Crabtree’s Kittle House

11 Kittle Road
Chappaqua, New York

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- Lunch 3-course price-fixe menu $22, Lunch $12-24, Dinner entrees $30-38, Dinner price-fixe and wine pairings also available (at time of posting)
Ambiance- Historic, romantic elegance
Cuisine- New American with plenty of local ingredients and organics
Hits- Newly renovated decor, innovative and clean flavors, new” Executive Chef Brad McDonald is a fine technician who brings inspiration and fresh energy
Misses- Very little in the way of “misses” here (it’s one of our all-time Westchester favorites!)
In writing about Kittle House, I’m presented with a bit of a chicken-and-egg quandary.  My fiance, Rich, and I plan to marry there in July 2010.  In fairness and full disclosure to my readers, I have to share that we do have an ongoing relationship with the folks at Kittle House, and -to be ethical- I also need to disclose that we have received complimentary meals during the wedding planning process.  That said, the reason we have an ongoing relationship with the folks at Kittle House is because we find it to be an incredibly special place with incredibly special people.  We distinctly chose to be married there because Kittle House is one-of-a-kind, truly one of our favorite places in Westchester, and our high regard predates our relationship with the staff.
Rich and I first went on a date to Kittle House just over a year ago.  The food was good, and the people were warm and friendly.  Immediately upon entering, we agreed, “Wouldn’t this place be great for our wedding?”  We met several people that night who would be instrumental to our nuptials, and we headed straight to Kittle House in August 2009 as an engaged couple.
Both restaurant and inn, Kittle House has a unique B&B-style niche, snugly nestled in the heart of Westchester.  Originally a fruit farm and nursery, it has passed through the hands of a few families since 1790 and has served as a cattle farm, a wedding gift, a guest house, a speakeasy, and a boarding school for girls before the tenure of the present owners (more on the Crabtrees later).  Kittle House has a rich historicity that New Yorkers sometimes travel to New England to attain.  How wonderful to realize this beauty in our own backyard.
When Rich and I first visited we found the food very good, but around the time of our engagement, Kittle House had recently welcomed Chef Brad McDonald, formerly of Per Se and Allen & Delancey.  (I haven’t had the opportunity yet but hope to ask Chef McDonald what it was like to work under U.S. Bocuse d’Or President and one of the country’s premiere chefs, Thomas Keller.)  The influence is undeniable.  It seemed like the Crabtrees gave Chef McDonald some leeway to play, and the menus took on a sudden vigor and brought Kittle House into an entirely new culinary arena.
A wedding-planning lunch with my mother and maid-of-honor (my sister) started off with crusty bread (if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know how I feel about good bread) and a generous ramekin of butter.
Mom and I both had organic baby beet salads with nutty, sweet mache, three crisp peanut meringue thins, and sour cherries.  While I marveled at the seasonal tastiness of the beets paired with a New-York-autumn green, it was the sour cherries that put this salad over the edge.  The cherry’s tartness with the nutty mache (also picked up in the meringue) was lovely.  Like opening a photo album to pictures of yourself in a June sundress, the sour cherries were a kiss of last summer in stark, cold February.
My sister had a cream of cauliflower soup served tableside over apricot puree and spiced cashews.  The creamiest nut of them all + heavy cream + rich, mellow cauliflower = heavenly.  Once again, the apricot at the bottom— it was like finding your flip-flops in the closet and wistfully brushing a few crumbs of sand from them.  For the briefest of moments, you can feel the August sun on your neck, and then the thick, comfort-food cream reminds you that ah yes, it is still February.
And now my favoriteJohn Boy Farm’s Chicken Breast, yukon gold potato puree, baby bok choy, carrots, turnips, served in chicken jus.  Where do I even begin? The “John Boy” in John Boy’s farms refers to Pound Ridge’s John Ublado, whose commitment to natural, free-range, ethically-grown meats makes me warm inside.  Even the feed for John Boy Farm’s poultry and pork is locally grown.  This celebration of sustainability is one of many reasons I love Kittle House.  Put together on the plate— that’s another reason I love Kittle House.  It was a thing of technical beauty- crisp, salty skin over moist, thick cut of chicken breast.  The potatoes were buttery and creamy.  The seasonal winter root vegetables had great color and flavor: playful, bite-sized carrots, quartered slivers of explode-in-your-mouth turnip, and mustard-y baby bok choy.
Mom had pan-seared Norwegian salmon fillet with sauteed spinach, crisp-skinned fingerling potatoes, and a roasted garlic beurre blanc.
My sister’s dessert was a standard-fare vanilla crème brûlée with unseasonably plump and gorgeous red raspberries for a garnish.

