Festive Easter feasts, outing the critics, our irresistible Irish soda bread taste-test, and more
By John Bruno Turiano
Is There a Critic in the House?
By Margo Rudman Gold
A frisson of anticipation ripples through the restaurant and the staff is whispering anxiously…could there be a critic in the house? A quick glance at the reservation book holds the key, clear only to those in the know. In bold marker is the name “Simon,” one of the New York Times Westchester food critic’s favorite aliases. Now you know too!
Restaurant critics have a celebrated history of disguises. In a famous food-world tale, reviewer Ruth Reichl visited Le Cirque twice, once as herself and another time dressed as her alias, Molly Hollis, an English teacher from Michigan whose husband had made a fortune in strip malls and who came to the big city every few months to go to the theater and do some shopping. Needless to say, the treatment she received as Molly was dismissive while the treatment when she was recognized was royal.
Those in the New York City restaurant “fraternity” tip off their friends and share critics’ photos (in one case, with alternate wigs), their known aliases, even descriptions of one critic’s hands. When Bryan Miller reviewed for the New York Times, restaurateurs knew to watch out for “the tall thin guy with dark bushy hair and long fingers.”
Since there are fewer critics who frequent suburban restaurants and no tight-knit insider community, playing “Guess the Westchester Critic” can be tricky. Peter Kelly (X20, Xaviars, Freelance Café & Wine Bar, and Restaurant X) has recognized certain phone exchanges as those of the residences of certain critics, one possible tip-off. Kelly has noticed that critics inevitably arrive as odd-numbered parties of three or five. The Iron Horse Grill’s Phil McGrath sees critics in parties of four or more. How else do restaurant reviewers get “made”? Ask too many questions, or talk into your lapel (as one did, blatantly) and the restaurant’s “gotcha.” Frequently treading the path from the table to the restroom with notepad in hand is another no-brainer. On the flip side, Matthew Karp of Larchmont’s Plates insists he’s never sighted a reviewer and prefers it that way. He swears that when it comes to critics’ identities, “ignorance is bliss.”
Perhaps Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, would have preferred ignorance when he “spotted” New York Times restaurant critic William Grimes in Blue Hill in Manhattan when it first opened. Barber and staff sighted Grimes’s improbable alias “F. M. Holozubiec” three more times in their reservation book and gilded their lily accordingly. They assigned Grimes aka Holozubiec the best waiters, ordered additional flowers, paid for late-day deliveries of fresh bread, and set a corner banquette with perfectly polished stemware. Then Holozubiec was outed—not as a critic, but as a commercial litigator who Barber had mistaken for the New York Times reviewer! Within two weeks, the real Bill Grimes (unnoticed) awarded the restaurant two stars. Barber quips, “I can’t help but think that we owe some of that to Mr. Holozubiec…his visits, ridiculously, emboldened us, but they also made us become a better restaurant.”
So is the fervor to “out” critics much ado about nothing? In the end, what matters is what civilian customers say.
“A good review gives a restaurant a three-month boost,” says Peter Kelly, “but what people keep in their purse or briefcase is the Zagat guide.”
[ Rabbit Food ]
Easter has arrived early this year.
Where to go for a special brunch?
At the adorable Bungalow Restaurant- Lounge (166 Stoneleigh Ave, Croton Falls 914-598-3008; bungalow166.com), Easter brunch will include three courses for $27. Pea soup with mint or asparagus veloute hint at spring. For your entrée, pick the duck Waldorf salad; a shrimp, artichoke, and Brie omelet; or eggs Benedict with flying fish roe and, for dessert, perhaps a delicate lavender-scented pear cobbler or berry Pavlova.
Monteverde at Oldstone Manor (28 Bear Mountain Bridge Rd, Cortlandt Manor 914-739-5000; monteverderestaurant.com) provides a sweeping view with any meal. Its special three-course Easter dinner, served from noon to 8 pm, will include a choice of five appetizers, five entrées (including traditional lamb with minted peas), and five desserts for $65 per person.
Red Hat on the River (One Bridge St, Irvington 914-591-5888; redhatbistro.com) inspires with impressive river views. For Easter, added to the regular menu will be a $29 lamb holiday special. The restaurant will open an hour earlier at 4 pm, so those at the first seating can enjoy the view before sunset.
