Koku

454 Main StArmonk, NY 10504 • (914) 730-0077 • kokujapanese.com

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I am sad to have only just discovered this place right as I was moving away from a reasonable proximity, but happy to have at least had a meal there before I departed, because hot damn is it good!

The fish isn’t quite at the level of Azuma, but it is far more inventive and the setting is probably the best of any sushi joint in Northern Westchester. Hell, even the website is more blows the aesthetic doors off of the competition. Service was also great, and quite warm and friendly with a killer recommendation on a special dish consisting of a fish we had never even heard of before (and struggled feebly to pronounce), coming straight from the one and only Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. Best thing we had. No surprise.

My second favorite dish was the spicy tuna tacos. Though I gotta say, the whole mexi-sushi thing is getting a bit overplayed right now to the point of annoyance, but when it’s this good, I find it hard to bitch. Okay, no I don’t. I love to bitch. But not about these tacos. They do both mexipanese prouder than Senora Tiger Mom.

A very close third, but less inventive than the other dishes we tried were the salmon skin hand rolls and the unagi. Great flavor in the eel sauce and just awesome texture and saltiness in the handrolls- as good as any I’ve ever had.

Surprisingly, however, one of the most touted dishes of all at this place was a bit of a disappointment for wifey and I. The spicy edamame is not only messy as all hell, but it’s also not very spicy, making the humiliation to worth-it ratio very unfavorable.

What is in favor is the whole package because Koku makes almost every other sushi joint in Northern Westchester look like amateur hour.

4 teeth

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The Ultimate Soufflé

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Blue Hill at Stone Barns – Pontico Hills, NY – The Ricotta Soufflé

Once upon a time, back when Blue Hill hadn’t jumped the shark yet, you could still order from a menu. And once upon a time on that menu lived a dessert the stuff of fairy tales. Like eating a cloud filled with dreams, whipped into a poof of fluffiness that would even make a Pomeranian jealous. I think it’s safe to say that this is the crowning achievement for eggs and chickens alike.

L’Affable – Cannes, FR – Grand Marnier Soufflé

As Grand Marnier soufflés go, they all could pretty much pass as Ultimates, because A, they’re soufflés. And B, because they have booze in them. But not just any booze, a light, citrusy booze with notes of spice in it that warm the cockles of your soul. Or maybe that’s just the residual heat from the oven still trapped in the ramekin. Well, whatever it is, this particular GM soufflé manages to just barely top the previous frontrunner, Capo in Santa Monica (formerly on the list). It’s just that indescribable X factor. That 1% more fluffiness. That sensational whipped crack they put on top and that drizzle to follow, like a one-two punch and game, set, match. Yes, I’m aware that I just mixed boxing and tennis, but you have to admit, that would make for a VERY interesting new hybrid sport.

Exit 4

153 E Main St. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 • (914) 241-1200exit4foodhall.com

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The concept of this place is interesting to say the least. Sort of like a mini food court that’s not located in a mall and not made up of your usual chains like Panda Express and Sbarro’s. It’s actually all locally sourced, serving up a jack-of-all-trades menu from all over the map (or more specifically all over Northern Westchseter), yet somehow they manage to let you put it all on one bill (that you kinda have to carry around with you from pavilion to pavilion- it’s complicated).

It’s also a dynamic than can easily become a recipe for disaster should you arrive and not know what you want. Especially with young kids who will quickly become more overwhelmed with the choices than Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson.

On the upside, most everything is surprisingly good, so it’s kinda hard to go too, too wrong, unless you have wildly high expectations. When I say “surprising,” however, I want to temper that by stating that I mean it only in the context of lowered expectations. Nothing will have you swinging from a star, but if you’d rather eat a pig, a fish or a mule, they pretty much have you covered (that was for all you Sinatra fans).

So here’s how I recommend playing it:

Step 1: Grab a table. Put your stuff down and have a member of your party stand guard. The last thing you want to do is get caught with seven trays of grub and nowhere to sit.

