Hudson Valley Restaurant Week 2009, Equus Restaurant

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I’m Dina Braun, a foodie here in Westchester County who has been looking for a way to meet the talented food editor Liz Johnson and become a part of the Small Bites blog for a long time.

[Liz: blushing]

I am a big fan of restaurant week and I try to endulge in as many delicious meals as possible each year since I moved to the county five years ago. When we looked at the options for blogging, Equus was one not to pass on.

The castle is located in Tarrytown, New York and sits majestically overlooking the Hudson River surrounded by beautifully landscaped grounds and gardens.

When we drove up the long driveway for our dinner last night, we were pleased to find that valet parking was available.  When I inquired about the rate for parking, I was told it was $5 and that it would be added on to our check for dinner.  I had dined at Equus before and did not remember a fee so I thought to ask when the fee was put in place.  Apparently, the waiter later informed me that due to the unusually high volume of cars for restaurant week, the fee is put in place for this time only.

We were pleasantly greeted by two staff members upon entering and were asked to wait in the lounge or bar area until we were called for our 7:30 pm reservation.  There were many others waiting in these areas as well. The bar and lounge were beautiful with dark wood paneling, plush chairs, a fireplace, elegant lightening and warm tones to make you feel comfortable and relaxed even while waiting in such a distinguished space.  We enjoyed sampling the assorted nut mix at the bar.  The bartender was friendly and offered us insight to many upcoming events at the castle.

At 7:40 pm we were brought to our table.  There are three dining rooms and we were very happy with our location.  Once seated, a staff member immediately offered us water and our waiter came over to greet us. My husband had brought a rare bottle of wine that he was saving for a special occasion and the restaurant was happy to serve this and even waived the $40 corkage fee.

We did have an opportunity to preview the wine list and I must say it was quite impressive.  There were bottles starting at $40 and of course went way up from there. There were even a group of wines priced at over $1100! Perhaps another time.  Our wine was carefully decanted and poured for us to enjoy.

Shortly after, we received our menus and were offered bread.  The choices included sourdough, multigrain and french bread.  The sourdough was the best of the three but we chose to save our calories and appetite for what was ahead.  I am so glad we did.

The menu offered three choices for each of the three courses.  The waiter asked for us to please order all three courses at the time of ordering dinner.  In addition to the menu choices, there are suggested wine pairings for each course that were priced at $7 or $8 for a 4 oz pour.

I started out with the Crispy Four Brothers Farm Feta Cheese served with olives, tomato and fennel salad.  It was delicious.  The cheese was a bit crispy on the outside and warm and tender inside.  There was a lovely salty flavor and it was well balanced with the tomato and fennel salad.

My husband had the Orchard Wood Hot Smoked Wild Salmon served with new potatoes and asparagus salad with a spring onion dressing.  The salmon was served room temperature and had a wonderful flavor mixed with the potatoes and asparagus.  The portion size was quite large and it was very satisfying.  The waiter was very attentive and made sure we were happy with our selections.

The additional appetizer that we did not order was Curry and Apple Soup served with chicken and apple dumplings.  I am sure it would have been delicious!

The entrees soon followed.  I ordered  Atlantic Skate served with sauteed spinach with a spicy mussel sauce.

The mussels had been perfectly placed around the perimeter of the plate and they were each topped off with a sauce of vegetables and a perfectly balanced broth with just the right amount of spice.  The skate was delicate and delectable.  I don’t remember the last time I enjoyed a dish this good.  I cleared my plate!

My husband was equally as happy.  He chose the Duck Leg Confit served with Wild Hive Farm grown and milled mascarpone polenta, watercress and blood oranges.

The very generous portion of duck was beautifully presented and the taste was just delicious.  The duck was perfectly crispy and the polenta was a great compliment to the meal.  Andrew’s plate was cleared too.  The waiter was present to make sure we were both completely satisfied with our entrees.  (and we were)

The additional entree that we did not order was Heritage Steak served with Vidalia onions and root vegetables with a cabernet sauvignon sauce.  We did see it being carefully delivered to the next table and it looked incredible.

