By virtue of name alone, the Crunchy Salad doesn’t stand out at Único in Hartsdale. Compared with the eclectic mix of charred octopus, Middle Eastern-spiced meatballs, wild-boar belly, and truly best-we’ve-ever-had duck agnolotti that compose the menu, this tangle of arugula, nuts, pearly white jicama, and tahini dressing doesn’t grab your attention. But one bite quickly becomes two, which becomes five, and before you know it, you’ve inhaled the salad with the speed and deliberateness of a competitive eater.
The peppery leaves are the perfect foil to the rich tahini dressing, which serves to enhance the complex nuttiness of crunchy, toasted almonds, pepitas, and sunflower seeds. Just when it risks becoming too heavy, watery jicama and tangy-sweet pickled carrots add a jolt of freshness. In other words, it’s surprisingly balanced, complex, and delicious for something that seems so unassuming. It’s the perfect representation of Único.
Unlike many of the other restaurants on this list, Único’s 42-seat location on Central Avenue, isn’t highly designed or flashy. Chef Brian Sernatinger isn’t particularly well known in Westchester (though he does operate a restaurant of the same name in Tulum, Mexico), and the restaurant hasn’t blown up on social media. Which is to say that Único, despite favorable reviews and write-ups, still feels a little unknown — and that’s a damn shame.
Chef Brian Sernatinger
The cuisine is geographically noncommittal. “People ask me, ‘Is this Mediterranean? Is this Middle Eastern?’ There are influences from both cuisines, but we call it international,” says Sernatinger. “We have a couple Italian dishes. We have French dishes. We have influences from Mexico. You can’t bottleneck it into any one cuisine, which is what I like. I think people like the food because it’s different.”
In anyone else’s hands, tackling that many cuisines could be a big flop, but Sernatinger is able to coax Crunchy Salad levels of complexity out of many dishes on the menu. Tender octopus comes with sweet, silky onion soubise, paper-thin slices of fresh jalapeño, charred potatoes, and zippy lime gremolata. Lamb meatballs, scented with cinnamon and allspice, are studded with whole pistachios and served with palate-cleansing sautéed chayote and mint. Thai mussels steam in a fragrant coconut-milk broth steeped with lemongrass, scallion, and cilantro. A Hudson Valley duck breast gets plated with juicy tangerine segments, bright-pink hibiscus, and crunchy pickled mustard seeds.
If the Crunchy Salad was unassuming, the duck agnolotti are anything but. Full-on decadent, the fresh pasta is filled with duck confit, and then tossed with a luxurious mix of sautéed shiitake mushrooms, marsala wine, and cream. Alone, it’s enough to land Único on this list. With the rest of the menu, it’s just one of many delicious reasons it’s #1.