Restaurant Review: Shea Gallante’s Italian Kitchen in Ardsley Shows Potential Amid Shaky Start
The high notes are divine, but the kitchen would do well to take on more challenging dishes while properly seasoning the classics.
Do restaurants, like the goddess Athena, leap fully formed from their generators’ heads? No, they do not; most struggle, even Irvington’s MP Taverna, a restaurant whose Westchester debut had no apparent missteps. Of course, in that case, the kinks on MP Taverna’s menu were worked out at its original outpost in Roslyn, New York. Chef Shea Gallante’s Italian Kitchen in Ardsley had no such luxury. This restaurant opened in July and is still finding its legs.
The intimate, barbell-shaped space—long and narrow, split by a kitchen and tiny service bar/waiters’ station—is painted a golden corn color and is so simply decorated that it can feel sparse. Weathered barn boards create texture below chair height while large-format, black-and-white photos of eating Italians provide eye candy. Over a lintel, you’ll see the now-ubiquitous shelf staged with rustic crockery, kitchen tools, and the odd cookbook. Italian Kitchen borders on cramped, with diners at tables for two seated, not facing each other, but in adjacent chairs and looking outward. That said, these rooms are welcoming, and the restaurant’s servers are gracious and well-informed. Diners make the best of it aided by a gently priced, Italophilic wine list that offers several bottles in the $29 to $40 range. Since opening, Italian Kitchen has been wildly popular. Tables are scarce, and there is no bar at which to wait; be sure to call or book online before you arrive.
At times, IK’s food can be transcendent—like the starter of grilled robiola flatbread, still smoky from the fire. It was eye-rollingly fragrant and laced with shimmering olive oil; earthy speck; and peppery, crunchy arugula leaves. Or radicchio di Treviso, daringly charred, served in a ramekin with feathery white anchovies. This special came with a simple crostino of roasted tomato and fig jam and a couple of slices of speck, all homey and delicious. Unfortunately, like that Treviso special, the delicious flatbread may prove to be evanescent. When we spoke, Gallante was considering discontinuing the flatbreads because they were difficult to execute in the restaurant’s miniscule kitchen. (Sadly, he’s right: On a second try, the flatbread was served at room temperature, and it was nowhere near as sexy as the first.)
Gallante, Italian Kitchen’s executive chef and owner, is no stranger to foodies. This young, TV-handsome chef of Manhattan’s Cru and Ciano (and a Westchester native), won Food & Wine magazine’s coveted Best New Chef award in 2005. He’s a regular on the Today show and on the Food Network, and continues to cook to wild acclaim at Ciano. Chef Paul Mancebo (who was at DB Bistro Moderne and at Ciano) will be handling Italian Kitchen’s day-to-day operations, though I spotted Gallante, an Ardsley resident, on all but one visit. He was attentively expediting meals from Italian Kitchen’s tiny service bar with one eye on the crowd.
Those who know of Gallante’s work will not be surprised by the restaurant’s excellent house-made pastas, which, at Italian Kitchen, include melting cavatelli and pod-shaped cortecce. This pasta’s satisfying, meaty chew is belied by a delightful, silken slipperiness. Pastas are offered in appetizer and main portions, and, given their quality, should not be skipped. (NB: Italian Kitchen will split one serving among two diners as a pasta course for a small charge.) At best, pastas like Italian Kitchen’s cavatelli with white Bolognese sauce offer enough aristocratic excellence to endorse Gallante’s rep. In this dish, a golden, lushly fatty sauce is deployed with restraint. It’s carnal, yet refined.
At its worst, Italian Kitchen offers more common-denominator dishes than one might hope from such an elite team. There is the blah fritto misto heaped with golden calamari rings—a well-executed version, but one that could (and does) appear in Anywhere, USA, along with that staged shelf of cookbooks. One wonders if a suburban corner Italian-American restaurant provided the model for that baked rigatoni with smoked mozzarella and pancetta or the tomato-sauced crêpes rolled around ricotta cheese. These dishes feel like Italian Kitchen underestimates the relative sophistication of Westchester diners. Also, Italian Kitchen has a tendency to slip with salt: We had a wincingly over-salted pappardelle with duck ragu, and some scorchingly briny greens under an otherwise perfect hanger steak.
Gaffes aside, this kitchen’s technical flair is evident in dishes as common as chicken al mattone (cooked under a brick), which was so full of juice that it nearly defied reason, or the starter of braised Berkshire pork belly in which the skin was rendered as shatteringly crisp as stained glass. We hope that these dishes make the cut because, to be sure, cuts are coming. Gallante’s team is training an eye on the dishes that work (and don’t), and they’re refining Italian Kitchen’s menu from week to week.
While they last, don’t miss a buttermilk panna cotta served with tart blackberry compote and the changing selection of warm, crumbly tarts made with orchard fruits. We loved a countrified plum and apple tart served with a cool, satisfying quenelle of vanilla gelato. Its flavors were perfect to savor while pondering where Italian Kitchen will be in a few months’ time.
Italian Kitchen 3 stars
698 Saw Mill River Rd, Ardsley
(914) 693-5400; ik-ny.com
Hours: lunch, Wed to Sun 11:30 am-2 pm; dinner, Wed to Sat 5:30 pm–10 pm; Sun to Mon 5:30 pm–9 pm
Appetizers: $6-$12; entrées: $21-$25; desserts: $7-$9
★★★★—Outstanding ★★★—Very Good
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