Raise Your Forks: It’s Hudson Valley Restaurant Week(s)
If — in deference to budgetary discipline or stormy conditions — you’ve foregone dining out this winter, get ready to pull on your Wellies and head out: Hudson Valley Restaurant Week 2013 is here!
Actually, HVRW lasts a fortnight—from March 11 to 24—and includes 185 participating restaurants in seven New York counties, including Dutchess, Columbia, Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Orange, and Ulster. On offer: $20.95 three-course prix fixe lunches and $29.95 three-course dinners (excluding tax, tip, and beverages).
Participants include RI-reviewed or featured restaurants, like The Greens at Copake Country Club, Stissing House, La Puerta Azul, Crave, Artist’s Palate, and Cafe Le Perche. It’s a gentle splurge to enjoy local bounty, such as Terrapin’s Hudson Valley Cattle Company sirloin steak and The Greens’ Split Pea Soup with Willow Brook Farm Kielbasa.
Now in its seventh year, “Hudson Valley Restaurant Week has established itself as an annual tradition that everyone anticipates—in a good way,” says Janet Crawshaw, publisher of The Valley Table Magazine and a founder of the event.
The idea for HVRW came to Crawshaw in 2005 during New York City’s Restaurant Week. She was dining in midtown Manhattan at Beacon, owned by chef and restaurateur Waldy Malouf, whose menu has always highlighted Hudson Valley growers and producers. Suddenly, Crawshaw had a brainstorm: Why not promote the Hudson Valley dining experience, where many restaurants are that much closer to local food sources?
Between getting restaurants, sponsors, and local tourism on board, the event took a year to launch. “Doing Restaurant Week for a region is a much different proposition than for a single city,” explains Crawshaw. The first HVRW took place in November 2006 with 70 participating restaurants across seven counties. Since then, the number of participating restaurants has more than doubled and some report that the annual event results in a 30-50% increase in their business.
For Hudson Valley-based chefs, like Josh Kroner of Terrapin, HVRW is a harbinger of spring. “In our business, winter is a hard, often bleak, season—if a restaurant is going to close, it will be during the winter.” HVRW, he notes, helps restaurants transition from a slow period to a busier season. “HVRW creates excitement and enthusiasm for restaurants in the region—it attracts city people upstate, and locals love the special deals that give them a chance to try different things,” says Kroner, who has participated in HVRW five years running.
The exposure that the event gives restaurants, such as Stissing House, located in Pine Plains in Eastern Dutchess County, is well worth the marketing investment, says Patricia Jean, who co-owns the restaurant with her chef-husband Michel Jean. “The HVRW buzz puts us on the go-to restaurant dining radar,” she says.
After gaining new customers from HVRW over the years, The Greens at Copake Country Club is participating again this month. Executive chef Glenn Strickling sees HVRW as an opportunity to strut his culinary stuff. “We’re not serving up just basic ‘country club’ fare—and we want people to know this,” he says. Their commitment to area producers translates into a sophisticated local-leaning menu with dishes such as Herondale Farm beef carpaccio with fried capers and Equinox Farm Baby Arugula with shaved Parmesan and white truffle oil.
Participating chefs, especially in the upper Hudson Valley, face challenges. One is creating a menu that highlights local ingredients—but at a reasonable cost. Logistics, as in the case of The Greens, are another. “We’re as far north as you’re going to get—and we’re one of only two participants in Columbia County!” says Strickling. (The other being Cafe Le Perche in Hudson.)
Patricia Jean agrees: “We don’t see the same volume of traffic that the lower Hudson Valley does.” What makes the event worthwhile for Stissing House, however, is being discovered by “new customers with a real interest in food.” And for their regular customers, she says: “the value-driven menus are our way of rewarding them for their patronage.” —Kathryn Matthews