Berkshires After Dark: Kitchenbar full of flavor, vibrancy


HUDSON, N.Y. -- At 10 p.m. on Valentine's Day I greeted my sweetheart at the train station in Hudson, N.Y. She lives in Brooklyn and I in Stockbridge, and the small city has become our favorite middle ground. A series of snowstorms had piled the streets with walls of white, manicured into a hedge maze of towering snow banks.

There were few people on the streets at this hour, most of them shoveling or trying to parallel park by skidding their car sideways onto foot-high piles of ice, just as I'd spent an unexaggerated 20 minutes attempting myself.

The small train station sits next to the Hudson River itself, so powerful as to play a crucial role in our Revolutionary War victory and spawn my favorite American school of painters. Frederick Church's estate resides in nearby Greenpoint, N.Y., and Thomas Cole's is just across the river in Catskill. As the train slowly pulled into this placid snow globe, a convincing portrait of 100 years past -- save for the automobiles, fashion and wide-paved roads -- I expected Amy to shuffle off the train with handful of weekenders and Hudson residents at the pace of a falling snowflake.

Instead the doors burst open, packed passengers driving out like a team of snowplows; hundreds of them. All ages were represented though the majority were stylishly attired urbanites in the 20s through 40s who blew into Hudson with a vibrancy that flipped the night's tone from ponderous to celebratory. I watched the fashion parade for a full five minutes before Amy, unhurried and on vacation, strolled onto the platform. A moment of true romance lies in embracing the final passenger to step off a crowded train, greeting card companies be damned.

I saw the city buzz with the train's energy throughout the weekend. Amy didn't; in her eyes the tableau conjured more of a hip Mayberry than a small city full of artsy tourists and second home owners. I saw them in bars and cafes, galleries and antique shops, strolling the streets and photographing the cityscape. I can picture this same crowd blowing into the Berkshires in the dead of winter, too, if our towns were connected directly to New York City by railway.

Nowhere did this critical mass of bodies present itself on Warren Street at Kitchenbar, a restaurant where she and I dined the following evening. We walked in through the verdant, eye-catching entry without reservations at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, the second table seated. The high-ceilinged space is deep and expansive, partitioned into a large dining area in the back, a smaller one near the front window, and a long bar serving food and drink connecting the two. Tranquil lighting and French electronic music and 1960s yeye pop playing gently harmonized to create a tone of sophisticated comfort. Two men entered behind us and the bartender greeted them by name.

"Maybe the train car full of people has dispersed," I thought.

Monty, our helpful and jocular waiter, answered our many variations on the question, "This all looks so good. What's great?" I used to relish this question when waiting tables, and Monty was eager to share his thoughts.

"The menu changes daily, but everything I've eaten here has been great," he said with sincere enthusiasm. He was new to the staff and expressed excitement about being on the Swoon team. "I've worked at eight different restaurants, and the kitchen staff here does excellent work with seafood on a regular basis, which is uncommon in this area. I encourage you to explore that part of the menu."

Thanks, Monty.

We started with Maine Mussels with garlic, shallots, parsley, and grilled bread ($11.95), Grilled Leek Salad with golden raisins, capers, parsley and saba ($12.95), and a Slow Poached Egg with chicken consommé, winter vegetables and house brioche ($11.95), all from the appetizers menu. Sharing each dish, our entrée was an exceptional plate of Pan Roasted Salmon with celery root puree, roasted shallots, mushrooms and truffle vinaigrette ($27.95).

We swooned over each mouthful, inspired by ABC's reality competition program "The Taste" to prepare perfectly balanced forkfuls for each other. All of our choices were good ones, but the mussels stood out and the salmon shone. People had been filing in steadily since we sat, and by the time we finished our appetizers shortly after 6 p.m., it looked as if half of the train car had followed our lead. By 7:30, as we paid the check, nearly every seat in the house was filled.

"I've never had such silky salmon in my life," said Amy, a food connoisseur, with more surprise in her voice than conviction. "This fish is done to perfection." Portions weren't large, but their abundance of flavor and richness made for a full meal, though not an inexpensive one.

Before leaving I found myself waiting for the restroom next to a friendly looking woman.

"Did you try the salmon, by any chance?" I asked on a whim.

"Oh my god!" she replied, as if I'd whistled her elementary school's pride song. "My fiancé ordered it. It's one of the best things I've ever tasted."

As Amy and I bid goodnight to Monty and walked out into the Art Deco town, transported to the black and white era by snow and darkness, I overheard a group of four asking the hostess for a table. "I'm sorry," she said. "We're booked for the rest of the night." That train car must have had Wi-Fi.


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