You know those restaurants that attract you, but the only time you are near them, it is the wrong time of day? Sometimes, I play hunter-gatherer and make a loop through Hartsdale to get groceries. I stop at the farm market on Knollwood and then head south on Central Park Avenue to hit Trader Joe’s and Turcos. I have repeatedly passed Caffe Azzurri and wondered about it. I was aware of their New American label and their Italian roots, and really, that is one of my favorite categories of restaurants.
Hi. I’m guest blogger Jessica Cohn. On Sunday the wondering ended. My dining partner and I joined others who were taking advantage of the first evening of Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, and we set course for Caffe Azzurri. As soon as the door creaked open, I formed a first impression of this friendly place. The bar area, which is up front, was filled with boisterous diners who like their basketball with a side of pasta. On entering, you know that the building has been around awhile. It has a worn-in air about it. But the warm décor in both dining rooms is welcoming, as are the servers and the rest of the staff.
At Caffe Azzurri, they are known for their prix fixe three-course dinner, so HVRW is no stretch for the management. They are offering an eager-to-please selection of starters, with a soup of the day, a ricotta crostini, and crab cakes topping the list. I chose the mixed greens with poached pear, ricotta, and walnuts to start. Let’s just say that I had a taste for this classic, and it made me happy. My partner tried the potato gnocchi, with pesto, pine nuts, and shaved ricotta, otherwise known as little bits of comfort.
Other diners were navigating mounds of Buffalo mozzarella, tomato, and red onion, sampling the mussels in coconut curry broth, and sharing their approval. Good starters made for a great start.
For the main course, I had the mushroom and fontina ravioli with lamb ragu, which was fine, nothing more. The mushrooms were spongy, and with a plate like that, I don’t want the feel of the food to stand out. But my partner’s fisherman’s stew was generous and satisfying. It’s a mountain of shrimp, scallops, calamari, clams, mussels, and chorizo swimming in tomato broth.
If I had it to do again, I might steer toward the other offerings: hanger steak, braised pork Osso Bucco, or roasted chicken with saffron risotto in mushroom truffle cream. For fish, there’s a tuna with an Asian-inspired crust or salmon with a healthy citrus salsa.
The HVRW desserts were simple. You can have mousse, biscotti and cookies, or something cold, be it sorbet or ice cream. Nothing involved. Nothing special. But so nice with a warm tea . . . or a shot of espresso.