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We, the green kids of America, have had this trio of words hammered into our heads: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Yet this edict has not always been employed when it comes to Westchester’s historic private estates. Many of Westchester’s high-style relics of boundless 19th-century capitalism (often sited on vast, aristocratic landscapes) were unceremoniously destroyed after World War II, when they became expensive white elephants. Others had their land developed around them, effectively choking off their air, or were annexed to museums and school campuses to be used as administration offices. Now those heavenly McKim, Mead & White bedrooms are filled with bored workers and filing cabinets, which feels like a pitiful stray from the architect’s lofty intent.
I’m always glad when Westchester’s estates are repurposed as restaurants. I love that diners can visit these grand rooms, and, even for one night, use them for leisure. Until recently, we’ve had Le Château and Equus at Castle on the Hudson (which has just been bought by a Japanese company and is undergoing a renovation). Now, diners can also visit Hudson at Haymount House, which recently reopened as a restaurant and banquet facility. Hudson sits on a hilltop in a pre-World War I Briarcliff Manor estate that had been mothballed after operating for 40 years as the restaurant/banquet facility Maison Lafitte. After that, the poor, white-columned house saw a wince-inducing stretch as “Tara on Hudson.” Now, it’s been cleaned up and re-launched with a serious chef, Scott Riesenberger, lately of Cru, Corton, and a crowd of other equally distinguished restaurants.
While there is a mid-century subdivision crowding the four hilltop acres of this white, porticoed estate, the house still retains the grandeur of a roomy approach and terraced gardens that offer a wide, but distant, river view. While the interior retains many original features, like gorgeous (and fully functional) hearths, it has been substantially altered since its days as a private residence. We chatted with the owner and he mentioned the huge renovation that he just completed: Apparently, 50-odd years as a wedding factory were not kind to the house. Currently, the walls are painted in sleek neutrals, and modernist touches lie in contemporary light fixtures. At some point, its rooms were reconfigured to accommodate large events, but now, most seats afford a garden view.
Chef Scott Riesenberger’s food lives up to most of the hype, though debuting a ballyhooed farm-to-table Hudson Valley restaurant in April does pose some challenges. A delicious amuse bouche—our literal first taste of Hudson—offered a fragrant purée of basil studded with the surprise of white-centered, not-so-seasonal strawberries. The following course offered a great recovery: I had a silken tuna crudo with tiny dill fronds, sharp green apple, and smoked almonds (which offered an elegant crunch). In anticipation of what might yet come from local farms, we shared a creamy, lima-bean risotto that was capped with a beautifully poached hen’s egg and circular shards of pancetta. This is one of those bowl-scraping dishes that it is virtually impossible not to love.
Spring risotto with poached organic egg and pancetta vinaigrette.
Bigeye tuna tartare, smoked almonds, green apple, and petite dill.
Amuse bouche of basil and strawberries.
We dropped in during the first two weeks that Hudson was open. This is not a review; we visited only once, and it is too early for criticism. Understandably, there were some bumps during our meal: Dinner pacing felt rather slow, though we were two of only a dozen diners in the room. Inexperienced servers clustered in the next room, rather than refilling glasses, offering bread, etc. But, with a pretty sunset creeping across the horizon over the Hudson, it’s hard to get antsy about things like an empty glass. And, when the food landed, it was uniformly delicious.
Soon, Hudson at Haymount will offer a reasonably priced bar menu outside in its pretty terraced garden and hearth-warmed bar area. Brunch is in the offing, and, but for service tweaks, dinner is already spot-on.
God help you if Mother’s Day comes and you haven’t called in that Sunday brunch reservation. Mother’s Day is the second busiest restaurant day in the year after Valentine’s Day, and, man, those brunch spots book up. Here are some great brunch picks, so get your fingers clicking.
X2O Xaviars on the Hudson This is the epic Sunday brunch—Champagne, pretty flowers, river views, butlered dishes. Have you ever seen a child being born? Your mother deserves this.
Crabtree’s Kittle House Like X2O, this is one of Westchester’s go-to brunch spots—there are pretty garden views, excellent food, and amazing wine ( and, let’s face it: many moms love their wine).
Juniper Alex Sze is one of Westchester’s most talked about young chefs, and his Juniper is the spot that Chef Andy Nusser effusively called “a gem.” Juniper is BYO, owing to its unfortunate zoning, so Mother’s Day might offer a great opportunity to pull something very nice out of your cellar.
Harvest On Hudson Harvest’s ever-dashing Chef Vincent Barcelona once told me how many diners he serves on Mother’s Day and the figure is staggering. And why not? With Harvest’s wrap-around terraces, staggering Hudson and Palisades views, and an all-pleasing menu, it’s kind of a Mother’s Day gimme.
It breaks my heart when I see the hard-earned fat ripped off a duck breast before it’s seared. That poor duck had to eat about a million nasty weeds to build up that fat cap, and there you are, not even appreciating it. Chef Scott Riesenberger knows better. He sears off that fat layer until it’s thin, amazingly crisp, and luxurious, while leaving the flesh as bright red as a medium-rare steak. The dish is served with sections of tender, delectable, miniature fennel bulbs, a swipe of bitter orange, and a soulful carrot jus. Yum.