From Finch Fries to Fine Food
With a chef who turns out near genius dishes in a beautifully restored 19th-century manor, actor Stanley Tucci’s newest “production” in Croton shows great promise.
In Stanley Tucci’s movie Big Night, a temperamental genius of a chef schemes to get patrons into his restaurant. In Stanley Tucci’s new venture, Finch Tavern, patrons may soon need a scheme to get into his restaurant. Chef Steven Santoro, who has cooked at La CÃ´te Basque in Manhattan, may or may not be temperamental but, on a recent Sunday, his food was pretty near genius.
In fact, the whole place is a prodigy. Drive past the neon glare of a Sunoco station and the 19th-century manor looms like a ship gliding out of the fog, a colonial vision of pilastered front porch, lacquered shutters and crowning cupola. I forgot about dinner in a sudden craving for a canopied bed, claw-footed tub and crackling fire. But reason—and appetite—resumed with a step inside. There was some confusion about where our friends had been seated, the upside being a tour through the lively cherry-paneled bar and an intimate dining alcove before locating them in the large, refined dining room. Large yes, but deceptively so, refashioned by upholstered dividers into a cocoon of placid color, wainscoting and soft recessed light. An expanse of picture windows dominates one wall; murals of horses and landscapes the others. We’re feeling pampared and indulged, and we’re ready to be fed.
One look at the menu and we know we will be fed well—and drink well. The wine list offers many selections, particularly by the glass, and one innovation: two-ounce “tastings” averaging about $3. So you can have that Australian
And things just keep getting better. A salad of roasted pears is a symphony of flavors: concentrated, tender pear, smoky Serrano ham, pungent Gorgonzola and crisp greens anchored by a
But imperfections lurked in the midst of all this glory: whole-grain bread more Freihofer than fabulous, plates that needed warming to keep food from quickly cooling, busboys who removed plates while others were still eating. I had to ask for a knife to hunker into a carnivore’s nirvana of boar, pigeon and venison (a special), ordered quiveringly rare, of course, and buttressed by forest treasures of wild mushroom duxelles and roasted chestnuts. Beef short ribs and veal shoulder, both braised, were just as hearty and tender, the ribs flush from their red wine bath, scented with garam masala and robed in fall vegetables; the veal lounged on its creamy Parmesan polenta bed attended by cipollini onion ragu and Tuscan kale.
If the menu hadn’t stated Atlantic (read farmed) salmon, I would have sworn it was wild; the flavor was as deep and rich as any I’ve tasted. Stir-fried mushrooms and baby bok choy matched earthiness to sea, and a soy/lime/honey glaze sent it soaring.
Were my stomach larger, I would have gone for the Hudson Valley selection of artisanal cheeses, but a selection of desserts had to do. Consolation should always be this sweet—though it would have been sublime had the tarts been warm instead of tepid. (Note to the kitchen: warm those plates.) The gently caramelized apple galette was offset by tart cranberries and a cloche of vanilla ice cream; the same ice cream was a soothing companion to the crunch of the caramel nut tart with its velvety poached pear.
And then there was the trifecta, an indulgence of apricot almond tart (warm, yes!), a tuile cradling cherry sorbet and a pillow of flan cheescake ribboned with orange caramel.
A winning ticket if there ever was one, just like Finch Tavern seems destined to be.
592 Route 22, Croton Falls
Lunch, Tue. to Sat. 11:30 am-2:30 pm
Dinner, Tue. to Thurs. 5:30-10 pm, Fri. to Sat. 5:30-11 pm, Sun. 5-9 pm
Bar: Tue. to Sat. 5:30-12 pm, Sun. 5-10 pm