15 Fantastico Finds
Italian cuisine from simple to sublime, From modest pizzerias to casual trattorias to
By Judith Hausman
Photography by Stephen Ang
There are a couple of fairly easy ways to tell if an Italian restaurant is authenticÂ¡Âªand good. The first is to find out if Â¡Â°realÂ¡Â± Italians eat there. If not, you might as well be at the Olive Garden. The second is to note the reaction of the waiter when you ask for Â¡Â°gravy.Â¡Â± If he smiles knowingly and comes back with red sauce, youÂ¡Â¯re in the right place. If he asks, Â¡Â°Brown or au jus?Â¡Â± fold your napkin and politely make your exit.
Fortunately, Westchester abounds with a number of authentic and good choices for every taste and budget. So, whether youÂ¡Â¯re in the mood for brick-oven pizza with fresh mozzarella, spaghetti and meatballs with Sunday gravy or black linguine with baby lobster tails, youÂ¡Â¯re sure to find something here to tantalize your taste buds.
1505 Weaver Street, Scarsdale
DonÂ¡Â¯t let the strip mall location deter youÂ¡Âªthose in the know know that Il Cigno is one of the best Italian restaurants north of Little Italy and has one of the most impressive wine lists in the county. And forget, too, the rather uninspired dÂ¨Â¦cor. The inspiration is in the kitchen, which knows well how to keep food authentic and elegant. ItÂ¡Â¯s a joy to find real Tuscan ribollita soup and panzanella salad close to home, alongside the rich, meaty braised wild boar sauce for pappardelle with cinghiale.
EntrÂ¨Â¦es are sensitively prepared, too. Diver scallops and shrimp are grilled and stacked with just a coating of breadcrumbs and lemon. An equally straightforward lemon sauce highlights the grilled sole. The crisp, buttery-fresh roasted chicken with sweet and sour onions is like Sunday dinner in the countryside. Even the Â¡Â°just enoughÂ¡Â± portions of pasta make a meal at Il Cigno feel like a feast in Genoa or Lucca. Regulars twirl up rustic spaghetti with olives, anchovies and garlic or green linguine with creamy goat cheese. The house-made tiramisu, a dessert so common itÂ¡Â¯s hard to find a good one, is the real thing here. The well-soaked ladyfingers are generously dusted with cocoa. Ask for sliced peaches and berries to top the toasted hazelnut pound cake.
324 Central Park avenue, White Plains
The real giveaway that GregoryÂ¡Â¯s heart is in the right place is the tangle of mint and the fig tree growing next to the driveway. For an Italian, a patch of earth should grow something and not go to waste. Inside the greenhouse room is a homage to Sinatra, from his show-tune recordings in the background to his lithographic image on the walls. The eyes of the gracious and professional waiters sparkle as they spoil the women with half-portions of creamy penne alla vodka or linguine with lobster sauce and flatter the men with giant rib eye steaks and double
Generous platters of grilled seafood are (gender-neutral) favorites, too. Diners look forward to stuffed clams, shrimp cocktail, mussels in white wine, fried zucchini or a stack of grilled vegetables with goat cheese to start off. If you donÂ¡Â¯t have the $325 to drop on an Antinori Super Tuscan, there are still a couple of San Giovese youÂ¡Â¯ll like at $21.
5 North Buckhout Street
Platters of glistening antipasti are laid out before a rollicking mural at Il Sorriso. In the summer, you can kick back on the shaded patio, tucked away just off Main Street in the center of Irvington. DonÂ¡Â¯t be tempted by the heavier sauces here, such as the lobster sauce with scallops that accompanies the black tagliolini; they can weigh down the light homemade pasta. Ah, the fragile rounds of the agnolotti alla Fiorentina; filled with minced veal and spinach, they snuggle in a sage-infused butter sauce. A homey lamb ragÂ¨Â´ warms up the pasta alla chitarra, but the diminutive, thin-sliced lamb chops, topped with a light mince of tomatoes, garlic and herbs, are even better. You can skip the profiteroles, cannoli and tartufo but do succumb to the moist ricotta cheesecake, which is minimally sweetened and pleasantly crumbly.
