A Man Has to Eat came into existence almost a year ago as a way for my wife and me to better remember meals we had. Although I shy away from the foodie label, those who know Chrissie and me were always asking for dinner recommendations. The blog format began as a personal journal and I had no expectation that anyone outside of my family and friends would ever discover its existence.
To my surprise and delight readers began stumbling upon, and actually reading, my tiny little corner of the internet. It has given me great pleasure to serve and entertain those who have enjoyed my writing and it was educational and interesting to look at food and the dining industry from a critical perspective.
We have cut back on our dining, but not nearly as much as my lack of writing suggests. The fact that there has been no entry in so long signifies a waning interest on my part to continue updating. This lack of interest comes from me wanting to go back to a time when dining didn't involve deconstructing every aspect of the meal for analysis.
If we have a meal that is great or an experience that is disappointing enough to warrant a warning I intend to write about it, but I no longer intend to write up each new restaurant we visit.
Thank you to everyone who has spent some time here and used A Man Has to Eat as either a resource or for entertainment.
Thanks and Credit-
Some A Man Has to Eat Statistics and Facts
Enjoy the New Year, support your favorite restaurants, try a new one when you can, and spread the word about what you like.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
A Man Has to Eat came into existence almost a year ago as a way for my wife and me to better remember meals we had. Although I shy away from the foodie label, those who know Chrissie and me were always asking for dinner recommendations. The blog format began as a personal journal and I had no expectation that anyone outside of my family and friends would ever discover its existence.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
I feel like each of the last few reviews I've done has started with an apology for posting so infrequently. I'm sure you're all feeling the pinch in one way or another. Since a man has to eat, we've been out, but mostly to places we know and appreciate. It has become difficult to gamble money on the untested, especially after getting the last quarterly mailing for my 403B.
We've been driving by Nessa on the way home from Costco for quite some time now and we decided the positive reviews earned them a spot in our new restaurant queue. Nessa is located on the tail end of Main Street in Port Chester. They have valet parking, but we got very lucky with a spot across the street.
Our evening began on a low note. We had a reservation and the room was practically empty, but the hostess decided to seat Chrissie and me between the kitchen and an open door. After politely asking for a better table she sat us behind the hostess station. In their slight defense (I do mean slight), the dining room was completely filled by the time we left, but you should never seat a couple with a reservation in the worst seats of an empty dining room. I told Chrissie to not let the hostess taint my opinion of the restaurant and we ordered drinks from a friendly waitress.
The friendly waitress failed to mention that the house Chardonnay Chrissie ordered was a $17 glass of wine. There has to be a fail safe mechanism for drinkers. When we eat out and I order a Tanqueray and Chrissie orders a glass of wine I expect to pay around ten dollars, give or take, for mine and a little less for Chrissie's. To charge seventeen dollars for a standard wine order is to take advantage of a customer who trusts the house bottles are chosen for both drinking characteristics and for price.
We didn't yet know about the entree priced glass of wine when the waitress returned to explain that the chef requests all orders be complete before submission. She also told us that there were no substitutions allowed. I asked about specials and she said there were none because the chef wants to put out his best and most consistent work. I can understand this. I really can. The back of the house in a popular restaurant is chaotic and succeeds or fails on the delicate balance between artistic endeavor and scientific timing. We put in a complete order that began with bruschetta, appetizers, and entrees.
Our thinking was, after the emphatic speech from the friendly waitress, that the meal would be properly paced. We thought that was why the chef took such pains to train the waitstaff to articulate his culinary philosophy. It came as a great shock to me when the bruschetta and the appetizers were brought to the table at the same time. More surprising was that I had to ask for our bottle of wine, even though both of us had finished our cocktails long before the table topping presentation of plates had arrived.
The bruschetta were fine. They would have been better as a pre-appetizer as the waitress promised when she told us we had to order complete meals. Chrissie ordered the salmon and I had the prosciutto with figs. I actually liked Chrissie's more. It tasted very fresh and fishy. She thought it was too acidic and the salmon was lost in the mix. She thought mine was a nice mix of sweet and savory. I thought it was too busy. Had these come out before our appetizers I would have written that we should have switched plates, but the sense of urgency placed on us by the delivery of four simultaneous plates ruined my appreciation of these dishes.
Chrissie ordered the beef carpaccio. The meat was fine. We both thought too much was going on in the dish. Served with marinated artichokes, the beef gets lost. I imagine it being an excellent introductory dish for those afraid to try carpaccio. For the indoctrinated, the loss of beef focus turns the dish into a carnivore's salad. I ordered the grilled octopus, expecting a plate of grilled octopus. I was very disappointed when presented with a cold octopus salad. The octopus bordered between rubbery and grainy and were barely pleasurable to eat, and the dish itself, served in a giant bed of frisee, should have been labeled a salad and cut in price by a almost a third. In my opinion, price structure revolves around product cost, preparation cost, and profit. Going into entrees, the prep cook had done everything we'd eaten and fire had blessed nothing (I know Chrissie ordered a cold dish, but my chilled grilled octopus more than allows my statement).
Looking around the room between courses I began to understand what was happening. I almost felt bad for the chef. The diners weren't the ones we see in proven establishments, great dives, or in the fine dining restaurants we like to go to celebrate life's pleasures. They were the breed that follows the trend. Chrissie and I had a conversation about the blessings and the curses these people bring to a place. We spoke about the paid bills that are wonderful and we spoke about the attitude of owners and chefs that must certainly be born when an establishment gets picked before its time. It must be very difficult for them to not understand they are riding a wave and that these patrons will eventually leave them for whatever new restaurant the movers and shakers want to tell their friends they ate at. That leaves the people who love food and dining to fill a restaurant and if we are disappointed a room will not stay filled for long.
I was prepared for the entrees to disappoint and I was worried about what I would write. In almost a year I have never given a completely bad review. Chrissie's dish was a disappointment. Her stuffed eggplant was bland and boring. It was incredibly under salted and had no value except as a dish to appease unsuspecting vegetarians.
My dish; however, was one of the best plates of chicken I've ever had. It blew my mind how I could hate everything else about my meal and love the chicken so much that I think about going back for that one dish. This chicken was perfect. The skin was beautifully crisp, the meat was juicy and tender, the flavor profile was deep and balanced. The chicken at Nessa was a lifeboat in a sea of complacency.
Unfortunately, it was not enough to balance out the rest of the meal and we decided to skip desert, not because we were stuffed but because we didn't want to spend any more money there.
Will we go back? No. Not any time soon. We at A Man Has to Eat have always been about value, whether paying five or five hundred dollars for our meal. I found very little value to the dining experience at Nessa. In fact, I was disappointed by almost every aspect of my meal. The hostess, the waitress, and the kitchen all failed to live up to expectations. I'm amazed that they are a In Town Westchester Magazine editor's pick and that all of their other reviews are so flattering. Either my experience brought together the worst of all possible outcomes or people are giving this place a bye because they don't want to offend their neighbors who rave about it. With the exception of the wonderful chicken, I can think of nothing positive to write about our dinner there.
Nessa is located at:
325 North Main Street
Port Chester, New York 10573
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Ever since Solera closed the doors to its Westchester outpost, Chrissie and I have been attempting to fill the void left by our favorite Spanish restaurant. We've kept track of all the restaurants that purport to serve tapas. We've eaten from the low end to the high end and we've tried both the traditional and the progressive. Some have come very close, but none have lived up to the overall experience at Solera. Recently, we tried Espana, the fairly new tapas restaurant in Larchmont. Espana, located in the space formerly inhabited by the Larchmont Oyster House, has gotten some great press by both the professional reviewers and the lay eaters and we decided to once more try to recreate the past.