I think it’s tough to find a chef whose desserts are equal to his entrees (which is why many successful restaurants try so hard to find pastry chefs that fit their menu approach).  Chef McDonald’s desserts  are as technically-savvy as his savory dishes, and they’re where I often see what I’ll call the “Per Se style.”  There is a more sophisticated and experimental playfulness with form (the powdered raspberry, for example, on Chef Brad’s Valrhona chocolate) that isn’t always typical of Westchester chefs.
The star of the dessert table was another such example.  A three-chocolate terrine, it was playful but with neither the flip nor the whimsical connotations of that word.  On the contrary, Chef’s playfulness is cerebral and carefully-considered.  The white chocolate layer was made with kirsch liquor (a fruit brandy, originally German, usually made with Morellos cherries), pistachios, and fruitcake-like cherries.  The milk chocolate layer was combined with Frangelico, thin slivers of pistachio (possibly toasted?), and apricot.  The dark chocolate had a cognac (or brandy?) flavor with halved hazelnuts.  I love terrines.  Perhaps it’s the type-A in me, but there’s nothing quite like layers, be they dessert or otherwise.  In this case, two slices of this complex, complimentary terrine were served with a dollop of fresh cream (easily mistaken for ice cream) but a much better match in temperature.  Beautifully presented, with a lot going on, I think the sour cherry puree absolutely put it over the top.  I could have enjoyed puzzling through the terrine immensely (“Is that toasted almond or pistachio? Hold on… hold on… Let me get past the Frangelico.”) had it been plated alone.  The puree added depth and dimension.

Kittle House not only has incredible afternoon and evening meals, but an all-star Sunday brunch that is not to be missed.  With a range of dishes broad enough to please those partial to breakfast or lunch, the buffet-style brunch is probably the best way to leave behind the weekend’s leisure before the hustle-and-bustle of Mondays to come.  Starting with Continental breakfast items, we have breads, muffins, croissants, bagels, and buttery danish.  Hot chafing dishes offer challah french toast and crisp Belgian waffles with sweet-tart raspberry puree and New York State maple syrup served the way it tastes best— warm.  The savories included smoked bacon, country sausage, and creamy quiche.  There were several varieties of salads and seasonal fruit plates (including melon and berries) with freshly whipped Chantilly cream as well as an incredible spread of charcuterie, artisanal cheeses, and -oh my heavens- truffled fig honey.  If you’re not full yet, the carving station has free-range lamb, organic roast beef, herb-crusted Scottish salmon, and maple-glazed ham followed by two varieties of pasta.   If nothing else, go for the chilled seafood: littlenecks, Blue Point oysters,  and Gulf Shrimp in addition to smoked fish (rainbow trout and King salmon).  However, the absolute star of technique (once again) comes in the form of absolutely beautiful, traditional, pale omelets with nary a brown spot to be seen on the flesh of the eggs.  (I’m guessing oil, butter, and no milk pushed to the center of the skillet and then puffed up in a broiler?)  Call me a sucker, but there’s nothing like a perfectly cooked egg (or eggs) to impress a gal.

Should you find yourself hungry after all that food, there are also a variety of flavorful sorbets and Sunday brunch desserts-

This-is-what-happiness-tastes-like: warm pecan pie with caramel sauce (culpa mea- I left this dish sitting a few minutes before snapping the picture):

Alsatian-style cheesecake with raspberry sauce:

Aforementioned Valrhona chocolate torte with powdered raspberry and pistachio ice cream:

My ending thoughts are thus…

I wish I could tell you that the food makes Kittle House.  To some extent, that statement would be true, but the other weighty piece in the equation is the hospitality.  It’s clear that Mr. Crabtree has built a business model based on continuity, loyalty, and prioritized relationship-building.  Some of the folks we’ve worked with while planning our wedding (including our beloved wedding coordinator and maître d’) have been Crabtree employees in the vicinity of two decades.  In every detail– from the initial greeting of the hostess to reserving inn rooms to selecting catering dishes to ordering from the award-winning wine list– there is warmth, sincerity, and a sense of family. When you walk in, you are greeted and asked if the hostess can take your coat.  The waitstaff smile and never let your water glass sit empty.  When we went for brunch, our server overheard my grandmother mention that she hadn’t seen the shrimp; no sooner heard than done… He brought a buffet plate of shrimp to her, and she beamed from ear to ear.  How can I not love someone who made my grandmother feel that way? Kittle House distinguishes itself with an anticipation of guests’ needs, a can-do attitude, and above-and-beyond attention to detail.  It was the warm, familial welcome that drew us into Kittle House, made us choose the site (over all the wedding factories) for our reception, and will keep us coming back each year for anniversaries and special occasions to come.

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