when restaurants move to Rhinebeck
Monday, December 8 2003
I had a call from a woman today who needed me to pay a computer repair housecall. Everything was going fine until she put her husband on the phone to give me the directions. The guy had a distinctly combative style that put me on edge and made it difficult for me to focus on what he was saying. It all started with him expressing a rude sort of dismay that I'd never heard of a family restaurant on Route 28 that he was trying to give me as a landmark. (The fact is, I rarely venture further west than Route 375 on 28; everything beyond that is a blur of fading Catskill memories.) I focused mostly on the last part of his directions, figuring I could work everything using Mapquest and a detailed Ulster County map.
Unfortunately, though, the road I would be looking for was a private one and wasn't on any map. I knew only that it was gravel, unlabeled, and was somewhere in Bearsville near Wittenberg Road marked only with a Safeco Sign. I called back to ask the non-combative wife what road the private road came off of and she told me Wittenberg Road, which turned out to be wrong. So there I was driving back and forth on Wittenberg Road looking for a road that didn't exist. At one point I became so frustrated that I started screaming at the top of my lungs, which is an insanity one can freely indulge in without risk when traveling alone in an automobile.
Finally I pulled into a little store and asked the guy working there about the private road, but he had never heard of it. Well aware that we were in the middle of a vast cellphone dead zone, he let me use his landline (I don't actually have a cellphone), and it turned out I was only a half mile from where I needed to be. The housecall went well, though I'm sure this had something to do with the combative husband's absence. As a further indication of the sort of guy he was, one of his telephones appeared to be a scale model of a Ford Fairlane.
This evening Gretchen and I went to a "party" at the new home of Terrapin Restaurant, which used to be in rural West Hurley but is now across the Hudson River in snooty downtown Rhinebeck. The party was a promotion for a free (and worthy) local tabloid called the Chronogram and had been heavily promoted on the radio. The reason we knew about it was because we'd briefly been listening to WDST, the most pathetic independent radio station since Marconi. (If all independent radio sounded like WDST, I'd be a huge proponent of media consolidation.)
Today's experience was a lesson in why parties are always better if they're somewhat exclusive and not advertised on radio with such lines as "free food." The food was indeed free, but there wasn't nearly enough for the mob of beautiful people who showed up. Beautiful as they were, they all acted like wolves whenever food (usually chicken on skewers) came out of the kitchen. Our two dogs Sally and Eleanor have more dignity when debating which one of them gets to eat a tender morsel.
We shoe-horned outselves into two seats at the bar, where we bypassed the lines and crappy service of the gift economy in favor of straightforward Adam Smith-style capitalism. Our bartender was pretty but forgetful and there was something about him that Gretchen didn't like. She was tempted to pull a dine and dash until I appealed to her sense of fairness - ripping off a pretty-faced bartender is a long slide down the slippery slope of moralistic anti-corporate opportunism (from the heights of, say, shoplifting Iams wet food from Target).
The food we ordered was disappointing, which was the biggest surprise of the evening. We'd been impressed by the Terrapin at their West Hurley location, but evidently their priorities had changed with the move to Rhinebeck. Now they have a copper bar illuminated with beautiful suspended low-voltage lamps, but to afford their hip new look they've had to hire cut-rate kitchen staff. They're still trying to be funky and imaginative in the preparation of their food, but (at least in the dishes we ordered tonight) it doesn't work. Like the many other people I saw with their orders of calamari, I couldn't find any use for the disgustingly sweet (yet bland) pineapple dip they provided with it. I ended up having to eat it without any dip at all, which is most definitely not the best way to enjoy deep-fried squid. That was fried calamari: usually an idiot-proof menu item. Gretchen, meanwhile, was equally dissatisfied with her pasta and peas. Furthermore, the quesadillas we ordered were revolting, and we've choked down quesadillas made with American Cheese.
As the congested party thinned out a little (mostly as a result of its own success), people took full advantage of the dance floor. They must have been trashed; I'd never seen so many white people dancing so early and so fervently on a weekday night.
I tuned in my little pirate radio station both leaving the house and coming back from Rhinebeck tonight and was amazed by the broadcast range. The signal was strong as far down as the bus turnaround, a half mile from home. You could catch the weakened signal as far as Hurley Mountain Road, a full mile away. Perhaps the snow cover and low humidity somehow played a role in the signal strength.
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