A while ago, my husband and I decided get out of our restaurant rut and head over to Nyack. Since a certain food editor suggested Hudson House for the blog, I figured we’d check it out for a Friday night dinner. From savory start to sweet finish, dinner was so good that it made us wish Nyack was our neighborhood. And the icing on the cake was that owner, Matt Hudson, was happy to welcome me into his kitchen. So, this directionally challenged blogger, armed with my trusty GPS and printed Google map, made the trek across the Tappan Zee Bridge into Rockland County to spend the day behind the kitchen door at Hudson House.
Restaurant: Hudson House of Nyack
Description: It’s hard to know where to start to describe Hudson House. Let’s begin with welcoming and comfortable. Although it seems formal with white linen tablecloths, leather banquettes, and a creative menu, the reality is that it’s extremely casual and neighborhoody. Whether you are a regular or a newbie, as soon as you come through the door, you will be greeted like an old friend by owner Matt Hudson. Take a moment to look around the bar to notice all the unique and detailed wood carvings, like the replica of a NYC manhole cover (that’s just one of Matt’s artistic talents on display).
The building dates back 130 years when it was the village hall and fire house. It went through a renovation after a fire in 1909, and Matt tells me that’s when many of the art deco architectural touches like the decorative tin ceiling and walls were added. The old-style double hung windows lining one side of the dining room have now morphed into mirrors giving the room a wide open feel.
Cuisine: The menu is described as Contemporary American. I suppose the American is the “meat and potatoes” of the menu, but the Contemporary part has to be the masterful use of some kitchen magic for accompaniments like beet verjus marshmallows, yuzu foam, sous vide hen eggs, or Béarnaise sauce from a N20 (nitrous oxide) charger.
Owners: For Matt Hudson and Amy Lehman to have owned Hudson House for the past 22 years is an unheard of milestone in the restaurant industry.
Matt started as a manager when the restaurant was called Raoul’s (it was the upstate outpost of the NYC restaurant on Prince Street of the same name and owners). When the opportunity came up to purchase the business, he jumped straight in and hasn’t looked back since. He was married to Amy at the time, who agreed to manage the restaurant and do the backend office and financial end of things for a year. Three children and a divorce later, she is still very much a partner, organizer, and managing force behind the restaurant.
Executive chef: Although a fairly new addition to Hudson House, Jeff Kaufman is totally in his element heading up the kitchen as Executive Chef.
After graduating from the French Culinary Institute, he worked in Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill, our own Peter Kelly’s Restaurant X and Freelance Cafe, and Monteverde (since demised and sadly missed). He brings enthusiasm, creativity, and excitement to this kitchen. It’s a curious juxtaposition that in this old building filled with reminders of times past, this chef is using innovative cuisine techniques like sous vide (water bath) or hydrocolloids (thickeners).
Pastry chef & resident artist: To say that owner Matt Hudson is an interesting guy is truly an understatement. He got his start in the restaurant business tending bar for 10 years at Benny’s in Irvington (with 7 out of 10 of his siblings in the hospitality arena, it has to be genetic). He is definitely in his comfort zone at Hudson House as the maker of all things sweet and prefers the title of baker to pastry chef (but he’s all that and more). His desserts, like the Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie or Pear Upside Down Cake, are delightfully presented, yummily (I know that’s not really a word, but it should be) uncomplicated, and just darn good. A glance around the dining room clearly shows that his creativity extends way beyond the oven. His photographs adorning the walls of this room illustrate his love for the nearby Hudson River; and when asked, he will gladly describe exactly how he captured the moon’s phases in the sky at sunset and sunrise. Matt has intertwined all of his talents as host, artist, and baker to make Hudson House, without a doubt, one special place. Here are two of Matt’s pictures (a photo of a photo doesn’t do them justice — they are breathtaking):
Kitchen staff: I had the pleasure of working on different tasks during the day with Pedro, who is the ultimate the go-to guy in this kitchen. He is super organized and takes great care and pride in his work. He’s been here forever (even before Matt owned it), and knows every nook and cranny. Essentially, if Pedro can’t find something, it simply doesn’t exist. Julio, Noe, John, George, and Padrito make up the rest of the kitchen team assisting chef Kaufman.
Front of house: The front of house staff meets with chef Kaufman before each service so he can discuss the menu and describe the specials.
All the servers are friendly, accommodating, and very knowledgeable. When my daughter, Briana (who is the foodie~ying to my foodie~yang) met me for dinner after my day in the kitchen, we asked lots of questions (admittedly, it’s sometimes perceived as grilling) about the menu. Our server, Scott, took it all in stride. He knew the menu inside and out and was happy to help us with our choices.
Bar scene: At the bar is Andrew Barrett, Elixirist (his description) Extraordinaire (my addition), with exactly the right attitude and dry sense of humor to almost upstage the spectacular drinks.
