Dining Q & A
Got a dining dilemma? We’ve got a perfectly delicious solution.
Your Who (the in-laws, foodie friends), What (french bistro?
italian trattoria?), Where (patio dining? river view?) and When
(lunch? dinner?) dining problems solved
By Judith Hausman
Photography by Phillip Ennis
Prowling the county as a food critic, I know there’s a solution to almost every dining dilemma. No matter your taste, your budget or the occasion, you can find what you’re looking for not too far from home. At both ends of the spectrum, economical or upscale, there are plenty of local dining options.
Here are suggestions I make when people ask those various versions of “where should we go?”
[Q]: we’d like to throw a party for our foodie friends. got any good ideas?
[A]: Enviable: Throw an intimate dinner party at classy Finch Tavern and welcome your guests into the dining room of a beautifully restored 19th-century home with a decor of creamy walls, tall shuttered windows and glorious fresh-cut flowers. Don’t miss the striking equestrian mural in the main room. Offer your guests foie gras with apricot polenta first, follow with pan-roasted Atlantic salmon or grilled veal loin T-bone and end with a warm, walnut apple tart.
On Sundays you can take over the entire opulent and comfortable Iron Horse Grill for your celebration. Peaky-toe crab timbale, rack of lamb or swordfish with Middle Eastern flavors, followed by a buttermilk panna cotta or a chocolate marquis with pistachio-mint ice cream, would impress any group.
Easy: Whitby Castle is set up for entertaining. A large dining room with a patio overlooking a golf course can accommodate weddings, anniversary celebrations and the like. Offering a reasonable menu with specials and with prix-fixe options Tuesday to Friday, the stone castle—a “folly” built by the Chapman family in 1853—is an attractive destination for a group dinner of any size. A multimillion dollar renovation brought back interior details such as black-and-white marble floors, etched glass and flowered tiles around the fireplaces. Enjoy a butterflied grilled lamb, orecchiette pomodoro, and lemon meringue tart with coconut sorbet, or try the Castle’s royal seafood dinner.
At Okinawa japanese restaurant, between 10 and 20 guests can gather around two hibachi tables. Expect everyone to gasp at the culinary thrills and spills the chef creates with leaping flames and flashing knives. While the vegetables, noodles, shrimp and steak are tossed and sauced, you can chat over a few Japanese beers and catch up. It’s sociable and casual enough to include children, and there’s decent sushi available as well.
[Q]: where have you had the best fish dishes?
[A]: Ethereal: You just don’t want the last bite of Eastchester Fish Gourmet’s Chatham cod with white beans to disappear. It is simply divine. But if cod doesn’t float your boat, linger on Eastchester Fish Gourmet’s dense, rich Pacific sturgeon surrounded by tiny cubes of warm potato salad and a bright green sauce with lemon and saffron notes. Each fish is prepared as if this were the only way to show off its unique texture and flavor. And the restaurant’s cool-toned nautical decor feels like you’ve just set sail.
F.I.S.H. in Port Chester may be difficult to find, but it pays off with a spicy Hawaiian tuna tartare and whole grilled striped bass—and with a little deck over a canal leading to the Long Island Sound. The bar is sexy too, with its glowing blue lights, intricate martinis and iced seafood “plateau” Ã la franÃ§aise.
Ethnic: The Portuguese know fish and family-run ChurrasqueIra Ribatejo in Ossining, a.k.a. the Portuguese Grill, proves it. Warm grilled octopus or squid with garlic, clams in a traditional terracotta casserole or grilled fish specials are rarely over $14. The front bustles and the back room is comfortable.
Then there is sushi. Popular and sleek kira sushi in Armonk serves up wide slices of raw salmon, yellowtail and mackerel, draped over mounds of sushi rice, twirled around lemon slices or fanned out on celadon platters, beside heaps of grated daikon and carrot. Grilled eel is wrapped lusciously around creamy avocado and morsels of grilled tuna enclose slivers of pale green leek. For the more humble, homestyle chirashi sushi, a triangle of omelette, a scalloped leaf of astringent shiso and a tiny bouquet of sprouts are tucked among the layers of fish and rice.
[Q]: Where can we feel as if we’re in Italy, or at least on Arthur Avenue?
[A]: High fashion: Moscato feels like that sedate place in the Galleria (in Milan, not White Plains) where you could meet your friends (kiss, kiss) after Fendi and Prada for the perfect risotto. Dark wood, butterscotch walls and low Art Nouveau lighting create a relaxing atmosphere to enjoy a salad of Tuscan-style chicken livers with balsamic vinegar or a simple sole with caper and lemons. Their cheesecake is a kind of hybrid version that combines the lightness of Italian style with the creamier New York version.
Mulino’s of westchester, with its dark bar, glass-fronted waterfall and weekend piano music, fuses Italian with steakhouse cuisine. It is more formal and elaborate, with specialties such as thick veal chops or black linguine with lobster tails.
