Restaurant in Hudson
Rustic New American Cuisine
Helsinki Hudson stands staunchly within fine dining’s “unclassifiable” category. First of all, the reference to Scandinavia is confined to owner Deborah McDowell’s Finnish heritage.
The restaurant’s interior best resembles a Belle Epoque bistro, with its brass-accented bar, exposed bulb torchieres, and cherry-wood and red leather banquettes. The surrounding folk art portraits of blues singers tie the décor to the menu, which boasts a melange of low-country American and Creole French dishes crafted with ingredients from family farms that populate the Hudson River Valley.
The former bus garage was hand-built by co-owner Mark Schafler with materials repurposed from the original interior (look for columns made from upside-down light posts). Today, it serves as the setting for intimate têtes-a-tête, sprawling family get-togethers, and klatches of sartorially impeccable locals propped on elbows against the bar. They come for Helsinki’s reinvented Prohibition-era cocktails, as well as barbecue smoked on the side patio by Chef Hugh Horner, a Carolina/Georgia native who helped turn Brooklyn intoa locavore haven in the mid-2000s.
Equal parts classy and comforting, the restaurant primes its guests for a lingering visit with an irresistible cocktail list. The Paris 405 is a cocktail made for late-afternoon reveries: Hennessy cognac, ginger beer anda twist of cucumber offer a light snap and an insidious influence. The house Negroni is far more assertive, with smoked orange zest and Greylock gin made in the neighboring Berkshires, its bitter rasp barely tamed by a slug of white vermouth.
Late summer, manager Riley Murkett tells us, is the best time to visit Helsinki Hudson, when the local produce is in fullest flower. He wasn’t wrong. The Lolla Rosa salad showcased baby red oaklettuce,cucumber, tomato, and the sweetly spicy heirloom watermelon radish, sparingly dressed in a dill-heavy vinaigrette, which married with the potent tang of feta in a feat of unlikely balance.
Farro risotto starred cumin-spiced vegetables studded with al dente barley pearls and Parmigiano-Reggiano that gave it just a creamy suggestion of sauce.
The dry, charred monkfish fish, soaked with the fiery juices of kimchi made by a local musician (known as Sauerkraut Seth) and sweet smoked tomato aioli, intensified with the tacky crunch of crisp seaweed, was a delirious embarrassment of tastes and textures that overcame description after only a few bites.
Though that might actually have been the fault of the Round Midnight, a version of a Sazerac smoothed by a dose of local maple syrup, anchored by Pernod and Old Overholt rye, and dashed with Dutch's Spirits bitters.
Chef Horner’s specialty is an applewood-smoked ribs plate, featuring the pride of two barbecue regions: Memphis ribs done “wet-style” with a spicy, sugary paste, and South Carolina ribs slathered in sharp, mustard-based marinade. The meat is juicy and sweet as overripe fruit, as spicy as an old lady in a plunging neckline, and comes with a Campari glass full of moist towelettes. (If you plan to order the ribs, wear something dark, that won’t show stains.
Dessert came in many layers: rum punch made with sour cherries picked from a tree in the restaurant’s sideyard, Southern-style peanut butter pie, and a flourless chocolate torte that shone in the presence of Hill Rock bourbon, distilled in neighboring Ancram to a charred oaky perfection.
With or without a show in the adjoining club, Helsinki Hudson is the sort of place you’d gladly stay all night, enjoying a perfect balance of company and intimacy, infused with joie de vivre.
Chelsea Batten is an itinerant journalist and photographer
Photographs courtesy of Helsinki Hudson
|Reviewer's Rating||★ ★ ★ ★ ★|
|Need to book||Advisable|
|Clientele||Locals, weekenders, tourist crowd|
|Restaurant good for||Couples, Bar scene, Small groups, Large groups|
|Cost per head||High|
Classy, comfortable, Belle Epoque bistro feel. American cuisine with French and Southern influences, built on seasonal produce sourced within 20 miles. Intimate, club-like atmosphere, but adjoins a popular concert venue (it can get loud).
Last updated on 23-10-2014