicken saltimbocca, which manages the neat trick of wrapping the breast in prosciutto and gruyere without smothering the flavor of the bird. The familiar steak house desserts: lemon tart, key lime tart, tarte Tatin, do the job nicely—but the standout, a hazelnut sundae so dangerously fine as to incite a spoon fight, is currently a special.
End Cut is that rare restaurant that’s content to be what it is: an excellent neighborhood destination that, because it succeeds without overreaching, is well worth the trip. Chef Jordan should be very proud of that. I’m sure the spirit of his dad is proud of him. I wish I didn’t live an hour away from End Cut. However, if Chef Jordan would consider putting in a bowling alley and an indoor pool, I might consider moving closer.
1746 Route 9W
West Park, NY
open: Thursday – Monday, 4pm-9pm
Until 10pm Friday & Saturday
If going out to eat was just about the food, I’d implore you to drop everything, go on Resy as you jump in the car and drive to Great Barrington, because there’s a new, extremely gifted young chef in town. Ian King is just out of CIA (Culinary Institute of America), but he’s one terrific find.
The fare was good when we first sampled The Elm right after its opening, but King’s recent arrival has elevated its food to the best in town. We greedily devoured just about everything on his menu: sweetly charred beets in taleggio counterbalanced by crispy leeks, citrusy hake crudo accompanied by an unexpectedly conversation-stopping buttermilk emulsion laced with parsley oil, meaty octopus brightened by a charged salsa verde and a kick of pepper coulis, burrata savvily paired with squash and a brisk anchovy vinaigrette. Even King’s oysters get special treatment thanks to his pink peppercorn mignonette. However, the marinated lobster salad may be my favorite item on the menu. Not only is it sensational, but it’s also priced to be irresistible.
There are two appealing pastas on the menu: a vibrant preparation for gnocchi using pistachio arugula pesto and chili oil, and the house-made semolina strands in a rich medley of locally harvested mushrooms in a sauce of cognac and ricotta. I don’t remember the last time I had scallops that made me sit up and take notice. King’s flash seared rendition with pancetta and truffle oil almost made me ignore my guests. The seared duck breast is superb, the flaky halibut is surrounded by a lively piperade of onions and tomatoes. And though I’ve more than had my fill of kale salad, I’d readily order King’s version with roasted grapes and hazelnuts the next time I’m back.
The question is: Am I going back?
The first time we walked into the restaurant, there was no one to greet us. We just sort of stood there. Then something must have registered with the gentleman sitting at the bar who suddenly got up to seat us. How did you miss us? We were eight feet away. The next time we dined at The Elm, friends of that same gentleman—he’s either a manager or co-owner, though we never found out—showed up for a pre-party cocktail or two and he proceeded to sit with them for the rest of the evening. When we left, our waitress, whom we liked a lot, thanked us but we walked out without the guy or anyone else ever getting up to thank us and wish us good night. The third time, though there was still one table left in the room, there was no one on the floor even after waiting. Unbelievable.
Finally, to check on the veracity of this review, I often call and ask to speak with the chef to confirm preparation and ingredients, and as with the other reviews, to find out a little history about the chef as well as his goals and intent. I was especially eager to speak with Chef King because of my enthusiasm for his talent. During the week, I left three messages on The Elm’s voicemail. No call was returned. When I finally did get someone to pick up the phone on a Saturday, though I made clear my affiliation to this magazine and my delight at having enjoyed Chef King’s dishes, I was brusquely informed, by a voice that sounded a lot like the gentleman at the bar, that the chef could not speak to me until late the following week, though the restaurant’s closed on Monday and Tuesday and was then admonished for not having called sooner. Upon being informed of the three previous messages, the voice hesitated for a moment, then said there was nothing he could do, wouldn’t take my number to pass the message on and hung up. Suddenly, I wasn’t hungry for that lobster salad anymore. And now I don’t know if I want to go back.
Ponder this: How many restaurants do you go to, where the food’s just fine, but you frequent the place because you like the way you’re greeted and treated, plus the people who work there are happy to see you? Now how many restaurants do you go to where the food’s superb, but no one gives a crap whether you show up once a month or once a week. Exactly. I really do want to go back to The Elm. I just wish my being there mattered more, or at all. Makes me wish I had Astrid’s withering glare. Maybe the next time I go to there, I’ll bring Astrid with me. That’ll show ’em.
20 Railroad Street
Great Barrington, MA
open: Wednesday–Friday, 5pm-10pm
Saturday & Sunday, 11am-10pm
*Note: In the current issue of The Mountains and above, I reviewed a restaurant in Great Barrington called The Elm, exuberantly praising the vibrant cuisine of a new young chef named Ian King, but puzzled by the management’s lack of commitment to service and disappointment in their lack of support for their talented guy in the kitchen. After our issue went to press, Chef King and the charm challenged management parted ways. In the near future, “Still Hungry” will report on Chef King’s 2024 residency.