Elephant Wine Bar
310 Wall Street
Kingston, NY 12401
Hours: Tues ~ Sat, 5 PM – 10 PM
Elephant bills itself as a casual tapas ~ wine bar. Co-owners Maya Karrol and Rich Reeve opened the popular uptown Kingston eatery five year ago to rave reviews and quickly built a loyal following. An overnight sensation, right? Not exactly. There is much more to the story.
Maya would be upset if I told you how far we go back, but I can tell you it was a long time ago, in Poughkeepsie, where she was running the kitchen at Brady’s Publick House (and I think Ronald Reagan was president.) She ended up taking over the place with her now husband Rich, before moving on to greener – and colder pastures. I recall a stint working with Greg Taylor at the very upscale Friends Lake Inn in the Adirondacks, where Rich moved to the back of the house. A side trip to Vermont came next, then back down to Kingston, where they worked at 23 Broadway, with good friend and Wednesday night table-mate Dennis Cooper. By this point the couple had settled into their current roles – Rich was in the kitchen, and Maya worked the “front of the house”. 23 Broadway closed, and the journeyman couple wanted to open their own place. Which brings us back to Elephant. Lucky for us.
In business you sometimes have to try many concepts before you find one that works – until something just clicks. Elephant clicked. It is as cozy a space as you can find and still call it a restaurant; any smaller and it could be the dining room in your house. There are a half dozen seats at the bar, and a half dozen small tables scattered about for lounging and munching. A half wall separates the dining room from the kitchen, where Rich makes do with hotplates and a toaster oven, as there is not enough space for some standard equipment – like a stove.
On Wednesday night our dinner gang commandeered the bar, where Maya held court, spinning vinyl 33 records * on a turntable sitting on the back-bar, while delivering a parade of Rich’s specialty small plate offerings. (* for vinyl 33 records see Wikipedia / 60’s / entertainment / pre-CD era). Elephant’s music play list goes perfectly with the setting- the setting being a pierced, tattooed, younger than us crowd. Maya obviously took pity on me after all of these years and found an old Stones album – which went perfectly with our personal walk down memory lane.
The restaurant offers a really nice selection of “bistro” wine – good quality “non-cru” village wines at reasonable prices. Many of the menu offerings are Basque / Spanish preparations, and the wine list complements that nicely. We started off with a bottle of Finca os Cobatos Godella ($34) from Galicia. This waterfront province in Northwester Spain is famous for its seafood, and their local white wines pair perfectly. As a rule they are very inexpensive – especially for the quality – which makes them very popular in bistros and tapas bars. This wine was no exception and we stayed with it for much of the evening. There were twenty wines available by the glass – an Altos de la Hoya Jumilla ($9 / glass) is on my wish list for my next visit.
The tapas menu is a playful blend of classics – pulpo, charcuterie, grilled shrimp, pate – and adventurous – like “duck junk Chinatown style”. We tried most of them. We were off to a good start when a basket of Bread Alone’s sliced rustic style boule showed up, which we put to immediate good use in the chili oil shrimp bath. It was delicious and it got even better. A charcuterie platter included a silky cured jambon, luscious port soaked prunes, and also a slab of Rich’s house made country style pate. Wonderful stuff. Steaming bowls of lentil and duck stew followed with a poached farm fresh egg yolk centered in each bowl. This was perhaps the best dish of the evening. Plates of pulpo con pimenton – grilled sweet baby octopus, seasoned with paprika, plated with roasted potatoes and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil – a Galician staple – were just terrific. I have prepared Cannelloni many ways, but I don’t think I have ever thought of it as tapas – until now. Pulled pork shoulder is a slow roast BBQ favorite. Rich combines the two as a savory stuffed pasta with a creamy sherry sauce. Fantastic.
You can view Elephant’s complete menu here.
So there you have it – a new favorite spot in Kingston. Nothing fancy. Nothing formal. (In fact you would be decidedly out of place in a jacket, and don’t even think about showing up in a tie.) But do show up. Try the pulpo or the grilled shrimp with a glass of Albarino. You can smell the salt air and you didn’t have to buy a plane ticket to Spain.
If you do stop in please let other readers know about your visit in the comments section.
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