There are bright, warm, sunny days every Spring that seem to beckon us toward more pastoral environs, away from the city. And a couple of weeks ago we did just that; we journeyed from Glen Ridge, NJ to the village of Piermont, directly on the west bank of the Hudson, just below the Tappan Zee Bridge. Piermont is filled with art galleries, clothing boutiques, sculpture on the village square, and many restaurants … something for everyone. If you stand at the river’s edge, along what the British call “the promenade,” and look somewhat east-northeast – and with the sun’s rays sparkling in the sky in the distance – you will see the silvery “main span” of the bridge linking Nyack to Tarrytown. The site is inspiring, especially to someone like me, a one-time bridge-worker for the New York State Thruway Authority (working on that very bridge!) during a summer break from college many summers ago.
What also inspires is the fact that Piermont is the home of Xaviar’s at Piermont and Freelance Café and Wine Bar (sister restaurant to the celebrated and more formal Xaviar’s; walk-ins welcome, and no reservations needed for that early Sunday evening dinner). Both of these establishments are owned and operated by chef de cuisine, Peter X. Kelley, and the two sit side-by-side right on Piermont Avenue, a quick walk to and from the river, and in the heart of the village.
Freelance Café and Wine Bar, the more casual (less expensive) sibling, is touted in their own copy as an “excellent combination of American Cafe Style, French Bistro and Italian Trattoria,” ... and [a] “Wine Bar [which] offers an exciting menu of small and large plates, allowing diners the possibility of tasting.” And so we did!
The menu at Freelance Café and Wine Bar is broad and deep and there is much to taste and choose from. And wines by the bottle & by the glass – reds, whites, sparkling, and dessert – are simply too numerous to discuss here (see the web site for all food descriptions and wine details). For the record we enjoyed a variety of interesting wines by the glass, both whites (e.g., a French/Alsatian Pinot Blanc) and reds (a Willamette Valley/Oregon Pinot Noir and a full-bodied Washington State/Cabernet Sauvignon), ending up with a wonderfully rich, delicate & fruity 2005 Muscat Rivesaltes (Vieux Chene/France). Note: the selection of wines-by-the-glass varies each evening.
Finally, just a few words (or more) about our most memorable choices for dinner: Our shared appetizers, chosen from a lengthy and comprehensive list of “small plates,” included, foremost, a fabulous and intricate portion of "nuggets of sweetbreads & lobster in pastry with spinach & sauce Cardinale" (@ $13.50), and a nicely prepared "lump crab meat cake with sherry mayonnaise & small salad" (also $13.50). Indeed, many selections on the list of appetizers sounded equally impressive … including the "Chinese steamed buns with pulled pork, Hoisin, pickled cucumber & scallions" ($11.50)!
Our dinner choices (“large plates”) were equally diverse. Most noteworthy – and, by itself, entirely worth the trip to Piermont – was the “whole roasted Hudson valley duckling served for two," with North African spices, pine nuts, raisins & turnip puree ($27. per person). Quite simply, an outstanding dish … well prepared in all respects, with crispy skin and succulent, well-flavored meat … a very generous & satisfying portion in all for each diner! Two other dishes we sampled and enjoyed included the braised short ribs of beef with a chili and onion crust accompanied by parsnip Mousseline & organic carrots ($25.), and the Maine diver scallops with a ragout of Brussels sprouts & chantarelles Madeira, steamed rice and green apple ($24.).
Next time, I’ll opt for Xaviar’s famous "coupe aux marrons" … C’est ca!