Spring has finally arrived. Here are some dining venues and dishes you should try not to miss this season…
FOOD, WINE & MUSIC AT ERNIE’S, BRONXVILLE!
I have been impressed with the great food, fine wines and hospitality I have encountered at cozy Ernie’s Wine Bar & Eats in Bronxville. Current proprietors Luisanna, an excellent home cook, and her husband Frank Scalera, a dentist by profession, have been adding their own signature to the convivial atmosphere and daily bill-of-fare. Out of Ernie’s tiny kitchen come laudatory renditions of American/Global dishes bursting with flavor. Oenophiles, take note. The carefully selected wines served here, many from small-batch independent producers, can be heavenly. It is a wonderful place to unwind, take in some music on special nights, and indulge. The small bar is great for networking, too. Recent food tastings here have included Luisanna’s amazing polpettina meatballs, cheese & charcuterie platter, Duck Wontons, Duck Confit, Mushroom & Pea Risotto, and Baked Cod with Vierge Sauce. There is live entertainment Monday thru Thursday evenings. Check ahead for updates. Ernie’s Wine Bar & Eats, 7 Pondfield Road, Bronxville, across from Metro North. The restaurant is open for dinner Monday thru Saturday. Phone: 914-652-7859. www.ernieswinebar.com
EARLY BIRD DINNERS WITH A VIEW AT MAMMA FRANCESCA, NEW ROCHELLE!
The 3-course Early Bird Dinners served here are generous and cost a reasonable $14.95. When Nick DiCostanzo was growing up on the Island of Ischia on the Coast of Naples in Italy, his earliest memories were the simple seaside meals he would enjoy with his family, farm-to-table and of course sea-to-table. As proprietor of Mamma Francesca Italian Restaurant in New Rochelle for over 30 years, located on the banks of Long Island Sound with 6-story views of the ‘Queen City’s’ seafaring boat clubs, this culinary philosophy still holds true, albeit with a sprinkling of contemporary taste. There is a talented new kitchen staff preparing a seasonal menu of robust specialties: fresh Ischia Salad; house made Manicotti; hearty retro versions of Chicken, Veal or Shrimp Parmigiana; Mamma’s Chicken Breast Europeo, stuffed with prosciutto, mozzarella, mushrooms and spinach in a Marsala wine sauce; and a big platter of Misto Frutti di Mare loaded with shrimp, clams, calamari and mussels in a red sauce over linguini. Daily Happy Hours and Chichetti menu at the bar. Party facilities & off-premise catering. Free parking. Mamma Francesca, 414 Pelham Road, New Rochelle. 914-636-1229 www.mammafrancesca.com
JORDAN HALL NOW JH BAR & GRILL, PELHAM!
There’s a new menu and management at JH Bar & Grill on Fifth Ave. in Pelham. It previously operated as Jordan Hall 10803, an Italian steakhouse with upscale steaks and chops and a piano bar. The JH menu has been toned down a bit offering a comforting variety of gastro-tavern specialties from Angry Shrimp Toast, Kale & Quinoa Caesar, to Fish & Chips and Chicken Pot Pie. General Manager and host is veteran George Figueiredo. During a recent Happy Hour we shared tasty Smoked Salmon Knishes and Crispy Calamari served with Olde Bay tartar sauce. The Bacon Wrapped Shrimp are a winner, too. A few of the ‘Hall Classic Steaks’, like the Colorado Rib-Eye, have remained on the menu. There is a Prix Fixe 3-course lunch menu served for $25. Weekday happy hours are 5-7 pm. JH Bar & Grill is located at 142 Fifth Ave., Pelham. Phone: 914-222-5494. www.jordanhall10803.com
DINING WITH LIDIA AT BARNES & NOBLE KITCHEN, EASTCHESTER!
Culinary entrepreneur Lidia Bastianich made a guest appearance at Barnes & Noble in Eastchester recently. Several hundred turned to hear her discuss her cookbooks and field questions about her stellar career. She managed to rouse the crowd. It was nice to see her again. I am a fan. I have always considered her cooking style to be ‘vivacious and lush’. And Felidia, her famous restaurant in Manhattan, is where I celebrated my 60th. Prior to her talk, we decided to have an early dinner at the new Barnes & Noble Kitchen on the premises. It is a new concept the bookseller is testing. Every time I visit the store, usually in the afternoon, I notice how active the restaurant and coffee bar have become. The house ‘no reservations’ policy worried me a bit, especially with Lidia on the premises, but the manager led us to a good table for two where we were able to watch the evening unfold. We ordered a tasty well-oiled and herbed Hummus Platter with za’tar, surrounded with carrots and multi-color broccoli for dipping. The crackly Lavash toast that came along with it was just delicious! We craved more. Our mains: Brick Cooked Chicken (here it is again), on the bone served with a potato puree with tarragon and watercress. Tender and very flavorful. And, Plancha-Cooked Salmon served on a bed of whole grain tabbouleh salad & basil dressing. The salmon filet cooked just right, the salad a fine counterpoint. We were impressed, better than we anticipated for this type of in-store operation. We will return. www.barnesandnoblekitchen.com
ONE DOZEN OYSTERS, PLEASE!
Oyster aficionados can’t seem to consume enough of them and more eateries throughout Westchester are serving these slippery delicacies than ever. Here’s where I have been indulging…
Dubrovnik, 721 Main Street, New Rochelle (914-637-3777), offers a popular Bar Menu daily featuring oysters on the half shell for $1.50 each with all the sides. This restaurant, the first to specialize in Croatian cuisine, excels in fish and seafood so you won’t go wrong here.
Kee Oyster House, 128 E. Post Road, White Plains (914-437-8535), has a daily raw bar loaded with oysters from all over the region. They are most popular during their daily happy hours when they are priced at $1 per piece, some varieties in the $2 range. The blackboard lists the daily catch. And they are pristine, served with house made cocktail sauce, ground wasabi root and Champagne sauce.
Artie’s Steak & Seafood, 394 City Island Ave., City Island (718-885-9885), lists big Blue Point oysters on their daily blackboard and they are terrific served with all the accoutrements. Priced at $11 for 6, $19 for a dozen. Wash it all down with one of the house specialty cocktails or craft beers.
Saltaire Oyster Bar and Fish House, 55 Abendroth Ave., Port Chester (914-939-2425) has a Wine & Brine weekday Happy Hour from 4 pm to 6 pm featuring Buck A Shuck $1 oysters (chef’s choice), along with a discounted selection of wines and beers. Oyster shooters, too. Bar room only.
Bread & Brine, 119 Main Street, Hastings-On-Hudson (914-479-5243), where ‘summers in Maine’ is the theme and fresh oysters are served in abundance for $1 each on Wednesday nights; happy hours, too.
(Morris Gut is a restaurant marketing consultant and former restaurant trade magazine editor. He has been tracking and writing about the food and dining scene in greater Westchester for 30 years. 914-235-6591, firstname.lastname@example.org)