Liz here again. Food writers and restaurant critics Deven Black and Jill Rovitzky Black are making their Small Bites debut with this guest blog on Restaurant X in Congers. (Oh, and Deven apologizes for the photos. His flash wasn’t working.) Take it away guys…
Itâ€™s awfully hard not to have a good time at Restaurant X and Bully Boy Bar. Even before you eat a bite, it feels like a special occasion just being there. The dÃ©cor, the service, and the general vibe combine to hit a sweet spot between formal and casual that keeps diners feeling cosseted yet comfortable, with none of the intimidation that can come with the kind of restaurant that falls into the fancy-schmancy category. Itâ€™s a big place, but divided up into so many rooms and corners that it feels fairly intimate. Thereâ€™s a classy, antiquey feel to the surroundings, with the breadboard walls and Windsor chairs, but the high ceilings and contemporary art give it a modern touch. As Rockland County restaurants go, itâ€™s pricy but very popular.
Even so, we were surprised to find the place hopping when we showed up at 7:30 on a Tuesday night. Judging from the plates being delivered to the couples and groups around us, it looked like Restaurant Week was responsible for much of the crowd â€” most of what we saw traveling past was from the Restaurant Week menu.
We started with butternut squash flan and foraged wild mushroom bisque. The flan had a texture so light it was like spooning up a bubble bath, and the flavor nearly as delicate, so that it was almost overwhelmed by the accompanying green salad. (The menu said rocket, but it seemed to be the less bitter, grassy-fresh mache). But both were surrounded by a lovely buerre blanc pool studded with sweet nubs of garlic, and the sauce brought all the elements together.
Still, the flan couldnâ€™t compete with the truly excellent soup, a potion to make mycologists well up with joy. The soup was absolutely delicious, with an almost tangible earthy quality that conjured up deep forests and dank caves, but in a very, very good way. Creamy, even without the decorative crÃ¨me fraiche squiggle, it was rich and hearty and lick-the-bowl delicious. The accompaniment â€” two crisp and cheesy little savory biscotti â€” didnâ€™t hurt either.
While the mushroom bisque was the big hit of the evening, its delivery provided the one false note in a meal otherwise characterized by highly professional service: the soup was served without a spoon, and it took some finagling to get one.
Before moving on to the entrees, itâ€™s worth stopping a moment to salute the bread â€” a crusty, soulful white, yeasty in a way that brought beer to mind. It was served with a sweet fresh chunk of butter that would have been a bit more user-friendly if it had been left to soften more, rather than brought straight from cooler to table.
Restaurant X sources locally when possible, so the two thick slices of pork loin came with applesauce made from Dr. Daviesâ€™ apples, as well as red cabbage and a pomegranate sauce.
Each element was good, but not particularly outstanding. As with the squash flan, only by combining all the constituents of the plate in one forkful do you appreciate the skill and culinary judgment that goes into designing the overall dish. The underlying tartness of the pomegranate played off the sweetness of the applesauce, both of which awakened the subtle sweet-bitter balance of the cabbage. The three lifted the pork out of its identity of â€œthe other white meatâ€ and into a starring role of its own. Definitely an example of the total being more than the sum of its parts.
Trout dredged with cornbread topping had a decidedly sweet note that tasted simultaneously good but wrong somehow. While the sweet cornbread was tasty and interesting against the meaty freshwater fish, it was like eating an odd alliance between coffeecake and fish and chips.
The accompanying Swiss chard was a more conventional and more successful study in contrasts: the bright ruby-colored stems against the deep green leaves, the tannic, spinach-like qualities offset by copious amounts of butter. On the opposite side of the plate were half globes of red grapes that worked well visually, echoing the red of the chard stems, but added yet another sweet note.
Also too sweet, and too rich, was the milk chocolate mousse laminated with a thick and glossy chocolate glaze.
Decorated with a delicate sugar cookie X, it made an impressive looking presentation. On the whole, though, it was testament to the fact that while a little sweet chocolate may be a good thing, you can in fact have too much of a good thing.
Pumpkin panna cotta, a dessert that shows up on Xâ€™s regular menu, was a better choice to end the meal. It had subtle spice notes, evoking but not imitating pumpkin pie, with a ginger cookie crust beneath it. The sweet sauce surrounding the panna cotta was sprinkled with what we took to be sugary bits of sea foam candy, although they may have been amaretti crumbs.
Either way, they were the exact color of the panna cotta, so that it looked like the dessert had exploded, leaving edible bits of shrapnel around the center.
The Restaurant Week menu doesn’t replicate the standard X menu. Still you get three impressive courses for what you’d normally pay for one dinner entree, and at that price you still get every bit of the polish that elevates this restaurant above an ordinary dining experience: the lovely surroundings, the professional service, the overall sensation of being well cared for. Talk about affordable luxury.
Restaurant X & Bully Boy Bar, 117 N. Route 303, Congers. 845-268-6555. xaviars.comÂ
This blog is part of Small Bites dining through Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, which runs through March 21 (except Saturday). You can see all the participating restaurants here at hudsonvalleyrestaurantweek.com. Dinners are $26.09 and lunches are $16.09.
Give us your reviewsâ€¦. and Liz will choose the authors of her five favorite comments to receive 2 free tickets to the Wine&Food Festival, April 4, 5 and 6 at the DoubleTree Tarrytown.