Tuesday, March 23, 2010

La Panetière: HV Restaurant Week 2010

Last Tuesday, I visited La Panetière in Rye to commence Hudson Valley Restaurant Week 2010. I’m just now getting around to blogging about it because I am the worst blogger in the whole world. …Well, I take that back. The worst blogger in the world would blog about a Restaurant Week dinner after Restaurant Week was over. So… I guess that makes me… the penultimate worst blogger. If I am even using the word “penultimate” correctly.

Anyhoooo, I’ve been curious about La Panetière for some time. I drive by it regularly on my way to Playland, the Boardwalk, or the Edith Read Sanctuary, and it’s got a decidedly charming, residential vibe to it—in that old-school Westchester mansion kind of way (don’t let my Tim Burton-esque photo fool you). A friend of mine also told me a few years back that a couple he knew had the most expensive dinner ever there, which piqued my curiosity. (Later on, I found out that it wasn’t because the prices were obscene; it was because Guy ordered a $200 bottle of wine. But the story stayed with me, and made La Panetière seem like one of those “special occasion” places.)

My girls Tia, Erin and Jen and I arrived separately after work, each having our cars valeted at no charge. Inside, a few things struck me. One, the restaurant seemed smaller than I thought it would be. Outside, you have this big old house, but inside, it’s this cozy little dining room that reminded me of a French bed and breakfast. I wondered briefly if the chef and staff lived upstairs. Then I thought it was probably more likely that there were other dining rooms (anyone know?). The website says they have banquet facilities and on-site catering, so that could also solve my mystery. Our particular room was adorable with French Country china, old clocks, and quaint hutches, yet also exuded fine-dining elegance (servers dressed to the nines). All in all, it was a suitable choice for four women looking to enjoy dinner and be pampered (or have afternoon tea! This place would be super awesome for afternoon tea).

A word about service: our group was one of the younger parties of the evening, and all of us were dressed pretty casually. In no way were we made to feel inferior, even when we each ordered tap water at the beginning of the meal (we later ordered wine)—our server didn’t bat an eyelash, and might’ve even said something like “Very good!” This respect and professionalism held true for the entire evening, and went a long way in making us feel comfortable.

Let’s get to the food.

I’m sorry to say I don’t have a picture of the country bread that was continually offered to our table. The outside was this crusty, powdery perfection; the inside was so soft and dense it almost tasted raw—but in the most unbelievably satisfying way. Love a place that knows how to make bread.

For appetizers, Erin, Jen, and myself couldn’t resist ordering the same dish, the Gnocchi Ricotta:
I kind of wish we did resist it, though. This gnochhi wasn’t bad, it just in no way resembled what we were hoping for (dense little dumplings that would sit in our stomachs for weeks). The consistency here reminded us of dry mashed potatoes. We tried to keep an open mind, but all in all, we were disappointed. More sauce would’ve helped. The pancetta was good (it’s pancetta, duh), and the wild mushrooms and onions were well-seasoned, but they were such tiny elements of the plate, they couldn’t save the dish.

Tia ordered the Winter Veloute, a celery root, pear, roasted chestnut, and curry-scented soup:
I took a bite, and was impressed that I had never tasted anything like it before—rich and creamy, yet simultaneously refreshing and zesty. ..But I couldn’t necessarily tell if I liked it. Neither could Tia.

For dinner, Erin and Jen order the Beef Short Ribs:
This was a winner. There was a flavorful potato mousseline, and a crunchy salad of apples and carrot chips, but the showstopper was the beef. The butter at our table put up a better fight with our knives. And the skin had a wonderful char.

Tia got the Braised Duck Leg, served with quinoa, pomegranate, vegetables brunoise, and cranberry sauce.
Tia liked her dish, but I stole a bite and was unimpressed. The duck was cooked very well—moist, yet not greasy at all—but it lacked flavor. Pomegranates and cranberries, although a nice combo, couldn’t save it. And quinoa has to be my least favorite grain.

I ordered the Assorted Seafood Risotto:
Pretty, but the first thing Erin observed was that the broth looked as if it had been sitting under a heat lamp for a while, and the top had solidified. I also thought the scallops tasted undercooked, but the rest of the seafood was prepared well. While the dish had some problems, the flavor ultimately trumped them.

When I found out that there was only one option for dessert, the enigmatically described “Dessert Sampler,” I had a mini-meltdown.

“I know it, guys. I can just feel it in my bones,” I whispered to my girlfriends. “They’re going to bring us a plateful of dry cookies. Like biscotti or something.” (I’m just not a fan of biscotti when I go out to eat. I was preparing myself to feel cheated.)

“Biscotti doesn’t sound very French,” Tia murmured.

This is what was set before us instead:
OH, how I loved these little desserts! The presentation was obviously pretty, but that little lemon tart on the right was pure perfection. (The chocolate espresso cake was fine, but I would’ve gladly traded it in for more lemon tart.) And the lemon sorbet: grainy, refreshing, lip-puckeringly sour—my friends found it almost too sour... but my friends are fools!—this sorbet packed a punch in the best way possible.

If you go by some of my food descriptors above, you might have second thoughts about trying La Panetière for Restaurant Week. But there were two clear winners on the menu: the short ribs and the dessert tray. Service was top-notch, and the dining room was very pleasant. There are reasons to visit, and for $28, now is the time. Can’t say how happy I would’ve been if I had paid regular price for the gnocchi, the soup, or the duck, but all in all, I think there are interesting things happening on the menu. And hey, now you can avoid those dishes!

La Panetière
530 Milton Road
Rye, NY 10580-3304
(914) 967-8140

1 comment:

  1. Fools, you cannot be talking about Tia, Erin, and I. Are you? Just kidding! While the lemon sorbet was too sour for my taste buds, it definitely had good flavor. All in all I enjoyed my meal at La Panetière. Parts of the meal could have been better, but the beef short ribs, the wine, and lemon tart made up for the gnocchi and the lemon sorbet.