Where To Eat Now
Food writer Judith Hausman has dined in nearly every eatery in the county. Here she answers your most pressing questions about what’s new, what’s wonderful,
and where you should go for a meal next weekend.
Photography by Michael Polito
Q: If you could assemble a “Best of the Year Meal,” which restaurants would you ask to contribute?
I’d set up a comfy chair in my shady backyard, invite a few friends over and begin with the wonderful antipasti at Emilio Ristorante in Harrison. Then, from Aurora in Rye, I’d choose a little plate of grilled squid with zucchini and tomato, and maybe a few extra-large seared diver scallops with a pomegranate glaze around a rosebud of prosciutto. And perhaps the simplest, blister-crusted margarita pizza next. For a fish course, I’d ask Ocean House, the nine-month-old seafood restaurant in Croton-on-Hudson, to hurry over with the roasted branzino with fennel, tomato, and black olives that sings with sea flavors, or maybe I’d ask ZafrÃ¡n, the fusion Indian eatery in Yonkers, to contribute its original, modern take on Indian shrimp and garlic cream sauce in a mushroom ragu, highly flavored with cilantro. The alternate version ZafrÃ¡n cooks up with seared scallops, corn, and coconut ain’t too bad either; it’s complex and exotic, too.
If I could eat this magical meal with no consequence, I’d indulge in a pasta course. Some of my favorites are Il Cigno’s yummy pappardelle with wild boar sauce in the winter or the newly updated restaurant’s tagliarini with pesto in the summer; I’d also get a few of Strega’s fabulous, crisp sage risotto cakes. Then I’d loosen my belt and order a meat course: RK’s suckling pig with a Riesling reduction sauce, which is rich but not sweet or maybe RK’s Hungarian sage lamb spare ribs, too good not to gnaw. (For a review of RK, see page 85.) For dessert, Plates in Larchmont would have to teleport in its very adult prune-and-Armagnac ice cream and doughnuts filled with cinnamon ice cream. Plates also recently began offering chocolatey giant Ring Dings, so perhaps I’d ask for a sampling of those, too.
Q: Bistros are springing up like mushrooms after a rain. What gives?
Simple. We diners love these casual but sophisticated smaller restaurants. I’m especially fond of the chef-owned spots that frequently reflect their owners’ dreams. I’d be hard-pressed to choose the best new bistro dishes, though Lia’s terrific brick-oven salmon, butternutâ€“squash ravioli in the fall, or roast branzino would certainly be strong contenders. At the small and understated Frodo’s in Pleasantville, chef-owner Daniel Petrilli, formerly of nearby Strega, attracts attention with dishes like his experimental and mysteriously delicious mussels in a steaming shallot-espresso broth. Luckily the Lord of the Rings theme is limited to a Shire salad: mesculun mix with pomegranate vinaigrette.
Another bistro plus is that you can get a great meal in nearly any price range. Higher end? There’s the new Vox in North Salem, the wildly successful transformation of Auberge Maxime into a more casual eatery that, thank goodness, has retained its enchanting terrace view. Among its wonderful bistro fare are such delectable dishes as soft-centered seared scallops with asparagus in a tangy blood-orange reduction, Caesar salad with a salty black-olive tapenade, and a scrumptious chocolate souffle cake for dessert.
Affordable? Chat 19 in Larchmont serves salads and burgers, and is more casual than its more upscale sibling Lusardi’s in Larchmont. Four Doors Down in Buchanan is welcoming and affordable with a wide-ranging menu offering wild-mushroom ravioli and fragrant mussels to thick rib-eye and comfort-food braised baby back ribs.
Q: Can you eat well sitting at the bar?
You bet! At Zen Tango in New Rochelle, you can choose to have a dishâ€“â€“any dishâ€“â€“as either an appetizer or an entrÃ©e. Portions come large or small. A nice bite to have while sipping a glass of white wine is fried calamari nestled in a salad and tossed with peanuts, coconut, and orange-sesame dressing. The restaurant’s spring rolls and grilled rare tuna are good choices, too—and they go well with tequila.
