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!


6 thoughts on “So What’s The Deal With Moderne Barn?

  1. I think your review is spot on. I have been to Moderne Barn a number of times and it’s always ‘good.’ But, with more limited choices in our neck of the woods, it does have an appeal that’s hard to explain.

  2. Interesting in your review of Crabtree you are not critical of their $35/$75 corkage, but yet were turned of by the $45 one here? Also, Inn at Pound Ridge charges $50…. I saw this article and then went to look at Barn’s wine list, and although there are a lot of 3-figure wines (of which I know nothing) I found plenty of < 80.00 choices for an "average joe" like me to choose from…..Just curious your thoughts on this, I am not very wine savvy, but learning….

    • Thanks for the comment Maggie. Hmmmm… I don’t recall Kittle House corkage being that high and checked back on that post and couldn’t find me saying it was $35/75. Of course I could have missed it but I think their corkage is around the $35 mark. When you start getting above the $40-45 it becomes a little much. But that is what most high end steakhouses and restaurants will charge. My problem is that I don’t put Moderne Barn in that category food wise as the dishes are quite reasonable, so I’m not sure why they need to charge so much. And yes, there are a number of selections under $80 on their list…but that doesn’t mean that they are all good values. If they are charging $60 for a $15 retail price wine that a comparable restaurant only charges $40 for, that markup is a bit much. So I have no problem with corkage fees and markups, and I think you are right that there are some selections under the $80 mark that are fair and good quality wines, but overall the list seemed to be on the high end of the spectrum. I hope that makes some sense… Thanks!

  3. As Wine Director of Moderne Barn, I can help to clarify some of the misguided speculations regarding the program at the restaurant. I can assure any readers that the mark up at Moderne Barn is representative of an industry standard, that in no way reaches the degree to which Mr. Tilden suggests. In addition, the wine list provides a balanced representation of world wines, of varying styles and prices, just as our chef has cultivated an eclectic and thoughtful menu. In many cases, we are lucky to have a clientele wine savvy enough to enjoy wines deemed “super expensive” by some. For our less wine savvy guests, however, Edgar Balagot and I (the two Sommeliers/bottle openers) aim to provide memorable experiences through friendly, educated service. Since we are a busy restaurant, as you mentioned, we have made it paramount to educate our wait staff in wine service, as there are times when Edgar and I are engaging other guests, regardless of their bottle’s price tag.

    One aspect of your review that is accurate is our corkage policy. Moderne Barn provides corkage service for $45 per 750ml bottle. We make this aspect of our wine service clear to guests long before opening a bottle. We, as a restaurant, made the choice to allow outside bottles into the restaurant, reserved for special bottles or styles not represented on our list. I feel it important to mention that corkage is not a given, but instead a luxury provided by a restaurant for the elevation of guest experiences.

    Wine is a dialogue, not an education.

    I have to extend my apologies to you, Mr. Tilden, for upsetting your stomach, as that is never the goal of any restaurant. In addition to wine, I also share your enthusiasm for beer and I look forward to serving you one of our craft beer selections during your next visit (Rushing Duck’s “Dog’s Bollock’s” Barleywine is an awesome pairing for the Honey Lavender Lacquered Duck Breast). We would love to see you sometime soon.

    • I want to thank you so much Matthew for reading my blog and for the feedback! I just wanted to point out that first and foremost as stated in my post, I have always considered the Livanos family one of the most reputable culinary families in the area and with good reason. So my goal in most of my posts is to focus on particular value both wine and food wise specifically in Westchester when applicable. I completely agree with your statement that your wine list provides a balanced representation of world wines, of varying styles and prices. That was never in question and you have done a wonderful job with the list in that regard, kudos. The point I was just trying to make is that in the range of what you call industry standard markups, these overall seemed on the high end of that range. So the fact that the menu was so reasonable in terms of dish pricing (as I also mentioned in my post) but the wines seemed to be more comparable to, and in certain instances more expensive than, a high end steakhouse just seemed somewhat off to me. This was also the consensus of most of the party at our table that included some rather wine savvy individuals. And at the end of the day, you and I both know it matters not how you or I perceive a wine list and pricing, but how the patrons do. Your point is well taken regarding corkage fee, and perhaps I have become spoiled to the luxury that many restaurants will offer lower corkage fees or in some cases none, but it is something I find to be an enticing feature when dining out. And most of all, I look forward to coming back Matthew and paring up that Barleywine with the duck dish that was simply out of this world! So thank you again for the comment, feedback and most of all the participation. Wine is absolutely a dialogue as you stated, and if we keep that conversation going among our Westchester wine contingency I feel it is such a benefit for our wine community and hopefully we can all continue to learn from one another.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s