Best of Westchester 2008
Presenting our eighth annual guide to the absolutely very best of all that’s offered right here in our collective backyard. And the winners are…
(page 1 of 16)
Featuring Photography by Cathy Pinsky, Dawn Smith, and Chris Ware
With Special Thanks to W. Dyer Halpern, Judith Hausman, Julia Sexton, Melissa Tomlin, and Diane Weintraub Pohl
After weeks of scouring the far reaches of Westchester ourselves, enlisting the aid of our trusted team of fearless freelancers, and even consulting “outside” experts (i.e., spouses, siblings, parents, children, and other loved ones whose opinions we respect—and often hear unsolicited), we boiled a burgeoning list of Westchester’s finest offerings down to only the best of the best—telling you the best ways to spend your minutes, dollars, and calories throughout every scenic nook and civilized cranny of our fair county (something we do best). As anyone attending our contentious brainstorming meetings can attest, when it comes to what the “best” truly is, it’s a hard road to unanimity of opinion, if consensus is possible (we’re still recovering from the earaches and migraines sustained during some of our marathon rows). One thing is for certain—many of us could be awarded honorary law degrees for the persistent, articulate, and impassioned ways we pled our cases for our personal favorites among the myriad nominees. But even after we rendered our verdicts, we knew there’d be grounds for appeals. That’s where you came in. Months ago, we asked our readers to submit their own picks for the Best of Westchester, and you heard us loud and clear. We received more than 1,000 Readers’ Choice ballots. Look for your selections throughout the pages that follow.
Food & Wine
(914) 761-4242; 42therestaurant.com
We knew it was going to be luxurious—hey, we’re talking the Ritz here—but...Wow! What to look at first? The breathtaking panorama through the windows, the shimmering crystal chandeliers, the lush beige-and-red furnishings, those colorful, dazzling cocktails served in the lounge, or the dishes of mouthwatering food streaming out from the open kitchen to eager diners ensconced in very comfy chairs? Kudos to Anthony Goncalves, whose stunning brainchild at once makes an indelible mark on the White Plains skyline and restaurant scene. With its unparalleled views (you can see the entirety of the Manhattan skyline), 42 closes the deal with a commanding menu of new and classic dishes that simply impress—from small plates and tasting dishes to full-portioned à la carte offerings. The ambience, service, food, and drinks harmoniously converge to make dining at 42 a magical experience.
(914) 684-8855; boeat324.com
While most crab cakes are more “cake” (read: breadcrumbs) than crab, Boe’s gives you the low-carb version, just as nature intended. Fresh, sweet crabmeat (make that two varieties of crabmeat; more on that soon) is held together by a luscious, flaky, crispy coating—no fillers. And the light and airy cake is wonderfully complemented by a fresh basil-and-red-pepper aioli (not that these cakes need any complementing, mind you). Why are they sooooo good? Executive Chef Ronald A. Campanaro reveals his secret: “I use two different, contrasting types of crabmeat: chunks of jumbo lump plus backfin lump, which is more succulent and tastier. This way, you get the texture and the flavor.” Campanaro learned how not to make them in previous jobs. “A lot of places use poor-quality shredded crabmeat. I’ve seen some crazy stuff. I once worked with a chef who used red snapper to fill the crab cakes. If you’re going to offer crab cakes, you might as well do it right.”
The Tavern at Croton Landing
At this neighborhood watering hole-turned-homey family restaurant, friendly old-timers still hold court at the bar—and even pitch in and lend a hand to the staff when things get busy. The menu has expanded from its legendary signature pizza to many more crowd-pleasers, including an amazing country salad, a to-die-for artichoke dip, and freshly ground, belly-filling half-pound burgers. (No freezer-burned patties in this place!) “Most of what we serve here is made to order,” notes owner Lynn Panessa. As with the bar on Cheers, it doesn’t take long to become a regular at this cozy village hotspot. “Our tagline is, ‘Proper attire is not required, but proper attitude is,’” says Panessa. “Everyone has so much fun here.” Especially on Saturday nights, when live music gets the joint really jumping—and people on their feet dancing. Other patrons, meanwhile, appreciate the tavern’s outdoor seating and its primo location: just across from the bridge leading to Senasqua Park where live concerts are held, making the Tavern the top pre-concert dining spot. While the local word-of-mouth about the food and drink entices new patrons to give the tavern a try (its new state-of-the-art draught-line system keeps the beer refreshingly ice-cold), it’s ultimately the attentive service and convivial atmosphere that keeps ’em coming back for more. “It’s a small tavern,” Panessa says, “with a big heart.”
