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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!
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!
Maybe it’s me, but it seems the thrill and excitement of HVRW has fizzled. There are certainly some great restaurants participating and I am sure I will probably even check one or two out, but the whole promotion has sort of lost its luster. I remember it being such a huge deal to be able to go and check out these fantastic restaurants for $30 per person for a 3 course meal! But now… I feel like I could take it or leave it. Is it just me? Could be, but in speaking with a few fellow food & wine peeps and restaurant insiders I think this is the general consensus. Here’s my take on why…
There is a noticeable lack of choices and smaller portions for the special Restaurant Week menu items. Yes, I know there are restaurants where this is not the case. But overall you are given an option of 1 or 2 apps, 2 entrees and 2 desserts. I can remember when it used to be 3 options for each course and the portions were just about the same size as the non Restaurant Week menu items. I was pretty disappointed in not only the portion size last year, but the selections offered. If you are going to offer something that is not on the regular menu, don’t serve sole or cod as your fish when you typically serve Chilean sea bass or tuna…not cool.
It also just doesn’t seem to be a great deal anymore. Over the last couple of years I have left the restaurants spending almost as much as I would with a non Restaurant Week meal. Of course there is wine involved which is not included… but there’s more to it than that. The Restaurant Week menu has all three courses included. Very rarely do I get both an app and a dessert, usually it would be one or the other. Or maybe the table would share a couple of apps and desserts. So unless it is a super expensive restaurant, that same $30 would cover an entree and a shared app or dessert. Plus, you get the full size entree when ordering off the standard menu which is really the focus of the meal when dining out.
Lastly, I can’t stand when restaurants participate in Restaurant Week but give you the disapproving nod when you ask to see the Restaurant Week menu. If you are participating, keep that menu in plain sight so everyone can see it. Let’s be honest, it’s the only reason many patrons are coming to your restaurant over the next two weeks, so don’t make them feel cheap by forcing them to ask for the less expensive menu! Again, not cool…
With this said, I have had some very enjoyable Restaurant Week meals over the last couple of years… namely at Hudson House in Nyack, 42 in White Plains and The TapHouse in Tuckahoe . If you are looking to try out a place that would normally be out of your price range to sample some of their food, then this is a great opportunity to do so. But if you are thinking that you are going to be able to go out for an inexpensive night out just because it’s Restaurant Week, you may want to rethink that plan.
This past weekend was my 39th birthday. To celebrate my final year in the 30s my wife and I decided to go to Restaurant North in Armonk. With a 2 year and 3 month old at home, evenings out are few and far between for us right now, so this was a nice little treat. Established by former Tavern (Garrison) and Union Square Cafe (NYC) alumni, Restaurant North has a farm-to-table motif and has received glowing reviews from critics and consumers alike. I have heard great things from friends and colleagues as well, so it seemed worth giving it a shot.
Instead of writing a lengthy, and possibly somewhat witty, review of the restaurant I thought a chart may be a little more succinct. Below is a list of pros and cons about Restaurant North, with a lot more pros than cons.
|Why you should go….
||Why you should go elsewhere…
|BYO for your first bottle of wine, no corkage! * But you must purchase off their wine list after first bottle. Still a great feature.||They take the bottle you bring to the back of the restaurant to open and breathe before serving…I prefer it left on the table.|
|Lively atmosphere with lots of energy without feeling pretentious.||A bit heavy on the salt, almost everything was a little over seasoned.|
|Menu varies weekly depending on what they have coming in from local farms, lots of selection.||Chicken was so salty that had to be sent back, chef bought out another chicken with a little bit of attitude.|
|Attentive and knowledgeable staff.||Dessert was just eh…disappointing.|
|Super fresh food with a creative menu, yet approachable to a non-foodie.|
|High quality stemware for wine service.|
|Prices very fair for a top quality Westchester restaurant.|
|Nice pace of service, never felt rushed and never had to wait too long.|
|A complimentary muffin-to-go for your breakfast… nice touch!|
So as you can see the “why you should go…” side clearly wins out here as overall it was really a pleasurable dining experience. I wouldn’t say it’s my new favorite restaurant in Westchester, but I would certainly be inclined to go back. The nice part is with apps and flatbreads in the $10-16 range and pastas in the $13-20 range, you can bring a bottle with no corkage fee and enjoy a high quality meal for around $50-60. That’s tough to beat in this neck of the woods.
