By Jac Bergenson
“There are no salt and pepper shakers.”
Believe it or not, the first thing that made Artist’s Palate in Poughkeepsie stand out was the lack of salt or pepper. Among all of the restaurants I have ever been to, this was a first. After I received my meal, it was clear that the chef had supreme confidence in the seasoning of her food.
Among the pioneers in Main Street’s revitalization, I arrived to see Artist’s Palate’s white exterior adorned with the oranges and yellows of fall. It stood proudly, yet understated above the glistening, leathery street in the rain.
Closest to the door was the restaurant’s open bar, but in the background was a beautifully decorated dining room, complete with exposed brick, dim lighting, and popping Native-American themed artwork. All the way in the back, past our clean wooden table, was a semi-exposed kitchen, where the owner, Megan Fells, operated the line herself, without a hint of nerves or a drop of sweat.
As my guest and I had arrived a bit closer to closing time than I would have liked, we chose to skip the appetizers and ordered a pair of entrees with salads; hers, the “Penne Pomodoro,” with shrimp; mine, the “Jager Schnitzel.”
Upon ordering my entree, I asked if it was possible to remove the mushrooms from the gravy. The server consulted the chef and was incredibly accommodating. I made it clear that I would have the mushrooms if it was too much of a hassle, but the chef had no reservations about whipping something up special for me.
With the entrees, I also ordered from their extensive beer and wine list. Having longed to try it for ages, I ordered a Dead Guy Ale from Rogue Brewery, in Oregon, which was on draught. The beer list had a good mix of foreign and domestic craft brews. The list impressed me, as underneath each beer and wine was a list of what foods it paired well with. For those with a lack of experience in food pairing, this helpful tool ensures a pleasant dining experience.
Our salads came first. My Caesar salad was crisp and flavorful, but the croutons were cut more like chips than croutons. Still, the contrast in textures was pleasing. The house salad was well-sized and perfectly dressed, the vinaigrette lightly coating the vibrant greens.
After the salads came the entrees, which included my schnitzel. The height of the plate was eye-popping, but I would have preferred a slightly more level presentation, as the large cutlet blocked my view of the sides. Such a vibrant purple coming from the braised red cabbage should be showcased, not hidden.
Presentation aside, the dish was flawlessly executed. The schnitzel was breaded and fried to golden perfection, and the pork was moist throughout. I detected a hint of sherry in my special gravy, which complemented the pork well. The cabbage was smooth and buttery, and the potato dumplings, the last piece, were neither mushy nor overcooked. No wonder there was no salt or pepper on the table—this chef’s culinary training and eye for detail in flavor was indubitable.
I did not get as much of a taste of my guest’s penne, but I did sample a bit. The sauce was light and flavorful, but didn’t have the sweetness I have come to expect out of a pomodoro/tomato sauce. The sauce may have benefited from the addition of carrot or sweated onion during cooking, which would have brought out a natural sweetness that wasn’t there.
One element of the dish struck me as odd—the penne itself. While it was cooked well to al dente, the penne was boxed. I have come to expect dry, boxed penne from restaurants, but given the theme of the restaurant, the price of the plates, and the culinary training of the chef, I would have expected fresh penne.
After dinner my guest and I treated ourselves to an apple cobbler, a seasonal favorite of ours. The portion was generous, but it was hard to analyze the flavor since the cobbler vanished so quickly! It was moist and powerful, and the bee pollen ice cream it was served under gave it a subtle hint of honey.
I left the restaurant wholly satisfied. My few suggestions for improvement may come off as nitpicking to some, as the experience was impeccable on the whole. Artist’s Palate received 4.5 stars out of 5, on the merit of its welcoming service, warm dining room, and delicious food.