(914) 666-4448; fishcellar.com
This gem of a raw bar offers an impressive, continuously changing selection of oysters from both coasts. “We pride ourselves in trying to have at least five to seven varieties from across the country each night,” says Joe DiMauro, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife, Joan. “What’s hot, what’s not, what’s exotic—we have it all covered.” Among the customers’ favorites are “the varieties we get from Washington State and the Kumamoto, an exotic oyster from California that’s very sweet.” The DiMauros have fun enlightening their customers—both newbies and veterans—by introducing them to new varieties. “I love to watch their reactions. They’ll either pucker up, or go ‘Ahhhhh,’” says Joe. The oysters are complemented by an equally great selection of hot sauces. The Fish Cellar’s shucker doubles as the sauce “sommelier.” Perhaps the only non-oyster lovers at the Fish Cellar are the dining room’s wait staff. “People call up to make reservations just for the raw bar,” Joe admits. “Recently, there were more than twenty-five people in the raw bar and only ten in the restaurant. The waitresses were going, ‘What the hell? Our tips are going down the tubes!’”
Edamame Polenta Succotash
(845) 669-8533; bungalow166.com
Bungalow breathes new life—and great taste—into an old dish with this inspired reinvention. “Being of Native American extraction, I wanted to offer a Native American dish, like succotash,” says owner and chef John Reynolds. “But because we’re doing New American cuisine, I wanted a twist on it. Incorporating beans, corn, and squash, it’s the Southern version of the traditional Northern ‘three sisters’ dish.’” Reynolds offers his version as a side with his striped bass during the summer months, and often offers it with seafood specials all year round. “It’s especially popular among my vegetarian diners. Often, they’re looking for meals or sides which are high in protein and flavor, and this fits that bill very well.”
Il Bacio Trattoria
(914) 337-4100; ilbaciotrattoriany.com
Put one of Il Bacio’s plump, firm, creamy gnocchi in your mouth, and your tongue surely will battle your stomach to keep it. The secret ingredient? “Fresh ingredients,” divulges chef Enzo Roppo. “We use Idaho potatoes, organic milk—and absolutely no shortcuts.” That, we know, is a surefire formula for success.
Monteverde at Oldstone Manor
(914) 739-5000; monteverderestaurant.com
We’re hardly alone in thinking this British transplant sure can cook. Our foodie comrades to the south of us—Frank Bruni of the New York Times and Adam Platt of New York magazine, among them—have similarly gone gaga over the culinary skills of this former Gordon Ramsay wünderkind. They love his cooking at downtown’s Allen & Delancey (“A dish humbly listed as ‘cabbage, beef, and onion’ turned out to be an inventive, intricate, memorable production,” raved Bruni)—we love it at the revamped Monteverde (“Ferguson’s food is not a fusion of the many influences of his impressive background: his style is the elegant outcome, something other than the sum of its parts,” wrote our magazine’s restaurant reviewer Marge Perry). And what’s not to love? Ferguson’s sage-inflected gnocchi with prosciutto and pecorino, his filet mignon with roasted marrow and wild mushrooms, and his “better-than-European” foie gras are divine. Meals at Monteverde never tasted this good. Then again, we’d expect nothing less from a veteran chef of three-star restaurants on two continents. Those seeking to be wowed by a full demonstration of Ferguson’s culinary magic can treat themselves to his tasting menu, served alfresco in the Chef’s Garden.
Near & Natural
(914) 205-3545; nearandnatural.com
“There’s a real sense of gratitude from everyone for bringing something like this to Bedford Village,” declares owner Helene Rosenhouse-Romeo. Indeed, ever since she and business partner Sherene Hannon DePalma opened Near & Natural at the beginning of the year, locals and not-so-locals (count us in) have been flocking to their full-service food market. (“We’re much more than just a sandwich shop.”) With gratitude, of course. “We utilize goods from area and regional farmers and producers,” Rosenhouse-Romeo says. “We have local breads, cheeses, honey, eggs, ice cream, grass-fed beef, and organically fed chicken.” Right now the deli’s hot commodity is its locally roasted, fair-trade coffee. “Our customers are loving it. They can’t get enough.”
Fiery Pork Chops
(914) 997-1399; buonamicirestaurant.com
For such a seemingly simple dish, pork chops often end up overcooked—dry, choky, tough. But there’s no need to perform the Heimlich at Chris Raimo’s traditional Italian restaurant, to which diners flock for its thick, perfectly broiled, absurdly tender, cut-’em-with-a-fork, bone-in chops. Order them plain, or with sweet peppers, or, not for the faint of heart, with hot vinegar peppers—our favorite. The combination of choice, juicy pork and spicy, tangy peppers create an explosion of flavors. “I have an independent butcher who handpicks everything for me,” says Raimo. “If it’s not right, we don’t use it.”
