This year’s Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, which runs March 18 to 31, got a jump start on February 28 when the Culinary Institute of America threw a party to ring in the event’s sixth anniversary. The 2012 edition will include more than 200 restaurants participating over a seven-county swath.
The restaurant-week concept was created 20 years ago by Tim Zagat, co-founder of the Zagat Guide, and late restaurateur Joe Baum. They framed it as a goodwill gesture to 15,000 reporters who were in New York City for that year’s Democratic National Convention, charging a media-friendly $19.92 for a three-course prix fixe. “We had no idea that it would become a national and international institution,” says Zagat, but currently more than a couple of dozen geographic areas around the world participate.
Valley Table magazine co-founder Janet Crawshaw began Hudson Valley Restaurant Week six years ago with only 70 restaurants, to celebrate the region as a culinary destination. “Since then we’ve had an explosion of great food, great restaurants…With 200 restaurants participating this year, we have one of the largest now.”
Crawshaw says that you can now find Hudson Valley products all over the world. She spoke of a trip to Hawaii and finding Hudson Valley items on the menu there. “It totally tickled us,” she said.
“It’s a tribute to the pioneers of the Valley,” says restaurateur Peter Kelly, who, with Culinary Institute of America (CIA) president Tim Ryan, is co-chair of the event. Locally, the week benefits restaurateurs and restaurantgoers by not only bringing in customers who might not normally come in, but also encourages people to try restaurants that they might feel are normally out of reach for them.
The CIA’s kickoff party was held at its Caterina di Medici restaurant and got mouths watering for what is in store later this month. The CIA’s bacchanalian buffet spread included the likes of arancini, carpaccio, bresaola, stuffed sardines, orange/blood orange/fennel salad and broccoli tart. My favorite was a salad of impossibly tender octopus with diced potato, tiny cauliflower florettes and capers.
“Restaurants are where we go for nourishment – not just physical nourishment, but psychological nourishment,” says Ryan, who clearly appreciates the fun in it. “Restaurants are fun, restaurateurs are fun, but the funnest of all, the most fun, are chefs,” he added.
The CIA began with a food science show featuring eggs simmering in a clear plastic bucket connected to a sous vide machine, followed by a grand cocktail reception. My fellow members of the press and I, along with chefs and food personalities of every stripe, sampled the wares of the many vendors offering tastings, including nibbling a generous assortment of cheeses from Sprout Creek and many other savories. Dan Madura, Jr. of Mycomedicinals in Goshen, which produces exotic mushrooms, sprouts, micro greens and vegetables, brought a stupendous display of vegetables, but it was the mushrooms that caught the eye: a colorful array of texture and color, of grays, ivories, beiges and rich browns punctuated with gold. Luckily for us, a sample of a heavenly sautéed assortment was on offer. Wineries, breweries and distillers were on hand as well. I zoned in on cassises and craft beers – particular favorites of mine.
New this year will be a signature event, “The Art of Local,” to be presented on two dates in two locations. Highlighting cheese, wine, beer and spirits, participants can “come taste true food craftsmanship from our local cheesemakers, wineries and distilleries.” Tickets go for $10, or only $5 for designated drivers. One will be held at Robibero Family Vineyard in New Paltz on March 24 from 12 noon to 5 p.m., and the other at Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery in Pine Island on March 31, also from 12 noon to 5 p.m.
Watch your Twitter for the hashtag #hvrwchat. Dutchess-based syrupers Crown Maple will hold a chat on March 20; on March 27, Great Destinations in the Hudson Valley will be the topic; and on April 3, food bloggers will recap Restaurant Week.
Another added element of this year’s event is sponsored by Crown Maple: a chef’s challenge where chefs will create recipes featuring maple syrup in a cocktail, appetizer, main course or dessert. Peer chefs will judge, and diners can vote online as well, eligible to win a chance to tour the maple farms and a gift basket worth $600.
If this whets your appetites for Restaurant Week, more information is at www.hudsonvalleyrestaurantweek.com, with a list of restaurants, when they serve lunch and/or dinner, and which days of the week, if any, are excluded. Restaurants participating will be offering lunch for $20.95 and dinner for $29.95. Some chefs will choose to feature their most popular or signature dishes; others will create a new menu for the event.
Restaurant Week organizers urge patrons to call ahead with any dietary restrictions or questions about menus or hours, and to tip generously based on the value of meal, not on the price paid. Reservations are recommended.