What’s Hot This Winter

Six new—or renewed—restaurants worth braving winter’s weather for.



What’s Hot This Winter

 

Six new—or renewed—restaurants worth braving winter’s weather for.

 

Holidays mean entertaining, office parties and restaurants. Stow the barbecue and pack away the beach blanket and sandals; it’s time to step out. It’s a new year and the energy of new restaurants, new chefs and original menu  light these fresh possibilities. We’ll suggest the brand new and the newly noticed, the casual and the sublime.

There’s a wide range of styles, prices and settings among this season’s Next Big Places. Recapture the excitement and relaxation of an adventure dining out. Bundle up, check ’em out and find a new favorite soon.

 

Finch Tavern

592 Route 22 • Croton Falls

(914) 277-4580

Dinner for two with wine: $90-$110

 

The biggest news of the season is the sizzling and chic Finch Tavern. With partners Tom Clarke and Edward Albano, Finch was opened this summer by Westchester native Stanley Tucci, who lives nearby  and can be star spotted at the cozy, no-smoking bar. The massive restoration was designed by Maryann Wyndon Syrek of Beacon, NY, to be much grander than the word “tavern” suggests. Ocher walls, glowing lights and cushy banquettes murmur comfortable elegance. A striking mural of chestnut horses across the far wall is the work of David Loeb of Katonah, who, coincidentally, studied art with Stanley Tucci’s father at Katonah High School, and his French-born wife, Anne Servaton, based on a pastoral scene by 18th-century artist George Stubbs. Syrek’s research found that the painting that inspired the mural actually hung in a tavern in Croton in 1751, the year the town was founded.

 

Former CIA instructor Steven Santoro, Finch’s executive chef, has on-target instincts for natural partners such as Maine scallops and roasted corn or fall-off-the-bone short ribs with spiced red wine sauce. He wraps a torchon of luxurious foie gras in prosciutto and serves it with figs. The tenderest of local greens are topped with Old Chatham Sheepherders’ cheese, made right here in the Hudson Valley. Adorable—and scrumptious—desserts include finch in a pear tree, poached pears decorated with a birdie stenciled in cinnamon and sugar.

 

The excellent wine list is not inexpensive, but there are tasting portions to try before you commit. Finch makes a policy of welcoming the family, so while you quaff your $50 bottle, the kids can have buttered noodles, no problem. Entrées run between $16 and $29. There’s also a by-request-only tasting menu, where Chef Santoro can show off his culinary skills in one very satisfying seating.

 

Sushi Mike’s

146 Main Street

Dobbs Ferry

(914) 591-0054

Dinner for two with wine: $50

 

A must-try discovery on the Hudson side is Sushi Mike’s, opened in spring 2002. Nothing much to look at beyond the usual scrolls and porcelain cats—it’s a neighborhood Japanese restaurant where dinners run from $11 to $25 and you can skip the reservations. It’s the wacky sushi roll combinations that distinguish Sushi Mike’s. (And the chef’s outgoing personality and contagious good spirits.) How about French dynamite with eel crab and avocado? Or the fantastic roll, the most expensive on the menu at $11.95, wrapped in white seaweed with a trio of salmon, tuna and yellowtail? Holy mackerel roll ($8.95) wraps up pickled mackerel with ginger and sesame, while out-of-control roll is a spicy one with tuna, eel and scallions. Cooked foods, such as teriyaki and seafood tempura ($14.95) are pretty and generous but less sensational. Japanese beer, sake or green tea is available to wash it all down. For dessert, try the mochi, silver-dollar-sized disks of ice crean frozen inside rice flour dough. An especially friendly, helpful staff will do everything they can to please the whole family.

 

Umami

325 Riverside Avenue

Croton on Hudson

(914) 271-5555

Dinner for two with wine: $45

 

Chef and co-owner Jon Pratt shows a clear sense of humor at Umami, only hinted at in his family’s other restaurant, Peter Pratt’s Inn. New to our area and to our palates, his funky restaurant in Croton is buzzing with bright colors as well as steady crowds. What is drawing the masses is the chance to sample a menu built completely around foods that contain umami, the hard-to-define Japanese concept of a fifth taste. Loosely translated
as satisfaction or deliciousness, umami is traceable to certain amino acids found in many favorite foods from Parmesan to Worcestershire sauce, foie gras to potato chips. (Make sure you indulge in the house-made chips at Umami. Forget Frito-Lay!)