This teeny, charming shop doesn’t need us to tell it it’s the best—it knows it already. The shop’s slogan: “The world’s best cheeses in their prime.” Opened just a year and a half ago, this labor of love for husband-and-wife owners Adam and Audrey Free offers up to 80 different cheeses at any given time, “whichever ones are at their peak,” declares Audrey. While their cheeses come from all parts of the globe—including a creamy, decadent Rogue River Blue from our own country, wrapped in grape leaves and soaked in pear brandy (yum!)—the Frees’ focus has been on “all the great European cheeses.” Some of their selections we absolutely adore: Piave, a tangy, hard Italian; Ibores, a spicy Spanish goat cheese; and Prima Donna, a creamy, sweet, semi-soft cow’s milk Gouda from the Netherlands. With so many delectable choices greeting you at once, the same thing inevitably happens upon setting foot in Plum Plums as when you get your picture taken: you smile widely and exclaim “Cheese!”
(914) 479-5372; pumpernickelrestaurantardsley.com
When Alan Breindel ran a concession in the park across from his new cozy, family-friendly eatery, he lamented that the kids buying the name-brand root beers had no concept of the old-fashioned kind. So when he and his partners launched Pumpernickel Restaurant, he “tapped” a beer brewer to concoct a good, frothy, old-fashioned root beer for their eatery. “I wanted to show them what root beer used to be like.” After several tries, the winning (and closely guarded) recipe was hatched. “No caffeine and no corn syrup” is all the tight-lipped Breindel will reveal. Served on tap straight from a keg, the root beer, Breindel proudly reports, outsells Coke. “People come here just for the root beer.” So how does it taste? “Like taking a handful of those old root-beer barrel candies and crushing them in your mouth.” Breindel has topped himself—and his root beer—with an equally delicious homemade ice cream he has shipped down from Maine to make root-beer floats. Homemade root-beer floats? Clearly something we can all root for.
(914) 421-5012; penichetapas.com
Since opening in August 2007, this dramatic, oversized Spanish/Portuguese tapas house has drawn grande crowds for its pequeño plates. From salted almond appetizers to chocolate churro desserts, chef/owner Anthony Goncalves (formerly of Trotters and today also at 42 at the Ritz—see previous) presents a parade of more than 30 delectable Iberian dishes. Among the many standouts: plump shrimp in a rich garlic sauce, perfectly cooked green beans with pignoli, and a juicy skirt steak flavorfully complemented with puréed peppers, garlic, and almonds.
New Waterfront Space
Rooftop at Red Hat on the River
(914) 591-5888; redhatbistro.com
With loads of vintage architectural charm and an expansive river frontage, this ex-glass conservatory/factory couldn’t make a better spot to enjoy an evening—unless you wend your way upstairs to Red Hat’s rooftop lounge. There, fortified with a glass of wine and a stellar view of the sun setting over the Palisades, you’ll understand why all those robber barons built their estates overlooking the mighty Hudson.
Ripe Kitchen and Bar
(914) 665-7689; riperestaurant.com
Nigel Spence’s Jamaican eatery has become a destination simply for his super-tender, wood-smoked jerk chicken, served as an entrée, in a quesadilla, and in a salad. “All three use the same exact chicken; we don’t change the recipe of the chicken for the different dishes,” says Spence, whose cozy, eclectic bar and restaurant was once both a community theater and a candy store. What sets Ripe’s fragrant jerk chicken apart is its special mix of seasonings and aromatic spices, including the incendiary Scotch bonnet—one of the hottest chilis in existence—and culantro, a Caribbean herb that’s similar to cilantro. “We do everything from scratch, including the dry rub and the wet rub we use on the chicken. We use the same ingredients used in Jamaica,” Spence says, ensuring patrons eager for the real deal don’t get jerked around.
Smokehouse Chili Grill
(914) 813-8686; smokehousechili.com
The lines are long—often out the door. We understand why. We’ve waited on that line for Smokehouse Chili Grill’s flavor-packed, thick, bubbling chili, too. Made with ground beef, sweet Italian sausage, crisp bacon, a slew of spices, and topped with a blend of shredded Monterrey Jack and yellow cheddar and a dollop of sour cream, it’s a heady, hearty, and cheap ($5) meal. And if you ever tire of it (though that’s highly unlikely), not to worry. Smokehouse co-owners Michael Hofer and Justin Zeytoonian offer a different chili each week to try. We recently couldn’t get enough of the sweet Cincinnati chili made with bittersweet chocolate and cinnamon served over spaghetti. Feeling macho? Go for a bowl of “The Trial by Fire” chili spiced with Habanero and jalapeño peppers. Finish it, and win a T-shirt emblazoned with your accomplishment. You’ve joined an exclusive club: just seven diners have succeeded.
