The Best Kid Friendly Dining Option in Westchester

Having two children under 5, I have found that my list of restaurant options in Westchester has significantly dwindled. To go out to a nice restaurant with the whole family is just not worth it as it tends to frustrate just about all involved…from the kids, to my wife and I, to other diners and possibly even the staff. I guess that’s why places like Applebee’s and Chili’s are so popular. But if you are not into the whole chain restaurant scene but still want to enjoy a quality meal out with the family in a judgement free zone, then I have found the place for you… The Quaker Hill Tavern.

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Located in Chappaqua, but close to Mount Kisco, this family owned, traditional style tavern really has it all. Plenty of craft and standard beers on tap, with rotating seasonal brews and the freedom to taste a few before deciding on your pint of choice. A simple menu that offers a plethora of options for adults, kids, meat lovers, vegans, hedonistic food mongers or those looking to keep it healthy. The wine list is small, but this is not a place to go for a great glass or bottle of wine. However they have enough completely decent by the glass options in red and white to keep everyone happy.

Upon our first venture to QHT I knew it was going to be great for the kids right from the get go. Just as we were being seated the waitress bought over a booster seat for my son. And I don’t mean one of those wood high chairs or the brown plastic generic booster seats. I’m talking about the same kind of booster seat he had at home that strapped on to the chair! With him feeling comfortable, the rest of the experience that night was a pleasure. Obviously I am not the only one who feels this way as on any given night you will find kids running around this loud and boisterous pub stopping by table to table to say hi, allowing the adults to maybe indulge in an extra pint ;)

The food is really solid across the board and I have yet to have anything I didn’t like. The burgers rank up there with the best in the county, and the wings are dynamite as well. My wife swears by the turkey burger and my buddy can’t go 2 weeks without his QHT buffalo chicken sandwich fix. Lastly, the service is everything you would hope for when bringing the family out to dine. Erin, the manager, and the entire staff are super accommodating and completely understand that the adults are looking to enjoy a meal out where the kids can be a little loud and loose. And after a few drinks, the adults start getting the same way. So if you desire a nice quiet meal at a local bar, don’t come here as it gets a little hairy. But if you are looking for some tasty eats, delicious beer on tap and an ultra family friendly environment then you definitely want to check Quaker Hill Tavern out….I’ll probably see you there!

Cheers,

Look What’s Just Around The Corner!

The Westchester Culinary Experience to benefit the White Plains YMCA is really a win, win event on all levels. Not only is it a way to support a wonderful program that helps kids out in that area, but it is a fun night with some of Westchester’s best restaurants serving up some innovative and tasty dishes. Zachy’s in Scarsdale then finds appropriate wines to pair up with each particular dish, a pretty cool concept for a walk around format food and wine tasting event.

The link below includes the restaurants that are participating and how to buy tickets. There are some nice prizes that will be raffled off as well so who knows, you may come home with more than just a full belly and a decent buzz!

The Westchester Culinary Experience

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Peter Kelly of X2O who will be featured again this year!

So What’s The Deal With Moderne Barn?

You need to say that header in the Seinfeld tone for it to really have the right effect. So I’ve been hearing for some time now how great Moderne Barn is and that I have to go. I have tasted some of their sample dishes at various Westchester events and they were always good….not great, but good. It is owned by the Livanos family, a very reputable culinary family without question, that also owns City Limits Diner and Oceana in NYC among others. Having waited tables at City Limits in my younger years I know the quality of the food they bring into their establishments is always solid and the preparation of the dishes was always….good. You see where I am going with this?

So I finally took the plunge and a large group of us ventured there a short while ago. This is a group that likes to let a little loose on a Friday night in the Fresh (short for Freshchester)…yeah, my neighbors basically rock! So upon entering the first thing that comes to mind is that this place is just really cool. Solid wood panels on the floors, walls and ceilings along with well placed lighting and artwork give it a very trendy NYC feel. I would not recommend coming if you are looking for a quiet romantic dinner as the joint is loud and jumping. Perfect for our 10 person crew on a Friday night.

So we ordered some drinks and a couple of bottles of wine from a wine list that is somewhat overpriced. But with a $45 corkage fee (not a typo), it still does not make sense to bring in wine which I like to do so we took to the wine list. There were a handful of decent values available (the St. Clement Carneros Chardonnay was drinking very nicely), but the markups in general seemed to be on the high end of the spectrum. The service was attentive enough, although the two Sommeliers did little except open the bottles and then had the servers pour. But to be fair it was a super busy Friday night so they may have been more focused on those ordering some of the higher priced premium wines that evening.

