Sunday, September 21, 2008

Second Best --- Xaviar’s at Piermont

The truth of the high-end restaurant biz is that it is not so hard to create a good quality restaurant. A clever chef, able decorator, and well-trained servers should do the trick. Creating a remarkable restaurant that soars and that captures the imagination of diners is another matter. I recently shared a fine meal at Peter X. Kelly’s Xaviar’s, the well-regarded restaurant in Piermont (on the west side of the Hudson across the Tappen Zee Bridge on the Palisades).

Xaviar’s is considered by some to be the second best restaurant in north suburban New York (Piermont is in Rockland county right across the Hudson River from Westchester County), following Blue Hill at Stone Barns. This is not exactly being the second best restaurant in Bakersfield or Toledo. I had eaten at Stone Barns shortly previously, and then at Xaviar’s, and the comparison is not fair. Xaviar’s would surely be the best restaurant in Bakersfield or Toledo. It was good – two stars (of four) good, but not poetic. This need to adjudicate quality is at the heart of the critic’s task. Few restaurants stink (certainly Xaviar’s doesn’t) and even fewer are transcendent.

The word that comes to mind in describing Xaviar’s is pleasant – in truth, not a bad word: a pleasant evening out is to be hoped. The room is not luxe, but comfortable (one can easily judge from the restrooms). The staff is friendly and competent, even if one doesn’t have the feeling of being in the hands of professionals, and the menu is engaging.

If one doesn’t select the chef’s tasting menu (we didn’t), one chooses from a four course menu for Seventy Dollars. At restaurants of this class, one begins with an amuse: grilled mackerel on a kimchee crepe with a miso sauce. Bravo. I was impressed that chef de cuisine Kathleen Egan engaged with kimchee. Although this (mild) heat was not characteristic of the evening, it was an amuse that woke up one’s mouth.

Xavier's at Piermont: Amuse: Mackerel on Kimchee Crepe

The first course, Seared Maine Diver Scallops with Braised Fennel and Hibiscus Glaze, was a nice starter. Perhaps the glaze was slightly sweet and the scallops were good but not astonishing. Still, the fennel added a surprising and pleasing spicy note. Fundamentally it was a straight-forward dish (i.e., had I the inspiration I could have prepared it), but it was a happy start.

Xavier's at Piermont: Scallops with Fennel and Hibiscus Glaze

This was followed by the seafood course for which I selected Spaghetti Chittarra with Jumbo Lump Crabmeat, Green Onions, and Toasted Bread Crumbs. While the crabmeat was generous and sweet, I found the dish somewhat bland. Too quiet for a restaurant with aspirations. It was less subtle than muted. My companion’s Macadamia Nut Crusted Ahi Tuna with a Cucumber/Seaweed Salad was well-cooked with a lovely tart salad. Not an elaborate dish, but a very satisfying one.

Xavier's at Piermont: Spaghetti Chttarra with Jumbo Lump Crabmeat

Third course was a brined and oven roasted Hudson Valley Chicken with mushroom wild rice and organic baby carrots. The sauce was an overly thick Madeira/morel sauce. The chicken was nicely moist, although I wished that the skin that was served had been crisp. The wild rice was not distinctive, and the carrots, although fine, could not compete with those of Blue Hill’s farm.

Xavier's at Piermont: Chicken, Wild Rice, Carrots

For dessert, I chose the Hot Cherry Souffle with Cherry Sauce and Lemon Sorbet. This was an excellent close. Presented as a soufflé should be, each bite was infused with cherry essence. With the exception of the amuse, it was the highpoint of the meal. The sorbet was a pleasing accompaniment.

Xavier's at Piermont: Cherry Souffle

Xaviar’s at Piermont is a worthy restaurant. Whether it is second-best in the suburbs north of New York City I cannot say, but it would be in that mid-range of nice Manhattan restaurants. Sadly on this lovely Friday night in September, the restaurant was startlingly underbooked. We were not alone, but the number of filled tables could be counted on one hand. Perhaps Xaviar’s day has passed or perhaps good is simply not good enough in the burg of Piermont.

506 Piermont Avenue
Piermont, New York

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