Admitted: New York City has an unchallengable density of restaurants. A 2010 statistic states that Gotham holds 23,499 restaurants offering adventurous urban eaters a world-spanning range of choices. Yet even with its masses, the City’s restaurants can’t offer what Westchester’s can, like the opportunity to serve food grown and raised a short walk from their tables. Westchester’s land—and its farmers—have proven a huge lure for urban restaurateurs, who may have been looking to lessen the food miles incurred even by purchasing their stock at trendy Union Square Greenmarket. Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Crabtree’s Kittle House, and Restaurant North all celebrate food grown in Westchester soil—and they’re doing it with such flash that even Gothamites are paying attention. BHSB’s Chef/Owner Dan Barber has become a national icon in the movement toward more responsible eating, while Crabtree’s Kittle House was recently named to Food & Wine’s exlusive five-restaurant list of “America’s [Wine] Pairing Meccas.” This, as the Kittle House maintains its Wine Spectator “Grand Award” (one of only 74 worldwide), puts the 30-year-old Chappaqua landmark in the same league as Per Se and the French Laundry. And, though only 30 years old, Restaurant North’s Eric Gabrynowicz has already been shortlisted for a James Beard Foundation Award. Plus, with Westchester’s wealth of open land comes stellar outdoor dining; no grungy Manhattan backyard or sidewalk dining can compare to a table overlooking rolling meadows illuminated by fireflies at Bedford Post.
We spoke with Restaurant North’s Stephen Paul Mancini, formerly of Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, and Maialino, who followed in the steps of Dan Barber, Joe Bastianich, and Mario Batali (among others) to parlay high-profile Manhattan restaurant successes into a Westchester venture. Before he opened Restaurant North in Armonk, Mancini visited between 75 and 100 Manhattan restaurant sites. The proposed rents that Mancini considered ranged from $40,000 to $75,000 per month, or nearly $1 million a year. After an exhaustive urban search, Mancini had a revelation. “I walked out of the spot in Armonk [that eventually became Restaurant North], and I heard birds chirping in the trees. And I realized that I hadn’t heard birds in a long time. Usually, when I walked out of work, no matter what time, all I heard was car horns.”
He continues, “I’m a Westchester kid. I grew up in Scarsdale. So I knew that that there’d be a place for the Union Square vibe out here. We could offer great food and service, but relaxed—you’d still be welcome if you wore jeans. I knew there was an opportunity.” What about sacrificing all that NYC media attention? “In New York, because of the density of restaurants, you’re just a blip on the radar. And, if you read sites like Eater closely, they just cycle through the same chefs—it’s like a clothesline, with those same pins going around and around. Here, we’re involved in a community, both restaurant and residential, and we feel like we can make a difference in both, and that is so fulfilling.” He adds, ”Wanna know the big difference between Westchester and the City? Right now, I have a sweet garden. Fifteen types of heirloom tomatoes, all kinds of herbs.”