Westchester County Times, September 2004   |  Back to Reviews |  Back to Home Page
From "Luscious Life" Written and Photographed by Philip Innes

Distinctive Dining: A Tale of Two Restaurants

A casual passerby might never suspect that Peter Pratt's Inn in Yorktown Heights and Ümami Café in Croton-on-Hudson share the same ownership. But both restaurants (and a second Ümami Café that opened three months ago in Fishkill) are owned by Jonathan Pratt and Craig Purdy. Pratt is the son of Peter and Janet Pratt, the prior owners of the Inn, while Purdy--who holds a master's degree in hotel management from Cornell, my undergraduate alma mater--once worked there as a dishwasher 31 years ago.

The casual passerby might dismiss Peter Pratt's Inn as just another stately Westchester dining venue, figuring it to attract the same crowds as the venerable Frenchies in the County. And he might identify in Ümami Café the kind of free-wheeling spirit that characteries down-County eateries like Port Chester's Pacifico and Café Mirage.

He'd be partly right. But if our casual passerby actually dined at the two restaurants, he would discover that the distinction blurs. Peter Pratt's Inn may have classical underpinnings, but it can't resist employing numerous novel touches that propel it past stodgier competitors. Ümami Café may meld elements from disparate cuisines, but it still pays strong obeisance to first-rate ingredients and classic techniques.

Other distinctions prove more compelling. Ümami Café is situated in downtown (pardon the exaggeration) Croton-on-Hudson, while Peter Pratt's Inn is located up a set of rural switchback (ironically called Croton Heights Road) where nary a traffic light is to be found. Ümami Café is modern and minimalist, while Peter Pratt's Inn is handsome and historic--in winter, offering dining by the fireplace; in summer, on its porch.

Of the two, Ümami Café is the more accessible--in more ways than one. At Peter Pratt's Inn, the generously portioned entrees rang from $18 to $29; at Ümami Café, entrees start at $10 with pad Thai and top off at $18 for barbecued babyback ribs. Peter Pratt's Inn features a global selection of wines touching many price points ($18-$600), while Ümami Café's simple wine list ($20-$38) draws just from France, Australia and California.

At Ümami Café, parties are encouraged to bring their own bottle of wine (corkage fee $10). For me, sake would be the perfect complement to Ümami Café's East-West fusion menu, so I may bring a cork-less bottle of sake with me the next time I come. Surprisingly, when Ümami Café carried sake, it didn't sell. But Bob and I were quite pleased with our big (14.1% alcohol) '01 Teatown Merlot, Napa, California ($8/$38) produced by a friend of Pratt's.

"Think globally, east locally!" is Ümami Café's slogan. A sign in the café's entry defines umami (oomlot added) as 1. the fifth primary taste--after sweet, bitter, sour, salt--identified by Asian cooks c. 800 A.D.' 2. good taste, deliciousness (Japanese); 3. flavor sensation that triggers a craving response, 4. Not Yo' Mama! or Oooo Mommy!; 5. found only in certain food but not limited to specific cuisine or region; 6. food with 'tude. Nearby bathrooms are humorously labeled udadi and umomi.

Offered in vegetarian ($5), chicken ($6), shrimp ($7) and chicken and shrimp ($8) versions, coconut lime soup proved to be a tom kha kai, the classic Thai soup featuring coconut milk galangal, lemongrass and Kaffir lime juice. What's more, unlike the tepid versions produced by some overly timid Thai restaurants, the tart elements in the broth were allowed to assert themselves, holding the richness of the coconut milk in check. The broth was a faithful reproduction, the solid additions somewhat more fanciful, including carrot shreds, peas, glass noodles and bit s of mushroom and tofu.

Two duck appetizers have achieved great popularity at Ümami Café--one Japanese in thrust, the other Chinese by way of Mexico. The first, called duckamaki ($7.50) is a riff on negimayaki, Japanese beef roll-ups filled with scallion segments and served in teriyaki sauce. The Café substitutes duck for beef and sweet caramelized onion for teriyaki sauce. The second is a quesadilla ($8) that repackages the flavors of classic Peking duck between twin six-inch flour tortillas filled with shredded duck confit tossed with hoisin sauce, scallion, cilantro and Cheddar, then garnished with more hoisin sauce, creme fraiche and scallions. This duck dish also contains a Japanese echo in a sesame-flavored seaweed salad indistinguishable from that produced in any good sushi joint.

