One of the most eagerly awaited restaurant launches of the year is imminent. Bia, Kyle Kelley’s Irish-fusion outpost located in the former Puccini space in Rhinebeck, is finally set to open its doors at the first week of June. If you missed all the hubbub, the fuss is about what Rich Reeve, formerly of Elephant, will be doing with Irish food in the kitchen. At Elephant, Reeve developed a cult following around his experimental tapas and impressive-yet-affordable wine list. After a dozen-year run, the Kingston institution closed in March of last year (making way for chef Chris Turgeon’s much-lauded Wilde Beest).
A few weeks ago, I was able to sample the fare Reeve will be serving at Bia (a fancy Gaelic word for nourishment) at a sneak preview dinner. Out of the gate, one of the first things to note is that Reeve is making his own bread for (complimentary) bread service. These are Irish-style “quick breads” made with beer that have a delightful cake-y quality. Paired with grass-fed Irish butter (topped with toasted seaweed), the combination is a balanced mix of sweet and savory with a hint of umami.
The first course was salmon, cured in Earl Grey tea and served with crème freche, dilled cucumbers, and caviar. The tea curing was ever-so-slightly detectable in the fish, imparting a smoky quality that plays well with the creamy/salty of the crème fraiche and caviar. Next up was Rohan duck breast in a port/duck jus reduction served with a savory pear tart made with Cashel blue cheese. This is the type of dish Reeve steered away from at Elephant: heavily sauced, loads of competing elements, a lot happening on the plate. In lesser hands, the dish might have been conflicting and chaotic, but Reeve kept the flavor profiles tight and the dish worked.
The final dish was an old Irish variation on Lobster Thermidor known as a Dublin Lawyer, a decadent dish that omits mushrooms but adds whiskey—probably something thought up by a soused Irish esquire. Reeve’s dish is basically a lobster gratin with whiskey and cream and succeeds in the way of all winning gratins—with creamy luxuriousness, spiked with pops of lobster. (To whet your appetite, here is a sample menu.)
Having spoken with Reeve about his menu and now eaten some of what will be on offer at Bia, it’s clear that this is a real departure from Elephant. Bia’s fare is old-school, straight-ahead, quasi-continental cuisine—upscale Irish food—which, to be frank, doesn’t conceptually excite the culinary adventurer in me. What will undoubtedly keep me going back to Bia time and again will be the flawless execution Reeve brings to all his dishes.