Blue in White Plains is designed for mingling and nibbling. You can rest your sweet seaâ€“blue Bluetini on a tall table, take a few turns around the bar area, settle in at a sit-down table for some serious people-watching and interesting food, such as grilled octopus (seasonal), Atlantic black grouper, or spicy Thai beef salad.
Because 121 Restaurant & Bar in North Salem is one of the few acts in town, the bar is often crowded, even on weeknights, and it is packed when porch dining begins. The aroma coming from the woodâ€“fired pizza oven is irresistible. 121’s interesting beers or a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio is perfect accompaniment for its flavorful goat-cheese pizza or even for its hefty sirloin burger and crunchy onion rings.
The busy bar at Globe in Larchmont, which tends to attract a young, hip crowd, has become a true hangout. There are plenty of great beers on draft here, but I like the perfect Cosmo with a plate of chewy steak and crisp-edged frites.
Tavern in Garrison, housed in a country club, has made bar food its mission by building a menu of dishes from all over the world. Share an authentic GruyÃ¨re and Emmentaler fondue complete with apples and brioche croutons, raclette with potatoes, cornichon and onion; a smoked-salmon platter with sour cream; a sumptuous strudel of wild mushrooms, caramelized leeks, and goat cheese; or a big, basic eight-ounce Black Angus burger, served plain or topped with Swiss, cheddar, or Stilton. When the weather is nice, I recommend eating on the porch, which is decorated with billowing white curtains in the summer. When the weather turns, the bar inside won’t disappoint, with its inviting clubby and cozy atmosphere.
Q: What are the best desserts you’ve had over the past year?
I’ll never get over—or get enough ofâ€“â€“the chocolate soufflÃ© at Caffe Regatta, a seafood restaurant, in Pelham. As you unwind the waxed paper holding it up, it deliquesces into a fragrant puddle that sends you straight to chocolate heaven. Panna cotta with blueberry jelly served on a peanut butter cookie garnished with chocolate and fresh blackberries at Valley at the Garrison, quivering in an orange sauce with a light mint garnish, is also heavenly. but in a more ethereal way. At Gaia in Greenwich, a stunning restaurant known for its “sousâ€“vide” method of cooking, its famous cheesecake is cooked in a mason jar. You dip your spoon into that small jar through a thin layer of caramel and a sprinkle of sea salt to the ultra soft, creamy layer of cheesecake. Gaia’s sweet and salty juxtaposition is amazingly good. The grapefruit in sabayon is wonderful too; it captures the essence of citrus, made silkier by the foamy sauce. At Purdys Homestead, pastry chef Maureen Steppe’s dessert list always makes me salivate. I love her pineapple-gingerbread upside-down cake flourished with molasses cream and her tender, sunny, warm lemon pudding cake, napped with blueberries and passion fruit, caramel, and raspberry sauce, which somehow never leaves you stuffed, just fully sated. Believe it or not, I also encountered one of my favorites, at Ocean House: a flaky biscuit strawberry shortcake that was recently replaced by a perfect, homemade apple empanada. Blue Hill at Stone Barns offers a seasonal combination of strawberries with lemon cake and elderflower granite that is exquistely delicate and the oval of cooling mint sorbet floating in rhubarb soup lifts humble spring ingredients to new heights.
Q: Which chefs should we be watching?
