Even on a cold and snowy evening, a homey vibe radiates from the narrow storefront windows of Wolfert’s Roost. If it’s a weekend night and you don’t have reservations, keep walking. But, if you are smart enough to have made reservations, friendly folks are ready to dine with you.
Wolfert’s Roost feels like a friend of a friend’s house. You can see everyone at every table in the small, narrow space—and every table can see directly over the eating counters that face the kitchen.
There is nothing fancy about the place. White-washed walls are simply adorned with a long shelf that holds cookbooks and an occasional small glass vase with dried flowers; lighting is provided in part by sconces that are little more than Mason jars over bulbs; and part of the seating consists of a bench along the length of one wall. Pretension is stripped bare: Diners are there to enjoy each other, wine (the place is BYOB), and the food.
Like several other county restaurants, Wolfert’s Roost eschews design frills and pomp; the focus here is solely on the food and company.
The menu is divided into four main sections: salads, medium plates, large plates, and big bowls. (There are also smaller sections for sides, snacks, and desserts.) We didn’t really understand the organization of the categories—why is fried chicken a big bowl but no-potato gnocchi a plate? But it doesn’t matter. The menu is accessible, interesting, and filled with dishes we really wanted to try.
Our hungry crew started with all four “snacks” for the table: Vegetable pickles were crunchy, salty, tangy, and perfect for munching while we decided what to order; sweet cinnamon-spiced nuts disappeared faster than good manners allow; marinated olives were ordinary; and the johnnycakes were really more like fried corn biscuits (with wonderful flavor) than real Rhode Island johnnycakes. They were served with pasty scallion flatbread, which was one of the few disappointments on the menu.
Chef Jennie Werts—and the rest of the Roost’s crew—in the kitchen, preparing tea-brined chicken.
Most of the staff seems to do a little of everything; you are as likely to be served by the hostess, the waiter, or one of the cooks. Every staff member who came to our table recommended the bloomin’ broccoli (a medium plate)—and we see why. The large tempura-fried stalk of broccoli was crisp, crunchy, and not at all greasy. We loved it on its own, but it was made even better with a little chunk of Humboldt Fog blue cheese and dollop of apricot jam.
The warm acorn squash and goat cheese magma, another recommended “medium plate,” was a purée of just the right balance of sweet squash and tangy whipped goat cheese—which was perfect spread over the accompanying toasted peasant bread. But, we’re still thinking about our favorite medium plate: the savory wild mushroom bruschetta with lots of melted funky Taleggio topped with earthy, savory mushrooms and a sunny-side-up egg.
We had the bruschetta as part of the “omakase,” or tasting menu. For $65 a person, the chef will choose any six or seven dishes on the menu. We were told the portions would be small tasting portions, but many seemed full-sized to us. If you have the appetite for it—or the restraint to pace yourself—this is a great way to sample more dishes.
Two dishes were split between us: a moist, juicy burger topped with sweet onion jam and Beemster cheese, and the Casa de Jorge, a dish that changes every few days. On our visit, it was a flavorful empanada: shredded hangar steak seasoned with chilies and onion and encased in light, crisp masa dough.
The gummy and bland no-potato gnocchi, a dish saved from total ruin by lovely autumn vegetables in browned butter, was one of the few misses on the menu.
Autumn vegetables also gave a mild seared sea bass some needed oomph; but, otherwise, this was not a kitchen putting out shy food. Case in point: The tea-brined, lightly breaded, fried chicken (above) was well seasoned, moist, and drizzled with just enough warm honey.
One of the most talked about dishes at Wolfert’s Roost is the 38-ounce tomahawk steak for $129. Before you balk at the price, know that the steak can easily feed three people, and comes with two sides. Also, the 38-ounce weight includes a very large bone, so it is not quite as much meat as it seems (although it is certainly plenty). It is a good Pat LaFrieda rib eye, seasoned and cooked beautifully—but not exceptional.
After the steak, a light and spongy angel food cake with fresh berries and a sweetened yogurt cream sauce is an ideal dessert. But for a more intense ending to your meal, go for the double chocolate pudding: a layer of bitter chocolate pudding topped by fudgy chocolate cake and capped with unsweetened whipped cream. Be aware: This is for serious chocolate lovers only.
Bake Sale Lemon Bars were intense in a very different way: The creamy lemon filling was tart enough to make the back of our jaws tingle. To some, that was delightful, while others found it overwhelming. Everyone agreed, however, that the coconut cheesecake with salted caramel sauce was near perfection. The rich (but not dense) cake was generously topped with toasted coconut and plenty of warm salted caramel sauce.
We can forgive this warm, lovely restaurant for a few minor trespasses, and we look forward to sliding into our seats and settling in for another meal of comfort and pleasure.
100 Main St
(914) 231-7576; wolfertsroostirvington.com