The Tap House
(914) 337-6941; thetaphouseny.com
The typical pub has a cook—not a chef—in the kitchen. But the Tap House is anything but typical. Will Savarese has brought his frying pans, whisks, and talent from the kitchen of Bedford’s reserved La Crémaillère, where he toiled as chef for six years, into the kitchen of this informal new gastropub. The food is hardly pub grub. Yes, meatloaf is served, but the Tap’s meatloaf is stuffed with diced imported prosciutto; its stylish Reuben is prepared with braised cabbage and Hudson Valley duck. And when did you ever have foie gras at a pub? The Tap’s ricciolina pasta has diced pieces of luscious liver. And tapheads need not worry: no one has forgotten the gastropub’s “pub” part. There are Belgian-style ales, pale, bitter, and brown ales, porters, lagers, several wheat and fruit beers, plus 11 selections on tap. Drink up!
(914) 591-1300; mimarestaurant.com
If you’re looking for the sort of straightforward, ingredient-driven food that makes Northern Italy a foodie mecca, then Mima’s menu is sure to please. Look for a thoughtful affettati (sliced ham and salumi) selection, well-chosen Italian cheeses, and rustic comfort dishes like pastas, polentas, and soulful, slowly braised meats. Located in the cozy, tile-floored and tin-cielinged spot that formerly housed Red Hat, Mima features exposed brick and shelves of Brunellos and Barolos. With an intriguing by-the-glass selection (also available by the quartinos), and daily wine specials, it’s easy to obey orders: “Drink Wine” is emblazoned on the back of every server’s shirt.
Prepared Foods North
The Perennial Chef
(914) 666-6523; theperennialchef.com
Whether he’s man-handling veggies at New Rochelle’s produce markets or checking out the meats and fish at the Hunts Point Market in the Bronx, Chef Michael Williams, who owns the Perennial Chef with sister Leslie and one other partner, is always on the prowl for the freshest ingredients. “I don’t keep a lot of inventory,” says the classically trained chef. “Cooking with fresh ingredients brings the best results.” Apparently gourmands from Chappaqua to Scarsdale agree. “About half of our customers are not from the Bedford area,” he says. Williams makes everything from scratch, whether it’s the curry powder for his curried cauliflower or the stock for his daily soups. Signature dishes to sample include Chinese broccoli with roasted garlic-oyster sauce; poached shrimp with lemongrass mint glaze; sable marinated in sweet miso sauce; and Brazilian grilled steak with a Cuban crust. And don’t forget to take home something from pastry chef Min Yung’s dessert cases: French butter cookies, frosted holiday cookies, biscotti, mini French pastries, tiramisu, or—what the heck—an entire opera cake.
Prepared Foods South
(914) 738-6622; pelhamprovisions.com
Yes, there are a few tables at Provisions, Nannette Conners’s snug open-kitchen café, but the core business is takeout comfort fare—the kind of from-scratch food your mom made when you were a kid (or you wish your mom made). Think steaming potpies loaded with suculent chicken and fresh peas; chunky leek-potato soup; house-made granola with oats, almonds, coconut, and honey; and rich and creamy (and, yes, high-cal) macaroni and cheese—“not the low-fat version,” Conners says proudly.
Renaissance Cake at La Renaissance Patisserie Française of Scarsdale
(914) 472-0702; lrbakery.com
La Renaissance Bakery’s ganache cakes, strawberry shortcake, chocolate mousse charlotte, mousse bowls, and mini-pastries are delish, bien sur, but its signature masterpiece, La Renaissance cake, is simply out of this world. The interior consists of alternating layers of crispy almond meringue, homemade mocha butter cream, and luscious whipped cream. A multitude of toasted slivered almonds round the exterior. We’re not the cake’s only fans. Mulino’s in White Plains thinks so much of the cake that it makes twice-weekly pickups to ensure the dining room always has it on hand.
(914) 273-4320; cafenorma.com
It’s a simple mission for owner Norma Olarte Becker of Café Norma. “I want my food to be healthy and fresh,” she says. “And, of course, delicious.” Don’t be surprised then by the organic, top-quality ingredients found in the made-to-order salads, wraps, sandwiches, and entrées at the WiFi-friendly café. Must-trys include a simple salad of tender greens, Granny Smith apples, walnuts, and Gorgonzola; light blueberry jam crêpes decorated with sweet organic strawberries; arugula salad with pineapple and fennel; roasted corn salad with salmon Champagne vinaigrette; seafood gazpacho; fresh-fruit-only smoothies (apple-banana-strawberry, pineapple-pear); organic mozzarella sticks; arepas (cornmeal pancakes made with farmer’s cheese); and French baguette with mozzarella, tomatoes, and pesto. As far as we’re concerned, mission accomplished.
