However you define a romantic restaurant -- subdued, lively, bucolic or sleek -- you can find it in the Hudson Valley. And while the dining tide continues to flow toward casual, there remain dining rooms of breathtaking charm and subdued elegance in the region. Here are 11 places (in alphabetical order) that can stir both the heart and palate, perfect for a date night or another special-occasion meal.
If altitude is your idea of romance (discounting jet travel), this dramatic aerie on the 42nd floor of the Ritz-Carlton tower in White Plains is the place to go (Ritz-Carlton Westchester, 1 Renaissance Square, White Plains; 914-761-4242; 42therestaurant.com). Actually, there are two contiguous restaurants, the formal 42, and a lounge-like venue called Bellota, where small plates are the specialty.
Portuguese-born chef Anthony Goncalves is passionate about the tapas-style dishes of his homeland, as demonstrated by the nibbles in Bellota: mini-sandwiches of suckling pig, lemon aioli and shaved fennel; fried haddock with Thousand Island dressing aioli; Portuguese sausage flamed at tableside; and grilled octopus with fingerling potatoes, garlic, sherry and green olives. There is also a raw bar and good selection of Spanish cheeses.
The setting of 42 is modern and understated. On the menu you'll find more Iberian efforts like Portuguese lobster and shrimp with charred bread, garlic broth and padrones pepper; octopus a la plancha with smoked paprika, chimichurri mashed potatoes and green olives; and squid ink tubes with sauteed calamari and cherry peppers.
Service is formal and vigilant, and the capacious international wine list carries five selections from underrated Portugal. Sunsets are radiant from both restaurants, and when darkness falls, a celestial landscape extends from Long Island to Connecticut.
Arielle in Rhinebeck
Owned by the same antique-collecting couple who own the regal Belvedere Mansion a couple of miles down Route 9, Arielle, a florid little bistro done in a Provençale motif, seems like another place from another time (51 E. Market St., Rhinebeck; 845-876-5666; ariellerhinebeck.com). The decor includes thickly cushioned chairs, black marble-topped tables and a magnificent stained-glass window from a 1640 French villa, or so they say.
The bistro menu could be in Marseille, with its seafood-laden classics and bright, sunny seasonings. On the winter menu you'll find grilled salmon with pesto smashed potatoes and green beans; grilled octopus with garlic parsley and tomato over grilled polenta; chicken tagine (dried apricots, black olives, cumin and harissa over couscous); and pappardelle al antra (with duck ragout).
The engaging young servers do their best in somewhat confined conditions. A playful if uninformative wine list is divided into the categories of "pretty good," "very good" and "exceptional," with prices on the high side.
This compact, polished French bistro, the perfect place for a long, pampering evening with impeccable food and wine, is easily one of the most romantic spots in the region (155 Southside Ave., Hastings-on-Hudson; 914-478-1671; buffetdelagareny.com). Since 1980 -- with a brief hiatus -- the Goulet family have offered the fortunate souls of Westchester a refuge with a turn-of-the-century ambience, a tiny bar, and a dozen cafe tables draped in white tablecloths. Servers are discreet and formal, but never hover.
The wine is expertly chosen, mostly French, and, for the most part, fairly priced. Dishes on the winter menu include Brandade de morue (warm mousse of salt cod and lobster), duck terrine with peppercorns and Armagnac, sweetbreads with morel sauce, classic coq au vin, roasted duck with spicy ginger and green peppercorn sauce, and black angus steak with a Cognac and green pepper sauce.
A stately, historical Westchester dining destination for decades, this inn and restaurant -- actually two restaurants -- oozes country charm (11 Kittle Rd., Chappaqua; 914-666-8044; kittlehouse.com). Housed in a 1790s farmhouse, it has a softly lit and spacious formal dining room done in muted earthtones. It seems a bit fussy considering its rustic surroundings, but if you seek romance in a tranquil setting, it does fine.
More romantic -- and noisy -- is the casual Tap Room, whose antique mahogany bar serves as a meeting place for local gentry. With its copper-clad ceilings, hewed timber beams, candlelight and flickering (real) hearth, it has the ambience of a fine Old English pub. The room is dim, and you might have trouble reading the menu. No matter, you will be provided with a small flashlight. The tavern food is every bit as sophisticated as that served in the dining room. An amiable and skilled service staff does not miss a beat.
Dishes on the (wordy) dining room menu include Bigeye tuna sushi over a crispy rice cake with flying fish roe, jalapeño and spicy Japanese aioli; line-caught sustainable Scottish salmon with fennel, sweet dried tomatoes, lemon confit and cauliflower puree; Hudson Valley fois gras with a rhubarb compote and hazelnut brittle; and roasted Berkshire pork chop with potato puree, glazed cipollini onions, young carrots and a blood-orange reduction. In the tavern you'll find a revolving menu of sophisticated winter fare.
Located in a Tuscan-style manor perched on the banks of the Hudson River, this place is big, but somehow still seems intimate (1 River St., Hastings-on-Hudson; 914-478-2800; harvesthudson.com). This may be the result of its well space tables, flattering light and unrushed pace.
The elements of a romantic dinner here go beyond the pretty room. Discreet and skilled service is essential, and here the staff knows when to be at arm's length and when to scoot.
