Beyond the same Old, Same Old
The County’s Best New Restaurants
We give you 10 more reasons to eat out—now!
By Judith Hausman Photography by Phil Mansfield
Dozens of new restaurants have opened in and around Westchester during the previous year, adding to the hundreds already here, leaving us food-lovers with an enviable problem. Should we try that inventive new bistro tonight or return to that tried-and-true favorite? We can dine out almost every night of the year without eating at the same place twice. Still, some restaurants are worth going to again and again. Which, if any, among the crop of restaurants that sprouted in 2004 are among those that are worth visiting and revisiting?
These 10 restaurants, which turned on their ovens, stocked their refrigerators, polished their silver, and officially opened their doors sometime in year 2004, certainly are. They made this list not only for the food they serve—though of course that’s critically important—but also for their friendly, knowledgeable service, their inviting, charming atmosphere, or because they offer such a unique dining experience that you simply should, not miss out.
MOST UNIQUE NEW RESTAURANT
Blue Hill at Stone Barns is probably themost exciting restaurant event in years in Westchester, if not the entire metropolitan area. This Westchester cousin of Chef and Co-owner Dan Barber’s Manhattan restaurant is the keystone to the eco-sensitively restored carriage and dairy barns of the Rockefeller Estate in Pocantico Hills, which also houses the Stone Barns Center and farm offices, classrooms, art, and lecture spaces. The light and airy interior, which once housed dairy cows, is visually stunning; wooden floors were reclaimed from a Vermont factory, beamed ceilings soar, and the view of the verdant hills pulls you outdoors to a huge stone patio, perfect for weddings or an anniversary celebration.
Barber and Executive Chef Michael Anthony strive to eventually use only food produced on the Rockefeller farm. Meanwhile, the Hudson Valley farm-to-table connection is the theme; even cocktails are concocted with seasonal produce. For example, last autumn, diners began with pÃ¢tÃ© from the farm’s chicken livers or their own artisan charcuterie with a martini made with fennel-and-fig-infused vodka. Next, a baby romaine salad from the on-site greenhouses and one of several dishes created with locally foraged mushrooms or with Stone Barns’ heirloom Bourbon Red turkey (those not used in the restaurant were for sale this past Thanksgiving). Vegetables are infused with flavors so vivid, I suggest you close your eyes to fully appreciate them. Why do Blue Hill’s peas, tomatoes, and Brussels sprouts taste so good? “The reason is simple,” answers Anthony. “Products that come from steps away and are prepared without over-manipulation lead to brilliant results.”
Reservations are hard to come by, but do try: this is a culinary experience not to be missed. Don’t expect fancy architectural presentations, though. “They involve too many hands and take too much time to construct,” Barber says. “Food that’s less orchestrated is more reassuringly in touch with nature. Nature doesn’t fuss over itself; nor should we.” Instead, be swept away by the intensity of fresh, bold flavors.
Take, for example, the signature dessert, a chocolate bread pudding, which looks rather ordinary on the simple, oversized plate on which it is served. But just one bite and, pow!, it bursts with intense chocolate flavor. The dense, angular cube has a surprise of liquid caramel and salted pine nuts inside.
“Warm, cold, smooth, and crunchy,” describes Pastry Chef Michael Moorhouse, a thin and passionate pastry visionary, who has held positions at Aquavit, Lafayette, Alison on Dominick, Tabla, Ouest, and Picholine, all in Manhattan. Today he works closely with Assistant Pastry Chef Joel dela Cruz, who has been with Barber for more than seven years, and the team uses eggs from Stone Barns and dairy products from Ronnybrook Farm. Moorhouse’s heavenly, moist walnut cake served with poached Seckel pear and topped with homemade fig ice cream has a true walnut flavor because, Moorhouse says, “we use whole walnuts and California walnut oil.” (All ice creams are homemade, and Moorhouse admits he finds himself noshing on the creamy treats all night long.) The burgundy-colored Hudson Valley Seckel pear, poached in red wine and blackberry purÃ©e, tastes even more like pear than pear itself, and the fig ice cream has an earthy, not overly sweet, flavor that is somehow more addictive than even Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns
630 Bedford Rd., Pocantico Hills
Hours: Wed., Thurs., and Sun. 5-10 pm, Fri. and Sat. 5-11 pm, Sun. brunch 11 am-2 pm
ECLECTIC GLOBAL CUISINE
At Plates, a new dinner-only, European/ Asian Fusion restaurant in Larchmont, anything, it seems, goes. Clams steamed in green curry might be served alongside nearly transparent tortellini stuffed with beef short ribs and mushrooms or a foie gras crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e. A hamachi tuna tartare served with Granny Smith apples, avocado, and lotus chips counter the strip-steak special with potato gnocchi. For the crazy el lobster loco, lobster, scallions, and hand-rolled pasta mingle in an orangy tomato broth. Although owners Wendy Weinstein Karp and her husband, Chef Matthew Karp, are locals, they bring eclectic, global cuisine to this historic three-story eatery from their years of cooking at Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe; a little from here and there, and somehow it all works.
