Restaurant Review: Red Zebra is a Rare Find

Red zebra is a type of heirloom tomato — and the name of an endearing new Modern Italian restaurant in Sleepy Hollow. As with its sister establishments, Tomatillo (Dobbs Ferry) and Sweet Grass Grill (Tarrytown), this farm-to-table spot takes local, seasonal ingredients seriously. In fact, its sources are listed on the menu, which changes frequently, depending on produce availability.

Fortunately, those impeccable ingredients come at a moderate price and with zero pretense (a meal for six, with wine, averages $200). Walk in, and co-owner Neil Benson will likely greet you warmly and sincerely. On both of my visits, the friendly tone extended to the servers and busboys, all of whom were solicitous, refilling our water pitcher and supply of warm, fresh homemade focaccia squares, moist with olive oil and flecked with sea salt.

Although the décor is a bit generic, with too much brown-on-brown, the space is cozy and comfortable, complete with exposed brick and colorful paintings. Expect down-home and casual, not stylish and upscale. When the weather is nice, consider dining on the back patio. The aromas of the herb garden might commingle pleasantly with those of the food; just know that you’ll see a broken window and rusty siding on neighboring buildings and a table with a bin of dirty dishes. If it’s cold outside, try perching on a stool at the large wooden bar inside.

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As for the food, the simplest, freshest dishes shine. Amongst the starters, the classic Caesar salad was executed perfectly — with the right amount of crunch and creamy dressing and tender, beautiful anchovies. The shredded kale salad with toasted pine nuts was full of umami flavor from the meaty sun-dried tomatoes and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. A corn soup was creamy and sweet — my only quibble was that it could have used more garnish for visual and textural contrast. My dinner guests also loved the grilled baby artichokes with black olive crumbs and a sweet zabaglione sauce; although the pairing sounds strange, the sweet-salty combo was crave-worthy. Meanwhile, the hummus and flatbread were slightly dry and could have benefited from more olive oil. That said, the crispy fried chickpeas atop the hummus made the dish pop.

A surprising sweet-savory plate of grilled baby artichokes with black olive crumbs and zabaglione sauce makes for a solid starter.

If you’re a fan of delicate thin-crust pizza, try the Queen Margherita. With a shatter-thin crust and flavorful sauce, this pie was elegant and not overly rich. (On my first visit, I also tried another type, featuring asparagus and mushroom; however, it was no longer on the menu during my second visit.) On the other hand, I would skip the unappetizing-looking deep-dish pizza, a messy, personal-size version featuring too much sauce and cheese and insufficient pepperoni.

Pastas, such as the generously sauced classic spaghetti with tender meatballs, are homemade and worth trying. My dinner party also loved the pitch-perfect al dente pappardelle with oxtail ragù, crowned with a fried egg. Unlike the classic sweet butternut squash ravioli, Red Zebra’s version is appealingly savory and slightly tangy from goat cheese and lemon. A slick of brown butter, with chopped walnuts and fried sage, added richness and crunch. My only critique is that the pasta dough should have been rolled out more for tenderness. Unfortunately, the seafood diablo, with taglierini pasta, could have used more spiciness, tomato sauce, and seafood; and the clams and shrimp were slightly overcooked.

Of the five ciabatta sandwiches on the menu, we tried the RZ Burger, with an incredibly flavorful and tender grass-fed brisket-sirloin patty, fontina cheese, and heirloom tomato. Among the traditional entrées, I’d recommend the innovative roasted eggplant, very filling for a vegan (and gluten-free) dish. If you love eggplant and bitter flavors, you’ll find the charred nightshade topped with sweet-and-sour tomato chutney, whipped tofu (hit with some tahini), and crispy chickpeas intriguing and satisfying. Meanwhile, the organic half-roasted chicken featured crispy, golden-brown, cumin-spiced skin and moist, tender flesh.

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A vegan-friendly entrée of roasted eggplant, tomato chutney, whipped tofu, and crispy chickpeas

To round out its offerings, Red Zebra offers a kids’ menu and caters to those following vegan or gluten-free diets. The menu clearly designates dishes as vegan, vegan-possible, gluten-free, and gluten-free-possible.

Of the four desserts, try the tiramisu. The classic take is moister and more alcohol-soaked than many I’ve tried. While I would skip the zeppole (expertly fried but bland and sauce-less), slightly dry chocolate-bourbon cake, and gelato (not house-made), I am itching to return to sample the boozy affogato, with L’Arte vanilla gelato, espresso, and Bloomery SweetShine Black Walnut Liqueur. (The Black Walnut is just one of the distillery’s many varieties available; Red Zebra also stocks the limoncello, ginger, raspberry-lemon, and pumpkin spice). A generous selection of moderately priced small-batch wines (by the bottle and glass), craft cocktails, and beers complements the fare.

Like the red zebra tomato, this Sleepy Hollow restaurant is a rare find. Hopefully, it will become a Westchester heirloom and thrive for years.

Red Zebra
31 Beekman Ave, Sleepy Hollow

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Cos Cob-based writer Dina Cheney is the author of The New Milks: 100-Plus Dairy-Free Recipes for Making and Cooking With Soy, Nut, Seed, Grain, and Coconut Milks (Atria/Simon & Schuster).

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