Clearly, no one ever told Nick Di Bona not to play with his food. Or if they did, he didn’t listen.
Di Bona, the 28-year-old chef-owner at Larchmont’s Madison Kitchen, has a menu that is playful and dynamic, with textures and seasonings turning up in surprising places, like blue cheese inside a Belgian waffle or Asian-style dumplings plump with foie gras.
The kitchen is Di Bona’s playground, and his unbridled enthusiasm for each dish shines like a proud child’s school project.
Madison Kitchen’s decor, too, was a labor of love. Di Bona, the former chef at Peter Pratt’s Inn in Yorktown Heights, oversaw a complete renovation of the former La Villetta space, and added a shiny pewter bar, rectangular eye-level fireplace and 7-foot-high black leather banquettes tucked into a corner (very VIP). There’s also a full-size knight in shining armor standing guard, for no other reason than it just looks cool.
The final product is a mashup between a bachelor pad and an upscale Japanese restaurant, and it’s nothing if not swinging. Acoustics aren’t great and the dining room can get quite loud when all the tables are full (as they frequently are from Thursday through Sunday evenings) so reservations are recommended.
What we tried
Chicken and waffles: Dainty and crispy poussin, tossed in the house-made Buffalo sauce and piled on top of a crunchy waffle, with tangy blue cheese melting in the nooks and crannies. As an entree it might be overwhelming, but it’s an appropriately portioned starter. A high-brow take on a dish more likely to be served in a paper-lined basket with a glass of sweet tea.
“Everything” crusted Hawaiian bigeye tuna: A word of advice, don’t you dare order this cooked anything but rare. Each bite of tuna practically melts in your mouth, and the lightly crusted mix of poppy and sesame seeds, dried onion, garlic and salt was lovably kitschy. Served with soft bok choy, a mound of sushi rice, pickled ginger and wasabi cream cheese, and drizzled with a sticky yuzu soy glaze.
Shrimp risotto: The two wild shrimp that rest on a bed of buttery asparagus risotto are close to drumsticks in size, and pack an unexpected punch from white wine, garlic and chorizo sauce.
Drinks and dessert
Our waitress swore that desserts were all reasonably sized (“Only three bites, I promise!”), so despite having a waffle appetizer, the waffle sundae it was. An ambitious 8-year-old could have dreamed up this dish, a fresh-from-the-iron pastry topped with a dollop of cookie batter and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Ice creams are all made in-house, so if you aren’t up for the decadence of a sundae, we’d recommend any of the 10 flavors, which include Valrhona chocolate, butterscotch and Italian cheesecake.
Everyone should be drinking happy at Madison Kitchen. There are nearly 40 bottles of domestic and international wines by the bottle, and a dozen by the glass. Craft beers are heavily regional, with some hard ciders, too. But chef Di Bona’s hand is clearly in the cocktail cookie jar, with an evolving list of specialty shooters like Back to the Future, with Grey Goose, St. Germain, pear puree, white cranberry juice and a splash of sour.
During happy hour, expect lots of suits grabbing a drink and splitting small plates at the bar. As dinner time rolls around, the crowd shifts to 40-something women for a ladies night out and some date-night couples. If noisy restaurants bother you, request the quieter booth in the corner.
Helpful and professional. The staff at Madison Kitchen clearly enjoys going there, and has tasted everything on the menu.
What we will order next time
Happy hour food is Madison Kitchen’s wheelhouse, and from a dining room seat facing the bar, you get the feeling you’re missing out on the cool kids party. Go between 4 and 6:30 p.m. on weekdays (closed Tuesdays) and choose three tapas-style plates— like eggplant meatballs with spicy tomato sauce or chicken and shiitake steamed dumplings — plus one drink for only $15.
A 10-minute walk from Larchmont’s Metro-North station, on the same road where you’ll also find the Larchmont Playhouse movie theater.
Brunch will be offered starting at the end of May. Which is funny, if you saw Di Bona’s appearance on Food Network’s “Chopped,” in an episode titled “Brunch Boxes.” Di Bona won the $10,000 challenge, but in a confessional during filming said, “I don’t get brunch. What is it? Is it lunch or breakfast? I don’t get it.”
The restaurant shares a small lot with free parking with a New York Sports Club. If the lot is full (it probably will be), you shouldn’t have trouble finding a metered spot on the street close by.
The 411 on Madison Kitchen
Cuisine: New American Entree price range: $24-$36. Great for: Date Night, Seasonal Menu, Craft Beer, Brunch, Cocktails, Dining at the Bar, Girls’ Night Out, Meeting for a Drink, Going Out on Mondays, People Watching, Romantic, Small Plates, Special Occasion Dining, Vegetarians, Wine List, Excellent Desserts Noise level: Moderate to loud. Hours: Lunch: 11:30-3 p.m, Monday, Wednesday-Friday. Dinner: 5-9 p.m. Sunday and Monday, 5-10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Happy Hour: 4-6:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday-Friday. Closed Tuesday. Go: 7 Madison Ave., 914-732-3024, mklarchmont.com.