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.

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Wine Pairing Dinners Bring Out A Restaurant’s Best

Over the last several years, these special wine pairing dinners have become all the rage. It used to be that only the top eateries in NYC or Westchester would hold such prestigious events, and from what I recall they were all extremely expensive. It would seem the point of those dinner events was to not only offer a 5 or 6 course meal while pairing up each course with a special, and perfectly matched, wine, but the restaurants were also looking to turn a nice profit on the night. And why wouldn’t they?? These were small gatherings with superb dishes featuring sought after top tier wines. This traditional high end version of the wine pairing dinner certainly still exists, but a new generation has recently emerged.  Now those of us that can’t drop $500 on a single meal have ability to indulge in an enjoyable culinary experience as well.

I recently attended one of these dinners at The TapHouse in Tuckahoe where Moet Hennessy teamed up with owner Chris O’Brien and Chef Kevin Bertrand to try and put together a fun and well thought out wine pairing menu. It seemed a good way to sample a handful of MH’s somewhat approachable wines in their portfolio with some new and innovative culinary dishes prepared by the TapHouse team. They were able to get a little creative and curate some dishes that they may not typically offer on a high-end gastropub type menu. I’ve been to a few of their beer pairing dinners which are always a blast and provide an interesting perspective in matching up beer and food, but this was their first wine pairing dinner. In short, these guys knocked it out of the park from start to finish, especially at a mere $65 a head!

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You could tell from the opening course that this was going to a be a seriously sick menu starting with tokyo style diver scallops in a jalapeno infused strawberry water with a beautiful watermelon radish. The scallops were delightfully light yet meaty, and the bright strawberry flavor paired wonderfully with the Domaine Chandon Rose Brut bubbles. Pairing any food with sparkling is never easy to do, but these guys nailed it as the DC rose came to life after just a  mere taste of the scallops.

 

0420162103b_resizedThe other highlight of the meal was the roasted loin of venison served over celeriac puree with a corn grits risotto and black currants. The venison was tender, full of flavor and cooked to perfection. They chose the 2013 Newton Unfiltered Napa Cab for this course, and as Yoda would say… chose wisely, they did! The tannins were surprisingly supple for such a big and fruit forward wine, and of course the venison helps smooth it out as well. But the genius combo was the black currant side that when tasted along side this anything but subtle Cab, just popped with flavor and cassis goodness. A great way to finish the main courses leading into the closing dessert finale.

I won’t go into every course here, although it is worth mentioning there was not a bad dish or wine to be had during the evening. So for the $65 price tag there were 5 dishes served (where the portions were ample enough) and 4 really solid wines with 1 standout killer wine in the Newton Cab. So as a couple you could enjoy an entire meal out for $130 (plus tax and tip) where the service is fantastic and the dishes are craftfully prepared specifically for this event. I don’t know about you, but there aren’t too many places these days you can get away with a full quality meal, with wine, for under $150 a couple.

So if you see any of these special wine paring events at your local favorite restaurants it is probably worth checking out, as it can be less expensive to attend one of these dinners than dining off the standard menu on any regular night. It is also becoming more common for these dinners to be a way of marketing and promoting, where the restaurants aren’t as concerned with turning a big profit on the night, but more concerned with getting a good word out about how dynamite their restaurant can be. I can’t promise they will all be as good as this one at The TapHouse, but in the end you should be on the right side of an evening where the owner and chef are hopefully trying to do everything they can to please their customers and keep them coming back for more.

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!

A Hopping Good Beer Pairing Dinner at The TapHouse Featuring Lagunitas!

If you’ve ever dined at the TapHouse in Tuckahoe, you know that the food is generally very good with flashes of brilliance. Well if you take all of those flashes of brilliance and offer them in one meal the end result ends up being one of their beer pairing dinners. This installment featured the brews of Lagunitas, a California craft brewery that is not afraid to get aggressive with their hops! Those that have had the pleasure of sampling their well known IPA know exactly what I mean.

For the first couple of pairings they served the Lagunitas Czech Pils which was the least hoppy beer of the night. First they paired it up with a sushi grade tuna wrapped around crabmeat roulade with a caramel soy sauce. The pairing worked pretty well but they immediately followed it up with a blood orange and hamachi ceviche that paired perfectly. The citrus zest in the dish brought out all the coriander and bright acidity in the beer, almost to a point of it feeling effervescent. Great way to start out the meal.

The MC for the night was Mark Sljukic from Lagunitas who was kind of a cross between Sam Adams and The Big Lebowski. He was super passionate about the brew and while he came across as a bit of a stoner, he was a salt of the earth kinda guy who knew his craft, and represented Lagunitas, very well. The next few pairings featured some seriously hoppy brews including their popular IPA, the Hop Stoopid (named for the ridiculous, or stupid, amount of hops used in the brew) and the Maximus which was like their Double IPA. The Hop Stoopid went a little over the top on the hops and didn’t maintain the balance whereas the sweet, malty character in the Maximus smoothed out the hops as to not leave you with that bitter beer face.

For these selections, Chef Kevin went right to the meats serving a spiced pork belly in a lo mein noodle bowl with the IPA, braised veal cheeks over a spiced waffle with vanilla parsnip puree and caramelized oninon syrup with the Hop Stoopid and a smoked lamb loin in a lacquer sauce with the Maximus. All pairings worked out well, with the latter being my personal favorite. However, I feel like the food was really the star of this event as by the third beer I could see some of the people at my table getting a little overhopped. But they didn’t stop there…

The desert course was maybe my favorite pairing of the night as they matched up a chocolate marquise (like a very rich chocolate mousse) and espresso ice cream with the Soco Stout. Both were dark, rich and creamy and really worked lovely together…amazingly even the stout had some noticeable hops but not as aggressive as the previous three brews.

So the moral of the story is this…if you like a hoppy brew, than Lagunitas beers are definitely something to look out for. If you like to eat some creative and really delicious dishes served by an excellent staff in a lovely restaurant setting, than the TapHouse beer dinners are not to be missed! And if you only like to pair your meals with wine, then check out some of my other posts as this would all be a complete waste of time 😉

Salud!