So if you’re looking for a solid meal out in the Armonk area, I would certainly recommend trying Restaurant North. But if you are sensitive to salt you may want to ask the server if they can lay off some of the salt in the food preparation, which they are more than willing to do.
When ordering a glass of wine at a restaurant that does not specify the winery or producer, see if you can take a look at the actual bottles. For example, if the server says they have a Cabernet, a Chianti, a Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc by the glass, you want to find out which winery they are from as typically they won’t all be from the same producer. This way if you recognize (or know that you like) one of the specific wineries offered, it makes your decision of what to order that much easier.
This happened to me last night at Eduardo’s in Mount Kisco, which was surprisingly delicious! I ordered the Chicken Scarpiello and was planning on getting a red wine by the glass. I didn’t really care for the reds they had, but their Sauvignon Blanc was the Villa Maria from Marlborough, New Zealand which I really enjoy. And since I had a chicken dish the white wine ended up complementing the meal beautifully.
Just some food for thought… figuratively
Having worked at Westchester restaurants as both a waiter and bartender in the past, I have the utmost respect for those in the service industry. It’s a tough juggling act to maintain an extensive knowledge of the menu and wine list, to ensure the food and beverages are presented properly while also making sure your customers are content. That being said, its not freakin’ brain surgery. The best servers are knowledgeable, enthusiastic (without being annoyingly peppy) and are able to recognize the table dynamic in a matter of seconds. But even the worst of servers should be able to follow a few of the most basic guidelines as to not ruin a customer’s dining experience.
1. GET THE DRINKS TO THE TABLE
Anyone who has ever been to a restaurant with me knows this is far and away my biggest pet peeve. Within the first few minutes of sitting down a server should greet the table and take a drink order and I would expect to have the drinks shortly thereafter. No drinks and no server makes WWG an angry customer. Remember servers, drinking customers are happy customers.
2. OPEN THE BOTTLE OF WINE AT THE TABLE
I understand that at a local pizza place they may not go through all the proper wine service steps. I don’t even mind if they don’t offer to have someone at the table try the wine first to make sure that it is drinkable. My expectations are pretty low. However, I do not like when they bring the bottle to the table opened with the cork stuck back in it. Call me skeptical, but I have seen some shady things behind the scenes and I’d like to make sure what I am drinking is what was put in that bottle by the winery, not by someone in the back of the restaurant.
3. CONDIMENTS MATTER
I always try and order all the extra sauces and add-ons when the food order is being placed. Regardless, whenever I order buffalo wings with ranch dressing instead of blue cheese 4 out of 5 times they forget to bring it. Sometimes they rush right back to the kitchen and bring it out which is fantastic. But more often than not they completely forget as it is such a small thing and I am stuck staring at my wings for 5-10 minutes as they get cold and I get frustrated. The same goes for ketchup with a burger and fries and crushed red pepper with pasta. Call me crazy, but I’m not eating the dish without the condiment that enhances that dish! The condiment can be just as important as the dish itself, so having them come out at the same time or shortly thereafter is a crucial aspect of basic service.
4. WATCH THE SWEAT AND BE SURE TO PUT ON THE DEODORANT
As I mentioned earlier, I worked as a server in a very fast paced environment and I understand these guys are busting their ass. However, sweating and stinking is not a good look for a server. Even worse is when drops of that sweat make their way into the drinks on the table… gross.
