The Absolutely, Positively, Best of Everything (Editor's Picks)
Our fifth annual insider's guide to the Best of Westchester
By: Nancy Claus Giles, Marisa LaScala, John Bruno Turiano, and Laurie Yarnell
(page 1 of 7)
Best of Westchester 2005
Presenting the county’s Emmys, Tonys, Grammys, and People’s Choice awards all rolled up into one (without, lucky you, the boring acceptance speeches): our Fifth Annual, and absolute best ever, 2005 Best of Westchester. And the winners are:
Featuring Photography by John Fortunato,
Cathy Pinsky and Michael Polito
Le Jardin du Roi
This laid-back French bistro does some of its best work in the morning (just ask regulars Vanessa Williams, the Clintons, or musician Rob Thomas). Love the pain perdu (luscious and light French toast), the poached egg atop a flavorful goat cheese potato cake, the buttery ham and cheese croissant, and, though meant for kids, the handmade crêpes smeared with Nutella. And, yes, there really is a jardin out front, so enjoy your almond croissant and café au lait alfresco.
Best New Neighborhood Restaurant
Four Doors Down
The staff is unpretentious. The price is modest. The décor is cheerful. And the food darn good (We love the peanut butter ice cream). What more can you ask of a neighborhood restaurant?
Best New Seafood Restaurant
There are those among us who believe there’s no compelling reason to venture up to Croton. Well, Ocean House is one heck of a delicious reason. But warning: Ocean House is teeny (19 seats) and has a no-reservations policy. So go early, wear comfortable shoes (often there’s a line to get in), and enjoy dining on some of the best and freshest fish dishes Westchester has to offer.
We were fans of Il Cigno before Hartsdale natives Christopher Vergara and Jamie Steinthal took it over. Now we’re even bigger fans, thanks to the new, updated look (we were decidedly not fans of the previous décor) and thanks to the continued good cooking. We’re still big fans of the pappardelle with wild boar in a Parmigiano-Reggiano laced sauce, and now we’re also big fans of the rare grilled tuna in a lime chile vinaigrette and the grilled poussin with roasted peppers. And, oh yes, the white-and-dark chocolate-studded bread pudding. Who said change
Best Classic French Restaurant
Yes, we love new cuisine as much as the next foodie, but sometimes we yearn for the tried and true—dishes that don’t need explanations, preparations that don’t need high-tech gadgets, and presentations that don’t require a degree in architecture. This gorgeous restaurant, housed in a 20-room Tudor mansion set on 32 acres that used to belong to J.P. Morgan, is for serious-minded diners who enjoy dressing up (jackets preferred) and dining in a quiet, serene setting, on food whose appeal is timeless. Oh yes, and the authentic French accents are appealing too.
Best Dim Sum
Kam-Sen Asian Market
The aesthetics may be lacking at this vast emporium and you may not have steaming carts of dim sum wend their way toward you as you might at the formal restaurant across the street (it’s counter service only here), but for top-quality dim sum—savory roasted pork buns, sweet red bean buns, and tender shrimp dumplings—this is the place to go. (PS: When you’re done eating, go shopping; recommended items include scallion pancakes, green tea ice cream, chicken feet, Japanese eggplant, and specialty Asian candies.)
Best Longtime Portuguese Restaurant
When you’ve been serving mariscada (a hearty seafood stew with either a red or cream sauce) and roasted codfish for nearly two decades and the people keep coming back for more, you must be doing something right. Caravela is.
Best Italian Grandmother Cuisine
Remember two things before entering this old-school red-sauce eatery: it’s called macaroni (not pasta) and bring cash (credit cards are not accepted). Then settle for a luscious thin-crust pizza, red-sauce spaghetti with palm-sized meatballs, and Italian cheesecake that will have you unbuttoning your pants. So what if the décor hasn’t been touched since the restaurant opened in 1947; ever heard the expression, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?
Best New Restaurant, South County
You’ll love the wild salmon with rhubarb and the pan-seared duck, and the hand-dived scallops with salsify, parsley, vanilla, and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms will have you holding your plate out for more. But try to resist ’cause you shouldn’t leave without tasting the giant ring ding dessert or sampling the country doughnuts with homemade cinnamon ice cream. Heaven.