I still have tremendous respect for chef Mark Filippo at Cafe MezÃ© in Hartsdale. His clear vision of Mediterranean cuisine guides his combinations, such as his pan-roasted cod with sweet peas, scallops, gnocchi, and sautÃ©ed shrimp and the roasted loin of lamb with pignoli crust and fava beans. Reza Khorshidi at RK, with its coolly lit decor and provocative projector art, is trying some very sophisticated things under the rubric of American Brasserie: frogs’ legs, lamb ribs, suckling pig, tower of raw fluke and homemade rhubarb sorbet. Of course, executive chef Michael Anthony at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, along with co-executive chef and co-owner Dan Barber, continues to wow as the restaurant gets closer to its goal of sourcing as much from Stone Barns Center for Agriculture as possible per season. One night it’s braised halibut with grapefruit, lemon and vodka. Another night it’s smoked sturgeon with local mushrooms, braised and roasted baby lamb, and roast pig and bacon with cipollini onions and stone ground polenta. And how do you choose between Blue Hill’s asparagus terrine with goat cheese or asparagus soup with apple?
Pastry chef and owner Jill Rose at Chiboust Bistro + Bakery in Tarrytown has made a mark with her simple European menu with spectacular desserts, like the tropical, sweet-tart passion fruit Chiboust (named after a famous French chef), and apple tarts that are traditional, layered apple circles with a touch of glaze. Chef and owner Rafael Palamino is steady at the helm of his nuevo Latino ship, guiding two stylish restaurants. I love his pan-American way with seafood at Pacifico, like plantain-crusted talapia, shrimp, and sea bass ajaico (Colombian potato soup), blue corn rigatoni, purple potatoes, and yellowfin tuna in a coconut ceviche with touches of Asia, France, and the Mediterranean to provide interest. And those luscious mojitos!
Q: If money were no object, what restaurant would you go to again and again?
If you want to sweep me off my feet, Xaviars, the tiny jewel box restaurant in Piermont, does it every time. The staff just makes me feel like the smartest, most special guest they’ve ever served. The menu changes frequently, but you might find slices of potato masquerading as crÃªpes and filled with caviar, or chewy veal cheeks enlivened with pomegranate. After you finish your chocolate dome for dessert (an ethereal adult Malomar), you get a napkin full of warm beignets too. The interesting wine selections, with a full-price range, both respect the wallet and flatter the connoisseur. And the restaurant’s award-winning chef, Peter X. Kelly, is set to return to his hometown, Yonkers. He intends to open in January, 2006, a 250-seat contemporary American restaurant, emphasizing seafood, on the Yonkers waterfront.
I’d never get tired of Blue Hill at Stone Barns either. Each season is prettier than the next there, and the food, whether it’s spinach-and-pork tortellini, crescent duck with spiced carrots, or basil soufflÃ©, is a constant surprise. I’d return to Bernard’s Ridgefield, a gracious country inn in Ridgefield, CT. Bernard’s ooh-aah appetizer is a scallop shell held together with pastry, which is broken open at the table to reveal the plumpest scallops topped with a disk of black truffle in a harlequin triumph.
Q: What’s coming down the pike?
Trendwatchers will note more and more local sourcing. Pioneered in the area by The Flying Pig CafÃ© in Mount Kisco and championed now by Blue Hill at Stone Barns, showing off local provenance will continue to grow as a proud selling point for cheeses, salad, and poultry, even for grass-fed livestock. Not merely seasonal or organic, but grown around the corner, is the next big thing.
Q: Where do you go on a night off?
If my Francophile soul needs a fix, I cross county lines for La Saliere in Ridgefield, CT, a French brasserie, or venture up the Hudson to the charming, quirky Le Bouchon in Cold Spring. Both have a few tables outdoors, too—a bonus. The ambience, the accent, the frisÃ©e salad, and the mussels are just like they are in France. I always love pulling up a stool at the raw bar at The Fish Cellar. I learn something more about oysters every time I do. Owners Joni and Joe DiMauro and their staff are so welcoming and they always have an insider tip on the best swordfish or Dover sole. The oyster shucker is friendly and well informed. The place isn’t elegant but the seafood is soulful and solid. There’s even a little back courtyard for summer dining. I would also return to Harvest on Hudson in Hastings-on-Hudson for the view alone. The breathtaking vista of the river is enhanced by roasted oysters and thin-crusted pizzas. From the patio there, it looks like you could swim over and touch the rising hills. It’s hard to stay incognito with gregarious chef and owner Phil McGrath, but it would be fun to be a regular at the tiny anteroom bar counter of the Iron Horse Grill anyway. You can eat his consistently fine seasonal American food at a $32 pre-theater prixâ€“fixe and still make it to the latest indie flick at The Burns Center. His signature timbale of Peaky Toe crab with roasted corn, thyme-rubbed rack of lamb, zatar-dusted swordfish with eggplant tagine, and four-cheese agnolatti are often included in the nightly choice.
