Return to Westchester by Ron Kapon

In 2008 I spent two days in Westchester County and referred to the county as New York City’s 6th borough. The tourism folks liked the name and used it on many of their advertising campaigns. This September I spent the better part of a Sunday in Scarsdale at the Southern Westchester Food & Wine Festival which was located 10 steps from the Metro North station. I thought it was time to spend a day looking at some new areas of the county. I was lucky that Lydia Ruth of the Westchester County Tourism & Film office once again served as my guide.
Who needs a car in the county when they have lots of public transportation options? My senior fare on Metro North from Grand Central to Yonkers was just $5 one way. I could have opted for any of the NYC subway lines and caught a Bee Line bus from the end of the lines as well. I was in Yonkers in less than 30 minutes and only had a 2 block walk to the Hudson River for my first (but not last) WOW! moment. Yonkers is the 4th largest city in New York and downtown Yonkers is experiencing a renaissance of culture, community, development and art: a parking lot replaced by a babbling brook filled with fish; new and converted apartment buildings facing the Hudson; many restaurants, a post office, hotels, the public library, sculptures galore, the Motor Vehicle Bureau and clean streets and sidewalks. Robert M. Walters, the Science Barge director, was my guide. The Science Barge is a prototype sustainable urban farm developed by NY Sun Works and acquired by Groundwork Hudson Valley in October 2008 to be operated as an environmental education center. The Science Barge is a sustainable urban farm powered by solar, wind and biofuel and irrigated by rainwater and purified river water. They grow fresh fruit and vegetables using recirculating hydroponics and aquaponics. It is designed for school kids in grades 3-12, youth groups as well as teacher training. I was then led next door to the Sarah Lawrence College Center for the Urban River at Beczak (CURB). A long name for a comprehensive river education experience, learning about the Hudson River ecosystem and water quality. But the best was still to come. Lunch was at X20 Xaviars on the Hudson.
X2O is Peter X Kelly’s latest addition to the Xaviars Restaurant Group which includes Restaurant X & Bully Boy Bar in Congers and Xaviars at Piermont as well as Freelance Café & Wine bar, also in Piermont. X2O sits in the Hudson on the only turn-of-the-century Victorian pier still existing in the river. The main dining salon’s 25-foot vaulted ceiling and 3 walls of glass frames offers views of the George Washington and Tappan Zee Bridges, as well as sunsets over the Palisades. Dishes incorporate classic French technique with Italian and Spanish influences and Asian embellishments. In 2007 self-taught Chef-owner Peter Kelly appeared on the Food Networks Iron Chef America and beat Bobby Flay in Battle “Cowboy Rib Eye”. He also played host to Anthony Bourdain on his “No Reservations” program, introducing Tony to the beauty of the Hudson Valley. Since the early 90’s Peter has also been a vintner. His wines at Xaviar’s Cellars in Napa Valley are known as “Silenus” (the Teacher of Bacchus in Greek Mythology). Peter has also consulted on several bottlings from the emerging Hudson Valley region. My salmon was so fresh I did not need a fork; it melted directly into my mouth. The real bargain was the 3-course lunch for just $25. I had such a great experience that I plan on taking Metro North to Yonkers once the weather turns warm for another lunch, along with the nearby farmers market and concert pavilion.
Another WOW! moment was my visit to Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway. It is a half-mile harness-racing track & a casino with slot machines, electronic games & multiple eateries. You can play the roulette wheel or blackjack using electronics with no human interaction. I am not a gambler but what really impressed me was pinch (not Pinch) which is run by Alain Ducasse’s consulting company, Ducasse Studio. There are 245 seats and both the beverage and dessert menus come on an iPad. The restaurant has a growler filling station (to go), where you can choose from one of 100 New York State beers. It also has six “draft booths,” which are tables outfitted with self-service beer taps (I am not kidding). The interior design inspiration is a classic 1950’s vintage diner with automotive interiors, tailored banquettes, a raw bar and an open kitchen. Since I grew up in the 1950’s this is my kind of restaurant. I can’t wait to go back for a meal. I asked my host if we could stop at Untermyer Gardens Conservancy in Yonkers. I didn’t realize that nothing was growing during the late fall and winter months & vowed to return next spring. Samuel Untermyer was passionately interested in horticulture. He said that if he could do it over again, he would want to be the Parks Commissioner in New York City! Unlike most wealthy garden-owners, Untermyer was expertly knowledgeable about horticulture. The level of horticulture at the Untermyer Gardens was nationally famous and some great gardeners got their training there. The only place I revisited from my 2008 trip to Westchester was Lyndhurst. It was built in 1838 and purchased in 1880 by railroad magnate Jay Gould as a summer home. Mr. Gould used Lyndhurst as an escape from the pressures of his business life and when his health was impaired by tuberculosis; Lyndhurst served as a country retreat until his death in 1892. After passing to various family members the 67-acre estate became a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The grounds at Lyndhurst are an example of 19th century landscape design including sweeping lawns accented with shrubs and specimen trees, the curving entrance drive, the angular repetition of the Gothic roofline in the evergreens and the nation’s first steel-framed conservatory. The rose garden and fernery were later additions. The building was temporarily closed as they decorated for the holiday season. They kindly allowed me to get a sneak peek of A Very Dutchess Holiday. I want to return for the full effect.
As I was still full from lunch I only tried a lobster main course (yummy) at The Stone Manor in Hawthorne. The restaurant is the latest project by Michael Casarella and Tommy Stratis, the owners of Goldfish in Ossining and Casa Rina in Thornwood. It opened in July 2013 after an 18-month renovation of its old stone building. The 14,000-square-foot Mediterranean steakhouse and catering hall creates a modern ambiance that embraces nods to the space’s 180-year history.

It was a short drive into White Plains where I caught my Metro North train back to Grand Central. I am already planning my return trip. So should you.

For More Information –,,,,,,,,,,