A Few Wine Tasting Notes…

Just thought I would share some tasting notes on a few wines I have recently enjoyed ranging from good values to simply RIDICULOUS juice!

CAM COLLECTION 2013 MONTEREY PINOT NOIR $18 (found it for $10!)

CAM Collection 2013 Pinot Noir

This is quite forward on the nose with ripe, bright cherry and raspberry fruit aromas , showing hints of black pepper and cocoa. It’s fairly big for an entry level Pinot with the same fruit carrying over to the palate enhanced by notes of clove, smoked bacon and espresso. A lengthy, dry and overall pleasing finish caps off this true value Pinot.  GOOD

 

 

Cune Rioja Imperial Reserva 2011   $35

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This wine offers alluring aromas of black cherry/currant with dark chocolate and smoky oak. It’s a big wine, no doubt… but has good acidity playing nicely with the dense fruit and firm tannins. Opulent and rich, but exhibits some of that old world Rioja feel with the tobacco and mineral character. Will age well over the next decade.  SOLID

 

 

Alta 2013 Quatreaux Red Blend, Napa Valley $60 Retail (available for under $40)

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Quatreaux refers to four of the five Bordeaux grape varieites used in this blend including Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot (no Malbec). It exudes new world Napa fruit including dark berry and cassis with an old world undertone of smoke, earth and roasted nuts. Tremendous balance of acidity, weight and tannins with a long finish that leaves just a hint of baker’s chocolate… I love that!  SOLID! 

 

 

Element Winery 2013 Lemberger, Finger Lakes  $42

If you have not heard of Element Winery yet, let me be the first to put it on your radar.  Chris Bates MS and his team are producing some of the best juice in the Northeast. I wasn’t expecting much from a Finger Lakes Lemberger, but this had a lot going on! Certainly intense with bright cherry, rose petals and spice on the nose leading to a vibrant palate driven by acidity and ripe red fruit. But it wasn’t a pushover, enough body and weight to stand up to some lighter poultry dishes for sure.  GOOD!

Now, for the RIDICULOUS wines…

2008 Léoville-Barton, St-Julien $80

Still bright ruby in color, this is drinking beautifully now but has lots of time left on the clock. Black currant, cocoa powder, espresso beans and graphite aromas on the nose are quite intense and sultry. Its supple and soft on the palate, as the tannins are mellowing with the acidity balancing out the dense fruit. Showing off that classic Left Bank terroir, loads of chalk and minerality on the palate with the dark fruit and cocoa hanging on through the finish. SOLID!

 

2001 Beaulieu Vineyard “Georges de Latour Private Reserve” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon  $90

2001 Beaulieu Vineyard "Georges de Latour Private Reserve" Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

From a great vintage like 2001, I was expecting this to still be fairly big and brash. But as a very pleasant surprise this was not the case. Super complex with layers of well developed dark fruit, cassis, oak, roasted almonds and subtle anise notes on the nose and palate. Supple, soft and silky with polished tannins and a long, memorable finish.  I am thrilled I opened it when I did, as I do not see this one improving much further. KILLER

Abacus, ZD Wines, Napa Valley (NV) $500

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This is one of the cooler and more interesting wines made in Napa. ZD basically uses a solera style aging and bottling process including all of their Reserve Cabs from 1992-2015 to make a non-vintage Reserve Cab blend. The result is a wine that has oodles of big, bomby Napa fruit and oak, but has the structure, finesse and elegance of a wine that has seen about 6-8 years of bottle age, so it is fairly ready to drink right away. It could still use another handful of years in the cellar, but it is one of the more impressive cult Napa wines out there. KILLER!

Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Columbia Valley, WA  $250

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This is not only the best wine I’ve tasted this year, but possibly one of my Top 3 wines of all time! This stunner is intense on all levels with dense and focused black cherry, plum and black currant fruit on the nose. Beyond the lovely fruit core there are layers and layers of sweet and exotic spices, smoke, sandalwood, lavender, anise, cocoa and vanilla. When you taste this wine, you will understand what all of those fancy wine terms mean. It has harmonious balance, incredible structure, elegance and finesse. It will certainly continue to age and improve over the next decade +, but what a treat to enjoy this wine with good friends over a perfectly cooked steak. FANTASTIC!