Umami crisscrosses the globe, striving to wow us with taste sensations without borders. Tame that Evil Jungle Prince, a Thai curry, with coconut milk. Now jump continents back to mac and cheese with truffles, not for kids only. Seared ahi tuna mini wonton tacos wrap up several major ethnicities into crunchy bites. Not for the purist, Umami is hopping, all very original, adventuresome and (very) reasonable with entrées between $10 and $16.

 

Moscato Ristorante

874 Scarsdale Avenue  Scarsdale (914) 723-5700

Dinner for two with wine: $80

 

You think you’ve uncovered an insider’s suggestion in Milan rather than in downtown Scarsdale when you enter the fashionable Moscato, with its dark wood and mustard yellow walls. Mario Fava and Michele Lepore, along with the Lusardi family, who own namesake restaurants in Manhattan and Larchmont, opened their most recent venture a little over a year ago—and it sizzles. This restaurant reminds you how sexy, old-fashioned sedate service can be.

 

The wine steward can suggest an interesting Italian wine from the high-end list. Among the appetizers, my favorites were Roman-style grilled artichokes and a salad with Tuscan-style chicken livers. Pasta is more interesting than average, such as pappardelle with wild mushrooms, rotollo stuffed with spinach, and grilled seafood with a Sicilian sauce of lemon, oil and fresh herbs. A communal plateful of al dente vegetables is served with the entrées ($16 to $26) and...mmmmm...that creamy ricotta cheesecake or the homemade gelato. Trust the knowledgeable waitstaff’s recommendations when you visit.

 

Equus Restaurant

(at The Castle at Tarrytown)

400 Benedict Avenue  Tarrytown

(914) 631-3646

Dinner for two with wine: $150-$200

 

With new owners and a new chef, Equus at the Castle is once again worthy of its reputation as one of the area’s most romantic and sophisticated dining spots. “We’re very busy with large parties, wine tastings and other functions,” reports John Aguirre, the maitre d’hotel.

 

Relax first in the urbane bar and then in the candlelit Garden Room, medieval Tapestry Room or masculine Oak Room. There are several broad fireplaces, soft couches and shawl-draped pianos in the foyer and baronial touches everywhere.

The dinner menu is four courses, strictly prix-fixe at $64; this is formal and leisurely dining with all the trimmings: jackets required, fish forks, long-stemmed wine glasses, house-made rolls served from a big basket. The bustling staff strides in with beautifully plated dishes.

 

Chef Michael Coldrick, whose forte is Asian fusion cuisine, has reinterpreted the restaurant’s classic French menu, adding Asian elements throughout. Coldrick, formerly sous-chef under Gary
Kunz at Manhattan’s highly touted Lespinasse, can make a frisée salad with walnuts and goat cheese into a work of art. His tender roasted cod is graced with an inventive sweet fennel chutney and mussel broth. Tournedos stand simply with wild mushrooms and red wine.

 

Desserts are elegant and more so; a trio of crème brûlées (vanilla, caramel and blueberry) is served with a plate of extra cookies and little cakes.

 

Sammy’s Grill

289 Route 100 • Somers

(914) 276-0600

Dinner for two with wine: $50

 

Sammy’s Grill was opened this fall in Somers by the Mautone family, long associated with Maxime’s in Granite Springs and owners now of the Road House Restaurant that replaced it. Sammy’s really is a road house gone retro-psychedelic: orange walls, purple bathrooms, wagon wheel chandeliers, painted murals and aphorisms (“Your life, Your world, Your choice”) on the walls and floors. It’s a big, funky hall of a place with a gratefully separate bar scene up front.

 

Sammy’s is family-friendly with a menu full of microbrews and burgers, giant salads and barbecue, lots of these in the $12 range, although entrées range from $15 to $22. “It’s been crazy but that’s good news,” says  hostess Gina. The chopped tuna burger was fresh and carefully cooked medium and the signature barbecued chicken was juicy. Interesting vegetables can be substituted for the fries but those sweet potato shoestrings are pretty tempting. The chocolate caramel pyramid—bitter chocolate mousse with a molten caramel center—or warm pear tart—puff pastry covered with almond cream, pear slices and apricot icing—are good bets for dessert. All in all Sammy’s follows a popular, upbeat formula; a niche well filled.  

 

Judith Hausman never looks back; she’s got to look forward to the newest restaurants as food critic for The Journal News—a tough job but someone’s got to do it.