Best of Westchester (Editor's Picks)

Our seventh annual guide to the most gratifying way to spend your cash on food and drink, clothing and accessories, home enhancement, health and beauty, kids’ stuff, and entertainment. We chose the best the county has to offer and asked you, our readers, to weigh in with your picks, too. The result: 324 choice winners.



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 We all have our preferences. We may love triple-chocolate chunk ice cream, while you may prefer Tahitian vanilla bean.  We may live for mountain biking, while you may favor a leisurely stroll through a park. It’s all good.

But to discover what is best in Westchester, we put our biases aside, rolled up our sleeves, and began to do the tough work. We have spent the past year traveling through the county, sipping margaritas, martinis, and milk tea; noshing on pizzas, paella, and porterhouse steak; sugar OD-ing on chocolate cream cakes, caramel cookies, and cream puffs; and getting caffeine highs from cappuccinos, café au laits, and café lattes. We’ve visited new stores and shops and bar-hopped ’till dawn. We’ve been scrubbed and rubbed, coiffed and buffed, and we’ve hiked and biked the county. We even enlisted our kids to scale 40-foot rock walls. And we did it all to bring you the best that our county has to offer. You’ll find the results of all our tasting, imbibing, testing, and sleuthing in the following 40 pages.

Don’t agree with our choices? We’re ready to defend them. But, we’re open-minded. We asked you to tell us your picks—and you did. We received more than 2,000 Readers’ Choice ballots, on which you named your county favorites. Look for them on page 117.

 Featuring Photography by Lindsay Burdick, Emmanuel Faure, John Fortunato, Cathy Pinsky and Dawn Smith

 Special thanks to some of our freelancers for their help: Dave Donelson, Judith Hausman, Laura Mogil, Karen Odom, Diane Weintraub Pohl, Julia Sexton

Dining

The juiciest steak, the most tender duck, the silkiest mozzarella, and the thickest burger. Our picks of the best palate-pleasing (and diet-sabotaging) delights.

Porterhouse for Two

Frankie & Johnnie’s Steakhouse

Rye

(914) 925-3900

www.frankieandjohnnies.com

Don’t let the sleek, sophisticated decor fool you; Frankie and Johnnie’s is a traditional steakhouse at heart. And, since any steakhouse worth its cuts is about big indulgence, what better way to indulge in grand style than with a USDA prime dry-aged porterhouse for two. The porterhouse takes a good 35 minutes to prepare, but, trust us, it’s worth the wait: 48 ounces of dense, super-tender, well-textured beef. There are dozens of classic sides, but all you really need is a bit of the smoky, house steak sauce and a glass of full-bodied, ruby-red wine (like the Table Rock Vineyards Merlot). And a sharp knife, of course.

Chicken Dish

Trotters Restaurant

White Plains

(914) 421-5012

www.trottersny.com

We foodies know that dressed-up chicken dishes and gussied-up pasta entrées are what most every restaurateur hopes we’ll order—after all, roast chicken, no matter how much fancy extra-virgin olive oil or European butter a chef slathers on it, is way cheaper than, say, a piece of swordfish. Yes, chicken is cheap (compare its price to, say, a hunk of marbled rib-eye or fresh-caught tuna)—and, usually, boring. At Trotters, however, chef/owner Anthony Goncalves has given his poultry some pluck with the whimsically dubbed “Raised Right Chicken Three Ways.” It’s 10 ounces of antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken pieces (two breasts, one thigh), cooked, as the name makes clear, three ways: braised, roasted, and fried. The chicken is served with pickled spicy peppers, orzo, and caramelized baby bananas. It’s the best $19 you’ll ever spend on a chicken dish.