I'll begin with the vast wine list that represents the various wine regions of Spain. One of my favorite memories of our trip to Spain involves buying, in the supermarket, a few bottles of five dollar wine each morning to accompany the day. The wine you can drink in Spain for under ten dollars is far superior to the cheap wines available in the United States. Unfortunately, the wallet friendly price of domestic Spanish wine is lost in translation during its voyage to American drinkers. The wine list at Espana, while comprehensive and interesting, seems on the expensive side and does not represent the value we love at A Man Has to Eat. We got a bottle anyway.
We decided to take a three course approach through the evening, sampling a variety of dishes from both the tapas and appetizer menus. We couldn't resist beginning our meal with the jamon special of the evening and a plate of boquerones. The Iberian black footed pig, available for the first time in the Untied States in our very own Westchester, costs as much as a dinner plate, but we decided, after watching Alton Brown speak so frequently about the pleasures of the jamon produced by the acorn eating swine, to try it despite the cost per slice. It was worth trying once. Its texture was impossibly both smooth and firm. Its taste subtle and nuanced. It was difficult to show restraint and not eat it like a piece of prosciutto. However much I rave, Chrissie and I were both in agreement that we would prefer to order regular jamon next time and save the the extra money for another dish.
The boquerones were meatier and fresher tasting than the thin, completely bleached, and very pickled versions that typically arrive in a typical tapas presentation. Chrissie liked the Espana take better. I called it a draw, slightly missing the stronger tart, but appreciating how clearly the flavor of the fish came through.
We finished the dishes and decided to go hot for the next course. Since we were eating comparatively, we had to try the pulpo a la gallega, which is a staple of our tapas dining. Chrissie has been on an egg kick lately, so she was delighted to find an egg preparation as part of the daily menu.
We are hard to impress when it comes to octopus. So many places don't give it the attention it deserves and then put out a plate of substandard food to a customer they hope doesn't know any better. This is not the case at Espana. The pulpo was sublime. The egg dish, on the hand, was confusing. The egg was properly cooked and the vegetables were tasty, but it lacked the sense of excitement the other dishes had. Philosophically I understand its inclusion. If I were truly going out for a drink and snack to hold me over until a late dinner then this would be a perfect dish. Conversely, if I were ending a night of drinking and wanted some protein then it would also be perfect. As it was served, I don't quite understand the circumstance in which the chef envisions this plate being ordered.
We went for heavier dishes to conclude the meal, ordering canalons de carn and a foie gras dish. Both were flavorful, interesting, and hearty, leaving no room for dessert. Sated, we ordered coffee and decided to return another time to either explore the rest of the small plates menu or to see what the kitchen puts out as a prepared plate.
Will we go back? With so much left to try, we will definitely go back. Espana has the best tapas oriented menu we've eaten in a long time. I look forward to satisfying Spanish cravings at Espana for many years. I only hope other diners continue to find the value in a two hundred dollar tapas dinner during our current economic climate.
Espana is located at:
147 Larchmont Avenue
Larchmont, New York 10538
Thursday, September 18, 2008
One of my favorite nights of the year is when the volleyball team I coach plays Sleepy Hollow because it is the only game I can get my wife to to attend. I'm sure the only reason she attends is because it gives her a chance to work to some neurotic hour without my condemnation and because we go out for a midweek dinner. This year we decided to try the new Indian place in Irvington, Chutney Masala.
Located over the train tracks in the building that formerly housed Flirt, Chutney Masala finds itself in good company with One across the street and The Red Hat a short stroll away. There is something about a properly proportioned bistro that I like more than any other dining room. I immediately felt comfortable in Chutney Masala. While I would assume Chrisse would find the room cold, she agreed with my assessment. The brick walls, square wood tables, and well placed photography create an atmosphere that is both refined and meant for food and drink. The only aspect of the room I did not like was the backless seat I was originally seated in. I didn't think I needed a back, but before I'd finished my cocktail I opted out and asked to switch to a full chair.
Making the meal more fun was being greeted by two former students in the roles of hostess and waitress. After shortly catching up we ordered drinks and I felt a little naughty for imbibing on a school night.
Since it was a week night, we split one appetizer, the lamb samosa. The samosa is one of Chrissie's favorites and since we usually order a plate, it allows us a starting point for comparison. The shell was flaky and thicker than most we have tried, but what separated this samosa from the others was the sublime filling. The spices in the lamb married for a balanced delight. We were thouroughly impressed and eager to try the main courses.
Chrissie orded the keema matar masala, a chopped lamb dish with peas. Like the filling of the samosa, the lamb was wonderful and exotic, but in no way inaccesible for anyone who enjoys flavors. I had the Goan shrimp, a slightly spicy dish in a traditional curry. The dish started with a decent amount of heat that I amped up by eating some of the whole chiles it contained. The flavor profile was rounded out by a small handful of bay leaves.
We both agreed that it was some of the best Indian food we have tried. Of greater interest is the menu itself. It seems the typical Indian restaurant manages its menu in the mix and match fashion. Chutney Masala has a menu that offers the instantly recognizable, but it also includes choices for the more adventurous or for those better versed in Indian cuisine.
Will we go back? In a heart beat. We really like the idea of an Indian restaurant that presents itself as a bistro and not a lunch trap for those who are sick of the deli and the Chinese restaurant. The food was fantastic, I completely approve of the design and menu philosophies, and they were wise enough to employ one of my all time favorite students.
Chutney Masala is located at:
4 West Main Street
Irvington, New York 10533
Saturday, September 6, 2008
We were recently at Zuppa Restaurant for a bachelorette dinner. It was my first time going back since writing about it in February (click here to read the full review). Since there were a dozen of us at the table I can't speak to all of the plates, but I can write about how impressed I was with the coordination between the kitchen and the front of the house. Considering we were a twelve top on a Saturday night, they managed our table with the same facility as if we'd been a party of four. The pacing was perfect. We never felt rushed or delayed. More importantly, the food was all properly cooked. Fish, lamb, pasta, it didn't matter. It says something about a restaurant when they don't rest on a guaranteed tip from what they could easily view as one time diners.
Monday, September 1, 2008
Chrissie finished her last teaching class ever this summer. To celebrate, my Uncle John wanted to take us somewhere she could indulge. Those new to this blog are probably unfamiliar with Uncle John and his culinary influence on my family. Instead of writing about it again, if you are interested click here to read about him. He wanted very badly to take us to Monteverde at Oldstone Manor to sate Chrissie's appetite for foie gras, but he discovered that it is currently not on the menu. After a little research on the internet he settled on Crabtree's Kittle House, a restaurant he and my aunt used to go to quite often, but hadn't been to in years, because they offer a trio of foie gras appetizer.
Our reservation was for Saturday night and we were disappointed to read on the website that the tasting menu is offered only Sunday though Thursday. The restaurant itself is located off of route 117 in Chappaqua in a renovated white mansion. Chrissie and I had been once before, but only for brunch. Our impression that it caters to an older crowd was confirmed by the clientele populating the dining room in advance of our 7:30 reservation. As a couple who are usually in bed long before midnight, the thought of eating with quiet refined diners excites me more than a raucous dining room populated with loud Westchester yuppies.