Step 2: Order the stuff that takes longer to make first. This would be your pastas, your pizzas, your burger and your bahn mi that are all cooked to order. Whereas the tacos, and barbecue offerings are much more prepped and take about two minutes or less to hit your table. So, assuming you like your family or friends, and want to actually eat “together,” then I recommend doing these options near the end of the batting order.

Step 3: Order stuff that doesn’t need to be ice cold or nice and hot dead last. This would be your sushi and glasses of red wine.

Step 4: Bon apetit!

So now that you’ve circumnavigated one of the more complex dining matrixes in the tri-state, here are my thoughts on the offerings themselves.

First up, let’s start with the sushi, sourced from Mt. Kisco Seafood down the street, so you know it’s pretty darn fresh. But more than just fresh, the sashimi bowls and the maki are really quite inventive and a step up from a lot of other places in the immediate vicinity. Yes, that goes for you Hito and Spoon.

Next up, let’s go Italian. Or more specifically the pizza, because the only pasta I’ve had there was my daughter’s kidsy butter and shells. So not really fair to judge them on that. My daughter, on the other hand, has a ways to go in terms of expanding the ole horizons. As for the pies, I liked both the fig, prosciutto and caramelized onion pie and the one with Brussels sprouts, smoked pancetta and gruyere. Neither compare to the likes of The Parlor in Dobbs or Zero Otto Nove in Armonk, but they hold their own handily against Old Stone and Village Social, which I actually think has one of the best pies in town. Nonetheless, the pizza is good enough to make you forget all about the fact that this place used to be Belizzi (RIP).

And now let’s take things down a notch. As in down South. As in TexMex and barbecue. Starting at the top, I’d go with the brisket sammy. It’s quite solid, topped with a bourbon sauce, slaw and cornichon. After that I’d go with the pulled pork. The sauce has a nice kick to it and it also comes with slaw on it as well. It’s not what I would call a runaway smash hit, but unless you’re willing to roll your bones all the way over to Portchester for Q, then it’ll do the trick. That said, little known secret- Dinosaur BBQ is available via Fresh direct. As is some seriously spicy slaw and brioche sliders. So if you don’t feel like venturing out for your barb-e-fix, then call in the reinforcements. Oh, and skip the tacos if you ask me. Truck and Hacienda are both miles better.

And most importantly… the booze. They have a nice selection of beer and wine by the glass so no complaints there either. Nor do I have many complaints on the whole. Exit 4 is a nice addition to the hood and the only other “something-for-everyone” deal in town apart from Village Social. So, if you’re like me and you’re saddled with two kids who don’t agree on anything when if comes to food, this “good enough” fare quickly becomes good on ya!

3 teeth

Aberdeen Seafood & Dim Sum

3 Barker Ave. White Plains, NY 10601 • (914) 288-0188 • aberdeenwhiteplains.com/index.html

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This place is the real deal. Down and dirty (emphasis on dirty). Locals only. And by that I mean we were the only honkies in the joint. Which is usually a good sign that you’re in for a nice plate of authenticity.

What isn’t such a good sign, however, is that it’s located in a Marriott hotel and the fish tanks that line the entrance are all brightly lit- kinda cruel for your more nocturnal sea creatures, such as lobsters, but then again, they are about to be eaten, so who really cares I suppose.

On the plus side, the fish tanks make for a highly engaging distraction with the kids while you wait for the food to come. But just wait until you have to pry them away to eat. It’s as if they learned a thing or two from the octopus and grew suction cups on their face to keep it stuck to the glass.

As for the food, there are only two ways to go here, dim sum (only served for lunch), because their dumplings are killer (if we had stuck with these, I might go 4 knives). Or seafood, as the wall of fish tanks might imply. And if you look around at what all the regulars are ordering, it’s pretty much fish across the board.

If, however, you choose to stray off of the recommended path, I think you will come to regret it (I speak from experience), because the chicken lo mein and orange beef were both oily as hell, like any number of other Chinese restaurants you’ve probably tried, with the exception of a scant few such as Rice in Armonk (RIP), Chin Chin, Shun Lee, China Grill and from what I hear, Han Dynasty. Still on my wish list if anyone wants to take me. Hint, hint.

