Small, Loud…and Excellent

Dobbs Ferry’s The Cookery puts the “gastro” back in gastropub.



Photo by Cathy Pinsky

A modest, streamlined interior, a value-conscious menu, and superlative fare can be found at Dave DiBari’s The Cookery.

Let me just say this first: The Cookery is very loud and bar-like, with prominent flat-screen TVs and a minimal décor that features exposed brick and hanging ductwork. Its waiters wear mechanics’ uniforms, and there are no cloths draping these dinged-up tables. Humble dishtowels replace linen napkins, and, I’ll out this embarrassing fact: The Cookery pours to within an inch of the glass’s rim, a practice that does its wines no favors.

Yet this is still a four-star restaurant.

Almost every dish we sampled in this revamped Dobbs Ferry pub was extraordinarily delicious, beginning with my starter of grilled scamorza cheese, whose taut, smoky exterior disguised a burstingly milky blast. This dish was excellent—thrilling even—and...only seven bucks.

Chef Dave DiBari, formerly head of Zuppa’s kitchen and now chef/owner of The Cookery, seems to have learned something about achievable goals. While other trendy chefs pursue personal ventures with fine-dining aspirations, DiBari’s smart Cookery is almost stridently pretense-free. It’s reasonably priced, minimalist, and exactly what its name suggests. In keeping with the theme, all 35 labels on its wine list are offered by both bottle and glass and have been painstakingly edited for range and good value. We especially liked a crisp Torre Rosato “Tocai” Friiuiano at $11 per glass/$40 per bottle, while the bigger Sicilian Santa Anastasi Nero d’Avola at $9 glass/$30 bottle is a stand-up partner to brawnier flavors.

DiBari’s food is muscular—bruschetti arrive with blackened edges, and carefully sourced meats are unapologetically carnal—yet his boldness is always balanced by suavity. A nearly gamey starter of locally raised Laid Back lamb sausage (which DiBari grinds in-house) arrived with a gutsy, smoky char countered by the mild lushness of creamy white polenta. To battle this dish’s fattiness, Swiss chard was left bitter. The same trick was achieved with a very sensual Heritage Farms pork cheek, whose smoky chunks framed creamy, addictive Parmigiano-Reggiano spaetzle—and whose fattiness, in turn, was refreshed by a mellow tomatoes agrodolce.

A word to the wise: don’t commit before listening to the specials. We lucked into a masterful midsummer salad of baby arugula, almonds, and Parmigiano-Reggiano whose red wine-and-vinegar-macerated Bing cherries had been de-cloyed, leaving behind only resonant, wine-y fruit.

The dishes of DiBari’s inspirational landscape, Italy’s dairy- and pork-soaked north, can be overwhelmingly rich if approached with less finesse. DiBari sidesteps these traps with ease. A fluffy, béchamel-based lasagna is leavened with whipped ricotta and a restrained use of house-made mozzarella: the whole is studded with heavenly wild mushrooms, haunted by truffle oil, and given a final crunch with coarse breadcrumbs. Radiatore with lamb Bolognese—reverent, reduced, concentrated—arrives threaded with mint leaves, whispering a breath of fresh air. The Cookery’s pastas are all made in-house and are entrée-sized (though split orders are not penalized on the bill).

The meal doesn’t peak with pastas. Creekstone Farms hanger steak arrived seared to nearly crunchy outside, yet radiantly pink and juicy inside. Its goose-fat-roasted new potatoes tasted like Christmas in a bite, while sharp escarole added zing. A giant whole grilled branzino came stuffed to bursting with subtly seasoned fennel, whose aromatic licorice notes perfumed its creamy flesh. Even the chicken dish on the menu came with a daringly seared, salty (and deliciously greasy) skin.

Still, we encountered a couple of slips at The Cookery besides its peculiar policy of overfilling glasses (why not get bigger glasses or quartino pitchers?). A lunch starter of freshly formed mozzarella was sliced while still too hot: it poured its milk onto our plate, leaving cloudy soup and toughened cheese. And a ricotta-batter dessert frittole was heavy and shining with oiliness. Better choices for dessert are pasta frittata (fried dough with Nutella, roasted bananas, and cinnamon gelato), or DiBari’s sweetly grainy ricotta cheesecake. The last is cooked and served in a lidded glass jar with tiny pineapple cubes and dehydrated orange slices.

In short, at The Cookery, you’ll find no sniffy sommeliers, no dramatic décor, no restaurant frou-frou at all. This reasonably priced, modest restaurant is about the consummate craftsmanship of an excellent cook—which is exactly what this diner is looking for in these value-conscious times.

The Cookery ★★★★

39 Chestnut St, Dobbs Ferry
(914) 305-2336
Hours: lunch, Tues to Fri 11:30 am–3 pm; dinner Tues to Thurs 5:30–10 pm, Fri and Sat 5:30–11 pm, Sun 4:30–9 pm; brunch Sun 11 am–3 pm.
Appetizers: $6-$10; pasta: $11-$14; entrées: $21-$26; desserts: $8.

★★★★—Outstanding ★★★—Very Good
★★—Good ★—Fair

 

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