Chef Neil Ferguson shuns the spotlight: at Monteverde, his food takes center stage.
The views of the Hudson River outside Monteverde enhance Neil Ferguson’s Hudson Valley-inspired menu.
Take a talented, genteel chef away from the chaos of a screaming celebrity chef and put him in the tranquil environment of a painstakingly renovated old manor in the Hudson Valley, and what do you get? Food, elegant food lovingly and thoughtfully prepared—and presumably, one very happy chef.
Upon meeting Neil Ferguson, one might find it difficult to imagine him under the auspices of the wild and abrasive Gordon Ramsay, or guess at his extraordinary background, which includes a year each at L’Apége in Paris and L’Esperance in Burgundy, four years as head chef at the Connaught Hotel in London, and two different stints with Ramsay. Ferguson needn’t boast of these achievements: his food does it for him.
Thin slices of meltingly rich foie gras whisper of love to the sweet bite of turnip purée and buttered radishes, all against the watchful eye of a ham gastrique. This is not a sensory exploration of contrasts: as the flavors mingle we think of harmony and balance.
In fact, Ferguson’s food will never jump off the plate at you. His flavors are refined and tempered, even when the ingredients are big. Pink grapefruit and pickled shallots might have loomed large against wisps of hamachi in another chef’s hands, but here they melded as though they’d been raised together, like part of nature’s symbiotic plan.
Ferguson’s food is not a fusion of the many influences of his impressive background: his style is the elegant outcome, something other than the sum of its parts. Here in this beautiful setting, where just outside the dining room bucolic hills roll gently to the Hudson River, the Hudson Valley itself appears on the plate. Like Burgundy and Alsace, we sense its presence in the food, but we are caressed—not struck—by it.
Sweetbreads with a paper-thin, nearly caramelized seared crust yielded a lush, soft, and creamy interior that became all the more luxuriant combined with the light, sweet pear purée that hinted of our surroundings. An apple-and-ginger purée with the same beguiling lightness—it tasted clearly and fully of apple, yet had an ethereal weightlessness of flavor to it—taught us a lesson about just how wonderful a perfectly seared sea scallop can be. Sadly, not all our experiences with creatures of the sea were as enjoyable.
Pan-roasted halibut looked lovely—it was a perfect, thick rectangle of deeply browned seared crust-crowned creamy white fish. But alas, the creaminess was in appearance only: the fish was disappointingly dry. To our surprise, wild king salmon, by nature a fatty fish, suffered the same fate. But not all fish did: fluke was moist and gentle, its flavor enhanced by the delicate brininess of cockles, sweet fennel, and lemon confit.
The night we ate the halibut and fluke, Chef Ferguson was in the kitchen, but when we ordered the salmon, he was not. One wonders how he will manage, having just opened (with Glenn Vogt, general manager of both) a second restaurant in downtown Manhattan. According to Vogt, both he and the chef divide each evening between both restaurants, spending their earlier hours at Monteverde before heading to their second and very different venture, Allen & Delancey.
We trust that when Ferguson is not in the kitchen, we will still love his crisp-skinned duck, which was tender and juicy, its meaty flavor maximized by the medium-rare preparation—or perhaps by the accompaniments of creamy fondant potato and bittersweet caramelized endive. Certainly, on our visit when he was not present, his seemingly well-trained kitchen did a more than fine job with tender filet mignon served with a roasted bone filled with heady marrow, creamy puréed potatoes redolent with parsley, and sautéed wild mushrooms that tasted as though they’d just been brought from the forest.
Although Ferguson’s background includes a stint as a pastry chef, the desserts did not live up to the very high standards set by most of our savory dishes. A raspberry clafouti was good enough, though not compelling: the traditional pancake was studded with berries and served with Kirsch sabayon. We were surprised roasted peaches were on the menu in November, but not surprised to find them sour. Our favorite dessert was a classic warm apple tart with a lovely, flaky crust and vanilla ice cream melting down its sides.
Want to check out Monteverde’s new menu? Find it in our Restaurant Guide.
Monteverde â˜…â˜…â˜… ½
28 Bear Mountan Ridge Rd, Cortlandt Manor
(914) 739-5000; www.monteverderestaurant.com
Hours: lunch Mon to Sun 12-3 pm; dinner Mon to Thurs 5-9 pm, Fri and Sat 5-10 pm, Sun 4-8 pm; Sunday brunch 10:30 am-2:30 pm. Appetizers: $12-$22; entrées: $28-$42; desserts: $10 ($15 for selection of farmhouse cheeses).
â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…—Outstanding â˜…â˜…â˜…—Very Good