The past year has been an eventful one for restaurants in the Hudson Valley. It could be the uptick in the economy, or perhaps surging demand on the part of diners following four years of relative austerity. Whatever the reason, new spots are poking through the cracks in resurgent downtowns like Yonkers, Nyack, and Peekskill, as well in out-of-the-way locations. And, it appears, many are softer on the wallet compared with five or six years ago.
Here are 10 places that have opened in the past year that are worth exploring, organized alphabetically by region.
Owners Colin and Deb Goundrey, Australian expats living in Larchmont, recently opened this modern and artsy restaurant and wine bar on the second floor of an old commercial building in the center of town (157 Mamaroneck Ave., Mamaroneck; 914-630-7512; www.barlees.us). It's a good place to unwind with a game of backgammon or take in a game on the widescreen TV.
The 400-bottle wine cellar concentrates on top-tier California selections from the mid-1990s on, although there is a little of everything. A revolving by-the-glass selection is more compelling than those found at typical wine bars. And whiskey drinkers will think they have walked into a distiller's heaven -- 120 labels ranging from the most traditional to the more exotic, with labels from Europe, the U.S. and Australia. Samplings range from $5 to $50.
On the menu are charcuterie, cheeses, flatbread pizzas, and more substantial main courses.
This long, narrow and unpretentious seafood bistro has built a reputation for its simple fresh fish and shellfish. The chef and owner, Marcelo Cheque, worked in two highly regarded Manhattan restaurants -- Ruby's Oyster Bar and the Cask Bar and Kitchen -- before going out on his own. (Bistro 146; 146 Bedford Rd., Pleasantville; 914-495-3992; www.bistro146.com)
Nothing fancy here. You can start with a trio of blackened scallops, baked lobster and Brie, panko-crusted crabcakes or mussels with chorizo and white wine.
Main courses are substantial: sweet potato gnocchi with lobster, cilantro marinated grilled Atlantic salmon with red pepper risotto, sesame crusted yellowfin tuna, and halibut with white beans and a caper beurre blanc. On the meat side there is a succulent lamb with caramelized onions and goat cheese. Entrees range from $27 to $29.
Servers are cheerful and efficient.
Argentine restaurants are not prominent in the culinary vocabulary of Westchester dining, so the arrival of Gaucho Grill in White Plains is matter of curiosity (1 North Broadway, White Plains; 914-437-9966; www.gauchogrillnewyork.com). It's a big place (with more than 200 seats in three rooms) and can reach a din on weekends. The large bar, with a giant wall of wine, is a good place to meet and snack from the tapas menu. The gaucho motif is expressed by walls holding large swatches of cowhide as well as paintings of gauchos, the legendary cowboys of the Argentine west.
The menu is as broad and wide as the pampas themselves. The food is described as traditional Argentine with an Italian accent. Hence the penne with vodka sauce and pesto gnocchi. Main courses go from $19 to $42.
Other entrees include beef or chicken empanadas; grilled octopus with tomatoes, olives, garlic and cilantro; Argentine churrasco (skirt steak with chimichurri sauce); parrillada (mixed grill of pork, beef and sausages); blackened tuna with mango-caipirinha chutney (caipirinha is a Brazilian cocktail made with sugar cane brandy), and almond-crusted tilapia with a spicy Cognac sauce.
Tapas are served during happy hour from 3 to 7 p.m.
In the spring of 1959 a bizarre-looking round glass house was erected in the outskirts of Peekskill. It was the country getaway of comedian Jackie Gleason, who soon grew to dislike it and left it largely unattended. This is the inspiration for this modern Italian-style restaurant carrying his name. It is a younger sibling to the popular Peekskill craft beer mecca, Birdsall House. (911 South St., Peekskill; 914-402-1950; www.gleasonspeekskill.com)
The kitchen specializes in trendy flatbread -- those thin, charred rounds that are adorned with any number of fresh seasonal ingredients. A long, narrow space with polished wood floors, a pressed tin ceiling, butcher block tables and a mahogany bar, it's an upbeat spot, albeit loud at times. One wall is adorned with vintage movie posters while the other spells out the great one's name in Broadway like bulbs.
Without doubt flatbreads are the way to go here. They range from $10 to $18. Among the garnishes: Margherita (roasted tomatoes, basil pesto and mozzarella), springtime (sugar snap peas, baby zucchini Pecorino Romanono and spring onions), octopus with arugula and basil pesto, and smoked pork with Cheddar. There are 20 craft beers on tap as well as wines by the glass.
