Allow me to get something off my chest. I have not, nor have ever been, a member of the noisy restaurants party. Not that I’m a party pooper, on the contrary. I like a loud, raucous wingding as much as the next raver — I just don’t think high-decibel rock or rap is an appropriate accompaniment to good food. Call me stuffy, call me old-fashioned — but don’t call me for a dinner date if ear-splitting music is on the menu.
Which brings me to this month’s restaurant — Little Drunken Chef in White Plains, the new opening from Bonnie Saran, the Westchester restaurateur with five “Little” restaurants to her name, including Little Drunken Chef and Kabab Station in Mount Kisco and Little Mumbai Market in Pleasantville.
There are many nice surprises at the new restaurant — including long opening hours with a full menu served all day, heavy cloth napkins, a mezzanine with a chill area and bartenders who know their fizzes from their rickeys. But the biggest surprise of all — and contrary to the rule of inverse proportion, which states that the louder the music, the more desultory the food — is the discovery that with music this loud, the food should be so good.
On a recent Saturday evening, with the sound approaching rock-concert levels, four of us snagged a table along the wall, where the banquette seating is so hard on the derrière that bringing your own pillows would be a smart idea. From the crowded menu (long and chaotic in its staccato Courier font), we started off with tapas of crispy calamari, fiery Padrón peppers and gambas al ajillo, beautifully sourced produce all, authentic flavors which had us right there on the Plaza Mayor in Madrid. Next we traveled east, for paneer rolls with green chutney, tacos of chicken vindaloo — a lovely soft taco with spicy Indian chicken; crisp tostados of pingingly fresh shrimp and avocado; Lasooni Gobi, cauliflower florets in a garlic chilli sauce; and a plate of halloumi fries, made vibrant with a sumac and tzatziki drizzle.
If Little Drunken Chef plunders the world’s larder, leaving culinary solecisms in its wake, then it does so with a joyous insouciance that is hard to mind. I’m actually loving this food, and a few days later I’m back, for upscale pan-fried halibut, ahi tuna with crispy potatoes, channa masala (chickpeas and mango powder, which is one of the many gluten-free and vegan choices) and a glorious West Indian goat curry, heady with ginger and allspice, fried plantain as a welcome, sweet condiment.
Yes, Saran’s food is plucky, a kaleidoscopic mix with a big dollop of chutzpah, and this really is the joy of it.
On another evening visit, the large industrial space is less crowded, although the sound level is still achingly high. If the decoration is a little black — black floors, exposed black ducting, waiters in black jeans and T-shirts and many of the dishes served on black-slate plates, it is softened by the backlighting of the blue- lit bar. And pipes, which are suspended beneath the ceiling with cut-out, illuminated stencils spelling words like “cheers,” “salud,” and “santé,” look especially pretty at night.
Add a lot of scribbling on the wall, some blow-up photos and hanging white ostrich feathers — dangling so low they tickle the heads of taller customers — and you have a sense of how Drunken Little Chef looks. “When you don’t have a lot of money you get creative,” says Saran sagely, although personally I think the slightly homespun decoration is appealingly edgy and not without some charm.
At lunchtime in the middle of the week, when a friend and I stop by for an early lunch of jamón and manchego croquetas and a vegetable samosa, the mood is relaxed and the music, to my delight, at a slightly lower volume than on my previous visits. Chef Saran is at the bar. “Well, there’s no need for loud music at all at this time of day,” she says conciliatorily, when I express my only misgiving. Not only is she a great chef, she’s a diplomat, too.
Little Drunken Chef is at 91 Mamaroneck Ave., White Plains. For reservations and more information, call 914-615-9300.