Restaurant North’s breezy, beachy décor disguises the intent of two serious restaurateurs.
Photo by Cathy Pinsky
As expected, restaurateur Danny Meyer offers brilliant insights into his business. After all, it was Meyer’s Union Square Café that launched the careers of North’s owners, Stephen Paul Mancini and Chef Eric Gabrynowicz. According to Meyer, service is more important than food in restaurants because bad service can ruin a great dish—but good service can rescue a restaurant experience, even after bad food. While we were served only one bad dish at Restaurant North, Armonk’s wildly popular newcomer, there were consistent flaws in all four meals, and each hit like a heartbreak. Yet despite every kitchen gaffe, we’ll be returning to North with glee. Is it the service? The vibe? The hype? Maybe it’s all three.
Mancini is present at every table in this breezy, 42-seat restaurant (since our visits, North’s seating has roughly doubled with a second-floor dining room). He’s warm and energetic, and we found ourselves pulling hard for his success. But behind Mancini’s youthful mop of hair, there’s a serious oenophile lurking. This former sommelier and wine director at Union Square and Maialino offers great wines at every price point. We found ourselves happily drinking reasonably priced sparkling Vouvray, but it’s unwise to miss Mancini’s tasty and tasteful cocktails. We’re addicted to his bracing Negroni made with Amaro liqueur.
North’s menu is divided into ellipsis-dotted headings, which irritatingly lack absolute parity (“Chilled…, Warming…, Pastas…, Flatbread…, Sea…, Land…, Earth…”). Among the starters in “Chilled” and “Warming,” we loved a pan-seared lobe of foie gras with peanut butter and plum-pepper jelly, a witty turn on PB and J. And while tuna tartare rivals molten chocolate cake as the most hackneyed dish in America, Gabrynowicz’s riff puts snap into what has become a very old hat. Pairing lush, jade avocado and chunks of ruby tuna is no kitchen shocker, but Gabrynowicz uses salt, radish, and yuzu like Vermeer uses light.
Pizza-like grilled flatbreads are crowd-pleasers at North, though we found their (sometimes cool) chewiness a hard texture to love. Still, it’s hard to argue with a topping of nearly crisp, butter-roasted Madura Farm wild mushrooms, La Quercia lardo, and arugula; I’d order this pileup if it were served on a shoe.
The real heartbreaks began with two starters, both containing locally raised heirloom tomatoes. The cherry and pear tomatoes on our flatbread arrived chilled and without flavor, plus two rolled off when we attempted bites (score: one pesto-stained men’s shirt; one near-miss into the mouth of my handbag). Tempting fate, we ordered a salad of Eckerton Farms heirloom tomatoes with arugula, Rainbeau Ridge goat cheese, and vincotto. Again, the tomatoes arrived chilled, hard, and utterly flavorless.
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Pastas were equally mixed. My guests and I all liked a very rich but straightforward orecchiette with lamb Bolognese, whipped ricotta, and mint, while fresh cavatelli with corn and Adirondack blue potatoes was one of my least favorite dishes at North. This dish’s starch-on-starch-on-starch was unpleasantly sweet and gluey.
Jade avocado and ruby tuna make new Restaurant North’s tuna tartare both cool and pretty; expect sparkling salt and citrus to breathe life into this old-hat standard.
Photo by Cathy Pinsky
Of all North’s dot-punctuated headings, “Sea…” and “Land…” were the most consistently good. We raved over ur-beefy grilled hanger steak (served with chickpeas, zucchini, and rainbow chard), while juicy soft-shells (with corn and chanterelles) arrived crisp yet briny, a thrilling dip into the racy realm of fried food. And creamy, locally fished striped bass (with miso-braised bok choy and crispy potatoes) was simply and irreducibly perfect.
Though its house-made pickles were delicious, a “BUBBA’s burger” (with North’s specially blended Pat La Frieda ground beef, pork confit, and manchego) was so fatty that we could only manage three bites—and the third wasn’t eager.
Frozen puff pastry was a critical flaw in a “Madura Farms black dirt mushroom skillet.” This was the most ill-conceived dish on the menu, and a mangy bone to throw to poor vegetarians. Its mushrooms had steamed under its unevenly baked pastry cap, while caramelized fennel and Wild Hive polenta offered no relief. Another downer was an otherwise delicious Long Island duck breast (with yummy sweet potato purée, dry-seared Brussels sprouts, and crisp cubes of bacon) that was ordered medium rare but appeared cool and jiggly inside.
In keeping with many of North’s dishes, desserts can be fairly filling. The only service flaw we experienced was not being warned that a dessert “skillet” might feed four diners. These warm, homey desserts, which comprise about half the list, are served in individual cast-iron frying pans straight from the oven. You’ll find an ice-cream topped snickerdoodle, a chocolate-chip cookie, a white peach crisp, and a just-baked red velvet cake. The last comes topped with a serious scoop of nutty cream-cheese icing and could feed a whole church social. The good news is that North offers smaller desserts for flagging appetites. To all those monolithic skillets, we preferred a small, warm berry tartlet topped with melting whipped cream.
So, udercooked duck, hard tomatoes, weird mushroom skillet-thingy—finally, who cares? Restaurant North is the sort of warm, genial, and buzzy place that’s hard to find in Westchester. We’ll return as soon as we can snag a table (check out OpenTable; this is no mean feat).
Restaurant North â˜…â˜…â˜…
386 Main St, Armonk (914) 273-8686
Hours: lunch, Tues to Fri 12 pm-2:30 pm; dinner Tues to Thurs 5 pm-9:30 pm, Fri and Sat 5 pm-10:30 pm.
Appetizers: $8-$17; entrées: $17-$29; desserts: $8-$10.
â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…—Outstanding â˜…â˜…â˜…—Very Good