Lastly, the service it’s definitely friendly, but not very thorough, which I found pretty unforgivable considering we were only one of two tables in the entire place for at least the first half of our meal.

2 teeth

251 Lex

251 Lexington Ave. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 • (914) 218-8156 •  251lex.com

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I was excited to try this relative newcomer, which seemed to have promise from the outside looking in. Unfortunately, the promise only seems to be on the outside. In fact, the only nice thing I can say about the inside is that the people are nice. Oh, and the prices were pretty great, granted it was restaurant week, but only twelve dollars for a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc is worthy of a star in and of itself.

Beyond the wine and the warm pita with olive oil, the restaurant falls short on virtually every other metric possible, coming off like a child’s doll house dressed up to play a game of restaurant. The kids, a.k.a. waiters, inside trying so hard to please that it’s almost charming, but when they keep spilling water everywhere and forgetting silverware, the charm wears thin.

In terms of grub, nothing was god awful, but if tepid is the response you’re looking for, then you’ve come to the right place. Starting with the oysters, they were probably the best thing of the night, clean and fresh, served with a beet mignonette that overpowers them, so I would skip it. And while we’re on the subject of skipping things, the kale Caesar salad was cream based, a major no-no, and blah based, also a no-no.

For entrees, the salmon with cracked bulgur struggled to even register a pulse, as did the signature octopus dish, served with Israeli couscous in a skillet that’s so friggin piping hot you could probably still use it as a kiln to bake ceramics after it cools down a touch.

With the writing already firmly on the wall, there was little dessert could do to sway my already solidified opinion and as one would expect, dessert did little to even try. The Greek yogurt and honey panna cotta with fig mostrada, while interesting in theory, proved par for the course in terms of taste. That said, I’m not the biggest panna cotta fan, so the fact that I didn’t hate it is a major coup for 251. And finally the gelati was also semi-decent in the most average sense possible, falling short of supermarket gems like Talenti and Steve’s.

And falling short was theme throughout. Short of expectations and hopes. Really not sure what people see in this place or why it has the crowd or reviews that it does, but I suppose I’ll chalk it up to the fact that people are easily fooled. Case in point, Trump will be the Republican nominee for president. Mic drop.

2 teeth

Plates

121 Myrtle Blvd. Larchmont, NY 10538(914) 834-1244 platesonthepark.com

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I know this won’t come as any great epiphany to most of you, but the restaurant industry is inherently a service-based industry, and the reason I feel the need to point this out is not because I worry that you might’ve forgotten it, it’s because I believe some of the restaurants have. My most recent case in point being Plates, where not only did our waiter seem like he didn’t know what he was doing, it also seemed like he wasn’t even entirely sure where he was.

But amateur service aside, the décor is nice, yet a touch simple, with nothing truly unique about it, in a standalone structure that has a slightly homey vibe to it, save the white walls.

The food itself is a bit of a mixed bag with a slight lean toward the positive. The positive-est being the mini-est, the bite-sized short rib tacos. But quite the bite they are. The other big plus of the night was the NY strip entrée, cooked medium rare, of course, and definitely sourced by a pro.

A notch below the highest of the highs, was a very good pork dish, that only missed on the woeful mistake of overcooking it. The preparation, however, was quite toothsome, served with bok choy, prune and vanilla to sweeten the deal and a caraway, garlic spaetzle to make things interesting, in a starchy kinda way.

In the middle of the road I’d put the tuna tartar served in the same old cylinder you’ve seen a thousand times, atop the same old cylinder of avocado that’s been served a billion times over since the 90’s. Along side the tuna I’d also put the amuse bouche of duck croquettes, which also failed to wow. As did the restaurant’s self-proclaimed area of expertise, smoking. Having heard that the bird is in fact the word, I chose the smoked duck legs and I don’t know what people are smoking, but the smoking here is not all that. Head up to Portchester and go to Q if you want to taste what I call smokin’ smoking.