The Melting Pot
(914) 993-6358; meltingpot.com
Yes, we know they went out of fashion along with teased hair and shag rugs, but fondues are, well, fun (teased hair and shag rugs decidedly are not). And lucky us: the ’70s craze has been revived at the Melting Pot. Go ahead—indulge. Pick up a long skinny fork and dip—into bubbling melted Gruyére cheese or a sea of dark chocolate with marshmallow cream. This is communal eating at its best.
Fresh Pasta Dishes
Tuscan Oven A Trattoria
(914) 666-7711; tuscanoven.com
After a rich, belly-filling pasta meal here, you won’t look at your mother’s Sunday macaroni-and-sauce dinner the same way. (Sorry, Mom!) Sure, Tuscan Oven has more traditional pasta dishes (housemade tagliatelle tossed with a hearty Bolognese sauce of beef, pork, veal and pancetta; lasagna with wonderfully seasoned, crumbled sausage and a fresh plum tomato sauce), but its pasta muscles truly are flexed via such dishes as whole-wheat cavatelli with escarole and wild mushrooms and ricotta-stuffed ravioli in a butter-sage sauce. To such innovative, handmade pasta dishes, we say salute!
Encore Bistro Français
(914) 833-1661; encore-bistro.com
It doesn’t have to be Bastille Day to crave all the great things a classic French bistro offers: mussels, pâté, escargot, cassoulet, and, best of all, a mound of salty, crunchy French fries. And Chef Eleazar Perez knows how to make fries super crisp and super tasty: 1) use fresh spuds; 2) make daily batches; 3) cook ’em twice. “We cook them halfway through before refrigerating them until an order comes in,” says owner David Masliah. “Besides saving cooking time on orders, it gets rid of a lot of starch for a cleaner, crisper taste.” The half-inch thin-cut Idahos are deep-fried in canola oil (no trans fat!), topped with kosher salt, and served in a cone-shaped container lined with faux newspaper. According to Masliah, most diners prefer ketchup with their fries but occasionally someone will ask for vinegar—the dip favored by Belgians as well as Canadians and Brits. “If you ask me,” Masliah says, “mayonnaise is the way to go.”
(914) 969-1006; bellehavana.com
You’ve seen all the mock-itos around—a splash of lime juice, a spritz of 7-Up, maybe a sprig of mint—but that’s no Mojito, folks. Imagine sugar, lime wedges, and loads of fresh mint, bashed to a fragrant, flavorful pulp by an angry, gorgeous, muddle-stick-wielding bartendress. When the greenery is pulverized, it’s gilded with light rum, sugar cane, and a splash of bubbles. The resulting drink is floral, tropical, herbal, divine—and definitely worth the workout.
Onion Focaccia at Good Bread
Northern Italy’s answer to pizza is focaccia, and our county’s best version is the onion focaccia at Good Bread. Nowhere in the county will you find a better representation. The Florentine-style focaccia is a two-inch-thick dimpled flatbread generously topped with caramelized sweet white onions. Toast it, use it for sandwich bread, dip it into a red sauce, or just cut it in small squares and mangia.
Croton Creek Steakhouse
(914) 276-0437; crotoncreek.com
Croton Creek may be a steakhouse, but our favorite main is its $26 Kobe burger. Piled high with cheese, applewood bacon, frizzled onions, and a slab of ripe tomato, this huge, very drippy sandwich is scrumptious, if challenging to eat. Tie a napkin around your neck and don’t say we didn’t warn you—you might even want to wear a “Plan B” shirt.
(914) 234-9647; cremaillere.com
Underneath its brittle shell of shattering scorched sugar, the crème brûlée at La Crémaillière is like a precious vein of gold: you’ll be scraping and digging until you’ve thoroughly exhausted the supply. Made with the highest fat-content cream; the plumpest, most seed-laden vanilla beans; and the richest, most cholesterol-laden egg yolks, this dessert is an object lesson in lush—which should come as no surprise for fans of La Crémaillière’s ice cream.
No mimosas, no brioche, no smoked salmon. Instead, what you’ll find at Star Diner is a good old American, stick-to-your-ribs breakfast, served at a bullet-shaped, stainless-steel, vestige-from-the-1930s lunch counter. The Star is open 24 hours a day, and its all day/all night breakfast specials include our favorite: two perfectly cooked over-easy eggs with crisp, hot, cooked-to-order bacon, well-caramelized home fries, and an English muffin spread with real butter. Plus, the Star’s coffee is better than any diner’s around and you’ll find great, greasy (in a good way) cheeseburgers, too.
