Posts tagged Westchester County

Dinner at Tarry Lodge

On Saturday night Jim and I hopped in the car and headed out to Port Chester for dinner. What made us break our usual weekend pattern and leave Brooklyn for Port Chester? Well, a few months ago Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich—of Babbo, Esca, and Del Posto fame, to name a few of their many restaurants—brought their formidable talents to the suburbs and opened a casual Italian eatery called Tarry Lodge. We were celebrating my birthday, and knowing what a fan I am of Mario Batali’s cuisine, Jim had surprised me with the reservation.

We arrived at 6 pm for our 6:30 reservation. Tarry Lodge has been around for over 100 years in various incarnations, at one point even operating as a speakeasy. Each room of the massive, sub-divided space was already packed from wall to wall and from one end of the beautifully restored bar to the other. Although we were early, we were quickly seated in a warmly decorated room near the kitchen on the second floor.

appetizers

We made our selections from the traditional offerings of antipasti, pizza, pasta, and secondi, and noted signature Batali ingredients such as fennel pollen, chiles, and guanciale on the menu. To our disconcerted surprise, the appetizers arrived about three minutes after we placed our order. I turned first towards the marinated calamari, always one of my favorite dishes ($8). Mixed with small, pearl-shaped pasta, capers, tomatoes, and garlic, the squid exuded a refreshing lightness of flavor and texture. Soft chunks of fennel soaked in blood oranges were accompanied by briny olives and pomegranate seeds that popped with each bite ($5). Although obviously pre-made, both of these Mediterranean-infused dishes had me reaching for more. I looked for our waitress, as I wanted to ask her about the pasta used in the calamari salad. “Excuse me…” I began, as she rushed passed the table. A few minutes later she walked by again. “Excuse me…”

linguine

Jim and I both decided to go with pasta for our main course. I settled on the linguine with clams, chiles, and pancetta ($17). To be fair, our waitress had warned me that the dish would be salty, but I was overwhelmed with its saltiness from the first bite. A brown broth mixed with the pasta was obviously contributing to the effect. As my waitress drew near, I loudly said, “Excuse me, I was wondering about this broth…” I almost felt the wind on my face as she breezed by without a second look.

Jim enjoyed his black fettuccine with lobster and chiles ($24), and a quick taste confirmed that it was a more gentle and luxurious pasta than mine. As I neared the end of my bowl, I suddenly realized that our artichokes with mint had never made it to the table ($7). Somehow we got our waitress’s attention and the artichokes arrived a few minutes later. From the first choke we could tell that they had been hurriedly thrown on the stove and then onto our table; they had absolutely no flavor whatsoever.

artichokes1

By the time we ordered dessert—a decent if unremarkable chocolate cake with pistachio ice cream ($8)—it was obvious to both Jim and me that we were being rushed out of the restaurant. This was more than confirmed when our waitress took our check and ran to process it, not noticing that she had flung our credit card across the room in her haste. I scrambled after it and asked someone else to return it to our waitress. As expected, she was long gone.

I’m sure you can tell that at Tarry Lodge I was let down by both my meal and the service. I felt that the food was prepared in the simplest manner possible for maximum efficiency. Every effort seemed directed towards getting me out the door quickly so that the tables could turn over. Perhaps my expectations were too high: In this interview Joseph Bastianich states that Tarry Lodge is meant to be a spot for casual, trattoria-style dining in Westchester. If that’s indeed the goal, then the restaurant is fine and solid. But there are plenty of other Italian restaurants in Westchester filling a similar purpose. To me it seems like a lost opportunity that could have brought a special destination Italian restaurant—perhaps on the level of Blue Hill at Stone Barns—to the area. In any case, I expected more from one of my favorite chefs. I’ve never written a negative restaurant review on this blog before, and I’m sorry to do so now. I didn’t come close to sampling half the dishes on the menu, and I don’t think I ever will. I’ll return to Babbo one day, but for now, Tarry Lodge is off my list.

Tarry Lodge, 18 Mill Street, Port Chester, New York. T: 914-939-3111. Reservations are recommended but not required. 

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Knives!

line

I love a good bargain, especially when it’s related to cookware; those of you who read my post about the All-Clad warehouse sale already know this about me. So while the end of November brings us Thanksgiving, it also reminds me of an important shopping event: the annual Zwilling J.A. Henckels warehouse sale in Hawthorne, New York.

The Henckels sale happens only once a year, but it stretches over two weekends. So if waiting on line and fighting the crowds for discounted, high-quality knives appeals to you, you’re in luck, as there’s one more weekend to go at the beginning of December. I headed over to the sale this past weekend and walked away with some satisfying finds in under 15 minutes. I may have thrown a few elbows here and there, but that’s all part of the fun.