Easter finds Chef Will Savarese at The Tap House (16 Depot Sq, Tuckahoe 914-337-6944; thetaphouseny.com), his elegant new “gastropub.” Spring flavors abound in a wild mushroom soup ($8.50), English pea ravioli with a Parmesan cream and black truffles ($10.75) and grilled lamb sirloin with a jaunty goat cheese spring roll ($24). Even if you don’t try the great beers on tap, The Tap House has a flexible format for a family outing and handles larger groups well.
Peter Kelly has created a special Easter Sunday meal with lots of springtime flavors for each of his restaurants (xaviars.com). At Xaviars at Piermont (506 Piermont Ave, Piermont, New York 845-359-7007), the four-course prix-fixe dinner is $75. At Kelly’s sensational X2O Xaviars on the Hudson (71 Water Grant St, Yonkers 914-965-1111), the
three-course prix-fixe dinner will run $60. Restaurant X AND Bully Boy Bar (Rte 303, Congers, 845-268-6555) will serve a $55 prix-fixe dinner. Finally, at Freelance Café and Wine Bar (506 Piermont Ave, Piermont, New York 845-365-3250), there will be a three-course prix-fixe for $60. —Judith Hausman
Chef Will Saverese, formerly executive chef at La Crémaillère, is heading the kitchen at the recently opened Tap House (16 Depot Sq, Tuckahoe 914-337-6941; thetaphouseny.com). The restaurant is a gastropub serving such hearty fare as Colorado lamb loin with Moroccan spices. Most main courses cost between $19 and $25. This is Pearl Management Group’s sixth restaurant in Westchester; among the others are Lexington Square Café in Mount Kisco and Ruby’s Oyster Bar & Bistro in Rye…➥Thai Angels (155 Lexington Ave, Mount Kisco 914-666-0937) has taken over the space that once housed Bert’s Steaks. Main dishes include boneless half duck in a curry sauce, a crispy tamarind bass, and stir-fry chicken with coconut milk, and cost from $10 to $22. Lunch and dinner are served every day…➥Northern Italian fare is offered at Casa Brusco (219 Main St, Eastchester 914-346-5170; casabrusco.com), a new 120- seat restaurant that replaces JR’s. Executive Chef Alberto Ricci, a native of Ravenna, Italy, who trained at the Milano Marrittano Culinary Institute. Main dishes include spaghetti with tuna and plum tomatoes, pan roasted rack of lamb in a Barolo sauce, and Emilia-Romagna seafood soup. A selection of gourmet pizzas, including the stagioni with baby artichokes, Italian ham, and mushrooms, is also offered. Entrées range in price from $14 to $28. Open for lunch and dinner every day…➥The team behind Zuppa in Yonkers has opened Mima (63 Main St, Irvington 914-591-1300; mimarestaurant.com) where the Red Hat Bistro was once located before it moved closer to the Hudson River. From the kitchen come such entrées as pan-roasted chicken with fine herb polenta, Hudson Valley trout in lemon-pressed olive oil, and penne with butter beans, oven-roasted tomatoes, and pancetta. Desserts include orange panna cotta and bread pudding with brandied prunes. Most entrées range in price between $14 to $25. Mima is open Tues through Fri for lunch and Tues through Sun for dinner...
➥Q Restaurant and Bar (112 N
Main St, Port Chester 914-933-7427; qrestaurantandbar.com) is scheduled to open in Mount Kisco at 487 East Main Street sometime in May in the space where Rainbow Wok was. A larger (3,300 square feet) outpost of the Port Chester barbecue favorite, “it’ll be the same menu and décor,” says co-owner Jennifer Kohn. And, we suspect, the same delicious Texas brisket and baked beans. Open every day for lunch and dinner, with meals costing $17 per person on average.
Dine Well for Less and for a Good Cause
From March 9th to the 21st, you can enjoy a three-course, prix-fixe lunch for $16.09 or a three-course, prix-fixe dinner for $26.09—or both—at nearly 80 Hudson Valley restaurants. Yes, it’s Hudson Valley Restaurant Week again, your opportunity to eat well for less. And, oh yes, Restaurant Week doesn’t only help restaurants pack their dining rooms, it also helps the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (select participating restaurants donate 7 percent of the total sales on the first night of each week). Among the Westchester restaurants offering the special prix-fixe: 121 Restaurant & Bar in North Salem, Le Fontane Restaurant in Katonah, Crabtree’s Kittle House in Chappaqua, and Med 15 35 in Rye Brook. For more information, visit HudsonValleyRestaurant.com.