I apologize that it has taken me such an embarrassingly long time to get this post done. Although a few things like a Napa vacation (and a stolen laptop, argh!) and the start of the new job sidetracked me a bit, my excitement spending the day behind the kitchen door with executive chef Ethan Kostbar of Moderne Barn has not waned. Chef Kostbar not only offered me a unique perspective of what transpires during an evening service (which you can read all about in my next post), but he introduced to me to his world at Moderne Barn.
Restaurant: Moderne Barn
Description: The design on the outside is, well, modern with lots of glass, steel, and brick. Inside, the 220 seat dining room is simultaneously expansive and cozy. It’s spacious with a beautifully crafted barrel shaped ceiling, large crystal chandeliers, and a second floor mezzanine above the bar that holds their wine collection. Yet, the circular banquettes and comfy booths, decorated in primary colors and geometric shapes, are extremely inviting. There’s a private dining room and additional seating upstairs, which offers a more intimate setting and gives customers a great view of the buzzing dining room below.
Bar scene: There are about 20 seats around the warm wood-paneled bar which runs the length of the right side of the restaurant. Three high top tables flank a divider which separates the bar from the dining room. It’s a great spot for a quick after work bite to eat or to enjoy some drinks with friends before heading off to dinner.
Cuisine: The menu is described as Mediterranean/New American showcasing simple seasonal ingredients. What that description doesn’t tell you is that it’s overflowing with casual, comfort food options intertwined with a few creative twists like Steamed Pumpkin Ale Mussels (served with andouille sausage, pretzel crouton and pumpkin spiced aioli) or Chocolate Ravioli (butternut squash is packaged in a bittersweet cocoa dough and finished with a sage brown butter cauliflower sauce and topped with hazelnuts). Yes, I know that chocolate and butternut squash sound like very strange bedfellows, but the slightly bitter cocoa totally elevated the sweetness of the butternut squash.
Owners: If you’ve been to Oceana, Abboccato or Molyvos in NYC or City Limits in White Plains or Stamford, you’ve already had a taste of what the Livanos family is all about. This Armonk family’s philosophy for Moderne Barn, their most recent endeavor, was to “create an experience that brings exceptional service, superb cuisine and terroir-driven wines together in a stunning atmosphere.” I say, job well done! One of their secrets to success is a hands-on approach as Lorena Livanos greets you with a smile as you walk in and Bill Livanos can be seen around the dining room and in the kitchen.
Executive chef: In the chef world, you don’t reach the level of executive chef without going through the restaurant ranks. Chef Ethan Kostbar is yet another esteemed grad of the CIA. He has an impressive history of working in such fine establishments like Laurent Gras’ Peacock Alley in the Waldorf Astoria, Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern with my favorite Top Chef judge, Tom Colicchio, and Paul Newman’s The Dressing Room in Westport. All his culinary experience prepared him well for his position as opening executive chef at Moderne Barn. What’s so special about being the opening chef? Well, it means that Ethan had to combine his expertise, creativity, and keen perspective to set in place his own system for everything in this kitchen from recipes to vendors. He fosters the Livanos family’s vision of upscale casual dining and constantly strives to give the customers what they want. Chef Kostbar’s passion came through quite clearly when he told me “I love what I do and not a day goes by that I don’t want to come to work.”
Front of the house: This is a very close knit team of servers, bartenders, and runners all working together to ensure a pleasurable dining experience for their customers. Housed in control central is the backbone of Moderne Barn with (from left to right below) Manager Edgar Balagot, Private Dining Director Chelsea Ventimiglia, Wine Director Matthew Christoff, General Manager Taner Yigiter, and (seated) Assistant General Manager Ben Houx.
Turning up the heat: The line fires up with 6 and 8 burner Blodgett stoves, pasta cooker, French flat top, fryer, grill, and Montague steakhouse infrared overhead broiler with a plancha (high heat griddle) on top. Whew!
Around the corner, the pastry station shares space with more prep equipment like another six burner range, a tilt skillet (a huge stand alone electric pan which can braise, boil, simmer, fry, and more), a large stock kettle, and a Combi Rational oven which has more settings than my Iphone (like steam injection). I’m told this oven is the coveted secret to their tender octopus.
Signature dish: Although Ethan admitted to me that he intensely dislikes (hate is such a strong word!) the term “signature”, the Veal Milanese would be at the top of his list. The veal is pounded thin and lightly fried with baby artichokes, arugula, fingerling potatoes, and shaved parmesan cheese.
Chef’s personal favorite: The Berkshire Double Pork Chop has been on the menu since day one. What Ethan loves about this dish is the combination of flavors like the provolone polenta, roasted red peppers, Spanish onions, and the balsamic vinegar rosemary sauce.
Favorite kitchen gadget: Chef Kostbar uses a Microplane grater not only for zesting citrus but also grating garlic and horseradish. At home, his mortar and pestle is his go to gadget to crush and grind spices, lemongrass, and garlic.
Menu specials: The Roasted Stuffed Quail, offered as a special appetizer, immediately got my attention. I was intrigued how the delicate bird was prepared, especially when along with cornbread stuffing and corn succotash one of the components was described as a fungus that grows on corn. What!? I love learning about unique ingredients and the use of huitlacoche in the sauce is a surprising creative twist. With descriptions ranging from Mexican truffles to corn smut, huitlacoche turns out to be a good-for-you black fungus which is full of nutrients like lysine and beta-glucen (the cholesterol fighting ingredient in oatmeal). All that and it tastes good too (and who would have thought to find it right here in Armonk).
My random insights: Every restaurant has a few secrets. Moderne Barn’s is up on the roof.
Ethan was very excited to share the details of the new rooftop garden project. Although harvesting of veggies and herbs was just winding down when I visited, he has some pretty ambitious expansion plans for next summer. How cool to be able to have super fresh ingredients just a few flights of stairs away from the kitchen!
Most of my behind the kitchen door experience was spent in the kitchen watching chef Kostbar and his team expedite a busy Friday night service. The next time I dine out, I will appreciate my meal more so knowing exactly what goes into getting that dish out to my table (see my next post for all the details).
Details: Moderne Barn, 430 Bedford Road (Route 22), Armonk, 914. 730.0001. Moderne Barn is open for lunch Monday through Friday, noon to 2:30 pm and Sunday brunch, 11:00 am to 2:30 pm. Dinner is served Monday through Sunday starting at 5 pm.
Patrice Costa is a passionate foodie who is on a personal culinary mission to learn it all from local chefs. She looks forward to sharing her experiences as she goes behind the kitchen door in some of her favorite restaurant kitchens. When not on blogging assignments, she can be found happily working in the kitchen of Harvest on Hudson.