Fish & Game Turns Tasting Into An A La Carte Option
By Jamie Larson
When star chef Zak Pelaccio opened his Hudson restaurant Fish & Game in the spring of 2013, he took the “farm-to-table” ethos and aesthetic to its pinnacle with a seven-course, tasting-menu-only dining experience. It was all about taking one hundred percent local ingredients and presenting them in the most delicious and beautiful way possible. But for some, the menu was — while incredible — limiting.
Now, with a major switch to a full, a la carte menu, Pelaccio is challenging himself, his kitchen and his business model to continue the impressive culinary orthodoxy while opening the restaurant’s doors to a larger audience of palates.
“The reason we did it now is we asked ourselves, ‘Is this the way we want to eat every weekend?’” Pelaccio says. “The answer was ‘no, sometimes I want to sit down to a simple, beautiful, perfectly fire-roasted whole chicken and a bottle of wine.’”
Because every single ingredient at Fish & Game is laboriously sourced from local farmers with whom Pelaccio has cultivated personal relationships — as well as being curated, crafted, cooked and artfully served — offering only a tasting menu (still available with 24 hours notice) made sense. But it did create a barrier of entry.
“I’m not an ideologue and I don’t want to force people to eat a way they don’t want to eat. It’s a product of our time. People want control over every part of their lives.” Pelaccio says. “But one thing I do know is we’ve wanted to do larger format cooking [which the old menu didn’t allow].”
The new menu will rotate about a third of its dishes in and out as ingredients — and the whim of the chefs — change with the season. Its first iteration is, not surprisingly, impressive, including starters that also serve as a great way to build your own tasting menu, like 24-month house-aged prosciutto, seafood sausage ($22), seafood sausage with nasturtium sauce ($18), Malaysian-style fish soup ($16), a soft boiled egg from the restaurant’s own free-range farm chickens, topped with house-cured Northeastern smelt and smoked summer squash ($12) or 20 grams of American sturgeon caviar with the traditional accompaniments ($85).
The mains range from sea urchin tagliolini ($32) and ravioli featuring summer squash and smoked and braised lamb ($25) to smoked and grilled pork belly ($25). There are also sides, a wonderfully collected wine assortment and a cocktail menu featuring ingredients as local and inventive as anything else at Fish & Game.
“We see the results of being adventurous. We are doing things like whole rabbit on the grill,” Pelaccio says. “There are so many amazing options available to us here. Winter was challenging and it will be interesting to see how that affects the new menu.”
There is still a twinge of conflict in the chef’s voice. He’s doing a balancing act familiar to successful artists of all mediums throughout time; staying as devout to your truth as possible while continuing to satisfy your audience. Because Pelaccio has placed such strict ingredient sourcing rules upon himself, deciding what his diners eat also made as much sense business wise as it did creatively.
“I still think it’s the best way to run a restaurant,” Pelaccio says of the fixed menu. “But we’ve gotten to a place where we can manipulate our system. We know our purveyors really well. Now it’s a dance of being able to get the right amount of what we need. Nothing in our kitchen ever goes to waste. Nothing rots unless it’s intentional rot. We are big fans of intentional rot.” (Try the house-made kimchi, used for the wood-oven-roasted oysters with kimchi hollandaise. Two for $12, four for $22).
There’s another aspect of Pelaccio’s thinking about the new menu that resonates back to the core of the restaurant’s mission. He said when he decided to commit to opening this restaurant in Columbia County it was because of the availability of high-quality ingredients. Now that he’s been here and built relationships with his producers, he wants to be able to give back a menu more affordable than one creeping close to $100 per person. Though the food is worth it and the pricier options are still on the menu, Pelaccio wants to be able to still, in his words, “close the circle of sustainability.”
Fish & Game
13 South 3rd Street, Hudson, NY
Thursday and Friday, 5 p.m.—close
Saturday and Sunday, Noon—3 p.m., 5 p.m.—close