As an inveterate carnivore, I was skeptical about what I’d find researching, and sampling, for this article. What I found were flavors, combinations, and creativity that left me vacillating between impressed and elated, and always wishing there were seconds. I still love you, pork belly and rack of lamb, but you definitely have some serious competition.
Warm Beets and Goat Cheese in Fig-Balsamic Glaze
There’s beet salad, then there’s Mint’s beet salad.
Mint Premium Foods (19 Main St, Tarrytown 914-703-6511)
Roasted beet and goat-cheese salad—everyone makes it, right? Maybe. But not like Hassan Jarane. The chef/owner at the recently relocated Mint finishes his roasted beets with a splash of muscatel vinegar, and then crumbles on his goat cheese—swathed in cinnamon-rubbed dried cranberries—for a soft, tangy cloak. There’s a finishing fig-balsamic glaze, a hail of honey-roasted pecans, and it’s all atop a bed of greens tossed with lemongrass and ginger.
Ricotta Gnudi with Ramps, Almonds, Fava Beans, and Mushrooms
Moderne Barn (430 Bedford Rd, Armonk 914-730-0001; modernebarn.com)
Chef Ethan Kostbar’s cooks labor two days to make these gnudi, but their effort is our reward. To savor these ethereal ricotta pillows with a gentle sauté of springtime’s ramp/mushroom/fava trinity—all sauced with butter, moistened with pasta water, and dusted with Parmesan and toasted almonds—is to reap the benefits of time, patience, and consummate skill. (Summer’s version will feature roasted corn, chanterelles, basil, and sunflower seeds.)
Pickled Watermelon, Tomato, and Herbed Goat Cheese Salad
Iron Horse Grill (20 Wheeler Ave, Pleasantville 914-741-0717; ironhorsegrill.com)
Summertime, and the cooking is easy. Or, in some cases, nonexistent. At Iron Horse Grill, that’s no detriment. Take Chef/Owner Philip McGrath’s greenmarket fiesta of golden teardrop tomatoes, fuchsia watermelon, and snowy, herb-flecked chèvre baubles. The bite-sized globes are offset by fronds of chive and a crescent of almond puff pastry, then dressed with melon water, olive oil, Champagne vinegar, and cracked black pepper. Simple—and simply sublime.
Photo by John Coutsakis
Chef Sterling Smith’s vegetarian moussaka at Neméa makes you forget the dish traditionally has a ground-beef component.
Neméa Greek Taverna (599 E Boston Post Rd, Mamaroneck 914-698-6600; nemeataverna.com)
There are moussakas as done by the Greeks, the Turks, and the Balkans; a wizard does this one. Formed in a ring mold, Chef Sterling Smith’s version appears as a banded soufflé, its layers of grilled red bell pepper, zucchini, eggplant, spinach, ramps, and roasted potato a color-wheel swirl, its crown a golden puff of soymilk béchamel. Did I mention the lemon confit and nutmeg that amp up that béchamel? The pooling sheen of tomato sauce? This moussaka has flavors as deep as the Aegean, and visuals as lovely as its isles.
Harper’s Bar & Restaurant (92 Main St, Dobbs Ferry 914-693-2306; harpersonmain.com)
Don’t let the name of this dish fool you. Robust flavors characterize Chef Chris Vergara’s cooking, and this dish is a killer. Assorted organic mushrooms are butter-poached, and then sautéed in olive oil; shallots are caramelized; the pan is deglazed with Madeira; then it’s all spooned atop a slab of grilled country bread. Add a layer of Gruyère oozing from the broiler and finally a gently fried egg beneath a blizzard of minced herbs. A drizzle of Madeira reduction and the dish is finished—I grabbed my fork, and within minutes, it was.
Zitoune’s Berber couscous is replete with vegetables, herbs, spices, and harissa, a North African hot sauce made from chili peppers, paprika, and olive oil.
Zitoune (1127 W Boston Post Rd, Mamaroneck 914-835-8350; zitounerestaurant.com)
Take seven mostly root vegetables, five herbs and spices, three-hours-long-cooked couscous, and one couscousière (a large double-boiler), and you’ve got just the preliminaries of Chef/Owner Alain Bennouna’s Moroccan phenomenon. To finish, stir the fiery depth of harissa into the accompanying cooking liquid elixir, spoon it over vegetables arranged like wheel spokes atop a gleaming couscous hubcap, and indulge in a dish worth crossing the Sahara for.
Masala Kraft Cafe (206 E Hartsdale Ave, Hartsdale 914-722-4300; masalakraftcafe.com)
“There’s nothing like Indian street food,” claims Masala Kraft owner Bela Mehta, and, after sampling several of her recreations, I believe her. Palak, the cumin-scented spinach purée, comes close, but the Chana Bhatura is a spice-laden swoon. Chickpeas pureed with curry: no big deal, right? Not in Bela’s hands. Her curry plays like a symphony: ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, toasted cumin, and amchoor—ground from unripe mango—form the string section alone. Brass resounds with garlic, onion, and red chili. Add the counterpoint of ethereally puffed, fried bhatura bread, and it all becomes operatic.
Gem Cuisines of China (1828 Central Ave, Yonkers 914-361-1500; gemchineserestaurant.com)
In China, cuisine is as revered as religion, and sometimes it is religion. This dish is a case in point. According to Gem owner Paul Chou, Buddhist monks, compelled not to harm anything living, would conceal their vegetables within a tofu skin wrapper. For them, dogma; for us, pleasure. Chou’s bundles bulge with three types of mushrooms, shredded burdock root, cabbage, and bamboo shoots, all sautéed then rolled up in a tofu sheet. The packages are quickly deep-fried, simmered in broth, and placed on a bean-sprout bed, the broth spooned over. Nirvana.
Food Writer Diane Weintraub Pohl is a regular contributor to Westchester Magazine. Her work recently has appeared in Parents and Vivmag.com. She reports that, although this assignment was revelatory, she will not be giving up bacon anytime soon.