Old-fashioned: Mamma Francesca is a community institution, a lunch favorite of the police chief and the firefighters and, reportedly on election night, the local politicians. The greenhouse room in the back looks out on the New Rochelle marina. Pick the sauce and pick the pasta shape you like and presto: penne vodka, macaroni with broccoli di rabe, lobster ravioli, four cheese linguini or just spaghetti with meatballs. Or maybe you’d prefer mussels gratinatta, prepared simply in bread crumbs, olive oil and garlic, followed by a margarita pizza from the brick oven. Motherly waitresses bring the regulars chicken Parmesan and shrimp scampi. A glass of Chianti with that?
La Manda’s is known for great pizza and giant salads. You can peek through the cracked window in the paneled dining room to see how your pizza is coming along.
[Q]: Sometimes we like to eat
a meal where everything is included (salad, entrÃ©e, dessert); other times we’d rather choose.
[A]: Affluent: The beauty of prix-fixe is that once you give in to it, you just pick up that fork and enjoy because it’s all included anyway. Yes, the wine can add a hefty sum, but $64 at EQUUS, the elegant restaurant at The Castle in Tarrytown, is a bargain, given the impeccable service and baronial dining room hung with tapestries. Medallions of venison, roasted cod or Hudson Valley foie gras are all included, as is a chocolate cake in the shape of a miniature castle—crenellations and all. Auberge Argenteuil offers prix-fixe menus Tuesday through Friday ($39) that include many popular items from the regular menu, such as snails and chicken with wild mushrooms, served in a cozy French garden atmosphere.
Affordable: Harry’s Burritos in Larchmont is the first out-of-town branch of the New York City restaurant. You pay for the basics, such as a chicken burrito chunky with filling ($8.25), and then add on. There’s a 50 cent fee for additional or kickier salsa, veggies, mole or chipotle sauce or more guacamole. The big attraction is healthy fillings for the usual Mexican formats—a three-grain enchilada or a non-dairy burrito anyone? Even tofu sour cream or soy “beef” on the side. A tip: spring for the mango salsa.
[Q]: It may be politically controversial, but we’re still crazy about French food. what do you recommend?
[A]: Classic: You can’t get anymore classically or authenticly French than two area favorites, La CrÃ©maillÃ¨re and La PanetiÃ¨re. Classic means extensive wine lists, perfect roast chicken, velvety crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e, house-made pÃ¢tÃ©, perfectly ripened cheeses, little pastries after dessert, and silver covers lifted off your entrÃ©e with a flourish. Flower gardens lead you up the front stairs to the French country decor of each restaurant. Either makes a perfect choice for a leisurely, special-occasion meal.
Cute: Encore bistro franÃ§ais and Le Bouchon are thoroughly French too, but in a different way. The appeal of their bistro specialties, such as a thin steak with fries, a buttery croque monsieur with ham, or a frisÃ©e salad with blue cheese, lardons and a quivering egg on top, never wears off. Encore is mirrored and warm; Le Bouchon feels a bit more modern with red walls, low lighting and a small bar in the back.
For a simpler yet authentic French fix, L’Anjou Bakery makes a great vol-au-vent (savory puff pastry shells filled with meat, spinach and mushrooms) and mini French-style pizza.
[Q]: Where can we learn more about Latino food?
[A]: Que rico!: Sonora is stylish Nuevo Latino. Start with a knock-out Cuban mint mojito in the roomy bar. When you’re hungry, try ceviche with tomato decorated with wavy plantain chips in a martini glass and a plateful of Colombian style empanadas, stuffed with beef. Then go on to chewy skirt steak, codfish and quinoa cakes or seared red snapper on rice stained black by squid ink and sprinkled with chopped herbs. Save room for a piece of signature dulce de leche cheesecake; you can even take one home along with chef and owner Rafael Palomino’s cookbook.
Caramba!: Latin American CafE in White Plains serves Cuban sandwiches with thick slices of roast pork just like those served from a Miami street-corner stand. A milky guanÃ¡bana batido makes it go down smoothly. Huge platters of spicy ground beef or tomato-thickened stew, known as ropa vieja (old clothes) come with rice three ways: white with black beans (known as Moors and Christians), yellow or with pink beans. It’s comforting and a bargain. Nearby Pollo Rico offers the specialties of Colombia. Try fat cornmeal cakes with cheese (arepa) and the giant bandeja (platters) with different combinations of rotisserie chicken, crisp, salty beef, plantains, rice and beans.
[Q]: We love alfresco dining. Got any good suggestions?
[A]: California: Harvest-on-Hudson captures Italian-Californian style perfectly and feeds you with modern cuisine that matches the ambience. The roof is partially tiled in terra-cotta and there are resting benches amid the raised-bed vegetable-and-herb gardens on the patio. While food can be uneven here, a plate of roast oysters or a crackly crusted pizza will satisfy while you enjoy the prettiest patio on the Hudson side of the county. Sunset Cove and Blu have similar views from their decks. Welcome the moonrise with coffee and a dessert, such as Blu’s chocolate mousse cake or Sunset Cove’s strawberry shortcake.