When my husband and I went for dinner, the Clover Thyme Club cocktail (Tanqueray gin, lemon juice, raspberry syrup, fresh thyme, and egg white) was declared an instant favorite.
Briana and I decided to start our evening with prosecco which Andrew poured into pre-chilled glasses (very nice touch). Stop by for one of Andrew’s one of a kind elixirs and make sure to stay for his sage advice (and dinner, of course!).
Coolest appliance: Chef Kaufman relies on a Robot Coupe, the restaurant world’s pumped up food processor, because it gets the job done. But my eyes zoomed right to the newfangled piece equipment off to the side — a PolyScience sous vide immersion circulator.
This ultra cool device basically heats and circulates water to a set temperature and then holds it there. The beauty of this is that foods (which are vacuumed sealed) achieve the exact point of doneness as they are cooked slowly in this Jacuzzi bath. At Hudson House, chef Kaufman uses the sous vide to cook eggs to about 64 degrees Celsius to achieve a soft custardy yolk when broken. This perfect protein is just one of the highlights of the dish named (what else?) Hen Egg. If you were eavesdropping on Briana and I as we shared this dish, all you would have heard was “Mmmmmmmm” as we slipped into a lovely food coma abyss. Baby lola rosa lettuce, smoked ricotta, earthy maitake (hen of the woods) mushrooms, white and green asparagus, buttery roasted fennel, and a palate surprise of sweet roasted pear. Each bite was a new taste sensation punctuated by that rich egg yolk.
Size of kitchen: Measuring around 30 ft x 25 ft, this kitchen is bathed in natural light and airy breezes from skylights and a back screen door.
Size of prep area: In the morning, Matt’s pastry prep is done along a counter on one side of the kitchen. Before service, you will find Jeff doing his prep on the counter by the line. Prep cooks work in two other areas, so although compact it’s extremely efficient.
Turning up the heat: A high heat plancha (griddle) is flanked on either side by Vulcan six burner stove/oven combos. There’s the obligatory fryer and grill tucked into the far corner.
Chef’s personal favorite: Matt smirks as he segregates his dessert choices into two categories: chocolate and the rest. Chocolate is the Triple Layer Devil’s Food Cake with (you guessed) chocolate icing. The rest would be the Blueberry Pudding Cake. This cake is made with a mix of cornmeal/flour and cooked/fresh blueberries, all for texture. I was lucky to help make it, and got to eat it warm from the oven for lunch (you’ve heard of dessert first, right?). Honestly, this is what blueberries are grown for!
On the savory side, chef Kaufman’s favorite is the Hudson House Ricotta Gnudi. He feels it’s a somewhat misunderstood, “under the radar” dish, but I’m here to sing its praises. First, although the “gnudi” part may get some giggling like Beavis & Butthead, it simply alludes to a “naked” ravioli: the filling minus the pasta. It starts with dough made with grated cheese, eggs, and light, creamy ricotta cheese (my family’s pronunciation sounds much like “re-goth-a”, having no “cot” in it ever). The soft dough is piped into semolina flour where it gets a bare dusting. These plump little dumplings are served with roasted Sweet 100’s baby tomatoes exploding with tomatoey goodness, a crumble of briny Nicoise olives, basil, and extra virgin olive oil. Briana described this dish perfectly as gnudi kisses.
Most complicated dish on the menu: One of my favorite dishes on the menu also happens to be the most involved because of a few time consuming components. The Pan Roasted Hudson Valley Duck Breast with rhubarb puree, caramelized spring onions, maitake mushrooms, and duck confit may seem simple enough. The duck confit alone takes a day to cook those ducky legs low and slow in the oven immersed in the liquid gold duck fat. After the legs are cooled, the succulent meat is shredded from the bone (“fall off” is more accurate). The maitake mushrooms need to be separated, rhubarb cooked and pureed, and spring onions sautéed until golden. All of these components come together magically to complement a moist and tender medium rare duck breast. Time consuming? — yes; well worth the effort? — absolutely.
Signature dessert: Matt’s passion is the secret ingredient which makes the Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake the restaurant’s irresistible signature dessert. It’s a fight for the last bite type of dessert topped with toffee sauce and candied ginger.
Favorite kitchen gadget: Do you know what an integral part of making a velvety soup is? The Vitamix, a souped up blender, is a restaurant kitchen staple that Jeff couldn’t live without especially for pureeing soups. The day I was in the kitchen he was using it to make black garlic jus. A check mark for no waste, he used the skins of the fermented black garlic to make a broth of sorts. He added some agar, a thickener made from seaweed, to create a gel and then swirled it up in the Vitamix into a creamy sauce.
