Restaurant Review: Club Car Restaurant-Lounge
With stylishly retro décor and a classic American menu, Club Car Restaurant-Lounge, Chef Brian MacMenamin’s latest venture, strikes most of the right notes.
Photo by Cathy Pinky
The roasted loin pork chop topped with foie gras is an indulgent entrée choice
There are three things you need to know about eating at Club Car Restaurant-Lounge in Mamaroneck: (1) The space—the Mamaroneck train station, which was built in 1888—has an elegant, opulent Mad Men-esque look and feel; (2) the menu celebrates classic high-end American dishes and ingredients with modern touches; and (3) the vibe is decidedly more casual than the upscale décor, food, and prices.
It is not just the name of the restaurant that pays homage to the building’s past. The renovation of the station, the second oldest on the New Haven line, included the restoration of a distinctive carved-wood fireplace and stained-glass windows; original ticket counters were stripped, refinished to their former glory, and incorporated into the wall behind the lively bar. Many other period-appropriate details were added back in: The soaring ceilings are covered in tin and glitter with sparkling chandeliers that make the polished wood and exposed-brick walls gleam.
In striking contrast to the rather splendid décor, the crowd was casually dressed (jeans and strappy heels, khakis and sport shirts) and the servers were friendly but unpolished. The menu, on the other hand, was just what you would expect to see beneath crystal chandeliers—truffles, foie gras, and expensive cuts of meat. (Even the lowly burger is given royal treatment with the option of adding Hudson Valley foie gras to what becomes a $24 sandwich.)
While too many restaurants use coveted ingredients like a culinary shell game to dazzle and justify higher prices across the board, that was not the case at Club Car. Portions were generous, the quality of ingredients top-notch, and the fare, for the most part, mindfully prepared.
It was lovely to “rediscover” tender escargots, a once-popular dish that has all but faded from view. Even if you don’t eat them, convince someone at your table to order them, just so you can inhale that lusty browned butter-and-garlic aroma. Cashew-crusted calamari may not be as classic, but what it lacked in pedigree, it made up for in popularity. Little bits of the sweet nut-meat dotted the crisp coating and kept it crisp even when the rings were tossed with a light, slightly spicy glaze reminiscent of a refined Chinese sweet-and-sour sauce; a superfluous peanut sauce accompanied the dish.
The kitchen’s tendency to be heavy-handed with salt first showed up on tender, mildly sweet St. Louis ribs, slow cooked until the succulent meat nearly fell off the bone. Those meaty ribs and the accompanying classic creamy American potato salad with bits of hard-boiled egg made a hefty starter.
Several salads offer somewhat lighter alternatives, as did the robustly flavorful and smoky stuffed clams. A starter of grilled asparagus only sounds light; the crisp-tender asparagus was heavily blanketed in melted Gorgonzola tempered with a drizzle of balsamic reduction.
Photo by Cathy Pinky
Cashew-crusted calamari in a spicy citrus glaze is a starter worth ordering
But truly, this is not a restaurant to visit when eating “light” is on your agenda. For one thing, any such intention will likely dissolve at the appearance of the superb (twice-fried) French fries and/or fried red onions (thin, perfectly crisp onion rings) at your table. If you were to order either dish only once in the next year, this would be the place to do it.
It should come as no surprise that several dishes were as heavy-handed with butter as others were with salt. Happily, a special of pan-seared gray sole with lemon-butter sauce was not one of them. The sauce showed just enough restraint to allow the sweet, mild fish to star. Less happily, a side dish of red and golden beets (listed on the menu simply as “root vegetables”) tasted of butter and little else.
On two occasions, meat was not cooked as ordered. While that is an egregious mistake, it is well worth noting that the meat itself was so richly flavorful, in both cases the diner chose to continue eating it. Besides, by that time in the evening, our servers were far less available. An enormous T-bone steak was cooked more than requested—but boy, was it tasty! It was tender enough and juicy, with that big, fat, beefy flavor of a T-bone-eater’s dreams. Tuscan-grilled filet mignon, on
the other hand, was cooked less than requested—and more flavorful than is customary for this cut. It was served with (salty) grilled shrimp and lobster béarnaise—very Mad Men-esque.
Chunks of lobster were also in the mashed potatoes accompanying bland Arctic sea bass—the potatoes were far more appealing than the fish. Meat dishes seem to be the real strength of the kitchen. We’ll take that gargantuan, tender, juicy, roasted loin pork chop Rossini topped with sautéed foie gras over the odd special of sautéed scallops on butternut squash ravioli with brown butter sauce any day. The scallops just never connected with the ravioli—as two separate dishes, we might have been happy with either one, but the combination felt forced.
With portions as big as they were, and must-have side dishes of french fries and onion rings, perhaps it is divine justice that desserts were eminently skippable. But if your meal is not complete without a sweet ending, the molten chocolate cake is serviceable: it is a dessert you’ve had a million times before, sometimes executed better and sometimes worse. But be warned: We tried the balsamic strawberries with pound cake twice—and twice choked on the acidic unreduced vinegar that overwhelmed every other ingredient in the dish.
It seemed odd that a restaurant with some spectacular dishes and just a few misses couldn’t do better with dessert. Frankly, though, by the time dessert comes around, it is likely your jeans will feel a little tight.
Club Car Restaurant-Lounge 3.5 ★'s
1 Station Plz, Mamaroneck
(914) 777-9300; clubcarny.com
Hours: lunch, Tues to Sat 11 am-3 pm; dinner, Tues and Wed 5 pm-10 pm, Thurs 5 pm-11 pm, Fri and Sat 5 pm-midnight; late-night menu, Fri and Sat 11 pm-4 am
Appetizers: $10-$15; entrées: $16-$38; sides: $8; desserts: $8
★★★★—Outstanding ★★★—Very Good