Zak Pelaccio’s newest venture differs from most mod-country, locavore eateries these days in one crucial way — it actually is in the country.
In the small upstate city of Hudson, a two-hour ride from Manhattan, the Falstaffian Fatty Crab/’Cue king has converted a former blacksmith shop into a louche temple of locavorism. Named to evoke both the bill of fare and a nearby country lane, and aiming to reap the bounty of the Columbia County landscape, Fish & Game officially opens this week.
Mr. Pelaccio has joined the northward migration to an area popular among artists including Marina Abramovic. Apparently, he is leaving the fat behind in the city. His new cuisine is “less fatty, less heavy,” said Mr. Pelaccio, who lives in nearby Old Chatham. “Saturday night was cool; our friend gave us some turnips, which we glazed. We did some asparagus with a poached egg, and a ramp ragu over Vermont shortgrained rice.” (Lest anyone think he’s gone vegan as well as native, Pelaccio’s Twitter feed still features a slaughtered pig; and several chickens were roasting on a spit in the main dining room during a recent preview.)
Mr. Pelaccio plans to offer both an à la carte bar menu and a rotating six- or seven-course tasting menu for $65, roughly half the cost of a similar menu downstate: “In the city, this menu would run 120 to 125 bucks. Shopping locally here, we can get the same complexities and product quality at a lower number,” he said.
The cuisine may be less aggressive than at his city outposts, but milk-braised does not suggest milquetoast, neither on the menu nor in the aesthetics. Architect Michael Davis’s décor makes a sharp nod to the less-than-spotless history of Hudson, notorious as a center for prostitution and gambling until its rackets were broken up in the early 1950s by Governor Dewey. Velvet-printed hot red wallpaper punches up an otherwise subdued palette of hardwoods, dark gray beadboard, a raw plaster fireplace and copper-studded open kitchen.
Melissa Auf der Maur, the former bass player for Hole and Smashing Pumpkins whose nearby Basilica Industria recently hosted its third annual Ramp Fest, was at a preview last Friday—which started with speciality tequila drinks before meandering through a seven-course tasting menu. Roasted duck with Hokkaide turnips and softshell clams in broth were spelled by pretzel bread with yogurt butter. “Zak’s definitely raising the bar here,” said Ms. Auf der Maur. “It’s the next major step in putting Hudson on the culinary map.”
Times style desk, are you listening? “Hudson has morphed into this cool spot,” said painter and weekend homeowner Robert Roane Beard. “There’s a mix of farmers, locals, Manhattan transplants, weekenders, and now hip Brooklynites plus music and movie folks. The restaurant scene has exploded, from crazy-great burgers to very high style.”
Bartender Kat Dunn, a veteran of past Pelaccio ventures, brings the first bespoke drinks (mercifully without handlebar moustaches and bowlers) to Hudson — which H.L. Mencken pegged in a 1948 New Yorker article as the possible Birthplace of the Cocktail. Reviewing various theories about the term’s origin, Mr. Mencken wrote that “It seems much more likely that the cocktail was actually known and esteemed in the Albany region some time before [Antoine] Peychaud shook up his first Sazerac on the lower Mississippi.”
On Friday, Ms. Dunn saluted the city’s seamy past with a Tainted Lady (a blood orange margarita “good enough for a monk”), named for a now-defunct Hudson lounge. She also named a blend of champagne, cognac and Crème Yvette the Ménage à Trois.
But it’s the green meadows more than the red-light vestiges that have lured Mr. Pelaccio north. “It’s beautiful,” said Pelaccio. “I’m walking with my son picking dandelions. Next we’re going to play ping-pong in the barn. That’s why we’re here.”