Tuesday, November 22, 2011
The Artist's Palate, Poughkeepsie, NY
When Kelli and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary earlier this month, we wanted to pause from our busy schedule and mark the occasion. But of course, because we'd been so busy lately, we had barely given a thought to the day and how we'd celebrate it. Walking home from work around 5:00pm that day, though, I had an epiphany.
Our favorite local sushi restaurant is Bull and Buddha, on Main Street in Poughkeepsie. Each time we visited, we walked past another restaurant just a few doors down - The Artist's Palate. The restaurant looked beautiful, and the menu tempting, with its Hudson Valley-inspired contemporary American flare. There was just one problem: whenever we walked by, the restaurant was always closed. Was it ever open? we wondered.
A quick check of their website confirmed yes. (They're in fact open for dinner 6 nights a week, so we'd just had coincidentally unfortunate timing on all of our previous visits...) At 5:15pm we made a reservation for 6:00pm, dressed the girls (such last minute dinner plans meant a babysitter was out of the question), and we were off for our celebratory dinner!
The Artist's Palate opened in 2006, the baby of co-executive chefs and co-owners Megan Kulpa Fells (a Culinary Institute of America graduate and previous competitor on The Food Network's Chopped) and Charles Fells (they're a husband and wife team). I'd read rave reviews from gluten-free diners on the Internet, and the restaurant's website also mentioned that they accommodate gluten-free dietary needs. As we'd soon learn, the rave reviews were entirely justified.
We were seated toward the back of the comfortable, warm space, a few tables away from the open kitchen, where Kulpa Fells (in the yellow hat, above) was busy at work. We had noted our gluten-free needs when making our dinner reservation, and our server - Andres - re-confirmed our dietary restrictions.
A few minutes later, Kulpa Fells came out from behind the kitchen to introduce herself, discuss our dietary restrictions personally, and assure us that she could craft a wonderful gluten-free dinner for us. As we walked through the menu, it was clear how well she knows her own food, highlighting naturally gluten-free dishes, as well as deftly offering ways she could prepare other dishes to make them gluten-free (such as making a fresh pan sauce to go over a steak that otherwise would have been finished with a gluten-containing sauce). She even offered to prepare anything our girls might like for dinner, even if it wasn't on the menu. (Kulpa Fells has a toddler of her own...) We swooned. And it only got better from there.
We ordered a bottle of wine, some appetizers, our entrees. While we waited for the first course to arrive, the chef sent out an amuse bouche - gluten-free, of course - tomato, fresh basil, olive oil, and a touch of cheese over a rice cracker. Then came the gluten-free bread basket (photo below). The texture was divine. These were some of the best GF dinner rolls we've ever had.
Appetizers followed. The Caesar salad - dressed with naturally GF polenta croutons - was very good, though a touch heavy on the anchovies for our taste. A second appetizer - crispy tofu in a rice flour batter - was also very good.
Our entrees only elevated the dinner further. The Hudson Valley duck breast in an orange-rhubarb glaze, with aromatic rice, was moist, perfectly cooked, abundantly flavorful.
Our second entree was a special of the night - bacon-wrapped filet mignon (photo below), with a GF au jus and mashed potatoes. The mashed potatoes were slightly mealy, but the beef was ethereal. With each bite my eyes rolled back in my head, and I don't say that about beef very often.
I joked with Kelli: "We need to start making our steaks like this!" To which she countered: "Then we need to start buying better cuts of beef!" That, and perhaps we'd hire Kulpa Fells to work her magic in our kitchen.
An a la carte side of roasted Brussels sprouts rounded out the meal.
(Note: The menu at The Artist's Palate changes about every two weeks.)
Finally, for dessert we ordered a flourless chocolate cake with fresh berries (very good), and a pumpkin creme brulee (excellent), which was the direct inspiration for yesterday's pumpkin-bourbon creme brulee recipe.
Throughout our dinner, service remained discretely attentive. Wine glasses were filled, finished plates cleared, silverware replaced as needed...all without us feeling like the service was overbearing or otherwise interrupting our dinner. It is a highly underrated skill - attentive service that manages to fade into the background. Very well done.
At the end of the night, two shared appetizers, two entrees, one a la carte side, two desserts, a bottle of wine, and a generous tip set us back about $150. As such, The Artist's Palate is not kind of restaurant we'd patronize every day. But on this special occasion, it was worth every penny, and we'd go back in a heartbeat.