Reality-Based Gastronomic Opinions
1 High Street
Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522
Neighborhood: Westchester (23 miles north of Midtown Tunnel)
Dine Date: August 11, 2011
Many New Yorkers and most Hamptonites know the Fort Pond Bay Company for their uppity restaurant and hotel properties in Montauk – Harvest On Fort Pond, East By Northwest, and Stone Lion Inn. What (shockingly) many New Yorkers don’t know is the FPBC also holds two stunning properties on the banks of the Hudson River within spitting distance of Manhattan, notably Half Moon in the tranquil riverside village of Dobbs Ferry, opened in the summer of 2008.
Stop right there. Just because you don’t have a car in the city doesn’t mean you can’t access this killer restaurant. The Metro-North Railway will take you from Grand Central Terminal to Dobbs Ferry in 35 minutes and drop you off next door to the restaurant (Dobbs Ferry stop). So keep reading, lazy ass. The river views are pretty epic.
Vincent Barcelona is the executive chef, who met the owners when he was on the line at Le Bernardin. The plot was formerly occupied by The Chart House which by all accounts was nothing too special. FPBC came along, saw the potential, and created a killer destination for Westchester locals and in-the-know NYC peeps.
Here’s the deal with Half Moon. It’s gorgeous. It’s a huge, modern construction right on the eastern banks of the Hudson River. Some outdoor tables even get a little splash on their feet from the Hudson’s waters which are literally just inches away. The ambiance is perfect, the views are pristine. Everything is green, and the shores on the opposite side of the Hudson are composed of the Palisades, so more green and no buildings or eyesores. This doesn’t exist in the city. Period.
Speaking of the city, if you look to your left from Half Moon’s outdoor bar area, you see Manhattan clearly and sparkling in the distance some 20 miles downriver. Turn your head right and you see the Tappan Zee Bridge about 10 miles up the river, connecting Tarrytown with Nyack. Sound kinda romantic? Um yes, just a little bit. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The place is best explained experientially.
Approaching the restaurant, by foot from the train station or in your vehicle, you are coming down a hill and the restaurant appears below you right on the banks of the Hudson, with no neighboring buildings on either side – just green river banks as far as you can see. The first thing you see is the outdoor bar area, a large terrace right on the banks of the river, full of open umbrellas and inviting string lights in the foreground and the spectacular orange-hued sunset above the green palisades across the Hudson, in the background. Passing geese are flapping their wings into the water, and a yacht cruises by from time to time. There is the occasional noise of the rumbling Metro North trains passing behind the restaurant, which is the only hit this place takes on ambience.
Although I have a reservation, I pose as a walk-in. They accept this graciously and offer me a table inside immediately, or an outdoor table in 20 minutes. I opt for an outdoor table (duh) and they take my cell phone number to call me when it’s ready. Nice touch since it’s a big place, and walking back and forth from the bar to the check-in desk would be a pain in the ass.
Twenty minutes later I’m seated on the North Terrace with a sick view of the Tappan Zee Bridge in the distance, and a perfect sunset with incredible purples, oranges and pinks that all color the still waters of the Hudson below. Somewhat dated (but still legit) nu-jazz and deep house is playing softly on outdoor speakers around the terrace. Workers are lighting citronella lawn torches around the perimeter. The table lighting is provided by a small ring of glowing LEDs attached to the umbrella pole above my head. The nearest table (all are four-tops) is six feet away.
A bread basket appears full of crusty peasant bread, served alongside shredded fontina and two different oils – traditional olive oil, and a spicy chili-infused olive oil (muy caliente and muy bueno). The bread is very high quality and baked on prem – crusty on the outside, warm and cereal-y on the inside. Surprisingly excellent. They should have set two small plates instead of one though – now I have to rest my half-eaten slice of bread in my oil dish, instead of on a clean one.
Appetizers begin to appear.
The duck tacos are served three in a row on a little metal stand, filled generously with local duck and the expected garnishes. The crispy shell is light and flaky despite being a fried taco shell, and the whole dish is one of the highlights of the meal.
The blistered shishito peppers are portioned a bit too ambitiously, and hold a bit too much rock salt. They are plated at the right temperature however, and are quite fresh.
The zucchini chips have a bit too much batter and are also overly fried. They too are portioned too copiously and half of them remain in their paper cone by the time they are cleared.
The arugula goat cheese salad, served only in the summer, is crispy and fresh. The goat cheese is top-shelf and come in just the right amount. The balsamic clashes nicely with the fresh sliced strawberries (the small sweet kind, not the big California ones). Very nice execution here.
The three slices of fried green tomatoes are served with goat cheese and layered with watermelon slices. This excellent idea suffers in execution, however – the tomatoes are bland, the watermelon issn’t very tasty or sweet, and the ensemble winds up not playing well with the goat cheese. The frisee garnish is delicious and a nice touch, though.
On to the entrees.
The seafood enchiladas are comprised of catfish, which has a nice consistency and robust flavor, and a pleasantly light crispness to the teeth. They are served with cotija and zesty pico de gallo, over black beans, with a side of rather plain-tasting Mexican-style yellow rice. The enchiladas needed lime and perhaps some cilantro, but overall had a balanced and good flavor profile with a nice level of an interesting and indistinguishable spice blend.
The sea scallops are overcooked and leathery. They taste fresh and could have had potential if they weren’t so overcooked. Five of them are served with sautéed broccoli in brown butter, and brown rice – cliché and uninventive.
The tequila shrimp were large and cooked well, but it was actually hard to discern if they were fresh – they were either moderately good fresh shrimp, or excellent frozen shrimp.
The special, a blackened catfish fillet, was battered with a nicely seasoned blend, served on a bed of rice and jicama. This dish was excellent and flavorful, with nice interplay between the catfish and the jicama, but the portion was far too large. The catfish is clearly very fresh, though.
Overall you come to Half Moon for the venue first and the food second, but that’s not to say that you can’t eat well here. The servers seem to be very aware of what is good on a given day, so take their advice to order up the winning menu items.
Break It Down…
Make your visit about the venue.
Very friendly and knowledgeable of the menu; team approach.
Stunning bi-level indoor dining room, incredible ambience and views from the outdoor terrace seating.
At $100.17 for two people with a moderate bottle of rosé, this is a fairly good value.
Accommodating On Walk-In?
Gracious welcome and cell-phone call from the desk, 20 minute wait at 8pm on a prime summer evening.
Bathroom: Sanctuary or Minefield?
Minefield; tight and far from relaxed; looked institutional; crowded sink, only one soap dispenser with people waiting to use it.
Ability To Have Sex In The Bathroom
No, too many people. Felt like the bathroom at Grand Central Terminal.
Seat Height Equilibrium
No banquets, uniform chairs.
Affect of Staff
I mispronounced “a la plancha” and asked what it was, I got a courteous response without my pronunciation being corrected.
Humor Of Staff
Staff was funny and good-natured without being overly casual.
Legit, if dated, acid jazz and deep house; jazz might have been more appropriate in this cadre.
The inside is cavernous and reflective so it may get slightly loud; the outside is crickets and lapping Hudson River water on the banks.
Written by Eric Reithler-Barros
Photos courtesy of Half Moon