Ship Lantern Inn
Route 9 W
845 795 5400
There are two types of customers at the Ship Lantern Inn. The young couple sitting in the corner, trying to figure out which is the oyster fork, is probably here for the first time. Perhaps they remember coming here with their parents after graduation. It may be the most formal setting they have dined in since their last special occasion, and it is a special occasion tonight; probably someone’s birthday.
The rest of the crowd has been coming here for years. More likely decades, like me. It is still a special place for us, but for different reasons. The Ship Lantern Inn, or the Ship, as we affectionately call it, is the home of tradition. It reeks of tradition. It is a proud standard bearer of what was called “continental” dining, a style of menu that all but disappeared thirty years ago. I do not say that pejoratively, but reverentially.
Mike Foglia, who now runs the restaurant, is third generation. He literally grew up in the restaurant. His father Angelo passed the torch to him, as Angelo’s father, John, had passed it on to him. Soon after John Foglia opened the restaurant he hired a sixteen year old young man who had just arrived from Italy. His name was George Perone. That was over fifty years ago. George still holds court in the dining room along with Carlo, Michael’s cousin. Carlo’s tenure is a close second to George’s. George and Carlo have been running the table service at the Ship for as long as anyone can remember. Tradition. A recent dining room addition is Bill Hurley, who ran the dining room at Plumbush in Cold Spring for as long as anyone can remember. I would bet that on most nights there is more restaurant experience in the Ship Lantern dining room than you will find in any other Hudson Valley restaurant. They will all stand ready to assist you at tableside, dressed in a formal crisp black tie.
A dinner at Ship Lantern should begin with a cocktail at the bar. It is one of my favorite bars, and faithfull readers and old friends know that I have a lot of experience judging these things. It is classic. Dark aged wood panels with nautical motif adorn the walls and back bar. A small mounted dorado caught by Poppa John Foglia hangs behind the bar. A collection of model ships is on display throughout the restaurant.
Your bartender Tom Monahan will serve your drink in a well chilled proper cocktail or wine glass. If you order a second drink, your glass will be replaced. Don’t try to keep it. They have been doing it this way for fifty years and you are not going to be the one to change anything. Tom will give you a fresh chilled glass. Every time. When you are ready to be seated, George, or Carlo, or Michael, or Bill will place your glass on a tray and carry it to the dining room for you. Don’t try to take it yourself. When you enter the dining room the show begins, and it is a show. Again I do not say this pejoratively.
Your headwaiter will appear at your table to check on your drinks, offer the menu, recite the specials, and ask if a wine list will be needed. It is formal; it is pageantry; it is really something to experience. I will be called Mr. Steiniger; never, ever Joe. If Michael and I meet outside the restaurant I will sometimes be called things that cannot be repeated here, but inside the confines of the dining room, I am Mr. Steiniger. Always. Tradition. Years ago George’s decades of service were recognized by the New York Restaurant Association at a dinner in Saratoga Springs. He asked me to attend with him, and a few of us drove up together to be with him. We sat at his table with his wife and two boys. Throughout the entire evening, after way too much wine, he never once called me by my first name. He still hasn’t. Ever. It’s just not done. Tradition.
But enough about George. Let’s move on to another Ship Lantern tradition – oysters. If I have to pick one menu item that the restaurant is universally appreciated for, it has to be the Blue Point oysters. Now you may be asking what’s can be so special about raw oysters? If you are thinking that, you have never been served an old oyster. This may be a self fulfilling prophecy. The place is know for fresh briny, ice cold, just shucked, delicious blue point oysters. Lots of people order the oysters. The restaurant orders more oysters. They always have fresh, briny, ice cold, just shucked, delicious oysters. And so it goes. Try the oysters. Or the clams. Those are just as good.
My personal favorite appetizer is the escargot, which is served in a bubbling bath of butter, and parsley, and garlic, with just a touch of Pernod. Classic. Traditional. Somewhere on your table amongst the full complement of stacked service plates and way too much silverware you will find a basket of bread. This will contain a sliced crusty boule, and a few breadsticks. The sliced boule is for the escargot’s garlic butter. The breadsticks are for garnish. Also on your table is an iced dish of celery, radish, and carrot sticks, and fresh scallion greens. They’ve been doing it this way since I since, I think, prohibition. Maybe not so long.
Other appetizers include a bacon wrapped shrimp with horseradish, served with a spicy barbecue sauce ($11.50), baked clams ($8.50), or a very nice grilled quail served with wheat berry risotto ($12.50). I really like their caesar salad. Traditionally served for two diners, it is prepared table side in the dining room, with all of the traditional ingredients and pageantry. I sometimes order it just to drive Michael nuts when he is really busy.
Two frequent fish dishes are the very traditional, but very politically incorrect sword fish, encrusted in Parmesan cheese and broiled, or broiled Atlantic salmon. The steaks are first rate. The broiled porter house ($22) is a generous cut, but more often than not Michael talks us into a combo platter of a smaller cut along with some special offering, like sweetbreads, or venison. The best dish on the menu is the osso buco, braised until it is just shy of falling off the bone, and served with risotto. A different presentation of roast duck is always offered, prepared tableside, usually with a prepared fruit glaze, and always well done. You are advised to leave room for an espresso, which George can pull with more skill than any professional barista I have encountered to date. A Sambucca Romana will go very nicely with that.
Many Hudson Valley families have their own Ship Lantern traditions that date back generations. Reservations for family dinners on Thanksgiving Day are sold out months in advance. New Years Eve dinner reservations are likewise booked well in advance. The Ship Lantern Inn has a well deserved reputation for excellence, outstanding service, classic dishes, and tradition. She is the grand old dame of Hudson Valley Dining.