Walking into the new Crabtree’s Kittle House in Chappaqua is like seeing an old friend after a makeover: it’s still your same friend, but she looks like a million bucks.
The restaurant is undergoing some big changes. As I reported a few weeks back, there’s a new chef — Bradford McDonald — and a new look that make the place feel modern and bright. Molly McDonald, the restaurant’s new spokeswoman (and the chef’s wife) wouldn’t tell me how much the renovations cost, but by the time they’re finished, this makeover will be worth every cent.
The restaurant, which is in an old farmhouse built in 1790, was looking pretty rough around the edges: tired fabrics, dark wood beams, scuffed up floors. And ladder-backed chairs.
It all started with the chairs.
See the difference between the right side and the left? General manager Glenn Vogt says they were asking themselves — if we could change just one thing about the decor that would really freshen it up, what would it be? And it came to them: The chairs.
But you know how that goes. You change one thing, and then the dominoes start falling. You’ve got new chairs? Well of course you have to paint the barn wood walls vanilla cream. Of course you have to replace the old dark rug in the foyer. And now, of course, you need a new walnut desk:
And a sideboard:
Here’s a look at the new Tap Room:
Note the copper ceiling. And the new tables:
They’ll be getting new chairs there. They will match the stools at the bar, which are an eggplant color. The bar stays the same:
The garden room has been redone, too:
Here is the private dining room, which is to the left of the entrance.
They’ve used linen wallpaper:
A wider look at the foyer. My colleague Karen and I are heading into the dining room for a feast.
As I said, the chairs will be replaced with brown leather ones, and there will be black and white photos hung in dark walnut frames on the wall.
Now that you’ve seen the new look — here’s a look at the new food.
Brad McDonald worked in some very high caliber kitchens, including Per Se, Alain Ducasse at the Essex House and, most recently, noma, an avant guard restaruant in Copenhagen. (Look for a profile on him coming in the paper on Tuesday, Sept. 15.) He cooked an extravagant tasting menu for my colleague Karen Croke and me. He surprised us with visual tricks (the foam on the oyster looked just like the oyster itself), creative combinations (beets and peanut butter, beef with huckleberries) and plain old great cooking (sweet scallop with a gorgeous silky texture, soft gnudi with just-wilted tomatoes).
Our absolute favorite was this beautifully plump sardine with Romesco sauce, cilantro and house-made saltines.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We started with a Malbec oyster with sorrel and nori:
It looks like a plain oyster, but when you hold it to your mouth, you realize Brad has disguised the foam as an oyster.
The taste was herbaceous — almost green — along with the briny oyster, which was incredibly fresh.
Glenn paired the courses with wines for us. With this one, he chose a Vermentino/Vigonier, Altavia, Noname, Liguira 2008.
Heirloom tomato salad with banyuls vinaigrette and mint granite:
The mint granite brought a bracing, icy note to the dish. The contrast would have been a lot more interesting, but some of tomatoes were a bit cold — which deadened their flavors. Also, the portion was a little big for the tasting menu we were having. We couldn’t finish. I loved, though, that some of the tomatoes were peeled.
The pairing was superb. Sancerre rose, Gerard Bouley, Loire Valley 2008:
I know I said the sardine was our favorite. But this creative dish, with great balance and a bit of whimsy, is also in contention. Organic baby red beets and mache salad with sour cherries, peanut meringue and balsamic dressing:
Earthy, nutty and sweet — just like a PBJ. But this is a PBC. We used the peanut meringues like the base of a canape and layered a piece of beet and a cherry on top. It was a mouthful of fun.
Paired with a Bandol Blanc, Domaine Tempier, Provence 2007.
Hand harvested Diver sea scallops, green apple, chanterelles, verbena:
The caramelized crunch on the scallop was so sweet and crisp and then the fish melted away. Lovely with the sharp apple and (again) earthy mushrooms.
Paired with: Sancerre, Hipolyte-Reverdy, Loire Valley 2007, also a little apply:
Now comes the sardine.
What I loved so much about this was the surprise it gave me. I am used to briny, prickly sardines. This was so soft, full and round. And it was almost sweet. That was balanced with the acidity of the Romesco and the sultry spices hiding in it. Was that cumin I found?
Paired with Rioja Blanco, Lopez de Heredia, Spain, 1999:
By this time the dining room was starting to fill up.
I was impressed at the crowd for a Monday night in August.
Sauteed soft shell crab with creamed corn pudding, basil and mizuna:
The colors say what I tasted: bright crunch from the red crab, sweet (but with a little tart) yellow creamed corn and bold green lettuce.
Paired with Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc, Vieux Telegraphe, Rhone Valley, 2007:
Ricotta Gnudi with Nicoise olive crumble, Sweet 100 tomatoes and basil:
The olives were dehydrated and they stuck in your back teeth like a caramel candy. The brittle texture played well with the so-soft gnudi, which is made with mascarpone and ricotta and dusted lightly in flour. The blistered tiny tomatoes brought a zing to the dish.
Paired with Moulin a Vent, Vielles Vignes, Domaine Diochon, Beaujolais 2006:
Grilled Quail with Peaches, Sweet Garlic and pancetta:
My apologies. It was getting dark and I couldn’t get a good shot of this. Here are a couple of blurry ones:
Peaches played a quiet role in this dish. They were overshadowed by the black fermented garlic, which is the new hot chef ingredient (did you see it on Top Chef the other week?). The garlic was perfect base for the delicate boned-but-big-flavored quail. It reminded me of huitlacoche.
Glenn brought out finger bowls and encouraged us to eat with our hands, which I loved because I hate trying to cut around the bones of a quail. It’s the reason I almost never order it. So bravo for keeping the mood light.
Paired with a Savigny Les Beaune, Les Narbantons, Burgundy 1999:
For the final savory course, a Prime Beef Shortrib with huckleberries, Trumpet Royale mushrooms, romaine lettuce and thyme:
Again, apologies for the blurry photo. Those are hearts of romaine, which were braised to a lovely texture that was soft but gave back a little. The outside of the beef was crispy and delicate and the inside was satisfying — just not quite juicy or fall-apart-at-the-touch enough. I suppose I was expecting a braised short rib, and this one had been sous vided. It didn’t matter: the huckleberries won me over. They were mixed with flowering chive blossoms, and popped like caviar and brought an earthy and sweet juice to the meat.
An amazing pairing with a Chateauneuf du Pape, Chateau de Beaucastel, Rhone Valley 1990 that I’m still dreaming about:
Obviously we couldn’t finish all the wine, but we gave it a good effort over the four-plus hour meal.
The diners at the table next to us couldn’t believe all the food —
— and were talking quite loudly about it, too. (They were making fun of us, really.) But I must say, the meal was paced so well and the portions were (mostly) so manageable (we left some of the beef, too) that we had room for dessert.
We had a spoonful of bouncy vanilla parsnip panna cotta and then a chocolate tart with raspberries and pistachios:
It was rich and delicious and a nice way to sneak another sip of that Chateaunueuf du pape.
The Kittle House is a longtime favorite in Westchester, and some regulars might be surprised by the changes. But I believe the chef hopes to balance traditional cuisine with an innovative approach that’s rooted in the region. In other words, he pushing the envelope but not so much that you won’t recognize the letter inside.