But let’s not end things on a down note, shall we? After all, I did like Plates on the whole and a huge reason as to why is their wine list. Not very extensive mind you, but it’s more of a list of quality, not quantity, which is my preference 99 times out of 100. The only exception being when the small list happens to be so pricey that it backs you into a pricey corner. Not here though. The Chateauneuf du Pape was not only stellar, it was under a C note. And just enough to hand Plates three knives.

3 teeth

Chappaqua Station

1 Station Plaza Chappaqua, NY 10514 • 914-861-8001 • chappaquastation.com

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I’ll give the place an A for effort, but sadly the exchange rate of A’s to knives isn’t a favorable one. But before leaping all the way to the end, let’s discuss how we got there.

Located in the Chappaqua train station, as the uninventive name suggests, it seems to be taking a page out of like-minded restaurants (Via Vanti & Iron Horse) both one stop up and down on the Harlem line. That said, CTS is more of a bar with small plates. The wine selection is rather thin, however, whereas the cocktails go much deeper, which is strange for a place that sports a menu predominantly made up of charcuterie and cheese.

Also strange is the décor, if you can call it that. Basically all they did was stick a big bar (pictured) in the middle of the room and tables around it (albeit the space was already nice as is, I suppose). Then, they converted the café next to the main room into the kitchen, if you can call it that as well. More of a prep area if you ask me. And considering you’re on my blog it would appear you are asking. Oh, and one more thing. The seemingly intimate back right corner by the velvet red curtain is anything but. DO NOT SIT THERE. On the other side of the curtain is wait station where they will come and go repeatedly carrying dirty vats of water and other undesirable cargo.

Service is a variation on the Bar Taco method, using a check box menu, but somehow less fun and a touch cheap, because CTS uses laminated cards and red Sharpie’s. Also not helping the cheap vibe is the use of paper plates.

Among the small plates, the best things by far were the wine and cheese/charcuterie, but that’s not to say that even that was good. More passable than anything. The cheeses out shining the meat, even with such hopefuls as salami with pistachios and lemon zest, or the even more underwhelming salami with coriander and chili. On the cheese side, we went camembert, Vermont cheddar and bleu, and all three were solid. And while they surround the board with goodies such as jam, mustard, candied nuts and grapes, it does little to mask the failings of flavor.

Speaking of fails, the di parma, basil, tomato and mozzarella flatbread is not even on par with Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza! Not that I’ve had it in nearly three decades, but I ate a shit-ton as a kid. But saving the flatbread from the dubious distinction of the low point, dessert swooped in with an apple pie so bad we didn’t have more than a bite or two. Instead we focused our efforts on the Sherry B’s vanilla ice cream on top.

So not a great showing, but not entirely a train-wreck either. I look forward to them upping their game. And hopefully the MTA does the same.

2 teeth

Stars Bagels

711 Saw Mill River Rd. Ardsley, NY 10502 • (914) 591-4321

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The line of insanity (not to be confused with The Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride) pouring out of this place on a weekend morning is a telltale sign that you’ve arrived at the best bagel place north of 81st Street in Manhattan.

Crusty on the outside, doughy on the inside, these bagels are good enough to make your Torah twirl. From the minis to the megas, cinnamon raisin to everything these guys nail it like nobody told them they weren’t in the city. Even their schmears, whitefish, lox and sable are worthy of mad mazels.

But like all bagel places it’s not exactly the poster child for ambiance, so be sure to grab and go, unless you’re more evolved than I, and don’t care about such shallow things. Also, I do want to address all the haters on Yelp complaining about rude and slow service. I have probably been there over twenty times and never once had a problem. And I’m pretty easy to piss off. So I’m guessing it’s you. Not them. Oh, and as for slow, you have no idea what slow is until you’ve been to Mount Kisco Bagel Co.

4 teeth

 

L’inizio

698 Saw Mill River Rd. Ardsley, NY 10502 • (914) 693-5400 •  liniziony.com

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After three different people recommended that I try this place, I knew it had to be at least a three knifer, but the true question was, is it four or five? Well, if parking were factored in, most certainly not, because it’s a major bitch. And you can forget all about that little lot over by the Thai House that’s always more jam-packed than a drug mule’s colon. So your best bet is across the street and down a touch, over by Star Bagel, since they’re closed for dinner and it’d be a shame to let all of that parking go to waste.

