While you were busy (read: stressing) through the December holidays, then recovering (OK, hibernating) during this cold and snowy January, you might have missed out on some of the region’s hottest new restaurants openings.
No worries. We’ve got your back. We’ve been doing the research on your behalf (tough job, we know), so that we can help you make the right reservation, whether for Valentine’s Day dates (book soon!), girls night out, or a fun Friday evening with friends.
With a ton of buzz, Fig & Olive, right, in Eastchester is probably the flashiest of the new openings, with a major renovation of the 4,000-square-foot space that was formerly Smith and Hawken at the Vernon Hills Shopping Center, where Lord & Taylor is on White Plains Road.
It just opened officially for dinner.
Jimmy Fink, a Scarsdale resident, who is also a deejay for 107.1 The Peak and loves to go out to eat, got a sneak peek at an opening cocktail party. “WOW!!,” he wrote in an e-mail. “You have got to check out this place. I think it is raising the bar to a new level for restaurants in Westchester. Beautifully decorated and very, very chic with a definite New York City feel to it.”
That might be expected. Fig & Olive already has three locations in Manhattan, but when partners and Scarsdale residents Ed Somekh and Yoram Shemesh saw this space in Westchester County, they thought they’d have a winner on their hands. We’ll let you be the judge.
There are other spots you — and Jimmy Fink — might want to check out, too. One of the most popular looks to be bartaco, left, a casual, beach-shack-style Mexican restaurant on the Byram River in Port Chester. It’s owned by the partners who have the Barcelona chain in Connecticut. But there’s also a hip bistro in Dobbs Ferry and a casual cafe in Nanuet. You’ll find steaks in a cozy setting in Yonkers, upscale Nuevo Latino in New Rochelle, Italian farmhouse cooking in Scarsdale and tapas in the sky that are all the talk of White Plains.
After the jump, a look at what’s new on the restaurant scene.
Fig & Olive, Eastchester
With warm tones, an open dining room, limestone-washed stucco walls and double-height ceilings, Fig & Olive sure is beautiful. But executive chef Pascal Lorange, who trained at Restaurant Georges Blanc, a Michelin three-star in Vonnas, France, is making sure that the food, which focuses on Riviera and coastal cuisine from the South of France, Italy and Spain, is just as important. At lunch, you can sample Riviera Shrimp and Salmon Salad, free-range chicken with chive-olive oil mashed potatoes, and carrot and thyme soup. Dinner includes sea scallops and truffle-artichoke tapenade, grilled branzino with fig and rosemary lamb chops with goat cheese gnocchi.
If you want the best of both worlds — to experience the grand décor while sampling little tastes of the food — then head to the 60-foot marble tasting bar and communal table where you can share small plates, such as crostini, zucchini carpaccio and fig-gorgonzola tartlets. There will also be charcuterie and cheeses.
Details: Vernon Hills Shopping Center, 696 White Plains Road, Scarsdale. 914-725 2900; figandolive.com
bartaco, Port Chester
bartaco, Port Chester
bartaco — No, not Bar Taco; it’s one word — the new spot owned by Sasa Mahr-Batuz and Andy Pforzheimer of Barcelona, the wine and tapas bar with six locations in Connecticut, opened on the Byram River where Ebb Tide used to be. There’s a whole new look, feel and menu — all of which begs to be enjoyed on a fine summer’s day, cocktail in hand.
Unfortunately, it’s still winter. But we can pretend, right Luckily, with its beach-shack feel, wainscoting and white-and-blue color scheme, that’s easy enough to do. Let’s start with the cocktails. You can enjoy freshly made margaritas at an enormous square-shaped bar that dominates the main room, or take a group and sit at the tables and couches surrounding it. A smaller dining area to the left has banquettes. As Mahr-Batuz puts it, the restaurant is “very casual with a little bit of sophistication.” The menu is divided — simply enough — into “tacos” and “not tacos.”
The taco varieties include baja fish, chicken liver, and pork chili verde; the not tacos are such dishes as the bartaco chopped salad, cheese arepas and tamales. Hey — until the weather warms up, at least the food is tropical.
