This week I won’t be writing a recipe, but more so an experience that I think every “foodie” must try, right here in the Catskills. This was the best overall dinner experience of my …
This week I won’t be writing a recipe, but more so an experience that I think every “foodie” must try, right here in the Catskills. This was the best overall dinner experience of my life.
I don’t think there is any way to overhype this destination, located in the winding roads above Livingston Manor overlooking the Willowemoc Valley. Driving out from the Manor and tracing the river’s course feels like a very long driveway with home awaiting you at the end. There is a very thin line between the hotel’s interiors and nature, with sprawling glass windows throughout the entire dining area and a menu that includes foraged items from the property. You can tell there is so much thought behind everything, from the decor to the dining menu, and stepping inside is like being transported back to the classic sportsman’s Catskills from another era - atmospheric, honest, arcadian, sturdy.
Right from the start there was such an attention to detail. Do not get me wrong, the food was exceptional and should be winning a Michelin any day now, but it was the service for me that really elevated everything. My fiance and I were given a personalized itinerary with our dining reservations and services included in our stay from the moment we walked in, and the staff is sure to greet you by name and in a way that feels like you were just there last weekend.
I’ll provide a quick run-through of the current menu (which changes seasonally, so act fast if you like this one). It is twelve courses and optionally includes a wine pairing to complement your culinary journey, provided by the wonderful Connor Mullally. Just keep in mind that I cannot do this dinner any proper justice by writing about it - each dish blew me away, one after the next, and you really need to get all five of your senses involved to see what I mean.
The dinner started with hyssop kombucha aperitif (hyssop is a shrub native to the regions surrounding the Caspian Sea and used since antiquity for its purported medicinal qualities), followed shortly by a small loaf of grilled bread made with fermented potato and homemade butter. Just try to imagine the best bread and butter you have ever tasted. I don’t know how they made something as simple as bread taste better, but they did. The next dish was a gem lettuce salad topped with brown butter, hazelnuts, and warm ricotta, which had me questioning why every salad isn’t drizzled in butter. I was almost licking my bowl and was reassured (at several points throughout the night) that this is permissible but will only serve to flatter the chef.
A risotto with horseradish, dill, and caviar came out next. This dish was particularly interesting because it contained no rice - it was instead white asparagus - sliced, cooked, and meticulously prepared in a mysterious way to mimic rice in appearance and texture.
The risotto was followed by smoked eel, which upon first reading the menu induced a bit of concern. It turned out to be cause for false alarm as we were presented four golden arancini-like spheres, each adorned with a graceful crown of shaved winter truffle arranged like a flower’s petals. If I had to choose a way to eat eel, deep fried and covered in truffle is a sure winner.
My favorite course of the night was next… trout in a crystal-clear smoked trout consommé, topped with delicate onion flowers. It was visually stunning and cooked to absolute perfection. The seventh course was chicken liver with schmaltz atop a saltine cracker (that they made in house, Nabisco need not apply). My father would have loved this course, as he is such a fan of chicken liver.
Deep fried oysters with a dab of tart pine emulsion appeared next, nestled deep in a bowl of fresh pine needles. This was followed by a dry aged beef steak, escorted by a grilled shishito pepper stuffed with mushroom pork sausage ‘nduja. It also featured the most incredible umami bomb of a reduction sauce and I had to restrain myself from asking for a bowl of it by itself.
Duck was next, with smoked onions and an incredible assortment of wild mushrooms.
The last course was dessert, a grand melange of foraged tree bark tea, meadowsweet ice cream with elderflower cordial, warm honey madeleines, and their mind-bending chocolate made with burned bread. The warm cordial with the contrasting ice cream was the most refreshing thing I have tasted in a long time. And then, it was over... and we immediately set about planning our next visit. Any excuse will do.
Many thanks to Executive Chef Eric Leveillee, Robert West, Charles Mercein, and Robert Wusk for showing us all what we’ve been missing. We will never be the same. Call for your reservation for that special occasion, you will not regret it.
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