reviews in the
Woodstock Times – Food
by Pauline Uchmanowicz
One may wonder why one didn't know about the place sooner. Owned
and operated since September 2004 by chef Salah Alygad along
with mother-daughter team Denise and Brianne McCarroll, Friends
& Family II Hillside Restaurant in Accord has an inviting,
familiar vibe, which the trio's elders have cultivated their
entire working lives.
A onetime chemist, Alygad landed in New York's metro region from
Egypt in 1978. "Like everybody else who comes with no background
or [American] education I started out with washing dishes. Then
I worked behind the line and became a short-order cook," he
recollects. "I got interested in the food business more than
anything else. Now it's my job to make people happy through
cooking." Bouncing around between New Jersey, Manhattan and the
Hudson Valley, he has been coffee shop owner and Park Avenue
garde manger (preparer of decorative buffet foods). Eventually
earning a culinary degree from Hudson Valley Community College,
the industry-enthusiast has done gigs for the Restaurant
Association, AT&T, the US Ocial-events banquet chef. Settling in
Greene County, he co-owned the Freehold Country Inn, where he
met warm and affable Denise McCarroll.
"I started my working life in the restaurant business at age 14
and stayed until I had a child at 24, doing everything from
snack bar service to fine dining," says McCarroll. "I did other
things between then and now - sales and teaching - before
returning as a server at the Country Inn." Invited by co-worker
Alygad, she took the entrepreneurial plunge. Now barkeep,
weekend expediter and general manger at Hillside, she brought in
Brianne, an accountant, to assist with front-of-the-house and
Natural-field stone cladding and icicle lights strung from the
eaves announce Hillside, pitched like a geological formation on
an incline along Route 209. The side entrance opens onto a
high-ceilinged, exposed-beam and stonewall dining room,
separated from an additional seating area (painted light
cranberry) by a rustic wooden bar. Other homey touches include
gingham window treatments, dried-flower arrangements and white
table linen. Suggesting a cross between a hunting lodge and ski
chalet, the d￩cor recalls why the Catskills have been called the
Alps of the Northeast. "We both looked at each other and said,
'This is it. It's cozy.' We just took the spirit and ran with
it," said McCarroll.
Alygad says, "For a lot of our ideas we took the good of where
we came from and left what we didn't like behind. We try to
adapt to what people want and want them to feel they're coming
into a home. I've cooked for big people - I've cooked for Bill
Clinton. But now I cook for my people." A destination restaurant
for weekenders and Manhattanites as well as for locals,
"regulars" gather early most Friday evenings and stay until
Along with outstanding service (staff hired on the basis of
personality and work ethic), Hillside offers inventive and
eclectic yet recognizable international and continental fare.
"We want to produce food that people know and can reproduce if
they want to, but it has to have a nice touch," says McCarroll.
"How is your heart and your touch?" Alygad reiterates, as if
addressing a group of aspiring cooks. "You can give two chefs
the same recipe but it will come out differently, depending how
much you put your heart into it. I treat food like my baby; it's
made with lots of love and care."
In addition to producing signature dishes, such as Chop-Chop
(diced fresh fruits and vegetables marinated in vinaigrette atop
mesclun), Alygad loves to braise - from fish to pork loin. He
also enjoys experimenting with accents (notably citrus), or
discovering unusual seasonings, such as Minus 8 Ice Wine Vinegar
(named after its fermentation process) from Canada. Reaching
back to his roots as well, he creates variations on
Mediterranean favorites, including roasted lamb, chicken with
lemon and olives, grape leaves and monkfish tangine stew (a
Moroccan blend featuring sauteed vegetables and herbs).
Summarizing their concept, McCarroll states, "It's just who we
are and what we do."
On a recent Friday evening, my companion and I arrived at
Hillside, squeezing our vehicle into the last available parking
space. Entering the establishment, the excitement of a packed
house hit us like an agreeable adrenaline rush. Within minutes a
basket of warm, mixed rolls arrived, accompanied by butter as
well as dipping oil infused with garlic and fresh herbs. From
the focused but ample-variety wine list (most bottles priced
between $17 and $30), we selected satisfying glasses of hefty,
mellow sauvignon blanc.
For the starter course, we shared a single, remarkable special,
unlike anything I'd ever tasted. Simple and wholesome in
presentation and ingredients, it featured jumbo shrimp encrusted
in kunafa (shredded wheat) and lightly grilled, served on a bed
of mesclun and accompanied by Chef Alygad's homemade hummus
garnished with pinole nuts. Trying soup du jour and house salad
(choice of one included with each entree), we found the corn
chowder comforting in a school-lunchroom kind of way; on the
other hand, the plate of fresh field greens dappled with
julienne carrots, zucchini and cherry tomatoes was crisp and
refreshing, lightly dressed with citrus vinaigrette.
My generous portion of grilled salmon filet arrived topped with
a medley of orange, lemon and grapefruit sections, surrounded by
French green beans and julienne carrots. Echoing this healthy
plating of sides, my companion's lightly baked filet of sole was
infused with lemon flavorings. And for good measure, there were
baked potatoes served with butter and dollops of sour cream,
leaving us enthusiastic about the eatery's throw-back aesthetic,
indicative of simpler, more sincere (hence sophisticated) times.
Though pleasingly full, we were coaxed into sampling Chef
Alygad's dessert offerings. A cr￪pe topped with cognac-marinated
fruit comfit was accompanied by flaky French vanilla ice cream
garnished with a sprig of mint. And while it may be crass to
compare a serious chef's creative output with a
reality-television counterpart's, here goes: his pot de creme
chocolate (a meld of mousse and brulee) was worthy of Top Chef.
Located at 4802 Route 209 in Accord, Friends & Family II
Hillside Restaurant is open Wednesday through Monday, serving
lunch from noon to 2:30 p.m., and dinner from 4:30 p.m. to
around 9:30 p.m. Sunday brunch is also available from 10:30 a.m.
to 2:30 p.m. Reservations are recommended, especially weekend
nights. The eatery is closed Tuesday. For more information you
may call 626-7777.
©Woodstock Times 2008