Club Helsinki Hudson – March 2012 (dt)
6.31 – 7, 6.75, 6.75, 6.5, 6, 6, 6, 5.5

Plop an itinerant band of culinary adventurers in a cobble-stoned entry, Carolina Low Country cuisine, a bricked restored industrial building, with an eclectic vibrancy of city styles and competing music, and, we would be in…., where? Hudson, New York.
               CHH chef hails from the Carolinas and Georgia and the influence is writ large. Entrées selected for the evening included:

==> pan seared scallops, with sweet potato gnocchi, and a hint of broccoli rabe (Deb T, of course, who thought it one of her favorites, and she has consumed more than a few over ten years);
==> Low Country shrimp & grits, with andouille sausage and the ‘holy trinity’ (Mark: good; and Joyce: so-so, with tasteless shrimp, the sausage was the taste).
==> Great Aunt Theo’s fried chicken, with mashed Yukon potatoes, collard greens, and gravy (Kriss: very good. Upon presentation, one or two might have wished for a change in order).
==> seared rib-eye (Ken: medium-well, tender and good; and Chay: well, with the gorgonzola topping, very good).
==> Local Ocean (Hudson) branzino, a white fish cultivated locally, served whole, with a lentil-bean and chow-chow (Deb K: good, a bit bony, a good try; and Don: a tasty soft meat that awaited the sides for influence, a good try).

Otherwise, the menu has a few salads, a half-dozen appetizers, nearly ten entrées, and a half-dozen desserts, with an effort to buy local. Definitely a Low Country influence.
               Our appetizer course consisted of:

==> a special – kale & white bean & yellow mushroom soup (Deb K: good ingredients, perhaps undersalted; and Don: good, with nice mix of textures in a thin broth, a bit ==> plain; Mark: nothing special).
==> Caesar salad (Chay: very good, anchovy went elsewhere; Joyce: very good).
==> another special – butternut squash chunks with caramelized onion, with gorgonzola cheese (Kriss & Ken: very good, perhaps the highlight of the course, from what I saw, and tasted)

Back to the beginning! Within minutes of seating, two small buckets, linen-lined & tucked over, held slices of crusty artisanal bread, accompanied with a small holder of herbed creamed butter – a comfortable match for us.
               And the end, and desserts.

==> chocolate brownie, with thick chocolate sauce, scoop of vanilla ice cream and dollop of heavily whipped cream (Don & Deb – good although the brownie was more cake than brownie).
==> black Sambuca (Chay, of course).
==> the special Southern Comfort coconut cream cake (Deb K: she did not say much; it must have been great, with chunks of real coconut).
==> Mark & Joyce & Ken & Kriss abstained. (Ken passed on the apple pie!)

Service, all agreed, was excellent, led by Riley (excuse the possible misspelling), dressed in white shirt, and a tie, who quietly, efficiently, patiently, knowledgeably accompanied us through the meal. Other staff filled water glasses frequently, bussed empty plates appropriately (perhaps, quickly, once or twice), fulfilled requests, etc. CHH clearly sets a high standard for its level of establishment. (Most dinner plates were cleared just before Ken was done – a question of timing we see done differently in different places.)

The evening’s pacing flowed evenly, although a couple would have wanted entrées about five minutes sooner (there’s that pause between salad and entrée delivery, expected, of course, but then the table gets slightly antsy, and then antsy builds on antsy) Seating to departure took 130 minutes – certainly not lengthy. Besides, there was much to fill the eye and ear.
               Our drink requests included a bottle of Bodegas Montecillo 2009 Albarino for three (a rare bottle of white), a glass of pinot noir, and soda. (Tim, you better get back, the wine list has run amuck in Don’s hands. White this month, nero d’avola last month!)

