Imagine an ideal community restaurant. A place where the mood is convivial, the patrons are greeted warmly, and the food is always delicious and elevated above the everyday. Café Mirage, which moved from North Main Street to a larger location on Westchester Avenue in bustling downtown Port Chester, is well worth visiting for a crowd-pleasing experience. I’m not the only one to have made this discovery: On a recent Friday night, the place was packed with a variety of customers: families, couples, seniors, and 20-somethings.
All that said, I was initially nonplussed by its appearance. The restaurant’s sign is a neon palm tree, and its entrance is strange. You open a door and reach a vestibule with a hostess stand (which is sometimes unattended). From there, you can either venture left, to an area with a large bar and flat-screen televisions, or head to the right and reach a quieter dining room, without the bar feel. The décor throughout, though pleasant, comfortable, and extremely clean, is generic, with naked wooden tables, wood floors, and blue walls. Considering the restaurant’s relatively high prices, Café Mirage should have aimed for a more sophisticated, distinctive look.
Despite my disappointment in its design, I was immediately won over, on all three of my visits, by the friendly and ample staff, excellent service, and mostly impressive food. At dinner on a Friday night, our charming and considerate waiter, Peter, rightly pointed us toward the restaurant’s top savory dishes (the Bangkok mussels and duck-and-goat-cheese quesadilla appetizers and the Maryland-style jumbo-lump crab cake and coconut curry chicken entrées). Meanwhile, our bread basket (with white, whole-grain, and olive options, plus butter and hummus) and water glasses were constantly refilled. During a Monday lunch, my dining companion and I were saying we wish we had another set of chopsticks, which a manager overheard and immediately brought over. Meanwhile, the food always arrived with no lag times.
Across the board, the amply portioned food impressed—especially pan-fried, deep-fried, and sauced items. The expansive menu includes globally inspired comfort-food dishes, specials, a kid’s menu, and even spice-level options for several dishes (the Asian sticky wings can come mild, medium, hot, or “volcanic!!!”)
The arugula salad, featuring pink-grapefruit sections, pine nuts, red onion, and crumbled blue cheese in poppyseed vinaigrette, offered a refreshing start to our meal. The Bangkok mussels (perfectly cooked, all opened) arrived in the most flavorful, nuanced Thai-inspired coconut broth. It was so delicious, I sopped up the remainder with some of the fresh bread and expertly prepared parsley-flecked fries. The duck-and-goat-cheese quesadilla, topped with chipotle sour cream, was golden brown and crispy on the outside, and creamy and tender on the inside.
The Bangkok mussels is a top dish at Café Mirage.
Amongst the entrées, the shrimp and andouille sausage gumbo, with subtle heat from jalapenos, tasted very authentic, while the sesame-crusted, seared yellowfin tuna was medium-rare, cut in elegant slices and served over rice with seaweed salad and dipping sauce. Flawless tacos (choose from tuna, chicken, or steak) came with guacamole, pico de gallo, rice, black beans, and lime wedges. The meat in the coconut curry chicken was extra-tender, blanketed by a crave-worthy sauce laden with sautéed vegetables. The crab cakes, though pricey ($30), came two to an order. Golden brown on the outside, their interiors brimmed with large chunks of crab meat. The remoulade and slightly sweet and crunchy cabbage slaw were ideal accompaniments.
Any quibbles I had with the savory dishes were relatively minor. The crab cake entrée and lobster-and-vegetable-egg-roll appetizer were underseasoned, and the shrimp in the Thai lemongrass shrimp appetizer and beef in the Korean bulgogi appetizer were overcooked (the steak was unpleasantly chewy). Although the Philly cheesesteak sandwich was an excellent rendition of a classic, it would have benefited from a bright mayonnaise (such as lemon and pickled pepper) for intensity and contrast.
For dessert, you must order the bread-and-butter pudding, dripping with salted caramel sauce and topped with house-made whipped cream. The crème brulee is textbook-perfect, with a brittle, crackly caramelized sugar crust and smooth vanilla-laced custard. The whipped-cream-topped chocolate mousse is another winner (it’s a terrific way to introduce children to a sophisticated dessert mainstay).
For solidly executed food with no pretense, head to the new Café Mirage. I guarantee you will leave satiated, content, and dreaming of the Bangkok mussels and bread-and-butter pudding.
Food 3/4 | Service 3/4 | Atmosphere 2/4 | Cost $$$
223 Westchester Ave, Port Chester