Best New Restaurants 2011
Westchester’s newcomers sling serious star power (and flavor).
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3605 Crompond Rd, Yorktown Heights (914) 788-8700
Sesame-flecked cubes of tuna tartare at Thyme
Yorktown’s newest gem might be inauspiciously set in a strip mall (and its menu hews toward mid-market standards), yet this cozy, wood-and-stone dining room has a secret weapon in the finesse of its kitchen. The ubiquitous starter of tuna tartare at Thyme comes in perfect, die-sized cubes. They’re flecked with a miniscule chop of chives, and perfectly seasoned with a sticky slick of soy reduction. Skirt steak is grilled to nano-second perfection and is paired with a brightly herbal chimichurri, while its frites—often inattentively cooked and served in soggy (if massy) piles—arrive, at Thyme, in a tasteful cluster, snappably crisp ’til the last stick. At Thyme, even throwaway dishes like green salad are marked by consummate kitchen craftsmanship. You’ll find dull, winter grape tomatoes lightly roasted in thyme-flavored olive oil that, at least, recalls a summer breeze. Little touches like these elevate Thyme above its menu analogs—we know when we want perfectly executed standards, we’ll make for Thyme.
14 Cedar St, Dobbs Ferry (914) 231-7800
this bijou restaurant-slash-boutique offers a stylish mix of East and West, where beets make a root-veg twist on cucumber raita and tandoori-spiced chicken salad comes over shredded romaine and avocado. Cleverly, Indian “paella” uses saffron and coconut-infused basmati rice laced with rings of calamari, shrimp, scallops, mussels, and chunks of tender chicken. Sure, other of Orissa’s fusion fare isn’t as witty (or tasty), but we love its gorgeous room and eager staff. Plus, where else in Westchester can one sip Indian-produced wine while casually browsing bibelots?
Dolphin Restaurant Bar Lounge
1 Van Der Donck St, Yonkers (914) 751-8170
Stepping into the former Pier View space, owner Elio and his son, manager Jimmy Rugova (with combined restaurant experience in Manhattan, Las Vegas, and Westchester), faced a major, site-specific challenge: How would they give this riverfront corner known for rowdy, youth-oriented bars, uptown flavor? The Rugovas started by ordering a top-to-bottom renovation.
With its neon-like cylinder lights and white vinyl sofas, the lounge at Dolphin feels less like a restaurant than Barbarella’s spaceship. However, those looking for less vibrant scenery can always opt for Dolphin’s quiet, street-side dining room—or, in good weather, they can also choose Dolphin’s centerpiece, a 5,000-square-foot riverfront patio. All areas partake of Dolphin’s vast wine list and its sea-centric, democratic menu. We love the Dolphin for old-school standards, like baked clams, linguine con vongole, scampi, and seafood fra diavolo. To finish, don’t miss the Rugovas' house-made anisette, perfect to sip while savoring the view.
187-189 E Hartsdale Ave, Hartsdale (914) 723-0010
Once the home of Oporto Restaurant, Hartsdale’s Vega says it all with its transparent window gel of Frida Kahlo: Mexico’s patron saint of arty cool stares from her niche like a very intense Catholic icon. Purple and orange vinyl upholstery adds space-age chic, while lantern-and-tree décor evokes an outdoor Mexican plaza—to be honest, we found ourselves smiling even before our well-shaken, tart margaritas landed.
Look for table-side mashed guacamole; succulent tacos of trendy al pastor and carnitas; resonant, mole-dipped enchiladas; and char-grilled steaks paired with sprightly chimichurri. Best of all, Vega is supremely child-friendly while still managing a certain date-night cool. This is a great, fun option for the whole family.
179 Main St, New Rochelle (914) 632-4000
Sugarcane-glazed lamb chops at Cienega
Architects-owners Pedro Muñoz and Vivian Torres have taken Steam’s awkward, inauspicious space and created a masterpiece of bold, modernist lines. Edison bulbs cluster, while muted murals soothe—with looks like these, it’s a good thing that Cienega’s food is equally stylish.
The partners come straight from critical raves for Fort Greene’s Luz, and, like that restaurant, Cienega is spinning crowd-pleasing Nueva Latino standards. Along with subtle ceviches—we love the pretty mixto (shrimp, octopus, rocoto, bay scallops, and squid, lightly scented with ginger and orange)—you’ll find trendy albóndigas (meatballs), arepitas, and empanadas. While Cienega’s small plates are seductive, we’ll always make room for cordera ron y caña: meltingly tender rum-and-sugarcane-glazed lamb chops with starchy malanga mash and huacatay sauce. It tastes like a tropical vacation—especially with alternating sips of sangria. (Look for a full review at a later date.)