Best New Restaurant, North County
It isn’t as if more formal Auberge Maxime, which last year morphed into less formal Vox, wasn’t a favorite. Who can deny the beauty of the location (the terrace overlooking the rolling hills and gorgeous sunsets of North Salem horse country are reasons enough to visit) or the expertise of owners Jean and Sophie LeBris? They’ve been in the biz for 27 years. So it came as no surprise that Vox, their new venture, is such a winner. Love the seared foie gras and the Moroccan-spiced ahi tuna and crunchy frites worthy of their own “Best Of” category.
Best Eclectic Menu
Chef Dave Haggerty’s gas station-turned-restaurant has a menu to please even the most disparate group of diners. The menu mixes French, Asian, and Caribbean, Cajun and regional American cuisines, offering such dishes as andouille-spiked seafood gumbo, Jamaican jerk chicken, and farm-raised ostrich with country potatoes and ancho sauce. And because of the kitchen’s late hours (depending on the day, it stays open until midnight or 2 am), the crowd—firemen, nurses, doctors, bartenders, and chefs—is as eclectic as the menu.
Best Old-School Pizza
If the ultra-thin crust topped with fresh mozzarella and a modest amount of faintly sweet sauce have made Esquire food writer John Mariani into a near 30-year regular, Johnny’s Pizzeria must be good. Whole pies sold only (no slices), which, truth be told, is an extra bonus. Reheated leftover slices make for a delicious breakfast.
Best Bargain Latin Restaurant
Two-thirds ethnic Cuban eatery (mashed plantains with chicken or pork, fried beef, and shrimp in hot sauce) and one-third American diner (burgers, salads, and grilled cheese are offered), Karamba is ideal for taking out the family—a dinner tab for a family of four barely goes above $30. And odds are good you’ll come home with a few doggie bags; portions are generous. But even if your pockets are deep, there are at least three other good reasons to come here: frothy mango, pineapple, and vanilla batidos (Cuban shake).
Best Bargain Mexican Restaurant
Don’t be put off by the décor (or lack thereof) or by the cramped quarters (there are only five booths and a lunch counter). Here’s where you’ll find the best soft tacos in the county, as well as top-notch enchiladas and burritos. Stuff yourself silly for $7.
A place for a good cup of joe, sure? To hang out and read the paper in a cool atmosphere? Yes that too. But the best reason to go, well, full steam ahead to Steam are for its create-your-own salads (there are close to 30 ingredients from which to choose) and the wonderful panini and sandwiches filled with store-roasted meats. Our favorite: the spice-crusted roast beef with caramelized onions, spinach, tomatoes, and horseradish spread on rye.
Best Thai Restaurant
Yes, this modest, no-pretense eatery has the typical Thai fair—pad Thai and pineapple fried rice—but the culinary adventurer in you may want to try the deep-fried tofu and taro root in a sweet chili garlic sauce or the hor mok talay, jumbo shrimp, squid, scallop, and mussels in a spicy red curry paste with coconut milk, basil leaves, and mixed vegetables, served in a banana leaf cup or fresh whole coconut. And the interior decor is so colorful and cheerful, you’ll forget about the huge window overlooking the Saw Mill River Parkway in no time.
Best Christmas Decorations
No wonder Travelers Rest has got Christmas décor down pat; it’s been “decking the halls” since 1876. Starting on the 1st of December, this Continental restaurant, once a coach stop, sets up a dazzling holiday display with 55 lighted figures, seven Christmas trees, 100 wreaths, a 6-foot-tall gingerbread house, and hundreds of thousands of lights (typical December electric bill: $11,000). Reserve early to enjoy a Christmas goose dinner in this winter wonderland.
Most Stylish New Restaurant
RK, An American Brasserie
It’s all so modern and minimal—and stunning. Its sleek open kitchen has floor-to-ceiling glass on all sides but one. And RK is the only local restaurant with projected screen art—now that’s cool!
Best Wine List at a Steakhouse
The Willett House
From a $30 Jacobs Creek Cabernet to a $750 1990 Château Lafite Rothschild and $1,750 1996 Screaming Eagle Cabernet, the 35-page wine list with more than 1,000 selections has a vintage for your budget. May we suggest a glass of 2001 Chimney Rock Cab with your rib eye?
