by Alysse Robin
The restaurant opened for the evening shift at 4pm on Friday. The sun was getting lower, creating a rosy glow in the dining room, and the glasses hanging over the bar reflected the golden hue that signified the last hours of daylight. The air was light with an aroma that evoked both a familiar comfort and an exciting newness.
Three men were sitting on tall black stools at the bar drinking some local beers from the tap and eating grass-fed beef burgers and spicy free-range wings. They were in work clothes, one with a baseball cap. Talking about the studio they were building in Kerhonkson, Ryan said, “I think by Tuesday we’ll be laying the radiant.” The other two shook their heads and almost simultaneously lifted their beer off the mahogany bar, each taking a large, satisfying gulp. Their beers clunked down on the bar. “This is as good as it gets,” Ryan said with a chuckle. He held up his honey-colored lager and took another strong swallow. He was feeling grateful for his friends, his job, his community…and mostly for his beer.
An elderly couple was sitting at a table for three near a long window. The sunset created dramatic shadows in the lines of their faces. All of the long windows in the restaurant hung with straight thin white curtains, filtering the harsh sunlight into a softened hue. “I’m so glad she’s coming,” said Anita looking out the window. She squeezed the red cloth napkin on her lap. “It was always the four of us,” she said with glassy eyes.
Frank reached across the table and gently rubbed her forearm. “There she is now, dear,” he said. They both stood up and exchanged long hugs with Grace. “We’re so glad to be spending time with you, darling,” Anita said. “It’s been too long.”
Frank slid the high-backed chair out for Grace. She sat and sighed with relief and said, “Being here with you two makes me feel kind of normal again.” Seeing the waitress walk toward them, she smiled, “I’m ready for wine!”
Frank and Anita laughed, “Glad to hear it, we’ve already ordered our usual!”
Just then the waitress came with three wine glasses and a bottle of local Pinot Noir. She filled each of their long-stem glasses halfway with the burgundy-colored wine. The bus boy placed a basket of fresh bread with herbed olive oil and bean dip on the table. The three friends instinctively looked each other in the eyes and cheered, “To life!” They lifted, sniffed, swirled and sipped the robust wine. Ahhh, the full-bodied flavor flooded them with rich memories.
The waitress walked back into the kitchen. She put two new tickets in the window for the chef and picked up the plated appetizers for table 8. It was one of her favorite customers—a young couple with two young children. The kids were adorable, always so well behaved, and quite predictable. They always ordered the brick oven pizza and lobster bisque for an appetizer. The girl had hot chocolate with whipped cream, and the boy had a cream soda. When she brought it over, they moved their crayons and paper and made room for the small plates. Their parents flirted with each other across the thick wooden table, taking turns answering their son’s questions about his concept that another universe may exist within the confines of one small atom. The ambient room was becoming just perfectly dim with the setting sun. The girl was too busy sipping down the lobster bisque to chime into the conversation. “Look at this chunk of lobster!” she exclaimed to her family, holding up her spoon with a large part of the lobster claw sitting in the creamy, pink broth.
Her brother stared at the lobster and declared, “My turn!”
She reluctantly allowed her mother to switch the bowl from in front of her to her brother. “Leave the last bit for me…please,” she said with big pouty, blinky eyes. She knew that even her brother couldn’t resist that look. He smiled, “OK.”
The elderly couple looked at the family, remembering their own days with young children—thinking about how time passes.
Two women in their mid-thirties walked in with the spring wind in their hair. “There will be four of us,” Gina said.
“Right this way,” the hostess smiled. They walked past the bar to a corner table for four. Sitting down, Gina said, “I’ll start with a Tuthilltown martini when you are ready.”
“Waste no time, huh?!” laughed Dawn. “Well, then, I’ll have the strawberry daiquiri.”
“Well, it’s not too often that I get a chance to have a night off with my girlfriends!” Gina exclaimed.
Back in the kitchen the chef was sautéing onion and garlic. Fresh bread was baking in the oven, and the young sous-chef was chopping fresh vegetables. It was very quiet; the shiny metal countertops and appliances reflected the low, bright lights. The sous-chef called, “Order in! We need two local duck entrees.” The chef’s pans were piping hot; he began to sear some local asparagus with the sautéed garlic. Then, like magic, a rich sauce emerged as a reduction of Hudson Valley vodka filled the air with the scent of spices and heat. The sous-chef and chef worked together to plate the dish at the waitress station, adding spring herbs and greens with a local strawberry vinaigrette to adorn the plate.
At the table closest to the bar sat a young couple. They were leaning toward each other and smiling. She was eating a plate of local baby arugula with Parmesan shavings, while he enjoyed some of the soft, warm bread with herbed olive oil.
“Mmm. Want some?” she offered.
“You sure?” he said, “Cause I’d love a bite.”
“I wouldn’t offer if I wasn’t sure,” she replied with a smart glance.
He forked himself some of her salad, purposefully picking from where she had just eaten.
“Delish,” he said with his cheek full and a close-mouthed smile.
“Do you grow a garden?” she inquired.
“I have a small bed in my backyard with some tomatoes and herbs,” he said.
“My garden is my solace,” she replied softly. “Growing food is so fulfilling,” she said.
“…and filling,” he quickly followed up.
She smiled, “This baby arugula reminds me of eating it right off the plant.”
“Yeah, everything here is exquisite,” he agreed, staring at her with a slight blush.
The four girlfriends were now together, enjoying their drinks. The waitress came by with a tray of entrees. She placed down the salmon with asparagus, the seitan with capers and a side of brown rice and broccoli, the free-range local chicken with a side of arugula, carrots and beets, and New York strip steak with gravy and garlic mashed potatoes. Right behind her was the bartender with a fresh round of cocktails for the women. “We’ve got to do this more. A night away from the mess,” Kate said. “A night off cooking,” Dawn added. “Off cleaning dishes,” Amy chimed. “A night with good friends,” Gina said. As she lifted her glass they all cheered.
The three men called to the bartender, as they headed out, “Thanks, Bridget, and goodnight!” Now the night was dark with cool breezes.
“Take it easy, guys. Come back soon!” she replied.
The hostess came by the tables with an ornate silver pitcher of water, ice and lemons. “It’s so great to see you all here. Hope you are enjoying yourself.”
“Being here is a breath of fresh spring air, thank you,” said Grace, smiling at her friends.
As the family waved goodbye, walking out the door, a cool breeze entered the dining room. The hostess went to each table to light the candles. The atmosphere shifted. She went into the kitchen. She and the waitress spent a few minutes talking as the crowd slowly settled. They exchanged memories of Grace’s husband, who was always very generous and loving. They laughed at the stories they heard from the little boy. They whispered about what a great fit the new couple seemed to be. They took the time to appreciate the magic and special moments they witnessed.
In restaurants we take time to talk eye-to-eye. We share a moment out of our busy lives to satisfy all of our sensory desires with the smells from the kitchen, the flavors of the courses, the textures of the foods, the echoes of laughter and conversation, and the beautiful atmosphere—a feast for the senses! We also connect with friends in an intimate way. Each patron of that restaurant on that fine spring evening shared something wonderful in common—they all left feeling contented, full and fortunate.
Have a night to remember at one of our amazing Hudson Valley restaurants soon!