 

 

** My rating system is listed below as I prefer to use ranges than exact numbers.

WWG Rating Scale     
100 Points                    =     Perfect
97-99 Points                =     Fantastic
94-96 Points                =     Killer
90-93 Points                =     Solid
85-89 Points                =     Good
80-84 Points                =     OK
79 Points or below     =     No Comment

Tasty Brews + Good Food + Great Service = The Barley House

Craft Beer has not only retained its popularity over the last several years, but has gotten even more mainstream, dismissing those haters that wanted to see this fad fade. Hell, just about every deli and gas station now has a Craft Beer section, and some even have taps and growlers to take a tasty brew with you. The corner local pubs have all stepped up their beer game as well, as Blue Moon and Stella are no longer their only ‘high end’ options. But then you have the real Craft Beer Bar and Grills in Westchester, and there are plenty out there to enjoy.

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Lazy Boy Saloon in WP is the Grand Daddy of them all, pioneering the Craft Beer movement in Westchester before it was even trendy. Tuckahoe has now become the beer capital of Westchester with The TapHouse and Growlers across the street from one another, both excellent from a beer and food standpoint. Captain Lawrence Brewing Company is the Mecca for beer geeks, especially with the new menu they have recently implemented and the outdoor bar game section. And I have not had the pleasure of a visit yet, but I hear The Oath in Tarrytown is making a name for itself around the Fresh. But tucked away on the side streets of Thornwood sits a revitalized Craft Beer Bar and Grill that is making a strong case to be included in the conversation of top Westchester spots… The Barley House.

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With more than 30 beers on tap, there is something on draft for every palate. The beer menu is easy to navigate as it is organized by taste, flavor and weight. Selections are changed fairly frequently as well, so you can always find something new on the list. Plus, they always select a handful of brews to include in their Happy Hour deal, which is a great time to do some sampling. But more than just having this killer beer list, the food game at The Barley House is also on point.

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I’m told this wasn’t always the case, but since Chef Michael Orchart has taken the reigns they are putting out some of the best ‘pub and grill’ fare around. The staples like fried calamari, flatbreads, wings and burgers are all as solid as you would expect. But some of the specialty standouts and my personal favorites include the fish tacos (made with cod, not tilapia) the cuban, the wicked tuna sandwich and of course the 10 oz giant pretzel among others. Truth be told I have yet to put a morsel of food in my mouth from this joint that I have not enjoyed. And yes, they do have a modest wine list… but with all the cool and eclectic beer options, I admit I have not paid much attention to it.

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What more could you ask for? How about one of the best places for a large group event in town! Bobby Harris (you may remember him from the old Sports Page crew) and his staff do a bang up job from helping set up the menu, to getting the room prepared, to handling the needs of a really large cast of characters to ensuring everything is served hot, tasty and in a timely fashion. We have had two large work functions there recently and I’m already looking forward to the next installment. So if you’re in and around the Thornwood/Pleasantville/Valhalla area and are craving a bite to eat and and adult beverage, be sure to check it out.

What Wines to Pair with Your Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve 2016

This is my favorite time of the Christmas season. The shopping frenzy has settled down and the focus directs back to the most important parts of the holiday… family, food and wine! My family goes all in on the Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner, and as of late we use a lot of different seafood styles throughout the meal. One year there was even a crab cake app that made the cut. But that is the beauty of this fish feast, there are no steadfast rules of what you HAVE to cook which gives the chef a true sense of freedom and creativity.

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So to give an exact wine pairing for the feast is difficult, as there are literally dozens to hundreds of different ways to prepare each of type of seafood. It is more about the consistency and texture of the fish and the sauces. For example, an appetizer of raw oysters and clams will covet a far different wine than clams casino or fried oysters. Below are some easy and general wine pairings for various styles of seafood that you may serve for your seven fishes feast, along with some specific wine recommendations.