Coney Island: Just beyond the boardwalk of Rye Playland, Seaside Johnnie’s is about the beachiest it gets in Westchester. Have a beer, breathe in the salt air and look out on the swimmers and the sunset. You can add just a plate of sweet steamer clams to that beer or go for broke with a clambake platter: corn, potato, lobster, clams and all. Striped Bass down by the Hudson is also a low key and lively beach bar that serves great striped bass, of course!
[Q]: Some place new for a
[A]: Meet the parents: Pascal’s in Larchmont is just so grown-up—maybe the parents will finally think you are too. The soothing pink-beige decor, the sedate, continental service and a buttery vegetable tart followed by herb-crusted salmon with impeccable haricots verts make a good impression. For dessert, try very authentic profiteroles, which sandwich vanilla ice cream and drip with glossy chocolate sauce. La Frontiera would be a mature choice too. Lamb chops in port wine or penne and mushrooms baked in a parchment envelope are delicious specialties. Service in the stucco and wood dining room is old-fashioned gracious.
Take the toddlers and the teens: Flaming torches and jungle noise greet you at Mighty Joe Young’s. Your little big-game hunters will love the gorilla-shaped children’s menu; their selections even include a drink and a sundae. Antlers and colonial paraphernalia continue the theme. After you park your pith helmet at the entrance, dig into foods prepared in “wood-fired stone ovens.” This means a good burger and seven different classic grilled steaks, with the works. Adults can branch out to the succulent grilled pork or roasted chicken. Even the bubbling fruit tarts are baked in the wood oven.
[Q]: We’re Atkins diehards. Where’s the beef?
[A]: Ritzy: Frankie & Johnnie’s
STEAKHOUSE is speakeasy sexy. The meat is expensive, exquisitely dense, tender and, well, meaty—just perfect for a glass of big California Cabernet. Carb, schmarb; all the required sides are here too: onion rings, creamed spinach and sliced beefsteak tomatoes interlayered with red onions. Restaurant LUNA is more casual but still urbane with a wider selection than a true steakhouse, such as divine roast chicken and thin-crusted pizzas. The steaks are wood-fire grilled too.
Roadside: Wrap both hands around The Blazer Pub burger; almost all they do here are burgers except for some mighty good thick fries. Cash only and a wait on weekends doesn’t keep regulars away from this family-owned, good-time roadhouse, arcade games and all.
Piper’s Kilt is a wood-paneled tavern with prices from the good ol’ days (whenever that was). They are justifiably proud of their half-pound Eastchester Burger served with cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomato (or almost any combination of toppings), and with chili, onion rings and fries on the side. There’s homemade bread pudding for dessert.
[Q]: People always say we’re out to lunch…but where?
[A]: Perfect: Lexington Square cafÃ© is still a favorite for the lunch bunch. Your midday break here might be a big inventive sandwich, such as a grilled salmon club, with a light red pepper soup and a share of the cobbler of the day for dessert. Ask for a table on the enclosed, awning-ed patio in good weather. Crabtree’s Kittle House is a more impressive lunch spot when you want to, say, cement a deal or thank someone for a favor. A salad of organic microgreens, local golden beets and Hudson Valley goat cheese will taste even better with wine from their nationally award-winning wine cellar, midday or not. The Tavern Room or the more ladylike Garden Room are both lovely.
Pick up: The turkey dinner in a wrap or the grilled vegetable wrap at round the Corner CafÃ© are just right for a quick meal and meeting. There are outdoor tables and, in the summer, a terrific Middle Eastern mint-lemonade to sip with your sandwich. Quiet and off the main drag, Turkish Meze serves the traditional little dishes—you can keep it light or chow down with grilled eggplant, baba ganoush and various shish kabobs. Settepani Bakery also has quiet tables, fresh paninis and jewel-box pastries in a setting like a modern Italian coffee bar.
As food critic for The Journal News (Gannett Suburban Newspapers), Judith Hausman gets around. She’s happy to “A” your restaurant “Q” any time, but she’d just as soon cook you a meal herself.
Where the restaurants are:
42 North Healy Avenue
The Blazer pub
One Route 22
100 River Street
39 Spring Street
11 Kittle Road
837 White Plains Road
22 Chatsworth Avenue
The Castle at Tarrytown
400 Benedict Avenue
592 Route 22
102 Fox Island Road
77 Purchase Street
94 Chatsworth Avenue
1 River Street
Iron Horse Grill
20 Wheeler Avenue
575 Main Street
46 Bedford-Banksville Road
104 Kraft Avenue
251 Tarrytown Road
130 North Bedford Road
530 Milton Road
Latin American CafE
134 East Post Road
76 Main Street
Lexington Square cafÃ©
510 Lexington Avenue
414 Pelham Road
mighty joe young’s
610 West Hartsdale Avenue
874 Scarsdale Avenue
Mulino’s of westchester
99 Court Street
39 South Moger Avenue
141 Chatsworth Avenue
433 White Plains Road
124A East Post Road
251 Main Street
37 South Moger Avenue
94 Dearborn Avenue
63 Main Street
45 Main Street
179 Rectory Street