My parents bought me a basic set of Henckels knives at this sale when I first moved into my own apartment many years ago. Over the past two years I’ve been attending the sale myself to slowly upgrade them. Last year I picked up a 5″ Santoku and a 6″ Chef’s knife from the Professional “S” line, while this year I bought a 4″ paring knife ($29.99, marked down from $72.00) and a 9″ bread knife ($39.99, marked down from about $100) from the same series. The discounts are deep, and the bins of each knife size and series seemingly endless. On that note, while the line to enter the sale may appear to stretch into infinity, it actually moves very quickly.

knives

J.A. Henckels recently bought Group Staub, and this year’s sale included many gorgeous items from this well-known line of cast iron cookware. I didn’t need any new cast iron pieces, but Jim stumbled across some cute, individual ceramic “cocotte” cups that we couldn’t resist ($22.00 for two). I had to hold myself back from the beautiful Staub grills, pans, and tea kettles that beckoned me from every corner of the room. The sale is also worthwhile for cheap cutting boards, various kitchen utensils such as spatulas, scissors, and garlic presses, and Henckels stainless steel cookware. So get on line early, you won’t regret it.

The J.A. Henckels Warehouse Sale, 171 Saw Mill River Road, Hawthorne, New York 10532. The sale occurs once a year over two weekends; there’s still one left from December 5-December 7. Click here for the hours.

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Dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns

 

If you’ve read other descriptions of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, you might already be familiar with the photograph above. “Oh no,” you probably just groaned. “Not another post raving about this place and its raw vegetables on sticks.” Well, brace yourself: Last week I finally ate at Stone Barns, and enjoyed one of the most beautiful and creative meals I’ve ever had. And those vegetables on sticks? Through their farm-to-table freshness and the artistry of their arrangement, they encompass all that was wonderful about the experience.

Located in Pocantico Hills, New York, and headed by chef Dan Barber (also of Blue Hill in Manhattan), Blue Hill at Stone Barns is more than just a restaurant. It’s a farm, an ideal, and an artistic adventure. Every effort is made to prepare and produce food culled from its own land, which is situated on a vast Rockefeller Estate. (While most ingredients used in the restaurant are produced on the farm, not all of them are. For example, Blue Hill does not farm its own fish.) Along with our friends Keith and Gabriella, Jim and I explored the farm on Saturday afternoon, intrigued by its greenhouses, herb gardens, and pastures of sheep and turkeys.

We returned later that night for dinner, and were immediately embraced by the soaring, wood-beamed ceilings and golden lighting of the main dining room, located in a sprawling stone dairy barn. As we perused the tasting menu, we realized that it was simply a list of the ingredients available to Chef Barber that evening. Beyond this list, our group had no idea what lay in store in store for us. We threw up our hands and surrendered to the experience, although we were encouraged to tell the wait staff a bit about our food personalities and preferences so that Chef Barber could personalize our tasting.

After a few nervous shrugs and glances between us, Jim declared that we were an adventurous group of eaters. On the evening of our visit, the ingredients ranged from concord grapes, bok choi, and chanterelle mushrooms to Berkshire pork, wahoo fish, and grass-fed veal, among many others. We decided to indulge in the seven-course farmers’ feast tasting ($125 each). In response to our waiter’s inquiry regarding ingredients we preferred or disliked, Jim described his love for arugula, asking to see what Chef Barber could do with his favorite green apart from serving it raw in a salad. I added that I didn’t feel like eating soft-boiled eggs, and Gabriella said she was willing to eat less meat. The adventure had begun.

Then the amuse-bouche started to arrive, as exciting in their presentation as their flavors. Those raw vegetables elegantly perched on steel spikes were crisp, fresh, and simply touched with lemon. Tiny beet burgers, skewers of eggplant coated with pancetta and sesame seeds, bread with fresh butter, lard, and soft, smooth ricotta, were placed on the table in unending parade of farm freshness. And I can’t forget the face bacon, served to us with other Stone Barns cured meats. 

No, you didn’t read that incorrectly, I wrote face bacon. Made from the farm’s own pigs’ jowls, these small, crunchy bits of meat enthralled us to no end. We raised our wine glasses when ingredients were described as being “from the farm,” creating our own amusing drinking game in the midst of the abundance. Arugula quickly made its first appearance with the appetizers, infused into a cup of salt served with our bread. I should note now that Chef Barber conquered Jim’s arugula challenge throughout our meal, mixing this peppery green into grain salads and serving it wilted on the side of our entrées.