millwood town plaza
238 saw mill river road
SpaccarelliÂ¡Â¯s may have a serene and somewhat formal look to it, but itÂ¡Â¯s far from stuffy. Translucent drapes flow from two-story windows, tall arches grace the side walls and the colors are soothing camel and beige. The service is gracious and knowledgeable but, though SpaccarelliÂ¡Â¯s claims to specialize in Â¡Â°cucina Abruzzese,Â¡Â± there isnÂ¡Â¯t much evidence here of the hot chiles for which classic Abruzzo dishes are known.
Still, this is the place for a fancy, leisurely lunch. Start with delicately battered zucchini flowers, asparagus or stuffed artichoke. Then enjoy grouper Livornese-style with olives, St. PeterÂ¡Â¯s fish marechiaro strewn with a handful of tiny clams, or bracioletti, thin beef rolled in seasoned breadcrumbs and simmered until tender. Do try some chitarra, long strands of pasta squared like guitar strings, topped with buttery, sautÂ¨Â¦ed mushrooms in brown sauce,
or ribbony pappardelle with chicken livers and mushrooms.
175 katonah avenue, katonah
A big, neon dolphin sits atop the roof of this former diner, located just two blocks from the train station in Katonah. Inside, there are inviting pictures of Capri and other picturesque Southern Italian spots. The 30-cent limburger sandwiches are no longer offered, but Blue Dolphin still has a comfortable, neighborhood feel. Sometimes the staff serves bruschetta to the crowd sitting on the benches outside, waiting for a table.
I love the quadrifolgi, a large veal-stuffed ravioli, and the baked pasta with eggplant and lots of cheese. But whatÂ¡Â¯s really special here are the vegetables. If youÂ¡Â¯re lucky, youÂ¡Â¯ll find thin slices of herb-flecked polenta with circles of grilled red-to-purple radicchio flavored with Parmesan, or bitter greens wilted in oil and dotted with bits of garlic. Fennel salad? Roasted red peppers? All are wonderful.
Mussels are also usually prepared well here, either bathed in white wine and garlic or in a tomato-based sauce. If you feel like having fish, look
for Mediterranean-style bass, simmered gently in tomatoes, salty-sour olives and capers.
343 route 100, Somers
Airy and casual, Il Forno makes guests feel welcomed despite a mostly Â¡Â°no-reservationsÂ¡Â± policy. The dynamite gourmet pizza is worth waiting in line for. The restaurantÂ¡Â¯s winning formula is equal parts thin, chewy crust, pure cheese and fresh toppings. An individual pizza, such as the capricciosa with fresh mozzarella, prosciutto and baby greens, is enough for two. The hefty stuffed pizza packs in your choice of five fillings and might feed the family.
Il Forno does Â¡Â°saladÂ¡Â± pizza topped with mixed greens and drizzled with a red wine vinaigrette. After one bite of the solemare combo, I wouldnÂ¡Â¯t share the pile of shrimp, broccoli, mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes with anyone. Similar topping combinations make wonderful sandwiches on garlicky focaccia or slices of Italian bread. How about smoky grilled eggplant, mushrooms and provolone?
If all that isnÂ¡Â¯t enough, venture beyond pizza. Penne vodka is transformed into penne barista at Il Forno with the addition of sautÂ¨Â¦ed zucchini, and linguine scampi is modernized with lemon and broccoli. Chicken nazionale brings together zucchini and roasted red peppers in a tangy balsamic cream sauce.
MulinoÂ¡Â¯s of Westchester
99 court street, White Plains
Before you even order your meal at what many opine is WestchesterÂ¡Â¯s best Italian restaurant, youÂ¡Â¯ll be nibbling grape-tomato bruschetta, rounds of meaty sopressata and crunchy green bean salad. Then, most dramatically, a waiter will bow to chip off large shards of nutty, dry Parmigiano-Reggiano, right from the gold brick wheel.