Quick Trip to France

Buffet de la Gare

Hastings-on-Hudson

(914) 478-1671

www.buffetdelagare.us

To get a genuine taste of France, you needn’t book a flight on Air France. You need only book a table at Buffet de la Gare. Owners Luc and Nicole Dimnet, the 30-something couple who last year took over the restaurant from Gwenael and Annie Goulet (the proprietors since 1980), are keeping—thank Dieu!—the classic French dining tradition alive in their charming bistro. “My husband and I recognize the family tradition here that was set by the Goulets,” says Nicole, who manages the front of the house. “I share the restaurant’s story with our patrons and how the Goulets picked us as their successors.” The Goulets chose well. With French copper pots hanging from the tin ceiling and soft white-painted walls adorned with French art, Buffet de la Gare could easily pass for that little bistro you happily found the last time you were wandering the streets of the Left Bank. Then, of course, there’s the cuisine—classic French dishes prepared by Luc Dimnet, who was born and raised in Alsace, France, and who learned how to cook in Strasbourg, Germany. A must-try is the hearty cassoulet with garlic sausage and double-smoked bacon; it’s a Parisian dream with every bite. “The French know how to dine like no one else,” Nicole says. Thanks to the Dimnets, you can too.

Take on Bagels and Lox

Chiboust Bistro + Bakery

Tarrytown

(914) 703-6550

www.chiboust.com

A bagel and lox is a quick meal found in most any deli or bagel store. But for an upgraded version, look no further than the lunch menu at Chiboust, owner Jill Rose’s darling French-Mediterranean bistro on Tarrytown’s main drag. A flaky and wonderfully oversized buttery croissant, baked daily by Rose herself (former pastry chef at Lespinasse), is layered with satiny gravlax-style wild salmon cured in-house by chef Vijay Raghavan and spread with velvety, slightly tangy crème fraîche. Pickled lemon adds tartness, red onion and watercress lend crunch, and capers some sea-worthy brininess. You’ll never look at a poppy seed bagel with lox and a schmear the same way again. 

Steakhouse

The Willett House

Port Chester

(914) 939-7500

www.thewilletthouse.com

Welcome to the county’s clubby carnivore’s culinary center. The Willett House is Westchester’s answer to Peter Luger. Whether it’s the mammoth, silky, mouth-watering porterhouse, the filet mignon so tender you can cut it with a butter knife, or the thick and juicy T-bone charred on the outside and succulent pink on the inside, the slabs of beef here are simply prime masterpieces. The Willett House’s appeal goes beyond its steaks, though, with an international 30,000-bottle wine list; a historic, 20th-century former granary setting, and a delectably rich cheesecake that will make even the most devout sugarphobe swoon.

Diet-Kicker Splurge

S'mores Bark at Cocoa

Larchmont

(888) 20-COCOA

www.cocoachocolateshop.com

If you're going to splurge on chocolate, you might as well get a Proustian bang for your calorie buck- and Angela Ingrao's upscale take on the campfire favorite will have you dreaming of the long forgotten summers of your youth. Her divine S'mores Bark starts with tempered Belgian milk chocolate mixed with chopped graham cracker and tiny marshmallows. 

 

Bread Pudding

Café Mirage

Port Chester

(914) 937-3497

www.cafemirageny.com

It’s not sexy. It has no mojo. You won’t find it on any modern or nuevo cuisine menu. Let’s face it; bread pudding gets no respect in the culinary world. “Sure it’s old-fashioned,” admits Dave Haggerty, chef and owner of Café Mirage. “But there aren’t many other desserts more delicious. It’s our best-seller.” Haggerty’s bread-and-butter pudding with golden raisins and caramel sauce is made simply by soaking then baking leftover sandwich wedges from nearby Neri’s Bakery in a mixture of eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla. “I melt butter over it at the end to really put it over-the-top.” Maybe old-fashioned isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Smoked Salmon

June & Ho

Rye

(914) 967-1900

Why is the smoked salmon at specialty food shop June & Ho the best? Because it’s made the right way. We’ll let June Park, who has owned the store with her husband, Ho, for the past 25 years, explain. “We make small batches two to three times a week. We would never wholesale our smoked salmon. We’re happy doing things small, the right way.” The “right way” at June & Ho means starting with a fresh fillet of salmon, and then curing it twice: first with a salt/herbs/spice mix, then with brandy. The fillet is cold-smoked in the couple’s rooftop stainless-steel smoker. And the “right way” to eat smoked salmon? With capers, Beluga caviar, red onion, and fresh store-baked seven-grain bread—items June & Ho also happens to sell.

