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riverdale garden: outstanding cuisine in the bronx

Here’s a reprint of a post I put up on chowhound.com:

We gave the Riverdale Garden a test run a couple of weeks ago. We were very happy with the service, atmosphere, and food on the regular menu, so we returned last night to celebrate my partner’s birthday with a 15-course meal with wine pairings (available by advance arrangement with the chef). It’s a really lovely setting inside, but the best seats are outside in the garden, weather permitting. And last night, it permitted.

Here are the courses, along with a few general comments. I didn’t manage to get details for most of the wines, but I know that there was a heavy emphasis on Long Island wines — I know there was a Martha Clara chardonnay that was really nice.

Smoked trout with marinated peaches and onion.
Wine: champagne
— Very cool, trout lightly smoked and not at all overwhelming. Nice balanced start.

Heirloom tomatoes with chives, viniagrette
Wine: sauvignon blanc
— Tiny, thin slices of three different varieties, with light vinaigrette. Really understated and delicious; I could have made a perfect summer meal out of this and the cheese grits which came later.

Corn chowder with marinated olives, hot pepper
Wine: rest of sauvignon blanc
— Served in a tall thin shot glass, with the olives layered in and the hot pepper on the bottom. My partner’s favorite course.

Rosemary bread with Jerusalem artichoke, balsamic vinegar dots
Wine: Martha Clara chardonnay
— Very earthy, good combination of textures. Artichoke a bit stringy in spots.

Smoked duck with chanterelle mushrooms, light sauce dusted with ancho pepper
Wine: pinot noir
— Duck was lightly smoked, and the mushrooms cooled off the balanced heat from the ancho. The wine overpowered the dish a little, but the dish itself was one of my favorites.

Pine Island oyster with finely grated horseradish, pickled shallot mignonette
Wine: champagne
— I love oysters, but these were briny to the point of being slightly malodorous. Personal preference, but this was my least favorite course by far.

Slow roasted red and golden beets with camembert, friseé, toasted hazelnuts
Wine: Rosé
— Best flavor combo of the night for me was the camembert and the beets. The sweetness of the beets melded wonderfully with the creaminess of the slightly warm cheese.

Grilled squid, avocado, scallion, habañero
Wine: Rosé continued
— The sauce was spicy and the avocado cooled it off, continuing a theme. Great textures and taste combo–one of my favorites.

Smoked salmon on brioche with radish, chives, creme fraiche, caperberries
Wine: Rosé continued, I think. This is where I start losing track of the wine ; )
— Gentle, balanced, very nice.

Summer salad of mountain greens, jerusalem artichoke, corn, flat-leaf parsley, fennel, radish, pepper, favas
Wine: something white that continued through the cod
— Refreshing, light break from the action.

Soft shell crab, sauce with corn
— Flavorful but just a bit too tough and chewy for me.

Cod with saffron, eggplant, kale
— We talked with the next table while eating this course; I remember liking it but not the details of it.

Ostrich, pickled cherries, green roasted garlic, snap peas, parsnips
Wine: something red for this course and the next
— The ostrich/pickled cherry combo was awesome. Just enough acidity to give some snap to the meat.

Lamb porterhouse, pickled ramps, house made BBQ sauce, cheese grits
— At this point, three hours in, we were so stuffed that we split one plate and took the other home. I haven’t had cheese grits that good since I don’t know when. Incredible. The pickled ramps and the BBQ sauce gave the same acidity to the lamb that the cherries did for the ostrich — nice echo.

Dessert for me: Lemon tart with blueberry sorbet, hold the blueberry sorbet (I had the blueberry sorbet on the last visit anyway). My third favorite lemon dessert in NYC, behind the lemon tart at Le Madeleine and the lemon cake at Del Frisco.

Dessert for the birthday boy: buttermilk sorbet and coconut sorbet with a coconut tuile. The buttermilk sorbet was for me the best of his dessert lot. But I really love buttermilk, so I’m not a fair judge.

Two espressos
— Very welcome caffeine!

As I reread this, it would seem to a reader that the evening devolved a bit as it progressed, due to the overindulgence. Maybe so, but it was a celebration, and the food and wine were, with a few noted exceptions, absolutely marvelous. I think too that the atmosphere (good service, nice outdoor setting, convivial dining companions, regulars seated next to us) made us relax and enjoy ourselves far more than one might ordinarily, given the expectations of a 15-course meal. I also think that, given the quality, quantity and variety of the courses and the wines, $150 per person (pre-tax and tip) was a good value.

It’s great for us, as it’s two blocks from our house, but I firmly believe that Riverdale Garden is worth the schlep from anywhere in the city.

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