(Pretty) Good Vibrations
Located in upscale Pound Ridge, North Star Restaurant combines a pleasantly laid-back ’60s ambience in the dining room with a decidedly contemporary attitude toward food in the kitchen.
Maybe it’s the guitars hanging on the walls, or the eclectic quotations painted on the soffits (“Hope is a waking dream”—Laertius, and “Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens”—Jimi Hendrix). Or perhaps it’s the Magic 8 Balls sitting on the bar, offering answers to life’s big questions (“Will my portfolio outperform market averages?” “Try again later”).
More likely, it’s just the way it all comes together that gives North Star Restaurant its easygoing, Woodstock-for-grownups vibe. It’s a feel-good atmosphere—not put-on or contrived, just relaxed and relaxing. The people-watching is fun, too. On a recent night, I spotted Cokie Roberts and was told by co-owner Phil Maniatty that Ari Fleischer has been known to come
in and verbally spar with one of the bartenders.
Those are some high-powered folks for a seemingly low-key place. But glance down the right side of the menu, and you’ll see it isn’t quite so low-key after all. The prices are more in keeping with the upscale Pound Ridge locale than with North Star’s laid-back atmosphere. (EntrÃ©es average $25.)
Service is in tune with the casual ambience of the place: our servers were friendly and personable. Normally, I would bristle at a 35-minute wait for my reserved table, but amiable staff—and those Magic 8 Balls at the bar—made the time fly. A charming recitation of the specials on one visit included an unsolicited list of the server’s personal favorites, but it was delivered with such enthusiasm, it made us smile rather than wince.
The menu is stylish and accessible, with a good balance of homey favorites (chicken pot pie and mac ’n cheese) and more contemporary selections like tuna tartare. At its best, the food was well executed and tasty; at times, though, it was disappointing.
A salad described as “arugula and shaved fennel” was tasty enough, with little bits of toasted hazelnut and a light, sweet dressing but, oddly enough, included very little fennel. A white bean-and-roasted-garlic soup, on the other hand, was an olfactory reminder of the allium’s nickname, stinking rose. The soup had a slightly edgy raw-garlic flavor—and aroma.
A crisp golden crust encased each tender piece of fried calamari, which was served with both an agreeably spicy tomato sauce and a metallic-tasting lemon aioli. Similarly, tuna tartare was lightly dressed with soy and sesame oil, and tasted better by itself than when paired with the wasabi-laced sour cream that dressed the plate.
Main courses were also a mixed bag. The deep, earthy flavors of truffle oil and porcini made the rich, creamy wild-mushroom risotto a pleasure from start to finish, while a somewhat tough duck breast was napped with an unrefined sauce with a bitter edge. The duck was accompanied by a smooth and robust blue-cheese bread pudding and a duck-confit spring roll that just cried out for something to give it character.
The accompaniments with a flavorful but chewy steak were better than the steak itself: garlicky spinach went as far with the garlic as possible without crossing the line, and homey mashed potatoes were rich enough to induce guilt. A special of venison chops showed what the kitchen can do with meat: tender, juicy half-inch-thick chops were grilled to perfection and served with a well-balanced wine sauce that had none of the edginess we’d experienced in previous sauces.
Desserts delivered. An individual mascarpone cheesecake was surprisingly light, with a perfect twang
of lemon and a nice, thick graham-cracker crust. And none of us could resist the plate of four big, soft chocolate-chip cookies. But the runaway favorite was the banana crÃªpe, which had all the appeal of bananas Foster with the outrageously luscious addition of Nutella.
While the food here is not perfect, it is the sort of place you love having nearby. The casual warmth, easygoing atmosphere, and accessible menu make it well worth figuring out which dishes to order. Just remember to always save room for dessert.
NORTH STAR RESTAURANT
85 Westchester Ave., Pound Ridge
Mon. to Thurs., 5:30-9:30 pm
Fri. to Sat., 5:30-10:30 pm
Sun., 5-9 pm