I am a huge fan of restaurateur Danny Meyer (Union Square Café, Eleven Madison, Gramercy Tavern and Shake Shake, to name a few); so when two of his alumni opened Restaurant North in Armonk, I couldn’t wait to check it out during HVRW. Patrice Costa here, eager to tell you all the details of dinner at North with my very patient husband, John, culinary cohort, Margaret Rizzuto, and her equally patient husband, Evan.
At one end of small strip mall on busy Main Street, North’s very discreet signage could easily cause you to go right past their parking lot and then the lot being somewhat space challenged may bring more than a little anxiety. But fear not, because one step into this calming, uncluttered, and very open restaurant, with its flowering cherry blossom centerpiece and neutral colors, you will feel your stresses just melt away.
Okay, enjoying a Napa Valley favorite, Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc, at the hip bar doesn’t hurt either.
Danny Meyer’s concept of “enlightened hospitality” is all about attention to detail and these alumni have clearly learned their lessons well. From the array of empty wine bottles arranged for the enthusiast to peruse, to the lovely chalk artwork in and around the bar, to the accommodating hostess, it all made us feel very welcome.
It’s tough to get prime reservations during HVRW and although we originally grumbled about having dinner at 5:15 pm, the upside is that we were able to enjoy the end of this beautiful spring day as we sat in the front corner flanked by two open French doors. Our server, clad in what I guess is the uniform checked shirt (never been a big fan of checks or polka dots), offered us one menu which had both their regular and HVRW offerings. I assumed there was no need for additional specials since the menu must change frequently, and I liked that all the choices were on one page. And what choices we had! Clearly, we were set on the HVRW menu, and with three meat eaters and one vegetarian at the table, we made haste to start our dining adventure.
First, there’s the bread. Nutty and warm pumpernickel rolls with sweet apple butter. Seriously, they should put a limit on just how many you can ask for because they were totally addictive.
And then, my hubby ordered a superb glass of French merlot from the oh-so-cool wine list. I loved the quote etched onto the wooden back:
North recently received the Slow Food Snail of Approval (as you can see from this sideways chalk picture).
This means that they are sourcing a good portion of the their menu locally from the Hudson Valley like Old Chatham Sheepherding Company’s Ewe’s blue cheese or Meiller’s pork and beef from Pine Plains or Battenkill Creamery’s milk. I love knowing where my food comes from, but it would have been nice if there was more information given either on the menu or from our server about their purveyors.
We all found something to try on the menu. For starters, Margaret and Evan had the Boston Lettuce. It was HUGE. A whole head of lettuce, dressed ever so slightly with a honey mustard tarragon dressing sprinkled with large chunks of Old Chatham Ewe’s blue cheese. I thought this creamy, slightly tangy, cheese made the whole salad (and this compliment coming from a blue cheese hater!).
My hubby’s Rock Shrimp Risotto was perfectly cooked, light and creamy (I thought I tasted some cauliflower puree in the mix too). The roasted cauliflower florets added a nice nutty touch, but he felt, even with ancho chili and basil, it was a bit bland. My only comment was it looked kind of sad on that flat plate all spread out and thought a bowl might have given it a lift.
I went the heaviest at the table with the Pork Belly. It was a generous cut with just the right proportion of shredded pork to fatty belly. I expected this upscale bacon to be salty, in fact that’s what enticed me to order it (mmmm bacon!); but unfortunately, after the first couple of bites, I realized that not only was the pork salty, so was the glaze and the accompanying radish beet salad.
Oh yes, we will have more bread, thank you. And so we continued on with our entrees, starting with Meiller’s Farm Beef Two Ways for John, Evan and myself.
On right side of the plate were chunks of beef in a cocoa braise on top of a thin polenta cake. The low and slow braise did its magic since we could easily cut the beef with a fork. The cocoa added a richness and depth to the meat that I find hard to describe; it was just really good! On the other side, there were grilled strips of what I thought were top round London broil. Since it was probably grass fed beef, I wasn’t surprised that the texture of the meat was a bit chewy; but the crispy and buttery smashed potatoes underneath proved to be the perfect partner for the meat.
I have to admit to having some dish envy for Margaret’s Beet Green Budino after just one bite.
Budino, which is Italian for pudding, translated well into the two custardy timbales of greens and bread crumbs atop a sweet potato puree, roasted fennel, and goat cheese spuma (is that Italian for foam?). It was an amazingly savory dish and pretty substantial for veggies.
The last course was what we all decided to describe as a dessert carousel — a table-wide lazy Susan if you will — since we ordered all four desserts and kept switching so that we each got at least 4 or 5 sweet bites of everything.
And here’s how they ranked starting with our favorite first.
1. Griddled Olive Oil Cake packed a lemon punch from the drizzled thick curd. It was like a very soft and velvety French toast cake. So simple, but so good. Definitely the best choice of the evening.
2. Battenkill Creamery Milk Panna Cotta was a silky custard with a lady finger bottom topped with crunchy hazelnuts. The most refreshing and coolest part of the dessert was the tangerine soup that was poured tableside all around the panna cotta.
3. Super Awesome Chocolate Chip Cookie Skillet was exactly what you’d think — an ooey-gooey chocolate chip cookie, right out of oven, with warm flavors of brown sugar, butter and chocolate. Only thing that was missing was a glass of milk.
4. Whipped Peanut Butter Tartlet with meringue, ganache, and caramelized bananas sparked a lively discussion of the pros and cons of the addition of the bananas. I was on Team Bananas, but honestly, how can you go wrong with a combo of peanut butter and chocolate?
The evening ended with a few surprises, like receiving the check in a copy of Huck Finn . . .
and goodie bags of apple crumb muffins for breakfast (truly appreciated as I ran out the door the next morning!).
But what will stay with me until my next dinner at North is the quote on the back of the tag: