Zuppa in Yonkers: Modern Italian in an Historic Warehouse. Hudson Valley Restaurant Week 2011

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There’s nothing like that feeling of star treatment as you roll up to your dinner reservation with seconds to spare, noting not a single free spot, and the valet says: “the parking’s on the house.” Zuppa, in downtown Yonkers, prolongs that star treatment from the moment you leave your car in the capable hand’s of that valet, straight through to the dining experience.

I’m Rachel Seebacher. Entering Zuppa, I could not help but feel the grandeur of the space. It is located inside the hundred year-old brick walls of the Gazette Newspaper’s former Printing Press Warehouse. The white linen table clothes glow from the ambient lighting of flickering candles. Surprisingly – and in spite of a packed house – Zuppa was only moderately noisy. We could easily hear our own conversations without being distracted by the conversation of others.

The menu for restaurant week is wonderful, vegetarian friendly, and showcases the talent, creativity, and refinement of the chef. One of my favorite dishes of the night – though not within the restaurant week prix fixe – was an offering of “croccantini” – fried chickpeas and fava beans. Normally, I would not mention an off-menu item, however, these were some of the most delicious crispy, perfe

ctly salted, appetite-whetting appetizers I’ve eaten in ages. In fact, I’ve no photo-offering of these delicious morsels, as the moment the croccantini were placed

on the table, fingers darted from all directions, drawn by the rich, nutty smell of the warm beans. Crave!

As for the on-menu items, my friends and I tried all but three items offered. The appetizers included a salad of baby spinach, grapefruit, candied pecans, and gorgonzola cheese; grilled calamari on skewers, adorned with sundried tomato breadcrumbs and warm potato salad; and lamb meatballs, called polpette, with homemade ricotta and mint pesto.

The pecans in the salad were perfectly candied, while the grapefruit was ripe and fragrant, adding a sweet and sour, juicy crunch to the classic spinach and blue cheese salad.

The calamari, grilled to perfection was tender and lightly charred, with the added ideal texture of breadcrumbs to offset the soft, suppleness of the calamari.

Finally, the lamb meatballs transformed an Italian classic into a modern reinvention of the Anglo favorite – lamb and mint jelly. The meatballs boasted a crispy sear on the exterior that enhanced the fluffy and light interior. The ricotta cheese created a delicate harmony between its mild creaminess and the robust and minted flavor of the lamb and pesto.

The main courses included a bistecca, sliced Creekstone farm sirloin with chimichurri “italiana,” zucchini fritti, and mashed potatoes; orrechiette, a hand-made ear shaped pasta, featuring New York state venison ragu, and pecorino romano; and pollo, a generous half roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, mushroom thyme fricassee, and parmigiano scorza.

The steak was perfectly cooked and rested to my preference of medium rare and the potatoes were creamy, while maintaining their texture. The Italian chimichurri – a mixture of vinegar, thyme, and pickled onion – and the golden and crispy, perfectly cooked zucchini fritti transformed classic steak and mashed, to a modern, Italian offering.

The ragu on the orrechiette was another group favorite of the evening. The rich tomato flavor enhanced the tender pulled venison. The hand-made pasta scoop shape acted as a perfect conduit for the sauce, though perhaps could have used a bit more salt in the pasta water. I must admit, however, that I have a bad habit of enjoying pasta cooked in seawater salty pasta water.

The pollo was moist, and drenched in a rich, dark mushroom sauce. Each flavorful bite contained crispy bits of fried parmigiano scorza – translated as rind – which added texture to the juicy chicken and smooth, thick sauce.

My one complaint was that the stems had not been removed from the thyme fricassee, though my dining companion who had ordered this dish had not even noticed.

When dessert arrived, we thought we could not eat another bite. The rich, sweet offerings of gianduja, semi freddo and panna cotta swiftly changed our minds. The gianduja, a hazelnut chocolate terrine with vanilla gelato, tasted like a glorious, dense nut brownie. The gelato saturated the rich and crunchy treat with smooth, cooling vanilla.

The panna cotta was custard perfection: silky and smooth, sweetened with pomegranate concentrato and brachetto wine. The pomegranate seed garnish added crispy texture to the velvety custard.

Finally, the semi freddo is a dessert for the sweet tooth. Lying between ice cream and mousse, this sweet confection benefitted from the sliced strawberries and reduced wild tea vodka sauce.

At Zuppa, we enjoyed hospitality: attentive, skilled service and bountiful food. If you crave modern Italian cuisine in a classy and refined space, consider Zuppa – now or in the future – to satisfy that desire.

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