New York's magnificent Hudson Valley holds many attractions for visitors: dramatic scenery, robber baron mansions, charming villages, antiques, water sports, hiking, and more. Until fairly recently, however, fine restaurants were not among them. Today, the valley is a dining destination. Every fall I take a leisurely gastronomic drive up the tree-lined Taconic State Parkway, where the foliage is so stunning I have to stop several times to take it all in.
Many of the better restaurants are on or close to the Hudson River. This is where I gravitate in summer and fall. Here are some of my favorite waterside ports of call.
Harvest on Hudson . . . for lovers of Tuscany
Several towns up the river from Yonkers, in the village of Hastings-on-Hudson, Harvest on Hudson is among my top picks at any time of the year. Housed in a vast replica of a Tuscan villa, it has a cavernous, Tuscan style dining room with a floor to ceiling fireplace, iron crossbeams, faux marble walls, high arched windows, and plenty of space between tables. From most of the room–there is also spacious dining patio--the view is spectacular.
The Italian-Mediterranean food is the real thing. Service is decorous and hard working. Harvest on Hudson — Photo courtesy of WalkingGeek
X20 Xaviars . . . for proximity to New York City
Yonkers holds the southernmost of my favorite restaurants with great river views, the enigmatically named X20. Built on a once derelict rusted-out pier projecting over the river, Xaviars X20 is the latest success of celebrity chef-entrepreneur Peter Kelly (he also has the excellent Xaviers and Freelance Café & Wine Bar in Piermont, on the west side of the river.) You enter what looks like a huge glass cube suspended by steel girders.
Kelly’s modern cooking style ranges from the exotic (big eye tuna tartare with Sicilian pistachios, Moroccan dates, and an edamame coulis, to a marvelously straightforward aged rib eye steak for two with béarnaise sauce. The crowd is young and stylish. Warning: All of the hard surfaces can make the place as soothing as a sheet metal plant.
Intel: A few blocks east is a cool little Cuban restaurant called Bella Havana. The food is authentic, as are the great mojitos. On Saturday evenings a hot salsa band holds forth.
Half Moon, Dobbs Ferry . . . for the ultimate river views
A sprawling, glass-enclosed local favorite near the Dobbs Ferry train station, this restaurant affords among the most impressive river views anywhere. From both the ground level and mezzanine dining rooms you can take in the sunset dipping behind Palisades and see all the way from the Tappan Zee Bridge to lower Manhattan. River traffic, from bobbing little sailboats to huge ocean barges, adds to the show at no extra charge. The long sleek bar is quite the social scene.
The cuisine is not a show stopper–mostly standard steak and seafood. I sometimes have appetizers and drinks outside. When the sun goes down the piped-in pop music comes up. Half Moon — Photo courtesy of Bryan Miller
Red Hat on the River . . . for a cool local scene and great food
This stylish bistro, near the Irvington train depot, is one of the more popular spots along the lower Hudson, with endless views north and south. Umbrella shaded tables on the wide patio are pleasant, however when the sun is setting it can be bright and hot. Every evening a local business types assemble at the horseshoe shaped bar in this century old brick building with soaring ceilings and two-story white-framed windows. Upstairs is another dining room, and above that a fabulous rooftop cocktail lounge. The mostly traditional French fare is exceptional.
Intel: For a brief literary excursion, drive two miles to Sunnyside, the riverside home of Washington Irving. It’s very small, so the enchanting tour is less than half an hour (daily, April through December.)
Hudson Water Club . . . for mariners
If you happen to have the means to tour the river in your own boat, you can pull right up to the West Haverstraw Marina and have a margarita in hand before you can say “I burned up a fortune in diesel today.” This monstrous, glass-enclosed restaurant and bar has a riverfront terrace that could hold a high school marching band. The sun is pretty brutal on summer afternoons so bring your shades.
While the food may not live up to the setting, you can do well with the wood-fired pizzas, steamed little neck clams, simple seafood preparations and steaks. The dining room can get loud.
The River Club . . . for a casual saloon on a marina
A spirited riverbank watering hole in Nyack, on the river’s west bank, marina restaurant merits a visit if only for its gargantuan drinks and pretty good pub grub. Locals gravitate to the barnlike saloon festooned with lobster traps and model boats. To get a full view of the river and the Tappan Zee Bridge, claim one of the waterside tables. River Club — Photo courtesy of Bryan Miller
Akasaka . . . for sushi al fresco
This small Japanese cafe seats about 20 on an outside patio facing the Newburgh marina. The oblong main dining room is warm and woody, with Japanese lanterns and soft lighting. While the sushi is of high quality, the specialties here are inventive seafood rolls. There is an assortment of beers and sakes but not much in the way of wine.
Intel: On the east side of the Newburgh Beacon Bridge, the majestic Clearwater Sloop, one of many river restoration projects associated with Pete Seeger, offers public river cruises with an environmental theme every weekend. It departs from the Newburgh Marina and other ports. (845-265-8080 ext. 7107)
Cena 2000 . . . for Italian on the west bank
This sibling to the perennially popular Il Cenácolo, Cena 2000 - also in Newburgh - has a wide outdoor terrace with a shellfish bar. You can see up and down the river and across to the distant Hudson Highlands. Unlike many such nautical hot spots (be sure to reserve in advance for weekend tables.), the service staff maintains its composure under sometimes frenetic conditions. The inside dining room, which has limited views, is tasteful and comfortable, done in shades of burnt umber and with large cushioned cane chairs. The superior menu wanders to all corners of Tuscany.
The River Grill . . . for casual dining and bargain wines
This lively and attractive spot on the Nyack marina combines sweeping river vistas, a comfortable patio, and a menu of contemporary American fare. If there is a shortcoming it is that servers tend to come unglued when busy, which is most of the time in summer. The canopy shaded patio borders a promenade along this mini restaurant row.
Lunch features all sorts of sandwiches, salads and wraps, while dinner presents standards like rack of lamb, roasted duck, grilled mahi-mahi, and southwestern lobster ravioli. What the wine list lacks in ambition it makes up for in prices–there are plenty of decent choices for under $30.
Hudson House Inn . . . for charm and antiques
This is the most awe-inspiring stretch of a river that holds no lack of surprises. At this juncture it courses past Storm King and the near-vertical face of Breakneck Ridge, gaining speed as it flows into Cold Spring village then departs toward towering West Point and Highland Falls. If you are lucky enough to be enjoying a drink or a meal on the veranda of Hudson House Inn, it’s quite a performance.
This 1830s hostelry (13 rooms) holds a quaint steak-and-seafood house with river views (actually, at this stretch it is technically a fjord, defined as water hemmed in by v-shaped glacial cliffs.) An informal tavern serves a pub menu. Walk to the riverfront gazebo for the full visual effect.
Intel: Cold Springs is a popular antiques town. It’s only three or so blocks so you can cover it in an hour. Hudson House Inn is an historic waterfront eatery — Photo courtesy of tolen