Restaurant Review: Sunset Grille (3 Stars)

For fans of authentic Mexican cuisine, this newcomer marks the dawning of a beautiful day.  

Sunrise, Sunset

For fans of authentic Mexican cuisine, this newcomer marks the dawning of a beautiful day.  

 

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What we remember most about our visit to Oaxaca, Mexico, is the warmth and the smiles. From the most humble establishment to the largest, we were greeted by smiles and gestures of welcome that seemed both courtly and familial; dark eyes that sparkled and told us we would be treated as friends.

 

So it was when we walked into the Sunset Grille, a new Mexican restaurant in White Plains that’s housed in the space formerly occupied by Gedney Grille. General Manager Don Emilio Martinez has infused the restaurant with the same energy we found in Oaxaca: cross the threshold and you are now a friend who will be treated with care, pride, and eager hospitality.

 

Take for example, the night we arrived with no reservation and waited in the front area just a few minutes. In that short time, Mr. Emilio managed to chat with everyone in our party and give each of us a taste from the jugs of homemade drinks and juices he keeps at the end of the bar. Soft pink watermelon “lemonade,” a sweetened gentle essence of the melon, is the perfect summer refresher, made daily from strained, puréed fruit. Horchata, a Yucatan specialty made in the kitchen from rice, almonds, and a touch of Mexican cinnamon, tastes like a liquid form of the best rice pudding you’ve ever had; and beautiful pomegranate-colored hibiscus agua fresca was a beguiling combination of tart and floral notes. No sooner had Mr. Emilio treated us to these elixirs than he was giving us yet another to try; his face brightened by a great broad smile of genuine pleasure as he watched our enjoyment. By the time, just a few fast minutes later, we were led to our table, we felt like “friends of the house”—regulars.

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The restaurant consists of three relatively small rooms and a bar area. We dubbed the front room the “party room”—on our visits, it was far livelier and noisier than the others. Whether it was because the tables were closer together or because of the room’s proximity to the busy bar is anybody’s guess, but the other two rooms provided a far more mellow environment.

Wherever you sit and whenever you go, start with the guacamole. This is the stuff of Mexico (not Tex-Mex restaurants!), made classically with perfectly ripe avocado; just the right amount of cilantro, onion, and tomato. You are given a choice of heat levels; on two occasions, we found all the chili at the bottom of the bowl.

 

The guacamole is served with freshly made chips, a big basket of which is brought to every table. They are crisp, lightly salted, perfectly fried (so the oil is barely discernable), and truly taste of sweet corn. These addictive chips are made from Sunset Grille’s corn tortillas, which are, remarkably, homemade from corn ground in-house. A basket of warm corn tortillas is brought with most meals.

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The fare here hails from many regions of Mexico, and on Tuesday nights, a special alternating menu highlights one particular state (or region). Chef Gregory Cortelyou, who has traveled to Mexico and studied the cuisine, credits the interaction with his Mexican kitchen staff for providing much of the authenticity of flavors.

 

An unusual sopa de tortilla may be the result of influences from various regions. This version was surprisingly rich, thick and hearty; the flavors from pasilla chilies and tomatoes were steeped with intriguing complexity. Similarly, mariscos en cazuela, a seafood stew made with guajillo chilies and tomatoes, was also unexpectedly rich. The depth of this dish is an eclectic marriage of land and sea: shrimp, calamari, scallops, clams, and chunks of fish swim in a molten blend of earthy spices, chilies, and fruits.

 

The kitchen seems equally at home with seafood and meat. Grilled marinated skirt steak (bistek a la tampiqueña) tasted of an appealing balance of bright citrus and smoke, and came with enough accompaniments to feed an entire family: a warm, soft and wonderfully gooey cheese enchilada, fresh nopales salad (marinated cacti pads), refried beans, rice, fresh tortillas, and sweet grilled onions.

 

Not every dish and every accompaniment was perfect. Pork chops were overcooked, though treated with a lovely sweet and tangy marinade; a dessert with cinnamon pecan praline was grainy and sweet and lacking in other flavor; and ceviche was made with unpleasantly large chunks of seafood.

 

On the other hand, a masa tasting platter included the aforementioned cheese enchilada with red chili sauce (just as good the second time around); a tamale of shredded chicken tossed with salsa verde enrobed in a thick blanket of silky, spongy masa steamed in a
corn husk; panucho, a tostada-like stack of a soft corn tortillas, shredded lime-marinated chicken, pickled onion, and cotija cheese, which managed to deliver bright citrus, sweet corn, briny pickle, and rich creaminess all in one bite; and a simple classic chicken taco with pico de gallo.

 

Even the salads are special: Caesar salad was delightfully made with cotija cheese and sprinkled with spiced pepitas (pumpkin seeds), and a chopped salad was made with roasted vegetables tossed with light chile-lime vinaigrette.

 

Should you somehow have room, two desserts are especially noteworthy. Crepas de cajeta were served warm and topped with a generous pour of warm, cream-enriched Mexican caramel sauce and toasted almonds and also accompanied by caramel ice cream in a dish that was nearly—but not quite!—an embarrassment of riches. A warm chocolate torte was so moist in the center, just a moment less in the oven and it would have been liquid. And, ever so appropriately for this perfectly focused restaurant, the Kahlúa whipped-cream topping gave the cake a lovely Mexican flourish.

 

SUNSET GRILLE

68 Gedney Way, White Plains

(914) 227-9353

 

HOURS: 

Lunch, Tues. to Fri. 11:30-3 pm

Dinner, Tues. to Fri. 5:30-10 pm; Sat. 5:30-11 pm;

Brunch and dinner, Sun. 11:30-9 pm

 

PRICES:

Appetizers: $7-$11

Entrees: $16-$25

Desserts: $7

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