Restaurant Review Accuracy in an Ever-Changing Westchester Food Scene

PLUS: Tarrytown’s Golden Knives Competition, Alain Ducasse Studio set to debut Pinch at Yonkers Raceway and more restaurant happenings in Westchester.



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How long do restaurant reviews remain accurate?

Here’s an excerpt from the type of letters that I get on the EaterLine, though this one arrived by snail mail. I’m changing the names of the guilty because, as a lifelong criminal, I tend to be biased.

“Dear Ms. Sexton,

In February, good friends invited my husband and myself out to dinner. After much thought, we took your review recommendation and went to MYSTERY Restaurant in YOUR TOWN HERE…” The letter referred to another document included in the multi-page submission that carefully detailed this four-top’s evening of extremely blah food. She continues, and this is the killer: “I am writing to you today to ask if you even re-visit a restaurant to see if your first impression was correct or whether that pleasurable experience was pure luck?”

I get this kind of question a lot.

Here’s the thing. The degree of accuracy of any restaurant review fades over time. What might have been true during the month or two of my visits (which are multiple, include guests, and generally occur two or three months after a restaurant opens) may not still be true six months, or six years, later. Chefs leave, staff changes, menus come and go. Generally, I hear about these changes or learn about them in other restaurant visits that I do for this blog—or for my columns, or for my features—but sometimes I don’t.

We do re-review restaurants at Westchester Magazine, but we feel that our readers are more interested in newly debuted restaurants that they not have yet visited. Every year, we have room for twelve regular restaurant reviews, with a few more spaces for bargain reviews. Sadly, we can’t revisit every review subject and this one slipped through the cracks.

In the particular case of the restaurant that prompted this letter, I know that a very high profile chef was working in the kitchen when I wrote the review. He has since left to pursue other opportunities. My review was published a full two years before letter writer had her terrible dinner, and, in those twenty-four months, anything could have happened (and, it apparently did).

So here’s the takeaway. Not only are restaurant reviews entirely subjective (and for evidence of this, compare my own reviews to those printed in the New York Times—often we are visiting new restaurants during the same few weeks), but restaurant reviews also exist in a matrix of time. I’m sorry that a reader had a bad experience at a restaurant to which I gave a high rating, but, logically, I can’t be held responsible for what might happen at restaurants two years after my review is published. In fact, I try to dodge the idea that I judge restaurants at all. I judge meals. In my reviews, I can only write about the meals that I’ve shared with guests. I can’t really offer an opinion about any meals that I have not personally experienced.

My advice is to be aware of when reviews are printed—which is sometimes difficult in these days of an infinitely searchable web. It might take some scanning, but, generally you’ll find a publishing date next to the review. Factor that date in when you are deciding to visit a restaurant based on a review.

Any more questions/rants/raves or complaints about me, my reviews or Westchester restaurants? Please hit me up on the EaterLine, I’d love to hear from you.

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HotFlash

The Golden Knives Competition
Local chefs will be battling out knife-to-knife without stupid brand tie-in challenges or evil Chopped baskets. Check out the lineup—it looks like loads of fun. From the Golden Knives Competition’s Facebook page:

“Golden Knives Challenge is a concept restaurant which will open during three weeks in May at The Lodge at Hudson Harbor, in Tarrytown. It's a tournament pitting six of Westchester’s best chefs against each other. Over a three-week period, we will battle each other two at a time, putting out our best food in an attempt to win the tournament and collect the grand prize.

The pop-up will be open for two seatings each night. You will enjoy three courses from each competing chef, and will then cast your vote on who won the evening.

Participating chefs are: Eric Korn, Good-Life Gourmet, Irvington; Alex Sze, Juniper, Hastings; Carl Van Dekker, The Village Dog, Tarrytown; Navjot Arora, Chutney Masala, Irvington; Diane Forley & co-chef Michael Otsuka, Flourish Baking Company; and Sean Corcoran, Peekskill Brewery, Peekskill.

DETAILS
The dates for Golden Knives are May 7, 8, 9; May 13, 14, 15; and May 22 and 23. The first seating is at 7:00 pm, second seating is 8:30 pm. Tickets are $75 per person and group rates and tournament packages are available.

INITIAL CHALLENGERS will be:
Tuesday, May 7: Juniper vs. The Village Dog
Wednesday, May 8: Chutney Masala vs. Flourish Baking Company
Thursday, May 9: Good-Life vs. Peekskill Brewery
To book seats, call (914)747-0519, email or check Good-Life Gourmet’s website 

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HotFlash

Alain Ducasse Studio to debut Pinch at Yonkers Raceway

First, don’t stand up and do a spit-take all over your computer; Alain Ducasse is not personally coming to Yonkers Raceway to man the pans. Instead, his restaurant consulting firm (Alain Ducasse Studio) is consulting in the new Yonkers Raceway project which is slated to debut in June. Pinch, named for the casual cooking measurement, will debut in June. Here’s a clip from the announcement (one quibble—“beer faucet”?):

“Developer Mark Advent, in collaboration with Ducasse Studio (DS), announces the opening of pinch, named after the cooking vernacular, at Empire City Casino (810 Yonkers Avenue) in Westchester County, New York. Key design and architectural direction on the project include the firm of Roman and Williams, interior designers of the Ace and Standard hotels in New York City, and Richard H. Lewis Architect project architects for Balthazar and Minetta Tavern in New York. The nostalgic interior design was inspired by 1950s classic vintage diners and the 1955 Bisiluro Damolnar Le Mans race car. The "diner-like" convivial 245-seat, premium casual restaurant is open for lunch and dinner daily.

