First Taste: Bellota at 42 in White Plains

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The first time I went to Bellota, the new tapas restaurant at 42 at the top of the Ritz-Carlton in White Plains, I ordered a tasting of chef-owner Anthony Goncavles’ new menu, sampling dish after dish of his Portuguese-inspired small plates. I sat at a table for four on the mezzanine, overlooking the twinkling lights of White Plains through the birch trees along the window, and ooh and aahed as each dish that came to the table was more creative — and delicious — than the next.

Foie gras terrine with apple cotton candy.

Roasted beets,  smoked citrus, marinated freeze-dried raspberries and port poached figs. Joe Larese/TJN

The second time I went to Bellota, my book club — all 8 of us —  sat on the comfortable couches in the lounge, laughing, toasting the holidays and sharing a tableful of tapas. It wasn’t that we didn’t love the food — it’s just that the evening wasn’t focused on that.

I’m telling you this because I think Bellota is a great place for just about any sort of evening. Serious food lovers will be wowed by Goncalves’ creative techniques, well-balanced flavors and sense of playfulness. People just out for a good time with friends will have just that — a good time in a gorgeous setting — and be pleasantly surprised by what’s on the plate.

Olives, foreground, and pata negra, a Spanish ham.

Chef Anthony Goncalves, in front of a portrait of his father, Tony. Joe Larese/TJN

Tons more photos, after the jump.

Before I go through the meal dish by dish, I first want to show you a few of the photos taken by staff photographer Joe Larese. These are of the tables on the mezzanine:

A booth on the mezzanine:

Shrimp empanadas and saffron aioli:

(More on that little tube in a moment!)

White anchovies, cucumber and bell peppers:

The first thing I tasted at Bellota was a silky, rich ham called pata negra.

It’s also known as Jamon Iberico, and the black-footed Iberian pigs that it comes from are known for foraging for acorns, or bellotas.

The waitstaff then brought over a bowl with a silver dome. When they lifted it, an aromatic puff of smoke wafted out. It smelled like we were tromping through the forest. We giggled.

It was the Deconstructed Torta Espanola. Poached egg, potato espuma, pepper caviar and smoke ($7):

Joe Larese

A poached egg is nestled in a potato espuma — or foam — and manchego cheese, garnished with caramelized onions and a tiny dice of tomatoes and pepper caviar. The smoke, Anthony says, is made with dehydrated lemon peel, juniper, currants, nutmeg and a bit of driftwood. It certainly gets your attention!

“With torta espanola, if you’re not getting it right out of the oven, then it’s not fantastic,” Anthony told me by phone later.”The longer it ists out the worse it gets — so it’s great to have that flavor profile, but be able to plate it right before you serve so everything is nice and warm.”

You need a spoon for this one — and it’s worth every slurp!

Then we settled in to something a little more traditional: Green Asparagus: tempura, romesco ($9):

For his little twist (however blurry the photo may be!), Anthony fried these in a tempura batter. Great crunch. Light and fun.

And these peppers are also a staple at many tapas restaurants. Padrones ($9):

They say that one in 33 are super-spicy. We didn’t get one this time — but I have in the past, and boy do they light your mouth on fire. Otherwise, they’re mildly hot with a nice salty zing.

After that, we went back to non-traditional. Foie Gras Terrine: Apple cotton candy, almond ($12):

These little cotton candy tufts are covering little bite-sized pieces of foie gras terrine, which Anthony makes in-house using Sauternes and citrus and covers it in a crust of dehydrated almonds. For the cotton candy, he dehydrates apples from Mead Orchards — which is owned by the father of his general manager, Colin Mead — and grinds them to dust in a coffee grinder. He adds that to sugar in his his cotton candy machine to make apple-flavored cotton candy.

It was like having a one-bite wine pairing. I much prefer foie terrines lately — the sauteed foie is so very rich, sometimes it’s hard to take — and this was a fun way to try it without having a big helping on your plate. I will say, though, that true foie gras fans may find it difficult to appreciate and linger on the flavor of the foie — it gets a little lost in the shuffle.

Boquerones: White anchovies, apple cider spaghetti, cucumber, bell pepper ($5.50):

The coolest thing about this dish, besides its creative serving dish (a sardine tin!), is the noodles. They’re slippery and juicy, and pop and melt in your mouth when you eat them. They’re made of cider and gelatin, and Anthony means the dish to be a play on anchovies and spaghetti.

Here is a plate of one of the bocadillos (little bites): Mermelada y Manchego: Quince marmelade and Spanish sheep’s milk cheese ($4):

The kitchen makes its own quince marmalade, and it was quite tasty, but there was something lacking in this dish. Don’t get me wrong, if I had it as a sandwich for lunch at my desk, I’d be happy, but I think the cheese was a little cold and the ratio of bread-cheese-jam a little off.

Next, we tried Rissois de Camarao: Shrimp empanadas, saffron aioli ($10.50):

The saffron aoili comes in this adorable little tube. You dab on as much as you like — but don’t go overboard. Too much saffron can leave your mouth feeling like you ate a bowlful of nails. This was just right: sweet and floral. The empanada was crispy on the inside and warming on the outside.

