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Westchester Eats

 

Gooey, Hot, Delicious—and Chocolate

When a NYC trend becomes a classic

 

By Julia Sexton

 

 

Little did Jean-Georges Vongerichten know, when he unleashed
the molten-chocolate cake on the world in 1987, that dessert menus would never be the same. Warm and firm—yet yielding to a surprising liquid center–this comforting new dessert was two dishes in one—part chocolaty cake and part warm custard—and diners instantly knew they were onto a good thing. By 1991, the dish had become so popular that New York Times writer Florence Fabricant wrote, “New Yorkers are calling it the best dessert, ever.

 

Tiramisu has had it. Crème brûlée, watch out.” And since then, this molten chocolate wonder-cake has traveled the world round, conquering every dessert menu in its path.

So how do these pastry whizzes achieve their textural magic? Some molten cakes are made from eggy, practically flourless batters, which, when slightly under-baked, release warm interiors of dense chocolate custard. (That’s why these cakes usually require 10 or 20 minutes to prepare—they must be baked to order, or the interiors become too firm.) Alternately, balls of cool chocolate ganache are tucked into the mold alongside the cake’s batter, so that when the warm cake is parted with a fork, out runs the (by now) molten chocolate.

 

Where can you get your hands on your own molten masterpiece? Dip your spoon into these local versions:

 

Backals (2 Weaver St, Scarsdale,  914-722-4508; www.backals.com.) Chocolate fiends will find a super-fix in Backals dense version. In it, warm chocolate cake is paired with chocolate sauce and a cooling punch of vanilla ice cream.

 

Chiboust (14 Main St, Tarrytown, 914-703-6550; www.chiboust.com.) Owner Jill Rose certainly knows her way around a French pastry kitchen—she was at both La Caravelle and L’Espinasse before opening Chiboust. Fans of her intense, chocolate flourless cake have been known to order scores for home parties—that’s because while the cake is always available in the restaurant, customers can also get their molten chocolate fix on Chiboust’s pastry counter.

 

Gaia (253 Greenwich Ave, Greenwich, CT, 203-661-3443; www.gaiarestaurant.com.) Gaia is known for its sous-vide (meaning “under vacuum” in French) cooking, and prepares much of its menu—including foie gras and osso buco—in sealed Mason jars. Dessert isn’t safe from sealing, either: look for a delicious molten chocolate cake, cooked in a jar, alongside a perfect partner of white, tangy, whipped crème fraîche.

 

Harvest-on-Hudson (1 River St, Hastings-on-Hudson, 914-478-2800; www.harvest2000.com.) Those looking for a bit of fruit with their chocolate can visit Harvest, where the molten chocolate cake goes bamboo with coconut sherbet and fresh pineapple chunks.

 

Med 15°/35° (Hilton Rye Town, 699 Westchester Ave, Rye Brook, 914-934-2550; www.med1535.com.) Pastry Chef Jill Csordas’s fiery take on the molten chocolate cake is called “Chocolate Heat.” This Valrhona version is amply spiced with ancho chilis and arrives paired with saffron crème anglaise, chocolate chili crème anglaise, and olive-oil gelato.

 

New York without a bagel? Unthinkable. Here are five Westchester places that can satisfy your inner New Yorker with a smooth-outside, dense-inside, hefty bagel.

 

Village Square Bagels (1262 Boston Post Rd, Larchmont 914-834-6969; www.village squarebagel.com) is actually the retail outlet of a bigger-time bagel distributor. Bagels are baked right on-site and the retro-style, black-and-white shop carries a full line of cream cheeses, deli salads, sweets, and hand-sliced nova and smoked fish platters, too.

 

Gramatan Hot Bagels (552 Gramatan Ave, Mount Vernon 914-667-7726) “Chewy,” “shiny,” “golden brown,” and “nicely dense” were how the Westchester Magazine panel of chefs in the August 2006 taste test described these winning bagels. Gramatan Hot Bagels means old-school bagels with no shortcuts and a humble shop to grab a bagel breakfast or lunch, too.

 

H&R Bialy Inc. (41 Quaker Ridge Shopping Center, New Rochelle 914-576-1411) is a nondescript storefront. The wheat bagel is light but well textured and chewy, and there are no inauthentic cockamamie flavors. Old-fashioned farmer’s cheese, whole whitefish, and sable are in the cases, too.

 

Bagel Power (1078 Wilmot Rd, Golden Horseshoe Shopping Center, Scarsdale 914-723-9870) is a small store, with great bagels and not much else. The sesame and poppy seed bagels are densely covered, the wheat is dark and a
little sweet, and the garlic is not burned. The bagels are crisp outside and chewy inside. They are also huge, but there’s a reasonably sized plain “mini” for bagel-eaters-in-training to gnaw.

 

Bagelicious (379 Halstead Ave, Harrison 914-630-2909) is a local outlet of the national chain that has just opened in the Harrison Shopping Center. A full-service bagel-deli café, there’s plenty of seating for breakfast as well
as lunch, and the bagels are made on the premises.

 

—Judith Hausman

 

 

Restaurants & The Art of the Freebie

 

Which Westchester restaurants are just giving it away?

 

By Julia Sexton

 

A couple of years ago, after a long-booked   and very disappointing meal at London’s Lindsay House, we were left with the sort of chagrin that hits after every expensive, mediocre meal.  Having eaten several lesser meals to afford this single pricey one, we regretted not booking at the Fat Duck or St. John. Sad, but here’s the kicker: after clearing the plates, our openly-indifferent waiter simply dropped the astronomical bill on the table. No tiny chocolates, no pretty petit fours—not even a plastic-wrapped mint.

 

Nada. Just pay up and leave.