The menu at Plates is a worldwide sampling, as are the real plates Chef Karp has collected from restaurants around the world, brought back to his childhood stomping grounds, and mounted on the walls of this sharp, newly restored restaurant lo-cated in a park. It’s simultaneously trendy and cozy. Weinstein Karp, the restaurant’s business manager, quips, “People in NoMa—â€˜north of Manhattan’—deserve really good food, too.”
The staff knows the menu and the wines. Trust me on dessert: prune-and-Armagnac ice cream is a superb combo. Ditto “doughnuts and coffee,” an old-fashioned, dunkable doughnut filled with cinnamon ice cream and surrounded by espresso sauce.
121 Myrtle Blvd., Larchmont
Hours: Tues. to Sun. 5-11 pm
BUENOS AIRES BISTRO
With the sex appeal of the Latin world and the cosmopolitan breadth of Europe, Tango Grill goes way beyond the steak-on-a-skewer barbecue you may associate with the Argentine pampas. The family-owned establishment calls its menu Argentine-Italian fusion, bringing “a new choice to the rising restaurant scene in White Plains.” Of course there are mixed grills, lamb kabobs, sirloin and porterhouse steaks, and even massaged-until-tender Kobe beef, but there are also the cheaper, chewier cuts we see less often in American-style steakhouses, such as flavorful hangar steak, thin, juicy skirt steak, and wonderfully meaty grilled short ribs.
Rather than the familiar creamed spinach and fried onion rings with your steak, try fried yucca or tostones (thin-sliced fried plantains). Nix the A.1. Instead, spoon on the chimichurri, a parsley, garlic, and onion sauce preferred by many Latinos. Presented beautifully on stylish, oversized white plates, Italian dishes to try include spinach-stuffed rotollo pasta and pasta nostra (rigatoni with sausage, peppers, smoked mozzarella, and mascarpone), or veal martini with white-wine lemon sauce and Parmesan, and the special Chilean sea bass with Tango cognac sauce. And for the dessert: just say “crÃªpes,” por favor. You’ll end up saying gracias in no time. Decor is Buenos Aires bistro—all tall windows, dark wood, white tablecloths—and service couldn’t be more pleasant and accommodating.
128 E. Post Rd., White Plains
Hours: Sun. to Thurs. 11:30 am-10 pm, Fri. and Sat. 11:30 am-11 pm
A LAUNDROMAT TRANSFORMED
In Tarrytown, the very French Chiboust, opened by Jill Rose (former pastry chef at La Caravelle and Lespinasse), is a sophisticated, cozy bakery-cafÃ©, just like the darling cafÃ©s you see all over Paris. But Chiboust, thank Dieu, is conveniently located in Tarrytown, across from the refurbished Tarrytown Music Hall. (It’s wise to make dinner reservations way ahead of time if you plan to see one of the offerings there.)
To make your way to the dining room sporting exposed brick walls and wood floors, you first pass a tempting display case of mouthwatering pastries including luscious pear frangipane tarts, extraordinary chaussons aux pommes, and the restaurant’s namesake luxurious, melon-colored pastry, a column of intense passion fruit and papaya jam on a cashew-nut crust with frills of cream and white chocolate on top. All must-tries!
Chiboust has a demure Ladies-Who-Lunch atmosphere during the day and a Ladies-Who-Brunch feel on Sundays. It’s worth venturing out on a late Sunday morning for the creamy, extra-deep-dish quiche of the day (hope it’s spinach), classic quiche Lorraine, or poached eggs on a croissant with gravlax. For a more substantial dinner that takes you right to the South of France, dip into the sublime bouillabaisse to chase away the winter chills or slice into braised lamb shank. Luscious mussels, duck confit salad, or a goat-cheese tarte with figs might start you off. And, of course, don’t leave without a taste of that chiboust.
14 Main St., Tarrytown
Hours: Lunch Mon., Wed. to Sun. 11:30 am-3 pm, Dinner Mon., Wed., Thurs. 5:30-9:30 pm, Fri. and Sat. 5:30-10 pm, Brunch on Sat. and Sun.