Details: 1 Willett Ave., Port Chester; 914-937-8226; bartaco.com
Harper’s, Dobbs Ferry
It’s Dobbs Ferry meets Brooklyn at this hip new bistro, where chef Chris Vergara and front-of-the-house man Justin Montgomery are serving American food, made with American ingredients paired with an all-American wine list — what they think is the only one in Westchester.
If you’ve dined at Vergara’s other restaurant, Meritage in Scarsdale, you know something of what to expect: simple, homey cooking using local, seasonal ingredients and waste-not, want-not techniques. You know — gutsy food like duck confit, braised beef short ribs, roasted duck and homemade pastas. (One pasta, a carrot agnolotti with butter and sage, right, is “a real eye-popper,” says Vergara.) He’s also serving local fish, including striped bass and fluke.
He will be a bit more adventurous in his menu here than at Meritage. “Scarsdale is Scarsdale and that clientele knows what it wants,” he says. “A different clientele gives us the opportunity to try different projects and different things — and go more casual.”
The setting, in the former Mimosa, has been completely renovated from top to bottom. “It’s a brand new restaurant and it looks like it’s been here for 50 years,” says Vergara. Which means the wood floor is distressed, the custom-built tables are inlaid with Scotch wood cases and in one room, all the wainscoting is stained pallet wood. The bar is poured concrete and the banquettes are leather. Even the walls are funky: they did several layers of paint, then plaster, then paint again — including one wall that’s teal blue. The restrooms have wallpaper made from old newspaper ads.
“It’s tavern-y, very 19th century, very distressed,” says Vergara. His designer calls it “elegant decrepitude.” (The next shabby chic?)
Harper’s is named after Vergara’s great aunt, Rose Harper, who passed away last year. The menu has cute little phrases that give us a feeling for what Rose was like: “Rose Harper claimed she drank at least two glasses of Scotch every day from age 19 to 98 — excluding the prohibition era, insisting she’d consumed 3 glasses a day out of principle.”
“She was a bit of a character,” says Vergara. “It’s a little bit of hyperbole and some creative writing, but it’s not far from the truth.”
Details: 92 Main St., Dobbs Ferry. 914-693-2306.
Bellota at 42, White Plains
Bellota — it means acorn in Spanish — is chef Anthony Goncavles’ restaurant-within-a-restaurant, which takes up the bar, lounge and mezzanine of 42, his fine dining restaurant at the top of the Ritz-Carlton in White Plains. But Bellota is not fancy; it’s fun. Goncalves presents traditional tapas (sliced ham, olives, patatas bravas), but also twists, such as his take on tortilla espanola, where a poached egg nestles on top of a potato foam and a medley of tomatoes, caramelized onions and manchego. It comes to the table under a dome, and when it’s lifted, an aromatic smoke of juniper, nutmeg and lemon peel wafts upward. You’ll laugh at the presentation, then you’ll love the flavor.
“With torta española, if you’re not getting it right out of the oven, then it’s not fantastic,” Goncavles says. “The longer it sits out the worse it gets — so it’s great to have that flavor, 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.
Dining should be “about getting you involved — it’s about having fun,” says Goncavles. “Plus, it’s tapas, so it’s a small portion and it’s just enough to satisfy you.”
Small portions mean you can try a lot of dishes, but even if you order half the menu at Bellota, there’s still plenty left to taste for the next time.
The views — from White Plains to Rockland to the Sound to Manhattan — are breathtaking, and the decor, with airbrushed paintings, leather couches and gas-lit flames that dance in globes recessed into the coffee tables, is casual and hip. It’s 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.
Details: 1 Renaissance Square, White Plains. 914-761-4242, 42therestaurant.com.
Jimmy’s on Main, Nanuet
If all this fancy talk of marble tasting counters, potato foams, and tuna crudo is a bit much for you, you’re going to love Jimmy’s on Main. Owner Jimmy Guarasci, a Rockland resident, has been in the restaurant business for 25 years, and he knows how to put together a comforting menu. The home-style restaurant offers dishes like Jimmy’s Beef Stew and a chicken pot pie that tastes like it came straight out of grandma’s oven. The dining room is warm and inviting, with wood floors, nicely spaced tables and an exposed brick wall. Best part moderate prices and prompt service.
