by Megan Labrise – Po-town eatery looks good, tastes even better
It’s Friday night at Brasserie 292. You wish you made reservations. You’ll get a table in due time, but it probably won’t be at one of those six, slick red banquettes with their perfect rows of upholstery nails caught in the lamp’s low gleam. To planners go the spoils: an air of importance; a modicum of remove from the hubbub. Curved seating makes any conversation feel conspiratorial.
One imagines such a scene between Brasserie 292’s four owners: manager Chris Crocco, brother and executive chef Daniel Crocco, friend and lawyer Stephen Gruberg, and restaurateur Alex Serroukas – over good food and good wine, a restaurant is born. Their fruit of their collaboration is a stunning space that brings another gust of Gotham cool to Main Street in Poughkeepsie. (A few more of these spiffy restaurants and we’ll no longer need to note that it feels more like Manhattan than Main Street.) In the hierarchy of dining nomenclature, brasserie sits somewhat above bistro; there are linen napkins here, and the barstools match the banquettes. Prevailing colors are black and white, with a checkerboard floor, white tiled walls, large opposing mirrors and a pressed-tin ceiling painted gold. The din of the dining room, when full, can be attributed to these hard surfaces.
On weekends, for dinner, Brasserie 292 is a place to dine and be seen. There are town supervisors and mayors, all sorts of power players; a gaggle of tuxedoed men in black bowties, looking like spies; and good-looking couples of all ages. Everyone dresses, or should. They staff do, in short black dresses or crisp button-downs. They will tell you the notes of the wines and the oysters.
And you will order oysters, won’t you? The Rockefellers of bivalve mollusks: protein rich, vitamin rich, mineral rich, and a well-known aphrodisiac. There’s nothing like the ecstasy of eating raw oysters, when sensuality meets status. (They slide into your mouth; they have their own fork.) Nestled in ice set in a silver stand, they are ordered by the half-dozen (starting at $15 per), and if you get the Raw Bar Deluxe ($55 for two) or Royal ($85 for four) the stands are tiered and towering.
The gold standard is the Blue Point, an Atlantic oyster from Long Island’s Great South Bay. Last Thursday they were $2 a shell, a deal. They taste like clean ocean. To eat them, employ the accompanying tiny trident to loose the flesh from the shell. Palm up, hold the sides of the shell with your fingers, tip it back and suck, without slurping, the entire oyster and the liquid (the liquor) that bathes it. And yes you do chew.
The Beausoleil, another Atlantic oyster, is a solid choice – not too briny with a cucumber finish. Everyone says that Pacific oysters are smaller and sweeter. My favorite, Fanny Bays, are named for their British Columbian point of origin. Some have names that are as much fun to say as they are to eat: Hama Hama, Tatamagouche.
Oysters are served with cocktail and mignonette sauces, which I usually skip. Oysters are so vibrant and fresh you don’t want to mess with their subtle salinity. For a little kick, there are lemon slices and parsley sprigs tucked between the shells.
Oh drat. Now I’ve gone and treated my column like my money and spent it all on oysters. Brasserie 292 is also a great place for steak, with three standards and occasional specials. First comes the Bar Steak ($20), topped with a melting dollop of herbed butter or a creamy béarnaise, served with fries, which I’m sure satisfies. For a few dollars more, I order Steak Frites ($25), a 12-oz. Black Angus strip, again with herb butter or béarnaise, or have it au poivre with brandy cream sauce (+$2). This cut is mighty, meaty and well-prepared at medium rare every time. Chef Crocco is accommodating, swapping my fries each time for something green: greens and garlic or lightly dressed salad greens. Then there’s the Prime Ribeye ($34) – and if you’ve got it, get it. This solid flesh all but melts in your mouth. Accompaniments tend to change with the seasons, but right now it’s Anson Mills polenta, asparagus and ramp butter. Of the sides, Brussels and Bacon ($8), with those small green heads and crisp, salty morsels tête-à-tête, is a favorite.
Oh, there’s more: Escargot ($12) with green garlic butter and fresh herbs; Steak Tartare ($12/19) with piquant white anchovy, caperberries, and baguette (sunny-side quail egg +$2); Maine Diver Scallops ($26) with sweet onion soubise, curried cauliflower agrodolce, with scallions, cilantro, and fried shallots; and the Plate of the Day, from Monday’s Cassoulet ($22) to Friday’s Bouillabaisse ($32).
Make room for dessert with a coffee intermission, courtesy of Coffee Labs Roasters of Tarrytown. There’s Cappuccino ($5), Espresso ($4) and Kyoto Coffee ($3), cold-brewed in a Japanese slow dripper for many hours to extract nuance and sweetness from the grounds. I like their Cappuccino, and save my sweet for the Milk Chocolate Pot de Crème ($9) with salted caramel or, on an adventurous night, Profiteroles ($9) filled with coffee cocoa nib gelato, drizzled with chocolate sauce.
Brasserie 292 is located at 292 Main Street in Poughkeepsie. Kitchen hours are Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., lunch; Monday-Thursday, 5-9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 5-10:30 p.m., and Sun. 4-8 p.m., dinner. Sunday brunch is served 12-3 p.m. For reservations, call (845) 473-0292. For more information, visit www.brasserie292.com.