As I remembered from my City Limits days, the same fish that they serve at their high end fishery Oceana in NYC is used in the dishes for their other restaurants as well. So my plan was to stick with fish. But they had a ricotta gnocchi on the menu which is relatively hard to find as it is typically made from potato. Since the only other person I know that makes it from ricotta is my mom, I had to give it a shot even though the waiter warned me it was just ok. He was right, it was just ok…very heavy and the sauce was sort of bland. The lobster roll appetizer was tasty, but the bread was borderline stale….hmmmm.

The dishes are quite reasonably priced. Pastas were under $20, most main dishes were $25-30 and the steaks were $35-41. This however is not a steakhouse, so I was a little wary when about half the table ordered steak. The reaction was mixed at best, but the presentation was appealing enough and some of the sides were excellent. My friend next to me ordered the Lavender Honey Lacquered Duck Breast which was out of this world delicious!! In fact I may have to go back just to taste that dish again. But overall it seemed that there was a lot of mixed feedback and at best the food was….good.

So why is this place packed to the gills every weekend and most weeknights? I am not really sure but I can tell you this. The ambiance is very hip, loud and NYC-esque. So if you and your crew are looking for that kind of feel in the Armonk area then this is definitely a place you want to check out. And if you wanted to go and just grab a burger or a dish of pasta, you can get away with a reasonably priced meal. But overall the food seemed pretty average for such a talked about and popular place, and the rather expensive wine list and even more expensive corkage fee was a big turn off for me.  So I guess it is just a matter of what you are in the mood for on a given evening.

Although I will be back to have that duck again, but this time I’m drinkin’ beer!

What To Do in Westchester for Valentine’s Day?

Sorry for the long hiatus between posts guys, but I’m back! Seems the insanity of the holidays is just wearing off and I finally had some time to put pen to paper…figuratively of course. I will do another post on some of the fantastic wines that are out there right now, as I have had the opportunity to sample some great juice as of late. But I thought with Valentine’s Day around the corner, some ideas on what is happening around town may be more appropriate for now.

So…if you are looking for a spot to rekindle the sparks of love that night the no brainer move is Crabtree’s Kittle House. This rustic and charming venue really has it all. A creative and well thought out four course Valentine’s Day tasting menu for $75 a person, a 70,000 bottle wine list (Leo the Somm will happily help you select something in line with your palate and budget) and an ambiance that screams romance. Plus, if you really feel like getting a little loopy you can stay overnight in one of their rooms as it is an Inn as well, and the rates are very affordable!

For the Richard Gere fans out there, you may want to check out his fancy new spot The Farmhouse at Bedford Post. This place has romance written all over it, and the food is really quite excellent. They are doing a four course prix fixe for $95 which includes a risotto course offering a choice of wild mushroom minestra with truffle pesto, fagotelli pasta with grated truffle, or a lobster risotto with shaved truffle….can you say decadence?!

Mima Vinoteca in Irvington has been getting lots of great press as of late, and for good reason. A classic combination of a quaint atmosphere, traditional Italian fare with a modern twist and an accessible wine list makes this a local favorite for the river town dwellers. Their three course Valentine’s Day prix fixe is a reasonable $68 and features lots of culinary creativity and selections appropriate for all including a venison dish with cranberry wild rice in a port wine lingonberry reduction…nice!!

Looking to keep it low key and fun? Then head over to The TapHouse in Tuckahoe! With an overall updated menu (the Grilled Cheese & Pork, Muenster, Caramelized Onion, Jalapeno on Texas Toast is off the hook!) and a Valentine’s Day special menu including Fresh Gnocchi, Shrimp, & Lobster with Tomato, Basil in a Lobster Bisque Sauce this will be a hot spot this Friday night for sure. Of course the vast selection of brews on tap always impresses as well as the ever evolving and extensive wine list.

Lastly, you can forget about going out at all and just create a romantic dinner at home. Sometimes just a quiet night around the fire with a homemade meal and a nice bottle of your favorite red wine is the best way to enjoy a cozy Valentine’s Day.

Cheers!

Xaviars in Piermont Doesn’t Suck…

Obviously that is putting it mildly as Xaviars is one of the premier restaurants in not only Westchester/Rockland, but all of New York. I had the pleasure of dining there recently with my wife and friends to help celebrate my 40th (which sort of does suck), so I thought I would share the highlights.