Guapo Cocina Mexicana
It is not surprising that this colorful and congenial Mexican hot spot is so far ahead of the pack. It has a fine pedigree, owned by the group that also created Zuppa just around the corner, Tramonto in Hawthorne and the little gem called Mima Vinoteca in Irvington. (10 Warburton Ave., Yonkers, 920-5900; www.guaporestaurant.com)
The setting is done in soft shades of golden yellow and turquoise, with terra-cottata floor and exposed brick that is decorated with kitchen tools and colorful fabrics.
Two good starters are the citrus-marinated seafood and the sprightly cactus salad with slices of avocado and queso fresco. Some appetizers, like guacamole, are prepared at tableside. Also good are the tacos with spicy pork, and quesadilla "tingo de pollo" made with braised tomatoes.
Portions are large, and most of the traditional dishes come with mounds of beans and rice with soft tortillas. You can tackle succulent chunks of pulled pork in a spicy guajillo sauce, and a complex, chocolate-accented chicken mole poblano. The menu carries little seafood unless it is a special; main dishes start at $8 and top out at $19.
Several times in the evening you will witness one of the house signature desserts go up in flames -- helado frito, or fried ice cream, drenched with brandy and ignited. Most of the nonflammable offerings are good as well.
Mint Premium Foods
For nearly a decade Mint Premium Foods was a quirky little international food shop on Tarrytown's busy Main Street carrying Middle Eastern products like figs, almonds, olives, olive oils and cheese -- more than 100 from around the world. (18 Main St., Tarrytown; 914-703-6511; no website) In 2012 the owner, Hassan Jarane, rolled his colorful cart across the street to larger digs and added cafe/restaurant in the back. It was an immediate hit.
The food shop is in the front facing the street while the main dining room and bar are in the back, which is pleasantly countrified with exposed brick, a tin ceiling and a semi-exposed kitchen. In the center of the room is a long communal table.
The menu is a tantalizing Mediterranean journey focusing on the aromatic fare of Morocco. Among the popular dishes are a cheese and charcuterie plate, Moroccan-style chicken witsun-dried tomatoeses and olives, jerk pork, seafood jambalaya, rib-eye steak and more. There are always several intriguing specials. The young, polyglot service staff can seem distracted at times.
There is an unexceptional wine selection; beer is the focus here, and it boasts one of the largest selections of Belgian beers in the county.
This outstanding Greek restaurant near Irvington is worth a visit for one dish alone, the grilled octopus -- off-the-boat fresh, perfectly charred, almost sweet.
For those who think haute Greek food is an oxymoron, conversion awaits at MP Taverna. (1 Bridge St., Irvington; 914-231-7854; www.michaelpsilakis.com).
Chef/owner Michael Psilakis is credited with bringing refined Greek restaurants to New York City, and along the way has become quite a media personality, with stints on BBC America'" "No Kitchen Required" and the Food Network. He has two restaurants on Manhattan's Upper West Side, Kefi and FISHTAG, and the original MP Taverna in Roslyn on Long Island, and, most recently, another in Astoria, Queens.
Opened in 2012, the Irvington outpost has a spacious main dining room that could be mistaken for a steakhouse, with dark wood walls, high-beamed ceilings, theatrical overhead lighting and high-backed banquettes. A cheerful little bar at the entrance has already become a hangout for the after-work crowd.
Psilakis' cooking is short on flash and long on flavor. His dishes are remarkable for their sophisticated interplay of seasonings and textures. Virtually everything on the menu is good: Greek paella, roasted lemon chicken, all grilled seafood and an unusual apple baklava. There's a $15 prix fixe lunch menu and entrees go for $15 to $23.
You'll find an interesting selection of craft beers, specialty cocktails and a wide-ranging wine list.
Sala on Hudson
For whatever reason, the Hudson Valley, which has become so gastronomically diverse in recent years, has been nearly bereft of authentic Spanish restaurants -- and this does not include hybrid Mexican joints, or places that call appetizers tapas merely because the term is in vogue. Now arrives Sala on Hudson, which opened last fall in an uncomely mini-strip mall in Croton-on-Hudson. (44 Maple St., Croton-on-Hudson; 914-862-4100; www.salaonhudson.com) One could posit that this is as close to the real thing as you'll find in the region.