5. THE FUGAZI KNOW IT ALL WAITER
I admit, I can be a little high maintenance as a diner. I ask a decent amount of questions as I am curious about the dishes and wine list, and am always looking for further insight from someone in the know. However, if it seems like the server is uninterested and is just an order taker that’s fine too and I lay off with the interrogation. But what drives me crazy is the server that gives the wrong information regarding the dishes or the wine pretending they know what the hell they are talking about. If you don’t know, say you don’t know and see if you can find out the answers. I am much happier to wait for the right answer than to find out later the immediate answers given were wrong, especially when a dish comes to the table completely different than described.
Some of you may read this and say “Stop your bitching and just eat the food”…at least that’s what my wife tells me. But when spending your hard earned money to enjoy a meal out of the house, it is disappointing when the simplest of things ends up ruining your dining experience.
Oh, and that’s not me in the picture above…but I feel that dude’s pain
If not, then you should! Crush Wine Bar is right on Palmer Ave next to the Larchmont Playhouse and it is certainly worth a visit. I had the pleasure of attending last week with two of the most respected, and all around good guys in the Westchester food and wine industry, Peter Kelly of Xaviars/X2O and Marc Newman of Trinchero Family Estates. If these guys give it the thumbs up then you know its gotta be good! We sat with owner Jennifer Deutsch for awhile but she was pretty busy making sure her guests were all well taken care of and enjoying themselves, a great quality in a restauranteur.
This “wine bar” title gets thrown around a little too often lately, with every restaurant offering more than three wines by the glass classifying themselves as such. But that is not the case with Crush. With over 30 wines available by the glass, and another 30 by the bottle, the wine selection is quite impressive. The list is definitely California driven with some solid selections from France, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand appropriately mixed in. The menu also includes wine pairing recommendations for each dish, a very helpful addition if you are in need of a little guidance.
First we had the 2010 Menage a Trois Napa white blend, part of Marc’s Trinchero portfolio. While most people are familiar with their Zinfandel based red blend this Chardonnay, Muscat and Chenin Blanc combo is crisp and refreshing with zesty tropical fruits. It’s like a baby Conundrum (Caymus’s white wine blend) at about half the price. We paired it up with a watermelon chip and tzatziki dish which worked out very well.
Next we ordered up a meat and cheese platter including some incredibly fresh prosciutto, sopressata, brie, manchego and parmesan. Crush has a cool option of creating your own platter from a handful of different meats and cheeses. Alongside that we also had the bacon wrapped dates with almonds which screamed for a red. Marc opted for his Dona Paula 2010 Malbec from Mendoza which was a perfect fit with the meaty goodness of the bacon and dates. It’s a smooth and supple value wine that comes out of the bottle ready to drink. In fact it was so good that one bottle just wasn’t enough
With a vast and approachable wine selection along with the culinary experience of celebrity chef Alex Garcia, it would appear that Crush will be “crushing” it for years to come. It offers a perfect atmosphere for those looking to stop in for a glass of wine while strolling around Larchmont, or even for a full night out as their tapas style menu allows you to sip and pick all night. Check it out next time you’re in that neck of the woods.
This week I had the good fortune of eating out at both of these well known Westchester dining establishments. They are very different in style, cuisine and even location. But quite frankly I find that most people just won’t read a full restaurant review, so I figured I would consolidate and do a 2 for 1. But the overall consensus on both places is that they are worth attending, as long as you are aware of a couple of subtle flaws.
