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April 9, 2011
Last October you may have read the BID’s Best Bets
review of Alvin and Friends , one our downtown’s newest restaurants.
Now, the New York Times has given Alvin and Friends its highest “Don’t Miss” rating!
By EMILY DeNITTO
Published: April 9, 2011
YOU may not enter Alvin & Friends as one of the pals of the owner, Alvin Clayton, but by the time you leave, you’re likely to feel that you’ve become one.
|Susan Farley for The New York Times|
|Alvin & Friends, which opened |
in October, pays attention to
Mr. Clayton has opened a gracious, welcoming spot that makes diners feel comfortable as soon as they enter. The excellent, casual service and personal touches — Mr. Clayton is also a painter, and his artwork hangs throughout the place — help to create a connection. His face may even be vaguely familiar: He has been a model as well, appearing in the L. L. Bean catalog.
Most surprising is the delightful mix of people you are likely to see at Alvin & Friends — as diverse as the dishes served, most of which are deliciously sophisticated takes on down-home Southern and Caribbean classics.
Raymond Jackson, the chef, who got his start with Emeril Lagasse in New Orleans and cooked at Blue Smoke in Manhattan, is adept at taking the familiar and giving it a special twist. Our appetizers included delicate, grease-free and straightforward fried oysters but also a curry mussel bisque with hits of cilantro and fresh sweet corn kernels that burst with sweetness when I bit them.
|Susan Farley for The New York Times|
|Curry mussel bisque|
The Caesar salad featured wedges of romaine with a delicious buttermilk-scallion dressing, but fried peas replaced the croutons. And the barbecue shrimp was accompanied by the creamiest of grits and crispy fried sage.
My favorite appetizer was also the best example of Mr. Jackson’s multitiered approach: tuna tartare you could cut with a spoon, rubbed with Jamaican-style jerk seasonings and served with wonton chips, ripe avocado slices and a creamy aioli. The mix of flavors and textures was thrilling.
Similarly, the jerk-rubbed duck leg was a delightful combination of tastes: succulent, tender meat accompanied by black-eyed peas, a hearty duck sausage and red watercress that bit through the earthiness of the overall dish. The fried chicken was crispy but juicy, served with delicious, slow-cooked greens and smoky, decadent macaroni and cheese. And the fried catfish, offered with braised greens, also came with an adorable circle of sweet cornbread that was a delight in its own right.
Alvin & Friends, which opened in October, pays attention to seasonal ingredients, and the menu has just been tweaked for spring. An appetizer of jumbo lump crab imperial was replaced by a crab salad with hearts of palm, and a braised lamb shank has become loin of lamb, seasoned just right and cooked to perfection along with grits and a light salad of red onions and black-eyed peas.
Most desserts go beyond the usual. There’s an acceptable bittersweet chocolate cake, but the white-chocolate, red-velvet bread pudding, served with amaretto whipped cream and a blueberry compote, is not something you’ll find on many other Westchester menus. Coconut crème brûlée came with terrific candied ginger, and the sweet potato cheesecake brought lightness and new flavor to an old standby.
Weekends can get busy, and the service may not be quite as smooth as it is on less demanding weeknights. But the authentic sweetness of Mr. Clayton and his staff comes through nonetheless. Told of my daughter’s plans for a shopping trip on our first visit, he remembered not just her face but her sartorial hopes when we returned. They chatted about clothes and hugged when we left.
This had nothing to do with my reviewing the place — I use an alias and do not make my identity known. She’s just another one of Alvin’s friends.
Alvin & Friends
49 Lawton Street
THE SPACE Lovely, romantic storefront with comfortable banquettes, soft lighting and beautiful artwork. Wheelchair accessible.
THE CROWD Mostly adult, a rare combination of Westchester’s ethnically diverse communities. Casual but not sloppy.
THE BAR A cozy little spot set off in the back along with a handful of dining tables. Full service. Six decent wines — three red and three white — are $8 to $12 a glass, $30 to $45 a bottle.
THE BILL Entrees: $16.50 to $29. Major credit cards accepted.
WHAT WE LIKED Curry mussel bisque, barbecue shrimp, tuna tartare, jumbo lump crab imperial, fried oysters, caramelized salmon, fried catfish, fried chicken, jerk rubbed duck leg, loin of lamb, white-chocolate red-velvet bread pudding, coconut crème brûlée, sweet potato cheesecake.
IF YOU GO Dinner: Wednesday to Saturday, 5:30 to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 5 to 9 p.m. Brunch: Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Reservations recommended, especially on weekends. Metered street parking and at a nearby municipal lot.