A CAPE COD FEELING
People are waiting happily on the sidewalk to try Ocean House in Croton-on-Hudson, the first solo venture for chef-owner Brian Galvin, formerly at Bistro 22, and his wife, Paula. The former diner has been done up romantically in simple beige and blue, with wainscoting and a tiny bar. Limited seating means no reservations and no liquor license, so Ocean House is BYOB for now. But an upcoming renovation will allow the Galvins to expand the restaurant and eventually add a wine list.
Chef Galvin knows his fish: from the signature chowder to the crispy fried clams, to bestselling King salmon and carefully baked Chatham cod. “I love cooking fish. It’s why I got into cooking in the first place,” says self-taught Galvin. “We have a buyer at the wholesale fish market every day now.” He also knows how to respect the fisheries: no threatened Chilean sea bass, no high-mercury tilefish, swordfish used only sparingly, and international fish stews incorporate non-threatened fish.
Try the pears poached in red wine for dessert, or the fabulously cloud-like biscuit shortcake with berries.
49 N. Riverside Dr. (Rte. 9A), Croton-on-Hudson,
(914) 271- 0702
Hours: Tues. to Sat. 5-10 pm, Sun. 5-9 pm
A FRENCH FAVORITE, REVAMPED
Vox, a complete redesign of area favorite Auberge Maxime, is nostalgically named for owner Jean Le Bris’s hometown cinema. Bistro dÃ©cor—dark wood and cream walls—is punctuated with black-and-white movie-theme photographs, and there are actual theater seats and popcorn at the bar. But don’t let the nostalgic theme fool you; the food is thoroughly up-to-date.
Small, sweet artichokes, trimmed and grilled, show up with pink lamb; shaved fennel and endive are gently tossed in a salad. Beef short-rib osso buco snuggles in a bowl, and quivering sea scallops shine in a citrus sky of sauce. Then, for dessert, a perfect crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e, voluptuous as satin under the crackling sugar shell. Come spring, head out onto the stone patio for a glass of red wine and a plate of assorted cheeses, figs, and honey. Enjoy stunning views of the pastoral, green hills behind Vox.
The revamped decor and menu were designed, Le Bris confides, to create a more casual scene and to draw a younger clientele. “People were intimidated by Auberge Maxime,” admits Le Bris. “They considered it a dress-up, expensive place. The new menu is more eclectic—you can have calamari and a burger or lobster bisque and rack of lamb. There’s even a kids’ menu so you can have a fancy gourmet meal and your kids can have pasta or grilled chicken with French fries.” And if the young crowd in cashmere, tweed, and jeans I’ve encountered on visits is any indication, the changes are working.
721 Titicus Rd., North Salem
Hours: Lunch Thurs. to Sat. 12-2:30 pm, Dinner Wed. to Sat. 5:30-10 pm, Sun. 5:30-8 pm, Sun. Brunch
A TASTE OF PORTUGAL
If you’ve never tried the wonderfully hearty cuisine of Portugal, you’re in for a treat at Oporto (formerly Alcaria). Owner Rui Cunha, who recently hired CIA-trained chef Rui Correia, (who had worked with venerated chef Bobby Flay) to take over the kitchen duties, says he wants to “present Portuguese food in new territory”—farther from the Portuguese communities in Newark or even Ossining. All over Portugal you’ll see blue tile murals, like the one centered in the yellow stucco wall at Oporto. It depicts Leiria, the village where Cunha’s parents still live.
To start authentically, order the typical pork-and-clam stew, the earthy alantejana, or a Portuguese-style sirloin, topped with egg and ham and served with crispy, twice-cooked Portuguese spicy fries. Slice into succulent spit-grilled chicken, the big seller of which Cunha is especially proud. It’s simply seasoned with good olive oil and dripping with juice. Don’t miss Portuguese paella or the picadinho, a melange of cubed pork, sliced sausage, baby shrimp, peppers, and onions served in a spicy wine sauce with roasted potatoes. Portuguese-style sangria with pine-apple juice is a house specialty and Cunha offers a list of Portuguese wines. Coming soon: Portuguese fado music.
191 E. Hartsdale Ave., Hartsdale
Hours: Tues. to Thurs. and Sun. 11:45 am-10 pm, Fri. and Sat. 11:45 am-11 pm
Morton’s, The Steakhouse, the Chicago- based, international chain of steak-houses, has opened its 65th restaurant, this one in White Plains. It is an absolutely, 100 percent, to-the-Nth-degree steakhouse with a dark, masculine, speakeasy atmosphere: lots of wood, brass, and suits. It’s the kind of place you go to again and again when the boss is paying, but if you’re smart, love good steak, and have a hearty appetite, you’ll come here when it’s on your tab as well. You may pay a hefty sum for that 48-ounce porterhouse, but you won’t regret it. It’s thick, juicy, and worth every penny of the $42 your 24 ounces will cost.