The decor is subtle and warm, with distressed walls, brick arches, dangling little lights, votive candles and wooden tables. Servers are pleasant and helpful when it comes to explaining some of the unusual dishes.
Among the more appealing small plates -- all in the $6 range -- are queso ahumado, a lightly smoked ricotta with anchovy paste and roasted red peppers; shellfish soup; sweet-salty Iberico) ham with tomato and garlic; and an assortment of Spanish cheeses. Main courses are few, but all are worth trying, among them a pork chop with butternut squash, apples and sherry; hanger steak with Brussels sprouts and bacon, and a respectable paella (chicken or seafood) that can be prepared for two ($19 per person). The all-Spanish wine list carries quality selections but at inflated price -- virtually all more than $40. There are more than ten interesting international beers.
In the summer of 2012 Taj Palace rose from the ashes of the popular Bengal Tiger, which had been destroyed in a fire. (95 South Broadway, White Plains; 914-437-5900; www.tajpalacewp.com). Judging from the enthusiastic new clientele -- and the staggering regional menu of some 200 items -- Indian food lovers in White Plains have found a new home.
The large dining room eschews the dim, florid look of many suburban Indian eateries. Soothing mustard-toned walls are adorned with photos of India and colorful textiles. Tables are widely spaced and the lighting is pleasing.
While the menu may be intimidating in size -- actually, many dishes are merely minor variations of Indian standards -- the genial, patient staff is happy to serve as gastronomic Sherpas. Start with any of the excellent breads and assortment of dipping sauces. Recommended among appetizers are keema samosa (a flaky pastry filled with aromatic minced lamb green peas and spices), tawa shrimp (stir fried with tomatoes, coriander, garlic, scallions, mustard seeds and curry leaves), and familiar Indian items like samosas (pastry triangles stuffed with potatoes, green peas and mild spices) and mulligatawny soup (vegetables and herbs).
Indian food can sneak up on you when it comes to heat, so it's welcome that spice levels are listed on the menu, from very mild for kebabs and kormas to incendiary for some vindaloos. Many dishes can be adjusted to suite your taste. Vegetarians will be thrilled with the assortment of dishes here and variety of preparations. (The $12 lunch buffet is unbeatable; entrees range from $15.95 to $24.95). There is a small wine selection and several Indian beers.
8 North Broadway
This smart and savory Greek-Mediterranean spot opened in late 2012 in a space formerly occupied by the popular LuShane's. The new owners have retained its historic charm with a fine old copper-topped bar, pressed-tin ceiling, wood floors and exposed brick. It is a welcoming venue that is catching on fast in the increasingly competitive downtown Nyack. (8 North Broadway, Nyack; 845-353-1200; www.8northbroadway.com)
The menu, much of which changes daily, begins with a bright assortment of Greek-style dips like smoked eggplant and taramasalata (a creamy mixture of carp roe, milk-soaked bread crumbs, olives and more) along with toasted flatbread, tartare of salmon and crudo of fresh tuna. There is also a daily vegan dish. Popular main courses, ranging $11 to $34, are lemon chicken, sizzling octopus with red wine vinaigrette, rib-eye steak with lemony fried yucca and daily pasta.
The wine carries mostly smaller boutique producers; there are also three wines on tap (a new feature in the business), and a selection of craft beers.
The Bocuse Restaurant
In a move to keep up with the gastronomic times, the renowned Culinary Institute of America folded its florid 40-year-old, student-run French restaurant, Escoffier, in favor of something more hip and modern. Called The Bocuse Restaurant (1946 Campus Dr., Hyde Park; 845-471-6608; www.ciarestaurants.com), it is named for one of the world's best known chefs, Paul Bocuse, now in his 80s but still active at his iconic establishment outside of Lyon, France. In the 1970s Bocuse launched the less-is-more movement with nouvelle cuisine at his three-star eponymous restaurant. The school describes the new menu as "haute brasserie food" with global accents.
The modernist dining room is swathed in beige and white fabrics, with soft leather panels, dark hardwood floors, artsy bentwood armchairs and, overhead, an array of Buck Rogers-like coiled steel chandeliers. As a measure of the restaurant's cutting edge efforts, iPads are provided for perusing the wine list.
Among the dinner offerings: Black truffle soup with puff pastry, lobster bisque with fennel and Pernod, potato-crusted lemon sole, duck breast with blood oranges, and lobster and vermouth ragout. As might be expected, desserts are extravagant. Entrees are in the $28 to $32 range.
Needless to say, book way in advance.