With the rising cost of everything from appetizers to cocktails and even after-dinner coffee, eating out has become a rarer indulgence for most of us, taking on an escapist quality that offers a near-sacred refuge from the drudgery of daily life. Eating out is, of course, about the food—but it’s also about the entire sensory experience. And perhaps precisely because we are dining out less, we are asking more from our nights on the town. Give us excellent service and tasty eats, and give it all to us in an environment that makes us feel something.
Because ambience is always on the menu when evaluating where to eat, we’ve asked local designers to pick their favorite Hudson Valley restaurants for an aesthetically indulgent night out. Here are their top picks for delicious design.
Chosen by Samantha Leeds, Creatures of Place
Pine Bush-based interior designer Samantha Leeds of Creatures of Place strives to create spaces that are “in better harmony with ourselves and the natural world around us.” Her focus on Earth-friendly and sustainable design emphasizes natural and non-toxic materials and enduring styles that minimize waste. She sees her preferred aesthetic and ethos elegantly embodied in the interior of Chleo wine bar in Uptown Kingston. “It feels very warm and earthen in there with the plaster walls, all the dried flowers hanging from the ceiling,” Leeds says. “They have a beautiful use of wood. The side of the wood-slab bar is hammered a little bit—those tiny, little details really elevate the space.”
For Leeds, who has watched her own aesthetic transform since moving upstate from Brooklyn, the design of the wine bar captures the direction she sees the entire industry moving in. “We’ve just come out of this pretty stark, pretty white, pretty minimalistic decade, and now we’re moving into earth tones and limewash and wood and organic forms,” she says, noting that at Chleo the sensibility extends down to the details like the dishware. “Clay and stone and lime and wood—all of this stuff comes from the earth. It makes sense to me to want to eat things that are grown from the earth surrounded by a natural environment.” Even the open-fire cooking plays into a return-to-nature sensibility that Chleo embodies. “Our environments are directly linked to our psyche, so to watch environments change and design change collectively is an enormous commentary on where we are in our psyche and what we are craving on a larger scale.”
Leeds, who incorporated ceiling-mounted dried flower display into her own dining room for the 2022 Kingston Design Showhouse, has a soft spot for florals, and recommends the booth to the left of the entrance beneath the dried bouquets. “Sometimes we have an experience in our body when we are in a particular environment—this particular environment makes me want to nest and stay. It is very warming,” Leeds says. Given the intimacy that Chleo fosters, she prefers the spot for a date night or a catchup with a close friend, rather than for a rowdy dinner with eight friends.
Chosen by Jessica Williams, Hendley & Co
Designer Jessica Williams is the founder of full-service design/build firm Hendley & Co., which occupies two historic storefronts in Newburgh. Through her residential work, Williams strives to help clients find the right “balance of feeling and function” in their homes. So, it comes as no surprise that she instinctively seeks out a similar blend in restaurants. Her pick for design-forward restaurant is Newburgh favorite Mama Roux, whose Cajun-inflected New Orleans fare and Southern hospitality is an antidote to homesickness for the Maryland-born Williams. “Ambiance-wise, it feels like you are going into someone’s living space,” Williams says of the homey feel. “There are a lot of aesthetic touch points—every surface is a different color, the mural wallpaper immediately grabs your attention. All the lighting sprinkled throughout the space is so thoughtfully collected.”
Williams points out that owner Sterling Knight chose to use makers, craftspeople, and shops local to Newburgh to create the interior. The vintage light fixtures, including Williams’s favorite orange Murano glass sconces, are from Hudson Valley House Parts; the sand-blasted mirror panel behind the bar was created by artist Hannah Vaughn; Jessica Wickham fabricated the tables from downed trees. “No matter where you sit in the restaurant, it feels like you have the best seat in the house,” she says. That said, Williams, who frequents Mama Roux four to five times a month for anything from a post-work cocktail to a dinner date with her husband or brunch with out-of-town guests, does have a couple of top spots. The corner window table overlooking Broadway offers what she calls “a nice reminder of where you are—a snowglobe moment looking out at your city.” The elevated table in the middle of the dining room gives a 360-degree view of the space and the street beyond that Williams says feels “a little like a VIP booth.” And of course, the outdoor patio, with its bungalow bar and picnic tables, offers a casual setting that makes it “feel like you’re in the South.” As far as what to eat, Williams recommends the burrata salad with pomegranate and, when you want to indulge, the hush puppies with pimento cheese. Oh, and the beignets.
