By Ron Fassler . . .

Todd Almond, singer-songwriter and notable member of the current Broadway cast of Bob Dylan’s Girl from the North Country (where he performs a violent and unforgettable song in Act II), was a pleasurable discovery as to what a genial, friendly and convivial host he could be at Chelsea Table + Stage.

His laid-back nature was infectious and it felt like the audience happily went along for the ride every step of the way. Mostly singing his own compositions, they ranged from short and sweet, to long and complicated. With one in particular, Almond’s inner Billy Joel came out to play much to the audience’s delight. But for the most part, he radiated a quality with no artifice and no need to sell anything. For much of the time (and this is meant as a high compliment), I thought a lot about Harry Chapin’s folk-pop songwriting and performing. Even if that dates me, I’ll stick with it as Chapin was a fine songwriter and it felt, at times, that Almond was channeling him.

With the holidays upon us, about half of the music chosen was Almond’s own, much of it with a decidedly Christmasy feel. This is due to his new digital album from Ghostlight Records, “A Pony for Christmas,” where all of his songs from this show (and more) may be heard. At Chelsea Table + Stage, he was backed by a strong band utilizing many different instruments, from a mandolin to a harp to a ukulele, as well as wood blocks and a shaker. For the most part, Almond accompanied himself on the piano, with occasional and charming vocal back up from Erin Hill, who also played a fierce harp. Credit as well should be extended to Eric Halvorson (drums), Peter Sachon (cello), Matt Beck (guitar) and Jeremy Chatzky (bass). They made a terrific sound.

Oh, and for good measure, Almond’s special guest was Betty Buckley, a certified Broadway legend, who lent her ethereal presence to the evening. Singing his “Moon Over Nebraska” and joining for a sweet finale of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” Ms. Buckley was heaven sent, a lovely omen for a 2022.

One of the newer venues in Manhattan for exceptional food and entertainment, Chelsea Table + Stage’ location in the heart of Chelsea’s fashion district provides both easy access and an elegantly relaxed ambiance.

Situated at the Hilton Hotel at 152 West 26th Street, a stylish staircase takes you down to a long stretch of a room with a stage situated in the middle. The lighting design is soothing on the eyes and once the show began, the acoustics proved excellent. The wait staff was not only efficient, but friendly and attentive, and the food was exceptionally pleasurable.

Talking food – – for an appetizer, I highly recommend the kale salad, which contained a sweet, creamy and roasted delicata squash, pumpkin and pomegranate seeds and ricotta salata (white flakes), topped with a maple dijon vinaigrette. It made for a Christmas-like presentation (green, red and white) and I couldn’t have liked it more. For a main course, the petit filet was grilled to a perfect medium rare, accompanied by cipollini onions, king trumpet mushrooms, baby artichoke and black garlic. A tasty chimichurri sauce, consisting of chopped fresh parsley, oregano, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and red pepper flakes, was as good as it gets.

After the show, I was invited to experience Sandbar, the rooftop oasis atop the Hilton. Designed as a “beach escape for all seasons,” the website accurately describes its “beach décor with whimsical touches like lifeguard chairs, hanging lounges, and swings created from reclaimed wine barrels.” I’m here to attest that it’s fun! The service is excellent and seated under a view of a beautifully lit Empire State Building couldn’t have been improved upon. A nice spot to unwind and appreciate Manhattan at night in all its glory.

And with that, here’s a toast to a New Year filled with beautiful song and great food. Keep in mind that both are available at Chelsea Table + Stage. Future programming may be perused at their website: