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Cannibalism and Dining Out

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One of the more admirable things about the restaurant world is that it’s an industry that eats it’s young. We mean, of course, that when a restaurant fails (and most will fail–only one in five restaurants remain open after five years), the fallen venture’s space, plates, banquettes, its very pots and pans, will be bought up by a new restaurateur to be pressed into action under a new name. This starry-eyed hopeful will slap up a colorful new awning and institute a new “concept”– but behind the scenes, the restaurant remains exactly the same. The failed restaurant’s pots, pans, ranges and hoods are still in use– sometimes even from a few restaurants back. We find this bizarrely comforting. While restaurants come and go, the line is eternal.

We were perplexed then to hear that was bought by a franchise called Blue Moon Mexican Café Blue Moon Mexican Café, which has three outlets in suburban New Jersey, one in Rockland County and one right here in Bronxville. This is sad news. Instead of re-purposing Bloom’s cool, tasteful and green (as in ecologically responsible) décor, the new owners will probably 86 the design – if their other restaurants are predictive, they’ll replace Bloom’s look with hackneyed faux-Aztec pottery and sombreros. I mean, what a waste and ho hum, design-wise. Plus—do we really need a(nother) chain Mexican in Westchester? With established Mexican neighborhoods in Port Chester, New Rochelle and White Plains, Westchester actually has Mexican restaurants operated by Mexican people—ones that even serve Mexican diners. Who needs a South-of the Border-themed restaurant started up by a guy named Howard Felixbrod?

FYI—in case you’re interested–the chain started in Manhattan, in Chelsea and on the Upper West Side. Felixbrod’s brother still operates the Chelsea location, while a former partner bought the UWS spot. Both Manhattan sites currently operate independently of the chain and each other. In this piece appearing in Nation’s Restaurant News, founder Felixbrod announces his franchising push and outlines his reasons for suburban expansion: “There’s no point in spending four times the amount in rent [in Manhattan]. In Englewood, we’re spending about half that and doing 30 percent more business, and people are happy.”

Well, they may be happy out in Englewood – personally, I think it’s the fumes from Elizabeth. Let’s hope we have better taste here in Westchester.

Also bucking the cannibalism rule is Half Moon, the new Harvest-on-Hudson sister restaurant at the former Chart House site. According to Executive Chef Vincent Barcelona, who will be reuniting with fellow Le Bernardin alums in the roles of General Manager and Chef (more on this trio to come), the kitchen at the Chart House was pretty much unusable—as in dirty, and stocked with microwave ovens. It turns out that the actual cooking line was woefully undersized for a roughly 200 seat restaurant, plus, the décor was hopelessly… Chart House-ish. After surveying the mess, they’ve decided to chuck the whole thing, which is the prerogative of a successful restaurant group. Harvest is planning a massive , two-part renovation that’ll enable them to open by late spring.

We took a quick tour of the space along with Chef Barcelona (it’s still under construction), and we’re happy to report that there are no more tacky shipping charts or Hawaiian prints. What’s left from the Chart House are some seriously good restaurant bones, including sweeping Hudson views from every seat within the restaurant, plus lots of bankside outdoor dining. Half Moon will actually have what Harvest lacks, waterfront immediacy: while Harvest’s diners are separated from the river by a park, at Half Moon, you’ll have the Hudson lapping at your toes.

Half Moon will also be slightly more casual than Harvest, with burgers, wings, and buckets of nips available alongside pricier entrees and better wine. There will be plancha-style cooking, and an outdoor bar—all of which support Half Moon’s party vibe. It looks like the party might not come cheap, though–when I enquired about a lower price point, there was a bit of hemming and hawing. But, finally, what can you expect? Views like this (plus, le Bernardin staffers) don’t come cheap. With judicious ordering, you might be able to sneak out for less than the other riverside mega eateries charge (like Harvest-on-Hudson, Red Hat Bistro, and Monteverde). We won’t mind because it’s comforting to know our food isn’t being microwaved. Plus, on a beautiful summer night, what really matters are the drink prices.

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