Nutella Panini with Bananas at Nessa
(914) 939-0119; nessarestaurant.com
Diners at Nessa are helpless against this dessert. The chocolaty smell of hot Nutella, vaporized as it hits the panini press, spreads through Nessa’s dining room like a virus. Suddenly, infected with the aroma, wild-eyed and frantic, diners simply have to get their own—and dessert orders start rushing in. Once you’ve tasted this addictive, hot, crisply corrugated dessert, you’ll be flagging your waiter down, too.
Eastchester Fish Gourmet
(914) 725-3450; eastchesterfish.com
The most important word in fish markets is “turnover”—after all, who wants fish that’s been languishing in an under-visited case all week? Not only is Eastchester Fish Gourmet’s market bustling, its highly rated attached restaurant is thronged. That means there are two avenues for this upscale fishmonger’s goods, and nothing has a chance to sit around. If you’re looking for the freshest fish—including precious sashimi grades—look no further than Eastchester Fish.
Locally Raised Grass-Fed Beef
Haberny’s Three Feathers Farm
The best beef available is grass-fed and grass-finished, which means it’s been raised in a nice pasture the way nature intended; we should only be so lucky. Joe Haberny’s tiny, five-strong herd of Scottish Highland, White Face, and Angus cattle are pasture-raised, grass-fed, and hormone-free (though they’re not USDA inspected; Haberny is just too small for that). Stop into Three Feathers Farm, or better yet, call first—quality steaks like his go fast.
Locally Produced Cheese
Rainbeau Ridge Farm
(914) 234-2197; rainbeauridge.com
You’ve got to ask yourself: when it comes to cheese, how can Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Iron Horse Grill, and Crabtree’s Kittle House be wrong? Those highly-rated restaurants (among many others) have been onto Rainbeau Ridge’s tangy, luscious goat cheese for years. Stop into Bedford Gourmet—or go on one of Rainbeau Ridge’s tours—to try some for yourself. It’s products like these that make locavorian do-able.
Farm-to-Table Winter Venue
Winter Indoor Farmers’ Markets, County Center
(914) 995-4050; countycenter.biz/Events/IndoorFarmersMarket.htm
Farmers’ markets are great; straight-from-the-earth food and a relationship with the people who grow it—from July through November, that is. In the past, though, beyond those months, you were on your own, and, most likely, that meant hitting the supermarket as usual. That all changed this year, when the County Center got into the grocery business. Now, in the Great Hall of that art deco masterpiece, you’ll find farmers vending winter crops like squash and turnips, as well as locally raised pork, beef, lamb, rabbit, and venison. New York State cider and wines also are available, as well as locally baked goods. There’s never been a better time to eat local, year-round.
Flying Pig on Lexington
(914) 666-7445; pigcafe.com
Burgers can be a little scary for the food police: we’re thinking rife-with-disease feed lots, E. coli, and who knows how many animals were ground up to make that little patty? If you’re looking for a burger you can trust, tuck into the grass-fed burger available at the Flying Pig on Lexington. Served with fries and Cabbage Hill greens, this hormone-free chuck is raised in small herds and allowed to feed as nature intends—in grassy pastures rather than filthy feed lots. It’s food like this that makes you proud to be what you eat.
(914) 591-2233; restaurantoneny.com
Chef Jeff Raider believes that every seafood restaurant should have a great crab cake. We are strong believers, too. And many times great doesn’t mean traditional. Innovation—that’s what we applaud. And Chef Raider’s crab fritters appetizer is not only an original take on the traditional Maryland crab cake but a delicious one. A mixture of fresh Maryland crabmeat—absolutely no filler—egg, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and Old Bay Seasoning is rolled in Japanese breadcrumbs, fried to a crispy golden color, and served with pineapple salsa and three dipping sauces (Thai chili, lemon basil, and spicy red pepper). Innovation: 1; Tradition: 0.
(914) 631-1863; caravelarestaurant.com
It’s a hearty, unpretentious classic seafood stew that’s found in any Portuguese grandma’s cooking repertoire. Don’t know any Portuguese grandmas? No problem. Just head over to Portuguese restaurant Caravela for a lip-smacking rendering of the dish: fresh Maine lobster, briny littleneck clams, mussels, succulent shrimp, plump diver scallops, swordfish, and monkfish in either a traditional red sauce (tomatoes, sweet peppers, sweet onions, celery, garlic) or an inventive green sauce (white wine, clam juice, garlic, olive oil, parsley, and cilantro). As you sop up your last bit of broth with a crusty slice, be sure to raise your glass of vinho verde to toast owner Fernando Cabral for having a restaurant that serves this delicious creation.
