Top Spots for Group Dining

At Fortina in Armonk and Rye Brook, the question isn’t if you get a seat at the table; it’s would you eat off of that table? For the off-menu polenta dinners, a whole pot of Anson Mills polenta mounted with butter and cheese spreads across a wooden table — no plates required. It’s not as gimmicky as it sounds: Polenta served off rustic, communal tables is a centuries-old tradition in Italy. “I had my first polenta table in Northern Italy years ago,” says Chef Christian Petroni. “Before we opened Fortina, we were doing pop-up dinners at Cooked & Co. in Scarsdale, and I decided to try this concept of pouring polenta on the table and topping it with delicious fixings.” No longer served at Cooked & Co., interested parties can now have the same experience at Fortina with a week’s notice.  

Typically topped with a rich meat ragù, Petroni prefers an Italian American spin, nestling fat meatballs into the soft cornmeal and splattering it Jackson Pollock-style with red sauce and a few heavy handfuls of Parmesan. On a particularly decadent night, a few braciole and shavings of black truffle will find their way into the mix. Or perhaps batons of garlic bread, perfect for scooping up whatever remnants of the meal weren’t consumed with a fork. Another time, Petroni might eschew the red sauce all together for toppings like wood-roasted bone marrow and seasonal vegetables. 

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Another dish with a similarly ancient tradition is available at Croatian restaurant Dubrovnik in New Rochelle. In a pit in the garden courtyard, the restaurant roasts meats under steel bells surrounded by ashes and embers. “The idea is for very slow cooking,” explains owner Jerry Tomic, who brought the bells, in a variety of sizes, with him from Croatia. 

Diners eat polenta and meatballs directly off a table at Fortina

At Dubrovnik, meats are roasted under an ember-laden steel bell

The technique can be used on many meats, from whole lambs perfumed with rosemary and garlic and roasted until crispy to tender octopus in a mix of tomatoes, capers, and olive oil. (All Under the Bell preparations require at least two days’ notice and a minimum of four people.) Each dish is served with vegetables that have been cooked alongside the meats. “The lamb comes with roasted potatoes [so good], you want to die for them because they take on all the flavor from the food,” muses Tomic. “That’s the beauty of it.” 

In North Salem, Chef Michael Kaphan is also cooking with fire at Purdy’s Farmer & the Fish. On August 4 and 18 (additional September dates may be added), one of the four-acre farm’s terraces will be transformed into a sort of alfresco dining room. “Everyone is farm-to-table now, but except for us and Blue Hill, no one truly has a farm,” says Kaphan. “I wanted to give diners a true farm-to-table experience.” Guests can even stop by the fields and greenhouses earlier in the day and join Kaphan to harvest seasonal produce — summer squash, tomatoes, eggplants, and chili peppers, for example — for the night’s dinner. (This year is also the farm’s first harvest for sweet corn and ripe summer peaches.) 

The all-inclusive sunset dinners ($250 per person; reservations required), which started in July (with all proceeds from the first dinner going to a local family whose child is battling leukemia), will really hit their stride in August as the farm comes into peak season. After cocktails, parties of 10 will settle into a candlelit five-course meal, each dish paired with wine. “We have custom wood-burning grills, so we’ll be cooking [right there],” says Kaphan before adding, “We have perfect sunsets on the farm.” 

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At O Mandarin in Hartsdale, you’ll only need two to order its trademark Peking duck. “This is very authentic Mandarin food,” says GM Peter Liu, who points out that the dish was once fare for royalty. As you’d expect with food fit for an emperor, preparing the dish is a painstaking process: Each duck is fan-dried for at least six hours and brushed repeatedly with maltose sugar, to create a deep color and that characteristic crisp skin, then roasted until tender with just the faintest hint of pink remaining in the meat. 

Brought to the table with a steaming plate of translucent crêpes, julienned cucumber and scallion, and a house blend of plum, oyster, and hoisin sauces, eating the dish involves its own ceremony. And that skin? It’s as irresistibly crisp as you’d imagine; each mahogany shard crackles as you pick it up with chopsticks. “We make our own crêpes. We make the sauce,” adds Liu. “Our chef has done Peking duck pretty much his whole life. [When we opened, we wanted to] present some of the best Mandarin dishes. Peking duck was the first choice.” 

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