Warm Comfort

Sleepy Hollow’s Finalmente may not be the last word in Westchester dining, but it does have its simple pleasures.

There is a certain kind of warmth to Finalmente, a welcoming vibe that envelops you like a soft shawl as you step through the narrow front bar area, where dappled light from the iron-caged Moroccan light fixtures prances over the handful of bistro tables.

On the way to your table, you will pass an incongruous deli-style refrigerator case filled with desserts and antipasto plates, and then the space opens up—not grandly, but with a come-hither beckon—and you are in the dining room. Deep garnet-colored walls, tables tucked into corners and niches in the space, and the sort of dim lighting that can whisper of sleep or seduction (depending on one’s frame of mind) melt the day away as you ease into your seat.

You may or may not be there for a while before you’re served; our experience was mixed. But whether immediately or eventually, you will be served lovely, warm, tomato-topped focaccia; hearty peasant-style bread; and peppery olive oil. Along with the recitation of the specials, we were told (as the temporary sign on the front door had exclaimed) that white truffles could be added to several dishes. On one visit, we were clearly informed that there would be a $36 surcharge; on another, we had to ask—even when the dish description included truffles. As much as we love white truffles, we stuck with more affordably priced dishes: “secondi” courses of meat, fish, and chicken ranged from $16 to $21 ($52 to $57 with white truffles); salads and appetizers from $8 to $12; and “primi,” or pasta dishes, from $13 to $17. By Westchester standards, these are reasonable prices for what can be—but is certainly not guaranteed to be—a lovely meal.

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Two of the starters we tried will start the meal off well. Fresh, briny clams are thankfully left whole and topped with golden breadcrumbs, garlic, and Grana Padana in this classic (and wonderful!) version of baked clams. Crisp, honey-colored fried calamari was tender and, yes, perfect. The marinara with which it is served is good enough, but the calamari is even better dipped in the mayonnaise-based smoked-pepper-and-lime dressing with which the miniature crab cakes (Tortine di Granchio) were served. But we are by no means recommending ordering these crab cakes, which tasted only of filler and not at all of crab. We had a similar experience with stuffed mushrooms, which were tasty enough, but we couldn’t find a hint of the flavor of the suckling pig ragu, and the visible slices of black truffle lent barely any flavor or aroma.

Some chefs err on the side of over-salting and over-dressing: this most certainly is not the case at Finalmente. Oh, how our salad of celery root and fennel cried out for salt, or some kind of pop to the flavor. It was so close, so nearly there, as was a beet salad. It, too, seemed to have all the right ingredients, but the beets lacked flavor and the greens seemed to be bathing in mildly flavored liquid more than any kind of dressing.

It wouldn’t have helped the crab cakes, but still it would have been nice if the frisée on which they rested had not been bare (or nearly so); and while greens served with beef carpaccio were dressed, the meat itself was not (and was served with slices of what appeared to be waxy provolone rather than the Parmigiano-Reggiano listed on the menu).

If under-dressing and under-salting are sins of omission, is under-cooking? We like our pasta as al dente as the next guy, but we do like it cooked. Trofie Finalmente, twisted strands of pasta served with nutty chickpeas, earthy sautéed wild mushrooms, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano was a luscious, beautifully balanced dish marred by the resistant core in every piece of pasta. So, too, was the case with frutti di mare fra diavolo served as a special one night. Nicely cooked langoustines, shrimp, scallops, scungilli, calamari, and plenty of clams and mussels languished in a muddy-tasting tomato sauce served on nearly crunchy pasta shells.

We were impressed when asked how we would like our pork cooked, and thrilled with the char on the outside of the tenderloin and the deep, layered flavor of the sherry sauce with porcini, shiitake, and portabella (also a special). But why were we asked how we wanted it cooked, if it wasn’t going to be served that way? The dish was too good to part with, said our dining companion, as she ate around the more-red-than-pink pieces. We agreed, and also couldn’t keep our forks away from the perfectly cooked red potatoes and sautéed, lightly garlicky escarole on her plate.

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Escarole and potatoes re-appeared in equally tasty form under light, flaky rock scorpion fish smothered in a lusty combination of tomatoes, olives, capers, anchovies, and wine. We’d return for this dish, and also for pappardelle with wild boar, tomato, and blueberry (yes, blueberry) grappa. Happily, the pappardelle was cooked to perfection, and the flavors and textures in the light tomato sauce—sweet grappa, deeply flavorful and rich boar, and salty bits of prosciutto—were beautifully balanced.

But no dish we had could possibly live up to the ricotta cheesecake. This ethereal version of the Italian classic was among the best we’ve ever had. Anywhere.

Other desserts were well worth eating, although they couldn’t possibly live up to the ricotta cheesecake. The lovely panna cotta was creamy and delicate with plenty of vanilla bean flavor, a zabaglione had exactly the right amount of Marsala, and the layered cappuccino cake was a harmony of crunchy and fluffy, bitter and sweet.

We ended our meals at Finalmente warmed by the blush of sweet satisfaction, but it was a journey of highs and lows to get there.

Top of Page: Trofie Finalmente or twisted strands of pasta with chickpeas, mushrooms, and Parmigiano-Reggiano

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Finalmente Trattoria ★★

31 Beekman Ave, Sleepy Hollow (914) 909-4787
Hours: lunch, Tues to Fri noon-3 pm; dinner, Tues to Thurs 5-10 pm, Fri and Sat, 5-11 pm, Sun, 5-9:30 pm

Appetizers: $8 and$12; entrées: $16-$21 ($52-$57 with white truffles); pasta: $13-$17; desserts: $7-$9

★★★★—Outstanding ★★★—Very Good
★★—Good ★—Fair

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