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Gold Coast Tables

No connoisseur need go hungry or thirsty in the affluent suburbs north of New York City

John Mariani
Posted: January 9, 2002

  Above: La Crémaillère
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The Gold Coast that runs along the western shore of the Long Island Sound begins in Westchester County, in Larchmont, N.Y., then wriggles north through fine, quiet towns such as Harrison and Rye, across the Connecticut border into Greenwich, and up to Darien and Westport. It is a stretch of luxurious homes and green-breasted lawns leading majestically down to slender beaches along the blue, choppy waters of the sound.

The region teems with restaurants, from trendy trattorias and bistros to deluxe dining rooms, several harboring some of America's finest wine cellars. For great beef, Ye Olde Tollgate Steakhouse, in Mamaroneck, N.Y., is exemplary; La Panetiere, set on a hillside in Rye, is the epitome of a French country auberge, and the ebullient Il Cigno in Scarsdale, N.Y., (reviewed in the Feb. 29, 2000 issue) has an extensive Italian winelist. Christer Larssen, of New York's Christer's, recently opened Alta, a Scandinavian entry in Greenwich. That town is also home to American-style hot spot Rebecca's, as well as Thomas Henkelmann restaurant at The Homestead Inn (reviewed Aug. 31, 1998).

I've seen half a dozen chefs come and go at La Crémaillère over the last three decades, and all toed a classic French line. But since William Savarese, trained at La Côte Basque, Aureole and Le Cirque, took over the kitchen two years ago, the menu has become comfortably modern, incorporating new ingredients into fresh ideas thoroughly based on sound French principles.

You might begin with a lightly seasoned lobster salad with nubbins of ripe avocado and tomatoes, or a terrine of creamy foie gras studded with sweet figs and dressed with a tangy vinaigrette of white Port and a hint of vanilla. Savarese does not skimp on richness, evidenced in his ravioli stuffed with braised veal and bathed in a truffle sauce atop perfectly cooked spinach. I can't recall when I've had better, more flavorful sweetbreads, tossed with morsels of foie gras in a green salad.

The seafood section of the menu is the most modest, which is odd given Savarese's wondrous way with sweet, caramelized scallops set on a puree of buttery Yukon gold potatoes and celeriac, drizzled with citrus and sage. There are twice as many meat and poultry options, beginning with an impeccably cooked rosy squab with a polenta and foie gras cake in a Sherry vinegar sauce. His juicy rack of American lamb comes in a Niçoise-olive sauce and is accompanied by a ragout of rosemary-flecked flageolet beans. There is also a good cheese selection on offer.

Each dessert I tried was better than the last -- a buttery apple tart, a delightful baked Alaska with berry filling, and an assortment of housemade ice creams and sorbets (now sold in gourmet stores around the Northeast).

Buoying the menu is a wine cellar full of real treasures, one which holds a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence, so do ask to visit downstairs. There you'll find racks of the rarest Bordeaux -- six vintages of Cheval-Blanc, four of Haut-Brion, 10 of Mouton and an astounding 15 of Pétrus (with five in magnum, two double magnums and two imperials), among many others. The list is nearly as extensive in Burgundy, including Chambolle-Musigny, Bonnes Mares, La Romanée and Corton. The French offerings are so spectacular that only a rank chauvinist would gripe about the relatively few American bottlings, though I will carp about the sparse pickings of bottles under $50.

A few miles away, in Greenwich, Restaurant Jean-Louis has been going strong for 16 years, having been opened by the celebrated Guy Savoy, of Paris, who in turn sold it to his chef de cuisine, Jean-Louis Gerin, and Gerin's wife, Linda. One can hardly avoid calling this a jewel box; the 40-seat dining room is small but not at all cramped, and with just four people in a minuscule kitchen, Gerin produces a menu of haute cuisine that has made him one of the best-known chefs in the Northeast.