Speaking of space being at a premium, the restaurant itself is quite small as well, which wouldn’t normally be an issue for me, but it’s also pretty lacking in the personality department, making it a modicum nicer than the inside of a shoe box.

But the warmth that’s missing from the décor came from our server in spades, who was not only friendly, she was also spot on with the recommendations. Unfortunately, however, even as well intentioned as the staff was, the service itself is actually a bit spotty, getting both pepper and grated cheese in my wife’s water (so much so that it needed to be replaced) and forgetting to bring out our pasta course before the dessert menu.

In terms of the food, this is where L’inizio shined. Starting with a nice, moist focaccia and grassy olive oil to whet the palate. After that, we doubled down on bread opting for the ricotta with acacia honey, a simple, but wonderful Italian go-to that definitely hit the mark, but I have to say, the chef went a little stingy on the honey.

Next up came the charred endive salad with dates (or more accurately, date in singular form), which was excellent, but again, thin on the one ingredient that made it so interesting, the date.

The recommended octopus was also fantastic, sort of similar in preparation to the one at Charlie Bird in the city, only MUCH better, because there’s so much more going on. The heat from the peppers, the brightness and crunch from the celery. The creaminess of the humus. Even a slight note of sweetness. My only gripe being, you guessed it, a little too light on the octopus. A theme of the joint I suppose? Keep ‘em wanting more? Only I think the chef doesn’t truly get the intent of that saying.

As for pastas, the cavatelli was a bit of a snore compared to the much more flavorful parpadelle with lamb ragu, pine nuts and raisins. The anomaly of the night, because it was shockingly generous with the lamb.

We ended the evening with another great reco, the date cake with sweet mascarpone (pictured), sitting in a pool of caramel sweetness. It was divine. Which is a bit of a hoity-toity phrase for me, I gotta be honest. Almost feels like I should be typing it with a New England lockjaw. But it really was kickass. There. That’s better.

It’s no Cookery and there are many kinks still to work out, but there is not even a shadow of a doubt that this chef knows what he’s doing, even if he cheaps out a bit on the goodies. So my advice to you, go. My advice to the chef, let it go…LET IT GO! Let your yummy ingredients flow! (to be sung like Elsa from Frozen). Do that, and I’ll up you to four knives, because it’s holding you back from true greatness.

3 teeth

Lexington Square Cafe

510 Lexington Ave. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 •  (914) 244-3663lexingtonsquarecafe.com

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It’s taken me a while to work up the courage to eat here versus my other tried and true options in the burbs, but the other day a window of opportunity opened and my daughter and I decided to step inside. Which is much nicer than one might expect from the outside looking in. In fact, one might even go so far as to say it’s impressive, with its large dining room, high ceilings, and surprisingly hip bar. The only things bringing it down are the giant, round hotel-esque counter at the entrance and the large staircase cutting through the space.

Also, a word of advice as to where to sit in the expansive dining arena. Definitely avoid the booths, because if you do sit there, you will be out of sight and out of mind, literally having to stand and flail your arms like a castaway on a deserted island just to get a waiter’s attention.And attention you will need, because the food tends to need a lot of help to get the flavor going. For example, the pizza is more of a flatbread and the flatbread is more like the crap you throw together for your kid when you are just trying to scrape by with pasta sauce, sliced cheese and a random pocket of pita bread or naan. So should you order it as an adult, you will definitely want some red pepper flakes to help overcome the nothingness.

The chicken cutlet sandwich is also pretty bland, surprisingly so for something that’s supposed to be packing Sriracha mayonnaise. So be sure to order it with a side of Sriracha to give it the oomph it was born to have. With that caveat, I can proudly say the sammie wasn’t half bad.

And last but not least, something that wasn’t half good. The apple crumbly with ice cream and a caramel drizzle simply isn’t worth the time on the treadmill. And compared to places like Truck, Fortina, Beford 234 and Village Social the Lexington Diner simply isn’t worth the space in your stomach.

2 teeth