We were seated at a nice window table overlooking the lawn and garden. After the first round of cocktails were delivered we began checking out the menu. To our surprise and delight the tasting menu was offered. I don't know if the website is incorrect or if the kitchen anticipated a slow late summer night. Either way, we were all in agreement to order the chef's menu with the wine pairing. Since the whole point of choosing the Kittle House was to try their foie three ways appetizer we asked if the menu could be supplemented with an additional course. The chef obliged and our meal began with an amuse of cold summer soup.
The first course of the meal was poached lobster served with polenta and a coriander sauce. The lobster was perfectly poached and portioned. I was surprised at how good the dish was. We've had quite a few tasting menus this year and most of them were significantly more expensive than the Kittle House, especially when the wine pairing is factored in. We discussed for a quite some time why we had not been there to eat yet and what a bargain it would turn out to be if the rest of the dishes were as pleasing.
The fish course was halibut served with fingerling potatoes and bluefoot mushrooms. One of my favorite things to eat is a fish that is properly cooked and is served with cispy skin. The fish was excellent.
The foie gras came out between the fish and the poultry courses. My favorite presentation was the brulee. On paper I thought I would like the skewered lobes more, but in reality it was my least favorite that evening. When we go back I'll have to try the dish again and determine if it was my palate or the preparation itself that went against my typical expectations. The third style was a mousse accompanied by a vanilla and pear relish. This was also very good.
Our sixth course interlude over, the chef's progression began again with a grilled quail dish. By this time we had cemented our view that the Kittle House truly is a gem. I easily admit that it doesn't have the movie set splendor of Daniel, the army of waiters, captains, and busboys of Le Bernardin, the young money excitement of Jean-Georges, or even the niche market exclusivity of Blue Hill at Stone Barns. What the Kittle House offers is very good food ten minutes from my house that is well cooked, properly portioned, and presented.
The meat dish of the evening was a sirloin with a garlic and herb crust. Again, it was perfectly cooked. There was not one misstep the entire evening. Not one problem with the reservation, the front of the house, the food, or other diners. As we waited for dessert our conversation turned to the value of having a restaurant like this so close by. Chrissie and I don't mind going into Manhattan, but after the hassles of driving (parking and limiting alcohol), taking the train, or arranging for a place to crash, it seems like such a production. Factor in that our last Manhattan dinner was almost as much as a mortgage payment and I am inspired to find more places like the Kittle House.
Dessert was a fair presentation of selections from the menu. As someone who doesn't care that much for dessert, I do not know how much can be read into my ambivalence. The house did send out an extra dessert for the table. I'm not sure if was compliments of the chef or if they had an extra. Either way, I enjoyed the chocolate gift, an oozing mess of Valhrona chocolate wrapped in a thin pastry skin. Rather than traditional desserts I'd rather see the choice of cheese and a few petite fours at no additional charge for those of us who don't have a raging sweet tooth.
Will we go back? Certainly. The food, the ease of reservations, the location, and the value we perceived mandate we provide patronage. I can't think of the last time we ate a meal at this price point or with these culinary aspirations that didn't offer something to complain about- be it a snooty waiter, an overcooked course, or dish that didn't work. I only hope that I leave the Kittle House next time nearly as pleased as I was this time.
Crabtree's Kittle House is located at:
11 Kittle Road
Chappaqua, New York 10514
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Our dedication to writing about reasonably priced Westchester restaurants took a hiatus this summer when we blew our dining budget with two dinners. Our trip to Craft for Cara's birthday and an anniversary dinner at Daniel meant we've been eating at home a lot this August. With the school year starting and paychecks coming in again, we are excited to restart our narrative descriptions of the Westchester dining scene. August's installment of QuickBites summarizes our anniversary dinner, a meal out with the Journal News' Rockland restaurant reviewers, and a summer ending appetizers only dinner at Half Moon.
For our fifth wedding anniversary Chrissie and I wanted to try something opulent and excessive. After narrowing our choices we settled on Daniel. We'd never eaten at any of Daniel Boulud's establishments and the pictures on the website suited what we envisioned for a very special anniversary date. To help us make the choice, the restaurant would be closing the next day for six weeks for a redesign in anticipation of their tenth anniversary. There was something perfect about us and the restaurant both celebrating milestones and starting new phases.
As we exited our cab and walked down the stairs into the massive foyer I was dwarfed by the scale of the restaurant. A gentleman opened the door, asked if we had reservations, and escorted us to the hostess desk. The hostess guided us to a table overlooking a dining room that felt reminiscent of a movie scene. We at A Man Has Eat are not easily impressed by fancy dining rooms and large fleets of waiters, but Daniel was the most overwhelming room we'd been in a long time.
The six course tasting menu offered two choices for each course. Not by design, Chrissie and I each chose the opposite dish. This led to one of two low points of the evening. Our waiter, upon hearing we were each ordering one of the two choices left the table before finding out which dish we'd each like. This confused the back waiter and led to a problem when the dessert courses had different wine pairings. The captain initially poured me a glass of wine to go with the chocolate-prailine cremeux Chrissie was having. When he realized what was going on he left the wine for Chrissie and immediately retrieved the appropriate wine for my mango based dish.
The other troubling spot of the evening came when our first course arrived before I was half way through my cocktail. The captain came by to see if everything was o.k. because we weren't eating. When I asked if there was a rush for the table he apologized, informed us that he would tell the kitchen to slow down our ticket, and assuaged my fears by generously refilling my wine tasting when we began the first course.
Fortunately, the rest of our experience at Daniel was perfect. The pacing, the cooking, and the dishes cemented a sublime anniversary experience. We chatted with the captain about the renovations as we took care of the check. He suggested we come back when the room was finished in six weeks. We joked that it would probably be another five years before we were able to return.
Priya Indian Cuisine
I woke up one day this summer to an email from Deven Black, the Rockland restaurant reviewer for the Journal News, asking if the Chrissie I write about was the same one he went to graduate school with. She was, and after a few email exchanges we made a date to meet for dinner at Priya, an Indian restaurant in Suffern.
Deven and his wife Jill share the byline and responsibilities that go into crafting the newspaper reviews. It was fascinating for me to find out what goes on behind the scenes of a print review and to learn how the Blacks wound up at the Journal News. Chrissie had a great time reconnecting with a classmate.
Priya presented an interesting Indian menu. The number of seafood dishes led to a detailed discussion with the manager about the influences on the menu and the geography behind the restaurants cooking. My ability to assess Indian food is still in its infancy, but Chrissie and I both liked the food. A low would be the overcooked chicken in the appetizer sampler and a high for me would be the balanced heat in my lamb Vindaloo. If we lived closer, Chrissie and I both agree that we would try Priya again.
To celebrate the end of summer, Chrissie called for an appetizers only dinner on the water at Half Moon. Our intention was to blend an extended happy hour with a gluttonous tasting of as many small plates as we could eat/afford. I am writing about Half Moon in summary instead of a full review because it is owned by the family of a student whose been in a number of my classes.
The restaurant is located in the same space as the old Chart House, but that is where the similarities end. Extensive work was done in the dining room and kitchen to create a new space that does more than offer terrific views of the Hudson.
We began our meal with an assortment of ceviches. The table found the scallop with fennel, oranges, bell pepper, and mint to be our favorite.
We continued to work our way through most of the first page of the menu ordering 3 more rounds of food. Since we didn't order any entrees I can't say for sure what goes on in the kitchen, but the huge assortment of appetizers and the view make Half Moon ideal for tapas-ish dining. Two standouts from our meal were the fried Ipswich clams (we had to order a second basket) and the lamb ribs.