Mirrored walls open things out, vivid colors have been chosen carefully, and the soft track lighting makes the room feel convivial. Lace curtains, a profusion of roses, candles on the tables and Limoges china complete the picture of unpretentious elegance. Linda greets everyone warmly; Jean-Louis is always popping out of the kitchen to say hello. Regular customers often slip into the kitchen to schmooze with the chef, who calls his cooking "la nouvelle classique," defined as "richly flavored cuisine -- complex yet light, based on long reduction and last minute emulsion." It's made manifest in a dish like fish fillets and shellfish slowly simmered in a bouillabaisse-style sauce, with baby zucchini, yellow squash, tomato concassé and fresh herbs.

Desserts include a "super-thin" warm green apple tart with tangy green apple sorbet, a meringue biscuit of almonds, chocolate ganache and praline cream, and a textbook-perfect crème brélée.

Jean-Louis' 4,800-bottle wine cellar is a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner. Once strongest in Bordeaux (including the grand châteaus' more affordable second labels), it has now gained measurably in Côtes du Rhône and California wines, including every vintage of Opus One and verticals of Caymus, Cakebread and Silver Oak. The list is 530 selections strong.

In nearby Riverside, Conn., there's Valbella, a rambling restaurant whose parking lot is packed nightly with an armada of Mercedes, Jaguars and Aston Martins. Customers spend an astounding average of $120 on a bottle of wine here. "We're not really in the food business," says owner David Ghatanfard. "We're in the wine business. We sell at least 500 bottles a week." Indeed, Valbella's cellar (with a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence) is a testament to Ghatanfard and co-owner Valerie Molfitano's commitment, and to sommelier Jeff Henning's passion for collecting the very best.

The cellar holds 14,000 bottles, with an additional 45,000 stored elsewhere. The list has 1,600 selections, and is strong in all international categories, with an extensive offering of large-format bottles and awesome verticals of every premier cru Bordeaux, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, E. Guigal, Solaia, Sassicaia, Hartwell "Sunshine," Caymus Special Selection, Dominus, Rubicon and many others. Individual gems include various vintages of Harlan Estate, Marcassin, Beaulieu Vineyard Clone 6, Solengo, Valdicava Brunello, Pancrazi Pinot Nero and Penfolds Grange.

The cooking is mostly Italian, though you won't find better Dover sole á la meunière or grilled langoustines at any French restaurant. Chef Joseph Giordano is as manic about the fresh ingredients as his benefactors are about wine. That's why I've always preferred the simpler dishes here, like the gargantuan platter of fresh shellfish as a starter. The well-sauced pastas are easy to share as an appetizer -- from the capellini royal, teeming with clams, diced tomato, prosciutto and peppers, to the risotto with fresh porcini or shavings of white truffles.

The grilled meats at Valbella are exquisite -- the double-cut broiled veal chop (a nonpareil piece of meat), the Black Angus shell steak wonderfully beefy and perfectly cooked. For a bit more complexity, go for the seared baby lamb chops in green peppercorn sauce, or the tender veal medallions topped with truffled foie gras in a Pinot Noir reduction.

All desserts are made on the premises, but with such a screed of great dessert wines, I prefer just the fresh berries with cream, and a bottle of Sauternes, Picolit or late-harvest Riesling.

It used to be a rule of thumb in bedroom communities that the more country clubs there were, the fewer good restaurants one could expect to find. But here, on the Westchester-Connecticut Gold Coast, it must be the kids that are eating up the clubs' food requirement. Because their parents seem to be elsewhere, dining very well indeed.

John and Galina Mariani's new book is The Italian-American Cookbook (Harvard Common Press).

For the complete article, please see the Dec. 31, 2001 - Jan. 31, 2002, issue of Wine Spectator magazine, page 150. (
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La Crémaillère
46 Bedford-Banksville Road, Banksville, N.Y.
Telephone (914) 234-9647
Open Lunch and dinner, Tuesday to Sunday
Cost Expensive
Credit Cards All major
Best of Award of Excellence

Restaurant Jean-Louis
61 Lewis St., Greenwich, Conn.
Telephone (203) 622-8450
Open Dinner, Monday to Saturday
Cost Very Expensive
Credit Cards All major
Best of Award of Excellence

1309 E. Putnam Ave., Riverside, Conn.
Telephone (203) 637-1155
Open Lunch, Monday to Friday; dinner, Monday to Saturday
Cost Expensive
Credit Cards All major
Best of Award of Excellence

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