Unique design features include a floating, glass-enclosed keg room suspended over the open kitchen overlooking the raw bar and pastry counter, a fifteen foot powder coat red tap wall with 100 beer faucets at the main bar and six booths equipped with one-of-a-kind custom designed and fabricated self-pour tableside tap dispensing systems which allow guests to serve themselves.

The menu, a mix of updated American and international classics created by Chef Fabienne Eymard [Taillevent in Paris, Caprice in Switzerland, Benoit in New York], is broken down into seven main categories: Snacks & Starters, Soups & Salads, Seafood Bar, House Specialties, Sandwiches, Burgers and From The Grill.

Appetizers include the signature pinch macaroni & cheese with ham; mini beef short rib tacos and sweet & spicy glazed chicken wings. Soups like gratineed onion soup with a lager shooter are offered as well as a variety of salads available to be ordered as a half or full portion. Seafood is featured with a raw bar display as well as a selection of unique ceviches such as scallop with hot yellow pepper paste and fresh heart of palm salad, available a la carte or as a tasting of three.

A selection of eight-ounce Certified Black Angus beef burgers such as the signature pinch burger with crispy pork belly, red onion, arugula and a beer cheese sauce (with an optional sunny side up egg) appear on the menu along with over six kinds of sandwiches including an herb leg of lamb panini with eggplant and feta cheese and a beer-marinated grilled skirt steak on a French baguette with Dijon mustard and watercress.

Other entrées (“House Specialties”) include Atlantic cod brandade atop a potato purée with lemon, capers, croutons, and brown butter and rack of lamb with Mediterranean relish and an eggplant tart. An assortment of Certified Black Angus beef is prepared on the grill with a variety of sauces. Accompanying side dishes like crushed potatoes; creamy spinach and wild mushrooms can be ordered a la carte.

Formerly of Alain Ducasse’s miX in Las Vegas at THEhotel at Mandalay Bay, Executive Pastry Chef Tamber Weiersheuser’s dessert menu features contemporary interpretations of American classics. The menu will evolve throughout the seasons but will continuously include signatures like S’mores, raspberry sundae, apple tart Tatin served with crème fraîche, and warm chocolate cake topped with pistachio ice cream.

Overseen by a Certified Cicerone, Pinch boasts a significant beer program with 100 New York beers on tap, 25 large format beers including limited releases (available seasonally and in small batches) including beers exclusively brewed for pinch. Other unique beer offerings include “pour your own” beer taps fixed to a handful of tables and a “growler shop” near the entrance which allows guests to take home a daily selection of eight featured beers on tap

A selective, dynamic 80-bottle wine list curated by the beverage director of DS, is comprised mostly of American wines from New York and California (75 percent), as well as France.

Roman and Williams Buildings and Interiors (Ace Hotel) designed the restaurant which is inspired by automotive interiors including glossy, powder coated metals with red accents, tailored banquettes and louvered screens. The main bar, with its impressive draft wall, has seating for 28 and serves both food and drink. The accompanying bar counter overlooking the raw bar serves food and drink as well. A semi-private dining room seats 34 people and a private dining room caters to parties of 10.

Pinch is located on the mezzanine level of Empire City Casino at 810 Yonkers Avenue in Yonkers. Lunch is served daily from 12:00 pm-4:30 pm. Dinner hours include Sunday-Thursday, 6:00 pm-10:00 pm; Friday-Saturday, 6:00 pm-11:00 pm. The bar is open daily from 11:30 am-12:00 am. For more information, please call (914) 457 2541 or visit pinchusa.com.

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HotDate

Burgundy for jugheads at the Study Fine Wine and Spirits in Greenwich 
May 16, 7-9 pm
$35 per person
From the site, “French wine IS location. Learn the basics of burgundy by understanding its soil, quality designations, and basic geography. Study materials, antipasti, and six delicious wines will be provided."
Limited to 12 people, please RSVP today!

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HotPlate

Chef Peter Kelly in a video tease for our Winemakers Dinner

Peter Kelly - The Xaviars Restaurant Group from Zachys Wine on Vimeo.

Oh, man—look at the way he slices those little bricks of tuna. Look at that watermelon! Look at all that rosy red deliciousness! We just can’t wait to see all of Chef Kelly’s hors d’oeuvres at Westchester Magazine’s Wine & Food Weekend’s Winemaker’s Dinner on June 8th. Kelly’s hors d’oeuvres will be followed by courses from Tarry Lodge’s Andy Nusser, Chef Michael Gallina of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Ethan Kostbar of Moderne Barn, Chef Jay Lippin of Crabtree’s Kittle House, and Chef Anthony Goncalves of 42. And it’ll all be paired with excellent wines from Zachys, Westchester’s premier wine and spirits store. Tickets are going fast—do not miss this night

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