It is too bad they don't open the kitchen and bar earlier on Fridays so like minded eaters can take advantage of the sun and share plates after work before the dinner crowd shows up and the dining room gets busy.
Monday, July 28, 2008
Long before Top Chef, when Chrissie and I were living in a tiny three room cottage in West Harrison, a cookbook appeared on the Border's shelf that spoke directly to my developing culinary aspirations. Think Like a Chef was important to me because it is less a compilation of recipes and more a statement of philosophy. I distinctly recall reading the author's preface and narratives twice before looking at the recipes.
Since winning his first James Beard Awards his work at the Gramercy Tavern and for his cookbook, Tom Colicchio has gone on to become a fully branded celebrity chef. Along with being the head judge on Top Chef, his Craft and Craftsteak restaurants have taken root in some of America's premier culinary hot spots.
After our terrific experience at Perilla this winter, it was no surprise to me that Cara wanted to try Craft for her birthday this summer.
The dining room is incredibly modern. Its opulence comes from a liberal use of contrasting woods, lighting that is both romantic and masculine, and an architectural curve that softens the industrial layout. The floor plan is fairly genius and, from my vantage point, I could not find a bad table.
After a terrific amuse, the menus arrived on single sided placards that allow all items to be seen at once. This is important because at Craft dining is family style. There are no plated dishes on the menu. Each diner chooses dishes and sides and these are placed in proximity to the orderer, but are intended for the entire party to share. This is perfect if you have a finicky eater in your group. Meals can be tailored to avoid flavors and textures one might find offensive. It was my least favorite part of the meal. Instead of ordering whatever I was in the mood for, I felt compelled to do my part to keep the plates balanced.
We began the meal with cocktails and wine. The tables each have a drawer that slides out to the the server for a simple, yet incredibly effective, staging platform. The bottle of wine Chrissie's glass was poured from temporarily resided on this platform and the ceremony helped temper the price of the pour. I can't imagine why more restaurants do not employ such a useful and impressive device.
There were two low points of the evening and the first involved the sommelier. The wine list is immense, covering more than twenty pages. It is also expensive. The sommelier recognized our frustration as we struggled to find a bottle we would all enjoy and the we could afford. I explained our predicament, made a clear point of our price restrictions, and asked about two specific bottles. She made little to no mention of the bottles we were interested in and started selling wines that were twice as expensive. In case she had misunderstood I clearly explained we were there for the food and were not interested in spending that much on a bottle of wine. She then became a bit of a bully and got insistent on her selections. Feeling cheap and ignorant, I almost folded, but I kept my composure and told her we would discuss it further and thanked her for her time. We wound up ordering a bottle of Catena Malbec that we had initially inquired about. It would have done wonders for that five minute cross section of dinner had she simply said the wine would be perfect for our price point or told us why we would best be served elsewhere on the list.
We were in good company that night and I quickly forgot about the sommelier. Our first course was presented. I ordered the roasted quail and found it delicious. The girls, who both got tiny quail legs as their portion, were not impressed. It made me wonder about the whole family style concept. If my quail dish wasn't designed for sharing, there must be other dishes that don't divide well also. Cara's crispy bacon dish, on the other hand, was clearly designed for sharing. Inch square cubes of bacon were an essay on the various textures and flavors that can be composed with a single piece of bacon. Brian ordered the Wagyu carpaccio. It was decadent and flavorful. The best appetizer at the table was Chrissie's foie gras. I can often take or leave foie gras and leave it to Chrissie to enjoy. This piece was generous, perfectly seared, and accompanied with an incredibly complementary sauce. I made the mistake of cutting myself a thin slice as her plate went around expecting to take another later. There was no later.
The girls both ordered the dry aged sirloin for dinner. Because Cara ordered hers medium and Chrissie requested medium rare, these were almost two different meals. Chrissie's was just under medium rare and melted in the mouth. Cara's was just past medium and had developed a delicious sear that highlighted the sauce. Brian ordered the beef short ribs which came as a delicate portion served in a small bowl. The flavor on the short ribs was intense. The line between beef and supporting ingredient was negligible. Each bite was interesting and rewarding. With all of that beef at the table I ordered seafood. I could not have asked for better scallops. The sear was thick on one side, yet the scallop retained a perfect translucence at center. Again, my dish seemed the least compatible for family style dining. My four scallops were quickly consumed and the dish was gone, leaving me to scavenge off of everyone else's plates for the remainder of dinner.
Along with the main courses, the waitstaff suggests each person orders a side. We had the wild spinach that was served slightly creamed, sugar snap peas that were taken just beyond raw and were superb, a polenta that was fine, and corn and bacon risotto that stole the side show. I think a side per person might be over kill. We would have been just as sated with three.
Dessert is ordered in a similar a la carte fashion. Established combinations of a pastry base, fruit, and ice cream are offered, but dinners are free to mix and match to create their own individual plates. We ordered a serving of doughnuts with blackberries and vanilla ice cream. The doughnuts came with three great dipping sauces and did not require the extra sides we ordered. For the sake of experimenting, we also ordered a chocolate tart off of the prepared dessert list. It was good, but I didn't understand it as the signature chocolate dish.
Lastly, we ordered a cheese plate to go with coffee and after dinner drinks. This is when the second misstep of the evening occurred. The timing of the cheese, when compared with impeccable timing of the rest of the meal, was off. We soon discovered why when our server was surrounded by a manager and more experienced cheese server. His instructors were correcting him and prompting him through the cheese service. I don't think anyone else at the table minded, but I was offended. They should be training him in the back and should not release him to the floor until he is adequately prepared. At Friday's when a new waiter walks around with an experienced server I don't mind. At Craft on a Saturday I feel the covenant between the front of the house and the customer has been broken when I have to be the on the receiving end of someone's training. Had they asked if we minded or if they had offered to comp the plate, or even a portion of the plate, I would not have minded, but they did neither.
Will we go back? As fans of Top Chef, we had a great time checking out Colicchio's restaurant. Without the affiliation I don't know that we would have been drawn to Craft. For the prices at Craft I would prefer composed meals and an incredibly consistent front of the house. If we do go back it will definitely be for the tasting menu. Craft is one of the only restaurants I have ever seen where the tasting menu, due to the mix and match nature of the regular menu, is less expensive.
On a side note, Grub Street has reported that Tom Colicchio is planning to get back in the kitchen in a new restaurant that will plate composed dishes from a small fixed menu. This sounds more my speed.
Craft is located at:
43 East 19th Street
New York, New York 10003
Friday, July 25, 2008
It was a chaotic spring for us both this year. Chrissie was finishing up her tenure year at school and I was a part of the varsity lacrosse coaching staff for the first time. We only had the time and energy to take a short trip to Las Vegas. We thought we might get away to somewhere more exotic during the summer, but the cheap vacations of two years ago were no where to be found. Instead of looking to Europe, the islands, or even more distant states, Chrissie suggested the Finger Lakes. We'd had such a good time in Napa a few years ago tasting the wine and exploring the fine dining that we thought we might recreate the experience in our own backyard.
We left early on Sunday morning and took 87 to 17. The drive on 17 was surprisingly pleasant. Not only did this two lane highway travel at near interstate speeds, but the other drivers showed a lane discipline not often seen in the suburbs. Rarely did a slow driver hang up the left lane. Instead, they drove in a fashion more similar to Europe, politely moving right when they saw faster traffic approaching in their rear view mirrors. I couldn't have been more pleased. Interestingly, I found that the closer we got to Binghamton, the less aware the drivers became of their surroundings. I have a new respect for rural New Yorkers, especially when it comes to road civility.
