The Ritz-Carlton, Westchester Serves Up Authentic Portuguese Fare at 42
Forty-two stories above downtown White Plains, The Ritz-Carlton, Westchester — the tallest building in between NYC and Boston — sits the glass-paneled walls of 42, the hotel’s restaurant. It offers stunning views of Westchester County and a distant Manhattan skyline. While the eatery boasts four kitchens, a banquet space, and lounge area that extends up to the 43rd floor, the even bigger attraction is the down-home Portuguese cooking set in a casual fine-dining atmosphere.
Accessible via an elevator ensconced in an alcove well beyond the hotel lobby, you might think that 42 is an exclusive place with an ultra high price tag. But according to Chef Anthony Goncalves, “Guests just know, we have a huge Portuguese following with guests seeking us out from as far away as California and Portugal.” There you will find honest and savory kitchen aromas just like your mama’s, well, if she happens to be Portuguese.
Chef-owner Anthony Goncalves opened 42 in 2007 after a long run at NYC’s Trotters Tavern at age 26 in 1997. It was there that he made his first bold move in 2001, dropping the tavern portion of the establishment and overhauling the menu to reflect his Iberian/Portuguese-inspired roots. A year later, he took over the kitchen and taught himself to cook with the help and inspiration of his family. Accolades soon rolled in from the likes of Crain's, The New York Times, Esquire, and TIME. As Goncalves is quick to point out, he received his formal training not from a culinary school but from his own reading, practicing, and by fine tuning his kitchen skills by listening to his native Portuguese staff.
Living up to the restaurant’s tagline, “It’s Different Up Here,” Goncalves says, “It’s the customer experience and how we work together that makes it different. Iberian-American dishes, without pretension is what you get here.” Goncalves draws his ingredients from around the world, including fresh fish from Portugal several times a week, but also sources local ingredients whenever possible.
If you find yourself enjoying a Chef’s Tasting menu, you may be treated to a fisherman’s stew anchored with octopus risotto and Portuguese sausage, sprinkled with artichoke chips, and garnished with piri piri, a pepper originally from Africa and adopted by the Portuguese that emanates a sweet heat unlike Habanero or Ghost peppers. The closest match on the menu to the fisherman's stew may be their Pimenton Rigatoni with shrimp, calamari, piri piri, tomatoes and parmesan.
Paired with the food, wait staff will deftly suggest a wide array of wines from their extensive cellar that's outfitted with glass doors visible from the upstairs lounge. I went for a beer instead and was recommended a Sculpin IPA from Ballast Point Brewery. This hoppy brew cut through yet accentuated the stew's strong mélange of ingredients.
Other menu items include the Parsley Cavatelli with butternut squash Bolognese and pecorino or the Portuguese Fried Chicken (PFC). The PFC dish comes with thighs marinated for 30 hours, coated with smoked paprika, bay leaf and buttermilk and finally fired in a pizza oven to create a crispy, fried taste and are served with delicately sautéed garlic kale cheddar grits for a soul food twist. All dishes artfully showcase each ingredient.
But Goncalves isn't the only star on staff; head pastry chef Melissa Camacho competed on Bravo’s Top Chef, and made Sonhos, a traditional Portuguese donut of fried dough rolled in sugar. While she did not win the competition, it apparently only steeled her a resolve to make the best Sonhos around. Be sure to top off your meal with their house made Sambuca created from Goncalves' uncle’s secret recipe. It is much smoother than expected since it's infused on site with fresh-roasted espresso beans.