2938 Church street
Pine Plains, NY
The term "agriturismo" refers to the tourist farmhouses in Italy that now also serve as culinary destinations. Agriturismo Restaurant in Pine Plains is the latest entry in the local "farm to table" culinary explosion. In much of Europe the phrase "farm to table" would prompt quizzical stares. Where else would you get your food from? Only in America did we need to invent the genre, as diners insisted on learning the provenance of their meal's ingredients, prompted by nationwide outbreaks of food born illnesses that raised questions about the processes and practices of large corporate farms. Once we (re)discovered fresh local produce, there was no turning back.
Mark Strausman's Agriturismo reopened this weekend, after a short winter break, and we stopped in Saturday night for dinner with friends.
The restaurant is located in a tiny little building just west of the Rte 82 in the village center. I asked our waiter what the building had originally housed. He told me that it was originally a market, during "the time before Carvel". I assume our twenty something server was referring to the medieval period preceding the Carvel Golf course on the Taconic, and not the Great Dark of the 1960's when Tom Carvel had ice cream stores in Queens. Prior to the market the building also housed the print shop for the local newspaper.
The entrance leads directly into the dining room which is set up like a one room classroom with a dozen French country farm tables, seating a total of fifty or so diners. A small bar area with a few stools is at the back of the dining room near the kitchen entrance. A 40's era black and white tile floor complements the painted wainscoted walls. The small size and the lack of any carpets, or drapes, or fabric of any kind unfortunately results in a noise level that borders on subway station. It can be quite distracting and makes it most difficult to hear your dining companions, to say nothing of the waiter.
The restaurant is only open on weekends, serving dinner on Friday and Saturday nights, and brunch on Sunday. During the week Chef Strausman journeys back to New York, where he holds court in the kitchen at Fred's at Barney's. His new venture in Pine Plains is an effort to capitalize on the region's network of local farms, and the menu reflects those suppliers' products. Cheeses are sourced from Coach Farms and the Amazing Real Live Food Company. Pine Plain's Favorite Son Josef Meiller's slaughterhouse provides the meat and sausage, along with Northwind farms' chickens and pigs from Herondale Farm. The cream comes from Sam Simon's happy cows at Hudson Valley Fresh. Vegetables in season will also be sourced locally, but like everywhere else in the the Northeast, November through May presents a problem. There is little in season. Last night's offerings did include some French style white apsaparagus, and also an appetizer dish of fresh morels, which are right up there on my list of all time favorite foods. The kitchen plated the morels ($18), stuffed with truffle infused mashed potatoes, on a slice of coppa, a cured pork cut from shoulder just behind the neck. It sounded just wonderful. Morels are the most delicate of mushrooms, foraged in late April and early May. They taste like the woods, and their aroma is reminiscent of the forest after a spring rain (which is when you find them) - with just a hint of earthy pungency. Adding the truffled potatoes and the salt cured ham was just too much for them; the poor little guys were overpowered by everybody else on the plate. The seafood sautee ($14) was much better. Tender morsels of octopus and calamari were sauteed with white beans and garlic in a delicious olive oil. Wonderful stuff. I took a quick look at the wine list, which had a limited Piedmont-centric selection (which suits me just fine). We ordered a Barbera D' Alba ($36), which went well with most of the plates we sampled.
We sampled four entrees. Sauteed sea scallops ($26) were finished with a white wine sauce and the requisite wild spring ramps, stinging nettles, baby carrots and fingerling potatoes. Very nicely done. My suckling pig ($24 from Josef Meiller) was beautifully prepared. Slow roasted, luscious, moist slices of piglet were finished in a port reduction, and also served with fingerling potatoes, and a sautee of zucchini. I would like to propose a new rule that dictates that restaurants be banned from serving zucchini in April. Or May. Or June. We have to eat it by the pound in July and August and September. The plate was also garnished with a much anticipated piece of pork skin, which unfortunately was cold and impossibly tough and should have stayed in the kitchen. Maybe it really was just for garnish. The chicken "under a brick" ($22) was a classic presentation, and the best meal of the night - tender, juicy, and bursting with flavor, with a perfect crispy skin. Such a simple dish and such a treat when its done just right. A sliced beef loin was also perfectly broiled to a bright pink center, and finished with a red wine reduction.
We finished with some espresso and Sambucca. Agriturismo is a welcome new addition to the valley's dining seen. It was apparent that the NYC weekenders have already discovered the place, (ratio of Audis / BMW's to pick-ups was 5-1 on the street in front of the restaurant) so reservations are highly recommended.
If you do stop in please let our readers know about your visit in the comments section.