The drive itself took just over four hours and we arrived in Hammondsport around noon.
Chrissie chose Keuka Lake because she read it was the prettiest of the Finger Lakes and because it is home to two of the most recommended vintners on our list. Keuka is one of the smaller of the lakes and driving from tip to tip takes just under half an hour. Unlike wide highway along the larger Seneca next door, the road runs within throwing distance of the water, hugging the shoreline and curving to maintain its safe distance. Keuka is also unique in its offering of lodging. To stay on this lake you either rent a cottage or choose one of the small country inns.
New York State wine has come a long way. The Finger Lakes are best known for their Rieslings, but these have certainly matured into more subtle and crafted versions of the sweet offerings I thought of before this trip. While still high on the sugar content, the better wines are drier, more complex, and use the sugar to allow the taste of the fruit to shine through rather than to make an easy drinking wine that more closely resembles grape juice. The primary red we found was Pinot Noir, but the majority of Finger Lake reds were watery and one dimensional.
Possibly the best delight of the trip was that the tasting rooms were either free or charged a nominal two dollars to try flights of five to seven wines.
Our favorite winery was easily Dr. Frank. They produce wines that most resemble the classic European and Californian varieties. They also produce some of the only truly palatable red wines we tasted during our stay.
We liked Dr. Frank so much we brought home a few bottles:
2000 Blanc de Blancs Finger Lakes Champagne- This is a very good sparkling wine done in the traditional methode champenoise. This wine is crisp and delicate and a worthwhile purchase to showcase how a New York can compete with a French.
2006 Gewurztraminer- Sweet, spicy, and interesting. One of our friends requested a bottle so we also got one for ourselves.
2006 Rkatsiteli- Sweet and dry at the same time. This was a well balanced wine we enjoyed during the tasting. The unfamiliar name also helped in this purchase. I will have fun telling friends that I just opened a bottle of Rkatsiteli.
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon- While we didn't try this one, I trusted the gentleman who was pouring our tastes and talking about the wines when he said this is a great cellaring wine. We'll toss it in the cabinet and drink it in a few years and have a chance to reminisce about this vacation.
Here's a picture of the vineyards overlooking Keuka Lake taken from Dr. Frank's:
Other wineries we enjoyed on Keuka were:
We also drove out to eastern Seneca for a few tastes. The two we enjoyed most were:
If you are on Keuka, I compel you to visit the Pleasant Valley Wine Company. This recommendation has nothing to do with fine wine and everything to do with New York State history. Pleasant Valley was the first bonded winery in the United States and the tour provides a window into the past. The tasting room, now mostly dark and desolate, resonates with the ghosts of imbibers from the years of the Civil War to the 1950s. To demonstrate how far NY wines have come you only have to taste the samplings of Pleasant Valley. These relic wines offer a baseline so genuine I can't believe they are still in production.
We ate three meals on Keuaka, one of which I wish I could reproduce in Westchester and one of which I wish I could trade back for two hours of my life. The best dining we found on Keuka, which is limited in its dining choices by size and location, was the Pleasant Valley Inn (not to be confused with the above mentioned Pleasant Valley Wine Company). We ate there on the recommendation of Debby, our inn keeper, and were clearly not disappointed.
Only open for dinner Thursday through Sunday, we had to eat there on our first day at the lake. I would have returned each subsequent night had they been open. To begin the meal we both ordered special appetizers. Chrissie had a delicate fried cheese plate and I ate a small presentation of Basque sardines (which our waitress kept referring to as Italian when she explained the specials. Instead of being put off, I found it slightly endearing).
The dinner options were very straightforward, but the lack of haute cuisine was not felt when the perfect cooking came from the kitchen. Chrissie and I both ordered steaks. I had my favorite, the NY strip, and Chrissie had the tenderloin Tuscana, two medallions of filet layered with grilled portobello and served with Gorgonzola butter. I ordered mine medium rare and Chrissie hers rare. Both orders were fired beyond expectation. We tend find that when Chrissie orders rare at home it is typically cooked too far or left blue. I was halfway through my steak when I told Chrissie I wanted to take the chef home with us.
However much we loved the food, I hate to admit the moment I really fell in love with the Pleasant Valley Inn was when the check came. We had drinks, a bottle of wine, appetizers, steaks, coffee, a Port, and a shared dessert and the grand total was one hundred and twenty-two dollars. I was nearly giddy when I calculated the tip. I suppose the only flaw of the evening was the lack of espresso. A high point, exclusive of the perfect steaks, was the bottle of Villa Mt Eden cab. The wine drank like a much more expensive bottle and I hope to find it at home to add to the cabinet.
The counterpoint to this meal came when we ate at the Esperanza Mansion. The only redeeming quality to this dinner was the view of the lake. We were greeted in the dining room by a family of flies loudly seeking a flaw in the window. I let that slide because it is such a beautiful old building and the menu, which I'd seen in some wineries, promised a nice meal. The promises of the menu were not kept by the kitchen. Chrissie's carpaccio resembled a not so thinly sliced not so well executed piece of rare prime rib. It was fairly foul. My scallops were texturally sound, but lacked any browning. It got worse during the main courses when both Chrissie's tuna and my chicken were incredibly overcooked. The entire experience was so consistently bad that we didn't even order drinks after our first round in an effort to expedite our departure and to keep money out of their coffers. Sadly, this meal, with no bottle of wine, no coffee, and no after dinner drinks was the same price as the far superior Pleasant Valley Inn.
I do have to say that we did thoroughly enjoy the boat tour of the lake offered by the Esperanza. The vessel was majestic and storied, the captain was informative and professional, and the crew were attentive to any needs.
The Black Sheep Inn
Chrissie found this inn in Frommer's where it is listed as a value and rated three stars. We've had good luck with similarly reviewed establishments and Chrissie sent them off an email. Later that same evening we got a call from Debbie, the innkeep/chef, and she and Chrissie began planning our trip.
The Black Sheep is located in an historic octagonal house that Debbie and her husband Marc painstakingly and accurately restored over a six year period.
Debbie, a graduate from the New England Culinary Institute and a former Cleveland caterer, greets her arriving guests in the inn driveway and immediately creates a sense of welcome.
The common areas of the inn are comfortable and, more importantly, usable. An inviting living room and dining area are on the first floor and the second floor houses a central den stocked with books, magazines, games, and puzzles. The high ceiling of this central room is capped with a stunning cupola adorned with a painted compass that takes full advantage of the daylight and is illuminated at night.
The inn's philosophy is very green and sustainable. They make their own soaps, belong to the farming collective, and cook locally and organically. Debbie is well known in Hammondsport for her cooking and this was clearly exhibited by the breakfasts she creatively put together each morning.
The Black Sheep Inn is not open to the public for dining, but, if you are a guest, Debbie will work with you to create three to five course meals that she serves in the former billiard room of the house. Chrissie and I opted for this on our final night. Debbie's blend of farm fresh food, health conscious cooking, formal culinary training, and years of experience properly ended our home state excursion to sample the wines and foods of Finger Lakes.
Friday, July 18, 2008
At times we overlook the most obvious choices when deciding where to dine. For years we have known about, and eaten around, the Iron Horse Grill in Pleasantville. I can only recall hearing positive feedback about the restaurant, but we always opted for other choices when searching for higher end contemporary American food. The inclusion of Iron Horse in this year's Zagat America's Top Restaurants mandated our first visit.
