A top New York chef opens a relaxed and elegant eatery just over the state line
By Mary Kate Hogan
Even though the city’s only a short train ride away, it’s always a happy occasion when a top New York chef decides to open a restaurant in our neck of the woods, a.k.a. the country. In the case of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Inn at Pound Ridge, we are now the lucky neighbors of a world-renowned chef with a global empire—restaurants from New York to Paris to Shanghai—who chose our backyard as the setting for his new outpost, a renovated, circa-1833 inn. In fact, Jean-Georges has been making the reverse-commute to his country home in Westchester for the past ten years. Two years ago, he purchased the historic building (once known as Emily Shaw’s Inn) that would undergo a massive reinvention. Designer Thomas Juul-Hansen led a team that preserved original floors and stonework while bringing in modern touches such as upholstered settees in uber-soft leather. With whitewashed barn beams everywhere, a soft palette of grays and whites and the scent of four working fireplaces filling the rooms, this two-level dining space envelops you in rustic warmth.
When we arrived a few minutes late for our very early Thursday-night dinner reservation, the hostess couldn’t have been more pleasant about it. (To boost your chances of scoring a coveted table, you can book up to a month ahead of time.) We were guided to the lower-level dining room, which overlooks a stone patio and garden, where the last rays of sun were streaming in during our dinner. With hanging, paper-shaded lamps casting a subtle glow (lighting is by Herve Descottes) and Ray Lamontagne playing in the background, we started our meal on a seriously relaxing note. Adding to the laidback feeling, wood tables are topped with simple paper placemats, antique floral butter plates and mismatched vintage silver.
Our server, dressed in a plaid checked shirt and jeans, described the one nightly special, a dry-aged rib eye steak for two, and handed us menus. This is seasonal, farm-to-table fare with husband-and-wife chef team Blake and Melody Farrar (alums of other Jean-Georges restaurants) heading up the kitchen. Yet the menu seems more casual than you might expect, with foie gras listed alongside pizza. Of course, we ordered both. What’s not to love about a creamy foie gras terrine paired with sour cherries and topped with crunchy, candied pistachios, plated with a white port gelee? Bliss. A colorful beet salad blends the freshest baby vegetables with yogurt, baby greens and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar for a mellow, earthy starter. These tender beets came from California, but in season, they’ll be plucked from local gardens, our server explained. We also relished the peekytoe crab crostini, a cool, dill-laced seafood salad on warm, crusty bread with garlic aioli.
For entrees, the offerings are versatile and a surprisingly good value, with pizzas starting at $12, pastas available in half portions and entrees ranging from $25 to $38. My favorite of the evening: the grilled lamb chops in a smoky chili glaze over a bed of sautéed onions and broccoli rabe, with the chili flavor giving the dish a subtle kick. A substantial portion of tender parmesan-crusted chicken in a lemony cream sauce rests on a raft of tender salsify, a white root vegetable that’s like skinny parsnips. The simple thin-crusted pizza rivals what you’d get at a top Italian restaurant; we opted for a basic mozzarella, tomato and basil but look forward to trying the black truffle and fontina and white pizza with prosciutto. Those who prefer seafood count a roasted hake with grated ginger dressing, sautéed scallops in Meyer lemon-cauliflower sauce and lobster with chili among the options.
Desserts here appeal to the kid in us, from the butterscotch pudding to seasonal doughnuts. An old-school cookie plate features cherry chocolate-chips, a coconut-caramel cookie, lemon roll and a cheesecake square. For me, the must-order treat is the salted caramel sundae, a recipe the pastry chef brought with her from ABC Kitchen. Scoops of heavenly salted caramel ice cream are topped with candied peanuts and popcorn and finished with a warm fudge sauce.
While some star-chef restaurants are places you visit once or twice and check them off your list, The Inn at Pound Ridge is the opposite. With this relaxed-but-elegant spot, we’re looking for any excuse—from a Saturday night out with friends to “I just don’t feel like cooking”—to go back.