Some dishes on the winter menu include seared sardines with red peppers and lemon herb oil; gnocchi with morels and brown butter; cavatelli with mortadella meatballs in tomato sauce with pecorino cheese; breast of veal with porcini mushrooms, hazelnuts and pickled eggplant; and filet of sole with braised endive, brown butter and capers.
Images of the antebellum South rise above the Hudson River at this gracious Briarcliff Manor manse (25 Studio Hill Rd., Briarcliff Manor; 914-502-0080; haymounthouse.com). Inside you enter a giant ballroom that affords sweeping views of the river. The interior is opulent, with marble and wood, high ceilings, and chandeliers; a lavish main dining room seats 70.
The chef, Scott Riesenberger, has an impressive pedigree, having worked with such luminaries as David Bouley, Alain Ducasse, Marc Meneau and Marc Veyrat. Riesenberger calls his food "farm to table," but doesn't everyone today?
Some dishes on the winter menu include marinated bigeye tuna, lemon and pickled shallots; Long Island striped bass with Brussels sprouts, dates and bacon; Berkshire pork chop with curried endive, butternut squash and green tomatoes; and Hudson Valley duck breast with cauliflower, blood orange and miso. Service is formal and efficient.
This sprawling 18th-century Dutch stone mansion sits on 150 acres and serves as an inn and a restaurant (3805 Route 209, Stone Ridge; 845-687-0736; innatstoneridge.com). The antique-laden parlors, vintage billiards table, library, tiled fireplace and cozy dining rooms exude charm, making this the perfect spot for a winter getaway.
Don't expect any fireworks on the down-home menu. But for the price -- all entrees are below $30 -- it's hard to complain. Dishes on the winter menu include homemade venison sausage with a poached egg and rosemary cream, lemongrass crusted jumbo chicken wings, roasted Hudson Valley duck with a dark cherry sauce, and beef Wellington with bearnaise sauce and fois gras pate. The staff is congenial and competent.
It may be a cliche, but when you enter this ultraromantic country restaurant, housed in an 18th century farmhouse, you really do feel as if you are in France -- and back a generation or two at that (46 Bedford-Banksville Rd., Bedford; 914-234-9647; www.cremaillere.com). Opened in 1947 by the Meyzen family (Robert Meyzen, the second generation, genially holds forth today), La Cremaillere has managed to preserve old world elegance and formality: Jackets are suggested for men, waiters wear black ties, and many dishes arrive with a flourish under a silver cloche.
The gleaming, beamed dining room is adorned with colorful murals of the French countryside. In addition, there are four enchanting private rooms, several with hearths that accommodate parties of 12 to 45. The restaurant's famed wine cellar holds more than 14,000 bottles, with a staggering collection of old Bordeaux.
Dishes on the winter menu include fois gras terrine with a fig and merlot reduction, mustard-crusted salmon with sauce verjus (a slightly sour juice from unripe grapes or other fruit), roasted duck breast and confit of duck leg, loin of veal with pommes paillasson (a grated potato cake) and Calvados sauce, and goat cheese-crusted rack of lamb.
If water views make your heart race, Le Chateau, housed in a magnificent Tudor-style manor constructed in 1907, is a place of hypertension (1410 Route 35, South Salem; 914-533-6631; lechateauny.com). Nearly all windows afford river vistas, and the venue has a trellised brick and stone exterior, beautifully detailed chestnut paneling, sweeping staircases, stone fireplaces and outdoor gardens.
The food is a pleasing hybrid of French, Mediterranean and American. Among the dishes on the winter menu are sauteed duck fois gras with marinated cherries and kirsch; snails with garlic butter; sauteed cod with black olive mashed potatoes and a tomato saffron fondue; veal chop with baby artichokes and coriander jus; and breast of organic chicken with crispy polenta and a cream chive sauce.
If you're looking for something casual and romantic, the tavern in the historic Beekman Arms inn is worth considering (6387 Montgomery St., Rhinebeck; 845-876-1766; beekmandelamaterinn.com). Anchored by a large brick hearth, the room, which also has low-beamed ceilings, wooden banquettes, soft lighting and a long, well-worn barn, exudes colonial charm. The small main dining rooms are secluded from the action, and at the front of the building is a large greenhouse dining room that faces the village.
Dishes on the winter menu include veal ossobuco, chicken pot pie with a cheddar crust, swordfish with an orange ginger glaze, braised short ribs with mashed potatoes, and a porterhouse lamb chop with a raspberry and balsamic reduction.
The expansive vistas of the Hudson River and the distant Palisades seen from X2O, located on a once dilapidated Yonkers pier, provide for a romantic atmosphere -- that is, if you don't mind the racket that reaches a crescendo around 9 p.m. (71 Water Grant St., Yonkers; 914-965-1111; xaviars.com).
The venue is the latest triumph in the stellar career of chef-entrepreneur Peter Kelly, who also has two restaurants in Piermont and one in Congers. His idiosyncratic cooking style may appear over the top at times, but the flavors and textures are invariably spot-on. The winter menu carries dishes like wild king salmon with sweet chili glaze, crispy coconut rice cake and Asian vegetables; whole duckling for two with duck fat-roasted potatoes, steamed broccoli and garlic confit; St. Peter's fish (tilapia) in a brioche crust with a bouillabaisse broth and saffron sea beans; and short ribs of beef with parsnip puree and fried cauliflower.
The superb wine list is consumer-friendly, with many excellent choices in the $40 to $50 range from France, Spain Italy and California. Service is meticulous and genial.