Review: Café of Love
A warm heart welcomes at Café of Love.
Complimentary, tasty snacks dull the sting of a long wait for a table.
The name of Leslie Lampert’s touchingly personal Mount Kisco restaurant, Café of Love, feels like a play on the kitchen use of “love”—which can mean “from the heart” or a winking cook joke about the animal fats that make food delicious. At Café of Love—an informal place, with high ceilings, a massive Carerra marble bar, and a shabby-chic profusion of mismatched tables and chairs—both meanings seem perfectly apt.
The loving starts early in the Café experience, where inevitable waits—the restaurant accepts reservations only for five or more—are mollified by tasty gratis bar snacks of olives tossed with garlicky oil and crunchy pepper chunks, or salty, freshly-made blue potato chips. The long trestle table that separates diners from the bar offers still more bonus bites, including a delicious white bean purée, wheels of crystalline white Cheddar cheese, and baskets of sliced local artisan bread.
While always warm, service at Café of Love can be spotty. Long waits made for protracted evenings, and we emerged thinking that Café of Love’s gratis nibbles might have been designed to disguise an overwhelmed kitchen—a theory supported by other blunders. Rich lobes of seared-until-bursting Hudson Valley foie gras were well-seasoned, but served with overwhelming partners of cara cara orange compote and kumquat marmalade (not a real problem; they were easily left off the fork). A robust starter of traditional Raclette—served with roasted potatoes and cornichons—was held a critical moment too long, so the toasted cheese had congealed into a tight disc.
Café of Love’s chickpeas are served deep-fried and truffled.
Similarly, an otherwise magnificent short-ribs stew arrived under an off-putting one-quarter-inch layer of grease. Also problematic, a house-made spaghetti with Maine lobster exhibited a fine sandiness, while tiny bits of lobster made us question its $26 price tag. Better was duck two ways, in which an unfortunately lukewarm and very firm magret was joined by a crisp, hot confited leg with deliciously rich parnsip purée and braised red cabbage.
Despite the gaffes, good times are ensured by generous, one-third-bottle “quartinos,” and a well-priced bottle list, with several examples available in the under-$50 price range. We were comforted during a long wait by a bottle of Casalfarneto Verdicchio, cheap and cheerful at $36. Also good: heavy pours of Clos Roche Sauvignon Blanc for $11.
Unsurprisingly, Lampert’s soups are a highlight of the menu: this restaurant follows her Ladle of Love, a successful gourmet takeout shop nearby. We were smitten with a lush black-truffle salsify soup, in which the starchy, mildly oyster-ish root was puréed into a pool of cream-colored velvet, hauntingly flecked by black truffles. It would also be a mistake to pass up side dishes of deep-fried, truffled chickpeas. We could have eaten them forever—even in lieu of mains.
Desserts at Café of Love are charmingly made in-house and are much simpler than the preceding courses. Best was a cozy spiced croissant bread pudding, whose straightforward hominess reinforced this restaurant’s love theme. Worst was an unnecessarily flaming chocolate crème brûlée, whose thick sugar shell had burnt to bitterness.
All true, but, blunders aside, Café of Love is a cheerful place, with a bustling welcome that transcends all off-notes. It’s one of those happy if slightly inept places to which you’ll always return with a shrug, even if only to sit and enjoy the scene with a bowl of soup and a bottle of wine.
Cafe of Love
38 E Main St, Mount Kisco
Hours: Lunch Tues to Sun 11 am–5 pm; dinner Tues to Thurs 5 pm–10 pm, Fri and Sat 5 pm–11 pm, Sun 5 pm–9 pm; Appetizers: $9-$29; entrées: $15-$38; desserts: $8
★★★★—Outstanding ★★★—Very Good
Photos by Cathy Pinsky