It’s always interesting when a new restaurant takes over from a well-established one. The new restaurant’s challenge is to express its own identity without alienating the former restaurant’s regulars—whom, of course, it would like to keep. Décor, menu, even the tone of service, are gentle assertions of the new restaurant’s personality. For loyal customers, this transition business can be touchy. If a change is too drastic, the new persona is jarring: like the day your sweet teenager rimmed her eyes in kohl, dressed in black, and proclaimed she was now a Goth.
Thankfully, John and Banu Reynolds have seduction in mind. Bungalow’s proprietors since October ’07 (he’s the former chef of Willy Nick’s in Katonah; she’s a fashion editor, costume designer, and art director), they’ve taken Stoneleigh Creek’s tiny, chintz-and-wallpaper-filled space and gently modernized it. Stoneleigh Creek, meanwhile, has moved to a larger site in Armonk. The couple’s décor changes are both thoughtful and refreshing. In cold weather, the exterior of the pretty, freestanding building is graced with rustic braziers, while inside, where pattern once ran riot, neutral colors soothe. Bungalow’s new, stripped-down décor reveals the pleasant lines of the small room. It feels urbane and intimate without seeming cramped.
Stoneleigh’s fans will not be jarred by Bungalow’s menu, as both restaurants offer European and American standards spiked by occasional Asian notes. For instance, just like Stoneleigh Creek before it, Bungalow’s menu features versions of steak au poivre with frites, Caesar salad, tuna tartare, short ribs, and fried calamari. Another thing that eases the restaurant’s transition from Stoneleigh: Bungalow offers a short but gently priced wine list.
Bungalow’s menu lists several dishes in both appetizer and main portions, which is a thoughtful nod to grazers and light eaters. Yet downsizing portions can sometimes backfire: our thin, appetizer portion of filet mignon (which arrived in a ‘surf and turf’ along with shrimps and scallops) was both overcooked and—because it was thin—lacking in inherent filet mignon-ness. We missed the steak’s usual thick, buttery juiciness. More pleasingly, our Caesar salad arrived just as we like it: bright, lemony, and not too light on the anchovies. We loved the shatteringly crisp Parmesan frico that accompanied it, too.
Other starters were equally hit-or-miss. While a “two tartare” (six quenelles of either ahi tuna or salmon tartare in ponzu-sesame sauce served on fried wonton skins) was fine, if slightly under-seasoned, our seared scallops were problematic. Their sauce of light, Meyer-lemon emulsion was pleasant, but the pretty, golden-seared scallops were overcooked: split at the edges, tight, and tough.
Bungalow’s unevenness continued onto the mains. Our favorite was a well-cooked, tender, juicy steak au poivre that arrived with crispy frites and a creamy, mildly peppery sauce. It was the ideal comfort dish for the bitter, stormy night of our visit. Also good were slow-cooked duck legs (a special) in a light, orange-scented sauce—the duck was greaseless and succulent, and also perfectly seasoned.
Our lobster risotto, however, was a misfire. While the rice’s creamy starch was well teased out of the grains, the dish arrived much too salty and the blanched vegetables that topped it were undercooked. This was regrettable, since the bitterness of raw asparagus leant the already over-salted dish an unpleasant flavor and unwelcome crunch.
Of Bungalow’s desserts, figgy pudding is best—the timbale arrives warm, studded with candied ginger, and graced with caramel sauce. The restaurant’s worst was a poorly executed version of bananas Foster, which was served with bitter, burnt, clumped brown sugar on a slice of black-bottomed brioche with separated butter. Bunglalow’s pavlova stood somewhere in the spectrum’s middle: while not as painful as the burnt bananas Foster, we were disappointed that Bungalow’s “soft meringue” pavlova was more like a roulade—a dull sponge cake rolled around whipped cream and out-of-season berries. This version lacked a pavlova’s usual textural beauty, in which the crisp meringue shell yields to a gooey, marshmallow-y interior and a heavenly cloud of whipped cream.
Bungalow is the sort of restaurant that challenges the star-rating system. It’s possible, with either luck or judicious ordering, to have a three-star meal here—but it’s also easy to have a meal much further down the scale. Bungalow’s room is attractive and its mood, winning. The service tone at Bungalow achieves the difficult balance of being casual and low key, while remaining attentive and gracious. It helps the restaurant’s cozy vibe that Chef John Reynolds makes frequent appearances in the room, casually chatting with his many friends and neighbors. Bungalow is a warm restaurant, the sort that (as we saw on one of our visits) won’t turn two people away at 9:30 on a weeknight when they want only tea and dessert. This mild seductiveness virtually guarantees Bungalow a smooth pathway into the hearts of Stoneleigh Creek’s wary regulars.
Bungalow Restaurant â˜…â˜…
166 Soneleigh Ave, Croton Falls
(914) 598-3008/(845) 669-8533
Hours: Lunch Tues to Sat 12-3:30 pm; dinner Tues to Thurs plus Sun 5:30-9 pm, Fri and Sat 5:30-10 pm; brunch Sun 12-3:30 pm
Appetizers:$6-$16; entrees: $19-$35; desserts: $6