A Melting-Wok of Asian Cuisines
A new crop of county eateries has reached beyond their borders to pioneer a fusion revolution in Westchester. Want to take part? Read on...
Photography by Michael Polito
Just when we thought nothing could be new under the Westchester culinary sun, a few of the county’s restuarants have looked beyond their ethnic borders for more inspiration. This trend first surfaced in a handful of Asian-driven dining spots, but the idea is quickly catching on elsewhere. Not only is East meeting East, but East is meeting West as well. Some day very soon, diners may find Thai curry, summer rolls, chicken fajitas, chocolate mousse and gelato—all on one menu.
With the ancient principles of Chinese cooking (a careful balance of tastes and textures) at its core, this new conglomerate has evolved into a brilliant fast food. Like the world’s great cuisines, it has its origins in peasant cooking, which relies on making the most of whatever happens to be at hand—cheap, fresh, local ingredients—and on using precious fuel efficiently. The quicker the cooking time, the more economical the preparation, so ingredients are often finely chopped or shreded. The results are dishes that are fresh, tasty and often healthful and affordable. Here are some of the first restaurants to ride the Asian-fusion wave.
Water Moon, in the center of Rye’s busy main shopping street, has been playing to a full house since the day it opened. Part of the immediate success might come from the reputation of its restaurant cousins across the border in Connecticut; much, however, is clearly because of the accomplished, inventive dishes this kitchen produces. “The response we’ve received since we’ve opened has been phenomenal,” says restaurant manager Kristin Becker. “People rave about the crisp fried red snapper in curry sauce and the pan-seared sesame tuna drizzled with wasabi and orange sauce.”
Diners can still order a few classic Chinese stir-fries and juicy dumplings, but the body of the menu lists items influenced mostly by the cuisines of Southeast Asia, and it would be a big mistake for anyone interested in creative food to ignore them. A view of the half-open kitchen shows a troop of cooks scurrying to assemble impressive dishes such as crunchy, cilantro-edged Vietnamese salad, supple summer rolls, Thai coconut curry casserole with chicken and shrimp, and pad Thai. Indonesian spicy sambal samba brings a wealth of seafood, as does a curry called Fire Wok. Other spots on the globe are given a nod as well. The kitchen has no trouble producing Japanese udon (thick wheat noodles), shrimp tempura, and duck fajitas (a Mexican-Chinese hybrid). End with a selection of lovely sorbets.
Like Water Moon, Golden Rod in New Rochelle echoes with the din of enthusiastic diners. Grounded in Chinese style, Golden Rod has also dipped into other parts of Asia, offering delightful, well-made Chinese dishes like sesame chicken, dragon and phoenix and tangerine beef, as well as savory selections from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Japan. Tucked into a niche, a sushi counter (open every day except Monday) can construct spicy sashimi salad: a cylinder of fresh raw fish, Japanese mayonnaise and vinegared cucumber, which counters the richness of the fish and adds texture.
From the main kitchen come steaming Malaysian red curry with tofu and chicken, big lemongrass shrimp with gingery galangal and the diner’s choice of meats or tofu spiced up with sambal sauce or with Thai noodles and mango. Desserts are simple and few. The one to look for is a special: cream-filled chocolate pyramid.
Temptation Tea House is characteristic of many informal snack places in Hong Kong and mainland China. There, meeting friends “to take tea” usually means sharing dim sum and pots of tea. Temptation has the dim sum and the pots of tea, indeed, an enormous variety of both.
Its location on a tiny alley between Mt. Kisco’s South Moger Avenue and the new back parking lot belies the size of the place. The restaurant is a huge box of a room hardly minimalized by a central soaring rock fountain set with tiny, delightful figurines (look close to find the fisherman, the meditating Buddhist monk, the water carrier, etc.), which give the rock the scale of a mountain. It’s a feature that charms children and adults alike. A cascading stream of water spills into a fishpond below.
A few dozen teas await the customer’s pleasure. Choose among black, green, Chinese, Japanese, pearl tapioca and frothy—all available in fruit and flower varieties. Coffees, shakes, smoothies and exotic fruit drinks are available as well. And all these beverages are mere accompaniments to snacks that include a long list of dim sum, like a variety of dumplings, filled buns, rolls, satays, chicken wings and soups so thick with noodles that a bowlful can serve as a meal. Or, have a grilled salmon or chicken Thai seafood casserole. Mousses and tarts are available for dessert.
Koo in Rye is stunning and serene with its decor of river stones, polished cherry and white birch, and is another example of an Asian-driven culinary hybrid. Scattered through Koo’s menu are un-Japanese ingredients subtly integrated with traditional Japanese fare. Expect touches like tortilla, ceviche and truffle oils.
The fish here is high-quality, and that doesn’t come cheap. A sushi bar produces all a diner could want in first-rate rolls, sushi and sashimi. From the kitchen, cooked entrées taste as sumptuous as they look, and the presentation is a wow. High marks go to slow-cooked salmon with coconut, broiled “black cod,” and a tower of grilled seafood called gyo-kai. It’s hard for a customer to make a mistake, even when ordering randomly.
Ümami Café, in Croton-on-Hudson and in its new, snazzier Fishkill location, advises diners to “think globally,” and this kitchen is prepared to convert diners to that mindset. Many of the dishes here are more than pan-Asian or even Asian-fusion. They’re global. On board are lovely combinations like duck-amaki, Peking duck quesadilla, Thai salad and tuna tacos. A spicy chicken curry called Evil Jungle Prince has long been a favorite here, as has a unique spin on mac-and-cheese, with fontina, Gruyère and truffle oil. Very sweet and very delicious, date cake is the dessert to have here.
While these restaurants have thrown themselves whole-heartedly into integrating international cuisines, other dining spots gingerly test the waters, among them Blue, newly opened in White Plains. Sensing the Asian-driven trend, this pretty dining spot adds a few Asian-inspired fillips to its mainly American menu. Diners so inclined might try grilled octopus with juicy lychees and plum wine dressing, grilled whole baby onaga (Hawaiian snapper) garnished with sashimi and accompanied by bruschetta topped with a confetti of papaya and heirloom tomatoes; or consider firecracker spring rolls or generous Thai salad laced with Vietnamese chili sauce.
So take a taste from the global melting pot—you’re sure to come back for seconds.
Freelance writer and editor M.H. Reed is food critic for the Westchester Section of The New York Times