RAW/CHILLED SEAFOOD:

The general rule of thumb is the lighter the dish, the lighter the wine. Pinot GriImage result for durand reservegio is probably the most popular light white wine for this part of the meal, but quite frankly unless it is REALLY good, it’s a little too neutral. But if PG is your go to, try and grab one from the Collio region…Fiegl always makes a solid offering. But I prefer Sancerre for this paring. The flinty minerality in these high acid, citrus fruit based wines seem to bring out all the lively flavors and freshness in any chilled seafood dish. Durand’s Reserve is a wonderful expression of Loire Sauvignon Blanc and at around $20-25 a good deal. The Pascal Jolivet is also a solid option and is usually under $20 a bottle.

 

BAKED/FRIED SEAFOOD:

For dishes like baked cod or seared scallops, you still want to keep it light but with a bit more body than your typical PG or SB. Albarino can work quite well as these wines still exude that crisp acidity but have a bit more body and structure. Chablis is a solid option too, as these typically unoaked wines made from Chardonnay have all the endearing qualities we love about Chard, but without the oak influence. Simmonet-Febvre is always tasty and usually can be found for around $20 a bottle.

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If your fish is getting fried, you’re gonna have to step up to some bigger whites like those Burgundies or California Chards, and here is when you can start getting into the reds. The thicker and heavier the batter, the bolder you cRelated imagean go on the wine. Lighter Chianti Classicos and Pinot can work for a delicate sautéed dish, but if you are going with the deep fryer don’t be afraid to pull out a Zin or Syrah, especially if you are cooking up something with a little spice in it. The Mullineux Syrah from Swartland, S.A. is a fantastic option, not just for this meal but for ANY meal! It’s around $30 a bottle which may not be cheap, but drinks like something twice the price.

 

SEAFOOD WITH PASTA:

For openers, make sure you use the same color wine as you do for the sauce. For white sauce dishes, like linguine with white clam sauce, you can still use the same PG or SB as you served for the raw/chilled seafood. But I like to step up the Italian white game for these dishes and go with a quality Soave (made from the Gargenega grape) or even a Fiano d’Avellino. Pieropan makes a phenomenal Soave and even at $30 it is a screaming value, while Feudi di San Gregorio produces a lovely Fiano for under $20.

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Red sauce = red wine… preferably something  a little high on the acid scale. Tomato sauce is high in acid so you want a wine that can match up to it allowing the food and wine choice to complement one another. My mom makes a mean shrimp and calamari fra diavolo which is always a Christmas tradition for our feast. I love to pair this up with a quality Chianti Classico Riserva or Barolo… both of which can cost a pretty penny. Monsanto CCR for around $20-25 is pretty tough to beat, but the Marchese Antinori CCR for  $40-50 may be my all-time favorite… particularly the 2007 vintage.

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HEARTY SEAFOOD:

This is also a sauce driven pairing in terms white or red wine, but because this type of seafood can be quite meaty and weighted you can go red for both sauce options. Personally, I prefer an oaky, buttery Chard with a broiled fish and white wine or butter based sauce. But it can’t be over the top in terms of oak aging (as many of the Cali Chards are) as I like the acidity and fruit to stay in balance. Fox Run in the Finger Lakes makes a stellar Reserve Chard for under $20, and I simply love the Domaine Ferret Pouilly Fuisse. It may carry a somewhat hefty $40 price tag, but is flat out tasty juice.

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If your seafood finds itself swimming in a sea of marina sauce, you can stick with the same red options from the pasta course. However, here is where you can get into some of the bigger reds as lobster and king crab can hold up to the weight of those dishes. A Super Tuscan or Brunello would be the traditional big red pairings, but if you have been dying to break open one of your aged Bordeaux or Napa Cab gems… this is the time to do it!

The best paring advice I can give is to pair up a special wine with those family members that will truly enjoy it. One of the greatest qualities of wine is its ability to play a part in creating wonderful, long lasting memories. So what better holiday than Christmas Eve to pop the cork on something special you have been saving and share it with loved ones to enjoy together. And that’s my PSA for the Holiday Season… Cheers!