First, Il Sorisso in Irvington. A large group of us went on Saturday night for a Birthday celebration. We were about 16 people and they put together a great package dinner menu. For around $50 a person it included salad, pasta an entree and all the beer, wine and coffee you could drink. They also let us bring in a few bottles to start with for a minimal corkage fee which I am always a fan of. Team Bruno killed it and graced the table with a Pride Cab, a Mondavi Oakville Cab, a Jordan and the Anderson Conn Valley Right Bank blend… all fantastic! However the Pride Cab they brought was the 09 which would still be a bit young, so I swapped them out with my 03 that I have had stored for about 5 years. Holy crap was that drinking well!! But I digress…
While the food was all really solid (I had the Penne with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage and a “Homemade” Veal Parmigiana) and the service was great, I still left the restaurant with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth… and it was not from the food or the wine. My wife and I were the first to get to the restaurant and Game 7 of the Ranger vs. Caps series was being played night. There is a flat screen TV over the bar that had a rerun of Sportscenter on. I asked the bartender if he could put on the game instead, but he said the owner had to make the call on that. I figured it would be an easy enough call, but boy was I wrong. I asked the uninterested owner if he could put on the game, but the combination of the restaurant being a bit busy and the remote control being ALL the way in the basement just made it impossible to put on the game. Seemed a bit odd to me, but I am not a huge Rangers fan, so I kind of let it go. But I informed him I was part of a large group that was going to be spending a good amount of money in his restaurant and there were about 6 big Ranger fans coming in that would certainly have the same request. His answer… a very nonchalant “OK”. So he was prepared to shoot down another 6 requests for the game, which he basically did. I mean, we had to harass the guy for the 45 minutes we were waiting for our table to get the game on. And of course by the time he finally caved, our table was ready.
So I guess my end take on Il Sorisso is this: The dishes were all fresh and well prepared and the pricing is somewhat reasonable. The staff was very attentive and moved us through the meal wonderfully. However the owner has not quite grasped the whole “customer experience” concept which makes it a tough place for me to frequent, especially when there are so many solid Italian restaurants in Westchester that are the exact opposite.
Next up, Flames Steakhouse in Briarcliff. This is arguably one of the best steakhouses in all of Westchester when it comes to the beef, depending on the night. We had a work function on a Thursday night and when we all discussed the meal the next morning, everyone had different opinions on the steaks based on which cut they ordered. Those of us who got the NY strip thought it was fantastic, while the ribeye fans thought it was a little too fatty…even for ribeye. The filet was solid too, but not of the same caliber as the strip. The issue is if you go on another night it can be the exact opposite. Obviously the quality of the cuts the restaurant is getting from their meat distributor has a lot to do with this, but for the price of their steaks you would expect a little more consistency across the board.
Flames also mixes in a good amount of Italian fare into the dining experience. Again, we went with a large group so we were able to order a bunch of small apps to start. The eggplant rollatini may be the best in town and the lobster ravioli literally melts in your mouth. But it’s tricky to pull off this Italian restaurant and steakhouse combination, almost like the restaurant has an identity crisis at times. We ate in the wine cellar, which I would highly recommend, and they have a nice secluded outdoor patio section as well. But the interior is sort of a retro throwback to the 70′s and again, its tough to tell whether you are in a steakhouse or Italian restaurant. Personally, I like that throwback and somewhat “wiseguys” kinda feel…but I have a feeling I am in the minority on that one. But unlike Il Sorisso, Nick (the owner) will make you feel right at home and is looking to make your dining experience as pleasurable as possible.
So while I can’t give either restaurant a glowing review, I can tell you that I really enjoyed my meal at both Il Sorisso and Flames. Are they my top choices to go to for Italian food or Steak respectively in Westchester? No. But if they are in your neck of the woods and you haven’t been yet they are both worth a shot. Just be sure there are no important sporting events you are planning on watching at the bar that night
Recently Brooklyn Brewery visited The TapHouse in Tuckahoe for another one of their innovative Beer Pairing Dinners. If you ever want to experience the TapHouse at their best… get yourself to the next one! Chef Kevin kills it in the kitchen and the staff really creates some wonderful beer pairings enhancing both the food and the brews. Garrett Oliver himself, basically the foremost authority in the beer industry, hosted this beer dinner which was pretty special. Below is a piece written by yours truly about the event. Some fun information on how Garrett recommends pairing beer with food instead of wine. Yes, even us wine guys can get into the craft beer craze as well