Dessert was still to come – as if we were still hungry!  I ordered the Warm Flourless Chocolate Cake with wild currant marmalade.  The cake was not very warm but the taste was yummy!  The chocolate was rich but not overbearing and the marmalade gave a nice flavor to this more commonly served dessert.

My husband had Rainbeau Ridge Chevre drizzled with honey and served with poached cranberries on walnut shortbread.

It was a huge piece of cheese and it was scrumptious.  I loved the cheese with the honey and cranberries together.  The flavor was really terrific.

The additional dessert that we did not have was a Mango Creme Brulee.  This sure sounds delicious!

We were asked if we wanted coffee but that was not included in the meal.  Once again, my waiter offered my decaf at no charge.  Another kind gesture on his behalf.

I thought there might be petit fours but unfortunately, that was the end of the meal.  (at least for now!)

We were stuffed to the max.  It was such a wonderful evening.  The food, service and decor were just perfect.

I should mention two things regarding the bill.  The $5 valet was added on the bill (as the valet man mentioned) and there is an automatic 21% gratuity added to all the checks for restaurant week.  When we inquired about it, the waiter informed us that due to the high volume and low pricing, it is a set gratuity for the staff.  They usually only have a 21% gratuity added for both parties of 6 or more and also for special holiday menus during the year.  The extra holiday gratuity is meant to be added as a kind gesture to staff working on holidays.

The evening was lovely.  It was an elegant meal in an elegant setting.  One suggestion to the restaurant. On my way out, I went to stop and look at the restroom.  The papertowels were overflooded in the garbage and the sink was a bit dirty.  For such a beautiful location they should keep on top of keeping clean bathrooms.

I’ll still be back.  (and so should you)

The menu:

Appetizer (choose one)
Crispy Four Brothers Farm Feta with Olives, Tomato and Fennel Salad
Orchard Wood Hot Smoked Wild Salmon with New Potato and Asparagus Salad with Spring Onion Dressing
Curry and Apple Soup with Chicken and Apple Dumpling

Main Course (choose one)
Duck Leg Confit with Wild Hive Grown and Milled Mascarpone Polenta, Watercress with Blood Orange Sauce
Atlantic Skate Fish with Sauteed Spinach with Spicy Mussell Sauce
Heritage Steak with Ramps, Vidalia Onions and Root Vegetables wiht a Cabernet Sauvignon Sauce

Desserts (choose one)
Rain Bean Ridge Chevre Honey Poached Cranberries on Walnut Shortbread
Mango Cerme Brulle
Warm Flourless Chocolage Cake with walnut, Currant Marmelade

The 411 on Equus.

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12 Comments

  1. Do you guys want to see Dina talking about her experience? Check out our live broadcast at 7 PM Thursday from 42 in White Plains!

    She’ll be on the show!

  2. Wow, 21% tip added to all checks. Ouch.

    And the $5 parking charge (which many of us complained about last year but apparently to no avail) is clearly because of the low prices. You can’t tell me that if the restaurant was really busy on a normal night that they’d use the “high volume” excuse to charge for parking.

    Nice size portions, however. Thanks for the pictures.

  3. I went there last year and had a fabulous time, but then again, last year was a better year financially. I was really bothered by the parking charge this year (didn’t know they only instituted it for Restaurant Week), and was insulted when I saw the 21% gratuity added to our bill – we were a party of four (incidentally, the ONLINE restaurant week menu still said 21% gratuity only for parties of six or more: luckily a friend of mine had a copy of the menu with her along with her directions, so we showed this to them, and they honored it).

    Also insulting, for a party of 4, our $20 parking charge was taxed AND added to the 21% gratuity they tried to charge us. Outrageous. After corrections were made, our $220 bill (we shared a $40+ dollar bottle of wine) was corrected to $180 – that’s a big difference.

    Coffees and tea were ordered but were never brought out, just the check.