What To Drink With Your Bird This Thanksgiving

You may want to sit down for this: Thanksgiving is less than a week away! How nuts is that?!? But ready or not, here it comes. Which means not only does your menu need to start rapidly coming together, but so does the wine lineup for the evening. Even if you are not hosting  (which makes life that much easier) you can still have a huge impact on the meal and overall holiday enjoyment by bringing the right wines for your family and friends to enjoy. I mean, who doesn’t love the guy who rolls in with a few bottles of really good juice?! Which then begs the question… what are the right wines to pair with a traditional Thanksgiving meal?

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The great thing about oven roasted turkey and all the trimmins is that there are a ton of wines that will pair well with that type of meal. It just depends on what style of wine you and your crew prefer. The one trick is to avoid any overpowering wines with high tannins. Turkey doesn’t have the fat content of red meat, which typically will bind with those tannins. Instead, the tannins can take center stage rendering the turkey and stuffing as bland as opposed to full of flavor.  So while just about any wine will work, here are some that may complement your meal better than others.

The classic white wine pairing with turkey is Riesling. The low alcohol and high acid can be a refreshing complement to the inherent richness of the meal. I prefer to stick with the drier style (Kabinett) as opposed to those that have a sweeter profile (Spatlese). The 2011 Fox Run Reserve Riesling is a stunning option for under $25, and allows you to drink local! For a real value the Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling is consistently solid and goes for under $10 at most retailers.

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If you like your whites a little bigger and bolder then a buttery, oaky Chardonnay or Burgundy may be the way to go. Although be careful of the super oaked options, as even those woody tannins can stifle the richness of the bird. My favorites right now are from Davis Bynum and Byron, but on the value side you can grab the Seaglass Chard from Santa Barbara. It is unoaked, clean and vibrant… a delightfully refreshing option for around $10.

If you Google red wine pairings for Thanksgiving Turkey, the most commonly recommended wines are Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Rhone Blends. Pinot is arguably the best option as the higher acid levels, vibrant fruit and peppery spice really bring out the best in just about any poultry dish. The problem in my family is that no one drinks Pinot. They prefer their wines big and opulent and tend to reach more towards a bomby Napa Cab than an elegant red Burgundy. Although I guarantee that bottle of the 2013 Papapietro  RRV Pinot will be in attendance this year for my Turkey Day meal.

2013 Papapietro Perry "Peter's Vineyard" Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

So the pairing that usually works best for my crew is a hearty Zinfandel from California… and no, not the pink stuff. It tends to have loads of big, dark and spicy fruit but a little lighter body and softer tannins than Cab. Seghesio is always my dad’s go to, but personally I prefer the Terra d’Oro Zin from Amador for a few bucks less. Forward, rich and ripe with a nice balance of medium to high acid and tannins, this one is always a crowd pleaser.  And if I’m feeling a little frisky, I will break out one of the Zichichi Zins from my stash. Steve Zichichi is a Zin genius and making some of the best Zin to come out of Dry Creek and all of California really. It ain’t cheap and pretty hard to find, but if you can get your hands on any of his juice I highly recommend it.

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The classic Rhone blend consists of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre with Grenache usually taking center stage. Somewhat like Zin, Grenache leans on the lighter side in terms of body with good acid, spicy berry fruit and plush tannins. Blend in some meaty Syrah and a dollup of dark Mouvedre and you have an ideal blend for your Thanksgiving table. Cotes du Rhone Villages wines offer a step up in quality (usually) over the standard CDRs, and still can be found for less than $20.  However they have a hard time standing up to those bigger and more complex Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas wines, which is why those are just about impossible to find for under $40. Some value producers include Barville, Santa Duc and Louis Bernard. But if you are from the ‘Go Big or Go Home’ mentality then you can’t go wrong with any of the big dogs such as Domaine de Pegau, Vieux Telegraphe, Chateau de Beaucastel or Chapoutier. Just be sure to give those bigger wines some oxygen before you get start digging into them, or they may come off a little tight and inexpressive.

