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Monday, August 23, 2021

By Any Other Name

From the Food Vault Dept.: I’m delighted to see that the Rose and Kettle is still holding strong, having weathered the pandemic (so far) in its off-the-beaten path location. Ownership has long since changed since I wrote the below review: it’s now under the aegis of chef-owner Matt Begley, who has cooked there since 2010 and bought the place two years later. Dana Spiotta and Clement Coleman now inhabit the Syracuse, NY, area; Spiotta’s novel Wayward was just published to the usual great acclaim, and Coleman, when he isn’t working as chef at that city’s Otro Cinco, creates thoughtful, original music.


EVEN THE TOWN’S NAME strains credulity. Cherry Valley sounds absurdly nice or ironically Bates Motel-ish – but it’s a charming village with a Revolutionary War-era history that has welcomed the likes of Willa Cather and Allen Ginsburg. “The rumor is that there’s lithium in the water,” says Dana Spiotta, so maybe the name is appropriate.

Photo by B.A. Nilsson
Spiotta and her husband, Clement Coleman, own and operate The Rose & Kettle, maintaining a moniker used by a former owner but adding a fine-dining philosophy that centers around fresh, locally obtained ingredients.

Which is a recurring theme in these reviews of late. As it should be. As the mighty maw of Monsanto threatens to envelop all mega-farm fields, replacing heritage produce with frankenfood (even as it populated groups like the FDA with its own former employees), we have to depend on small-farm foodstuffs for purity.

Add to that the fact that food just plain tastes better when it’s humanely raised and freshly picked. This was a lesson Coleman learned during an art-school year in Italy, where he marveled at the close-to-nature nature of nearly everything he ate and thus became, as he puts it, “absorbed in food and cooking.”

And so he was led to the classic struggling artist’s path: pursuing the muse while waiting on tables. And cooking, making him a rare double-threat in the business. The owner of a small clams-and-chicken joint in Martha’s Vineyard reinforced the value of fresh ingredients, a skill he carried to such places as Giorgio’s of Gramercy, an acclaimed eatery on Manhattan’s 21st St., where he met his future wife.

Spiotta grew up in the Seattle area, moved to New York – “and I’ve been waitressing my whole adult life,” she says. But she, too, was pursuing her muse. Her first novel, Lightning Field, made “best book” lists of 2001 in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times; her next one, Eat the Document, was a 2006 National Book Award finalist.

It was after the success of the first one that she and her husband decided to quit the city. A housesitting stint in Cherry Valley introduced them to the town; what clinched it was when they learned that a restaurant was for sale.

All of which makes a for a rare muse-appeasing tale, but there’s another aspect further confounding the odds. What they’re operating is a magnificent restaurant, its ambiance subtly  informed by the couple’s artistic sensibilities.

Not surprisingly, the place thrives on traffic from Glimmerglass Opera attendees, and the five-days-a-week summertime season generally requires reservations. The rest of the year, the restaurant is open three nights a week, offering the added pleasure of live music on Sundays.

I knew I was in good culinary hands when I spotted a lead-off entrée of Homemade VanCalcar Acres Lamb & Pork Sausages ($22). VanCalcar Acres is a sheep farm in Fort Plain that also happens to be my personal meat source, through a CSA arrangement. In Coleman’s hands, the meats were transformed into herb-rich gateways to Italy, boasting that inscrutable yet immensely satisfying quality of being sourced from the land right around you.

With six appetizers and five entrées, it’s a perfect-sized menu. It changes, of course, based on what’s fresh, so its intimacy promises a new experience each time you visit. “We always have a wild fish entrée,” says Spiotta, “and there will be chicken, steak and lamb or pork. But the preparation changes, along with what accompanies it.”

Photo by B.A. Nilsson
Entrées are priced in the low-$20s range, and included pan-seared chicken, roasted and served with mashed potatoes; snow crab ravioli, and aioli-rubbed wild Copper River salmon. And for those who, like me, tend to think of steak as merely steak, the hanger steak au poivre proved to be a terrific variation on a traditional French dish, using a more economical but intensely flavored cut that’s gaining American popularity. The green peppercorn sauce was flavored with bourbon, further Americanizing the dish. Sides of creamed spinach and mashed potatoes gave it that mom’s-kitchen flourish.

Had you no appetizers, you ask? Fear not. The entrées were rendered all the more satisfying by what preceded them, chosen with great difficulty from a selection that included spring rolls with plum dipping sauce ($8.50), a market-priced cheese and fruit plate with homemade bread and a simple green salad with citrus vinaigrette ($6).

Fellow opera enthusiast Richard satisfied the idea of dieting with the Rose & Kettle salad ($8), which fills out a plate of local (Sunset Hill Farm) greens by adding goat cheese, onion and almonds. To get my own goat cheese fix, I enjoyed a flaky (texture, not disposition) cheese-filled tart with a tangy red pepper coulis adding flavor ($8.50).

Our pleasant, attentive server was Spiotta herself, working alongside a staff that deftly moved the many diners through their courses and out in time for the opera. What makes this place work so well (besides having outstanding food) are the concentric circles of family that radiate from Coleman and Spiotta to include the staff, the customers and, I have no doubt, the town itself. Keep an eye on the Rose & Kettle’s soon-to-change hours, and see for yourself.

(Current info:) The Rose & Kettle, 4 Lancaster St., Cherry Valley, 607-264-3078, Outstanding food and service in a hundred-year-old house in the midst of a storybook village, featuring a changing menu of locally obtained meats and produce. Serving Thu-Sun 5-10. AE, MC. V.

Metroland Magazine, 9 August 2007

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