    There was also some confusion with the valet system they have: a server asked all of us for our parking tickets at dinner. Then when we went to go pick up our cars, the valet men asked us for them. We said we had given them to a server at dinner, but no one knew how to find any of our vehicles.

    It’s a shame the service was so… I don’t know if “lacking” was the right word – I’m tempted to say “greedy.” Why take part in Restaurant Week if you’re looking for extra ways to raise the price of the bill because you had to lower your food costs? It’s particularly a shame because Ms. Braun was right on with her take on the food. I had the feta salad which was crispy on the outside and warm, firm, but melting on the inside. The skate in the spicy mussel sauce was very well prepared – tender and flaky, and the outside managed to retain a nice crisp even in the mussel sauce. I had the Chevre – not my absolute favorite, but appreciated just how well the cheese combined with poached cranberries. I sampled my friend’s mango creme brulle and can honestly say it was one of the best I’ve had in my life: rich, creamy, but the tiny pieces of mango added a nice subtle sweetness.

    Beautiful grounds, extremely talented chefs, but I don’t know if I’d go back purely on principle.

  4. Joan Ferraro on

    My mom and I frequented Equus Restaurant this evening, having celebrated her 82nd birthday. I must admit that I was fairly disappointed with what was supposed to be a very special dining experience for each of us. The prices, nonwithstanding “Restaurant Week,” would alone mandate what one would only imagine to be an extraordinary feast for all of the senses. Admittedly, one of the most notable features of this restaurant includes the ambiance. Other than that, there were definite drawbacks and not much has changed since the last time i was there.
    Years ago, I had been at the castle for a $75.00 brunch, again, with mom – We had had pancakes and eggs for $75.00 – The waitstaff was attentive initially, however, I noticed that an inordinate amount of time lapsed between the conclusion of my meal and the removal of empty plates. I thought for that price, I should have had my shoes shined while i waited.
    Tonight, I decided to give dinner a try. After all, dinner could be “different” in an improved way. There were surprisingly numerous disappointments yet again:

    – 21% tip automatically included in the bill – AFTER the on-line menu specified only for parties of 6 or more – false advertising.

    Second: tough steak. I had to forewarn mom to chew carefully.

    Third: 4.50 for tea, 3.50 for coffee (yet, unbeknownst to me, they offer free decaf to other diners?! Preferential treatment, I see).

    Fourth: Parking AUTOMATICALLY included in BILL, 5.00! (NO extra tip for the valet guy after that).

    Fifth – plates remained on the table – long after I was finished.

    Sixth: Bread was VERY tough. (OK, I will discontinue with innumerating here).

    Dessert ingredients “clashed” – NO chamomile tea for me (after I already ordered), had Earl grey which I wasn’t crazy about. Appetizer was very greasy and small. Multiple waitstaff were devouring us when we arrived, as evening progressed THEY systematically blended into the lovely tapestries on the walls. ALL disappeared.

    Also, I walked over by the stairwell, JUST to look at the photo albums of weddings that had taken place at the castle. The greeter came rushing over to me, perhaps mistakingly assuming I was wandering up the stairwell to the hotel, remarking: “MAY I HELP YOU?” in an anxious tone. I felt as if i was unwelcome to just look around and appreciate the premises.

    Plusses: pinot noir which I tried for the first time and enjoyed ($8.00 each for a small glass – I had two, couldn’t resist). And the setting – well, I will be redundant here: very romantic.

    However, i was with my just-turned 82 yr old mom. Some people do not have the luxury of still having their mom at that advanced age. I may not have had a boyfriend to share the “romantic setting,” but i had mom’s company and SHE enjoyed Equus and being with her daughter! In the end, food, prices, parking, etc. Heh – what does it matter? I would say that, overall, yes, it was a LOVELY dining experience.

    Sincerely,
    Joan Ferraro
    Sleepy Hollow, NY

  5. Given tht I strongly disapprove of their $5 parking charge and forced 21% gratuity, I find it strange that I will be defending the restaurant here.