Prix-Fixe Meal

Meritage

Scarsdale

(914) 472-8484

www.meritagerestaurant.net

When a restaurant like Meritage offers three-course meals that would normally cost from $45 to $55 for just $25, we take notice. “Our prix-fixe menu includes our bestselling dishes,” explains chef/owner Chris Vergara. The special dinners, offered from Tuesday to Friday between 5 and 6:30 pm, include a choice of appetizer, entrée, and dessert. You’ll find dishes such as spaghettini pomodoro, sautéed King salmon, and grilled chicken paillard on the summer menu (it changes seasonally), but we’d suggest the roasted red-and-white colored beets with goat cheese and truffle oil to start, and duck confit with frisée, mâche, raspberries, toasted pine nuts, and balsamic vinaigrette for the main course. Perhaps some summer fruit for dessert and it’s a meal fit for a king, especially a frugal one.  

Grilled Octopus

Niko’s Greek Taverna

White Plains

(914) 686-6456

www.nikostaverna.com

The relatively quick, relatively cheap Niko’s is a go-to spot for tasty, casual, unpretentious dining. Nearly half of its menu is made up of small plates, and one of its best is the octopus char-grilled and dressed with olive oil and red wine vinegar. Don’t let the tentacle thing turn you off. A glass of sweet anise-flavored ouzo, some warm pita bread, and it’s a meal worthy of Mount Olympus.

Duck

Crabtree's Kittle House

Chappaqua

(914) 666-8044

www.kittlehouse.com

On any given Saturday night, the renowned Crabtree's Kittle Houseserves at least 35 orders of magret (breast meat) of Long Island duck swathed in a pomegranate glaze and accompanied by gingered sweet potatoes. 

 

Appetizer

Tuna Tower at Tengda Asian Bistro

Katonah

(914) 232-3900

www.tengdaasianbistro.com

 

It’s tall (it’s a tower) and filled with all the right ingredients: high-grade tuna, wonton crisps, fresh cilantro sprigs, and lightly toasted pine nuts. Scrumptious and so addictive that one order sometimes just won’t do.

Portuguese Restaurant

Caravela

Tarrytown 

(914) 631-1863

www.caravelarestaurant.com

 

Old World graciousness (love the gratis plate of olives and sausage brought to the table), hearty dishes packed with Atlantic-coastline fish and shellfish, and friendly native servers make a visit to Caravela feel like a jaunt to Lisbon. Don’t expect emulsions and elaborate presentations at the tradition-minded restaurant, just robust home-style Portuguese cooking—palate-pleasing dishes like caldo verde (a “green soup” that’s made with potatoes, collard greens, and Portuguese sausages); red snapper roasted with sweet onions, garlic, and Portuguese olive oil; and roasted bacalhau (salt-cured codfish) proffering lots of heart and soul. 

Fresh Mozzarella

Villarina’s

Briarcliff Manor /Mohegan Lake

(914) 762-9511/(914) 603-3527

“It’s not a science,” says owner Pat Patierno. “It’s a feel.” Every morning, Patierno feels his way to making wonderfully soft, heavenly tasting, fresh silken balls of cow’s milk mozzarella in his Italian specialty market. He was taught the craft (art?) by Vincenzo Malasronte, the legendary, alas now retired, mozzarella king. Using raw curds of fresh cheese and warm water, Patierno creates moist, pure white spheres of delectable treats, delicious with a drizzle of olive oil or sliced on a hefty sandwich with arugula and sun-dried tomatoes. Yum! 

New Neighborhood Italian

A’Tavola Bistro 385

Harrison

(914) 381-6050

A’Tavola Bistro is an Italian restaurant in a shopping center—but not to worry, it’s not your typical Italian restaurant in a shopping center. Stone floors instead of dull burgundy carpet; wood tabletops rather than red-and-white checkered tablecloths; there are even fun drinks like blueberry Mojitos (no, not Italian, but nice!). And the menu? Barely a ladle of red sauce. Chef and owner Paul Harrison offers a modernized Italian menu (with a sprinkling of French influences) featuring dishes such as olive oil-poached Alaskan halibut with lobster-saffron emulsion, grilled polenta spread with melted Maytag blue cheese, and herb-crusted rack of Colorado lamb with creamy black pepper-mushroom orzo. Here’s to thinking beyond eggplant parm!

