There’s snow piled up on each side of a long, winding road, which leads me not to your door but to that of Goosefeather. It’s a road so steep we almost feel we’re climbing an Alp. But once at the peak, altitude brings its own reward, a glorious view of the Hudson River and the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. There’s also the tantalizing smell of garlic as we approach the restaurant’s front steps.
Goosefeather, where “Top Chef,” “Chopped” and “Iron Chef America” contestant chef Dale Talde wears the kitchen whites, is situated in the mid-19th century King Mansion, part of the sprawling Tarrytown House Estate. It’s a swish locale, that’s for sure, and we feel distinctly underdressed ascending the stairs to the mansion’s front door. I’m half-expecting to be met by a wigged and powdered footman but mercifully no. It’s a genial young lady in skinny jeans and a short jacket who takes the booking name, points the ubiquitous thermometer gun at our temples and says sweetly, “Please follow me.”
In a small, perfectly proportioned room lit almost entirely by candles — and which, with its handsome, carved fireplace and antique prints, not even the most disdainful Jane Austen show-off would be ashamed to be seen in — my guest and I catch up for a moment on our Covid-restricted lives. Meanwhile Vlad, our utterly charming Ukrainian server, goes hurrying off in search of a bottle of Crémant d’Alsace and then we get down to the matter in hand, namely Chef Dale’s “modern Cantonese” menu. Happily, it is short, which is a sign of seriousness of purpose, I tend to think. By the way, there is no physical menu, of course. What we are faced with, as is the new way, is a little square cryptogram we knowingly point our phones at. I can’t help musing on what dear old Jane would have made of all this business of iPhones and QR codes, simply to get a bite to eat.
The menu’s opening gambit is salads and vegetables, hardly typical Chinese starters, though underscoring the “modern” in Chef Dale’s approach. The Brussels sprouts we chose, tart with Lady apples but tempered with an apple cider vinaigrette (and I suspect, a pinch of sugar) made a good if unusual opener. From the short dim sum section, we loved the Crispy Shrimp Bao, fat, tender shrimp with just the right amount of bite, prinked with pickled daikon and a tangy aioli, the whole assembly barely contained by the steamed-bread bao intended to hold it. Dry-aged beef pot stickers, another dim sum offering, were less successful, the filling a little too dense and too dry for what should essentially be the lightest of dumplings. A soy or chili dipping sauce would perhaps have made it less hard work.
What might have been the star of the show, half a cantonese roast duck, turned out to be more of a supporting act. While some of the duck skin was appreciably crisp, the fat beneath it had not been sufficiently rendered, resulting in a rather laborious chew. And although I’ve no objection to wrapping my duck in lettuce leaves, I missed the more traditional accompaniment of pancakes. I did wonder if it was perhaps a Lenten substitute.
The real showstopper turned out to be the quiet one in the corner — and isn’t that often the way? This was the unassuming-sounding hunan lamb chewy noodles, a fabulously rich and satisfying dish, with a crunch from pistachios and a touch of welcome heat from red chilis.
From the large plates section, my guest thoroughly enjoyed the black pepper beef. Charred onion and almost medicinal holy basil gave it additional depth, but I found the dish to be over salted. Of course, I appreciate that seasoning is, to a large extent, a subjective question. But take it from me, a salt lover — a guy who practically puts salt on his cornflakes — this dish was salty. I found refuge, though, in crab rice (which Vlad mentioned was something of a signature dish) a comfort-combo of rice and flaked crab, with a barely perceptible touch of heat from a jalapeno aioli and an extra-textural dimension from the almost crunchy tobiko (flying fish roe) topping.
Wine and water were topped up assiduously by Vlad and his colleagues and the Crémant d’Alsace proved such a good pairing with the mild-spiced food, we made an executive decision to stay with it, extravagantly going into a second bottle. While Crémant may be Champagne’s younger cousin, it is by no means its poor relation.
Neither one a demonstrably Chinese dessert, a chocolate cremeux tart, served with cherry ice cream, delivered on depth and silkiness and won plaudits from my guest, while I was smitten with a green tea tiramisù. It was served in a glass and was light as air, with its passionfruit mascarpone and citrus fruit. In the interest of full disclosure, I will mention that desserts were kindly offered on the house by Chef Dale, who had earlier stopped by the table to say a very warm hello. Indeed, all manner of staff stopped by the table to say warm hellos, as I saw them doing at several other tables, too, at various points. And guests we observed seemed happy merely to be out on the town, or on the Hudson, at least for an evening in a spacious interior, a break from corona virus stress and worry.
It’s often remarked that natural and gracious service contributes just as much to the overall enjoyment of a restaurant as the food. Indeed, it can even tip the scale. And that was exactly our experience at Goosefeather, with its four beautiful dining rooms and its very stylish, marble-topped long bar and very genuine hospitality written into its modern Cantonese DNA. Do go and experience it, too.
For more, visit goosefeatherny.com.