Located in a converted train station on the outer perimeter of central Pleasantville, the Iron Horse Grill is very easy to get to. Parking is not an issue unless you circle the block quixotically multiple times waiting for a spot to open by the front door. Once we'd resigned ourselves to the lot, we realized it was far closer and easier than we thought.
Forced again into a 6:30 reservation, we were at least not the only people there. In fact, it appears the restaurant caters to early dining. Peak capacity was seen at around seven o'clock and then waned as tables opened up and the room became more intimate. If proximity and noise are issues, I recommend, from our one experience mind you, a later reservation. The room itself is quaint, bordering on tight. The two tops were very close. Chrissie commented that it would be more pleasant to come with another couple because the seating for four is more casually spaced in the interior of the room while the couple seating is lined against a bench with just enough room to squeeze between tables. A cocktail and the added volume of more patrons helped obscure the distinct sounds of conversations coming from our neighbors.
It was a pleasure to have a waiter who was both gregarious and professional. At first I feared he was going to be too personal and taint dinner, but he expertly walked the line between the two personas. Since we were out for both dinner and to determine how accurate the masses were in their very high 27 rating, we asked our waiter about the tasting menu. There are three ways to eat at the Iron Horse Grill. A three course prix fixe and a five course tasting add to the standard dining experience. The waiter asked us the two questions he says he asks of anyone who inquires about the tasting menu. The first was if we trusted him and the chef. The tasting is not only blind, but each diner receives a different dish during each course. I'm still undecided if this is brilliant or too scary for repetition. The second was if we had any food allergies or aversions. We showed our faith in the kitchen by going ahead and ordering the tasting. We also ordered two half bottles of wine, a Chardonnay and a Chateauneuf du Pape, to hopefully complement what would follow.
The meal began with a ramekin portion of beet soup flavored with ginger. Beet soup is not something I would typically order, but it was well executed and the flavor developed with each bite until I found myself enjoying it very much. The first courses were a fig salad and the crisp khaifi shrimp. The fig was served on a bed of bitter greens with melon and ham. The shrimp was wrapped in shredded phyllo, fried, and served with cucumber yogurt salad. The fig salad was an excellent presentation of a first course. It was eclipsed by the perfect textures and interesting flavors of the shrimp dish.
The second course was not as successful. Both the ravioli and the seared scallop were disappointing. The scallop was served with creamed leaks and oyster mushrooms. While the scallop was expertly cooked, I found the flavors of the plate muddled and plain. The ravioli also suffered from a lack of flavor. In the end it was good that the two least successful dishes came out at the same time because these complaints did not resurface during the remainder of the meal.
The fish course brought plates of swordfish and cod. It was at this point I remarked how skilled the cook was. I pride myself on the ability to cook fish. Chrissie usually enjoys the textures and browning of my fish more than a restaurant's (keep in mind I'm cooking for two and can dedicate my entire attention to one task). Iron Horse Grill nailed every fish. In fact, their swordfish could have been the best cooked piece I've ever had. We continued to note a lack of intensity in the flavors. To counter this observation, the flavors of the meats and fish were all true and allowed to anchor the dishes without being overshadowed. We discussed, and continued to discuss in the days after the meal, whether we would rather have perfectly cooked protein that was on the blander side, or overcooked food with intense, bold flavors. I believe it is in the philosophy of the Iron Horse Grill to prepare meals that are excellent and accessible and to use fresh flavors and ingredients. While not risky, the execution, in my opinion, compensates for the vanilla palate.
Lamb chops and duck were served for the meat course. This made me very happy because those are the dishes I was looking at if we had ordered off the menu. Both dishes were cooked to a perfect temperature. The duck's skin was obscured by a glaze, but this was my only complaint about the dish. The lamb was the most tender serving I have had in recent memory. Each bite was buttery smooth but had enough chew to allow the flavors to linger. I might have thought the lamb was overcooked by the color, but to the tooth it was clearly perfect. Again, my compliments go out to whoever in that kitchen is cooking the proteins.
At this point we were incredibly sated. The dainty ladies seated next to us felt compelled to comment to the waiter about how much food the tasting menu brought to our table. I say this to set up how good the desserts were. Chrissie had the blueberry cobbler and I had a peach bread pudding. These typical American desserts were elevated to the level of fine dining and demanded to be eaten. Chrissie usually orders a chocolate based dessert, but after watching, and smelling, the dainty ladies enjoying the cobbler she had to have it. I think if you can change my wife's mind about dessert, especially after eating so many filling courses, you have created a truly tempting dish.
Will we return- I can easily see the Iron horse Grill becoming the type of restaurant we revisit two or three times a year. I expected the prices to be more expensive, and while they certainly aren't a bargain, they do not go above thirty dollars for the regular menu. While dishes do not go above the thirty dollar ceiling, they can not be had for less than twenty six and the appetizers are approaching entree prices, averaging fifteen dollars. The tasting menu, at $69, is very fair.
It was the overall experience that we enjoyed above any singular component. The chef made the rounds twice, the hostess was welcoming, the waiter was pleasant, the food was well prepared, the atmosphere was appropriate for the food and prices, and the bill was not shockingly expensive.
I'll be keeping watch on their website and we'll return when the summer menu is retired.
Iron Horse Grill is located at:
20 Wheeler Avenue
Pleasantville, New York 10570
Sunday, June 29, 2008
The time commitments of the last weeks of school kept Chrissie and me in since the middle of June. We decided to go somewhere celebratory to mark the end of a long year and the beginning of what will hopefully be a rejuvenating summer. Chrissie, armed with her Zagat and a desire to try local fine dining, decided it was time to visit La Panetiere in Rye. I called to make reservations and chose six when offered that or nine o'clock.
La Panetiere is located on a tremendous piece of property by the water on Milton Avenue. We arrived ten minutes early and encountered one of the few missteps of the evening when the valet parking staff was nowhere to be found. I waited for a few minutes, watching the kitchen staff play soccer in the lower lot, before I parked my own car. I understand we were a few minutes early, but I was unsettled to find the staff putting on their ties and jackets as we entered the restaurant. A valet ran to us and claimed he had to park my car. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or be annoyed when I told him that would no longer be necessary. I did not mind taking the early reservation, but I did mind not having the restaurant ready for our arrival.
The interior of the restaurant is very classic. I commented to Chrissie that it seems like a more feminine version of La Cremaillere. They began our meal with bread sticks presented in a Champagne flute. These were fun because they looked to be crunchy, but were in fact flaky and soft. We ordered drinks and slowly other couples made their way in. The waiter brought menus over after letting us linger over drinks for half an hour. I normally enjoy a long cocktail hour, but this made me wonder why I was led to such an early reservation.
The menu has three options. Meals can either be ordered as two or three course dinners or as a six course tasting menu. Chrissie and I, in the spirit of celebration, went with the tasting menu. I ordered mine with the wine pairing.
The meal began with a three shots of chilled soup. From left to right on a platter were a gazpacho, which was well balanced and very good, a cantaloupe soup, which was sweet and fresh, and a pea (I believe it was pea) that we both found bland.
As we had our soups we encountered the second misstep of the evening. We had been the first table seated. We made our reservation more than a week in advance. We arrived at the designated time for our reservation. With all of this in mind, I can't comprehend why we were seated adjacent to both tables of a high school graduation dinner. Two six tops of diners came to celebrate a young man's completion of school and acceptance to Princeton. They were not unruly or rude, but were a party of thirteen split between two tables that happened to both be next to mine. Had we arrived late and it had been the only table in the restaurant I could have overlooked the inter-table conversation and the occasional rump in my face as celebrators mingled in the early minutes of their party, but we were placed where no couple enjoying a romantic meal should have to be seated.
