It would be easy to write off chef Peter Kelly’s newest restaurant, X2O Xaviars on the Hudson, as a guaranteed success—after all, everything this culinary King Midas touches seems to turn to gold. But that would be discounting the real guts behind the venture. At 13,000 square feet, with a large event space, a private wine cellar dining room, and an independent cocktail and sushi bar—X2O is the most ambitious Kelly restaurant yet, requiring a multi-million-dollar investment. In fact, so far, X2O is the biggest restaurant investment to hit the Yonkers’ waterfront. There is no precedent here for a restaurant of X2O’s stature. The Million Dollar Question seems to be: will there be enough deep-pocketed diners trekking to Yonkers to support such an ambitious investment?
As expected, Kelly is working double-time to make it work. Each time we visited, Kelly warmly greeted each table. This restaurant is the ideal showcase for this Yonkers-born chef whose career has always hugged the Hudson. Its large rectangular space juts out over the river to afford stunning views west of the Palisades, north to the Tappan Zee, and south to the George Washington Bridge and Manhattan. Glass walls ring the room, which, after sunset, can become quite dark. To compensate, the decor and lighting is bright, and is focused on a vaulted and trussed ceiling, massive breeze-blown modernist chandeliers, and giant floral arrangements.
The food at X2O is almost uniformly stunning. Appetizers are weighted toward the sea, with a bonito sashimi being a particular winner. Here, thin slices of the strongly flavored small tuna were paired with a bright, palate-clearing side of pickled daikon radish and seaweed. The result was briny, tart, sweet, and perfect. My spaghetti alla chitarra (cut on a “guitar,” or wire-strung frame, rather than extruded) arrived perfectly cooked and springy, with lush chunks of lump crabmeat and melted scallions (though the grissini bridging the bowl were a bit steam-sodden). Our ravioli with short ribs were more like potstickers, chock full of mouth-slicking, well-reduced short rib shreds and their own protein-rich gélée. The slightly bitter and wet broccoli rabe that accompanied the dish was, again, its ideal palate-cleaning foil.
Our only slight disappointment came with what was described as a fennel and arugula salad: there was way more arugula than fennel, it wasn’t well tossed (there was a large knot of fennel in the center), and the Fourme d’Ambert cheese was straight-from-the-fridge cold. No cheese, particularly blue, should be served at this temperature, though we did love the salad’s port-poached figs.
This slight misstep was immediately corrected with our mains. My favorite was a crispy duck schnitzel with red cabbage, duck confit spaetzle, and glazed turnips. The dish showed Kelly’s out-of-the-box thinking at its best: duck is the perfect choice for this traditional preparation, which usually is made with mushy, flavorless, milk-fed veal. The flattened magret’s near beefiness, in contrast, stood up to the breading and was greaseless and truly crispy. As good as it was, it couldn’t beat its own side of duck confit spaetzle, which was truly, mind-blowingly delicious—the spaetzle firm and flavorful, the confit soulful, the whole perfectly cooked and seasoned. I seriously considered pulling an “Oliver!” and asking for more, though X2O’s portions are huge.
While the duck schnitzel was hard to beat, a mignon of Berkshire Black hog with grilled bacon was almost better. The scent of smoky, grill-seared bacon made our mouths water as the plate was dropped, and its scent was not deceptive—this was epic bacon, respectfully laid on two medallions of pinkly juicy pork tenderloin, all in a pool of perfectly-matched gingered sweet-potato purée and buttery, mild, rosemary and apple condiment.
Kelly is a master of accompaniments, and you’ll never find a dull plate-filler alongside one of his mains. Our delicious, seared-pink and juicy squab, for instance, came with voluptuously buttery white corn and cheddar grits. Meanwhile, the perfectly cooked striped bass with sweet curry came with addictive coriander-roasted cauliflower florets. And, obviously, we’ll never get over that duck confit spaetzle.
Desserts are worth saving room for at X2O. My favorite was a savory spoonful of Epoisses paired with Petit Basque and dried fruit compote—all served at proper temperature. For sweets, I loved the old fashioned Bushmill’s whiskey-flavored butterscotch pudding. It’s an old-fashioned dessert that took me right back to my childhood, though I was dismayed by X2O’s raspberry garnish, whose acid vied with the creamy butterscotch. Also memorable was a lemon napoleon with sweet lemon mousse and a mouth-puckeringly tart lemon curd. The whole was prettily garnished with torched rosettes of sweet and gooey meringue.
And while Ned Kelly, Chef Kelly’s brother, is the most gracious host north of Danny Meyer (and the waitstaff within the restaurant are all pleasant to a one), the hostesses seemed confused about seating procedure without his guidance. On one visit, at 9 pm on a Tuesday night, the restaurant was only about one-third full. We requested a window table but our hostess claimed that there were no tables set for two near the window. When we pointed out that there were, in fact, tables set for two available, and that she could always just remove two settings from an unoccupied four-top, she still refused. A similar situation happened our second visit. As we suspected might happen, Chef Kelly sussed out the problem with X2O’s hostesses before this article was sent to print. Seating policy has since been changed to maximize the number of people sitting at the ultra-desirable window seats—though, there are still no guarantees.
The bottom line: Chef Kelly’s food (and that confit spaetzle) will always have us coming back.
X2O Xaviars on the Hudson â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…
71 Water Grant St, Yonkers
(914) 965-1111; www.xaviars.com
Hours: lunch Tues to Fri 12-2:30 pm; dinner Tues to Sun 5:30-10 pm; brunch 12-2:30 pm. Appetizers: $7.50-$15; entrées: $24-$35; desserts: $8.50
â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…—Outstanding â˜…â˜…â˜…—Very Good
Wednesday, December 19, 2007, at 6:05 p.m.
Very surprised at how mediocre it is, especially after reading Julia Sexton’s review, which is the reason we went.
The Chef was there today at lunch, which makes the experience all the more puzzling.
1. Mediocre to poor service, not enough help, not well trained.
2. A first course was sent back as ice cold and soggy, not hot and crisp.
3. Main courses just fair, ravioli with short ribs, tough, chewy, little flavor!
4. Rib eye dish also with no pizazz, meat was just ok.
5. Special desert also just ok, certainly not first class.
6. Wine list has no little gems, mostly just way overpriced bottles.
We will never return to this restaurant, it does not come close to a fine NY or French restaurant in food or service, or even a reasonably good one. Maybe because it is near Christmas!
Ms. Sexton should go back incognito and try it again.