Remember the hair color ad with a gorgeous blonde begging: “don’t hate me because i’m beautiful!”?
Somehow that came to mind when Peter X. Kelly, chef/proprietor of four restaurants in southern N
So what’s the problem? “some people come with a level of expectation that is hard to fulfill.” Kelly knows because he seeks unadulterated feedback by checking in with the parking valet. “i don’t trust what people say to my face,” he explains. “i want to know what they say to each other.” And what if the ratings should drop to 28, 27, or, gasp, 25? “if the rating slips at all, people will say we’re going downhill.” Last, he admits xaviar’s is not “better” than restaurants like daniel or le bernadin, which clocked in at 28. So why the higher rating? “people must leave my restaurants happier,” he speculates.
Dinner at Xaviar’s at piermont is $60 prix fixe for appetizer, entrée and dessert (selected from everything being served that evening); $80 for a seven course “chef’s tasting menu,” and $120 for that seven-course menu matched with wines.
That’s not cheap, but it does represent good value. Xaviar’s at piermont is a little jewel box of a restaurant. The garnet-red ceiling with gold accents convey a russian tea room opulence, while the oil paintings lend an air of moneyed calm. The 40-seat dining room is intimate and nicely proportioned; it almost feels like you’re among friends at a private party. The well-appointed tables, with dramatic red and gold versace plates, small bouquets of roses, riedel glassware, silver salt and pepper shakers, and each with a different baccarat crystal figurine, completes the illusion of being in a private dining room.
One of the restaurant’s draws is the outstanding wine list, with more than 900 wines, many of them hard-to-find. They have cellared the wines themselves (a practice that is increasingly rare) and so can offer “vertical depth,” like several vintages of heitz cellars cabernet sauvignon going back to 1983. The list also has rare and “allocated” wines, like the california chardonnays of kistler and hanzel, and a whole pageful of wines from Domaine De La Romanti conti, whose legendary burgundies represent the absolute pinnacle of red wine. “some people come here just for the wines,” says Kelly.
Another nice feature of the list is its dozen or so half-bottles, including a chateau simard 1987 reasonably priced at $27. And there’s a good selection of about five or six wines by-the-glass listed right on the menu.
On entering most restaurants you face a formal station, but at Xaviar’s at piermont you find yourself in the midst of the diners. The assured staff leaps to welcome and seat you, helping with any coats or wraps. I love their service style—friendly without being intrusive, formal without being stuffy, knowledgeable without being pretentious. In fact, the service is probably a major reason customers leave happier, if Kelly is right about that.
Our meal began with an amuse bouche from the chef: a slice of raw tuna in a tart shell, topped with grated radish and served with a tamarind sauce. Soon comes the bread tray, piled with country white, kalamata olive rolls, and my favorite, sweet and chewy whole-grain walnut raisin rolls.
The hot and cold foie gras appetizer was so transporting i wondered if it would land me in the next county. The warm foie gras was slathered with a balsamic reduction sauce and served atop a bed of stewed plums, balancing the richness of the foie gras with just the right amount of acidity and sweetness. On the cold side, a slice of foie gras came with two points of walnut raisin toast and a red wine gelee (a sweet jelly flavored with cinnamon).
Ravioli stuffed with english pea purée were covered with a rich beurre blanc and served alongside shreds of duck confit and slices of grilled peach. The little drops of green chive oil at regular intervals around the plate not only made the beurre blanc prettier but more spring-like and lively. More high marks for this indulgently rich dish.
On the lighter side, diver scallops seared golden brown were a great match with dollops of kumquat marmalade (without the chunky textures) and a pile of sprouts dressed with an orange vinaigrette. Finally, the coconut shrimp were delicately flavored, not over-sweet, but i found the flavor quite at odds with the
The menus change frequently at Xaviar’s, even daily, so you never know what you’ll find. But the grilled breast of duck stuffed with armagnac-soaked prunes was a wonderful choice. The tender breast is sliced and fanned prettily on the plate, getting a pleasant bit of heat from the armagnac and black peppercorn sauce. It also came with an outstanding leg of duck confit, slowly simmered in its own fat until falling-apart-tender, marble-sized potatoes sautéed golden brown in butter (these are wicked good) and tender fiddlehead ferns, a rare treat which is gathered wild at the beginning of spring. Also outstanding was the roast rack of lamb, a thick double chop of the finest quality in a thick rosemary jus, and imaginatively served with a creamy, garlic-flavored flan. The grilled tenderloin of beef brushed with an 18-year-old balsamic vinaigrette sauce was simple and fine, but the galette of fingerling potatoes had way too much goat cheese. All the plates are garnished with a rose made from tomato skin—a nice touch
Long before it’s time for dessert, someone will ask if you’d like a soufflé (grand marnier, pistachio, praline, chocolate or raspberry) because they are made to order. I tried the grand marnier souffle, which was adorable in its own little ramekin, but the server spooned in too much crème anglaise, which made it a little soppy. Her manner made me think she wasn’t a regular, so i would definitely try again, working my way through all five.
A scoop of frozen caramel mousse in a cookie “basket” rested behind two screens of caramelized sugar—so tantalizing, so rewarding. I like the caramel flavor all on its own, but someone else might like to dredge it through the white and milk chocolate sauce that lay so prettily on the plate. The excellent coffee is expertly poured from a silver pot, and the milk and lumps of sugar come in a silver service. It’s all these details, i think, that leave people feeling happy at the end of the evening.
“We don’t do everything perfectly every night,” Kelly cautions (lest you demand a “29” experience). But they try—and come close enough.
506 Piermont Avenue, Piermont
Lunch, Fri. and Sun. 12-2 pm
Dinner, Wed. to Fri. 6-8:45 pm, Sat. 6 or 9 pm, Sun 5-8 pm