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Thursday, April 27 Living

Rye House settles into booming Port Chester, N.Y.

For the last dozen or so years, a cosmic shift has been taking place in booming Port Chester, N.Y.

A few years ago, a waterfront park was bookmarked between the Willet House (now Saltaire) and Costco, and a short distance away on Westchester Avenue, the Capitol Theater was renovated to once again host live entertainment. Restaurants catering to diners from neighboring towns have arrived. Grill FX, whose kitchen harkened to South Africa, closed years ago, but Tarry Lodge’s Italian menu and Q, serving American barbecue, still thrive, as does McShane’s, an Irish pub, which threw open its doors two years ago.

And now Rye House, a gastropub that serves up a ridiculously savory duck poutine and boasts an acclaimed New York City pedigree, has settled in.

In late February, I attended a press dinner there where we were treated to a chef’s tasting. True to its calling, Rye House serves food far above familiar tavern fare. Besides the Canadian-inspired poutine, which was rich with succulent duck confit, there’s shrimp and grits by way of the Carolinas, a bit too heavily sauced with tomatoes, yet tasty nonetheless. G-Ma’s meatballs (Grandma was a fabulous cook) were sweet and delicious, with just the right density, neither mushy and thankfully not so tightly packed you need a knife. The cod entrée was a perfect testament to what fish cookery should be all about. Almost pearlescent, it was light and flaky with a smattering of wild mushrooms playing a decidedly second fiddle. Other winning entrées included a succulent pork chop jazzed up with chorizo and a skirt of cherry pepper sauce (consume just one of those spicy peppers at your own peril) and hanger steak, which played to the Port Chester audience, so instead of mashed potatoes on the plate, you get a communion of roasted corn and poblano peppers.

Less palate pleasing was the Crab Fried Rice, which looked attractive on the plate, but was stingy with the crab. The beet salad was good, but lacked excitement.

Where the kitchen at Rye House succeeds is in the pairing of unusual ingredients with simple preparations. Tuna tartare, with a gingery flirtation, comes with a lemon hibiscus syrup; duck poutine is married to burrata; a yummy grilled cheese sandwich is blessed with bits of black truffle and then anointed with black truffle oil on its fontina and goat cheese layer. A crock of sweet butter served with the bread basket has maple syrup swirled into it and a smattering of Maldon crystals on top to add a salty balancing note. These are all welcomed deviations from the norm. More familiar grub fare veers toward fried pickles and barely spicy voodoo shrimp with their requisite dipping sauces.

Forget desserts, a poor cousin in this environment, unless you order the cheese board with its selections from New York’s Hudson Valley. (Hewing closer to home, Rye serves ice cream from local producer Longford, and thick slices of bread from Kneaded Bread two blocks away.) Since this is an American tavern, you must absolutely spring for one of the 12 draft beers on the menu. I tried a smooth Montauk Driftwood ale, but next go-around, I may just try the Flying Dog Raging Bitch Belgian-style beer (with that name, how could I not). The wine list is short and selective and includes a lush 1,000 Stories Zinfandel aged in bourbon barrels. And, ladies, you have got to start off your evening with the Clara Bow cocktail (bourbon and house-made pomegranate grenadine). You may become addicted.

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The interior of Rye House is a bit cavernous for a pub/tavern inclination. Our waiter told us the place hops on weekends, but we visited on a Wednesday night, when the restaurant had few customers. The scene is at the L-shaped bar with its world’s worth of whiskies. A brick wall is the canvas for the bar’s vast display of liquors in jeweled bottles. There’s lots of wood on tables, chairs and beams. Two walls of paned windows filter light into the otherwise dark interior, bouncing beams off the dark banquettes. Tables stretch to the back, offering a glimpse into the open kitchen. Unlike its humbler mom-and-pop culinary neighbors with their colorful storefront entrances, Rye House sports a grandiose arch entryway in its brick façade (the building dates to about 1890, when the town was known as the Saw Pitts).

Now, as I amble along Main Street bringing shoes to Occhicone for repair, I catch whiffs of roasted chicken, bacon burgers, tomatoey pizza, steak sizzling on a grill and smoky chipotle. I pick up focaccia at Tarry Market and the best rye loaf from Kneaded Bread. And I’ll be back at dusk for a Clara Bow at Rye House. It makes sense.

Rye House Port Chester, 126 N. Main St. 914-481-8771, ryehousepc.com

Rosemarie T. Anner is a frequent contributor to Sunday Arts and Style.

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