First-Class Cuisine at Westchester County Airport: The Traveler’s Club

Plus: Hudson Valley Restaurant Week; Japanese penicillin: Nabeyaki Udon; Sarah Bernhardt smackdown.



If you’ve got time to kill at Westchester County Airport in White Plains, your dining options are varied: there’s the Purchase Country Diner, Sashimi State, a bar with the cute name of Wing Lady, and some sad-looking sandwiches at a newsstand. But if it’s luxury you’re after, The Travelers Club, with a panoramic view of airplanes taking off and landing, is the ticket. After your adventure getting to the airport and dodging a few leaks in the parking garage, you deserve it.

The eight-month-old restaurant, which replaced Skytop, might be more exotic than your destination. Its Mediterranean décor lends itself to dreaming of faraway places: hanging lights from Egypt, striped fabric, tufted upholstery, and Moroccan-style screens and lanterns meet the genius stroke of rolling club chairs, great for swiveling around to watch planes. (But oddly, there’s no restroom—back into the airport hallway for that, like an unexpected layover in Jersey.) TV screens bring you concert music during the day, movies on Monday nights, and the restaurant’s own live music on Friday and Saturday nights. The place is gearing up for takeoff only now, with a grand opening cocktail reception on March 22.

Chef Jose Escamilla (or Felix, as he is known) presides over a Mediterranean-influenced American menu emphasizing natural and local ingredients. And since you asked: full bar, no cocktail list yet, a handful of beers on draft (including Captain Lawrence—how could they not), and a small but serviceable wine list—I enjoyed Lonely Cow Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. Speaking of faraway places.

We’re glad just to get bread nowadays, not daring to expect something so crusty and fluffy, served with herb- and chili-infused olive oil. A special salad was a departure from the typical Gorgonzola and dried cranberry thing via the addition of sliced strawberries and whole pecans. Pastas are another high point; even an improvised vegan linguine with mushrooms was seasoned with care. Lobster ravioli shone in a thick cream sauce brimming with lobster flavor, though I would have preferred a touch less salt.

Other main courses were good, if not quite as stellar. Grilled tuna with tataki seasoning was actually made tataki style, mostly raw inside, with a crisp black and white sesame seed crust that compensated for a slightly overdone exterior; sides of garlicky haricot verts and roast potatoes got a unanimous thumbs up. Lamb chops were tender and beautifully presented but could have used more seasoning. Some desserts, such as rice pudding, are house-made, others brought in from a local bakery. Service was excellent throughout.

So check your perceptions about food that has anything to do with airplanes, airlines, and airports. Curbside valet parking starts at 4 pm, but for lunch, they deducted the parking fee from our check, and you can walk right in from the second floor of the garage at the main terminal. The unique location lends itself to parties and events and is reason to consider going, even if you have no plans to leave Westchester.

HotDate: Hudson Valley Restaurant Week

March 10 through March 23

The question isn't which Westchester restaurants are participating in Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, but which aren't: with 101 choices (of more than 180 across the Hudson Valley), it’s a chance to try places you've always wanted to go. Brought to you by The Valley Table Magazine, the event offers three-course lunches for $20.95 and three-course dinners for $29.95—which, as with any restaurant week, can be worth it or not, depending on the menu, any surcharges, and how many off-menu items you're tempted by. But a click through the available menus reveals a basic level of generosity (or at least fear) among our locals. Who’s up for dinner at X2O in Yonkers, for instance, whose menu looks unstinting? Or at La Crémaillère in Bedford, where you’ll be paying a good 50 percent less than usual? Go ahead, live a little.

HotPlate: Nabeyaki Udon at Hajime

The cure for what ails you on a cold winter's day: an iron bowl of noodle soup with mushrooms and vegetables, tofu, fish cakes, chicken, shrimp tempura, and an egg.

While the steam rises, there’s urgency—no, not to Instagram your food before it gets cold—well, there’s that—but to rescue the shrimp tempura before it gets too soggy.

Then you tend to the egg, letting it poach more if needed, but not too much; or, if it’s served mostly raw, piercing it and stirring it into the broth.

Now a sprinkle of shichimi togarashi, that blend of chili, orange peel, black sesame, ginger, and other spices that dates to the herbal medicine shops of 17th-century Tokyo and is said to be good for a cold.

Back and forth between dashi broth and thick, chewy udon noodles that refuse to be twirled or tamed. They digest easily, keeping body heat in the extremities.

Excursions to the vegetables, chicken, fish cakes. Some places think they can leave out the fish cakes, but we must have our fish cakes.

Time passes. The broth cools and ingredients disintegrate into it, making it richer. You find one last, unexpected piece of chicken.

You shake on yet another, perhaps ill advised, hit of togarashi. You wonder whether you’ll finish the noodles if you bring them home. Chances are you will.

Feeling just a little bit foolish, you ask to have a very small amount of leftovers packed. Exiting the restaurant to a chorus of farewells, you breathe in the fresh winter air.

Which no longer feels so cold.

You have had…nabeyaki udon.

Where?

Here:

Hajime (Harrison)

What? No egg? But look, here are two humongous pieces of omelet. And in addition to shrimp tempura, fish cakes, and the meatiest shiitake, a few pieces of crabmeat…and squid? Our bowl runneth over. And is the broth just a little better here? The quality of their green tea certainly is. They added more broth to the leftovers I brought home.

Nishi (Ardsley)

A hostess in traditional dress, down to the wooden sandals with toe socks, greets you with green tea. Unusually, the nabeyaki udon is offered as a lunch special. Bonus points for using spongy fried tofu instead of the usual slabs.

Red Plum (Mamaroneck)

Generous helpings of everything, including a wider range of vegetables. Shrimp tempura are a little high on the greasiness scale and are served on the side instead of on top, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Shoyu Sushi (Scarsdale)

Best chicken, and the egg is the perfect soft-boiled consistency. Noodles a touch soft, shrimp tempura on the side. Two-point deduction for absence of fish cakes. 

Also try Karuta (New Rochelle), Sushi Mike’s (Dobbs Ferry), and Ichi Riki (Elmsford), whose udon won Best of Westchester in 2006.

HotPlate: Sarah Bernhardt Smackdown

The Sarah Bernhardt cookie, a chocolate-topped almond macaroon confection named after the legendary Belle Époque actress, isn’t something you find on every street corner. Old-timers will remember the ones at Jespersen’s in Scarsdale, now Lulu’s, which makes them around holidays.

Also upholding the tradition is Scarsdale Pastry Center, but you have to buy them in a half- or one-pound package—lovely as a gift, but a bummer if you just want a quick fix. The very thick chocolate coating throws off the texture a bit, but they’re still quite good.

Enrico’s in Hartsdale makes a good but not totally classic version, and you can buy them individually. The ganache is more of a mousse, the cookie more like a coconut macaroon.

The winner? Patisserie Salzburg in Rye and Scarsdale. A thin chocolate coating snaps to reveal the smoothest ganache and a chewy cookie with strong marzipan flavor. As if that weren’t enough, they also make an “inside-out” Sarah Bernhardt with the macaroon on top, a middle layer of ganache, and a bottom layer of marzipan, with the chocolate coating on the bottom and running up the sides. Although I prefer the regular one, I think Sarah would approve.