Thursday, July 15, 2010

Terrapin in Rhinebeck

Prepareth for a rare rant:

I was interested to see that the chef of Terrapin in Rhinebeck is catering Chelsea Clinton's wedding.

We'd heard the rave reviews, I checked out the menu, and so we ate there last October, driving over the Hudson from the Hurley Stone House, when my mom, Vincent and I were traveling to see fall foliage upstate. It was one of the sorriest dinners out we've eaten (and we ate pretty well in Woodstock at the Red Onion - best - and Bear Cafe - second best: way too much food on plate).

It was the kind of evening of food and wine that made me very cross. I have to assume that the chef himself was nowhere near the kitchen. Or the town.

I often eat salad at a restaurant. I love salad. I also think that if a kitchen is incapable of creating an impeccable salad, nothing good can follow. In fact, if a bad salad arrives at the table, you may as well pack up and leave. In the salad is reflected every aspect of the kitchen's integrity. Or lack of...

The leaves of the salad were wet with water, so the dressing was a diluted mess in the bottom of the bowl. Some of the leaves had those awful, dark, slippery edges which mean (very) Old, and the person selecting the leaves and tossing them could not be bothered to say, Halt! This cannot go out! There were croutons (it was a Caesar, divine when good - think Prune - , disastrous when bad). They were damp and bendy.

My mother had a little selection of 'tapas.' Small meatballs whose sauce had withered under a heatlamp. Crispy artichoke hearts that were soggy and drowned in aioli. And a very good duck quesadilla wedge. That wedge was the best part of the evening. Vince had depressing risotto and I a wild boar bolognese, itself good, but served with overcooked pasta. Who does that?

This in one of the most highly rated, localissimo restaurants in the region.

The wine. The wine arrived after the food had been served.

The clueless service and the benign complacence of the diners in the vaulted room - itself assaulted by Interior Design at its worst, think airport lounge meets cathedral - smacked of the kind of provincialism that I associate more with monied non-cosmopolitanites in South Africa, but perhaps it's reassuring to know that the sticks can be anywhere, and that a wealthy clientele does not imply discernment or ensure excellence.

Based on our experience, I would not let them cater my wedding.



  1. Wow! How refreshing it is to have an honest review instead of hearing how great it is just because the Clintons, or anyone else that's famous for that matter, are involved. Thanks...And I have also found that true about the salad being a good signal of things to come.

  2. Couldn't agree more about the salad. Wonder if the Clintons get better service when they visit? And, how in the world did Chelsea choose them? Say or think what you want about her parents, she's done a pretty good job of keeping her head down, and deserves a wedding that is close to her dreams. Hope salad is not on the menu!

  3. Rarely have I eaten in highly touted restaurants outside the city and been impressed.

  4. Your salad theorem is a good one.

    Was it one of the Roux brothers who when interviewing a commis would get them to cook an egg? Not sure, but it's the same thing, no love for preparing a humble egg equals no job here.

  5. Money doesn't equal good taste or a discerning palate. About 15 years ago my then partner and I ate at what was billed the finest restaurant in Cleveland, OH. It looked the part, and the service was fine if a bit over-attentive. But the meal was awful summed up in a side dish of out of season completely taste-free asparagus. I know Cleveland is a city, and I also know the image people have of New Yorkers in the inland states. But with the sizeable bill came a comment card, and boy did they get comments.

  6. sherri - Salad signals - good title for something ...

    webb - my mom catered our wedding, such as it was. We were lucky.

    Lisa - NYC does spoil us, I reckon.

    Rob - yes! That's the other thing. If an omelette or scrambled eggs can't be done well, no use sticking around. The Roux Bros taught me to cook, sort of..their books, cover to cover.

    Anonymoose - funny. I guess the comment card itself was a warning.

  7. Soggy salad.That's what we call compost, Chez Dinahmow.

  8. And then there are the folks who confuse a dressing with a broth. ew.

  9. MIT - compost would have been more toothsome...

    Melanie - EW!!!!

  10. You must of been there on a bad night! Me and my husband ate there and were blown away! I would have my grandkids kids wedding be catered by them!

  11. I agree with with above writer. I have eaten at Terrapin a few times and found the food to be outstanding and the service wonderful. I myself and from the city and eat at the best restaurants in the city. So please dont confuse me with some backwoods eater. With big news like this of course their is going to be people like you to bring down others. I stand up and congratulate the Clintons for picking a local chef to the down. that takes guts and shows why the Clintons are such amazing people.

  12. Hi Anonymoose - I can confirm that it was a bad night!

    The thing is, there should be no systemically bad nights, from service through every course. One mistake is understandable, but the persistence of mistakes through the evening seemed to point to a fundamental problem, and worse, apathy.

    It is possible that you had a genuinely good dinner. We did not. And with different diners come different perspectives.

    Hi Kara - politically, I am (mostly) pro Clintons, too. I reporting my experience at Terrapin, which was markedly not good.

    I am glad that you have had better ones. And Rhinebeck is hardly the backwoods :-)

    It is rare that you will find a bad review here, as I usually keep them to myself. But this is topical.

  13. I have to say that I'm pretty surprised. I live in the area and I've eaten at Terrapin many times. The food has always been excellent. I'm sorry you had such a bad experience. I'd urge you to try them again.

  14. I completely disagree with you Marie!
    I am from Boston and visit Rhinebeck every summer and one of the highlights is the food at this local favorite. The chef is known to be down right amazing. I would pay a high price to have him personally prepare my food. Maybe you got the trainee chef or maybe they just didnt like you :)

  15. I hear you, Jeff. But what can I say? It was what it was, that night.


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