Heading into our entrees, we tried a couple of salads, including a sushi joint-style side salad ($4) with a bright orange carrot-miso dressing and an impressive Ümami salad ($5) that successfully fused Thai and Indonesian elements. Garnished with strips of tortilla shell and crispy onions, this house salad bound julienne carrot, jicama, green papaya and red bell pepper in an Indonesian peanut dressing. Although some dishes, including the house salad, were billed as spicy, most were actually quite mild. However, fire-eaters like myself will find such a carnival of flavors in each dish that the absence of flames won't disappoint anyone.

That Pratt draws inspiration from his Chinese-Hawaiian wife, Suzie Low Pratt, is understandable to this restaurant critic whose Filipino wife has fueled his love affair with all thing Asian. Thus, flavorful grilled hanger steak ($15) was served with Joyce's Beach House Sauce, a simple sumptuous emulsion of Garlic, butter, soy and oyster sauce provided by one of Suzie's sisters. Grilled salmon ($14) in a citrusy yuzu and soy sauce was served over watercress with choice of white or brown rice. Three-fourths of a rack of barbecued babyback pork ribs ("Chee Hou" style ($18) were served with Nancy's coleslaw (a recipe by another of Suzie's plentiful sisters) and French fries.

Our desserts ($5) were homemade, including chocolate lava cake, a perfect Key lime pie (I so rarely like them) and a sticky date cake with toffee sauce, an Aussie favorite.

Two days later, I visited Peter Pratt's Inn with my wife who, having dined there a few years before, insisted on being included. My wife's no fool. She knows Peter Pratt's Inn offers some of Westchester's best dining.

We kicked things off with an ''01 Christom Mount Jefferson Pinto Noir, Cuvee, Willmette Valley, Oregon ($50). How could this former Oregon mountaineer resist this wine, having scaled peaks to Jefferson's north and south, including Mount Hood (thrice), the South Sister (twice) and Mount Thielson (once)? This offering proved to be a classic, light, versatile Pinot Noir--more Burgundian than big.

When I saw Peter Pratt's Inn also featured the ahi tuna tacos ($10), I ordered them for my wife, even though I had already tried them. No one rightly should be deprived of the experience. Just as lovely was a chilled carrot soup ($8) made with coconut milk, Thai curry and pickled (but not especially briny) mango. This soup is so elegant and natural you would swear it's a traditional recipe from a Southeast Asian nation, but it's not. It's a sign of successful fusion when combinations feel so natural and unforced.

A crab cake ($9), served over red cabbage slaw with a horseradish mayonnaise, clung to more classic lines but was remarkably good. Made with Venezuelan lump crab meat, the lightly browned cakes were fresh-tasting, flavorful and, above all, crabby. Pan-seared sea scallops ($10) were served in a lovely ginger-lime beurre blanc and accompanied by a black bean and corn salsa.

An endive, radicchio, pear, Stilton cheese and candied walnut salad was perfectly balanced. Truffled mushroom ravioli with wild mushroom cream ($9/$18) drew three wows from my wife, who's parsimonious with praise. These swoon-worthy ravioli would give cafe Meze's artichoke ravioli with Parmesan and white truffle oil a serious run for their money.

No matter how much Peter Pratt's Inn changes with the times or draws inspiration from overseas, I'm still programmed to think of it as a great place to go for game. And it still is. Grilled New Zealand venison loin ($26) with a fava bean ragout and red onion marmalade satisfied my yearning (or should I say yen?) for game, as did pan-seared french Pekin duck ($24) with a morel polenta, caramelized onion and orange-infused duck glace. How thrilling it was to receive several bone-in pieces of duck instead of the usual prissy slices of breast meat!

Finally, we turned to a dessert ($8) which was house-made. A banana and coconut cream pie.

A casual passerby  might not fully appreciate the balance of East and West that makes dining at Ümami Caféand Peter Pratt's Inn so exciting. But if he took one bite of the food served at either restaurant, I guarantee he would be a casual passerby no longer. Indeed, he will most certainly visit again, and again.

Ümami Café is located at 325 S. Riverside Ave., Croton-on0Hudson. Telephone is 271-5555. Peter Pratt's Inn is located at 673 Croton Heights Rd., Yorktown Heights. Telephone is 962-4090.

 

Open nightly Wednesday through Sunday and for private parties
Reservations recommended  (914) 962-4090  or contact us by e-mail
673 Croton Heights Road, Yorktown, New York 10598

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