The party eventually settled into two distinct tables and the food that followed helped me forget about the slight, intended or not, that the maitre de had administered. A plate of foie gras and tuna came out that was nearly perfect. The sear on both the fish and the meat was excellently accomplished and the contrast in textures and flavors of the two principal components reset my appetite and appreciation for the restaurant. Chrissie, our resident foie gras expert, held this presentation in very high esteem.
The next dish was a beautiful soft shell crab. Normally I am not much of a fan of the soft shells. I find them more of a curiosity than a delicacy. These crabs were the perfect size to exploit the slight resistance the molted shell gives to the teeth. Barely bigger in body than a half dollar, the single crab on the plate was accompanied by asparagus and a puree whose origins I cannot recall.
A refresher course of passion fruit soup and sorbet was served to cleanse the palate before the main courses, two duck dishes in succession, one a confit of leg and the other a breast, were brought out. The breast was presented first with perfect skin and meat that was cooked just past medium rare and was incredibly succulent. I found myself very impressed by the kitchen's ability to put out perfect sears and crispy skins. The confit that followed was equally impressive. Chrissie and I both thought we would have rather seen the two dishes paired on a plate and followed by a meat course, but we understood what the chef was trying to expose in his back to back duck dishes.
To conclude our meal we both had the souffle. I ordered the Grand Marnier and Chrissie had the chocolate. Both were delicious, perfectly cooked, and incredibly decadent in both flavor and size.
Will we go back? We will go back. Despite the few flaws in the front of the house, I found this meal to be one of the best prepared I've had in Westchester. In fact, had we not been seated in a triangle configuration with the two tables from the graduation party I probably would have overlooked parking my own car and the random ramblings of a waiter who might have explained what a duck is had I given him license. I think we will definitely try La Panetiere again in the fall or winter to see what the kitchen does with heartier fare.
La Panetiere is located at:
530 Milton Road
Rye, New York 10580
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
This month I decided to set a goal for our dining. I wanted to eat out only at neighborhood establishments that promise interesting food. The one objective condition was that the most expensive item on the regular menu could not cost more than thirty dollars. Thinking about the cost of of gas and the eventuality of a down payment for a house, I knew we could choose restaurants that offered a delicious compromise between pub/chain food and those establishments that promise a near fine dining experience.
While our latest experiment has been going on, we at A Man Has to Eat have been out twice to places we frequent with family. Enjoy these QuickBites.
Solera closed the doors to its Irvington location, they have been on a quixotic endeavor to find a replacement in Westchester. Very few establishments that promise authentic Spanish food have been left untested.
Meson Los Espanoles, located on Post Road in White Plains across from the Tango Grill, is one they have found that consistently pleases. While neither as sophisticated nor as progressive as Solera, Meson Los Espanoles offers a traditional Spanish menu in an atmosphere that is conducive to conversation and enjoyment of food (read: Aunt Nancy and Uncle John don't like eating in a place that is too crowded or loud).
Everytime we go someone orders, without fail, the pulpo a la Gallega and the boquerones con pimientos. The pulpo are served thickly sliced over potatoes with olive oil. The boquerones are bleached herring (anchovies) cured in vinegar. Both are a perfect start to a fulfilling meal.
Most of the dishes are grilled or served in a cazuela. The best way to summarize Meson Los Espanoles is as a traditional restaurant that reminds me most of coastal Spanish cooking (though their menu does certainly branch into other Spanish traditions). It doesn't offer the promise of cutting edge Spanish cuisine, but comfortably puts out dishes that replicate the foundation upon which those culinary leaps were built.
Chowhound recently whose focus was on places to eat in Larchmont and Mamaroneck. The usual suspects, deservedly so, all came up, but no one mentioned Encore. I threw this gem into the mix and the only person who engaged me wrote about how Le Provencal is better. My take is that Le Provencal and Encore are two very different restaurants. In my opinion, Encore defines bistro dining. That they execute it well only makes me love them more.
Last night's meal was one of the best yet. At our previous visit they were introducing new menu items, one of which was a whole baked snapper. It was just a little under done last time, but I wrote I expected it to be much better when the kitchen had a chance to get used to it. I was correct. The fish was perfectly cooked and the pineapple garnish provided a wonderful acid. Balancing out the dish was a hint of heat that I do not recall last time.
I started my meal with the grilled calamari. My mother enjoyed it last time and wanted to share the dish with me. I agreed because she is my mother and because I had grilled calamari less than a week ago at Solmar and I wanted to compare the two while the flavors and textures were still fresh on the tooth and palate. I'm not sure which flavors I liked more. The Encore plate employs a tremendous amount of garlic in a rich sauce while the Solmar plate utilizes oil and sun dried tomatoes. On Encore's side is the fact that my dish came out fresh from the oven. One of my only complaints about Solmar was my lukewarm appetizer.
Chrissie and my father split, as they usually do, a dozen escargots. I would never order this, but I enjoy having bites of theirs, especially dips of baguette into the buttery cells of the cast iron plate. I'm of the opinion that enough butter and garlic on anything will taste good.
A more pleasant surprise than doneness of my fish was the inclusion and execution of quail as a nightly special on a Monday. Both my parents ordered this dish last night and both of their birds were perfectly cooked. I would have ordered it myself had I not been on a mission to re-evaluate the snapper.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
On Thursday we had to go to an eight o'clock ceremony in Tarrytown so we decided to try Solmar, the new Portuguese/Brazilian restaurant. Solmar fits our latest search for neighborhood dining that is affordable and interesting. Located across the street from the Tarrytown Music Hall and next door to Chiboust, Solmar offers a menu that never breaks twenty five dollars.
The only disappointment of the evening was that they do not yet have a liquor license. I learned this the hard way when I ordered a cocktail and was met with an apologetic denial. After ordering soft drinks and waters we took a look at the menu. As we ate warm, crusty bread and contemplated dishes, a tray of cheese and olives were brought to the table.
My mother-in-law had a portobello mushrooms with hearts of palm. She was pleased to discover that it was a warm appetizer, sauteed in garlic and oil. Chrissie had codfish fritters that were served over a small salad. I ordered grilled calamari that were prepared with minced sun dried tomatoes. I discovered that I rather enjoy my sun dried tomatoes finely chopped. It adds the essential flavor and gives an interesting texture, but avoids the overpowering bite I sometimes feel sun dried tomatoes add to a dish when not properly balanced. So far all of the portions were generous and the food was good. The surprise appetizer of the evening was my father-in-law's. His shrimp and mussel soup was excellent and by far the best tasting dish at the table. The perfect amount of spice, acid, and ocean were blended in this tomato based soup. I usually don't order soup, but each time Larry does I enjoy his. I may have to start doing so more often.
Chrissie ordered the feijoada completa for her main course which, according to the menu, is Brazil's national dish. Before the table side presentation of the her pork, sausage, and black bean stew, a tray of accompaniments arrived that included sauteed collard greens, vinaigrette, some sort of grain meal (I wasn't paying close enough attention), and a citrus spread. The stew was delivered to the table in clay pot from which the waiter served Chrissie's initial portion. The covered pot was left table side to keep the second portion warm. Chrissie really liked the dish.
My mother-in-law had the special of the evening, a stuffed chicken. I found that I liked her dish the best. It had an incredible flavor that I was surprised by because it did not look or sound as interesting as it tasted.