After being successfully lured in by the appetizers, the main dishes began. One after another, each dish was a visual and edible surprise. Delicate pieces of barely seared bluefin and wahoo fish started our feast. A vegetable called celtuse, its wide, ribbon-like strands mimicking fresh pasta in a sauce of pine nut butter and yogurt, was a favorite of the night.

I didn’t know what to expect in response to my soft-boiled egg request, but I soon found out: For one entrée, while everyone else enjoyed a farm-fresh (raise your wine glass now) egg dish, I received my own small serving of eggplant parmigiana with zucchini flowers sprinkled across the top. Later in the evening, Gabriella also received a personalized dish as a substitute for one of the two meat  entrées of Berkshire pig and chicken. Now that’s what I call personal attention.

The desserts were delivered in a continuous stream, including baked plums with crispy emmer; a dessert composed from juicy concord grapes; and a curious fruit called the paw paw. Just when I thought I’d had enough, our waiter wheeled out a cart overflowing with herbs and a glass teapot. He called it a tisane, and brewed us a soothing pot of lemon verbena and sage tea on the spot. It was one of the most beautiful displays of greenery I had ever seen.

At Blue Hill at Stone Barns, art and food intersect to create an enthralling and unique experience. I know it may sound pretentious to describe a meal in these terms, but for me, it was true. Every detail, from the beautiful porcelain plates decorated with plant and animal life, to the rustic candle holders, dark wood accents, and overflowing plant arrangements in the dining room coordinated perfectly with our abundant and beautifully plated farmers’ feast. Combined with Stone Barns’s practice of cultivating as much food as possible on their own land, everything came together to offer an extremely personal and artistic meal. That’s how those vegetables on sticks represent the Blue Hill at Stone Barns experience: fresh, honest, and creative.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns, 630 Bedford Road, Pocantico Hills, New York 10591  T: 914-366-9600. A five-course tasting is also offered for $95, and on Sundays there is a four-course tasting lunch for $68. Make your reservations one to two months in advance.

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Lost in Yonkers: Dinner at X20

Spaghetti Chittarra from X20 in Yonkers

Whenever I tell someone that I grew up in Yonkers, I inevitably hear the following questions: “Are you talking about Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers? Have you read it?”

No, I’ve never read or seen the play. But the city in which it’s set is undergoing a renaissance. Back when I was in grammar school, Yonkers was primarily known for its bitter desegregation struggles. Downtown was characterized by its gritty and industrial atmosphere, not its restaurants. But in the past few years, new bars and restaurants have slowly emerged, adding exciting dining options to this long-neglected riverfront neighborhood.

No other eatery has epitomized this renewal more than chef Peter X. Kelly’s X20, a year-old contemporary American restaurant situated on a historic pier near the heart of downtown Yonkers. Kelly is a hometown boy, raised in a nearby housing project. He is well known in the area, with three highly-esteemed restaurants in Rockland County. My parents, my sister Melissa, Jim, and I headed to X20 on Saturday night for my mother’s birthday, and experienced Yonkers in a whole new way.

The steel pier hosting the restaurant extends over the Hudson River, offering spectacular views of the Palisades and not-so-far-off Manhattan. As I walked into the spacious 2nd floor dining room with its 25-foot ceilings, I simply gasped at the incredible panorama. Next I marveled at the generous space between tables, the gracious and professional staff, and the manageable noise level that allowed my family to speak and hear each other with ease. 

Osso Bucco from X20 in Yonkers

The ample menu of intriguing meat and seafood options obviously aims to please a variety of palettes. After much struggle I finally settled on the spaghetti chittarra for my appetizer ($14.50). A small tangle of perfectly cooked spaghetti tossed with light crabmeat, toasted breadcrumbs, and green onions exuded freshness and springtime. As a pasta lover, I easily could have eaten a full-size serving. But I needed to leave room for my second course of red-wine braised osso bucco, which was served with a barley risotto, shaved root vegetables, wild mushrooms, and a handful of fava beans ($30.00).

While my spaghetti chittarra epitomized the arrival of spring, the osso bucco was hearty, rich, and slightly too much food for me. The tender braised meat and savory risotto created a comforting combination of flavors, and if I had tried this dish on a cold and wintry day, I’m sure I would have loved it.

I ended my meal with a piece of classic red velvet cake ($8.50). And as I watched my mother blow out her candles, I thought how nice it was to come home to Yonkers and see positive changes in the city; I vowed to do it more often. Perhaps next time we return we can try Dylan, X20’s low-key sushi bar.

And, just in case you were wondering, Jim and I accidentally took a few wrong turns on the way back to Brooklyn. I guess you can say that on Saturday night we were indeed lost in Yonkers.

X20, Xaviar’s on the Hudson, 71 Water Grant Street, Yonkers, New York  T: 914-965-1111

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