 

Savvy restaurateurs know that nothing lessens the impact of a steep bill like a freebie—a parting dish of chocolates, a couple of warm cookies, or a salver of pretty petit fours. Similarly, nothing creates a great first impression like a gratis, welcoming bite. It’s one of those ingenious marketing ploys (like cosmetic-counter giveaways) that never seem to fail. While you know that you’re paying for it somewhere in your bill, you still feel a little special when your waiter brings a freebie.

 

So, which Westchester restaurants are just giving it away? Take a look below—these are the real masters of the freebie.

 

 

Welcoming Freebies

 

Blue Hill at Stone Barns (630 Bedford Rd, Pocantico Hills 914-366-9600; www.bluehillfarm.com). Recent freebies (or—for the fancy—amuses bouche) have included a sculpture of tiny, sweet, just-picked carrots, simply (and perfectly) dipped in salt water, then speared on a rustic frame. Also, look for miniature beet or tomato “burgers” (complete with tiny, buttery split buns) and warm shots of earthy parsnip soup.

 

Il Teatro (576 Mamaroneck Ave, Mamaroneck 914-777-2200). No one knows the value of a freebie like Il Teatro. Not only does the restaurant leave free digestifs on the table with the bill (see below), but Il Teatro’s tuxedo-clad  waiters greet diners with a welcoming antipasto of dry salami, olives, and chunks of parmesan cheese.

Great Gratis Bread Baskets

 

Zitoune (1127 W Boston Post Rd, Mamaroneck 914-835-8350). The briny, lemony, olive-y tapenade that accompanies Zitoune’s bread basket seems a little risky for chef/owner Alain Bennouna to serve. It’s so incredibly delicious, diners might just skip appetizers.

 

Med 15°/35° (699 Westchester Ave, Rye Brook 914-934-2550; www.med1535.com). The irresistible bread basket at Med 15°/35° comes courtesy of the Kneaded Bread Bakery in Port Chester. Look for addictive breads (like the bakery’s seductive provolone bread) paired with Med’s equally compelling fromage forte. This creamy, traditional French spread (served in cute, tiny tagines) is made with tangy blended cheeses and wine.

 

Coco Rumba’s (443 Lexington Ave, Mount Kisco 914-241-2433; www.cocorumbas.net). While Coco Rumba’s brawny, dry ship’s crackers are a little odd at first, they’re served in a cute Cuban cigar box along with an ideal foil: rich and spicy black-bean spread. It’s easy to forget about ordering when these well-paired charmers hit the table.

 

Parting Freebies

 

Toyo Sushi (253 Mamaroneck Ave, Mamaroneck 914-777-8696; www.toyosushi.com). While the supply is spotty, recent check folders at Toyo have included adorable miniature boxes of fruit-flavored Japanese gum.

 

Il Teatro (576 Mamaroneck Ave, Mamaroneck 914-777-2200). Il Teatro’s pre-bill softener is as pleasing as any around. Meals conclude when waiters place bottles of Sambuca Romana and fruit brandy on the table, along with pony glasses and plates of biscotti.

 

Iron Horse Grill (20 Wheeler Ave, Pleasantville 914-741-0717; www.ironhorsegrill.com). Executive Chef Philip McGrath knows how to care for his loyal customers. While his regulars love sitting to gratis picholine olives, the real freebies come at the end of the meal—that’s when the cookies appear. Pistachio toll house, chocolate with white chocolate chip, lace cookies with sunflower seeds, and Iron Horse’s famous pecan diamonds—these house-made sweets are so cheerful and delicious that you might just find yourself over-tipping.

 

Short Order

 

 

Neil Ferguson, a native of England and the first chef de cuisine at Manhattan’s Gordon Ramsay, is the new executive chef at and culinary director of Monteverde at Oldstone Manor (28 Bear Mountain Bridge Rd, Cortlandt Manor
914-739-5000; www.monteverderestaurant.com). The dishes on the Modern American menu have been completely changed, though the emphasis on local ingredients remains. The menu features dishes such as filet mignon with a casserole of bacon, onions, and carrots; and crisp dorade with cipollini onions and candied grapes. Main entrées range between $26 and $42. A garden menu, available on summer weekends, offers a seven-course meal ($75/$105 with wine), which can be enjoyed under a 100-year-old grapevine trellis.

 

Michael Sherman, the former sous chef at Backals in Scarsdale, is the new executive chef at the Mediterranean-themed Kraft Bistro (104 Kraft Ave, Bronxville 914-337-4545; www.kraftbistro.com). Sherman, an Eastchester resident, replaces Jason Kortz.

 

 

 

 East Japan Hibachi & Sushi Bar (875 Saw Mill River Rd, Ardsley 914-478-8588; www.eastjapanny.com) has opened in the space that once housed Ichiro. The 3,000-square-foot restaurant has eight hibachi tables (each can seat up to nine diners), a 12-stool sushi bar, a 36-seat dining room, plus an eight-seat drink bar. Hibachi meals run between $18 and $32.

 

 Owner/chef Alex Rubeo has moved his tiny (40 seats) Stoneleigh Creek restaurant in Croton Falls down county—to Armonk—to a larger location (1 Kent Pl, Armonk 914-276-0000; www.stoneleighcreek.com). The new space, which previously housed the Armonk Grill, has almost three times as many seats as the previous location.

 

The eclectic menu, which includes French, Northern Italian, and Asian- influenced dishes, remains unchanged. A representative for Don Julio, one of Mexico’s most prominent tequila brands, will be at Sonora (179 Rectory St, Port Chester 914-933-0200; www.sonorany.com) on September 6, when the Nuevo Latino restaurant will present a $65, four-course tequila dinner. Some of the menu items: yuca-crusted South African snapper, grilled lamb chops in a mole rojo sauce, and shrimp, watermelon, and jalapeño ceviche.

 

A CRUST ABOVE