A Swan in the Making
Dining well at Il Cigno in Scarsdale is a matter of timing.
We all have our good and bad (or at least, not-so-good) days. The same goes for restaurants, including Il Cigno in Scarsdale. On a Tuesday evening, I was ready to extol its virtues to anyone who would listen. But on a Saturday night, it was a different story: chaotic service and some bland food. Of course, a faster pace on weekends is not unusual for a restaurant. On busy nights, it’s challenging for cooks to show the same care and attention to every dish that leaves the kitchen. Such a discrepancy should, however, impact your planning: be sure to try Il Cigno, but perhaps on a weeknight.
On a Tuesday evening, the service was pleasant—and flawless. Our waiter impressed us with his honesty by advising us to opt for the least expensive pasta appetizer and only one dessert. And he charmed us with his jokes and anecdotes. On a Saturday night, however, though we were heartened by the staff’s friendliness and warmth, we were nonplussed by the frenetic, disorganized service.
Not everything about Il Cigno is inconsistent. Fortunately, now that it is under new ownership (it was re-opened in June of 2004 by Hartsdale natives Jamie Steinthal and her boyfriend, CIA-trained chef Christopher Vergara), the restaurant’s sophisticated and lovely atmosphere is a constant. Though the restaurant is located in a strip mall, thanks to a major renovation, the interior of Il Cigno now “looks like a Restoration Hardware catalog,” according to one of my dining companions.
Like its dÃ©cor, Il Cigno’s menu and wine list—previously exclusively Italian—were revamped and modernized when the current owners came on board. Nevertheless the food, has a split personality.
On Tuesday night, our meal was exemplary. The pappardelle (flat, long, and wide noodles) with cinghiale (wild boar) was rustic, earthy, and rich, with a Parmigiano Reggiano-laced sauce made with braised meat, tomatoes, and herbs. The mammoth veal Milanese balanced the crispiness and saltiness of breaded, pan-fried veal cutlets with the freshness of greens, tomato, and endive coated in a light, flavorful vinaigrette. Similarly, the grilled poussin (young chicken) with
roasted peppers and sweet-and-sour onions, was an absolute knockout. The chicken boasted charred skin and a moist interior, and the perfumed onions served as an apt condiment.
On Saturday night, however, many of the dishes cried out for more salt, especially the carrots and the herbed risotto accompanying the lamb shank. And the tender, well-braised lamb could have also used more sauce. Fortunately, our hanger steak was seared a perfect medium-rare and came blanketed in a flavorful sauce of red wine and meat drippings. The accompanying caramelized onions and sautÃ©ed mushrooms added sweet and nutty notes.
While appetizers and entrÃ©es were hit-or-miss, dessert couldn’t have been more consistent, or heart-stopping. Nestled in a pool of crÃ¨me anglaise, the velvety slab of pistachio semifreddo (partially frozen custard) was imbued with the flavors of pistachio and amaretto cookies—a fabulous pairing. The tiramisu offered the perfect balance between bitter espresso and sweet, creamy mascarpone, while the white-and-dark chocolate-studded bread pudding was moist on the inside and crispy and golden brown on the outside. Heaven!
Such positive dishes are not a rarity at Il Cigno. By ironing out weekend service and carefully monitoring seasoning on busy nights, every day will be a good day for this restaurant.
1505 Weaver St., Scarsdale
Lunch, Tue. to Fri. 12-3 pm
Dinner, Tue. to Thurs. 5:45-10 pm, Fri. and Sat. 5:45-11pm, Sun. 5-9 pm
Appetizers: $8-$13 (lunch and dinner)
Entrees: $9-$18 (lunch)
Entrees: $18-$27 (dinner)
Desserts: $8.50 (lunch and dinner)