First off, this place is tiny. With a mere 40 person capacity, I’ve hosted Thanksgiving dinners for more people than this dining room can hold. Of course that’s what adds to the undeniable charm and character of Peter Kelly’s flagship restaurant. The service is excellent as you would expect, that is unless you want to know exactly what is on the tasting menu for that particular evening…that took a bit of prying. However after some interrogating I was able to finally break down our waiter and get the scoop.

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The main menu consists of 6 appetizers and 6 entrees, with no two dishes alike. The 5 course pairing is the nightly call of the chef to select a shellfish, seafood, poultry, beef and dessert dish from their menu and pair each of them with an appropriate wine. An extremely cool way to sample the entire menu, however not a great option if someone in your group may not enjoy some of the riskier menu items. So instead we just went a la carte and tasted each other’s dishes which worked out wonderfully.

While everything that came out of that kitchen was excellent, the appetizer highlights for me were the Aji Amarillo Chili Crusted Yellow Fin Tuna Crudo and the Chittarra with Jumbo Lump Crabmeat (could have been a half portion of pasta as the main meal too). As for the entrees, I thought the Hummingbird Ranch Honey Glazed Belle Farms Duck Breast was the clear standout while the Duet of Berkshire Pork and Coriander Crusted Wild Salmon were not far behind.  If there was one small flaw it had to be with the Herbs de Provence Roast Rack of American Lamb as the portion could have been heartier and the lamb chops swayed a little too far towards the fatty side. But of course I am nitpicking as it was still quite delicious.

Instead of trying to pair each course with a wine by the glass, we decided to order a bottle we all would enjoy. The wine list is fairly approachable both in size and cost. We found a 2010 Neyers Del Barba Vineyard Zin from Contra Costa County for $50 which is less than double the retail cost making it a great deal. Dare I say it was Zintastic with lots of black fruit, peppery spice and balance deeming it an extremely food friendly option.

The by the glass selection was slightly limited but every wine offered was certainly a quality option and with a fair price tag boding well for those that selected the tasting menu. It was also nice to see a NY State Finger Lakes Ice Wine Riesling from Wagner on the dessert menu… solid local juice and a wonderful way to end the meal.

So you have to figure you’re gonna get banged over the head for a meal like this, right? Not the case! With apps ranging from $15-20 and entrees from $30-39 it is not all that outrageous. Plus, if you book it through Groupon Reserve you can get another 15% off the total bill…including wine! To pay that kind of price for a true culinary experience like this is a pleasure. So I would highly recommend the next time you have the right occasion to venture across the TZ (yeah that part sucks), head to Xaviars in Piermont as it is really a worthwhile dining experience.

Cheers!

Look What Just Popped Up in Mt. Kisco… A Kick Ass Steakhouse!

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As you may or may not know, Mt. Kisco is chock full of great restaurants and more are popping up all the time. There are the old school staples like Lexington Square Cafe, Crabtree’s Kittle House (technically Chappaqua but close enough), Cafe of Love, Eduardo’s and La Camelia. But over the last year or two, some newcomers have impressed as well such as Village Social, The Rose Room (the old F.A.B location), Westchester Burger Company and MTK Tavern. But the latest restaurant opening has by far been the most impressive and just what the doctor ordered for Mt. Kisco…Blackstones Steakhouse.

It is situated in that cool, sort of speak-easy, underground location across from O’Connors Public House on Main Street. Upon entering, there are beautiful wine display racks that flow throughout the first floor leading into the large bar dining area. The ambiance is on the tranquil side as you are somewhat secluded from the activity on Main Street. The only downside of the location is parking can be a little challenging.

Having tasted most of the appetizers from their extensive menu I can say that nothing has disappointed. However if you are with a group of people (6 or more) there is no reason not to go with the seafood tower. This decadent chilled platter is loaded with fresh shrimp cocktail, lump crabmeat, lobster, oysters and clams. Each item on the platter is tastier than the next and there is plenty of everything to go around. Best to pair this up with the Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, NZ….an absolute no brainer.

As for the meat, it’s tough to go wrong with any of their prime cuts (although I would avoid the veal chop). As a NY Strip fan, I think theirs ranks with the best in the area in terms of quality, preperation and presentation. It’s cooked and served on the bone and sliced up beautifully with just enough butter on the plate to keep it hot and moist without drowning in it as certain steakhouses tend to do. I like my steaks cooked rare plus, a new temperature I learned about, where the steak is bloody red on the inside but brought just to the point of being warm…and they nailed it! They have the Napanook Cabernet Blend from Napa (Dominus’ 2nd Label) for around $80-90, a great value at that price and a perfect accompaniment to a steak of this caliber.