New Tea Boutique

Tea Blossom

Scarsdale

(914) 472-1128

www.tea-blossom.com

No longer will the tea-drinkers of Westchester have to suffer the indignities of supermarket Lipton bags and the occasional bubble-tea. Fans of more exotic tea varieties can dazzle their palates with sophisticated leaves from as far east as Sri Lanka to as far south as Africa, including neat varieties like flowering teas whose bags actually blossom when brewed.  Once you become a tea-afficionado, you can work your way up to the good stuff: the Yome Gyokuro, a tea made from a leaf that is available for harvest only two weeks a year.  The price: $24 an ounce (and you thought Kobe beef was expensive).

 

Farmers’ Market

Mount Kisco Farmers’ Market

Mount Kisco

(914) 241-2658

www.cabbagehillfarm.org

From early June until as late in November as Mother Nature will allow (the best Brussels sprouts and squash arrive late in the fall), farmers from around the region appear in front of the Mount Kisco train station every Saturday from 9 am to 2 pm to provide shoppers with the freshest food the lower Hudson Valley has to offer. Products span an eclectic range and include farm-reared fish, bouquets of organic flowers, and bushels of berries—with availability based on the season. Mount Kisco’s own Cabbage Hill Farm has served as the anchor for the collaborative market, which is now in its fifth year, bringing the best local products grown close to our home.

 Burger

Gordy’s Burger House

Eastchester

(914) 664-8974

www.gordysburgerhouse.com

What makes a burger terrific? Sure, the meat matters—it needs to be marbled with fat. (Your cardiologist may not want you to know it, but fat—your taste buds can attest to this—tastes good.) But so does the cooking method. And owner Gordon MacDonald, Jr. (something about that name and burgers…hmm) has no doubt as to why his burgers are so darn good: it’s the char grilling, buddy. “Charring the burger on a grill results in a smoky flavor. Plus, you get the requisite grill marks burger lovers crave.” MacDonald slips his char-grilled 10-ounce Angus burgers between a chewy Bronx-style toasted roll, adds one of six different cheeses, and presto, you get one heck of a great burger.

Old-fashioned Market

Chappaqua Village Market

Chappaqua

(914) 238-4948

A shopping trip here is like a trip back to the Old Country without ever leaving the confines of Chappaqua. Walk through this amazing market and find mouthwatering prepared meals made from handed-down recipes older than your grandparents. (The savory meat lasagna is far and away the market’s bestseller, but don’t leave without some biscotti, made using a century-old recipe.) Dining in or entertaining? Pick up some of the market’s fresh-made pastas, ratatouille, or even puff pastry hors d’oeuvres—or better yet, have them delivered. Or, if you want to be the one to do the cooking—and we’d think you’re crazy if you do—the market carries the choicest cuts of meat and some of the freshest fish around.

Homemade Soda

Ginger Beer at Lejends Restaurant

Yonkers

(914) 709-9840

www.lejendsrestaurant.com

There aren’t many restaurants that make their own soda. Then again, there aren’t many local restaurants like Lejends in which a stylized décor complements homey Southern-Caribbean fare. Ginger beer, a staple drink in the Caribbean, especially Jamaica, is the bolder big brother to pale, fizzy ginger ale made primarily with sugar, club soda, and lots of (what else?) ginger. In fact, it has enough bite to stand up to Lejends’ aggressively spiced jerk chicken and even the fieriest Jamaican Scotch bonnet.

Mexican Ice Pops

Paleteria Fernandez

Port Chester

(914) 939-3694

The American phrase "ice pops" hardly does these Mexican treats justice. Instead of American-style, artificially-flavored sugar water, Paleteria Fernandez offers a mind-boggling array of naturally-flavored frozen-fruit paletas. 

 

New Niche Wine Shop

Wine at Five

Rye

(914) 921-5950

There are 365 days in the year. There are 365 wines for sale at Wine at Five in Rye. Coincidence? Hardly. Cai Palmer left a 25-year Wall Street career to launch Wine at 5, a wine shop in which you can find a wine for every occasion—and, apparently, every day. Palmer has tasted every wine he sells. So if you’re dinner plans include roast lamb with a tarragon vinegar sauce as opposed to seared tuna drizzled with olive oil, Palmer can tell you exactly which of his wines will work best with your dish. And you’ll probably be surprised with his recommendation. Palmer reports that the average customer has never tasted 90 percent of his wines. Sounds like a place we all should visit—unless you believe the best wines come in a jug.

