WHACK!” That’s the hit of noise you get when you walk in the door at Moderne Barn. Laughter and loud conversations swirl through the two-story open space, from the long and lively bar on one side to the vaulted walnut ceiling above, across the room to the lofted second level dining area, and back down to the main dining area that you just entered. Pretty people sporting fabulous clothes seem to be moving from one table to another, as though they know each other. For a minute, you shake your head to clear out the webs: have you just walked into someone else’s par-tay?
But then a lovely, graceful host guides you to the table, and, once there, you watch and listen and realize there is something warm and inviting about all this—even if it is mind-blowingly loud. On a good night, an impeccably trained waiter will appear quickly to tell you, in a voice strained from a night of shouting, about the specials. On another night, you will sit with your basket of enticingly peppery focaccia and try not to eat it all before a harried waiter comes to take your order.
This is a menu with offerings for everyone: your foodie friend (grilled octopus, pancetta-wrapped monkfish, kabocha squash agnolotti); your traditional mother-in-law (pumpkin bisque, cracker-crusted cod); and your steak-and-potatoes college buddy (four Black Angus cuts to choose from). And when their fare arrives—be it after an achingly long wait or promptly—there’s a 75- to 80-percent chance it will be good or better.
Leading the category of the 20- to 25-percent category of dishes to miss is an heirloom tomato salad, which tried to eke out the last good tomatoes of summer and failed. Mealy tomatoes and tough mozzarella weren’t saved by the pleasant pesto and white balsamic dressings. (The fresh tomatoes in this salad have since been replaced by oven-dried Romas.) The other salad we won’t order again is the entrée Barn Salad (formerly known as the chopped salad), which consisted largely of beans (black ceci beans and chickpeas) topped with a choice of salmon, chicken, hanger steak, or shrimp. The dense bean salad made for dreary chewing: bits of cucumber and orange just weren’t enough to offset all that crumbly starch. But you needn’t fall into salad despair: a simple, local, mixed green salad of pristine young greens dressed in a Champagne vinaigrette made up for its ill-fraught brethren.
May we suggest that, on the evening you bring your mother-in-law, you tactfully steer her away from the matzo ball soup? A simple, “It could never be as good as yours,” will earn you points, and there are far better choices than this wan soup. If it’s soup she wants, satisfy her hankering with luscious, creamy pumpkin bisque. She’ll be enraptured by the velvety texture and sweet, creamy, and slightly tangy flavors. Just be sure to ask the kitchen to leave out the oddly chewy and splintered shell-on pumpkin seeds suspended in the bisque.
An appetizer of tender grilled calamari served in a puddle of perfectly balanced light lemon-basil sauce and topped with chopped tomatoes was flawless in flavor and execution and showed us just what happens when the chef struts his stuff. A side dish listed as “seasonal roasted vegetables” also showed us what Ethan Kostbar can do: on our visit, the autumnal vegetables—chanterelle and oyster mushrooms, sunchokes, and baby turnips—harmonized in a meaty, rich, and heartily satisfying dish. While listed as a side dish, we would also order this as an appetizer.
Flatbread pizzas are a good choice for a table to share as an appetizer. On our “don’t miss” list: the white anchovy pizza. A thin, crisp crust served as a foundation for earthy baby artichokes and mild, fruity Teleggio that somehow still allowed the prized anchovies to take center stage.
When that carnivorous college buddy is in town, by all means have him order the surprisingly flavorful filet mignon. (How often do you see “flavorful” used to describe this cut?) Despite the generous portion, the meat looks lonely on the plate, even with a cup of the sauce of your choice (green peppercorn, béarnaise, horseradish-sour cream, bordelaise, or chimichurri). You’ll need to order sides; we suggest the lightly browned Brussels sprouts with dried cranberries and crisp, savory rosemary sea-salt fries.
The double pork chop would have been able to shine had it been the only item on the plate. The chop was masterfully handled: it was seasoned and seared to sable-brown perfection and pink and moist inside. Mouth-puckering crisp quince seemed barely cooked in sugar and vinegar, and an oddly pasty applesauce reminded us of baby food.
Sides enhanced a lovely special of striped bass: the crisp-skinned fish sat atop black and pearl barley dressed in a cranberry beurre blanc. We couldn’t get enough of the accompanying crisp-edged roasted yellow cauliflower, which tasted better than a vegetable has a right to.
Among the best desserts are the sorbets—intense blueberry; creamy, tangy raspberry—and we couldn’t get enough of the gingery ice cream atop an apple crisp. Best of all—so good the very thought causes Pavlovian salivation—was the toe-curling, heart-stomping, trance-inducing chocolate mousse and hazelnut-crunch torte. Layers of creamy, fluffy deliciousness and crunchy candied nuts were like grown-up Nutella on some flower-child version of steroids.
The Livanos family (of City Limits Diner, Molyvos, Abboccato, and Oceana fame) has built another beautiful, warm space. After their first few months, we assume they will now work out some of the service issues and focus on the best 75 to 80 percent of the menu (and we wouldn’t mind one bit if they figure out how to turn down the volume!). But this is certainly a restaurant we can see living on in our region and becoming part of our lives in the years to come.
Moderne Barn â˜…â˜…â˜…
430 Bedford Rd, Armonk (914) 730-0001
Hours: lunch, Mon to Fri noon-2:30 pm; dinner Mon to Thurs 5-10 pm, Fri and Sat 5-11 pm;
Sun 5-9 pm.
Appetizers: $8-$15; entrées: $11-$32; desserts: $8.
â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…—Outstanding â˜…â˜…â˜…—Very Good
Pictured Above: MAKE MINE A DOUBLE: The heritage double pork chop outshines its quince currant chutney and apple sauce.