    The $5 parking fee was clearly disclosed on the same menu that you said spoke about the 21% tip being for parties of 6 or more (which, BTW, they had corrected last time I looked at it to claim that it was for all). The real issue with the parking fee is that they add tax and tip onto it!

    Perhaps the neighboring table that got the free decaf wasn’t eating the restaurant week menu? It’s possible (even likely) that people booked there not planning on RW being extended. And that would also be a way of them not charging those people for parking, by including it on the bill rather than than charging it when you get your car (how are they going to know who to charge in that case).

    And as a nit, “frequented” means you are regular customers. You really don’t apply it to a single visit. And I did find it amusing (some could call it touching) that you ended by saying you had a lovely experience, despite the fact that you took the time to list all of the flaws here.

  6. Bill,
    Please allow me to respond to your comments to my review and make some clarifications for you. Does the definition of “frequent” really make that much of a difference in my assessment of Equus Restaurant, even though “to frequent” means to visit on more than on one occasion??? If that being the case, than yes, I had “frequented” Equus last evening since I have been there at least 3-4 other times in the past (I just didn’t mention the other times in my review for reasons of brevity).
    Second: There was NO parking fee on my menu! I can e-mail you the copy (with which I had been referring to for the previous 2 weeks),and the gratuity was indeed mentioned on the menu – for parties of SIX or more!
    Third: no, the coffee on the house had nothing to do with restaurant week.
    Fourth: I am sorry that despite my negative points on my dining experience, you found it “amusing” that being with my dear mother and appreciating her company OVERALL, and despite all of the less than favorable circumstances, was “perplexing” to you? I am sure that, to you, it would be.
    Sincerely,
    Joan

  7. People have some nerve griping about pennies here and there. The fact is that the food was top notch and priced at a special rate. I’ve been to many restaurant week places where they skimp on portions and prepare the food half-heartedly, and this was not the case here. So they add a few bucks here or there, so what. It’s still a steal in my eyes for the quality of food and wine I got.

  8. Mr. Cafe –
    Others have a right to express their opinions! Please refrain from being so critical of others who are attempting to continue to enjoy life despite the black hole of our economy.
    And i will say, for all of the “gratitutious” charges that were not even advertised, I just finished my leftover steak, which was tough as shoe leather. Some of us need to economize and, unfortunately, had higher expectations for the “break” we were under the impression we would receive from a 4 star restaurant. Good for you that all was fine with your dining experience. To each his own. And that includes others opinions.
    Thank you.

  9. Joan,

    Here is the link to the menu from their website and it shows the tip and parking price. The original version claimed that the tip was for parties of 6 or more and you should have tried to get them to remove it if you had it with you. I am fairly sure they had the parking price on it because I know being upset that they were making the same mistake this year that they did last year.

    http://www.castleonthehudson.com/images%5Cdynamic%5C63_pdf.pdf

  10. J Cafe, you have nerve claiming that there is nothing wrong with the restaurant wanting to add a few dollars (and of course before that you ridicule the poster by claiming it’s just pennies).

    I don’t care how good the food was. HVRW called for a $28.09 dinner menu. If the restaurant felt that they could not offer a menu at that price without ripping off their customers on things like $5 parking (actually $6.50 with tax and 21% tip) and a 21% tip, then they should not participate. An earlier poster had it right — they are being greedy.

  11. “I don’t care how good the food was.” ‘Nuff said. And I am allowed to state opinions about other opinions. It’s called free debate.

  12. Bill,
    I have my menu scanned into my computer at work. I will send it on Monday – it had no disclosure about a $5.00 parking fee. Had i brought it with me that evening, I would have disputed it. However, I wasn’t sure what it said w/o having it in front of me. Besides, how was I to know that I would need proof? They must have done the switcheroo between the time of the first posting of the menu and a week(s) later. Again, giving true meaning to false advertising.
    Regarding Mr. Cafe, I guess when you have money to burn, all of this penny-pinching monetary banter is perhaps negligible.

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