Saturday, July 21, 2012


We did manage to eat at Vox a few nights later.  Tucked into a dip in the road at the intersections of Route 121 and Route 116 in North Dreadful, this well-loved French restaurant is our go-to choice when we think “Let’s go out-to-dinner.”
This is the kind of French restaurant with escargot on the menu, attentive and thoughtful wait staff, and an owner who greets you as you come in and takes your coat to hang it up. If our experiences at Vox are typical of restaurants in France, then maybe I need to go live in France. We are greeted so warmly every time we go to Vox,  I can’t tell if this is how they greet everyone or if it is that my husband, the Medium Cheese, is memorable, and in that case  because he is distinctive-looking or because he looks like a celebrity. In some circles, he is a bit of a celebrity. It may simply be that the owner knows that when you are a Medium Cheese, you like it when people welcome you like you are a Big Cheese. Really, Big Cheeses come from somewhere.
On the left, actor John Stamos. On the right, Otto Berkes.
After they seat you, they bring you a small bowl of popcorn seasoned with truffle salt, and they do not assault you with a menu until you’ve had the chance to settle in, give a drink order, and adjust to the leisurely pace of proper dining. By complying with these ground rules, we are always cajoled into several courses plus dessert. When you live wait out here in Northern Westchester County, you cannot possibly be in a hurry in the evening because there is no place to go but home.
We have eaten dinners at Vox with large parties, just our family, and just the two of us. Once I left my purse on my chair and had to go back for it after I had driven everyone home. It was still on my chair. Another time, a table nearby was full of increasingly inebriated equestrians, loudly sharing the vivid details of stories about getting away with drunken driving, among other things.  Eavesdropping in this situation was unavoidable. As I recall, we left before they did.
Acoustic panels on the ceiling at Vox means it's not too loud
Salads and entrees change with the seasons, as they should. We usually get oysters and they never disappoint. In addition to escargot, they offer French onion soup with melted gruyere and real Caesar salad, musse4ls grilled fish, steak, veal, duck, Croque-Monsieur, and even a burger worth mentioning. For dessert we have ordered tarte-tatin, molten chocolate cake, crème brulee, cheesecake, and bread pudding. I do not recall ever being even the slightest bit disappointed by any dish we were served in any way. I also do not recall any particular dish standing out as exceptional. I believe the reason for this is the superlative attentiveness of the staff, the perfection of the timing of the arrival of dishes, and the remarkably excellent wines they offer by the glass. Vox delivers all this at prices that are in the “nice restaurant” range, rather than the “incredibly nice restaurant” range.
Before we move to Manhattan full time in early September, I am sure we will eat there once or twice again. I won’t have the heart to tell them it will be our last visit, or that they have been the most consistent, least dreadful thing about living here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Bissell House

The Bissell House Restaurant
Last Tuesday night we headed over to Vox, one of the two other restaurants in North Dreadful, only to find it closed. We forget that in this sleepy little town the only way small business owners can have lives is to do things like be closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Undeterred, we continued along Route 116 which crosses into Connecticut. I get haircuts and pet food in Connecticut and the Ridgefield area reminds me of parts of suburban St. Louis, where I grew up. I was pretty sure that on the main street in Ridgefield we would find an open restaurant.
Hand Stretched
House Made
and Tomato Salad
The Bissell House offers outdoor seating and a busy little platoon of young wait staff. I believe that during our meal we were helped by no less than seven different servers, all of them trim, young, forgettable and slightly confused.  The server who took our order had not yet mastered the art of making a subtle expression of comprehension when taking the order, and I found myself reading her the entire name of the dish and pointing at the menu at the same time. I actually said, while pointing, “I’ll have the ‘Hand Stretched House Made Mozzarella and Tomato Salad,’ please.” I also had a fish dish off the sheet of specials: Arctic Char wrapped in something served over rice and broccoli and a bed of stir-fry veggies which turned out to be a mix of 20% I-don’t-know-maybe-squash and 80% julienned red bell pepper.
Ah, the bell pepper.
Bell peppers are so beautiful and colorful and this time of year they are plentiful. From home cooks to fancy restaurants people put bell peppers in salads and all sorts of dishes without bothering to mention that they are there. It only takes a little bit of raw or cooked bell pepper to make me quite sick to my stomach, beginning with tingling sensation in my mouth, followed by heartburn (and worse), and sometimes it lasts for a few days. It took me years of mysterious stomach aches to finally realize the cause. As long as they have not been pulverized, I can usually pick out the peppers, but I never order anything that features them as a main ingredient.
Arctic char tastes just like salmon
I must admit that I have been known to say I am “allergic to Connecticut,” and I sometimes go out of my way not to go there. This “allergy” is based on no specific event (like fifteen years of mysterious stomach pain), and I can say emphatically that I have met a lot of very nice and interesting people who live or work in Connecticut. I can say that in Connecticut drivers come to a complete stop at the end of the ramp to get onto the freeway, and all by itself this is a reason for folks who drive in the other 49 United States might want to avoid it.  
I will let you know if I manage to tease out what specific ingredient of Connecticut brings on the crushing malaise. It is certainly not unrelated to the fact that parts of it look like parts of where I grew up. Meanwhile, I have signed a lease on a New York City apartment and will be moving about half of our possessions into it on Monday.
The good news at the Bissell House was that I had room for dessert, even after a salad and a large piece of fish. We shared three flavors of chocolate cookie ice cream sandwiches. I think they were ok.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Farmer and the Fish

