There comes a time in every food lover’s life when a restaurant renders him speechless. Le ChÃ¢teau in South Salem is such a place.
Set on 32 wooded acres at the end of a dogwood-lined driveway, Le ChÃ¢teau offers a spectacular view of the Hudson River Valley and whisks you away to the fin-de-siÃ¨cle Westchester of Edith Wharton. Do yourself a favor and arrive before it gets dark. With your imaginary parasol in hand, stroll the grounds leisurely and watch the sun set before dinner.
Legendary financier J.P. Morgan built the 20-room Tudor mansion as a gift to his friend and former minister, William S. Rainsford. Although the mansion was purchased and transformed by current owners Joseph and Monique JaffrÃ© in 1980, Morgan’s original design fortunately has been preserved. Le ChÃ¢teau remains a sensual labyrinth of gorgeous rooms with grand staircases, polished sconces and hand-hewn woodwork, some paneled in chestnut, others in cherry and oak, each with a cozy stone fireplace.
A changing of the guard recently took place in the kitchen of Le ChÃ¢teau. Newly appointed executive chef Mark Uhrik took over the hot spot when Claude Moreau retired in January. Uhrik, a graduate of the Culinary Institute and formerly Moreau’s sous chef, is an astonishing 24 years old. It must have been daunting to replace his award-winning mentor, but, from the looks of it, he is succeeding beautifully.
The marked-up wine list is probably my only quibble with Le ChÃ¢teau. The selection is exceptional but the prices can be inflated. The cellar offers 175 selections, principally from Bordeaux and Burgundy, including “la reserve du ChÃ¢teau,” where a 1961 ChÃ¢teau d’Yquem fetches $1,000. We selected the rather anomalous 1996 ChÃ¢teau Tour Calon from the beautiful village of St. Ã‰milion for a mere $35. Although a bit young, this regional Bordeaux was balanced and surprisingly drinkable.
Le ChÃ¢teau offers a wonderful amalgam of French regional delicacies. The house foie gras ($21), lightly poached and accompanied by toast points and truffle aspic, was exquisite. So were tender escargots ($10.50) simmered with Shiitake mushrooms in a heavenly cream sauce with hints of garlic and Pernod and served in a copper poÃªle Ã frire. Perhaps my favorite appetizer was a rather unique lobster bisque ($7.25), made with lobster stock and studded with enormous pieces of meat from the claw. Other first courses offered include traditional Gaulic specialties such as soupe Ã l’oignon gratinÃ©e ($6.50) and a simple plate of poissons fumÃ©s starring rosy-fleshed salmon as fresh as if plucked from the Loire ($14.50).
A glorious overture was followed by our main courses, which merited even more applause. Mignonettes of veal ($30) were flawless, sautÃ©ed with walnuts and served beneath a luscious Roquefort sauce. A simple rack of lamb roasted to perfection was seasoned with parsley and garlic and served with a purÃ©e of potatoes and chanterelles ($35.50). Filet de boeuf Ã la PÃ©rigourdine ($31.50) was a testament to the ancient region in La Dordogne, that serene and verdant stretch of land in southwestern France that is the place for both succulent truffles and luscious foie gras—the two principal ingredients in sauce PÃ©rigourdine.
If your tastes tend to stray from meats and game, the kitchen offers options for seafood fans, including roasted salmon served on a bed of onion confit with an apple balsamic vinaigrette ($27).
By dessert, I started to lose control of my verbal lexicon. The situation was only exacerbated when a fabulous raspberry soufflÃ© ($9) was placed in front of me. The light mixture had the texture of a cloud; it’s unfortunate that all clouds are not covered in warm raspberry sauce! My companion’s warm pear chestnut charlotte with pecan polenta crisp and crÃ¨me anglaise was also superb ($7.50).
The zealous and formal staff pays heed to the minutest details. Expect lots of attention. So celestial are its charms that Le ChÃ¢teau is indeed the perfect environment to make or accept a marriage proposal. With two banquet managers and its meticulous attention to detail, Le ChÃ¢teau is also the perfect place to get married. There are banquet facilities for up to 175 guests, a bridal suite and several private rooms upstairs.
But Le ChÃ¢teau is not inexpensive. The best things in life rarely are. Several prominent celebrities dine regularly here, among them Paul Newman, Richard Gere and legendary French actress Catherine Deneuve. But fear not; the staff treats every person who walks through its doors like royalty. Expect to enjoy a great meal. Just don’t expect to find the words to adequately describe the experience.
Routes 35 and 123, South Salem
Tue. to Thurs. 5:30-9 pm,
Fri. and Sat. 6 and 9 pm seatings,
Sun. 2-9 pm
Brunch, January through April 11:30 am-2 pm