Grilled Items Menu
(914) 946-6222; tangogrillny.com
If you’re a lover of grilled meats, book a table at this Argentinean/Italian restaurant. Then, sharpen your knife and cut into that super wonderful grilled skirt steak with peppers and onions, or perhaps that 14-ounce Black Angus sirloin with sautéed onions and jalapeños, or maybe you’d prefer the lamb kabobs over saffron rice. And forget steak sauce or (yikes!) ketchup; grilled meats Argentinean-style are enjoyed with chimichurri sauce: a mélange of olive oil, vinegar, garlic, onion, and finely chopped herbs. It’s so bracingly good, you may find yourself attempting a tango.
The Willett House
(914) 939-7500; thewilletthouse.com
The “King of Steaks” celebrates its coronation at the Willett House, which serves only the juiciest hand-selected filet mignons—aged, cut, and cooked to absolute perfection. And rather than smother this luxurious piece of meat in salty marinades and heavy-handed seasonings, the Willett House uses just a sprinkle of sea salt, a pinch of freshly crushed black pepper, and a coating of butter. A carnivore’s true pleasure.
Frankie & Johnnie’s Steakhouse
(914) 925-3900; frankieandjohnnies.com
It’s hard to order anything other than perfection once you’ve had it at Frankie & Johnnie’s, namely, its tender, chewy, dry-aged rib eye. The marbled slabs (cut by Executive Chef Steve Kontis) are seared flawlessly to keep their juices brimming below the surface, just waiting for your fork and knife to unleash them onto the plate. The rib eye’s flavor is complemented by a secret blend of seasonings that even Kontis doesn’t know. “I’ve tried to make it myself, but it’s never as good.”
(914) 227-9353; sunsetgrilleny.com
Just as Spain is the new Italy, and brown is the new black, tequila is the new Scotch. Look for elite, status-conferring details, like tequilas aged in oak barrels (some used to store sherry), tequilas older than your mother, and tequilas triple-filtered and costing $40 per glass. All varieties are offered at Sunset Grille—plus, you can soak it all up with a masa tasting platter (a tamale, taco, and enchilada, all made with house-ground masa).
Smoked Oyster Ragout
North Salem (914) 277-2301
Call us purists, but we typically prefer our oysters straight-up, with a twist of lemon at the most. So, naturally, we were suspicious when we heard about John-Michael’s smoked oyster ragout. But one taste instantly removed all doubt and made us realize why it’s the restaurant’s most popular dish. Chef/owner John-Michael Hamlet concocted this dish in the dead of winter when a shipment of West Coast oysters inspired him to experiment. “When these came in, they were very plump and flavorful. I thought it would be great to give them a smoked flavor and complement them with some real earthiness. So I tossed them with some black trumpet mushrooms, some grape tomatoes, some potatoes for a little texture, and then I added a sauce with vegetable stock and black-truffle butter, and topped it off with some black-truffle shavings.” Initially conceived as a seasonal dish, its growing popularity has convinced Hamlet to make it a permanent item on the menu. On a recent Saturday, Hamlet reports, “half of our diners ordered it.”
Gianduja Chocolate Cake at Antipasti
(914) 949-3500; antipastiny.com
What else would you expect from a star chef than a star dessert? And even better than a star dessert is a star chocolate dessert.
What makes the gianduja cake at Antipasti an A+ delight? It’s the contrast of textures—a smooth, dense filling over a crispy, wafer-like crust—and the perfectly balanced combination of crunchy hazelnut and smooth chocolate. Executive Chef Rick Laakkonen, who began his culinary training in pastry-making at École Lenôtre in Plaisir, France, says the gianduja is a collaborative creation between him and pastry chef Shoukat Hussam. “It’s comfortably in the lead as our most popular dessert,” Laakkonen says.
So stung by the prices at your local wine bar that you never order more than one glass? Then head down to Nessa where it’s actually affordable to try multiple glasses. Featuring quartinos, half-bottles, and bottles, this short, sweet, Italo-centric wine list was composed by sommelier Jean Luc Le Dû (formerly of Daniel; current owner of Manhattan’s Le Du’s Wines). Never overwhelming in price or length, Nessa’s wine list is just right—for sipping, swapping, sharing, and sampling.
Stew Leonard’s Wines
Yonkers (914) 375-4713
If you quail at snooty sommeliers lording it over their dusty vintages, then Stew Leonard’s Wines is for you. Cheerful, brightly lit, and crammed with great deals, Stew Leonard’s Wines offers a rare wine room for collectors, the whole gamut of liquors, and excellent, intriguing staff picks. What’s better? Look for free wine tastings offered daily, Wednesday through Sunday. (PS: We’ve been known to hit the samples before braving the crowds at Stew’s.)
Great food does not always mean expensive food. This year-old Hellenic upstart is offering luscious hummus, mouth-watering souvlaki, and tasty gyros—good enough to make Lefteris take notice—all for about as much money as you’d spend at the movies. We’ve become addicted to Santorini’s baklava, too. Next time you think about hitting a Mickey D’s, reconsider. This is better food—and it’s cheaper, too.
