Great ingredients, simple preparations, flawless executions. need more?
Pound Ridge is another world—a lovely little village with white clapboard churches, stately 19th-century mansions, and the manicured look that comes with money. The jangle of ugly commercial development that has ruined so many American towns has been tightly controlled here. Like Shangri-La, this wealthy community (the 152nd wealthiest in America, if you ask Worth magazine) can only be found if you venture off the main roads.
So it’s a little surprising to learn that in the 19th century, this was “Basket Town,” an industrial center churning out commercial baskets for the Long Island Sound. There, they were packed with ice and oysters in their shell and shipped to market. One factory employed 120 people, according to town lore, and a few other cottage industries, like shirtmaking and shoemaking, also sprang up.
Well, it’s been a long time since anyone in town made baskets for a living. But residents have a link to that time when they eat at the Inn at Pound Ridge, built back in 1833 by Horatio Lockwood. It’s safe to say he wouldn’t recognize his home. Hemlocks and pines have grown up around the white clapboard inn, and a large formal dining room for weddings and large parties has been added to the ground floor. Starting down the stairs, the kitchen is visible through the swinging doors, and the lowly cellar is now a series of intimate rooms with original post and beam construction and stone walls. A thoroughly modern floor-to-ceiling picture window looks out onto a small garden, where the setting sun glows through pine and hemlocks.
The French provincial chairs and white tablecloths make the rustic room fancy enough to justify the prices…but not stuffy. The atmosphere is easy and comfortable, and there are plenty of regulars, including a matron so at home she shared family photos with the maitre d’. Men are still in their business suits, or have changed into chinos, and the women are pretty and well groomed. You might see a few children, but they act like adults.
Butter is already on the table, and a hot roll soon follows. It is unusually good, with a flaky golden crust that’s a little oily on the bottom, popover-style. We perused the wine list, which has a few very nice features. The selection of wines under $30 (under $23, $25, $27 and $30, to be precise) features well made mass-market wines like Columbia Crest and Fetzer. The rest of the list is organized by grape variety, which helps demystify the process, and has maps for areas like Burgundy and Bordeaux. It also has an unusually extensive half-bottle selection—about 10-12 choices each for white and red.
And it’s supported by the knowledge and experience of the maitre d’, who embodies ease with professionalism. He steered us away from two wines and towards the crisp and pleasant Hugel Pinot Blanc ($18 per half-bottle). He confirmed our own choice of a 1996 Pommard from Bouchard Pere & Fils ($27 per half-bottle), whose “bottle age” and bright cherry flavors made it a perfect dinner wine. And when I asked for an ice bucket to bring the temperature down just a hair, he cautioned, quite rightly, “just a few minutes.” It’s really a pleasure to be in the hands of someone who knows his business so well. My one quibble was the cheap Libby glasses; they’re made to last, not to show a fine wine at its best.
We started with an excellent special appetizer: a soft shell crab ($12) deep-fried in a batter until light and crispy, set on a cool bed of baby lettuce, and topped with a dollop of fresh tartar sauce. The warm, meaty crab had a nice crunch to it, and the tartar sauce made a fine dressing for the greens.
A warm goat cheese salad ($8.50) is a charming construction: a handful of exquisitely fresh arugula, lettuce and endive stuffed into an edible “vase”—a cylinder of herbed, oiled and toasted bread—with warm goat cheese at the bottom. This brings a round of “ahs” that are quickly supplanted by puzzlement. How….exactly….to eat it? The solution? Crush the toast cylinder (which breaks all over the plate) and smear the dressing over the greens yourself. Frankly, it’s a mess, and this is “tall food” that should be reconstructed. Other interesting appetizers were: grilled quail with soft polenta and raddichio; and seared yellowfin tuna with baby spinach, sesame vinaigrette and chili oil; and a special risotto that changes daily (all $10).
The philosophy behind the entrÃ©es is to start with great ingredients, keep the preparations simple, and execute them flawlessly. The excellent Colorado rack of lamb ($29.50), a signature dish, is brushed with sweet marinade and grilled so the outside is charred and the inside is a perfect, juicy pink. (When asked how I wanted it done, I said, “whatever way the chef thinks is best”—an instruction that has been getting some very good results.) The full rack rested on chunky mashed potatoes flavored with truffle oil (a little too pungent for me), and the herb-flavored demi-glace was clearly made from scratch. A few butter-covered baby carrots and bright green beans were excellent.
I’ve had many a tough duck, but this Long Island duckling ($25) was tender and moist with a crispy, golden skin that was a pleasure when swirled in the only slightly sweet Grand Marnier demi-glace. The earthy wild rice fell into distinct “grains,” and the spinach that had just the right touch of oil. Other entrÃ©es are: sautÃ©ed chicken breast with artichokes, olive, pancetta, tomatoes, garlic and demi-glace ($22); barbecued Atlantic salmon with jicama slaw and cornbread ($25) and grilled filet mignon with red onion rings and shiitake mushroom sauce ($28.50).
The Inn has an especially nice dessert menu. The first page is devoted to a selection of coffee, espresso, traditional teas, scented and herbal teas, and hot drinks based on coffee, liqueur, and whipped cream. Vin Santo and port is served by the glass ($7-$12) and dessert wines in half-bottles ($28-$30). Small-batch Bourbons are highlighted on the list ($9-$12), but I also noticed a fine selection of expensive Cognac in a cabinet by the bar. We opted for cappuccino ($3.75), which was full-flavored and frothy.
Coconut almond torte ($7.50) was a dense individual yellow cake topped with a scoop of toasted coconut ice cream. Both were packed with flavor and quite tasty, but the two together seemed too rich. Conversely, the dark chocolate espresso cake with a layer of chocolate mousse was not so intense as we hoped. (Oh, people can be so hard to please.) For a lighter dessert, try a trio of sorbets with fresh melon salad or the toasted sweet cornbread with lemon curd and macerated berries.
Now you know how people eat in the 152nd wealthiest community in America. Pretty darn well.
THE INN AT POUND RIDGE
Route 137 North, Pound Ridge
Tue. to Fri. 12-3 pm
Dinner, Tue. to Fri. 6-9 pm, Sat. 6-10 pm, Sun. 5-9 pm