Details: 149 Main St., Nanuet. 845-623-6246. www.Jimmysonmainny.com.
Massa Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar, Scarsdale
Fig and Olive may be getting all the buzz, but there’s another opening in Scarsdale: in the restaurant where Backal’s and Heathcote used to be at the Five Corners. Yes, this location has been a revolving door of restaurants lately, but this new Italian stunner — with furniture direct from Italy and seafood fresh from the markets — promises to offer the area something different.
Plus, co-owner Francesco Coli, son of Pasquale Coli (who also serves as the executive chef) knows his local market. The Colis also own La Villetta, in Larchmont. At Massa, however, they’re serving coastal Italian cuisine influenced by the region of Puglia. Massa — short for masseria — means “farm house,” and the homey atmosphere will remind you of a cozy hideaway where you’ll swear an Italian grandmother is back in the kitchen. Entrees include Pollo Martini (chicken breast, parmigiano cheese, lemon and white wine sauce), Rack of Lamb “Scotto-Ditto” (grilled with garlic and rosemary), and Oven Roasted Muscovy Duck, served with an orange sauce. Pastas are also a big part of the menu. Bonus: a roaring fireplace, lots of candle votives and tables decorated with white tablecloths over blue and white checks (check out the matching pattern in your server’s outfit).
Details: 2 Weaver St., Scarsdale, 914-472-4600; massascarsdale.com.
Cienega Restaurant, New Rochelle
You might not expect a sexy, city-chic restaurant on this industrial strip of Boston Post Road, which is lined with car dealers and strip malls. But leave it to two architects — who already own a popular Brooklyn restaurant — to turn something drab into something, well, fab.
The owners, Pedro Muñoz and Vivian Torres, are former Pratt architect students, and they also own Luz restaurant in Brooklyn. At Cienega — the name means “spring water” — the Italian porcelain, limestone, dark wood and blue topaz accents give the decor an upscale feel. A tranquil landscape painting commissioned from Puerto Rico-born artist Erick Sanchez covers the backsplash of the bar — a spring water scene, reminiscent of where Muñoz grew up.
But all this soothing decor doesn’t prepare you for the explosion of flavors on your plate.The menu takes you on a journey through Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and all the way down to South America. Chef Jorge Adriazola comes from Manhattan’s Sushi Samba and serves dishes like appetizers of palmito and tres quesos, and mains like Caribbean rum-glazed lamb chops and an all-natural grilled skirt steak with rioja rice, herb chimichurri, crispy garlic, and sweet plantains, below:
In-house pastry chef Bruni Bueno whips up classics like a sponge cake with dulce de leche and a killer deconstructed key lime pie. Torres is responsible for the inventive cocktail list, which includes mojitos, caipirinha and a vampirita: blood orange, cointreau, ginger-infused tequila and lime. The space seats 70 indoors with 10 at the bar and includes a seasonal outdoor terrace.
“We were lucky to find this amazing space that has this much potential,” Torres says. “It’s an amazing neighborhood and area, and we’re very happy to bring a little of our flavors and ambience and fun to New Rochelle.”
Details: 179 Main St., New Rochelle. 914-632-4000. cienegarestaurant.com.
Byrne & Hanrahan, Yonkers
Owners Mike Byrne and Brian Hanrahan come to us from Smith & Wollensky in midtown Manhattan, so they know steaks. This dark-wood, upscale yet family-style surf-and-turf restaurant— formerly J.J. Mannion’s — features worthy dry-aged prime cuts, but also burgers and a steak sandwich, as well as seafood dishes of salmon, fish and chips, and crab cakes. Wraps, soups, sandwiches, burgers and pie round out a lunch menu.
“Our dry-aged steaks are really what we want to be known for,” says Hanrahan. “But we also want to cater to this neighborhood. There are the high-end steaks and a nice wine list, but if someone wants to have just some wings, and a burger and a beer, we have this, as well.”
They also have brunch every Sunday, with pancakes, Irish sausage and mimosas, among other dishes.
Details: 640 McLean Ave., Yonkers. 914-476-2786. byrneandhanrahan.com.
Jessie Cacciola and Jeanne Muchnick contributed to this article.