So the bottom line is this… the service, ambiance and decor is all what you would expect from a high end steakhouse (oh yeah, I forgot to mention that this place is not cheap). But more importantly, the food has been really top notch both times I have had the pleasure of dining there, having nothing to do with the fact that both meals were on someone else’s dime ;)  So if you are tired of eating at the same old steakhouses that Westchester has to offer you may want to give Blackstones a visit.

Cheers!

Some BBQ Wine Tips For The Grillin’ Season!

Now that we are in the thick of summer grilling season, you’ve probably overheard conversations about a wine being a “good BBQ wine”. But what makes a wine better than others for a BBQ? After all, it’s not like you’re tossing the bottle on the grill! For me, there are 3 characteristics that a wine has to possess in order for it to qualify as BBQ-worthy.

1) For a white wine, it needs to have crisp acidity and lots of citrus and/or tropical fruit flavors. With the heat we’ve had this summer, I’m not looking for a white that will weigh me down like some of the big, oaky Chardonnays tend to do. I want something light on its feet and refreshing to help cool down on these hot summer days. So typically I will reach for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre, Vouvray or even a dry Riesling (not all Rieslings are sweet people). Plus, these wines typically make great pairings for chilled shellfish and seafood salads which always seem to find their way to the appetizer course before the grillin’ starts.

2) For a red wine, it’s gotta have enough structure to hold up to those typical grilled meat dishes (steaks, ribs, burgers, etc.) as well as enough tannins and spice to stand up to various BBQ sauces. Lighter wines like Pinot are good for openers, but they will get overpowered by most BBQ menus. So for me, BBQ reds are all about big fruit, gripping tannins and zesty spice that you will find in California Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, Rhone Reds (CDP, Gigonadas, Cotes du Rhone), Priorat and Mendoza Malbecs. Sure I’ll grab a Napa Cab here and there, but only if I know that nice piece of NY Strip or Ribeye is coming off the grill.

3) It needs to be affordable! There are very few BBQs that offer a fine dining experience. Meaning you are typically drinking out of plastic cups on a hot summer day and probably even mixing in some beer, sangria or those fruity summer cocktails. So BBQ wines are all about having fun and hopefully finding an enjoyable pairing somewhere in the mix. Plus these BBQs can sometimes carry some big crowds, and there’s nothing worse than cracking open something really nice and finding an empty bottle when you go to get your first taste of it!

The last “X” factor in selecting a BBQ wine is this… make sure its a wine that suits your palate. If you are going to have family and friends ransacking your home while you slave over a hot grill all day for them, the least you can do is drink some juice that you like! Pairings don’t mean a thing if the wines don’t mesh with your palate. Below are some of my favorite selections for the BBQ season, use in good health!

Whites  (all under $20)

Brancott Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, NZ

Sancerre La Reine Blanche, Dom. Jean Reverdy et Fils

Eroica Riesling, Columbia Valley, WA Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen

Vouvray Sauvion

Conundrum (Caymus) White, CA

Reds (all under $20)

Terra D’oro Zinfandel Amador, CA

Cotes du Rhone Villages Cuvee Centenaire, Domaine La Grand Ribe

McMannis Petite Sirah, CA

Vall Llach “Embruix” Priorat

Bodega Norton  Malbec Reserva, Mendoza

Premium Selections (over $50)

Napanook (2nd Label Dominus) Cabernet Blend, Napa Valley, CA

Zaca Mesa Black Bear Block Syrah Santa Ynez Valley, CA

A Weekend of Wine and Food…Westchester Style!

If you missed out on this past weekend’s festivities at the Ritz Carlton in White Plains…shame on you! In its third year, Westchester Magazine hosted a fantastic weekend full of culinary events loaded with lots of great juice and some of Westchester’s best restaurants. If you were there, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Check out my article from the Wine Enthusiast Magazine website for all the highlights and plenty of reasons to mark it on your calendar for next year!

Westchester Magazine Wine and Food Weekend Highlights

Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse Wine Dinners…A Better Value Than You May Think!

Ruth's Chris Steak House and Restaurant Location

Recently I was invited to attend a Napa Wine Pairing Dinner at the Tarrytown Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse hosted by Treasury Wine Estates. It was a five course meal where each course was paired and complemented by a wine in the Treasury Wine Estates portfolio (click on the link to see their brands). I had not been to one of these Ruth’s Chris wine dinners in a while and I forgot how well they pull this off. Upon arrival a glass of wine, usually the first one featured as part of the pairing, is offered to get the festivities under way…a nice touch indeed.