MulinoÂ¡Â¯s is a guyÂ¡Â¯s kind of Italian restaurant, with some of the macho of an American steakhouse. Glistening platters of cold seafood, such as oysters, jumbo shrimp and lobster tail stuffed with crab, donÂ¡Â¯t exemplify typical Italian fare, but they steal the show anyway at MulinoÂ¡Â¯s. When I dine here, I just ignore the standard menu and listen closely to the waiter recite the list of specials. Specialties of the house (which are listed on the menu) are black linguine with baby lobster tails and pappardelle with a tomato-basil sauce, but be on the lookout for homemade tortellachi, super-sized hat-shaped pasta filled with ricotta and herbs. And MulinoÂ¡Â¯s cheesecake is, without doubt, worth the calories. It tastes as if heavy cream has been substituted for some key ingredient, and it has just enough citrusy perfume to keep my fork magnetically returning until the last bite.
27 saw mill river road
Wondering where to hold the next staff luncheon? Well, Italian cuisine is a good choice for large groups and, at Tramonto, they are old hands with parties. To start, theyÂ¡Â¯ll pass several platters of Â¡Â°antipasto TramontoÂ¡Â±: delicately dressed, pencil-thin asparagus; slices of cool, zucchini frittata; peppers stuffed with a similar egg/herb mix; marinated button mushrooms, and colorful roasted peppers sprinkled with oregano, rolls of thin prosciutto and triangles of dry, flavorful cheese.
For the next course, some colleagues may like the light salads, such as arugula with grilled shrimp and squid or spinach with chickpeas and grilled eggplant, while other co-workers may go for the substantial veal chop with artichokes, shiitake mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes, or the spicy, standard linguine fra diavolo. DonÂ¡Â¯t worry: Have a breath mint and no one in the office will notice the generous garlic in your orecchiette with broccoli di rabe and slivered almonds.
360 North Bedford Road
544 main Avenue, Norwalk, CT (203) 846-4600 www.tuscanoven.com
Step out of the strip mall and into a Tuscan farmhouse. Tuscan Oven, in Mt. Kisco and Norwalk (thereÂ¡Â¯s one in Perugia, Italy, as well), is casual, countrified and really determined to serve good wines. While the restaurant may occasionally host wine dinners for American vineyards, the heart of its wine list beats for Italy, even when it comes to wine by the glass. Sip a sprightly Friuli Â¡Â¯00 Pinot Grigio from CaÂ¡Â¯ Bolani or a zaftig Barolo Fontanafredda Â¡Â°Vigna La RosaÂ¡Â± Â¡Â¯96.
I never get tired of the focaccia and peasant bread here, slathered with a bright green spinach pesto. And where else would I go for autumnal veal cheeks, slow-cooked in red wine? The fish of the day might be salmon, covered with white and black sesame seeds and nestled in a mild braise of fennel, a roasted yellow pepper sauce and a pile of chewy farro, an ancient grain. If you are eating lightly, look for Venetian-style cold trout in a sweet and sour marinade, sprinkled with toasted pine nuts and draped across watercress and crescents of cucumber. Or share a pizza with spinach pesto and melted Asiago, fired in the wood-burning oven, which might also be roasting crisp duck for your entrÂ¨Â¦e. If not especially Tuscan, meals here are seasonal and satisfying.
12 North salem road
After a long day of gardening, my friends and I were reluctant to dress up. Then, with a clean shirt and a swipe of the comb, we found ourselves heading for Bacio, Blue DolphinÂ¡Â¯s cousin in Cross River, and also related to the fancier Le Fontane in Somers. I lazed outside on the covered side deck and lingered over a dish of savory grilled sardines. When it got a bit chilly, we headed indoors and climbed onto a blond barstool and munched a salad of crisp string beans and tomatoes. In the past, when the stars were aligned just right, we were treated to a small glass
of house-made limoncello. Perhaps tonight we will be too.
