“I’m having a dinner party every night!” This was the idea that led owner Leslie Lampert to fashion her Mount Kisco restaurant, Café Of Love, like a cozy neighborhood bistro in the South of France.
The outdoor café, decorative chandeliers, and antique looking table and chairs all add to the homey atmosphere. And the food, from the kitchen of Lampert and Executive Chef Michael Cutney, is simply superb.
It’s not unusual to find both Lampert and Chef Cutney conversing with the customers. Everyone here is made to feel special and welcome. Lampert explains, “I don’t hire the people who serve here, I cast them.” The attention and care given by the always congenial (and, it must be added, attractive) staff certainly bears this out. There’s no doubt that the warmth and expertise conveyed to the guests comes from the top.
For both Lampert and Cutney, the pieces fell into place when they met and agreed to work together. “I wanted a place where I could cook the kind of food I think people deserve to eat, in an atmosphere where they could really enjoy it,” smiles the amiable young chef.
As he answers questions about his past, his training, and his experience, Cutney’s face lights up at recounting the path that led him to his present job. “I woke up every morning to the wonderful smell of the food my mom was cooking. I really learned about food from her. Our home in Newburgh was always filled with friends, and our family is very close. This is really important to Italians, and eating well plays a large part.” It’s not surprising that he started cooking seriously at thirteen.
Cutney attended the Culinary Institute Of America in Hyde Park. When he graduated, he went to work in a French bistro, where he fell in love with the technique of cooking.
Cutney was then ready to go to Italy because “Cooking is not just preparing food. It’s a culture, and you have to completely immerse yourself.” At the world famous Cibreo restaurant in Florence, Cutney learned about farm to table cooking. “The work day started in the morning, every morning, at 6:30. Everything was fresh, right from the farm. The olive oil was three hours old! Everything was organic, antibiotic free. For me, that’s the only way to do it.”
Upon his return from Europe, Cutney went to work at the Union Square Café in New York City, and enjoyed working with the Green Market. While justifiably proud of his association with this esteemed restaurant, he knew that when it was time to move on, he either had to go back to Europe, or find a place upstate where he could do the farm to table cooking he loves. He decided that the Hudson Valley was the place to be, and the rest is culinary history.
As marvelous as it is to find a chef who is so articulate, it’s the food at Café Of Love which truly amazes. At the invitation of Lampert and Cutney, we sampled a variety of stellar dishes.
To begin with, all diners are encouraged to visit the trestle table. In all honesty, it would be possible to make a meal out of the delicious offerings: artisan bread, house-pickled radishes and fennel, and rosemary-garlic white bean dip. But don’t fill up here.
The Amawalk Farms Baby Arugula Salad is chocked full of crunchy honey-glazed walnuts, dotted with fresh raspberries, and served with justifiably renowned Rainbeau Ridge goat cheese. The raspberry-champagne vinaigrette lends a slightly sweet taste. This is salad for people who normally don’t even like salad.
I practically had to arm wrestle my husband for the Roasted Organic Chicken. What do they do to get the skin so crispy, while keeping the meat super tender? The morel quinoa timbale, pea tendrils, and Daisy Hill Farm poached egg just added to the joy of eating this dish.
I live for seafood, but I have never tasted fish more tender than the Seared Diver Scallops, served with red beet puree, warm kohlrabi salad, sunchoke chips, toasted walnuts, in a honey lemon vinaigrette. I took home what we couldn’t finish, and the next day, this was every bit as delectable served cold.
I know many people who don’t eat pork, but if your reasons are not religious, I urge you to try the White Marble Farm Roasted Pork Loin, confit pork butt, brown butter spaetzle, ramps, rhubarb, and fennel puree. You may well change your mind. This definitely is not what is too often served in lesser establishments; meat that is tough, dry, and sitting next to a blob of jarred apple sauce on the plate.
Even if you don’t think you can manage one more bite, force yourself to try the Flourless Chocolate Cake with French toast croutons, macadamia nut brittle, white chocolate mousse, and hot chocolate. Oh mama, this is worth every glorious calorie.
Whatever you order here, you will go home happy, knowing that not only have you dined like royalty, but also that you’ve supported the local farmers and purveyors.
Café Of Love. Never was a restaurant more aptly named.
Photos by John Warner
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist, and an unrepentant Foodie. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary.