Seduction by Steak and Sambuca
Get a flavor of the Mediterranean at Trotters in White Plains
By Donald P. Rosendale
First impressions can be fatal, in which case you wouldn’t be reading about Trotters in White Plains, which I heard praised for having exceptional food, and an outstanding
wine list and for being a great “meet market” for Westchester singles.
To appraise all three reputations, I added to my jury of one The Wine Maven, who heads all the wine societies where they wear robes and funny hats, and The Bachelor, a polo-playing, skiing, sailing commercial jet pilot. After walking into one of White Plains’s oldest buildings, we were ushered through a spacious bar and then seated in a dining room lined with wine bottles displayed horizontally, and presented with the menu and wine list. And then we went into sticker shock.
A filet mignon for $60? Thirty-two dollars for a porterhouse of veal? The wine list was largely incomprehensible to The Wine Maven, consisting predominantly of Portuguese and relatively obscure Spanish wines. And some bottles were marked up about 400 percent from their wine-shop tickets (instead of the normal doubling of retail prices restaurant patrons have learned to expect).
A motion was made that we quickly exit to the bar, hoist a glass and slink away. But before we could flee, plates of nibbles appeared at the table—marble-sized bits of delightfully pungent Parmesan, a melange of marinated olives—all so good we demanded seconds. Similarly without our command, sample goblets appeared of vinho verde, a Portuguese white wine, chilled like an ice cube with a crisp, pleasant, fruity taste, followed by offerings of delicious and fruity Portuguese reds. Seduced, we picked up the menu again.
The Wine Maven narrowed his choice to a seafood sausage of snapper, shrimp, tilefish, scallops and salmon, which he pronounced exceptional. I opted for Gamberi della Casa, fist-sized grilled shrimp, crusted with Parmesan cheese in a sauce of white wine and caper berries, artistically arranged around baked fingerling potatoes. Excellent, even though the shrimp were a smidgen overcooked. The two seafood eaters shared a bottle of what was judged to be the best value on the wine list, a Joseph Drouhin French Chardonnay at $27.
The Bachelor opted for pear salad and one of the evening’s specials, rollatina di vitello, veal stuffed with asparagus, French beans, broccoli rabe, baby carrots and feta cheese. He gave both a rating of eight on a scale of ten, which is pretty good, considering he gives Julia Roberts an eight.
During the meal, co-owner Tony Goncalvos Sr. hovered over us and told us he considers the restaurant’s cuisine “Mediterranean” consisting mainly of Spanish, Portuguese and Italian dishes. The emphasis on relatively obscure Portuguese and, to a lesser extent, Spanish wines is due to his Iberian heritage. His son Anthony is the chef.
As we dipped into a shared dessert, an almond cake with warm roasted apples and cinnamon gelato, Goncalvos senior offered the piÃ¨ce de resistance, a glass of a unique Sambuca.
The liqueur, made from hazel bush and licorice, is normally colorless, to which Italians add three coffee beans, calling them each a “mosca” or fly. But Goncalvos creates his own Sambuca—in his garage, he says—and he blends in the coffee beans. Served in a ship’s decanter, it has the tawny color of a Scotch—sweet but not sugary; you almost forget you are drinking a potent 45-proof liqueur.
Had we opted for the priciest dishes and wines, the bill would have been as high as cruising altitude for jumbo jets, but by judicious choices, we had a thoroughly pleasing dinner while keeping it in the $200 range, about 60 bucks a head—not bad, especially when you consider the seemingly endless glasses of house wines, the nibbles up front, and then the Sambuca. We’re talking a bargain here.
As for the bar scene, our maiden voyage was on a Monday, when any self-respecting single Westchester woman was home watching “Joe Millionaire.” But our Bachelor says it’s worth a trip back, if just to savor the Sambuca and bask in Goncalvos’s warm hospitality.
175 Main St., White Plains
Lunch, Mon. to Fri. 11:30 am-3:30 pm
Dinner, Mon. to Sat. 5-11 pm