Still hungry, we moved on to entrÂ¨Â¦es such as scallops, perfectly grilled and presented on top of a buttery mushroom risotto, and thin scallops of veal seasoned with silvery sage. ItÂ¡Â¯s okay if we need to bring our teens or our toddlers along; Bacio is very accommodating, even if all the kids will eat is a pile of buttered noodles.
Key food shopping Center
132 bronx river road, Yonkers
By Sundays at 5:30, ValentinoÂ¡Â¯s is packed. The waiters manage to keep their tuxedo jackets clean even when squeezing between tables, but Valentino Roina himself circulates among his customers wearing his kitchen apron like a badge of honor. His tender steak pizzaiola basks in peppery tomato sauce, and the moist roast pork, served in inch-thick chops, is a serious contender to satisfy even the most hungry meat lover. Huge meatballs top family-friendly piles of spaghetti with Â¡Â°gravyÂ¡Â¯Â¡Â± and chunks of eggplant with more sauce melt like cream into the penne with fresh mozzarella.
Start with a stuffed artichoke, served in rich broth with a swirl of olive oil. The bristly center is scooped out and filled with a fine mixture of herbs, ground veal and breadcrumbs. After the last forkful of stuffing, soak up the remaining broth with the crusty bread. Or share the cold seafood salad packed with pink shrimp, shredded lobster, tender scungilli, squid and lavender calamari and drizzled with olive oil and sprinkling of lemon, celery and capers. The obvious choice for dessert is house-made ricotta cheesecake, baked just brown on the edges and soft in the middle with a hint of anise flavor.
1885 Palmer avenue, larchmont
Gray-suited power brokers come right from the office to clubby, upscale LusardiÂ¡Â¯s. It buzzes with a chic crowd like its Manhattan twin. This consistent area favorite is known for modernized Italian cuisineÂ¡Âªdishes created always with a certain flair. A Wine Spectator award-winning wine list includes a full-bodied, Lusardi family label San Giovese. Appealing pasta dishes are spooned out old-fashioned style onto your plate. Specials might be ravioli stuffed with minced artichoke and shrimp, gnocchi flecked with ricotta salata and fava beans and risotto studded with saffron and sausage.
DonÂ¡Â¯t let the whole head-on sea bass scare you; the fish is succulent, herbal and expertly boned. Who would expect orange to season soft-shell crabs and asparagus or celery and fennel to balance a seafood salad? Your new favorite dish may be veal, combined with asparagus, prosciutto and pistachios, or chicken dressed up with radicchio and Brie. Desserts include biancomangiare in a ruby raspberry coulis or the darkest, most sublime, chocolate gelato. Be sure to make weekend reservations well
Onda Blu restaurant
elide plaza, 111 bedford road
On the menu you can read the nostalgic fairy tale that led Chef Fortunato Multari to open Onda Blu. He was trained by his cousin in a seaside restaurant in Calabria. Multari promised his cousin that some day he would open his own restaurant. ThereÂ¡Â¯s no seascape to gaze at in Armonk, only humble blue flowered wallpaper, but Multari has created an area favorite.
Typical of many Italian restaurants in our area, the waiters wear tuxes, but the diners wear shorts and feel comfortable with their families. At Onda Blu, look for old favorites: cherrystone clams oreganata, which go easy on the breadcrumbs; an oversized stuffed artichoke, which doesnÂ¡Â¯t; shareable salads that can feed the whole table.
Onda Blu is no place to diet. Veal might be prepared with artichokes and shiitake mushrooms or topped with prosciutto, eggplant and mozzarella. A pasta special might be rigatoni with sausage and broccoli di rabe. Sea bass, salmon or shrimp are broiled with lemon and plenty of butter. ThereÂ¡Â¯s even an old-fashioned pastry cart stacked with desserts: carrot cake, coconut tart, fresh strawberries and the requisite Italian cheesecake.