Chef’s culinary mentor: Matt’s initial introduction to hospitality was in the Irish bars of the Bronx and Westchester. It was at that time that he worked with one bar owner, John Knowles, who he looked up to because of the amicable relationships he built with his employees. It was here that Matt learned the importance of fostering mutual respect and camaraderie with his staff. When Hudson House opened 22 years ago, restaurateur, chef and Rockland neighbor Peter Kelly welcomed Matt to the neighborhood. By example, chef Kelly showed him the finer points of hospitality of how to keep his patrons happy and welcomed. Matt found that sometimes it’s as easy as offering a table a sweet ending amuse (he always makes a few mini portions of all his desserts just for this reason).
Jeff worked at Monteverde when acclaimed chef Neil Ferguson was heading up the kitchen. He credits Neil with instilling in him the importance of organization in the kitchen. “Neil could go into the huge walk-in fridge with eyes closed and know exactly where everything was.” Most important lesson imparted from Neil was to execute a dish perfectly every time. Jeff tells me that inspiration is everywhere — culinary books, farmer’s markets and the Internet. I was impressed with his knowledge of new trends like chef Sean Brock at Husk Restaurant in South Carolina using grow lamps for herbs under the pass or Michael Ruhlman’s ratio app that can calculate ingredient quantities to increase or decrease a recipe on the spot.
What’s cooking in the kitchen now: We’ve all seen (and possibly eaten) a dish with “foam”, and I’ve always wondered exactly how it’s created. The answer is with imagination and some modern culinary chemistry. Here are factoids from the International Culinary Center for the techies. I helped Jeff “whip” up yuzu foam cream for a yellowtail (hamachi) crudo special for the next evening. Bottled yuzu (YOU-zoo) is the 100% juice of a sour Japanese citrus fruit the size of a tangerine, which has a distinct flavor, sort of a cross between grapefruit and lime. To the yuzu, I added Versa Whip, a soy protein that creates a whipped cream-like consistency, and Xanthan Gum, a thickener. It all got blended up in the Vitamix and then transferred to the Kitchen Aid to get whipped into shape. The end result was a lighter than air citrusy foam that would keep its consistency for service the next evening.
To a reduction of white wine, white vinegar, tarragon, peppercorns, and shallots, Jeff whisked in egg yolks and clarified butter to create a classic Béarnaise sauce. Here’s the modern twist, he then put the sauce into an iSi charger (also called a whipped cream charger). The charger part is the small canister of nitrous oxide gas (N20) which is added into the container to make the whipped product. A few shakes and we had Béarnaise foam!
What’s on the prep list: I spent a good part of my day on the sweet side with Matt. First task was juicing limes for his Key Lime Pie, and I just want to say a big thank you for that heavy duty juicer that made that job so easy!
We then started on the topping for the Triple Ginger Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler (say that three times fast) which was one of the dessert specials for the evening. I crumbled up ginger snap cookies (ginger #1) while Matt cut butter into flour and added brown sugar, toasted pecans, powdered ginger (ginger #2) and crystallized (candied) ginger (ginger #3). I then diced up loads of strawberries and rhubarb.
I never worked with rhubarb before and was surprised how this celery-like stalk became such a natural partner to the strawberries. The ginger gave this delicious dessert a unique bite of heat.
Music: Matt settled in to start his day with music streaming from Fordham University’s public radio station WFUV. Growing up just a stone’s throw away from Fordham in the Bronx, WFUV was always known for its contemporary format. As Matt and I worked on the desserts, we listened to an eclectic mix of bluesy rock. Matt likes that the station is album-based (remember albums?) and the DJ’s, like radio icons Dennis Elsas and Vin Scelsa originally from progressive rock station WNEW, announce what’s playing.
My random insights: Vanilla beans are an expensive commodity, so when a kitchen can re-use them to make another ingredient, it is a classic example of “no waste”. At Hudson House, they add the used beans to a bottle of vodka and let them soak for a few months to create their own vanilla extract.
Shhhhhh, keep this as our little secret — Matt has a stash of maxed out chocolate chip cookies that he sometimes hands out in a little goodie bag. As we leave, he warns us that they are frozen so don’t be tempted to eat them on the way home (as if we had room for another bite!). But the next morning, there they were all crunchy and chewy with chunks of chocolate, oats, coconut, and cherries; a sweet reminder of our new favorite restaurant.
Details: Hudson House of Nyack,134 Main Street, Nyack. 845.353.1355. Hudson House is open for dinner Tuesday through Thursday, 5:30 pm to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday, 5:30 pm to 11 pm, and Sunday 4:30 pm to 9:30 pm. Brunch is served on Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 am to 3:30 pm.
Patrice Costa is a passionate foodie who is on a personal culinary mission to learn it all from local chefs. She looks forward to sharing her experiences as she goes behind the kitchen door in some of her favorite restaurant kitchens.