Bistro 12, across from the glorious Tarrytown Music Hall, has been open for almost a year, but apart from last summer’s rave review in the New York Times, we haven’t heard much about it. It sits quietly among the Main Street restaurants, with an unassuming Mediterranean menu, upscale species. I’d been mildly curious about it since it opened, and belatedly got around to visiting today. What was the most impressive part of the meal? A soul-satisfying side dish of sautéed onions, with paper-thin slices of browned garlic. Only a place with heart can do that well.
Not that everything else wasn’t pleasing. I’m thinking especially of a tangle of tagliolini heaped over a pool of sage and butter sauce, festooned with black truffle shavings and laced with minced shallots. Salmon that rivaled any I’ve had, with tender roast potatoes (although accompanied by an unexciting zucchini carrot mix). The artichoke gratiné and lemon sauce on the veal scalloppini, and the rosemary-scented stuffing in the baked clams. Velvety, dense flan. And molotoff: a Portuguese meringue so named because it expands as it cooks. Described on the menu as a “unique meringue,” it’s lighter than angel food cake, airier than pudding, and deserves an extra helping of its divine caramel sauce.
Owned by three longtime friends from the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira, the restaurant in spirit fills the void left by Lago Di Como a few years ago and more recently Caravela, one of whose owners, José Manuel Gonçalves Pereira, is an owner here. The mustard-colored walls fairly vibrate with evocative paintings of Madeira by another owner, Luis Miguel Rodrigues, formerly of Polpo in Greenwich. The third owner, Ricardo Brito, owned Sol Mar, which used to be here. These fellows are also your accommodating servers, one making up for the occasional gruffness of another. The guitar music soundtrack they’ve chosen (as guitarists themselves), from flamenco to Fado, is festive and romantic without being obtrusive. Chef Carlo Appoloni hails from Sicily, and the menu’s inspirations are mainly Italian and Portuguese. Desserts, house-made, are inspired by the owners’ families and travels.
This is the place for a mellow, distinguished meal, with white tablecloths and dark wood paneling. This is your older European cousin who’s classy, well dressed, and knows what’s good, even if he isn’t into trends. He has a nice leather wallet. Is pure quality enough these days, or do you need more flash and buzz—not to mention a few discounts—to succeed? At lunch on a weekday, our reservation was superfluous, but on show nights at the Music Hall, I imagine it’s a different story.
There’s always been room for places like this, but there are many choices in the area. If you’re curious about it too, keep in mind that there’s more here than meets the eye: a page of specials in effect doubles the regular menu. Starters are reasonably priced, and if your entrée is on the expensive side (they top out at $30 for grilled filet mignon), there are a dozen appealing wines by the glass to help you out (as well as cocktails, very good sangria, and bottled beer). And the side dishes, one of the delights of a Mediterranean menu—those onions, sautéed mushrooms, escarole—always help extend a meal. A backyard patio comes alive for large parties in spring and fall.
I didn’t traverse the county looking for arancini, though that would be just like me. No, these breadcrumb-coated fried rice balls just seemed to roll onto my plate wherever I went this week. I bellied up to the counter at Blackboard Pizza Shop, across the street from Iona College in New Rochelle, and those suckers were just waiting there, the size of regulation softballs. Little Gino’s Risotto Balls were delivered to the table halved, all sticky risotto inside, stick-to-the-foil goodness on the outside, with homemade tomato sauce. That plus a cup of Italian wedding soup (the soup of the week) made a very nice lunch.
A few days later I was at the architecturally striking Moderne Barn in Armonk, and guess what? More rice balls, as part of a lunch special—they’ve gone haute. Five golf-ball-sized saffron arancini were teed up on a rectangular plate, each resting on a dab of pimentón aioli. They were tender and yellow inside, and politely fought over.
On the weekend I ended up at Arrosto in Port Chester, without having had a chance to analyze the menu beforehand (what ever happened to spontaneity?), when “arancini” hit my eye like a big piece of pie among the starters. Could I? Should I? Well, maybe just for comparison purposes. After all, these were filled with Bolognese sauce, peas, and mozzarella. They arrived adorably in a miniature fryer basket—what is it with places and their miniature cooking equipment these days?—piled up like so many croquet balls, sprinkled with grated Parmesan and chopped parsley. These were the moistest yet, with just a touch of the fillings mixed in to lend a subtle, earthy flavor.
Which were best? The ones at Moderne Barn, but it’s partly a matter of which flavors you like. Considering I used to find these only at an Italian deli, we’re drowning in balls—and I’m sure I’ll come across more soon.
HotPlate: Eggplant Wedge with Bocconcini, Roasted Peppers, and House Dressing at Johnny’s PIzzeria in Mount Vernon
It’s listed as a cold “wedge”—that’s a submarine sandwich, not a doorstop, for you nonnatives. But don’t be surprised if you find the roll a little bit warm and crusty.
The inside of that roll is splashed, top and bottom, with house dressing punctuated with herbs. If the sandwich drips, well, that’s what napkins are for.
Layers of very thin, delicately battered fried eggplant, made the same way since the place opened in 1942, are topped with sautéed roasted red peppers and overlapping slices of bocconcini. “That’s fresh mozzarella, dear,” the waitress informs me. Yes, I know. Bring it on.