Q: People must ask you for recommendations all the time. What is the most common request?
Some request a pined-for ethnicity, such as Filipino or Persian, but most often people ask where to go for a family celebration. I know it’s a challenge when a mother-in-law is a timid eater, a favorite uncle looks for lots of meat, dad is checking his wallet, a toddler only eats noodles, and a teen is a vegan. The best bet is usually Italian American. I’d look into the new Pazzo in Larchmont, which can easily handle a table of 12, and all the food is familiar: penne alla vodka, grilled swordfish, and chicken portobello. Rosie’s Bistro Italiano in Bronxville isn’t huge, but the staff is super-friendly and the kitschy art is a conversation starter, as are the crispy stuffed zucchini flowers and artichoke salad appetizers. The new location of the chain Zanaro’s in White Plains pleases families and can feed as many as 400 with baked lasagna, shrimp al forno, and Tuscan veggies. I’d also suggest the sexy Zuppa Restaurant & Lounge in Yonkers. It is less generic for the more sophisticated family gathering, with dishes such as roasted branzino, black spaghatini, and wood-fired flat-bread pizzas.
[A Foodie â€˜s Address book]
A Guide to the restaurants to try now
121 Restaurant & Bar
2-4 Dingle Ridge Rd.
(914) 669-0121 www.121restaurant.com
60 Purchase St., Rye
20 West Lane/Route 35, Ridgefield, CT
99 Church St., White Plains
Blue Hill at Stone Barns
630 Bedford Road
20 North Central Ave., Hartsdale
133 Wolfs Lane, Pelham
19 Chatsworth Ave., Larchmont
Chiboust Bistro + Bakery
14 Main St., Tarrytown
1 Colonial Place, Harrison
The Fish Cellar Restaurant
213 Main St., Mount Kisco
The Flying Pig CafÃ©
2 Depot Plaza, Mount Kisco
Four Doors Down
265 Tate Ave., Buchanan
472 Bedford Rd., Pleasantville
253 Greenwich Ave., Greenwich, CT
Globe Bar & Grill
1879 Palmer Ave., Larchmont
Harvest on Hudson
1 River St.
Hastings on Hudson
1505 Weaver St., Scarsdale
Iron Horse Grill
20 Wheeler Ave., Pleasantville
3 Big Shop Lane, Ridgefield, CT
76 Main St., Cold Spring, NY
202 East Hartsdale Ave., Hartsdale
49 North Riverside Dr. (Rte. 9A), Croton-on-Hudson
316 Boston Post Rd., Port Chester
154 Larchmont Ave., Larchmont
121 Myrtle Ave., Larchmont
100 Titicus Rd.
RKâ€¦An American Brasserie
22 Elm Place, Rye
Rosie’s Bistro Italiano
10 Palmer Ave., Bronxville
2 Broadway, Pleasantville
Tavern at the Highlands Country Club
955 Route 9D
Valley at the Garrison
2015 Route 9
721 Titicus Rd.
Xaviars at Piermont
506 Piermont Ave.
1550 Central Park Ave., Yonkers
Zanaro’s Italian Restaurant
1 Mamaroneck Ave.
One Radisson Plaza (Huguenot Street), New Rochelle
Zuppa Restaurant & Lounge
59-61 Main St., Yonkers