It’s hard to imagine a more wonderful place to dine than at Red Hat on the River in Irvington.
Great ambience, service and nouvelle American cuisine – including such “brain food” as swordfish and salmon dishes – make this the kind of experience you’ll look forward to repeating.
We visit the restaurant on a Friday night and are escorted to a corner table that boasts a magical view of the Hudson and a cozy one of the red and brick interior, graced with some 20 paintings from the 1920s and ’30s. The restaurant itself takes its name and logo from one in particular, a copy of the late Ossining artist William Auerbach-Levy’s “The Red Hat,” featuring a handsome flapper in a broad-brimmed hat. Husband-and-wife owners Jimmy Parker and Mary Beth Dooley will tell you that they’ve been told she resembles Mary Beth’s mother (although the couple tell the story in different ways).
There’s lots of history at Red Hat, situated as it is on the former site of the Lord and Burnham Co., makers of such elegant greenhouses and conservatories as the first steel-framed curvilinear greenhouse (for neighboring Lyndhurst in Tarrytown) and the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory at The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. The bones of the site’s industrial past peek through the design by the owners, who used to be in film production. (The restaurant is in the former factory boiler room.) But those bones just add to the warmth of the locale, as does a wait staff that is friendly and attentive but never obtrusive.
“We try to create an atmosphere that’s efficient but not fussy while having fun,” says senior manager Ben O’Connell. The effect is of one big family from the gracious Mary Beth and chatty, humorous Jimmy, who wears a cap (though not a red one) to protect his fair, bald pate from the sun, to our lovely server, Margaret Hawkins. Such is the familial atmosphere that Ben met his wife, Giusy Verni, another Red Hat manager, there. They have a child and one on the way.
And Jimmy likes to tell the story of when the restaurant was on Main Street in Irvington in 2003. (It moved to its riverfront locale in 2007.) Among the customers was Glenda Davenport, a jazz singer. One thing led to another and now she performs at Red Hat every other Wednesday. The jazz combo that backs her, led by bassist Bill Crow and keyboardist Hiroshi Yamazaki, is there every Wednesday night. That’s the kind of place Red Hat is.
Yes, yes, yes, you say. But what about the food? Ah, the food. Well, first the drinks. I begin with one of the specialty cocktails, The Original Red Hat Handmade Cosmopolitan, with all-natural Valencia orange syrup providing the twist. Mary Beth says it’s sweeter than the typical Cosmo. I don’t know if it’s sweeter, but it’s certainly more luscious and such a deeply pretty pink, I can’t resist. Other special cocktails include two variations on the martini – the Pear Vanilla Martini and the Espresso one.
After tasting several wines, my guests select two reds by the glass – the Barbera Govone D’asti, noted for its pleasant acidity; and Masi Compofiorin, with notes of black cherry, raspberry and plum. When it comes to wine, Red Hat has a primarily Continental palate, Ben says. But the beer served is purely domestic, with much of it coming from New York state, as do the spirits. Whenever possible Red Hat uses locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, having formed a relationship this past summer with Hudson Valley Harvest, a broker for local farms. But Red Hat is not slavish about local sourcing, Jimmy says – as you’ll see when we get to the pork chop. Save room for that.
But next, our starters. We sample the Red Hat Bistro Salad – romaine and bibb lettuces, pickled red onions, croutons, green apple and parmigiano reggiano with Caesar dressing. (You can have it instead with the house vinaigrette.) We also try the Arugula and “Jersey” Peach Salad with dried cherries, roasted pumpkin seeds, applewood bacon, local apple, goat cheese and apple cider vinaigrette. Each is a flavorful mélange.
For entrées, my guests go with brain food – sustainably raised Grilled Scottish Salmon, with a medley of beets, haricots verts, radishes, arugula, fingerling potatoes and pommery mustard-herb-shallot vinaigrette; and line caught Pan-Seared Atlantic Swordfish Provencal, with lemon-olive-roasted pepper vinaigrette, basil chiffonade, fried capers, haricots verts and olive oil-poached fingerling potatoes. Both dishes are savory, with the swordfish a particular revelation – a 180-degree turn from the dry stereotype.
I, however, opt for a Red Hat signature, a dish that Jimmy says he especially fusses over – the Grilled Double Cut Berkshire Pork Chop with savory apple and country ham bread pudding, ham hock-braised lacinato kale, caramelized onions, golden raisin caper compote and pommery mustard jus vinaigrette. This is a good example of a dish that is not locally sourced as the heirloom pork comes from Iowa’s Snake River Farm. It’s cooked fast at very high heat. The effect is, well, sinfully succulent – meltingly, mouth-wateringly moist with just enough fat so that you can savor it and still feel virtuous. The sides are a marvelous complement, the tangy kale and onions balancing the creamy bread pudding. Totally delish, and my red hat off (if I were wearing one) to executive chef Reyes Hernandez.
Speaking of creamy: The popular profiterole and Mary Beth’s own key lime pie are hits with me and one of my guests, while our gluten-free friend enjoys the lemon cake from the neighboring By the Way Bakery in Hastings-on-Hudson, owned by Helene Godin – another example of how Red Hat extends its family. You would never know this cake – the only dessert offering Red Hat doesn’t make – is from a gluten-, wheat-, lactose-free bakery. It’s a light yet rich lemony confection.
We actually end our evening the way we might have begun it, at the rooftop bar, taking in the Manhattan skyline, which beckons and beguiles like the orgiastic green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. Talk about your visual nightcap.
Alas, the rooftop bar closed for the season in September. But hey, outdoor dining lingers and Sunday brunch is back, beginning Oct. 5.
At Red Hat, there’s no such thing as disappointment.
Red Hat on the River is at 1 Bridge St., Irvington. Lunch is served noon to 3 p.m. weekdays. Dinner is 5 to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 5 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Sunday brunch is 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
For more, call 914-591-5888 or visit redhatbistro.com.