Next, more fish in cakes! Cod. Bolos de Bacalhau: House-cured salt cod fritters, garlic aioli ($9.50):

And more creative packaging. They come in this box, which is how the salt cod is transported in the first place!

Just like the shrimp, the outside cake was crispy, and the inside was light, fluffy and delightfully fishy.

Now, more fish: Black bean cod with pickled bok choy and soy glaze ($14):

Black beans might remind you of Chinese cooking — but think about it: Portugal + China = Macao. “To me, this instantly said Macao,” Anthony told me. “I just think that this cod dish is one of my favorite things on the menu.” The cod is flaky and rich and the pickled bok choy is a lovely foil.

Carrilleras: Braised beef cheek with Romesco ($9):

Super-rich and delicious. And a little more traditional, what with the romesco and all.

Fans of Peniche might recognize these patatas bravas ($5), which are sauced with a spicy aoili that’s sort of a mix between mayonnaise and romesco.

These are (and have always been!) out of sight. Anthony says it’s because the kitchen is being diligent about the way they do potatoes. “Sometimes people say, ‘they’re just potatoes,’ but they’re one of the staples that every table gets, so they’d better be fantastic!” They are.

And so is this dish. It’s absolutely insanely fantastic, in fact. Tocino, or braised pork belly, with espresso-honey glaze, spicy pepper puree and a sunny quail egg ($13):

It surprises you with every bite. There are layers and layers of flavor. The belly, which has a heady, sweet and spicy flavor from espresso and maple syrup, sits on tiny orbs of chocolate. Really. They look like lentils, but they’re droplets of chocolate that were made into spheres in a bath, which gives them an outside membrane you can pop like caviar in your month.

Between the bacon, the egg, the chocolate and the hot sauce, it’s like the best breakfast you’ve ever had.

“How many of us have chocolate at breakfast — I do!” laughs Anthony. “And growing up as a kid I did. If you don’t, many people have a hot chocolate or a latte. It’s total happiness.”

And, to counter all that richness, here’s a vinegary bite of escabeche, orata (seabream) with shallots, peppers and apple cider foam:

The fish has that slightly brittle texture that comes from a briny bath, and the foam smoothes it all out.

One more fish dish. This is Portuguese food, after all. Pulpo a la Plancha: grilled octopus, fingerling potato, garlic and herbs ($14):

The octopus is braised with herbs and garlic — and the texture is divine. You’ll forget every piece of mealy octopus you ever met.

Then we tried Anthony’s updated version of another popular Peniche dish, Bitoque. Skirt steak, organic egg, country toasted bread ($13):

This dish used to be served on top of a piece of brioche, but the new version comes with country bread with parsley and garlic. Because of that, it’s not nearly as rich. Also cutting the richness is the salsa verde, which is tossed with the beef. It’s a terrific version of steak and eggs, and one you might not want to share.

You will want to share a plate of these though. That’s right. Chicken wings. Alas de Pollo Picante: spicy chicken wings in piri piri sauce ($7):

“Why not,” says Anthony. “I love chicken wings and beer and had them all over the place and tried all the sauces — and i’m proud of my sauce so I just put it out there.” His sauce is made with piri-piri, a traditional Portuguese hot sauce, so it’s got the tapas twist. Except for that, these are in every way traditional American Buffalo wings. Try them. You  won’t be disappointed.

Bellota (and 42) have a new pastry chef: Gael Viotty. And he is having fun in the kitchen, so we’ll have fun in the dining room. One dessert we tried is quite bold, and will not be for everyone. Fig Newton: Bacon, blue cheese ice cream, toasted walnuts ($10):

This is more like a cheese course — say, if you have a little red wine left and you want to finish it with something. It is barely sweet.

The other dessert — banana yogurt and chocolate yogurt, with freeze dried banana, granola, brownie crumbs and whipped cream ($8) — is sweet enough that a child would like it.

Each of those little plastic baggies has toppings for the yogurts:  banana (fresh and a little tart) and chocolate (sweet and rich). You open them, stir and taste.

“It’s about getting you involved — it’s about having fun,” says Anthony. “Plus, it’s tapas, so it’s a small portion and it’s just enough to satisfy you.”

And that’s what’s great about dining at Bellota. Small portions mean you can try a lot of dishes, but even with a meal like this one — there’s still plenty left to taste for the next time. And I promise you’ll want to come back for the next time, whether it’s to compare molecular gastronomy notes with your favorite food lovers or to enjoy an easy evening of fun with your favorite friends.

The 411 on Bellota is coming. Til then: 1 Renaissance Square, White Plains. 914-861-3226. westchesterlounge.com

Closed MONDAY & SUNDAY

Dinner 5:00pm to 10:00pm (Tuesday – Wednesday)

Dinner 5:00pm to 10:30pm (Thursday)

Dinner 5:00pm to 1:00am (Friday & Saturday)

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About Author

Liz Johnson is the food editor of The Journal News and LoHud.com, for which she's won awards from the New York News Publishers Association, the Association of Food Journalists and the Associated Press. She lives in Nyack with her husband and daughter on a tiny suburban lot they call their farm — with fruit trees, an herb garden, and a yardful of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, shallots, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, cabbage, peppers, Brussels sprouts and carrots and four big blueberry bushes.

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