I was pleased to find Solmar has grilled sardines as a regular item on their menu. When we went to Spain a few years ago I fell in love with sardines. The restaurant at the beach we went to had a grill set up in the back and the duties of grill tender and parking lot attendant were taken on by a gifted cook who grilled his sardines on stakes standing almost perpendicular to the coals. Five large fish were served with this dish. I'm not sure if the serving size was tremendous or if the lack of alcohol allowed my body to better tell me I'd been sated, but I could not finish the plate.
I usually don't take environmental considerations into mind when eating out, but I wish more places would offer fish lower on the food chain like sardines. So many of the big fish that restaurants serve are being over fished or are farmed and a pale imitation of the wild variation. I imagine it will take the typical American diner some time before he is comfortable with whole fish on his plate that he must fillet to enjoy. When this practice becomes more acceptable a new spectrum of aquatic bounty awaits.
The stuffed sole my father-in-law had was very well executed. I'm not a fan of stuffed sole. I find the stuffing, lemon, and butter make the fish an afterthought. I could tell his dish was properly made, it just wasn't the version that turns me into the guy who orders it next time.
Will we go back? We will definitely go back. When Chrissie and I were first dating we would go to Caravela and Aquario all the time. Solmar offers a more casual alternative for the flavors that are a foundation of our relationship. Chrissie was the most excited I've seen her about a restaurant in a while. Since Thursday she has been raving about the food, service, and philosophy of Solmar. Next time we're going to a show at the Music Hall, Solmar will be a top contender for pre-theater dining.
Solmar is located at:
12 Main Street
Tarrytown, New York 10591
Saturday, May 31, 2008
My advice, in an April review, to the owner of Cafe of Love was to cultivate a clientèle that longs to eat there over the cohort who longs to be there. Stephen, a friend of ours, asked if there are restaurants in Westchester that do what I suggested. The criteria became to find restaurants that have longevity based on their food, pricing, and pleasant atmosphere. Food and atmosphere are subjective, but price and longevity are quantifiable. To qualify for this review a restaurant had to have been in business for three years to demonstrate an ability to consistently draw customers through varying economies and food trends. Further, the most expensive entree on the regular menu could not exceed thirty dollars. The hunt was on.
A family friend recently recommended Haven. We made our reservation and went out tonight to begin proving my thesis that a restaurant can attract a strong customer base, not with a gimmicky no reservations policy and a bar that secretly wants to be a nightclub, but with inspiring food at reasonable prices.
Chrissie and I never bothered to investigate this restaurant when it was Frodo's. The moniker was off putting for us and suggested a theme restaurant to me. It appears, if reports of the food being the same are true, that I would have been incorrect.
The dining room is long and narrow with a bench reaching down the length of one wall. Tables for two are set, but can be brought together to accommodate larger parties. The design scheme blends rustic and upscale to create a very pleasing room. My only complaint is that the tables are too close for this type of dining. When we arrived at six thirty this was not an issue. As our entrees were served and eight o'clock approached, the room was nearly at capacity and proximity was more of a problem. By the time we left, I felt intimately acquainted with the party to my left.
For appetizers, Chrissie ordered the macaroni and cheese and I had mussels. Chrissie's mac and cheese was baked to a nice crust and served with truffle oil. It was a very nice dish and she was able to take a nice portion home to enjoy tomorrow. My mussels were also very generously portioned. The preparation of the day was with corn and bacon. The mussels were perfectly cooked. So far, in both of our opinions, Haven was performing flawlessly. To add to this performance, between courses the kitchen sent out a complimentary taste of their goat cheese dumplings that Chrissie had been deciding between when we ordered.
We were both very hungry last night and we both wanted to see how the chef dealt with meat. Chrissie ordered the rack of lamb. She raved about it, saying it was incredibly tender and juicy, and that the preparation allowed the flavor of the lamb to shine in the dish. Her only comlpaint with her meal was her burnt polenta.
I had the grilled filet. It was less successful than Chrissie's lamb. The meat itself had a very supple mouthfeel, but the char was too thick and black, ruining some bites. Curiously, the chef chose to pre-slice the steak. I think it is because he serves the meat over a frittata and wants to create a sense of presentation. I would have preferred the frittata, which was just ok, on the side and my steak whole so I could cut slices to a thickness of my choice. In his defense, the meat was clearly rested before he cut.
We both got the important sense that this is kitchen that puts out consistent food. I believe the burnt char on my steak is probably as bad as it gets, and considering the meat was still cooked to my order, the mistake wasn't that big a deal.
The desserts on paper weren't as inspiring as the rest of the menu. Chrissie and I had coffee and split a piece of peanut butter pie just to add conclusion to the meal.
Will we go back? We will definitely go back. Haven perfectly fits the bill of a neighborhood restaurant that strives for excellence in the kitchen. While I believe our main courses, for what they were, could have been a few dollars cheaper, I did not feel cheated in any way. Haven is an excellent counterpoint to the Cafe of Love. I must say that Cafe of Love puts out a menu that is clearly a notch above Haven's, but I left Cafe of Love feeling troubled by their missteps. I left Haven thinking the chef probably had a flare up on the grill and that the waitress let Chrissie's coffee sit too long while she made my espresso. I think the pretensions of the restaurants explains the difference in my attitude.
Next time we go I anticipate trying either the fish or the daily ravioli.
Haven is located at:
472 Bedford Road
Pleasantville, NY 10570
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Quick Bites is a new section where I will write about restaurants that we go to all the time or restaurants that, for some reason, I am not writing up in a full review. This month we went back to Encore, had the $99 special at Morton's, and ate at Tandoori.
Encore has unveiled their summer menu. I was very excited to see a whole red snapper. Mine could have cooked for a moment more, but I'm sure by now they've worked the kinks out. We were there for the inaugural service of the new menu. Next time we are there I will certainly try the snapper again and I'm sure it will be perfect. Encore's kitchen is incredibly consistent.
Morton's tempted our curiosity with a surf and turf dinner for two for $99. I'm usually disappointed by steak houses because I find them to be a pretentious, culinarily boring, and a poor value. The $99 special was enough to get me to try again. The deal included salad, a seafood side, a starch and a vegetable to share, a single cut filet, and a dessert.
The asparagus were incredibly overcooked, the baked potato was fine, as it should be for those prices, and the steaks were over done. My scallop side was also over cooked. Chrissie didn't love the flavor of her crab cake, but she was impressed by the quantity and ratio of crab meat. Chrissie did really enjoy her molten chocolate cake.
Add tax, cocktails, and a bottle of wine and the $99 deal topped out over $200. Great job on their part getting us in. The truly disappointing part of the dinner was that we wanted to like it. The deal runs through the end of June and we love steak. We both wondered if they sent out less than perfect cooking because we were ordering the bargain special.
High points of the night included a sommelier who was pleasant and informative and a waitress who clearly deserved her tip. A low point in staffing was a maitre de who I found condescending.
If you like Morton's, the deal is good. If you, like us, aren't into chain steak houses, I'd be careful not to get drawn in by the promise of an affordable steak house dinner.
Last night my aunt and uncle took us to Tandoori in Port Chester. I don't feel that qualified to rate Indian food, but of the Westchester Indian restaurants, I find Tandoori to be one of the most comfortable and consistent. Since I'm not talking about the food I'll critique the staff, which was superb.
The waiters make it their business to know my families drink orders and to remember that my uncle doesn't like to order until he's had his second drink. The one mistake of the evening, when they brought my appetizer out late, was remedied, with no prompting, with another bottle of Taj Mahal beer and coffee and ice cream after dinner.
Please comment on the food if you know Indian and this restaurant.