Take one historic building in an up-and-coming location, mix in a family of veteran restaurateurs who pull off a dramatic renovation, and you’re likely to yield one hot restaurant. But even when all the ingredients for a delicious new eatery line up, the proof still lies in the day-to-day experience—and, of course, the food. At a recent Sunday night dinner, we sampled the New American, farm-driven fare at Char, a spot that recently opened on the border of Byram and Port Chester, and discovered that it lives up to its potential, and then some.
Though this space has housed restaurants for eighty years or so, the new décor is special. Char’s dining room blends contemporary design with homey accents: a big fireplace, banquette seating hugging either end of the dining room, and reclaimed wood everywhere. The Rugova family, who also own two restaurants in Westchester and have been in the business for decades, gave the space added character by covering it in antique wood, with floor beams sourced from Alabama and wainscoting from old factories in Brooklyn. Local decorative artist Deb Ryan enlivened the walls with a painting technique that creates depth and the illusion of texture. The resulting warm, modern-rustic dining room sets the mood for comfort on a cool autumn evening.
The buzzing scene
While the menu changes seasonally here and Chef David Snyder cooks up nightly specials, some of the signature appetizers are bound to become permanent offerings. For instance, the grilled octopus starter is charred just enough to deliver a crispy coating, yet it’s truly tender and not at all chewy, served with greens, fingerling potatoes and roasted garlic. An ethereal tequila-cured salmon picks up sweetness from the chopped mango on top and texture from the fried green plantains at its base; this appetizer, lightly drizzled with cilantro cream, was served as three pieces, hard to divide among four adults, but we managed to share. Both salads we tried were simple and fresh tasting: The basic Char salad is a rounded helping of baby greens, grape tomatoes and radishes in a sherry vinaigrette; while a nightly special frisee salad was lighter than some versions—no bacon or lardons, just an egg on top, onion and a bright, citrusy dressing.
During our first course, the three kids in our group were already enjoying their mains, thanks to our accommodating waiter. When we ordered, he was quick to suggest some special dishes for the younger set that aren’t listed on the menu, including a homemade pappardelle and basics such as burgers and chicken fingers. Char is definitely more of a date-night or group-of-friends gathering place, but it’s nice to know that families who want to get together for a Sunday night supper are welcomed too.
Those who like a menu with versatility will love this lineup of entrées. Depending on your appetite, you can feast on anything from a more health-conscious pan-roasted bass with cauliflower purée and vegetables to a hearty hangar steak frites, with decadent Parmesan-truffle frites at that. Our orders covered the spectrum and there were really no disappointments. A heartwarming Portuguese cioppino is loaded with shellfish spiked with a hint of spice from the smoked paprika in the rich broth. Classic Bolognese over tubular bucatini pasta picks up interest from the lamb ragu, which is topped with a dollop of creamy goat cheese and lemon gremolata, a refreshing counterpoint to the rich sauce. The black-currant-glazed salmon proved to be a fresh take on this everyday fish, with a lovely sweetness to it, balanced by the savory lentils and greens. The New York strip steak came out medium as ordered, served over watercress and paired with tasty crispy potatoes (like a little bird’s nest of finely sliced potatoes) and truffle herb butter.
Char’s pastry chef Ana Wambach dazzles with her homemade desserts, including the house-made ice creams. Her espresso semifreddo is my idea of dessert nirvana: It’s sweet, salty, caffeinated, with whipped cream and a touch of citrus rolled into one bowl. It has the texture of a frozen mousse, so it’s easy to eat. Salted caramel is melted around the sides of the dish, so you can scoop up a bit with every bite while also crunching on the chocolate-covered espresso beans. These days, molten chocolate cakes are a dime a dozen, but this one was very well executed, served with cognac ice cream and a caramelized espresso marshmallow.
While Port Chester restaurants may be drawing a buzz lately, this newcomer with its lively menu, warm atmosphere and fun bar scene is certain to stop food lovers at the border.
2 South Water Street, Greenwich; 203-900-1100
Cuisine: Contemporary American
Hours: Lunch: Mon.–Sun.,11:45 a.m.–2:45 p.m. Dinner: Mon.–Thurs., 5 p.m.–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5 p.m.–11 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.–9 p.m.