The next couple of weeks will be exciting ones for restaurantgoers, as well as those of us who would love to dine out more often. With this autumn’s incarnation of Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, the opportunity to get a great deal on meals and try new places is bigger and better than ever.
The numbers are telling: During this now twice-yearly event, which spans 114 miles across seven counties, chefs (at nearly 200 restaurants), food producers, purveyors and diners (more than 200,000) get the chance to shake things up a little with dinners for $29.95 and lunches for $20.95 from November 4 to 17 (closer to two weeks than one).
As recently as 16 years ago, when I first moved to the area, finding good local products could be challenging. Before the days of weekly farmers’ markets in many towns, there was some seasonal fruit and produce at farm stores and farmstands, but none of the exquisite artisan cheeses (think Sprout Creek and Coach), the distilled products (think Dutch’s Spirits or Black Dirt Distillery) and many other specialty products. These days, we’re known far beyond our borders for being a breadbasket and culinary hot spot that showcase what wonders chefs can create with our locally raised and grown goodies.
This is in good part thanks to Janet Crawshaw and Jerry Novesky, who founded the local food magazine The Valley Table in 1998, after a cross-country trip experiencing the bounty of numerous regions and realizing that the Hudson Valley, where they lived, was just as culinarily rich. Eight years later they launched Hudson Valley Restaurant Week with 70 restaurants to highlight the area’s culinary delights further.
“This is a really a special time to be in the Hudson Valley,” said Peter X. Kelly at a recent kickoff event at the Millbrook Vineyards and Winery. Kelly is the owner of four Hudson Valley restaurants and a co-chair of Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, along with Tim Ryan, president of the Culinary Institute of America. “I’ve been here a long time…actually, this is my 30th year,” he continued. “Now the Hudson Valley is having its impact.”
He mentioned communities that have been enjoyed recent renaissances, like Saugerties, Haverstraw, Poughkeepsie and Yonkers, and he credited the culinary world for helping that along. “These communities are being brought back to life by restaurants,” he said, “and the Hudson Valley as a whole is really responsible for that.”
Restaurant weeks now occur nationwide each year, but ours is one of the largest. What’s wonderful about the concept is that it means exciting opportunities – not only for producers to get their products in the public eye (and palate), but also for diners to be able to try new places that they might not otherwise find affordable, and to return to favorite spots for a relatively low-cost meal. In the case of the more upscale establishments, it offers an opportunity to bring the finest dining experiences within reach of many more of us.
In Europe we’ve seen the prix fixe way of dining for a long time, wherein a menu of a few courses – with several choices in each course – is offered at a set price. We’re seeing prix fixe options more and more often these days in this country, with some places that have no à la carte options at all – just a set price for a set menu, or a tasting menu.
From November 4 to 17 at participating restaurants, you can choose from among many options, in most cases showcasing local bounty. Prix fixe choices may include regular menu items and/or dishes specially created for the occasion. Most menus include an appetizer, an entrée and a dessert.