Our Favorite Alfresco Dining Destinations
Ten top spots to dine en plein air.
Elegant Al Fresco Dining: Ten places where the meals are as breathtaking as the food.
By Julia Bonar
Take a drive around the Italian countryside on a fine summer night and you’ll see it everywhere you go: tables (and sometimes just boards placed on trestles) draped with snowy linens and set out under the stars. And you’ll see people clustered in the lamplight, enjoying long, leisurely meals in the fragrant evening air.
The Italians are no fools when it comes to elegant dining—they invented la dolce vita, after all. They know that nothing can turn a good meal into magic like taking it outside on a summer night.
So get away from the sterile chill of air conditioning and the harsh glare of electric lights—and enjoy your next night out in nature’s dining room. What follows is a roundup of
■ ■ Le Jardin du Roi ■ ■
95 King St.
(914) 238-1368; www.lejardinchappaqua.com
Setting: A casual, candlelit patio garden, tucked away from the road, with seating for 40 under market umbrellas.
If you blanch at the thought of having to re-don your tie (or heels) to get a bite of authentic French food, Le Jardin du Roi is for you. Feel free to sit outside in shorts and flip-flops enjoying a warm summer evening in Le Jardin’s flickering, flower-studded, lantern-and-candlelit garden. There, you can dig into such hearty bistro fare like coq au vin and steak frites, or more creative dishes like pan-seared lamb with eggplant caviar and raspberry sauce, all executed as they would be in
Commitment-phobic oenophiles are also welcome. Le Jardin has 20 wines by-the-glass and a wide selection of summer cocktails. Especially good is the not-too-sweet, subtly sparkling cocktail that Le Jardin calls a French Kiss: Stolichnaya vanilla vodka, passion fruit nectar, and a splash of dry
A West Village transplant (by way of
■ ■ Harvest on
(914) 478-2800; www.harvest2000.com
Setting: Dinner on the
Casually seductive, Harvest on
Pastry chef James C. Distefano brings an urbane touch to desserts, getting perhaps the biggest bang out of Harvest on
■ ■ L’Escale ■ ■
(203) 661-4600; www.lescalerestaurant.com
Setting: Large Provence-themed terrace overlooking
L ’Escale’s Ivory Coast-born executive chef, Francois Kwaku-Dongo, cut his teeth working at such diverse gastronomic temples as Maison Troisgros in
The terrace scene at L’Escale is relaxed yet swinging, with a hard-drinking celebrity- and power-crowd enjoying sunny views of
At L’Escale, the attention to detail is impressive, from the dining room’s massive stone hearth (salvaged from an old chÃ¢teau) to the 200-year-old French floor tiles. You see it in the
■ ■ Scarborough Fair Restaurant ■ ■
65 Pondfield Rd.
Setting: A candlelit, brick-paved garden between two buildings, planted with birch trees, climbing plants, and overflowing planters.
There’s something about Scarborough Fair’s romantic, brick-paved garden that’s very reminiscent of
Nevertheless, you can still expect carefully executed, classic cuisine at Scarborough Fair. Look for dishes like the seared foie gras with aged balsamic vinegar and portobello mushrooms, crab cakes with micro-greens, and filet mignon with seasonal risotto. Or try his Tasmanian trout (a wild salmon-like species), served ruddy and creamy over asparagus tips. You can get a burger—
79 Rectory St.
Setting: Seating for 22 on an intimate torch- and candlelit deck.
What is there left to say about powerhouse Chef Rafael Palomino? He’s
■ ■ F.I.S.H. ■ ■
102 Fox Island Rd.
(914) 939-4227; www.fishfoxisland.com
Setting: Candlelit deck overlooking a residential turn of the
F.I.S.H. (Fox Island Seafood House) is a perfect example of how much serious thought can go into a successful, breezy, and casual restaurant. The whimsical dÃ©cor uses its limited resources to the fullest: the building’s awkward, low-ceilinged and noisy rooms are disguised by a smart use of paint and sound baffles that look like sails. The restaurant’s outdoor space is also fully exploited—from the inside, with large sliding windows, and from the outside, with a deck—and overlooks a surprisingly residential turn of the semi-industrial, not-quite-prime-waterfront
That’s not even taking into account the food, all of which is good in a robust, boldly flavored way. While fish-phobes are given more than token consideration (with lots of terrestrial pizzas, salads, chicken, steak, and burger dishes on the menu), the fish is what you come for. Highlights include spicy tuna flatbread: a crunchy sashimi pizza for a crowd, wasabi-hot enough that it’ll have you reaching for your tasty, Swedish Fish garnished F.I.S.H. cocktail. Or, if you see them (and you may not—Chef William Rosenberg’s menu changes every six weeks), go for the flawlessly sautÃ©ed diver scallops. They’re hard-seared outside, creamy and nearly raw inside, perfectly seasoned and treated with the respect they deserve. And speaking of respect, F.I.S.H. sells no farmed or unsustainably harvested species. You’ll see no flabby farmed salmon or Chilean sea bass here.
■ ■ Equus Restaurant ■ ■
400 Benedict Ave.
Setting: The stone terrace of a historic, castle-like mansion with extensive Husdon views.
There’s no alfresco dining site in
Chef David Haviland’s daily prix-fixe menus are French-based with a healthy injection of local ingredients and American flair. Take his uptown version of the classic shellfish and chorizo called lobster truffle brandade—hunks of lobster formed into lightly breaded cakes, served over a tiny dice of chorizo, and capped by a trio of massive shrimp. In a nod toward modern Spanish cuisine, the entire assembly is gilded with fragrant lobster-cognac foam. Or try his cool and luscious tuna tartare: chunky quenelles of ruby-colored tuna stacked high between crisps over a briny seaweed salad.
Equus (in keeping with its aristocratic tone) is manned by a formal, European-trained staff. And bucking the increasingly casual trend of
■ ■ Crabtree’s Kittle House ■ ■
11 Kittle Rd.
(914) 666-8044; www.kittlehouse.com.
Setting: Secluded torch and candlelit lawn surrounded by trees, herbs, and flowers.
A true local institution, Crabtree’s Kittle House has always mirrored
That doesn’t mean that the Kittle House has forgotten its roots. Current owner John Crabtree (who purchased the inn with his father) makes it a point to showcase local produce in his restaurant. You’ll find Rainbeau Ridge goat cheese from nearby Bedford Hills, and eggs from
It’s no surprise that the Kittle House’s yearly fireworks-lit Fourth of July clambake sells out so far ahead. There’s no more sophisticated, yet inherently American, place around. Where else would a $10,000 bottle of 1900 ChÃ¢teau Margaux and a luscious mango/jalopeÃ±o lobster roll (with tiny fingerling potato chips) show up on the same menu?
■ ■ Vox ■ ■
(914) 669-5450; www.vox-restaurant.com
Setting: Two candlelit patios with outdoor bar and rolling, park-like grounds.
Vox is as pleasing as a good French country antique—it’s got the comforting patina of age and casual quality. Even though the menu has undergone a modern shift since its days as Auberge Maxime, the refinement of the French landmark is still there. You’ll find it lurking in the perfumed velvet of Vox’s lobster bisque and in Chef Christopher Cipollone’s masterful treatment of duck: crisp-skinned, fuchsia magret fanned over a soulful confited leg, paired with forbidden black rice, baby bok choy, and a plum-wine sauce. It tastes like a dream of
The outdoor space at Vox takes full advantage of its location in one of the prettiest corners of