Road trip: contemporary cuisine in a chic-but-rustic setting
photographs by Paul Johnson
For those who live in beautiful backcountry, the closest restaurants lie north of the Westchester border. But even if your home is minutes from the Avenue, it pays to shake up your dining geography now and then, especially when it means driving under a canopy of centuries-old maples with a hearty meal on your horizon. One out-of-town destination that’s been on my radar is Moderne Barn, a restaurant in Armonk run by the Livanos Group. Owners of Abboccato, Oceana and Molyvos in the city, and City Limits Diners, they have a delicious track record and also happen to live in Armonk, so the Barn is now the family’s hometown eatery.
If you sense that you’re heading into horse country as you drive up Round Hill and Riversville roads, you fully arrive upon entering Moderne Barn. The Ralph Lauren-meets-industrial-chic space features arched, two-story walnut ceilings with ring-light chandeliers, colorful striped banquettes and striking Roberto Dutesco horse photography on the walls. Rich wood dominates the space, from the sweeping center staircase that leads to the quieter upper-level seating to the catwalk above the bar that connects to a wine loft. Though the restaurant seats more than 200, tables were not available after 6 p.m. on a recent Friday night—it’s that popular two years after opening.
The Rustic Chic Interior
In spite of the crowd, our waiters promptly brought us drinks and appetizers from the something-for-everyone menu that counts American classics and comfort food, homestyle Italian and seafood in its mix. The iceberg wedge lives up to the ideal with perfectly crisp lettuce, creamy blue cheese dressing and smoky applewood bacon, and an element of surprise from the addition of lightly fried oysters. This salad is so large it’s best to split, and the kitchen will happily plate it for two. The Kumato tomato salad with housemade mozzarella, watercress and pesto is a decent rendition with firm-but-tasty mozzarella sprinkled with coarse salt, but those pretty reddish-brown tomatoes aren’t quite as flavorful as summer heirlooms. Grilled calamari “steak,” cut into strips and served in a light lemon-basil sauce topped with tomatoes and herbs, makes a refreshing alternative to the usual fried variety. Top hot appetizers: Nonna’s meatballs with creamy ricotta, basil and a nice little kick of spice; and steamed pumpkin ale mussels with andouille, pumpkin-spiced aioli, and a pretzel crouton—the lush pumpkin complements the spiciness of sausage. But the biggest crowd-pleaser at our table was the four-cheese flatbread pizza, with its micro-thin crust and nutty flavor from the roasted garlic that brings the cheese to life.
For our mains, the Braised Lamb Shank appealed to my desire for elegant comfort food. The meaty, tender lamb is paired with white beans, prunes, lardons and cabbage; with sweetness from the prunes and bitterness from the wilted greens, this hearty winter dish is well balanced. A classic tomato-laden Seafood Risotto arrived piping hot and won points with my husband for producing mussels, clams, shrimp or calamari in every bite. I had high expectations for the Rigatoni alla Bolognese, both because our waiter recommended it and also because the pasta at Abboccato is so stellar. But this Bolognese sauce was merely adequate with some oddly sweet bites reminding me of canned tomato paste. The chef’s Chocolate Ravioli is a much better option if you’re craving pasta (yes, there’s real chocolate in these dark brown raviolis), with subtle flavors of sage, butternut squash and a light cauliflower sauce, punctuated by crunchy toasted hazelnuts. We also enjoyed a more down-to-earth and playful entrée, the Wagyu Beef hot dog presented on an open-faced pretzel bun and topped with melted Gouda and sauerkraut. A messy eat and reminiscent of kielbasa, the hot dog comes with lightly browned shoestring fries, seasoned with chopped chives, that are crispy perfection.
Braised Leg of Lamb
Moderne Barn’s desserts are memorable too. Though the Valrhona flourless chocolate torte was right on target, creamy inside and paired with ice cream and mint syrup, I liked the buttermilk apple cobbler even more. This biscuit-like cobbler served with cherry crème-fraiche ice cream is a heavenly match. Even my “I don’t do desserts” friend couldn’t resist the fluffy strawberry-rhubarb-ricotta cheesecake with pistachio cream. Throughout our meal, service was friendly and steady if a bit hurried, though the waiter forgot my decaf coffee to go with dessert. I didn’t get the chance to remind him until dessert plates were empty, and he brought over a cup free of charge.
Though our meal had a few off moments, between the eclectic menu, lively scene and striking atmosphere, I’m sure we’ll be venturing back to northern territory this winter—where the Barn’s comfort foods and rich setting bring on the warmth.
430 Bedford Road
Armonk, New York
Lunch: Mon.–Fri., 12 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Dinner: Mon.–Thur., 5 p.m. –10 p.m. Fri.–Sat., 5 p.m. –11 p.m. Sun., 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Brunch: Sun., 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.