I know it’s a tired cliché, but I seriously debated whether to write this review, as this place really IS the proverbial hidden gem that I wanted to keep close to the vest.
I’ve been dining at the Tasting Room for two years now, the first time on December 28, 2013, the second January 17, 2014. Both experiences were just about perfect. And when I say that, I’m not only talking about the food, I’m referring to the entire experience. As is the case with any restaurant, that encompasses the food, the vibe, the ambience, the room, location, etc.
Class of ’81 Culinary Institute of America Chef Daniel’s Tasting Room is an intimate ten-seat restaurant tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood in Rhinebeck.
A blessedly tranquil spot for a relaxing dinner. No hustle. No bustle. No crowds. No rush. Easy parking.
I’ve only been here twice, but in some 30 years of dining out I can easily say that the Tasting Room is about as good as it gets.
Chef Daniel sets the tone, working his magic in the open kitchen, while guests sit at candlelit tables sipping their BYOB wine in a calm and relaxed environment where you can actually hear what the person sitting across from you is saying.
The food is exquisite. Daniel runs a successful catering business and his Tasting Room is the place where lucky diners get to experience approximately three choice appetizers, entrees and deserts nightly.
On our first outing, we began with the Octopus and Poached Fennel with Fig Glaze appetizer and Baked Clams with Lobster Butter, both outstanding. A Bell & Evans chicken dish and Roasted Monk Fish Saffron with Fennel Broth Risotto followed these. Both were fabulous. Finally, we enjoyed an insanely good Chai Crème Brulee with the crunchiest of sugar crusts.
By our second visit, we were confident enough to leave the decisions to our host, who came through with flying colors, serving an outrageous lobster bisque with vanilla bean and a thimble full of dry sherry. A divine Goat Cheese and Vidalia Onion Tart and a sublime Baked Top Neck Clams with Lobster Butter that just “popped” followed this. Sometimes, lobster bisque is more “bisque” than lobster. Not this one. Lobsterlicious!
Our main course was a to-die-for Osso Buco with Potato, Celery Root Puree and Ginger Carrots for two. For dessert, we loved the Lemon Curd and Zinfandel Poached Pear Tart and Chocolate Grand Marnier Souffle.
By the time we were done with each and every one of these dishes, we could see our satisfied reflections in the plates.
Again, any fine dining experience isn’t just about the food. I would describe the ambience as spa-like, very Zen. I don’t even feel like I’m in a restaurant at the tasting room, more like I’ve been invited over for dinner. The Tasting Room is clearly a labor of love; Daniel clearly loves what he is doing.
I also want to take a moment to give Daniel props for not hitting any of my restaurant pet-peeve buttons: not once did he approach the table (cue “Jaws” theme please) with the dreaded fresh pepper device, so we didn’t have to suffer the absurd torment of the “would you like some fresh pepper” comedy routine.
Everything is served at the right time, the right pace and the right temperature. Portions are perfect, neither nano-sized, nor mega-sized. Both times we left feeling neither the need to order a pizza, nor to audition for the next season of “Escape From Obesity,” (Discovery Health.)
I even prefer the BYOB policy so I don’t have to waste 20 minutes perusing an unfamiliar wine list.
To say the prices are reasonable would be an understatement. I’ve had more than my share of dinners that were twice the price and half as good.
On our initial and return visits, the Tasting Room was about an hour’s drive from our hotel. It was well worth the ride. Any issues or downsides I can come up with? None.
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