Custom Cakes

Pâtisserie Lulu

Scarsdale

(914) 722-8300

www.everythinglulu.com

Thumbing through the 500-page custom cake book at Lulu, you’re likely to find just about anything your sweet tooth and imagination might desire. Because just about anything is what pastry chef Jay Muse, who has a background in painting and sculpting, and partner Victor Gonzalez, a former accessories designer for Versace, Manolo Blahnik, and Dolce & Gabbana, can do. And if it’s not in the book, that’s okay because, as Muse says, “we like a challenge.” Among recent requests met: a replica of the Taj Mahal made with white chocolate; a facsimile of a brownstone to celebrate the birthday of a man whose wife bought him one in Manhattan; and a reproduction of Yankee Stadium with an edible white chocolate Goodyear Blimp overhead. “We did a scene of the stunning panorama of the Hana Highway in Maui using passion fruit, white chocolate ganache, fresh kiwis, and macadamia nuts,” Muse says. “It was my favorite.” 

Restaurant Wine Deal

“Your Wine Wednesday” at Plates  

Larchmont

(914) 834-1244

www.platesonthepark.com

In these days of $15 cocktails and 400-percent bottle markups, isn’t it nice to BYOB once in a while? Every Wednesday this summer, Plates will be waiving its customary $25 per bottle corkage fee. (This is the amount most restaurants charge to discourage wine-toting cheapskates.) That means that you can bring whatever you like to pair with Chef Matthew Karp’s sophisticated and urbane food—which will save you a dining-out bundle. Be warned, though: a bottle of Ripple might draw ire from this ex-Bouley, ex-Restaurant Daniel trained chef. 

Paella

Patrias    

Port Chester  

(914) 937-0177

When it comes to paella, that incredibly complicated dish of
sunny Valencia, it’s best to squeeze into a Speedo and hit the beaches of Spain. But if that’s not in the cards, go to Port Chester. At Patrias, Barcelona-born Chef/Owner Mariano Aznar is crafting his natal dish with Spanish olive oil, fish fumé, rice, chorizo, beef, calamari, shrimp, and scallops (and way too many other ingredients to list in this space). Best of all, at Patrias, you can get in the mood for your beach-fresh paella with addictive tapas washed down with cool Spanish sangria or crisp Peruvian beer. It’s like a Spanish beach vacation without all the sunburned Brits.  

Place To Eat Healthy

Myong Private Label Gourmet

Mount Kisco

(914) 241-6333

www.plgourmet.com 

Myong Feiner, a mother of two who went from teaching cooking classes at her home for friends to ownign a gourmet shop and cafe, is a stickler when it comes to the ingredients she uses. To ensure the healthiest dishes, Feiner uses purified water from a multi-stage water filtration system for baking organic breads and cakes, brewing coffee, and whipping up Old World chicken soup.

 

Place for Cooking Classes

MacMenamin’s Grill & ChefWorks

New Rochelle

(914) 632-4900

www.macmenaminsgrill.com

Attention to all wannabe Bobby Flays (or Rachel Rays): MacMenamin’s Grill is the place to satisfy your Food-Network fantasies. Grab a friend and get ready to get your hands dirty creating your own culinary delights. MacMenamin’s interactive cooking classes teach you how to prepare mouthwatering dishes—perhaps short ribs, Maki rolls, or cioppino—and each class comes with a recipe book so you can attempt to re-create the dishes at home, without their expert guidance. (What about us? We think we need to start with the “Cooking Basics” class.)

Most Spectacular Views

Le Château

South Salem

(914) 533-6631

www.lechateauny.com

If the view looks like a million bucks, it’s because Le Château was built by a man that had it: legendary financier J.P. Morgan built the estate that now houses the esteemed French restaurant. Sit outside on the patio and treat yourself to views of the hills of the Hudson Valley, where sunsets—no two of which are ever alike—aren’t ever spoiled by Big City lights. Or, look around at the restaurant’s gardens, blossoming with climbing hydrangeas, rosebud impatiens, cosmos, and dogwoods. The gorgeous setting is almost enough to make you forget about your minute steak in a Bearnaise sauce.

Continue reading for our Best of Westchester 2007: shopping, services, nightlife, health & beauty, art & leisure, and kids categories!

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