The Crimson Sparrow – Hudson, NY

For Cassie’s birthday, we decided to make the short trip to Hudson for dinner. After Cassie had a stellar brunch experience there weeks earlier, it seemed like a decent option for the special occasion.

The only problem was that, looking at the menu, I’ve never been able to pinpoint things I’ve wanted to order. In all honesty, everything seemed a little complicated. I figured I’d wing it when I got there.

Before I thought about dinner, I took a look at the beer list. When they told me they were out of a Chatham Brewery beer that I wanted to try, I decided to take to the cocktail menu.

The drinks are clever. There’s not much appeal of drinking something called Soylent Green because it’s people, but the ingredients, “Hendricks gin, celery, cucumber, and bitters” sounded fabulous. It was a nice fall night, so I actually settled on the Holy Molé! (Pisco Portón, butternut squash, tamarind, and Aztec Chocolate bitters – $12).

It was refreshing, and delicious. But it was very complex. This isn’t the type of thing you want to chug. There are lots of flavors working with and against each other, and it takes a second for your tastebuds to actually realize this. When I slowly sipped this thing, I loved it. This was the first time I’ve tried pisco portón. It’s everything I love about tequila and grappa rolled into one. The butternut squash puree gave the drink a silky texture, and the other additions played tug of war. There was a generous grind of fresh nutmeg on top, and this put it over the top. This tipped me off that the meal was going to be interesting.

We ordered the monkey bread with scallion, chive, and olive butter ($3) to snack on. It came out served in a fun way.

The bread was light and airy, and the herbs on top nicely complimented it. The neatly formed block of olive butter was intense. It was difficult for me to understand how they achieved the texture of this. It was lighter than butter and very soft and sort of gelatinous. For the few bites it was, it was an awesome few bites.

I had decided that I wanted to order the masa gnocchi with soft egg, Hen of the Woods, and Aleppo pepper ($14).

I was a little skeptical on this dish because of the masa gnocchi. It wasn’t a preparation I thought was going to work, but it was absolutely out of this world. The gnocchi themselves took on a toasted corn flavor that reminded me of tamales. When these were coated in the soft egg and light and slightly fruity aleppo pepper sauce and eaten with the deep fried Hen of the Woods, an epic fungus that grows in damp locations on tree trunks and stumps, this was amazing. I joked to Cassie that I wanted to order another one when it was done (At least I told her I was joking.).

As a starter, Cassie ordered the octopus with cauliflower, pine nuts, arancini, and white chocolate, and she made me try it even though I hate cauliflower. This dish was definitely one where they were trying to be cute, but I was able to snag a piece of the octopus, and, judging from how perfectly it was cooked, it was clear to me that these people in the kitchen weren’t fooling around.

For dinner, I had the flat iron steak with barbeque lentils, maitake, and cardoon ($31).

When the runner dropped it off, she noticed me feel the meat to check the temperature. It honestly looked over cooked, so I asked how it was prepared. She said it was cooked in an immersion circulator and then seared under a salamander to the correct temperature. She asked if it felt ok, and I said, “yes.” I took a bite and was absolutely amazed. Every time I’ve had sous vide beef to this point, it has never been this tender. The term “it’s like butter” gets overused, but I think it totally fits in the case. Even the fairly tough bit of fat that runs straight through the center was perfect.

The other stuff on the plate was great, too. The barbeque lentils were just that, lentils cooked down in a sweet and complex barbeque sauce. The cardoons, where were cooked into the sauce, brought an astringent but flavorful depth to the dish. The maitake, which is pretty much Hen of the Woods, also deep fried on this dish, brought a little crunch and chewiness. I couldn’t believe how awesome this dish was, and from the description, I would have never imagined.

Yeah. It was that good.

Cassie had the scallops with beets, spaetzle, macadamia nuts, and Pernod.

I stole a bite of her perfectly cooked scallop. Amazing.

They brought us back the menus so we could decide on dessert.

We decided that we’d order two of the desserts and that we’d split them. We settled on the first two, black sesame soft-serve with banana, pear, lime and brown sugar and chocolate cake with bay leaf, pretzel, dates, and caramel.

Both were great. The soft-serve was put on a cold marble slab and garnished with all of the other accompaniments. Everything was bold and stood on its own, but it all came together in some interesting bites.

The chocolate cake was interesting too. The caramel sauce had a strong hit of umami from miso; I wasn’t expecting that. And, as I was eating, forgetting about the description, I noted that there was something subtly herbal about the cake. It was the bay leaf, and when I realized, it made me smirk. By golly, it worked!

When the bill arrived, there was a cool crimson sparrow paperweight on top, and that was the exclamation point that finished off the meal and brought everything together.

We were absolutely blown away by this meal. It’s not exactly the place I’d take a picky eater or someone who wasn’t willing to put themselves in the chef’s hands. The people in the kitchen (and at the bar) are studying their ingredients and assembling them in innovative ways. From start to finish, this was true.

I’m looking forward to going back!


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