The dinner then started which included an appetizer, a soup, a pasta, the main entree (steak of course), 2 sides,  and a desert all served with appropriately selected wines enhancing each dish. The steak offered was Filet Mignon (usually not my favorite cut but it was cooked perfectly) and it was paired with the 2009 Stag’s Leap Winery Napa Cab, a big gun just screaming for this bloody, charred red beef! Some other wine highlights included the 2010 Etude Carneros Pinot Noir, the 2010 St. Clement Napa Chardonnay and with desert they served the Beringer Nightingale Dessert wine (a Sauternes blend that was more Tokaji in style) which was a perfect way to end the meal. Pretty impressive arsenal of juice all around.

I asked someone what they had paid for this wine dinner, as it was a work function for me so I had no idea (I know…it’s a tough job but someone’s gotta do it!). When they told me it was $90 a head, I cringed a bit thinking that was pretty steep! But after the sticker shock I started breaking it down. A meal for 2 at a high end steakhouse can easily run $300 a couple factoring in 2 apps, 2 entrees, sides, dessert, coffee, a good bottle of red and maybe a glass of white or a cocktail before dinner. So while you didn’t have the choice of selecting your own dishes, for about $100 less per couple you were offered an additional course, a wide array of different wines (and plenty of it) and a nice presentation on some of the wines you were drinking and why they worked well with each dish. Not to mention the food was surprisingly very impressive.

Moreover, the atmosphere was warm and friendly as I met some folks at my table who were really enjoying their experience. One couple frequented these wine dinners quite often while the other couple were first timers. It can be fun to meet people who you know are interested in food and wine (otherwise they wouldn’t pay to be there) if you are a bit of a social person. If not… this may not be the format for you. But at the end of the day, these Ruth’s Chris wine dinners are a serious bang for the buck and they have the formula down pat so you are almost guaranteed both a delicious meal as well as a top quality dining experience.

Cheers!

Where To Buy Wine: Online or at Your Local Wine Shop?

Wine is more popular than ever in the US. It recently overtook beer as the most consumed drink in the country and as a whole the US consumes more wine yearly than any other country…lushes that we are. For that reason, wine retailers are popping up all over the place, both on the internet and in your local neighborhoods. With all of the options out there, its hard to decipher where the best place to purchase your favorite wine selections may be.

The truth is that it comes down to the kind of person you are. If you are looking for that personal experience, where you can form a relationship with your local wine guy, then you probably want to find a good local shop. There are many throughout the county, Zachys in Scarsdale being the most well known. But you also have Grapes in White Plains, Dodd’s in Millwood, Suburban in Yorktown, and Mt. Kisco Wine & Spirits up here in Mt. Kisco among many others.

The problem is that many of these wine shops are no longer just shops. The massive beverage depots are more and more prevalent, like the Westchester Wine Warehouse, Stew Leonards and BevMax in Port Chester. You will find a ton of selection at these types of retailers, but you may not get the same one on one attention as the little wine shop around the corner. Of course those little shops will typically be more expensive because they don’t carry the selection or inventory of the larger places. So you can chalk up the premium you’re paying to the hand holding you receive in purchasing your wines.

If you are looking for the best deals out there, forget about the physical stores and hit the web. There are many wine retail sites and flash sites that are selling wines significantly lower than in stores, sometimes really close to cost! The reason is many times they don’t have to take inventory, or because they aren’t paying rent for a physical store front so they can work on tighter margins. Many websites will offer wonderful service as well where you can receive advice and recommendations… but others are as inexpensive as they are because they employ order takers rather than a staff with a working knowledge of wine.

You also need to remember to take shipping costs and delivery time into consideration when ordering online. So be sure when you find your favorite wines on a particular wine retail website to check on the shipping rates. Most will offer free shipping on certain bottle totals, but not all do. If not, it can really add to the per bottle cost when it’s all said and done.

So the moral of the story? You probably want to do both! If you know what you want and are looking for the best deal, then hit the web or one of those mega wine warehouses. But if you are looking for some coddling in your wine decision, then check out your local shop and see if your local wine guy or gal knows what he/she is talking about. Take a recommendation or two to test it out. If he can read your palate, score! If not… you can always email me here and I can see if I can help you make some well suited wine selections.

What’s your favorite wine shop in Westchester?  Let us know!