874 Scarsdale Avenue, Scarsdale
Moscato is LusardiÂ¡Â¯s more intimate and, perhaps, more refined, younger cousin. Foodies search out the seasonal here: a salad with flavorful chicken livers and onions, sweetened with balsamic vinegar, or light artichokes alla Romana, carefully trimmed down to the most tender leaves and grilled simply with herbs and diced tomato dressing. No pasta drowning in red sauce here. Instead pappardelle become subtly sweet and woodsy with browned mushrooms and a touch of truffle oil. Penne is tossed with summery tuna, anchovies and olives, while rotolo montanara is filled with rich spinach, ricotta and porcini mushrooms and served in a pink cream sauce. I was impressed with the sole-like John Dory, tenderly cooked with lemon, capers and asparagus, and with the chunky caciucco, a Genoese bouillabaisse. Crisp green beans come to the table in a communal bowl. For dessert, donÂ¡Â¯t pass up the homemade gelato.
2047 Boston Post road
To begin, enjoy the fresh Italian bread, served on each table with a plate of imported Parmigiano cheese and Savini’s own spread of roasted peppers and sun-dried tomatoes. Then, as an appetizer, try the spedini Romana, an old Italian favorite of sliced white bread and fresh mozzarella, dipped in egg batter and lightly fried, and served with a capers and anchovy sauce flavored with shallots and fresh herbs. Or how about SaviniÂ¡Â¯s superb fresh pasta? Try the chefÂ¡Â¯s signature pasta dish: farfalle Abruzzese, a bowtie pasta in a delicious roasted veal sauce.
If youÂ¡Â¯re into fish, consider Dover sole cooked in the kitchen but finished tableside and prepared with a sauce of white wine, Pernod and garlic. But leave room for a banana or strawberry flambÂ¨Â¦, or the ethereal zabaglione, all prepared tableside. After dinner, sit back and savor a complimentary house-made grappa, sambuca or limoncello, served from a rolling cart.
Judith Hausman is the food critic for The Journal News (Gannett Suburban Newspapers). She considers herself an honorary Italian-American.
Not about refinement or orignality, these homey, flexible eateries are family favorites:
Â«Â± Mamma FrancescaÂ¡Â¯s,
New Rochelle (914-636-1229)
Facing the New Rochelle marina, a local favorite with friendly staff.
Â«Â± La MandaÂ¡Â¯s, White Plains (914-686-9228)
DonÂ¡Â¯t miss the snapshot of Babe Ruth, framed into the paneling behind the bar. Legendary pizza and
Â«Â± NinoÂ¡Â¯s, South Salem
Run by a family of brothers. Try the mixed seafood over linguine.
Â«Â± Pasta e Pesce, Yonkers (914-779-9416)
Nonna says eat the saladÂ¡Âªfancy greens, mozzarella, artichokes, roasted red peppersÂ¡Âªthen you can have the linguine in white clam sauce. ThereÂ¡Â¯s a weekday Italian buffet.
Â«Â± Gina MariaÂ¡Â¯s Trattoria, Mt. Vernon (914-667-5200)
ThatÂ¡Â¯s Frankie playing
in the background. This is the place for homemade ravioli and a naughty
Â«Â± OrfinoÂ¡Â¯s, Briarcliff
Sometimes thereÂ¡Â¯s a line out the door by 7 p.m. for chicken cacciatore or penne alla Claudia with string beans, scallops and red sauce. Cash only!
Â«Â± T & J Pizza & Pasta, Port Chester (914-939-4134)
Bowls of spaghetti, heaped with sauce and meatballs and a giant veal chop campagnola with a sautÂ¨Â¦ of onions, peppers and mushrooms. Mangia!
Â«Â± SalÂ¡Â¯s Pizza, Mamaroneck (914-381-2022)
Still the best pizza in the area. SalÂ¡Â¯s makes a mean lasagna, too.
Â«Â± eclisse, Rye Brook
Come hungry and bring the extended family. Huge dishes meant to be shared.
AlbaÂ¡Â¯s, Port Chester
CafÂ¨Â¦ Antico, Mt. Kisco
Cafe Livorno, Rye
Casa de Nicola, Croton
Il Giardino, Armonk
Il Portico, Tappan
La Frontiera, Bronxville