I arrive a half-hour early for my interview with Glenn Vogt, who manages Crabtree’s Kittle House Inn, a high end restaurant in Chappaqua. (Bill Clinton and his family dine here on a regular basis, including this past Christmas. His secret service team usually stands in the lobby, but this Christmas, they dined along the Clintons.)
Glenn arrives at the bar as I was taking some notes in my moleskine on the decor. He is tall and gray haired, one of those rare people who immediately puts you at ease, so much so that you forget this very fact. He has that rare brand of immediate affability and unassuming friendliness that condenses the usual ten minutes of finding a conversational rhythm into no time at all. I reveal my secret ambition to try lamb brains, and he tells me about an old dish involving eating the brains of a live, restrained monkey. He shares a story about alcohol infused with cobra snake. After asking him the usual questions about local foods, I ask if I can have a tour of their famed wine cellar, rated as one of the best in the world. “I was going to suggest it,” he says, and leads me downstairs, through the banquet hall and unlocks a glass door. (Along the way, he says he doesn’t believe in reading online reviews from diners. He is oblivious to Yelp.com. When I tell him the reviews are good, he is congenially indifferent.)
It’s kept at a chilly 50 F. I hug my bare arms as he leads me through wines arranged by region and grape. He points out wines from Alsace, the Rhone, wines from Spain, Australia, and California. The entire cellar is maybe the size of two master bedrooms. And then there’s the famous wine rack, full of bottles signed by their makers.
In the middle is the holy grail of wine: a bottle of 1988 Romanée Conti, in a black glass container perhaps the side of a toddler.
“One guy offered us 75 thousand for that,” he says, with a bit of a laugh. It’s not for sale. “There are only five bottles in the entire world. This is number 4,” he says, pointing to a serial number on the label.
All the wines are arranged in wooden partitions, each labeled with a number. They have a computer program to locate wines, thankfully, since the wine list is the size of two phonebooks. He points out a few more bottles of Romanée Conti. 1990 was an even better year – he approximates the price of this normal size bottle of wine, perhaps 4 glasses, at $5,000.
We chat a bit about restaurant reviewing. He’s also read former NY Times restaurant reviewer Ruth Reichl‘s biographies (“Tender at the Bone!” he exclaims, laughing again) and remarks that she was very generous in her reviews. We debate her double review of Le Cirque, one incognito, the other as herself. He’s met Gael Greene, former critic for New York magazine, and notes one time she dined at a restaurant he was working for with the manager from a competing establishment.
He used to be a wine purveyor, and he tells me about his trips across the world in search of great wines – a good Pinot Grigio was in particularly high demand. Now, Kittle House Inn focuses on buying from winemakers around the world who really know their product, their grape, and who are environmentally conscious.
After escaping the chilly wine cellar, I end up staying for dinner and inviting my long-suffering father along. My mom had already gone home and turned down the offer.
I could not have anticipated what happened next.
Glenn hands us the menus. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you try what you should,” he tells us. I pick out two appetizers and a salad that uses local eggs and greens. My dad picks out the Chilean sea bass.
We sit back. The food arrives, and arrives, and arrives, and arrives. We stay for over two hours.
After he puts down our dishes, “I don’t know if Ruth included this in the review of Le Cirque or not,” Glenn muses, “but…”
I know exactly what he referring to – the line in the review that goes, “The King of Spain is waiting in the bar, but your table is ready.”
Really nice oysters, very fresh.
The tuna tartare and sashimi are presented on a block pink sea salt, which they take and shave down after each presentation. Those are taro chips and a lovely citrus salsa on the size.
“We’re calling this the pork course,” Glenn says, putting down the pork belly in front of my dad and the salad I ordered in front of me. He helps me figure out to construct the salad.
“We’re feeding you a lot of food, so don’t feel like you have to eat it all,” he adds as he leaves.
The idea here was that you’re supposed to cut the egg open, which oozes warm, yellow yoke into the avocado underneath. Then you mix it all into the salad with the lemon dressing and it makes a kind of super dressing. I’m still not really sure that the freshness and locally produced egg makes all that much of a difference – it was a fine egg, to be sure.
My first time having proper pork belly – the top is deliciously crisped, the meat on the bottom falls into hefty strips, moist with fat. I particularly like the pear puree, which had a silky, unplaceable sweetness.
The pasta course.
Superb gnocchi, your teeth bite into it and it just slides right through the velvety smooth texture. The thing with gnocchi, a potato pasta, is that you have to get the proportion of ingredients just right – too much potato and it falls apart, too much flour and it’s hard to chew.
Oh my god, how do I even explain this… For the uninitiated, foie gras is made by force feeding a duck or goose until its liver becomes engorged. So it’s essentially a big of hunk of decadent, PETA-hated fat.
At the bottom right, we have the brochette (skewer) of foie gras. It comes a delicate, slippery, and piping hot. When you put it in your mouth, it immediately melts and commands every last taste bud’s attention: umistakeabley fatty, rich, and mouth-filling flavor.
The creme brulee was also made with foie gras, lending it the same, though muted, flavor, suspended in a creamy texture with a burnt sugar crust. The torchon (foie gras poached in a towel, then refrigerated) had the hardness of swiss cheese, and was incredible on the bread with the pear – a complexity of pleasure.
I found it impossible to eat the creme brulee and torchon purely on their own, however. The flavor was just too strong.
A perfectly cooked fish, with a nice brown on top. The pumpkin was great.
The waitress brought us dessert menus. I was hideously full by this time. Glenn comes over and asks us what we want, or should he surprise us? I decide on surprise. I figure he’ll choose two signature desserts.
Lo and behold, the grand finale is a sampling of four their most popular desserts. My dad and I look at each other in shock. And awe.
Their signature dessert, open it up and out pours a lava of valrhona chocolate. We packed it up and brought it home to mom. (I am actually not the biggest fan of chocolate. I am a vanilla girl.)
A dense, rich pecan pie, on their menu since the early 80’s.
A nice version of this classic – a lighter flavor in the creme, which I liked.
My favorite of the bunch! A truly outstanding cheesecake, the best I’ve ever had, with an airy, creamy texture, and lighter flavor. The sauce was an incredible accompaniment. What every cheesecake should aspire to.
And that, my friends, that is how one winter afternoon somehow morphed into a magical culinary journey. My father and I walked out of there, dazed, full, and deeply at ease with the world.