“Dining-out is a vice, a dissipation of spirit punished by remorse,” British critic Cyril Connolly once wrote.
Sadly, the man never had the opportunity to dine at the Ledson Hotel where his fellow countryman chef Darren Robey has created a splendid wintry menu that evades the facile gags about English cooking by borrowing heavily from the Italian. Squisito!
Consider this – for an appetizer I had a plate that looked as if it were the greatest hits of an Italian delicatessen: proscuitto, coppa, salami, mozzarella, roasted red peppers, gorgonzola dolce, olives and delicate, thin herbed breadsticks that at first glance looked like chopsticks. Now, if you’re anything like me, a born picker who was inclined as a child to wear olives on my fingertips and preferred the savory contents of gift baskets to proper meals, you will be very pleased. My only issue was that I had to fight the compulsion to eat the appetizer with my hands as if I was trawling some order of personal buffet. This restraint was lost on my companion whose reach toward my plate was met with breadstick rapped against her knuckles. When not poaching coppa, my companion enjoyed what she described as a “fresh and vibrant” seafood appetizer comprised of “sushi grade” ahi with ponzu and seaweed salad, wild king salmon with dijon mustard and cornichons, red snapper with chili, lime and cilantro
Interestingly, Robey continues a trend I’ve recently noted: the resuscitation of butter lettuce as a viable salad base. To coin a phrase, the reign of romaine has waned. The Ledson gussies up the waxy leaves with pears, Pt. Reyes bleu cheese and candied walnuts under a faint drizzle of d’Anjou pear vinaigrette.
Entrees culled from a winter menu of the “cuddle up by the fire” variety, perhaps atop a sheepskin rug and likely with someone you love in the midst of one of those “those were the days” conversations. An example is the pumpkin gnocchi, pillows of gourd-infused pasta floating in a roiling sea of red wine shallot broth, strewn with kale and a snowdrift of parmesan reggiano. The dish was presented as a sort of hearty, post-autumnal soup, which did well to invoke the season. Likewise, the ribeye steak, served boneless and bedecked by gratin of potatoes and five lilies (admittedly, I never figured out the lily part), Bloomsdale spinach, and a brawny three-peppercorn sauce makes for a soul-warming entrée. The sauce was especially savory — a rich reduction stoked by red, black and white peppers that I continued lapping up long after I had devoured the steak. That said, it was summarily trumped by the sumptuous osso buco, a veal shank marvelously braised and served with the marrowbone intact. The beef was as tender as a kiss from your Nonna and the accompanying cassoulet (a side that has become rather vogue this season) was like donning one’s favorite pajamas. The dish is completed with broccoli rabe and gremolata (minced parsley, lemon peel and garlic). On rainy days, I recommend the Ledson serve the osso bucco to its hotel guests in bed. They would never want to leave.
Despite its opulent trappings (the décor matches the tableware), the Ledson was moderately priced for such high caliber of dining (entrees were $20 to $30) and portions were quite filling: the apple raisin spice cake (served with cinnamon gelato and apple caramel sauce) may finish you before you finish it.