 

Not All Wine Competitions Are Created Equal

 

Just like the best athletes in the world are awarded Gold, Silver and Bronze medals at the current Olympics in Rio, the best wines of the world can also receive similar awards at various wine competitions. However with the Olympics, you know that it is the best showcase of talent which is why those medals are so hard to earn and precious to the athletes’ who find themselves victorious. When it comes to wine competitions, it may not always be clear. Of course winning an award of any kind at a wine competition is an accomplishment, but not all wine competitions are created equal. Some are more like the Olympics while others are more like a regional qualifier.

WIne Olympics

For example, it only makes sense that wine competitions held in locations closer to certain world renown wine regions are going to draw a larger number of both higher quality wines as well as top tier judges. The same would go for competitions that are held in meccas of culinary and hospitality establishments such as New York, Los Angeles and London. These bigger and more prestigious competitions will also have a more rigid system of evaluation to ensure that there can be no favoritism based on brand or region, and implement a full blind tasting method. They would also make sure that those evaluating the wines were wine professionals who taste wine (to some degree) for a living, and not just collectors or people that simply enjoy wine. So it only makes sense that it is much more difficult to earn a medal or award from competitions such as the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition or the Decanter World Wine Awards than from smaller, more obscure event such as the Arizona Republic Wine Competition or even the Idaho Wine Competition… and yes, those do really exist!

So much like finding the right wine reviewer to follow that shares your palate when it comes to ratings and scores, it is also a good idea to check out the specific wine competition in which a particular wine was awarded a medal. It certainly won’t determine whether you will enjoy that specific wine, but it can give you an idea of what other similar wines it had to beat out in order to win that medal.

Red, White and Blue Wines for the 4th!

Yeah, that’s right… blue wine. I know, I know…. I had the same reaction. But why? How? And, why? It seems some entrepreneurial producers in Spain thought it would be a clever idea to craft a blue colored wine targeted at the all encompassing market of the millennials. Apparently it is a blend of Spanish red and white grapes which gains its color from anthocyanin, a pigment found in grape skins, and iodine that is extracted from the Isatis tinctoria plant. It is reportedly a sweet, young refreshing style of wine meant to pair with sushi and nachos with guac. Having never tried this blue wine before I cannot offer any opinion on the quality or value… but I can say that my expectations are fairly low.

Now for the REAL 4th of July recommendations! Is it me, or did it get super hot super quick to start the summer? I feel like the Chardonnay season came and went and I am
already reaching for more refreshing white options. While Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are always popular, as an overly broad generalization, they tend to seem a little too simplistic (sorry Santa Margherita and Brancott fans). As of late I find myself reaching for that dry style of Riesling from a multitude of regions as well as Chenin Blancs from the Loire and South Africa. The nice part about all of these wines is that they typically offer a solid value.

The Fox Run Rie2015 Den Chenin Blancsling (Finger Lakes) is a staple in my house over the summer months, and the bone dry Willm Reserve Riesling (Alsace) is a tremendously food friendly wine to pair with all kinds of shellfish and chilled seafood starters. The Painted Wolf ‘The Den’ Chenin Blanc is crisp, tropical with just a hint of oaky notes, and their Pinotage from the same line is pretty stellar as well. The Sauvon Vouvray (Chenin Blanc grape) is a value superstar every vintage with its floral character and subtle honey notes, and can actually gain complexity with a few years of age. The best part… all of these wines are under $20.

 

Red wines that are suitable for the 4th, and the summer in general, need to be grill friendly that can pair up with anything from burgers and dogs to filet and lobster surf & turf. That means they have to be versatile, hearty and food friendly (which typically means they need a good dose of acidity). Let’s not forget that it’s hot out there… so some lighter, thirst quenching reds (which can even be served slightly chilled) are integral to any successful July 4th BBQ. I get made fun of all the time for my infatuation with the Seaglass Santa Barbara Pinot Noir, but it remains the best Pinot under $15 for my money. This is one of those lighter style wines that can benefit from a few minutes in the fridge before opening,  accentuating the lively acidity and bright cherry and berry fruit.

