An oenophile’s dream
I don’t normally watch Oprah, but she recently hosted Anthony Bourdain, a New York City chef whose memoir Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly exposes some truths about restaurants you might rather not know. (Butter is the chef’s best friend, for instance, and you can easily consume a stick and a half by the time you’ve finished a restaurant meal.)
He told Oprah the one thing to look for when you’re trying to assess the quality of a restaurant is pride in the staff. “Does the waiter look ashamed to be working in a restaurant or like he’d rather be at home waiting for a call back from a soap opera? Where there is no pride, there is no quality.”
That night I dined at Crabtree’s Kittle House in Chappaqua I was struck by that statement as I watched the staff gliding through the main dining room, exuding an easy confidence as they went about their work. It’s a place they want to be, and that makes it a place you want to be too (not to mention former President Clinton, who dined there recently with former German prime minister Helmut Kohl).
Tucked away in a residential neighborhood, Crabtree’s Kittle House is a white, three-story mansion with a French-style mansard roof and porch columns almost as tall as it is. It looks quite grand now, but it started life in 1790 as a lowly barn, and was only refurbished into living quarters around the turn of this century. After serving as a roadhouse and a school for girls (not at the same time), it finally entered service as a restaurant and inn in 1936.
Since 1981, The Kittle House has prospered under the ownership of the Crabtree family, which has made a major investment in the facilities, staff and the wine list, one of the best in the world. It is one of nine restaurants in New York State (and the only one in Westchester) that holds The Wine Spectator’s Grand Award, an international award that is the magazine’s highest honor. Grand Award restaurants generally offer at least 1,250 selections on their list, including hard-to-find producers and older vintages; Crabtree’s Kittle House has more than 4,500.
The inn has a rambling, rustic elegance that conveys ambition without pretension. People are gathered at the magnificent mahogany bar once owned by Dutch Schultz in the taproom right off the entryway; upstairs are 12 guest rooms. The main dining room is decorated with 19th-century oil paintings in gilt frames and a few large, stunning bouquets, but the room itself is supported with great hand-hewn posts, and the wooden chairs are a modest country style.
The by-the-glass list was the first indication this is a serious wine destination: instead of one sparkling wine, it had three, including the luxury cuvÃ©e Perrier Jouet Fleur de Champagne, 1995, for $22.50 a glass. (A better deal is Pol Roger, Winston Churchill’s favorite Champagne, at $12.50 a glass.) The best deals are on the massive wine list itself, which concentrates on the wines of France and California and is priced to sell. It specializes in vertical depth—many vintages of one, often hard-to-find, producer—and rare, older wines. But it also offers a wealth of affordable wines. There is also a nice selection of half-bottles, from which we selected a 1996 Volnay that was “drinking very well,” as they say. I would recommend you check the list before you order by the glass, and ask the sommelier to help you make a selection.
We started with the seafood ravioli ($11.50), three plump pillows stuffed with lobster, rock shrimp and crab served in a bright-tasting beurre blanc sauce of butter, white wine and a little lemon. On top of each pillow was a little drop of emerald green purÃ©e of tarragon and lemon to provide some drama, and it was good to swirl a little bit in with each bite. A tomato confit was promised, but instead there were a few simple slices of tomato quick-sautÃ©ed in butter—good tasting but large and out of place in this delicate dish. The Cabbage Hill Farm’s organic salad ($8.50) was excellent, a mound of greens tossed with fresh herb vinaigrette then sprinkled with toasted walnuts, Roquefort cheese, and huckleberries, a less-sweet cousin to the blueberry that gave the salad a nice point of difference. Some of the other appetizers that looked good were
Between courses we were served an “amuse bouche,” a few slices of wonderfully clean, fresh grouper that had been “cooked” seviche style, by the acid in lemon and lime juice. Paper thin slices of yellow and red peppers and a dribble of bright green chive oil gave it nice flavor, color and crunch.
EntrÃ©es included grilled North Atlantic Salmon with cucumber and red onion salad, fingerling potatoes and fresh horseradish vinaigrette ($21.50); seared Florida black grouper with wild mushroom risotto and rosemary vinaigrette ($25.50) and filet mignon with caramelized onions, a chive crÃ¨me with sour cream and whipped potatoes and green peppercorn sauce ($31.50). Two medallions of New Zealand venison were tender and flavorful, served in a delicious rich sauce flavored with a little Wild Turkey bourbon. Sweet potatoes whipped with vanilla were unusually fragrant and sweet, and the slight bitterness of the broccoli rabe offered a nice contrasting flavor.
The free-range organic poussin (a young male chicken) from Stone Church Farm in
The desserts (all $7.50) tend towards the very sweet—an individual pecan pie with a big dollop of whipped cream was served in a pool of excellent caramel sauce, nicely cut by a pretty decoration drawn with crÃ¨me fraÃ®che. The chocolate dessert comes in a rectangular package made of white pastry, with a chocolate ribbon drawn on it—inside is a layer of chocolate cake and big, warm spoonfuls of Valrhona, a French chocolate with a fine reputation among chefs. A lighter choice is the chilled, spiced blackberry tea soup with raspberry sorbet and clementines.
You can also order a selection of cheese for $11.50. Desserts actually take up just one page of the eight page menu—the rest is devoted to its selection of port by the glass,
CRABTREE’S KITTLE HOUSE
11 Kittle Rd., Chappaqua
Lunch, Mon. to Fri. 12-2:30 pm
Dinner, Mon. to Thurs. 5:30-9:30 pm, Fri. and Sat. 5:30-10:30 pm
Sunday dinner, 3-9 pm Sunday