What it lacks in style, this Italian eatery in Sleepy Hollow makes up for in substance
Today’s new restaurants tend to want to dazzle with decorative bells and whistles, over-the-top menu choices and esoteric or merely eccentric ingredient combinations.
Carlos’ Place, an Italian eatery in a residential section of Sleepy Hollow, eschews pretense and instead puts all of its energy into simply prepared dishes and old-fashioned hospitality.
Owner Carlos De Agustini, a Uruguay native, greets every customer with a welcoming smile, a friendly nod or handshake and, in the case of repeat customers, a warm kiss on the cheek (a gesture I witnessed on each of my three visits).
Carlos’ Place is plain, neat and simple. The earth-tone walls are adorned only with movie posters, and modest cafeteria-style chairs mingle with more formal tables and place settings. All are attended by vested servers.
In keeping with the informal tone of the restaurant, there is no wine list, only affable Carlos, rushing down a tiny corridor to a small bar in an adjoining room and returning with an armful of bottles. One evening, my dining companion, Jeff the Chef, and I enjoyed a robust bottle of ruby red 1997 Uggiano Chianti; on another occasion, it was a glass of the Chilean Cabernet Concha y Toro.
The appetizers are mostly seafood selections and classic Italian insalate (Caesar, grilled portobello, fresh mozzarella), but the best starters were evening specials. I had to guard an arugula salad with mandarin oranges, red onion, red pepper and a creamy Dijon dressing from my dining companions, and the baked artichoke hearts, seasoned with a light sprinkling of breadcrumbs, required a second order. More care should have been taken, however, with the dull seafood salad of shrimp, scungilli and calamari, overloaded with lemon juice and almost as white as a snow bank. Another misfire was the grilled portobello and mixed green salad; a few turns of the fork unearthed a salt mine.
Carlos’ Place bills itself as a Northern Italian bistro, yet there is an absence of such Northern staples as polenta and risotto. Instead, the starches accompanying entrÃ©es are boiled red potatoes—a strange choice.
Consistent with Northern Italian tradition, however, is Carlos’s fearless use of cream, and in no dish is it better utilized then in the penne vodka, the standout pasta entrÃ©e. All the dish needed was a few turns of the pepper mill and a few slices of seeded Italian bread to mop a path through the luscious sauce. A lobster ravioli special (four plump ravioli supporting a bundle of sweet, stewed tomatoes and mini chunks of lobster) and rigatoni amatriciana (spicy tomato sauce with bacon, onion and garlic) were other solid pasta dishes.
Of the non-pasta items, breaded veal topped with tomato, mozzarella cubes and arugula fared well (aided by a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil), as did the chicken scarpariello, juicy boneless chicken chunks, sautÃ©ed onions and hot cherry peppers in a white wine-garlic sauce, with Italian sausage slices. The sausage, however, proved to be one ingredient too many. Pass on the red snapper livornese, a sautÃ©ed filet that was overwhelmed by too briny olives and capers and a heavy ladle of tomato sauce. Another disappointment was the veal martini; while the dressing was respectable—a delicate white wine-lemon sauce—it couldn’t rescue the tough, Parmesan-encrusted veal.
The decision of whether to kick your diet for one night and splurge on dessert is made easy; a plate of thin cake slices includes slivers of cheesecake, raspberry cake, chocolate cake and, the best, pistachio cake.
Carlos’ Place has some minor flaws. The owner incorrectly described the Pernod sauce in a sea bass special as mint-flavored (it’s licorice), and the recitation of specials rattled on so long, I could have used a laptop to keep track of the options. On the dÃ©cor front, a curtain is needed to hide the main entryway, which looks out onto the parking lot, and an open breaker switch glares out from one wall like a robot’s innards. But overall, Carlos’ Place works, and perhaps one of the best indicators of its success are the nattily dressed crowd and polished cars in the adjacent parking lot. These are folks who have driven through cramped streets and sought out a less-than-sexy destination in a not-so-sexy part of Sleepy Hollow. Why? Not to see and be seen, but to partake in a traditional dining experience and for a kiss and a handshake from a genial owner.
60 Clinton Street, Sleepy Hollow
Lunch by reservation only for parties of six or more
Dinner, Mon. to Fri 5-10 pm, Sat. 5-11 pm