[specialty dishes and drinks]
Best Pastrami on Rye
Bloom’s Kosher Delicatessan
Overstuffed, lean, and slathered with deli mustard. Throw in a few sour pickles and a cream soda, and you’re in culinary heaven.
Best Way to Get Rid of a Cold
Carrot and Ginger soup at Chat 19
Summer cold got you down and grandma’s not around to make you chicken soup? Chat 19’s steaming bowl of carrot and ginger soup is infused with enough earthy sweet carrots and freshly grated ginger that those germs don’t stand a chance. And it’s damn delicious, too. (Sorry, grams.)
Best Takeout Wings
So Damn Hot
Simplicity and freshness are owners Richard and Patti Viscomes’ keys to kickin’ wings (6 for $3.95; w/fries $4.95). The duo buys just enough wings for each day and uses a fryer that’s for frying wings and wings only. No trendy flavors either; you got mild and you got hot. Simplicity, remember?
Best Eat-In Wings
Lazy Boy Saloon & Alehouse
Lazy Boy Saloon may specialize in beer—bottles from 28 countries, 17 states, plus 35 draught beers and the largest selection of microbrews on tap in the area—but it has still another specialty, one that, surprise, surprise, goes perfectly with a tall, frothy mug. Its tender chicken wings are offered in an assortment of flavors (tequila citrus wings, anyone?). And, psssst, Mondays and Thursdays are “Wing Nights” (25¢ each). Go ahead, try to eat just one. We wish you luck!
Butternut Squash Ravioli
The first time we tried Lia’s butternut squash ravioli, it’s all we could think about the next day. The second time we had it, it’s all we could think about for days. The first swipe of the silken pasta set in a sage brown butter sauce, and you’ll be hooked, too.
Best Crab Cakes
Coughlan’s American Bistro
Huge? Try colossal. Good? Try one. No mincing, no filling. Just a crispy-thin crumb coating. Eat your heart out Maryland!
Tuscan Oven Trattoria
We know you don’t have to be Italian to make good pasta, but it can’t hurt. Anthony Pirraglia cooked in Perugia, Italy, and perhaps just as telling grew up in the Arthur Avenue section of the Bronx. So any wonder why his pasta is extraordinarily good? Try the roasted beet flavored linguine with pecans, asparagus, and grilled chicken apple sausage in a creamy fontina and yellow pepper sauce and homemade spinach ravioli stuffed with cannellini beans, Yukon Gold potatoes, ricotta, and pancetta in a black truffle purée. Better pasta is hard to find.
Chef Rafael Palomino’s trio de ceviches salutes three countries: there’s the Ecuadorian with oyster, avocado, and tomato; the Peruvian with octopus, red onions, and cilantro in an aji amarillo (hot, yellow chile sauce); and the Colombian with salmon, passion fruit, onions, cilantro, and habanero. Order a Brazilian caipirihna with it (sugar cane rum, muddled limes, sugar, and freshly squeezed lime juice), then tell us it’s not wonderful.
Best Chopped Liver
(914) 948-6600 www.kiscokosher.com
Zeev Bain has been in the kosher deli business for more than three and a half decades, so he knows a thing or two about chopped liver. And we know that we like his best. Made of fresh beef liver, sautéed onions, eggs, and vegetable shortening, Kisco Kosher’s chopped liver can be had either in a sandwich on—what else—rye with sliced onions and a sour or half-sour pickle—or as an appetizer. Either way, you’ll be kibetzing in Yiddish in no time.
Halstead Ave. Bistro
The duck quesadilla is so darn good you’re not going to want to share. The chef cures the meat, marinates it in its own fat, then roasts and stuffs it into a flour tortilla with sweet caramelized onions and Monterey jack. All you’ve got to do is pile on a healthy dollop of the chunky grilled vegetable guacamole and swoon.
Best Roasted Chicken
We don’t know what we like better—the crackly golden-brown exterior or the juicy white meat interior. But we do know to leave Oporto with a takeout whole chicken to enjoy at home.
