New brown leather chairs give the Kittle House dining room an updated look.
When I received the assignment to re-review the Kittle House, I flashed on a conversation I’d had with a friend about two years ago. When I proposed a meal at the Chappaqua standard, she quipped, “Crabtree’s! I ate there last week and I think I’m still full.”
True. The classic Kittle House meal was immense; a stately progression of fish, poultry, intermezzo, game, and dessert. Portions were generous and the pacing slow—but, to me, at least, the grandeur was welcome. Owner John Crabtree could always be trusted to showcase locally grown, raised, and foraged food, while the Kittle House’s maze-like cellar was a rare recipient of a Wine Spectator “Grand Award” (only about 70 exist worldwide). As I said in my last review, its decor might have veered from old fashioned to tired, but it was impossible to find better value than in the long-form meal at Crabtree’s. This veteran offered top quality on the plate and in the glass, if admittedly, in unspectacular digs.
Sadly, newer, chic-er contenders like Bedford Post and Blue Hill at Stone Barns had begun to crowd the Kittle House’s market. Which explains—beyond the inevitability of age—the Kittle House’s ongoing redesign by Christian P. Arkay-Leliever of the KMS-TEAM. Expect a misting of urbane grays and eggshells to update Crabtree’s former oaken rusticity. Gone is the phalanx of gilt-framed landscapes—culled to a few, simply re-framed favorites—while curtains have been removed to celebrate the site’s expansive views. Hand-blown Simon Pearce glass lanterns now punctuate the tavern’s ceiling, leaving the whole restaurant airy and more modern, though, in essentials, still comfortingly familiar.
Also making foodie news is that Chefs Romero and Bertrand have vacated, having been replaced this past July by Executive Chef Brad McDonald, whose CV includes iconic Per Se, as well as chic Allen and Delancey. While McDonald is still working out some kinks and some well-loved standards left with the departing chefs (like the shamefully delicious “steak and eggs”: filet mignon served under an oozing, warm quail’s egg), the Kittle House’s chicly hearty fish-and-game-heavy menu evokes the flavors of an English country house, particularly after a good hunt.
One small kink: chunky, rather than finely granular, mint granite in a dish that held under-ripe heirloom tomatoes. Nevertheless, a gorgeous, plump diver sea scallop (served over a dice of Granny Smith apple, verbena, and chanterelles) lacked only a critical brightening of salt—though melting, finely-grained ricotta gnudi were perfect over warm, pulpy Sweet 100 tomatoes.
As ever, wine is a major story at Crabtree’s Kittle House, where by-the-glass values like 2006 Mitolo “Jester” Shiraz offer excellent value, and the unabridged wine list is still as fat as the phone book. As always, the wilds of an awe-inspiring cellar are skillfully navigated by the Kittle House’s genial staff, who excel at sharing exhaustive wine knowledge while dodging the common gaff of snootiness. This longstanding service standard shows the restaurant’s inherent good taste. Great, though meal pacing at the Kittle House occasionally can be uneven. On one visit (during a concurrent wedding reception), we were galloped through first courses while during other meals we were left oddly unattended.
Grilled quail is served with a “heavenly” garlic sauce.
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Still, the food is scrumptious—and at times I wish I had more. On one set menu, I tried to substitute a main of quail. The chef yielded to my wishes but sent out a dish sporting only two tiny quail’s legs. The dish was made even more heartbreaking when I tasted its heavenly sauce—I used my bread to get every drop of black garlic, pancetta, and quail jus. Even better was a Hudson Valley magret with sweet vanilla parsnips, whose sour cherries and trumpet royale mushrooms evoked the past without being hidebound. Pan-roasted salmon was also a winner, its creamy flesh made sinful with a velvetty garlic beurre blanc, while pink-striped cranberry beans (also lush), hinted at some welcome healthfulness. And traditionalists will love MacDonald’s buttery filet mignon served with the elegant comfort food of potato and celeriac purée; it arrived with caramelized cippollini and horseradish foam in a perfectly-balanced sauce of smoked bone marrow and red-wine vinegar.
The best desserts that we sampled were a lavish terrine of three chocolats and a feather-light Alsatian cheesecake, whose honest tang was left respectfully untamed.
There is good reason to believe that the Kittle House will recapture its glory; its cellar remains as fabulous as always, and now its updated décor is equal to its menu. With such a huge investment in talent (not to mention an ongoing renovation), the Kittle House is primed to once again unite tradition with progress.
Crabtree’s Kittle House â˜…â˜…â˜…
11 Kittle Rd, Chappaqua
Hours: Lunch Mon to Fri 12 pm–2:30 pm, Dinner Mon to Thurs 5:30–9:30 pm, Fri and Sat 5:30–10:30 pm, Sun 3–9 pm, Brunch Sun 12 pm–2:30 pm. Appetizers: $12-$16; entrées: $24-$38; desserts: $12.
â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…—Outstanding â˜…â˜…â˜…—Very Good
Photography by Cathy Pinsky