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High/Low: What Happens When High-End Chefs Go Low Budget

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Oh, it’s been happening for awhile. In order to fully capitalize on their carefully-built brands, prominent restaurants have been sheering off lower-priced baby restaurants, the kind of places where you can dress more casually, spend less money, and escape within an hour of no-fuss time. High/low restaurant duos have become an international phenomenon, with Tom Colicchio running both Craft and Craftbar, Danny Meyer overseeing both Tabla and Tabla Bread Bar, and even Thomas Keller operating both Per Se and Bouchon Bakery. In London, guts and glory Chef Fergus Henderson fronts St. John and less expensive St John Breadbar, and we even caught those oh so haut French at it. Esteemed Michel Guérard gave the pricy restaurant at Eugenie les Bains his name, but also runs the much more relaxed Le Ferme aux Grieves. All of the lower priced venues invoke the parent restaurant’s elite brand, but offer diners cheaper fare in a more casual atmosphere.

This week’s Eater will discuss the high/low trend in Westchester, and evaluate how the cheaper venues differ from the more expensive parent restaurants – we’ll also note what’s the same. Our picks include X20/The Dylan Bar, Bedford Post/The Barn, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns/Blue Hill Cafe.

But first, a word on why. One might ask oneself, why don’t these top shelf restaurateurs capitalize on their reputations by simply opening another expensive restaurant? The jargon-y industry phrase for top tier venues is “Destination Restaurants”, and they’re the sort of places that require significant investments—of money, of time and of general bother. To visit a destination restaurant, you’ll have to book well ahead, make an entire night of it and you’ll probably have to comb your hair and wear real clothes. Because prices are high at destination restaurants, unless you’re a Rockefeller, they’re probably reserved for birthdays, anniversaries and special events. Chances are, destination restaurants comprise only a fraction of the restaurants you visit.

Of course, those canny restaurateurs at the top of the heap know this—and they want your midweek, just-got-home-from-work, refuse-to-put-that-tie-on-again dollar, too. By offering cheaper, more casual fare, these restaurateurs can get it all. Plus, in welcoming a broader clientele at their lower priced venue, they might entice a few diners to try their higher priced restaurant. A cheaper sibling won’t compete with the upscale restaurant, and in the tight scrap for your birthday-dinner dollar, no one wants to add another player. Also, with more outlets, restaurateurs can employ economies of scale (they often operate catering businesses, too).

Finally, for the chefs, “fine dining” (that dreadful phrase) menus can be quite constraining. Many chefs are lusty gastronomic sensualists with deep loves for all kinds of food. They desperately want to show off their sexiest sandwich, or most soul-stirring meatloaf, or make-you-weep burger. Casual venues offer another exciting avenue for their creativity.

The Dylan Lounge/X20

Among the restaurants included here, The Dylan Lounge has a definite advantage: the upper-tier X20 menu is also available to lounge diners. That means that if you don’t have one of the prized reservations at X20, you can still swan in and eat the exact same food (at the exact same prices) at the Dylan Bar. While the Dylan Lounge does not have X20’s panoramic river views, it still has fine views—of downtown Yonkers, of slices of the Hudson, and of Water Taxis coming and going. Best of all, lone diners can eat at the bar and not feel like the last kid picked for the kickball team.

What’s the Same as X20 What’s Different at Dylan’s Lounge
Interesting views from every seat Views are of Yonkers and the shoreline, rather than X20’s Hudson bridges and Palisades
Lavish use of bling-bling ingredients, including truffles, Kobe beef, and toro Dylan’s is Chef Peter Kelly’s take on a sushi bar, whereas X20 has an eclectic American menu
Iron-Chef-Vanquishing Peter Kelly actually shows up to greet diners A meal – comprising small plates, sushi rolls and pieces — is generally is less expensive than a three-course meal at X20
Best bathrooms in Westchester (shared with X20) Dress and vibe is more casual, though we wouldn’t show up in sweatpants
Dylan’s diners are free to visit X20’s balcony No need for reservations

 

The Barn/ Bedford Post

We’re employing a bit of conjecture here. Poised as the casual café-cum-bakery of Richard Gere’s projected restaurant/spa complex, the Barn has been operational since February. While the complex’s higher-end restaurant, Bedford Post, is not yet open (and construction delays have postponed Bedford Post’s opening until October), the restaurant’s ambitious, $75 prix fixe menu is currently available in the café. Called “Dinner at the Barn”, this menu is markedly different from the Barn’s breakfast and lunch fare—even though all are served in the same casual shopfront. (The Barn will serve only breakfast and lunch once Bedford Post is open—it’ll also be available for events and cooking classes.) Obviously, with Bedford Post still under construction, we can only compare the menus—service, décor and ambience will have to wait.

What’s the Same as Bedford Post What’s Different at the Barn
Locavorian, ingredient-driven menu with many evocations of northern Italy Price. The highest priced lunch dish is about $20, while Dinner at the Barn’s five course prix fixe is $75
Lots of celebs—like owner Richard Gere and Martha Stewart, who rides over on her horse. The parking lot can look like an expensive car convention. Ambition. The breakfast and lunch is trendily ingredient-driven, but dishes are fairly casual—you’ll find burgers for lunch, and eggs and pancakes for breakfasts. Dinner at the Barn makes fewer concessions to Americana.
Vegetarian—even vegan—friendly While we have yet to see Bedford Post in the flesh, it’s slated to be an elegant space. The Barn is a super casual cafe—with tile floors, bare tables and a long, counter/bakery case.

 

Blue Hill at Stone Barns/ Blue Hill Café

Of all the lower priced venues, Blue Hill Café is the most casual. In fact, it’s a cafeteria-style deli with limited cooking capability. Diners at the Cafe load up their trays and seat themselves at sheltered, outdoor café tables. (In winter, diners carry their trays across the plaza to the Hay Barn.) The Café is only open during the day, and much of the food is grown onsite at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. Look for Ur-seasonal, locally grown veggies and meats whipped into savory sandwiches, delicious soups and salads. Local, on-message vendors are also showcased at the Cafe—like Ronnybrook dairy, Rainbeau Ridge goat cheese and Balthezar breads.

What the Same As Blue Hill at Stone Barns What’s Different at Blue Hill Cafe
Haut-barnyard ingredients carrying next-to-zero food miles Prices are much lower at the Café—a duck confit panini costs $11, while the cheapest prix fixe lunch at BHSB (available on Sundays only) is $68
Super-seasonal menu Café menu stresses soups, salads, sandwiches, and house-baked pastries
 American menu with nods to casual French cuisine  While BHSB serves an elegant take on a salade parisienne with oozing, panko-crusted deep fried farm egg and boutique baby lettuces, the Café serves the same eggs in a world-class, Hellman’s-based egg salad on Balthezar bread
 Chic crowd and menu  While not a jackets-only restaurant, elegant attire is preferred at BHSB—and shorts are absolutely forbidden. Diners at the Café don’t need reservations, and they can wear almost anything – including tank tops, shorts and belly-bags—if they dare
The simple outdoor space takes full advantage of the stunning stone architecture of this former section of the Rockefeller estate’s Very kid friendly 

 

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