Sure you could order the chimichangas or quesadillas and get a dollop of the house aromatic green guacamole, but then you’d miss out on the tableside drama that’s part of the guacamole en molcajete experience. A server rolls a cart bearing fresh avocados, tomatoes, coriander, onions, and jalapeño peppers, and then you watch in awe as he/she prepares the guacamole tableside. Added bonus: it’s heavenly.
Best Hot Chocolate
It may be the middle of another sweltering summer but one sip of Franco Mastracchio’s imported hot chocolate and you’ll be transported to a ski lodge in the Italian Alps. There are 30 flavors of the imported Italian cocoa powder blended with milk then steamed to work up a froth. A bit of whipped cream and perhaps some chocolate syrup finish, and, alla tua salute!
Best Wine Tastings
Front Street Cellar
Front Street doesn’t just offer daily(!) store tastings but tastings at local restaurants (Finch Tavern, Purdys Homestead, Jaipore Royal Indian). And what tastings! Numerous tables, each showcasing affordable wines from a different country, and manned by a knowledgeable representative to explain each bottle. Your wine palate will be educated to varietals from South Africa, New Zealand, and all over the world. Order a case at a restaurant tasting and get 15 percent off. Now we can drink to that!
Mint Premium Foods
The last time we tasted falafel this good we were on a street in Jaffa—or was it Williamsburg? The falafel balls made of mashed garbanzo beans are deep fried to a crisp golden brown and stuffed into a warm, soft pita with creamy tahini. Yum.
Boiano’s biscotti, everyone’s favorite twice-baked cookie, have that intense crunch that make the Italian specialty ideal for dipping into a steaming cup of cappuccino. Stacked in towering pyramids in the front display window, try and walk by without stopping in for half a pound. We dare you.
Best Cream Puff
Bake pâte à choux until it puffs into an irregular dome. Cut the French pastry in half and fill one half with fresh whipped cream. Place a cap of pastry on top, followed by a swirl of whipped cream. What do you have? Pastry bliss. Also try Magnificent Edible’s almond croissants and fudge-like brownies. Winners, too.
Most Creative Cocktails
The martini list alone impresses: there’s the Espresso (vodka, chilled espresso, Frangelico, and cream de cacao), Key Lime Pie (Stoli Vanilla, lime juice, Triple Sec rimmed with graham crackers), and our favorite, the BlueTini (Absolut Citron, Blue curacao, and fresh lime juice), served in a sexy cocktail glass. But then there’s the mojito, the flirtini, and the South Beach margarita.
If it’s good enough for professional chefs (the chorizo made here is supplied to numerous restaurants), it’s good enough for us. Casa Victoria makes its smoky, coarsely grained dark red chorizo fresh every day. It’s as good as any you’ll get in Lisbon or Faro.
Best Raw Bar
The Fish Cellar
Oysters from both East and West coasts. Clams from Long Island. Shrimp from the gulf, mussels from Prince Edward Island, and lobster from Maine and Nova Scotia. And it’s all super fresh and super delicious. Can’t decide? Try the raw bar sampler (two clams, two oysters, and two shrimp for $10.50).
[food and wine shops]
Best Store Concept
Connie’s Bakery & General Store
We’d stuff ourselves silly with Connie’s caramel apples, apple cranberry muffins, Bessie’s Big Cupcakes and UFO’s (chocolate or oatmeal cookies with marshmallow cream) even if the profits the store makes weren’t going to charity. But since Connie Milstein donates her profits to various Westchester and Hudson Valley charities, we don’t feel an ounce of guilt stuffing ourselves. In fact, Connie, we’ll have another muffin, please.
Best Butcher Shop
Village Prime Meats
Since he made his first sausage at the tender age of 14, Angelo Letizia has been passionate about quality meat. So it’s fitting that he owns Village Prime Meats, a butcher shop where prime is the only grade sold and the chicken is juicy, the steaks aged, and the sausage plump with fresh stuffings. Among his customers: a Yankees outfielder, a record mogul, and a Kennedy.
Best Edible Gifts
You may think that the gorgeous flowers designed with fruit are too beautiful to eat, but take our word: they’re too good to pass up. The gorgeously-colored strawberries, grapes, cantaloupe, honeydew, and pineapple will turn you into a fruit-a-holic in no time.
Continue reading for our Shopping section and the rest of the Best of Westchester 2005