Do you know about the Dining Lab at Monroe College in New Rochelle? It’s right there on Main Street, but it’s still a semi-hidden experience, open less than a year, offering a three-course farm-to-table dinner for only $18. The catch—but also part of the fun—is that it’s a training ground for students at the School of Hospitality Management and the Culinary Arts. The modern American menu changes monthly and uses locally sourced ingredients when possible—and the students are absolutely going out of their way to please you.
Oh, astute foodie, you do know about it. Then check out their brand-new, student-run Pastry Kiosk for lunch and dessert. More on that later.
On opening night of the semester, we walked into the elegant, festive dining room and were greeted warmly by a uniformed student; other students clustered at the end of the room, ready for service. There hasn’t been a restaurant as well staffed since Hello, Dolly! The partially open kitchen was a controlled bustle of chef’s whites. The room gradually filled with diners of all stripes, including large parties making toasts with their BYO booze, most people having found out about it through the school.
Would the students be able to handle it? Who needs reality shows with stuff like this going on?
We knew we were in good hands when we tasted the amuse bouche crostini with tomato marmalade and goat cheese dusted with pimento and chives. Our sweet-natured server took our orders, brought plates…but wait! In with grace and tact swoops Professor and Operations Coordinator Patrick Hayes, flipping a spoon here, sliding a plate there, discussing the fine points of forks, with a choreography we’ll no longer take for granted.
After cheers over Fizzy Lizzys, we reached for warm rolls, savory crackers, and breadsticks, all homemade. A starter of butternut squash agnolotti revealed a lovely hint of depth from the addition of chestnut, and we couldn’t get enough of the roasted garlic and Tuscan Pecorino cream sauce. Another starter—flatbread with caramelized Pine Island onions, Gorgonzola, Satur Farms arugula, house-made pancetta, and spiced pumpkin seeds—was as great as anything we’ve had lately. The pine nuts could have been cooked a tad less, I suppose, but we would happily have gone back and had it the next night. Other choices include risotto with saffron, tomato, fennel, leeks, and Manchego; frisée and watercress salad with spiced macadamia nuts, grilled pear, and queso blanco; and Caesar salad, whose tableside preparation was coached nearby. Students are at least midway through their bachelor’s or seniors in the associate’s program, and the school has won hundreds of awards in competition under the leadership of Executive Chef and Dean Frank Costantino.
On to Cajun striped bass with shrimp in gumbo sauce, black bean cake, and greens: the fish delicious, the fluffy black bean cake just a wee bit on the salty side, but both happily sitting on a bed of spinach in a sauce that hit the right note. A Basque-inspired two-style chicken—one piece with smoked paprika, onions, peppers, and tomatoes, another with greens, potatoes, and crisped Serrano ham—might benefit from more distinction between preparations. Some of our food could have been a little warmer. But we’ll cut these chefs-in-training yards of slack—I mean, what could I cook in college, an omelet? Also on the menu are smoke-roast pork loin with tomato poblano sauce and sweet potato, grilled salmon with Catskill honey citrus glaze and cilantro oil, hand-cut pappardelle with lamb ragu, and duck à l’orange with duck confit hash.
Desserts are tasty, creative, and professional. Upside-down cranberry apple crisp with crème fraîche ice cream and caramel is a delight, topped with a dried apple spire. A mocha chocolate mousse pyramid with blood orange sorbet and raspberry sauce, in a creation reminiscent of an Alexander Calder sculpture, is graced with a playful cookie spiral. There’s also chocolate stout spiced cake with poached pineapple, coconut sorbet, and chocolate sauce. Lavazza coffee and Ronnefeldt tea, both program sponsors, are offered for a surcharge (toward expenses, as with the rest of the meal). Try the rooibos cream orange tea, served in a civilized teapot.
Now about that Pastry Kiosk. Not only is there an array of freshly baked cakes, towering tiramisu, tarts, and their ilk, but there’s also lunch: sandwiches, soups, quiche, and flatbread pizzas. Prices are more in keeping with reality but still low: a half sandwich (get the delicious turkey Brie) with a cup of soup or side salad for $5, a small party cake for $10. They even sell their own barbecue sauce. Eat in, at the same dining room (in its casual daytime mode), or take out, Monday through Thursday from 11 to 3.
We walked out through a corridor lined with large historical photographs of New Rochelle. There’s complimentary valet parking, or you can duke it out on the streets. Dinner is served Tuesday through Thursday, with seatings at 6:30, 7, and 7:15—reservations are a must—and the menu changes again on March 3. We’ll be back.
HotDate: Ridge Hill Restaurant Week
Sunday, February 23, through Thursday, March 6
Ridge Hill shopping center, which in the early days of Westchester might have qualified for its own hamletship, is having its own Restaurant Week. Enjoy a three-course prix-fixe dinner for $20.14 at Bonefish Grill, Brio Tuscan Grille, and Havana Central, which also offers a $10.14 lunch; $5 off on $35 or more at Lefteris Gyro; and $10 off dinner at Texas de Brazil (restrictions apply). Stroll around and you’ll also find deals on frozen yogurt at Frannie’s Goodie Shop, a $3.99 smoothie of the day at Smoothie King, and BOGO fresh-baked pizza at Whole Foods from 4 to 7.
HotPlate: HotDog: The Truck Stops Here
It’s not just a glorified hot dog stand you keep passing on this windswept corner of New Rochelle. Stina Provisions is Westchester’s only authorized Sabrett distributor for vendors from Manhattan to Bridgeport, getting its goods from the parent Marathon Enterprises factory in the Bronx. But don’t go there only if you want to open your own hot dog stand. You can get everything from a single prepared dog on up: how about a package of Sabrett pigs in a blanket, or spicy jalapeño franks? Or dirty-water-dog–style onions in sauce? Or a party package, like 24 dogs and rolls with mustard, onions, and kraut for $21.99?
Although the family business has been there for over 30 years, “We’re having an identity crisis,” says owner Steven Coutsourakis. “We had our window painted to show that we’re open to the public. We put up a big sign—it cost $4,000—but Hurricane Sandy and then another storm blew it down.”