Chilly temps call for hearty fare -- and we found two great options this weekend for winter dining in the Rivertowns. At Juniper in Hastings on Hudson, the chefs were hard at work in an open kitchen creating home cooked meals – only better. Chef and owner Alex Sze was moving quickly over the oven and did an impressive job of serving dinner to a roomful of customers in a very timely manner. Similar to dinner at home, the meal is served in seatings, and we arrived at 8:15 for the second one of the night.
Though the restaurant has been open since 2009, they don't have a liquor license so it's BYOB, which keeps the cost of dinner down and also allows you to choose your favorite wine.
Juniper offers a regular menu of popular appetizers and entrees along with a full array of daily specials. We were hard pressed to settle on our appetizers as there were many good options.
Especially delicious was the daily bruschetta, with ricotta, blood oranges, grilled fennel and shaved celery. Also good was the endive watercress salad with Asian pears, blue cheese, candied walnuts, and radishes in a ginger dressing. And yet another twist on a pre-dinner salad was the Caesar with kale, soft-boiled egg, parmesan, boquerones (sardines) and crispy bread tuile.
The choice of entrees leaned toward the meaty side, so I wouldn't recommend Juniper to vegetarians. But for those who enjoy a good cut of beef, pork, duck or beef, there are some savory options. We heard that the brisket burger was not to be missed – and ended up ordering two, even though it meant passing on some other very appealing entrees. The burger was large, juicy, tender and tasty, and arrived with gruyere, a roasted tomato, grilled onions, bibb lettuce, and mustard aioli – a delectable indulgence. Though I resolved to eat only half the burger, I found myself downing the entire patty. Also on the menu on Saturday were braised veal cheeks with cannellini beans, pearl onions, tomatoes and rosemary, a roasted duck breast, and pork served with savoy cabbage, pancetta, pearl onions and apples. Juniper also offers a whole roast chicken for two with truffle potato parsnip gratin and a fish of the day with potatoes, mushrooms, leeks, bacon, sun choke veloute and hazelnut oil. One of my companions had the tilefish and said it was great. The special menu also featured a roast pig's head for two with cheddar cheese grits, coleslaw and buttermilk biscuits. We didn't have the guts to go for it, but some brave medical students at the next table said it was out of this world.
Needless to say, dinner was rich and we couldn't handle dessert – but when I go back I would love to try a few from their heavenly suggestions. I was sorry to pass on the bread pudding with chocolate sauce, vanilla ice cream and caramelized bananas and the hazelnut brown butter cake with shortbread, banana sorbet, crème fraise and chocolate flake. Next time ......
So – if you're looking for some serious cooking nearby, I suggest you give Juniper a call to see if they can fit you in. You'll probably find that they are offering more imaginative selections on the night you go. If you do try it, please send us a full report on your meal.
575 Warburton Avenue
Hastings-on-Hudson, NY 10706
Buoyed by dinner at Juniper on Saturday we set out for Italian Kitchen on Saw Mill River Road in Ardsley for an early dinner on Sunday night. What a find! The space, occupied by Giuseppe's since 1968, has been redesigned into two warm, inviting dining rooms where both couples and kids will feel comfortable. The restaurant is run by Edgemont native and celebrity chef Shea Gallante who trained at the CIA in Hyde Park, interned at Pino Luongo and rose to Chef to Cuisine at Bouley.
There's a nice list of red and white Italian wines sold by the glass or the bottle to accompany the fare that is more rustic than haute. The brown paper menu features an appealing array of antipasto, appetizers, grilled pizzas, pastas and "secondi" and I wished I could order one of each. After pulling out our flashlight app to study the menu in the dimly lit room, we decided to start by sharing a grilled pizza bread with tomato, basil, parmigiano and garlic. The other pizza, topped by robiola fresca, speck and arugula and was also tempting. From the antipasti menu of roasted vegetables and olives, we ordered the fried cauliflower and pecorino salad, and we would love to have that recipe to recreate it at home. There are eight pastas on the menu, and most are available in half and full portions. I went for the Siamese Ravioli, which were scored down the center and filled with squash on one side and marscapone cheese on the other. My husband had the Papardelle with Bolognese Bianco (white Bolognese sauce) and though he planned to take half of it home, it quickly disappeared. Our dining companion opted for the filet of black sea bass with celery root, leeks, white bean and Alfonso olive sauce, another great dish.
For dessert, we all plunged our spoons into a single serving of buttermilk panna cotta covered with tart blackberry compote, a sweet, light and refreshing end to our dinner.
Though the restaurant only opened this summer, service is courteous but efficient and we were surprised when the meal arrived in time to have us home by nine in time for Downton Abbey.
We've heard it's hard to get a table on Friday and Saturday nights – but we were welcomed at 6 pm on Sunday and you can also give them a try for brunch or lunch on Wednesdays through Sundays. To make it easy, they take reservations on Open Table.
698 Saw Mill River Road Ardsley
For reservations: http://www.ik-ny.com/reservations/
For those who think you need to drive to Manhattan to find sophisticated cuisine, think again. We are fortunate to have these two great chefs on call for us just off the Saw Mill Parkway.