Autumn marks nature's slow descent toward slumber, but for restaurant chefs, it's time to spring to life. Unhampered by the constraints of hot weather cooking, chefs embrace the bounty of the Hudson Valley and create dishes that they hope will create a buzz, or at least become enduring favorites. It's the time for game, as well as local beef, pork and lamb. It's also charcuterie season, cheese season, and when new wines are released.
Fall menus are rolling out this month at restaurants across the region. We got a jump on the season by sampling four signature dishes at restaurants in the lower Hudson Valley.
Fall dish: Pork chop with grilled cherries and mustard blossoms
Jeremy McMillan has been the chef at The Farmhouse, an enchanting restaurant part of the larger Bedford Post Inn, for two years following a stint at the much-lauded A Voce in midtown Manhattan (954 Old Post Rd., Bedford; 914-234-7800; bedfordpostinn.com). The restaurant occupies the ground floor of the magnificently restored 18th century home, owned by local celebrities Richard Gere and Carey Lowell. It has a trio of snug formal dining rooms, a 70-seat main dining room and a comfortable tavern.
A signature dish on McMillan's fall menu combines Hudson Valley pork chops with grilled cherries and mustard blossoms, very much in the rustic fashion of northern Italy. The cherries are prepared "mostarda" style, which is a traditional and somewhat complex technique of preserving fruits and vegetables. The result is intense sweetness counterbalanced by touches of sour and spiciness.
"This dish works perfectly for the fall," McMillan explained, "with the cherries offering a sweet complement to the smoky, salty flavor of the pork."
He describes the Hudson Valley this time of year as a marvelously stocked pantry that offers almost everything he needs.
"Quality of ingredients is the anchor of any dish I prepare," he added. "This is why guests get a slightly different experience every time they visit."
Dinner is served at The Farmhouse Wednesday through Sunday.
Fall dish: Chestnut and bone marrow Monte with brown butter and sage sauce
If you think that haute Greek food is an oxymoron, conversion awaits at MP Taverna in Irvington (1 Bridge St., Irvington; 914-231-7854; www.michaelpsilakis.com). Chef-owner Michael Psilakis is credited with bringing refined Greek restaurants to New York City, and along the way has become quite a media personality, with stints on BBC America's "No Kitchen Required" and Food Network's "The Best Thing I Ever Ate." He has two restaurants, Kefi and FISHTAG, on Manhattan's Upper West Side, and an original MP Taverna in Roslyn on Long Island (another is slated to open next month in Astoria, Queens).
Open less than a year, the MP Taverna at the Irvington train station has a spacious main dining room that could be mistaken for a steakhouse with its dark wood walls, high-beamed ceilings, theatrical overhead lighting and high-backed banquettes. A cheerful little bar at the entrance has already become a hangout for the after-work crowd.
Psilakis' cooking is short on flash and long on flavor. His dishes are remarkable for their sophisticated interplay of seasonings and textures. A signature dish this fall is the chestnut and bone marrow Monte with brown butter and sage sauce.
"This is Greek in origin but I've made it differently from the way my mother would make it," Psilakis said. "We take bone marrow -- in Greek it translates to 'mind of the bone' -- and mix it with roasted chestnuts. That gives it a rich flavor, perfect for fall."
MP Taverna is open nightly for dinner.
Fall dish: Homemade cavatelli with garlic shrimp, roasted butternut squash and fresh sage
Situated in the rolling hills of a former farm in Wappingers Falls, Aroma Osteria rises from the distance like a Tuscan fortress (114 Old Post Rd., Wappingers Falls; 845-298-6790; www.aromaosteriarestaurant.com). The cavernous yet comfortable dining room is partitioned into four sections, all done up with colorful ceramic tiles, wrought-iron dividers, well-spaced tables and expansive windows offering bucolic views. It's a particularly cheerful place for lunch. The highly regarded Il Barilotto in Fishkill is the sister restaurant.
Chef-owner Eduardo Lauria has run the kitchen for 17 years, turning out creative regional Italian fare to a large and loyal clientele. A cynosure of the autumn menu is homemade cavatelli with roasted cubes of butternut squash, garlic shrimp and fresh sage.
"It's a very fall dish," said Lauria, who described his cooking as a melding of traditional and modern. "Before serving, we garnish it with toasted squash seeds for a crunchy texture and grated Parmesan cheese."
"We don't stick to any formula," he added.
Aroma Osteria is open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner.
Fall dish: Braised lamb shank served with a mélange of cubed squash, carrots, turnips and parsnips
Don't be put off by the uncomely location in a mini-mall near the Tappan Zee Bridge (9 Ingalls St., Nyack; 845-535-3315; www.alainsbistro.com). As you pass through the door of Alain's Bistro, you are transported to a snug corner of what could be Paris or Lyon.
In the front is a small café-like space with mustard walls and a handful of tables; inside is a larger room with dark wood floors, soft lighting and French prints on the walls. With many repeat customers, the restaurant has a neighborly feeling.
Alsace-born Alain Eigenmann, the chef and owner, is a kinetic and caring host and a classicist at the stove, extolling the virtues of time-honored regional cooking.
You will find on his regular menu an outstanding steak tartare, subtle duck liver pâté, monkfish Provençale, duck a l'orange and a fine bouillabaisse. In autumn a wide range of game is featured.
His signature dish for autumn -- an annual best-seller -- is lamb shank braised in lamb stock with onions, rosemary and orange, served with a mélange of cubed squash, carrots, turnips and parsnips.
"All the flavors come together in the slow cooking," Eigenmann said. "It's a rich dish, but perfect for this time of year."
The restaurant is open nightly for dinner.