I find myself leaning towards the Northern Rhone wines during the grilling season. The smoky and meaty style of Crozes Hermitage and Saint Joseph wines (Syrah based) complement just about any sort of beef you decide to toss on the grill. The Jean Luc Colombo Crozes ‘Les Fees Brunes’ is a stellar under $25 option while the J.L. Chave Saint Joseph ‘Offerus’  is solid just about every vintage and can be found for just a few bucks more. Of course if you are feeling saucy and looking to splurge on something, how about a Cote Rotie for the 4th this year? E. Guigal, Vidal Fleury and St. Cosme are all quality producers and their wines come at a somewhat ‘value’ price under $80. Top tier Cote Rotie wines are easily $100 and up so yes, $50-75 is considered a value for this particular region.

But if you want to keep it simple and patriotic for the 4th, grab some California Zin and Petite Sirah. Both are as American as you can get when it comes to grape varieties, and are big enough to stand up to just about any of your standard BBQ fare. They can offer various spices and boast a firm tannic character to offset those fatty and saucy pork and beef dishes. Zichichi (Dry Creek Valley) is one of my perennial favorites for both varieties, but they are not the easiest to come by. On the Zin side, I always find the Terra d’Oro wines exude great complexity and character without breaking the bank both at their entry level as well as their old vine single vineyard higher end offerings.  Of course if you are from the ‘Go Big or Go Home’ camp, then seek out one of the many Zins from Turley. They range from the entry Juvenille level up to several single vineyard options, all opulent and killer! As far as Petite Sirah goes, Handcraft has a nice one out for under $15 that will certainly please the palate. But for about $40 you can find the Stag’s Leap Winery P.S. which slams you with dark berry, peppery spice and is flat out tasty juice. Talk about a wine that screams out for BBQ ribs and wings! But this is a big boy for sure, so give it a little time to show it’s true colors…none of which are blue 😉

 

 

 

Another Successful Westchester Magazine Wine and Food Festival In The Books!

Year after year the Westchester Magazine crew puts together one of the most elaborate culinary events in Westchester, and 2016 was no different. From Peter Kelly winning his 4th Burger Bash title, to Kevin Zraly pulling together a fantastic portfolio of wines to taste over the weekend to top Westchester chefs offering delectable bites for all to enjoy… this may have been the best #WMFAW to date!

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While Saturday’s Grand Tasting Village was the most attended, featuring 60+ restaurants and 200+ wines… and of course Kathie Lee and Joy of NBC’s Today, Friday night’s Evening With Westchester’s Tastemakers was certainly the star of the festival. Hosted at the beautiful Ritz Carlton in White Plains, the evening featured 60 top notch wine selections served alongside dishes prepared by 20 of the finer restaurants in the area. Highlights on the wine side included the 2012 Dominus, 2012 La Jota Merlot, 2010 Chateau Certan de May, 2010 Chateau Lassegue 2012 Louis Jadot Volnay and Nuits Saint Georges and of course the Comtes and Cristal were rather outstanding as well. Check out some photo 0610161745b_resizedhighlights of the evening as well as the list of fine chef’s that participated in this year’s event… already looking forward to next year!                            FotoJet Collage 1                    0610161746_resized     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Evening WithWestchester’s Tastemakers Participants

Michael Abruzese, Polpettina
David Amorelli, Harvest on Hudson
David DiBari, The Cookery
Scott Fratangelo, L’inizio
Eric Gabrynowicz, Restaurant North
Kennardo Holder, The Ritz- Carlton, Westchester
Robert Horton, An American Bistro
Kyle Inserra, Polpettina
Michael Kaphan, Purdy’s Farmer & the Fish
Peter Kelly, X20 Xaviars on the Hudson
Ethan Kostbar, Moderne Barn
Glenn Vogt, RiverMarket Bar & Kitchen
Jay Lippin, Crabtree’s Kittle House

Andy Nusser, Tarry Lodge

Leo Pablo, The Inn at Pound Ridge
Rafael Palomino, Sonora
Christian Petroni, Fortina
Michael Psilakis, MP Taverna
Andy Shilling, BLT Steak
Michael White, Campagna
Bobby Will, Saltaire Oyster Bar