Restaurant Review: The Inn at Pound Ridge by Jean-Georges

All images Francesco Tonelli, courtesy of The Inn at Pound Ridgeby Jean-Georges

★★★½  [Superior-Extraordinary]

It still looks like what it is: a centuries-old white clapboard house in the country, built in 1833 as a residence and now operating as an inn. But the classy driving machines pulling up to the door presage excitement within. When we drive up in our modest sedan, four valets spring forth to whisk it away.

The place is packed. How could it not be when the chef is internationally famous Jean-Georges Vongerichten, master chef and restaurateur extraordinaire who has opened 10 restaurants in power cities around the world—Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore, Chicago, Tokyo—and just did something his fans thought he would never do. He turned his attention from New York City (where he had just opened three restaurants) to take over a sleepy country inn, formerly Emily Shaw’s, on the New York-Connecticut border, and turn it into a stunning dining destination worth a trip from anywhere.

Chef Vongerichten’s Manhattan followers would have followed him to the wilds of anywhere, but this bucolic patch of meadowland and forest where Pound Ridge meets New Canaan is rural but by no means rustic, with more than a few celebrities owning second homes there—Ralph Lauren, Martha Stewart, Bill and Hillary.

But don’t expect framed autographs on the walls of the new Inn at Pound Ridge by Jean-Georges. Perish the thought. Do expect cutting-edge amenities and world-class decor so subtle it feels like a designer’s cabin in the woods of Sweden or an artist’s hideaway overlooking a Norwegian fjord.

When we step inside, first into a cozy taproom and then into the high, vaulted main dining room, one thing is sure: We’re not in Kansas, Toto. We’re not in the old Emily Shaw’s, either. Bare, pale-blond wood floors, neutral walls, some left unadorned, sleek modern furniture and state-of-the-art lighting fixtures with stylish paper shades replace what was fuddy-duddy with an airy Scandinavian minimalism.But one of the best features of the old inn has not been jettisoned. That woodburning fireplace in the taproom is actually burning wood. We’re told it’s one of four. Would we like to see them all, the banquet room, the bar and tavern area downstairs? Yes, please, but later because what we’re really here for is food, glorious food, created by a brilliant, fiercely original chef who cooks with the courage of his convictions, even if it means leaving out more than he puts in or that nobody else is doing it—yet.

For his Inn at Pound Ridge, Vongerichten has created a contemporary locally sourced farm-to-table American menu, crisp, clean and refreshing as ice cold spring water. We begin with baby beets with yogurt, candied hazelnuts and herbs, homey ingredients, amazing when combined. Watermelon and fresh goat cheese turn out to be a wonderful flavor contrast with the watermelon in the pink of perfection and the goat cheese really fresh. A drizzle of olive oil and a dash of white pepper adds the genius touch.

Little things mean a lot to Vongerichten. A hint of fresh mint in the kale salad, a ramekin of yuzu dipping sauce for the crackling calamari, already addictively crunchy outside, tender within and light enough to float away.

Simple pleasures continue to unfold. Who would guess that slowly roasted fresh strawberries with aged Balsamic would be just the thing to make a foie gras terrine sing? If this be lily-gilding, I’ll go for the gold.

Menu listings, as clean and lean as the cuisine, sometimes fall short when it comes to describing a dish with several components. For example, an entrée of “Roasted hake, tender broccoli, grated ginger dressing with chervil and mint” arrives in a sea of soy-scented sauce, disappointing Chris who had ordered it because her favorite flavors are ginger and mint. Our waitress explains that the fish has been marinated in ginger and mint. Not so you’d notice, I’m tempted to say, but I don’t. Chris scrapes the dark brown sauce away—I want to blame the menu not the chef. It’s a good dish introduced inadequately.

Sautéed Scottish salmon with corn pudding (more of a soufflé) and cherry tomato salad turns out to be exactly that—a simple dish, familiar ingredients but so beyond good, we sigh with pleasure and supply adjectives. Silky salmon, scrupulously fresh. I don’t always dine with other foodies, but it’s fun when I do.

Vongerichten’s down-to-earth dishes with magical twists are fun, too, and I revel in them. I order lamb chops with cucumber yogurt—a cool combination, the lamb chops marinated in a mix of spices too elusive to identify. Simple may look and sound easy, but it takes a superb chef to create a menu like this. We sample only a quarter of the dishes offered and vow to return.

The dessert list, too, is more voluptuous than it sounds. Peach cobbler arrives hot in its baking dish, topped with blueberry crème fraîche ice cream—tangy and not too sweet. We can’t believe we ate the whole thing. A salted caramel sundae with candied popcorn, peanuts and fudge sauce proves that when a great chef and a bevy of buzzy food trends get together, dessert can be a lot of fun. We order a cookie plate to go and after exploring the romantic cave-like tavern area downstairs, join the exodus waiting for cars at the front door. The crowd is young and came late, many in cars with Connecticut plates. On the way home we reprise tonight’s experience. We liked the relaxed atmosphere, the simple-yet-elegant table settings and the friendly staff.

Visiting an internationally famous chef’s hot, new, highly touted restaurant in the guise of a nobody, I would not have been surprised to encounter a soupçon of attitude. We encountered none. Maybe no attitude is the new attitude. If so, Vongerichten would be among the first to know.

The Inn at Pound Ridge by Jean-Georges

258 Westchester Ave., Pound Ridge, New York (914) 764-1400, theinnatpoundridge.com

Brunch: Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner: Sun.-Thurs. 5 to 10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5 to 11 p.m. Price range: appetizers $7 to $19, pizzas $12 to $19, entrées $19 to $38, desserts $8 to $13. Wheelchair access. Major credit cards. 

(This article was originally published on a different platform. Some formatting changes may have occurred.)

This article appeared in the November 2014 issue of Connecticut Magazine

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