The waiter wheels up a cart to recite the “show-and-tell” menu, a 26-year Morton’s tradition, so you can have an advance look at your meal: a 14-ounce fillet, the 20-ounce New York strip, or the popular, bone-in rib-eye. On the cart too: fresh tomatoes, peppers, and raw Idaho potatoes (part of the sides). On the hard-copy menu, you’ll also find a new Maine lobster cocktail and baked shrimp Alexander. “My wife doesn’t eat steak so she loves the colossal shrimp,” says General Manager Jim Monaghan. Popular sides include traditional creamed spinach, Morton’s salad with blue cheese, chopped egg, and anchovies, and 18- to 22-ounce baked potatoes. “They’re like footballs,” says Monaghan.
Even the desserts here are good, which is pretty impressive, given that steakhouses usually don’t bother with desserts: they apparently knew long before Atkins did that red-meat protein really fills you. But do try to make room for the Godiva-chocolate cake (work out at the health club twice as long before you go). “It’s the best dessert you’ll ever have,” opines Monaghan. “I tell people to have it as an appetizer and then, if they are still hungry, have a steak.” The individual warm, flourless chocolate cake oozes gooey Godiva chocolate from its center. It’s worth the extra 50 push-ups.
Morton’s, The Steakhouse
9 Maple Ave., White Plains
Hours: Mon. to Sat. 5-11 pm, Sun. 5-10 pm
A PIZZERIA, REMADE
Chef Craig Cupani, who co-owns Lia’s with his wife, Imre, has a crab-cake recipe that he just couldn’t abandon. “It’s beautiful, sweet, jumbo lump crab meat, well-seasoned and golden brown,” Cupani describes it. Most diners just use one word: delicious. Diners are also discovering Cupani’s light, nutty butternut-squash ravioli in a sage brown-butter sauce. His roast branzino on a base of braised fennel is remarkable too. Ditto the salmon, which gets the brick-oven treatment, just like the pizza.
The Cupanis, who now live locally, had previously worked in Manhattan restaurants; he was most recently chef at Midtown’s Patroon, which Imre still manages. Cupani was chef at Manhattan’s venerated Tabla when it opened and he re-opened the Brasserie in Midtown. The couple met while working at the “21” Club in 1988. “Every neighborhood needs a modern Italian restaurant,” says Cupani.
For Lia’s, the couple replaced the pizzeria at the site for 25 years with a 25-plus-foot scarlet banquette, dramatic lighting, and a small bar that affords a peek into the kitchen. Though the Cupanis enjoy accommodating families and still offer individual pizzas, they now also offer sophisticated fare in a comfortable stylish setting—a formula bound to succeed.
202 E. Hartsdale Ave., Hartsdale
Hours: Sun., Tues. to Thurs. 5-10 pm, Fri. and Sat.
SLEEK, JAZZY AND SOHO HIP
The great big windows of Blue, the new bistro and lounge specializing in novel, Asian-touched cuisine, look out on the now-hipper streets of downtown White Plains. Decorated with brilliant blue panels, Blue has a way with the entire color spectrum: sunny yellow bowls for pink soup, square white plates to show off bright green pesto dipping oil, even a “bluetini” in a blue-stemmed martini glass garnished with an orange peel. From the small-plates section, fleshy grilled octopus is garnished appealingly with lychee and roasted-corn salsa. Crab cylinders (rather than cakes) are dotted with both creamy bearnaise and kicky cayenne. Lobster bisque contains plenty of lobster bits, and emerald pesto is sprinkled on top.
International elements perk up entrÃ©es: tea-encrusted chicken on a hill of gingery lentils, horseradish-encrusted black grouper, cornmeal-crisp striped bass balanced with chunky tomato-shrimp sauce, and vermicelli with chicken sausage and vegetables in a red curry broth. And for the adventurous: kangaroo. Blue is one of very few restaurants in the metropolitan area serving kangaroo and, no, it doesn’t taste like chicken; more like venison. But, hey, don’t take my word: try it.
For dessert, try the Thai chocolate cake with a touch of chiles in a decadent chocolate disguise, or pouffy berry Napoleons, with whipped cream, layered with a little pastry and dark, juicy berries. Either one or, better still, a little of both make a flamboyant and delicious ending.
99 Church St., White Plains
Hours: lunch Mon. to Fri. 12-2:30 pm, Dinner Mon. to Thurs. 5-10 pm, Fri. and Sat. 5-11 pm,
Sun. 4-9 pm
Judith Hausman has eaten at nearly every restaurant in Westchester and her scale can attest to that.