Perched high above the Hudson River amid curving roadways and lush forestry sits a structure that seems more fitting for your favorite childhood Disney story than for a place located just a few dozen miles north of New York City.
The 45-room Castle Hotel & Spa in Tarrytown, complete with a 75-foot tower, was constructed by businessman and playwright Gen. Howard Carroll at the turn of the 20th century. The Norman-style building, dubbed Carrollcliffe by the family, later served as the headquarters for an investment counseling firm before it was designated an historic landmark in 1981. In the mid-1990s, The Castle was transformed into a luxury hotel, restaurant and event space. Further upgrades in the ensuing decades included renovations and restorations, along with the addition of 24 guestrooms and the THANN Sanctuary Spa.
Still, the building has somehow managed to retain a certain character from its crenellated past, with architectural elements including stone exteriors, vaulted ceilings and preserved moldings.
Along with serving as a haven for brides and grooms celebrating their special day, The Castle is also home to Equus, a seasonal, French-inspired fine dining restaurant with panoramic views of the terraced grounds and the river.
As we pull up to The Castle’s entrance on a recent weekday evening, we find ourselves wondering aloud whether Cinderella herself will be joining us for dinner. We pass through the bright, airy Garden Room and, unable to resist the delightful weather, take up residence at a table on the stone terrace.
Much like the castle it calls home, Equus’ menu has undergone its own makeover in recent months with the addition of Keith J. Suarino. The chef de cuisine’s resumé includes tenures as executive chef at Italian market and food hall Eataly and Fort Lauderdale’s Vintro Hotel and Kitchen.
Suarino’s style is nothing short of imaginative, something that may not come as too much of a surprise for someone who also boasts a win on Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen” among his accomplishments. During the competition, which asks contestants to bid on opportunities to sabotage their opponents, Suarino won opportunities to force other contestants to swap their filets of fish for a bucket of fish guts.
“I was definitely the villain,” Suarino says with a laugh.
Reality television tropes aside, Suarino’s passion for food and his vision for Equus are far from a reverie.
His vision is perhaps best embodied in one of our starters, a golden beet ricotta gnocchi. A twist on the starchy staple, Suarino’s dish features ricotta cheese, a sprinkling of crunchy walnuts and a topping of fresh greens. An anchovy crema adds an unexpected, delightful flavor.
A hearty sweet pepper and cauliflower soup is an absolute standout. I still find myself daydreaming of the creamy, slightly spicy dish and its goat cheese mousse.
Similarly, a fresh, artistic and perfect-for-end-of-summer heirloom tomato gazpacho features a red pepper foam and pickled cilantro.
Seafood also takes the stage on the restaurant’s menu, and both New England clams and grilled octopus are splendid additions for a late-summer evening under the stars.
Entrées include an eight-ounce filet mignon, which sits on a bed of wilted spinach and a delectable paprika chili butter. Citrus-marinated chicken is sourced from the Hudson Valley, but with pickled pearl onions and a mandarin-rosemary jus, feels somewhat lacking in the flavor department. Still, Suarino’s signature inventiveness is undoubtedly present with the additions of a watercress and dragon fruit salad.
Our evening ends with a raspberry and pistachio éclair — light, bright and perfect for sharing.
A Bronx native, Suarino harbors fond recollections of The Castle, recalling childhood visits to Nyack where he would gaze at it across the Hudson. A young Suarino pondered the goings-on within the dreamlike setting, hoping that one day he might be able to make a trek to the top of its highest tower.
Dreams do come true.
For more, visit castlehotelandspa.com.