On a remote corner in North Salem, nestled between bucolic hills and pastoral horse farms, sits Auberge Maxime, one of Westchester’s most intimate and winning restaurants. Hosts Bernard and Heidi Le Bris, who live on the premises, have offered French country cuisine since the restaurant’s inception in 1977. Bernard, a native of Brittany, who passed his formative years perfecting canard pressÃ© at the legendary Tour d’Argent in Paris, has truly created a culinary marvel. This auberge is reminiscent of a country inn; the slopes behind the restaurant lead to a lush garden from which fresh herbs and organic vegetables are picked daily to enrich the exceptional sauces and accompagnements.
With exposed beams and plush chairs, swags of indoor greenery and tuxedo-clad servers, Auberge Maxime is a unique marriage of rustic and elegant. Candles and chandeliers softly light the interior which gives off an overwhelming sense of calm. My companion and I were seated for at least 10 minutes before we became aware of the concerto playing in the distance.
Our table was graced with a simple yet delicious plate of a duck spread and fresh country rolls. The wine list, which unfortunately includes very few selections by the glass, nonetheless offers a magnificent array of Bordeaux and Burgundies. A master sommelier is on hand to guide you through the complex wines ranging from Paulliac to Chassagne-Montrachet and Aloxe-Corton. While the California varietals are not exactly up to par with their French counterparts, it can hardly be held against Bernard and Heidi since French wine—and French cuisine—is indeed the name of the game at Auberge Maxime.
We began with a glass of chilled Pastis, then the sommelier suggested a 1996 Volnay from the esteemed House of Drouhin ($75) that served as a delightful companion to our meal.
For an appetizer, traditionalists will be pleased by the escargots served with chanterelles ragout and garlic butter ($10.50) or the delicious nuances of the old-fashioned onion soup chablisienne ($8). More adventurous diners will be impressed by the shrimp, apple and raisin salpicon stewed in a subtle curry veloutÃ© ($10.50). Special appetizers are created daily; the aumÃ´niÃ¨re or “beggar’s purse,” grilled shrimp and mushrooms lavished with poached oysters, cÃ¨pes, scallops and lobster reduction sauce ($12) on the night we dined was a gastronomic masterpiece.
In case the pressing machine discreetly seated at the end of the mahogany bar do not convince you, rest assured: duck is always in season at Auberge Maxime. Although the traditional pressed duck, so divinely executed and presented by Bernard himself, requires an advance notice of 48 hours, the dinner menu offers a selection of no less than six exquisite duck dishes ($25 each), ranging from the classic canard Ã l’orange to more avant-garde options such as roasted duck with sundried blueberries or cherries medley. The duck confit, served atop a bed of red cabbage and haricots verts, was nothing short of succulent. We watched in amazement as the duck fell off the bone with only the delicate touch of a fork. Chef Bernard also offers less innovative dishes such as sea bass ($24), but those who opt against the duck are clearly missing the boat.
While desserts include a variety of homemade fruit sorbets ($8), the truly indulgent will adore the hot soufflÃ©, garnished with your choice of raspberry, Grand Marnier, apricot or chocolate sauce ($12). What a sumptuous finale to an extraordinary dining experience!
Those who wish to linger after plates have been cleared should be impressed by the enormous selection of digestifs, including Armagnac and several fine vintage ports.
During our meal, Chef Bernard made more than one appearance in the dining room, stopping at each table while his wife and daughter, smiling, followed behind him, clearing plates and offering advice. Heidi will be more than happy to give you a tour of the private dining room en bas, and the adjoining terraces and grounds are perfect for a June wedding. The waiters are attentive and informative, yet delightfully unobtrusive. Remarkably, Auberge Maxime is devoid of pretense. It feels as though you are dining in the home of a good friend, albeit one with impeccable taste and an award-winning chef.
721 Titicus Rd. (Rtes 116 & 121), North Salem
Lunch, 12-2:30 pm every day but Wed.
Dinner, from 5:30 pm every day but Wed.
Main selections: $21-$29
The chef will also prepare a menu de dÃ©gustation for two for $75