“Whose dream is this?” I ask Howard Jacobs as we sit in the upstairs lounge of a 1798 Dutch Colonial townhouse on Mill Street in Rhinebeck. An empty fireplace at one end of the room is graced with a painting that depicts days of yore, with other pre-Revolutionary artifacts evoking the era when Livingston ancestors dwelt here. Another fireplace stands at the other end of the long room, and in between, a row of windows opens the view to the west and to the Beekman Arms, America’s oldest inn, across the street.
On the day of my recent visit, furnishings were just being brought in to indicate that this room, the Dutchess, would be a more private gathering area for diners to enjoy. Downstairs, the main dining room and barroom were still under construction; but, walking through, I could visualize happy eaters and drinkers at table; or out back on the bluestone patio area, playing bocce and having a beer in the twilight; or on the front porch at sunset with coffee and newspaper in hand.
The Amsterdam – its renovation now completed and open for business – is the area’s newest venture in sophisticated-but-friendly dining. “My wife Chris and I fell in love with the Hudson Valley,” says Jacobs. “We realized that one day we wanted to live here full-time and pursue our little 25-year-old hospitality dream of a gathering place, a social place where the community can come together.
“About three years ago, this building became available. The building sort of spoke to us and said. ‘Maybe there’s something we can do that is different and special for this market. Something for the community of Rhinebeck.’ We thought if we were going to be Rhinebeck residents and live here full-time, we wanted to make a contribution and add to what was already an amazing village and area.”
Jacobs’ background was in the corporate arena. The hospitality industry is an entirely different game for him. “What I really always wanted to do was to be in the restaurant business. It’s its own wonderful puzzle, trying to align business interests with your passion. ‘This is our chance,’ we thought. We want it to be a bit less transactional – not like ‘You’ve got your 90 minutes; now you have to move on to let the next guest come in…’ Instead, we want people to mingle and linger. The backyard space will have traditional dining tables, and we’re really excited about people having the chance to come and sit in the backyard, enjoy the fresh air and be off the street in a little secret escape with great lighting.”
The name itself speaks to the simplicity and openness of Dutch hospitality. It’s a nod to the history of the Dutch forebears in the region. For Jacobs, a more recent memory provokes nostalgia as he explains, “My dad was in World War II; he was part of the liberation of Holland. They were invited back to Amsterdam in 1995 for the 50th anniversary [of the liberation]. Some great sense of history all came together and stuck with me. There’s something about that Dutch DNA – that simplicity and celebration of everyday life. It’s honest, straightforward. And to me, that’s what the Hudson Valley is like: It’s unpretentious. The Dutch DNA has informed our food, and I’m very happy to have Sara join us and build on our dream.”
Chef Sara Lukasiewicz, formerly of Red Devon fame in Bangall, New York, and of David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar, will hold forth in the open kitchen with a menu of New American classics, reimagined to draw on relationships with local vendors and farm-to-table produce. A James Beard Award Rising Star Chef semifinalist, Lukasiewicz plans to elevate these humble, wholesome ingredients to starring-role level in such dishes as roasted veggie salads, confits, terrines, exciting chef’s board samplings and many more innovative offerings. “We want to present honest and true food that comes from the Hudson Valley,” she explains, “using local ingredients and presenting them in interesting ways. Imagine the celebration of a carrot that has just been picked two days before from a local farm.
“It’s the food, but also about the approach we’re taking, from the front-of-house staff to the back-of-house staff. The general manager, Jeff Turok, is from Union Square Hospitality Group, so he’s bringing that experience with him. We’re focused on hospitality not only in how we treat our guests, but how we treat our staff members and everyone who walks through the door. It’s that Dutch celebration-of-life theme: Everyone is welcome here.”
We talk about how the Hudson Valley has been the breadbasket of New York, and how entrepreneurial efforts on the part of farmers are bringing back sustainable crops and foodstuffs. Jacobs says, “When Sara and I first met, we asked, ‘How do we define what’s in the marketplace, and what can we present? Is there a Hudson Valley cuisine?’ Sara is deeply committed to the farm-to-table concept. People throw that around like it’s a marketing term. What does that mean for us? Sara is on the farms, running around the sheep and pigs; that’s the source, what we want to deliver, what we’re passionate about. We’re trying to source everything we can locally. Honoring and respecting the ingredients and how they came to be – the farms and farmers and all the work that goes into their growth – it results in comfort food with remarkable flavor combinations. It’s the terroir coming to life, the land and everything that’s grown here.”
With a balance between meat and vegetarian selections, the Amsterdam’s locavore menu is deftly complemented with specially crafted cocktails made from fresh ingredients and local spirits. Turok, a certified sommelier, oversees a wine cellar stocked with bottles from New and Old World producers. Guests can circulate through the dynamic two-level space, which has been superbly appointed by veteran designer Siobhan Barry. Inspired by a 17th-century painting by Gabriel Metsu titled A Baker Blowing His Horn, Barry has achieved a blend of original architecture and vintage pieces with industrial elements, gleaming tiled walls and wood floors to make the entire building an environment of soothing comfort and effortlessness.
“The building is like the canvas,” says Jacobs. “We’ve worked hard to build a good team. Now we can bring some things forward and tell the story, and have people relax and be comfortable and be happy. The Amsterdam is a bit of a love letter for Rhinebeck and the Hudson Valley.” Be forewarned: You may not want to leave.
The Amsterdam, Sunday-Thursday, 5:30-10 p.m., Friday/Saturday to 10:30 p.m. (brunch hours coming soon), 6380 Mill Street, Rhinebeck; (845) 516-5033, www.lovetheamsterdam.com.