Last night, after 5 or 6 attempts on previous weekends, we were finally able to obtain an 8 pm dinner reservation at Farmer & the Fish, which is a restaurant in the nearby community of Purdy’s. Since its opening this past spring, this restaurant has seemed perpetually busy.
Farmer & the Fish
Located at the crossroads of Route 116 and Route 22 near North Dreadful (where I live), this promising-looking restaurant has a packed parking lot which surrounds the historic old home.  Inside are wide, uneven gorgeous wooden floor planks and exposed hand-hewn ceiling beams. The walls are hung with historic photos of North Dreadful, on loan from the local historical society.  
We arrived on time and were seated fairly promptly (after the hostess accidentally made eye-contact with one of our party and therefore led her to another table with another couple). Meanwhile we were distracted by a grinning, middle-aged man in an arm-chair in the bar area in conversation with a middle-aged woman on his lap. I found it hard to stop looking at them as much because they were entwined like ice dancers in the final pose of their free dance as they were seemingly having productive discourse in an environment so noisy the hostess could not understand either me or my husband telling her what name the reservation was under.
They have decent wines by the glass, a full bar, and reasonably attentive wait staff who persist in trying to hear and understand despite the noise level. Our waiter was pleasant and earnest. We ordered oysters and salads and halibut and two different lobster dishes between the three of us, and each of us enjoyed our food. The fresh and home-grown quality of all of the produce was notable, from the interesting young lettuce leaves in the salad to the steamed purple carrot on my plate.  
For dessert, we tried a dish which might have been offered as a “berry crisp;” it was tasty, served covered in a lot of vanilla ice cream, but seemed to be simply baked fruit without any baked crisp bit on top at all. I ordered what I believed to be a white chocolate bread pudding with caramel ice cream; my dessert was very pretty and tasty, but the bread pudding seemed to have a brown sauce tasting more like a tangy gravy than anything I’ve been served for dessert before. 
White chocolate bread pudding

Towards the end of our meal a few large parties finished and left, making it possible to hear the music which had been playing in the background. Earlier, my technology-loving husband had tested the sound level using an iPhone app, and measured almost 90 dB. Because the iPhone is not a true scientific instrument, and there are a number of different ways to measure dB, we can only consider this an approximate measure. But as a rule of thumb, a normal conversation might measure 60 dB, and the noisy restaurant at 90 dB is actually much, much louder, and comparable to a lawn mower. Prolonged exposure to loud noises in excess of 85 dB is detrimental to hearing, causing gradual hearing loss. No doubt our pleasant and earnest waiter will expose himself to plenty of loud music or power tools or motorcycle rides that will contribute to his noise-induced hearing loss when he is middle aged. Perhaps by the time the pleasant and earnest waiter is middle aged, he will have a health care plan which will pay for his hearing aids so that if he finds that he is a patron of a trendy restaurant with a woman on his lap he can hear what the woman is saying to him.