Bar Food and Lounge
X2O Xaviars on the Hudson
If you think bar food means fat-soaked potato skins eaten in the gloom of a dive-y taproom, think again. Dylan Lounge brings bar food into the light with stunning sashimi and sushi dishes, given a touch of Peter Kelly flair, then served amid stellar views of the Hudson. Our favorite tippler’s nosh is the beautiful, boxed toro two ways. This stunning tapa includes pure toro sashimi garnished with the exotic, perfumey flavor of hanaho flower, paired with toro tartare served with chilled yuzu ponzu and Greek yogurt scented with raspberry compote. Mmmm—we’ll drink to that!
Three-Course Prix-Fixe at Zitoune
Sick of the same old deli sandwich or that dreary slice of pizza? Then head over to Zitoune for your next mid-week lunch. A mere $11 buys you your choice of soup or salad (including Zitoune’s fabulous salade composé—a selection of five traditional, highly spiced Moroccan salads), a sandwich, perhaps, and coffee or tea. Sandwiches are served on fresh baguettes and include Moroccan treats like grilled merguez sausage, grilled mixed vegetables, fresh sardines, or sautéed eggplant. Even better—all sandwiches come with snappily crisp and salty pommes frites.
Khan’s Indian Kitchen
Finding a bargain Indian meal is easy—most any Indian restaurant worth its curry offers an inexpensive lunch buffet. However, if you want to go from bargain to drop-dead cheap, then Khan’s is for you. It’s not exactly a restaurant, however. Half of the space is an Indian grocery with shelves groaning with sweet snacks, dried beans, peas, seeds, etc. The other half is a retail counter offering approximately a dozen dishes of scrumptious South Asian dishes for takeout. Lamb or goat dishes are $7, chicken dishes are $6, and vegetable selections like vegetable cutlets and cauliflower with cumin and ginger are $5. If you add a side of rice ($2), your mains should feed two. Now, that price will please the grandest misers you know! (Oh yes: if you’re having a party, buy a bag of Khan’s frozen samosas at $5 for about 18 to 24 pieces. It will be the cheapest and most delicious party you’ll ever throw.)
Best Wine Classes
(914) 698-3802; lecavemaurice.com
If you’d like to learn about wine, but don’t trust the strictly-for-beginner classes offered by self-appointed “experts,” then sign up for the classes offered by Brian Maurice. He’s a member of the Court of Master Sommeliers and has also been in the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (Masters of Wine program) since 1999. As if that weren’t enough, he learned his craft in Paris and Bordeaux, worked at Restaurant Daniel, and was a purchaser of French wines for Zachys. Each two-hour session costs $40 to $50 and includes wines. Information on upcoming subjects can be found at lecavemaurice.com or by emailing Maurice at email@example.com. With a couple of these classes under your belt, you’ll be able to talk “bottle shock” and “botrytized” with the best of ‘em.
Grapes The Wine Co
(914) 397-WINE; grapesthewineco.com
This White Plains fine-wine dealer is an oenophile’s dream, carrying hard-to-find and small-production vintages like Domaine Romanée-Conti (Burgundy), Château Petrus (Bordeaux), Screaming Eagle (California), and Harlan (California).
Sadly, though trendy in cities, Alsatian wines have been tough to find in Westchester—until Fountainhead, that is. This tiny shop across the street from the Bedford Hills train station carries just 300 bottles, but what a collection—wonderful choices and great prices. Best of all, customers benefit from owner Mike Pelletier’s relationships in France: look for rare, small-production wines, and great deals on Alsatian vintages.
(914) 949-8466; vino100whiteplains.com
Vino 100’s slogan says it all: 100 great wines for
$25 or less.
Rockwood & Perry Fine Wine & Spirits
(914) 478-1028; rockwoodandperry.com
Most of the wines you’ll find at Rockwood & Perry have been hand-selected at the vineyard by Peter and Fran Rockwood, whose carefully chosen stock features small American productions and fine vintages, bought at the vineyard, then shipped in temperature-controlled containers. These wines make us thankful that the Rockwoods have done the tasting (and shipping) for us.
Le Wine Shop
(914) 833-9666; lewineshop.com
Le Wine Shop is just about all French; don’t ask for Barolos or Pino Grigios. The only spirit offered is a French-produced vodka. Given those parameters, look for modestly priced bottles designed to please the everyday habits of a wine-positive culture—these are good drinking French wines, priced to please.
Continue reading for chefs' picks, and all of our 2008 winners for Nightlife, Art & Leisure, Health & Beauty, Shopping, Services, and Kids