Fish & Game: From Pasture to Plate in Hudson, NY
13 S 3rd St | Hudson, NY
One of the most alluring restaurants in the Hudson Valley right now goes by the name of Fish & Game, a cozy nose-to-tail eatery tucked into a former blacksmith shop in Hudson, NY. Run by Fatty Crab famed chef Zak Pelaccio and his wife, chef Jori Jayne Emde, the couple’s inimitable tasting menus are an ever-changing love letter to the season at hand, the bounty of the land, and what local producers drop off at the kitchen door. Locally-grown and foraged ingredients sourced from within a 40-mile radius take center stage as diners are treated to wild edibles such as ramps and garden nasturtiums with nearly every condiment being made in-house, from the ketchup to the kimchi. On a daily basis, the region’s most trusted farmers can be found hand-delivering whole animals for the butchering with various parts being selected each night, not a single cut falling to the wayside.
“It’s a lot of work and a lot of thought, but it’s an ongoing presentation of the style of cooking we’re doing, which is literally a combination of what’s fresh and forethought,” says Zak, referring to the constant tweaking of the menu. “I have to think, ‘I’m buying this whole animal — how am I going to use all the different pieces?’ We lean on the pantry of our preserved, cured, fermented and frozen items. We have twenty hams hanging in the hayloft of my barn — they’ve been there for a year and a half — and in two years we’ll start slicing into them and have real, true Hudson Valley prosciutto, maybe the truest that anyone has ever seen.”
The restaurant is a stylish return to the city’s past life, an old building preserved with an admiration for what it once was. Restored and designed by Michael Davis Architects in New York City, the interior is visually stunning with gleaming dark wood, big game taxidermy, luxe leather couches, two blazing stone hearths, and a wall covered in vintage red velvet providing an unparalleled warmth to the space that is both rustic and refined.
The nineteenth-century brick building was purchased by Patrick Milling Smith, a film and TV producer with a nearby farm, in the mid-2000s. “We met for a series of lunches and drinks to talk chefs,” recalls Zak, “and one day he said, ‘Why don’t you just do this with me?’ Jori and I had been coming up to the Hudson Valley regularly since 2004 and we sort of knew in the back of our minds that we wanted to get out of the city. We had a family property in Chatham with a derelict barn that was far removed from the main farmhouse. Deciding to renovate the barn dovetailed perfectly with the beginnings of this project.”
Diners get settled with a distinctive cocktail or an a-la-carte item in the incredibly homey bar and lounge, a remodeled space bedecked with prussian blue wainscot, period lighting, and high beamed ceilings.
Jori is a skilled preserver — her creations are imaginative and immensely ethical; again, nothing goes to waste at Fish & Game. “When we pit all the cherries for a dish, we save them. When we hull the black walnuts or local hazelnuts, we save the shells. Jori makes amazing liqueurs from all of it, and then we integrate them into the bar,” says Zak. “As I was realizing how simple it was to preserve foods,” adds Jori, who experiments with unique fermentations and flavors by way of her inimitable brand Lady Jayne’s Alchemy, “it became a huge part of my process—this idea of total utilization. I would try to see how far I could go with it. Now, if we go out of town, I’m always spastically thinking, ‘Oh my god, I have four cases of plums in the walk-in!’”
The collaboration among staff and the inventiveness of process at Fish & Game are as obvious at the bar as they are in the kitchen. Pictured above is a trial drink that utilizes a verjus Jori made from unripe green grapes. “Verjus is used a lot in France and Italy, like a vinegar and for sauces,” she explains. “It’s super, super tart and tannic, and I’ve been making it every year, but it’s difficult to make and I don’t usually end up with a ton. This year, though, I made quite a bit, so we’re playing around with using it in place of lime or lemon. We’re riffing on a drink called an Aviation, which is traditionally made with gin, but tequila is better with verjus, so we made it with tequila.”
The dining room, built entirely by Hudson’s Peggy Anderson Associates, is hauntingly beautiful with black walnut tables custom made by local artist, Peter Hellman, mid-century modern Italian chairs, and a fireplace fashioned from reclaimed brick and stone.
The wood-burning oven and grill come into play frequently at the restaurant. After the animals are butchered in-house, some go to charcuterie and some go to smoking. “We designed a rack to sit over the grill where the ambient temperature is about 200 degrees, so it’s perfect,” says Zak, currently watching pork loins smoke slowly on the grill. “The meat will be nice and rare and smoky. We’ll let them chill, take the meat off the bone, slice it paper thin and serve it with Jori’s daikon ice pickle.”
“We have no recipes, and it changes regularly,” says Zak, “but it’s also unique because it’s a lab — we’re constantly evolving and reshaping the way we run the menu. We’ve done prix fixe menus that are shorter and we’ve done set menus that are longer. We keep changing it up.”
The costs associated with Fish & Game’s central ethic — total utilization — involve a lot of processing and a lot of labor. “We have to find the balance between something that’s commercially palatable, our own artistic inclinations, and with what’s just logical,” says Zak. “They have to dovetail, and they don’t, not always.”
On the second floor, hanging herbs and jarred preserves adorn the private dining room, an area that doubles as the restaurant’s wine cellar and offers family-style meals for parties of up to 12 people.
The vineyards that keep the bar well-stocked operate on a similar ethos by working with the season, weather, and local materials to produce wines that are representative and delicious. “Our producers ferment with native yeasts that occur in the vineyard, on the fruit, and in the cellar; they don’t add yeasts that are purchased or made in a lab,” says Michael Rice, the restaurant’s wine director.
As winter turns to spring, Fish & Game will close for the month of March and reopen in April with new ideas for menus ready for the execution. One can only imagine what’s to come.