Feast & Floret, The Maker
Chosen by Elizabeth Graziolo, Yellow House Architects
Award-winning architect Elizabeth Graziolo’s New York City-based firm Yellow House was inducted into the Architectural Digest 100 list in 2021. With a house upstate in Columbia County, she was torn between two Hudson establishments for her restaurant pick. “My number one place is Feast & Floret—oh my god, that place is so good,” she says, as much of the food as of the design of the space itself. For Graziolo, she’s won over by the juxtaposition of the imposing and stately historic blacksmith shop that houses the restaurant with the light, breezy design chosen for its interior. “They didn’t have to do much—it’s a beautiful old brick building, but the interior has this light, clean aesthetic to it that complements the architecture,” she says. “It’s kind of bright and cheery. Very simple, not layered and layered. It lets the architecture shine. And the way they set it up with a flower shop incorporated into the restaurant is very tasteful—it’s part of the decor.” A vintage wooden cart in the middle of the restaurant contains bouquets, fresh and dried, of locally grown flowers that are for sale, though not conspicuously so. In the winter, Graziola recommends snagging a cozy table by the wood-burning fireplace if possible, while in summer the covered bluestone patio offers a pretty, lush, al-fresco dining option. And for groups, book the upstairs. “They have a private room upstairs that a lot of people don’t know about,” she says. “I’ve hosted a lot of dinner parties there, and people love it.” As for food, Graziolo is a fan of the plentiful and inventive vegetarian options, namely the grilled vegetable dishes and the rotating pasta specials.
By Graziola’s own admission, the Feast & Floret pick is as much, if not more, about the food than the design, though they go hand-in-hand for her. But for a purely aesthetic indulgence, she says to head to the Maker Hotel’s Lounge. “The Maker bar has such a rich design palette—rich colors, the fabrics, the lighting,” Graziola says. “It is just these layers of texture. You just want to stay there and touch everything.” With high ceilings and dark walls, a long, curving marble bar, and a fireplace, the spot is a moody and spectacular flourish of Maker cofounder Lev Glazman’s design sensibility. “It is like Grand Central meets Soho House vibes meets some bar during Prohibition,” Graziola says. The speakeasy feeling is augmented by the square, brick building’s nonchalant exterior, which does little to hint at the glittering jewel box within. “If you go in from the exterior, it is a very unassuming door. Then it feels like there is this really cool party happening inside—like a Gatsby party,” she says. Graziola is especially drawn to the Maker Lounge’s lighting—a mixture of antique table lamps and pendants collected by Glazman over time and fringed light fixtures overhanging the bar. But she appreciates the attention to detail at every scale from the massive tapestry panels flanking the fireplace to the brass towel racks in the bathroom. “Those are the layers that make the place feel different,” she says. A favorite detail that perhaps only a design professional would notice, Graziola loves the border of tile work that echoes the shape of the bar, delineating it from the rest of the tables and seating. “It is so clever—it is something that is practical, but they resolve it by making a design feature,” she says. When she goes to the Maker, it’s for cocktails. So she recommends sidling up to the bar, chatting to the bartender, and if you’re lucky, they’ll make you a custom creation.
Silvia and Good Night
Chosen by Mari Mulshenock, EvolveD Interiors
For Mari Mulshenock of Woodstock-based firm EvolveD Interiors, the design dichotomy of sister restaurants Silvia and Good Night takes the cake. “You can tell they were both done by the same owner. They have similar aesthetics and lighting choices, but with a play on color,” Mushenock says. “I like them both for different things.” Plush velvet banquets and vintage light fixtures are a throughline at both spots, which were designed by co-owner and design autodidact Craig Leonard. Where Silvia sports olive green and dark blue hues, Good Night favors dusty rose and rusty orange tones. “Silvia is my favorite winter spot. When it’s cold out and you just want to be cozy, the bar at Silvia is the place to be. It has dimly lit areas and that musky, green velvet, and you never want to leave,” says Mulshenock. The open kitchen, which offers views of the wood-fired grill, adds to the cozy wintery vibes. “Good Night is lighter and airier—very summery,” Mulshenock says. “I like taking clients there, and it’s a go-to before a show at the Colony. It’s very soothing and inviting. You walk in the door and you breathe a sigh of relief.” Whereas she opts for a spot at the bar at Silvia, at Good Night Mulshenock prefers one of the many ingeniously laid out round booths.
At both spots, she is a fan of the oysters, at Silvia they are currently served with a cucumber-chive-seaweed mignonette and at the Southeast Asia-inflected Good Night, with a coconut-chili and lime leaf mignonette. If you do venture to Silvia in the summertime, Mulshenock recommends the heirloom tomato dish served with whipped feta. Later in the year, she opts for the kale and brussel sprout salad. At Good Night, she recommends the crispy shrimp with the shishito appetizer. And, of course, the cilantro piña cooler.