Ambiance is an eyeful. Outside, in the dusk, looms a large complex of post-industrial that signifies what made Hudson thrive a hundred years ago, as well as marking the vestiges of Hudson’s decline in the middle-late 20th century. Inside, the restaurant area is visual candy. Clean, but still rough, restored brick walls serve as a palette, with grand window spaces of nearly six feet by six feet, twenty-four panes each, on the side walls. The nearly foot-and-a-half beams overhead, topped with new flooring, lined with three rows of three to four chandeliers of varying, yet almost matching, styles start filling the room.
               Four large horseshoe banquettes line the west wall, with combinations of tables and semi-banquettes, filling the floor. Arrivers approach a table that is set with wine glasses, a rolled linen piece that holds a knife and fork, and a tea candle for a centerpiece (the banquettes had a metal decorative enclosure for the candles). The tables are bare wood surrounded by durable, yet comfortable, chairs, all set on the hardwood.
               Not to be forgotten are the fifteen foot high wood doors dividing the room from the unseen room behind. A horseshoe bar, with stylish high stools lit under the bar shelf, surrounded the bartender, all of which is intimidated by the three or four glass & mirrored shelves of liquor that stretch floor to ceiling, a dramatic center for the room. Sheets of copper line a few corners, waist-high stands with lit candles murkily light the room’s corners, and the staircase rises grandly to a second floor – a banquet or event area.
               Single focus lights illuminate a section of wall between windows, highlighting a menu or artwork. Lights dimmed dramatically as the dusk wore on.
               Part of the ambiance is the crowd, with a quickening pace as showtime (the performance area is attached) approaches, with the influence of NYC abounding, along with the cosmopolitan presence of gay couples that define a Hudson air.

Ken’s coffee came early and often, although he needed to ask for refills a couple times. We recognized a couple former students who work as wait-staff (hello, Steven & Cian).
               The final bill – food, tip, liquor, and tax – came to an average-high $105 per couple, perhaps, a few felt, a tad expensive, considering we consumed only one bottle of wine and two desserts. And some felt portions, although full enough, were not large.
               Helsinki Hudson certainly makes a grand impression, largely for its use of urban decay turned into centerpiece, and its food presentation helps define Hudson’s eclectic food scene.

We had earlier met at the Karneses’ domicile, with Kalli greeting each with a pounding tail, a pat on the waist (unless Deb was “suggesting” otherwise!), and a big puppy rambunctiousness.
               Deb had prepared a large bowl with quadrants of vegetables, soon to be accompanied by a hot bowl of spinach-artichoke dip, with crackers, and a second bowl of piping hot, pastry wrapped crab Rangoon. Meanwhile, Chay kept the throats unparched with wine red and white, beer, and soda. Thanks, once again, for doing what we so casually call the usual.
               The Adamses are still on their winter RV trail (missed ya; get back soon so we remember what your faces look like!) so Mark and Joyce Notarnicola endured the jokes and slights flung upon them (and the first two sets of substitutes). Thanks, Mark and Joyce, for joining us, and for complementing our group so well.
               Conversation abounded, as usual, at the Karneses’ and at Helsinki. Of course, one topic was weather, with an amazingly warm mid-March that for the past week has subdued into only near-average late March. To prove the point, the weather the morning of DP8 was only wet in Cairo, a bare wafer of snow that soon melted in lower Freehold, but gathered enough to coat trees and cover grass in upper Freehold. Even a short way up the mountains had a snow blanket.
               With Mark & Joyce present, more talk involved school stuff, both Catskill and especially C-D, with general conditions, contracts coming up (read between the lines), budgets and possible cuts, absurdities, shared decision making, the Durham building’s fate, and more stuff that defines a teacher crowd, an involved one, at that.
               Other topics: Deb’s crutches & foot operation & progress; Kalli eventually finding the wrapping in Deb’s cast; Nathan’s house project and pictures Deb brought; Kalli, of course; weather, again; Christopher & college; Christopher & musical; diets ...; high school baseball season; Kriss’ retirement; status of Ken’s retirement; end in sight for Chay; no end in sight for Deb K (sorry, Deb); health of moms of Deb K and Don; bicycles; ... Dad’s birthday, almost; wildlife in the backyards; spring preparation; cleanup on winter damage; where are the Adamses?; RVing; retirement trips and places to live; ...; Hudson’s city scene; a good pick by the Karnes (now, the Adamses can’t pick Hudson for a while!); Megamillions (the Teators won $3); spring plans; DP8 schedule for April; paying for college; as usual, there was more but have escaped my brain’s filters.