Photo by Chris Casella

Cam Comes Home

An immediate hit, Hudson 29 is consistently elbow-to-elbow and, as such, the murmur of conversation and the intimate act of bread-breaking combine to make guests feel they are where it’s happening.

That feeling of being in the midst of it all? That’s sexy, too.

This is the first Mitchell establishment to grace the restaurateur’s home stomping grounds – Upper Arlington – and Hudson 29 showcases two of the things Mitchell does best: good food and creating a scene.

The designers have pulled off quite the functional feat -– it seats over 200, but makes you feel like you’re the only one that matters. The restaurant’s footprint is broken into discreet areas – a fireplace-anchored lounge area is a welcome spot to wait for a table, a smaller room with the wine collection beckoning behind glass is off to one side, while the bar sits in the epicenter, fitted with booths and comfortable stay-awhile bar chairs. There is a covered patio, a fishbowl private dining room for 14, and a larger dining room, as well. When packed, the chef-coated servers slip through the crowds with professional, unobtrusive ease.

Sitting at the bar, waiting for camping diners to vacate your designated table, the area is so animated it’s almost heartbreaking when the hostess appears. The bartenders are personable and quick with recommendations, so the wait time becomes not a harried negative, but an enthusiastic positive. Much like all the stellar bars in town, this one offers beer-geek draughts, clever house cocktails, and a deep wine bench. What separates Hudson 29 from the imbibing pack, however, are the bottled cocktails ($10). Ticklish with bubbles, these house made concoctions come gift-wrapped in their own retro Hudson 29 glass bottles.

Carbonated daily, the daiquiri is an easy swig of Mount Gay Silver rum, fresh lime juice, and Angostura bitters. Sweet and citrusy, this daiquiri is more Hemingway than spring break. One night the cocktail’s inventor, Andrea Hoover, served us our bottled pick-me-ups and spoke of its creative process with the pride of an artist.

The menu brands itself as “New American,” fitting with the restaurant’s namesake – the Hudson River Valley in New York where the Culinary Institute of America is located, as well as the route that winds through Napa Valley in California. These coastal name checks are a respectful bow to two landscapes that laid the bedrock for American cuisine. The food offerings are malleable, and can be customized to your time and plans. The sushi, flatbread, sandwich, salad, and appetizer sections are interesting enough to make sitting at the bar for a bite or sweeping in for lunch a solid option. For a longer, more languid evening, the entrees provide the capstone for a lingering meal.

On the appetizer side, the crowd-pleasing Ahi Tuna Tartare ($14) comes cradled in its own white boat, surrounded by rafts of crusty crostini. Fresh and ruby-toned, the seafood is bolstered with earth tones from both sesame and nutty amaranth seeds. The sushi choices look at the quintessential Japanese fare through an American lens. The standout is the Hudson ($13), a combination of textures and flavors that hit the four corners of the map – crunchy tart apple, sweet mango, savory shrimp and tuna, bound together by the creaminess of avocado. Wasabi and soy sauce are provided to customize both the umami and heat levels.

Presented on a wooden board, the vegetable flatbread ($9) celebrates the earth’s bounty.  Unlike other flatbreads that are all bread and no flat, Hudson 29’s entry in the field is joyously crunchy, providing a foil to the softness of the fresh veggies. Roasted fennel, arugula pesto, olives, and pickled red onions get a deeper richness and texture from a swath of shiitake mushrooms.

For entrees, the Rigatoni Bolognese ($15) gets bonus taste points for its use of slow-braised beef in the sauce. The VW-sized tubes of pasta are the perfect match for the chunky ragu. Traditional but not boring at all, the Rotisserie Chicken ($18) swims in its own tasty, golden juices, complemented by Colcannon potatoes. A traditional Irish dish, Colcannon is mashed potatoes revived through the unrestrained addition of green onions.

One of the most memorable dishes was, surprisingly, found in the Sides section. Six dollars buys you a bowl of couscous kale salad that is a new chapter in the kale-wrangling handbook. There is nary a rough bite, nor fiberous clump, in the whole dish. The couscous is soft and the accents of nuts, radish, golden raisins, sunflower seeds, and slices of baby zucchini, provide all flavor needed.

As always in Mitchell’s restaurants, the details and the service play off each other in such a melodious symphony that the guest feels pampered and lush. Hot towels to rinse your hands, the box of silverware that appears out of nowhere to replenish your stock after the first course, and the good humor and knowledgeable staff make dining at Hudson 29 an escape, and an attractive dining choice in a growing part of the well-heeled suburb. •