531 Warburton Ave, Hastings-on-Hudson (914) 478-1978
To be honest, Sakura Garden is not drop-dead gorgeous, nor is it especially inventive. It’s just a plain corner sushi restaurant that happens to serve really fresh, well-prepared maki. You won’t find an Out of Control Roll, or anything that sprouts wings or tentacles—just standards like yellowtail, eel, tuna, Alaska, and California rolls, slung alongside a happy variety of soups, tempura, and hibachi mains. This restaurant won’t challenge iconic Sushi Nanase in White Plains, but then Sakura Gardens is open for lunch and you don’t have to reserve your table ahead—and with loyalists like Hastings-on-Hudson’s Chef Andy Nusser, who are we to differ?
Here are the tasty waves that Westchester is surfing right now.
While the unfortunate phrase “craft beer” sounds like something uttered during a commercial break, among today’s diners this is a buzzword for beverage focus. Only a few, quality-obsessed restaurants are willing to track down small-batch breweries, or are patient enough to introduce dunkels or rauchbiers to Stella-formed palates. We applaud restaurants like Birdsall House, Peekskill Brewery, and Bridge View Tavern for taking on the challenge, and we’re proud that Westchester’s Captain Lawrence has put Westchester on the super-snooty craft-brew map.
The scrappy culinary tag team of Fergus Henderson and Anthony Bourdain has made once-despised off-cuts the prized proteins du jour. Sheep’s brains at BHSB, duck tongues at The Cookery, and everywhere, the fiddly, primal pleasure of long scoops of roasted marrowbones. We can’t say where this is leading—eyeballs, bellybuttons, maybe wattles—but we’re delighted that conservative diners are finally going after new game.
Pop-Ups and Parties
The thing about restaurants is that they need a clear identity, a concept that’ll work in those pithy OpenTable descriptions. Pop-up events like Juniper’s holiday dinners, or The Cookery’s “Industry Night,” mean that local chefs can flex their off-message culinary chops, and freedom from genre restrictions only enriches our tables. In related news, savvy diners are now scanning their favorite restos for special events. Annual parties like BHSB’s beer dinner have become Westchester’s most anticipated dining galas.
Manhattan to Westchester/Westchester to Manhattan
Back in the day, for city chefs, opening a restaurant in Westchester was like a legitimate actor doing porn. Once you’d crossed that line, you could never go back again. Yet savvy restaurateurs like Zitoune’s Alain Bennouna, Cafe of Love’s Leslie Lampert, and Lulu Cake Boutique’s Jay Muse have parlayed successes in Westchester to debut New York City venues. We think it’s swell of us to return the favor of The City giving us Andy Nusser, Dan Barber, and
Restaurants and Social Media—Perfect Together
Do you remember before the Flood when you used to have to call a restaurant? Or when you didn’t know what its specials were until a waiter bothered to tell you? Now, with free, super-targeted marketing tools like Facebook and Twitter, restaurateurs can get moment-to-moment messages out, straight to their customers. We’ve seen Facebook posts from Restaurant North alerting friends to how many soft-shell crab orders were left for the night or Birdsall House’s bulletins that list updates in their ever-changing draught list. Now, more than ever, restaurants and chefs are cutting out the marketing middlemen—which means more info for diners, and, for restaurateurs, lower overhead.
One of Westchester’s great dining stories actually happened in its food markets. The debuts of Fairway Market, Tarry Market, and Juniper’s new prepared food counter mean that some of our tastiest grub can be eaten on the sofa in front of the tube. We can’t decide whether to be proud of this trend or just a little bit ashamed.
Julia Sexton is a Westchester-based restaurant critic, food writer, and CRMA Award-winning blogger. When not high tailing it to every damn restaurant opening in the County, she cooks and writes in her home in New Rochelle.
Captions: Photos opposite page (clockwise from top left): Alvin Clayton, handsome owner of Alvin and Friends; Nuevo Latino cuisine from Cienega; Thyme's cozy dining room; Chef and Owner Tom Costello of Thyme; Eliá Taverna serves more than gyros; warm, house-stuffed grape leaves from Eliá Taverna; Arrosto's democratic casual Italian; simple and perfect steak frites at Thyme; Restaurant North's menu celebrates local farms.
Former Union Square Cafe's wine director Stephen Paul Mancini (center) now co-owns Restaurant North.
Though in Port Chester, Arrosto's owners have Manhattan pedigree.
Former model Alvin Clayton's restaurant, Alvin and Friends, showcases his paintings.
Thyme's chic interior belies its strip-mall location.
Cienega's architect-owners triumph over an awkward space.