The Clean Plates Club
A well-traveled chef brings his culinary expertise to Larchmont
What would you do if you’d recently returned from years of traveling to and cooking at Michelin-starred restaurants in France and Italy? Open your own restaurant, of course, an establishment summing up what you’d learned abroad.
And that’s what Chef Matthew Karp and his wife, Wendy Weinstein Karp, did. At recently opened Plates in Larchmont, the handmade pasta and artisanal bread are just a few of the Old-World food traditions Chef Karp shares from his European cooking experiences. And, perhaps not surprising given what he does for a living, Karp, who studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and was on the opening team at New York’s Bouley and was a sous chef at Restaurant Daniel, chose not to display travel photographs in his airy restaurant but instead adorns the walls with plates from the many restaurants at which he’s worked and eaten.
Yet, even though Plates is the ultimate travel tribute, it is rooted in down-home, neighborhood America, just like its Westchester-bred owners. Set in a historic three-story building (constructed at the turn-of-the-century and later home to Larchmont stand-by, Carl’s) and featuring locally sourced ingredients, Plates exudes the hospitality of your friendliest neighbor. The Karps may not have chosen to spend their time nursing their jet-lag, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t invested the hours to ensure that guests can sit back, relax and feel right at home.
The charming white brick building, with its black shutters and black-and-white striped awning, wins your heart on first sight. Surrounded by a park and pond, you breathe in the fresh air and feel as though you could be in the bucolic countryside—even though the restaurant is located across the street from the Larchmont train station.
Immediately upon entering, you’re immersed in style—a sleek black bar presides over the front of the restaurant, where a gaggle of well-dressed singles chat away beneath lovely mood lighting. The back of the room is cozy, with its neutral-toned carpeting, white wainscoting and windows overlooking the green.
Fortunately, the welcome is as impressive as the chic, comfortable atmosphere. When I arrived late for my Saturday night reservation—with two extra adults, and one unexpected infant in tow—the restaurant somehow managed to accommodate us, even though it was packed. And, on my second visit—a weeknight—Plates was happy to welcome me for a humble solo dinner made up of appetizers.
However, beneath the convivial veneer somewhat inefficient service lurks: On Saturday night, although the meal was well paced, the arrival of our dishes was not synchronized, and the staff took a while to clear our plates. Even more confounding, the servers incorrectly distributed our meals.
Nevertheless, the few service flaws are easily overlooked, considering the flavorful and beautifully presented eclectic American fare. Virtually every dish on the frequently changing menu triumphs. Most of the portions are generous, the meat and fish are perfectly cooked, and the innovative side dishes provide apt texture, flavor and visual counterpoints. The moist Pennsylvania farm chicken, with its creamy sweet potato purÃ©e and bright green pumpkin seed mole, is one of the most delicious poultry dishes I have ever tasted. The wild king salmon is paired with braised plums and a rich balsamic and prune reduction, with crunchy fennel for contrast—a masterful juxtaposition. Any criticisms are almost too finicky to mention: too little salt in the broth for a short rib-stuffed cappelletti appetizer and a bit of tough strip loin in the duo of beef entrÃ©e.
The homemade desserts made me swoon—especially the ice cream cake (with dulce de leche, Valrhona chocolate ganache and homemade lady fingers) and the rich coconut custard tart with passion fruit sorbet. And the thoughtful wine list—with 130 international selections, many artisanal and award-winning—includes bottles at every price point.
While the wine tab comes in across the board, the food prices are a bit high (especially when you consider the fact that the servers wear long-sleeved black T-shirts). Yet, this travel tribute is worth the voyage. It’s a long way back from Europe, but the Karps are here to stay. That’s good news for us.
121 Myrtle Blvd., Larchmont
Dinner, Tue. to Sun. 5-11 pm