By Morris Gut
It is over the top at Mulino’s of Westchester during the holidays, and it begins with the bright lights at the entranceway.
The annual Christmas Holiday Fest at Mulino’s lasts through January and it’s a sight to behold. The fountain garden is beautiful as is the lavish dining room and bar and lounge. General manager GianLuigi (Gimmy) Cavagna and his staff are keeping the premises as spiffy as ever with Christmas decorations galore, life-size toy soldiers, the bursting colorful floral displays and handsome multilevel seating area.
In 1989, when Mulino’s of Westchester debuted at its original location on Barker Avenue in White Plains, and since 1993 when it moved to its present location at 99 Court St., this restaurant has been lavishing itself on a discriminating upscale crowd under the careful guidance of proprietor Louis Gigante.
Meanwhile, Cavagna has become familiar to the regulars here, the seemingly tireless general manager who has been seen at the reservation desk, the office or the kitchen six days a week for more than 30 years, moving orders forward and managing staff. You may also spot him in the dining room preparing a dish tableside or chatting with his many patrons. It’s all in a day’s work.
“You have to love it,” Cavagna said. “We don’t think about the hours; it’s hospitality in the true Italian sense.”
Cavagna is a 45-year veteran of the hospitality industry, a native of Bergamo in northern Italy where he trained at Istituto Professionale Alberghiero in San Pellegrino Terme Bergamo. He has worked in Italy, Switzerland and France and traveled with Home Lines cruises in the Caribbean, working his way from wash boy to the youngest wine steward in the fleet at age 25.
Stateside he worked in such highly regarded restaurants as La Camelia, Giambelli’s 50th and Il Mulino in Manhattan, which is where he met Gigante, a customer who was so impressed with his work he invited him to join the team at Mulino’s in Westchester.
“Louis is the architect in charge of the beauty, atmosphere and design of the place,” Cavagna said. “I run the operation front and back of the house day to day.”
The handsome two-level dining room and bar and lounge is lush with fresh flowers, the lovely picture-window view of the garden outside with its seasonal landscaping, giant goldfish and waterfall. It’s a setting, Cavagna insists, that requires attention to detail and service.
Once seated, all are served a tasty complimentary helping of Italian cheese and hot and mild cured meats. Look for such menu indulgences as the cold seafood platter prepared for two or more, loaded with fresh chilled lobster, colossal U5 shrimp, Alaskan king crab legs, sweet lump crabmeat, east and west coast oysters, littleneck clams and Jonah crab claws, beautifully decorated and served over crushed ice with dijonnaise, cocktail sauce and spicy horseradish. A seafood banquet!
There’s vongole oreganata, (baked clams with garlic, lemon and white wine sauce) a decadent burrata plate and a fine version of Spiedino a la Romana (mozzarella loaf with anchovies, olives, capers in a red or white wine sauce).
Hearty pastas include tagliatelle alla Bolognese tossed in a meat ragu; Linguine Nere con Coda d’Aragosta Marechiara (black linguine with tender baby lobster tails in a light tomato sauce); garganelli alla carbonara, tossed with pancetta, eggs and parmigiana Reggiano; and pappardelle al pomodoro e basilico (fresh diamond-shaped pasta with tomato and fresh basil). A recent taste of the risotto with porcini was terrific.
For a main course try the hefty Nodini di Vitello Valdostana (double cut veal chop stuffed with prosciutto, fresh herbs and cheese braised in a brandy, shitake mushroom and petite pea cream sauce); Carre d’Agnello al Forno (prime rack of lamb roasted and served with sage sauce); scaloppine al tartufo (veal sautéed with porcini mushrooms and white truffle butter with a touch of cream); Salmone Luigi (Norwegian salmon sautéed with asparagus in a caper, white wine and lemon sauce); aged prime Bistecca alla griglia (New York cut sirloin); or Braciola di Maiale (Berkshire Farm stuffed pork chop with prosciutto di parma, roasted peppers, gruyere cheese and sundried tomato served in a light pesto sauce).
A signature house special, Dover Sole, finished off in the dining room is quite a treat, too.
Don’t pass up the smooth Italian cheesecake, zeppole or fresh zabaglione with berries for dessert.
Visit the bar and lounge to unwind and there’s often a buzzing business networking crowd along for the ride. A good burger and panini sandwiches are served at lunchtime.
Mulino’s of Westchester is located at 99 Court St. in White Plains. It’s open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Saturday from 4 to 10:30 p.m. and Sunday from 4 to 8:30 p.m. Main courses at lunch are $14.75 to $39.75. Main dinner courses are $23.95 to $49.75. Party facilities available. Major credit cards accepted. Proper casual dress. Municipal parking; valet parking in the evenings. Reservations suggested. Info and reservations: 914-761-1818 or visit www.mulinosny.com.
Breakfast With Santa
I have been enjoying tasty food and drink at The Barley House Restaurant Group establishments this past year. Their main location is in Thornwood, with another on the Hudson in Tarrytown.
While in Thornwood recently, proprietor Bobby Harris told me their Barley Beach House on Dearborn Avenue in Rye is planning Breakfast with Santa on Dec. 11, 12 and 19. It’s a great spot right on the beachfront. There will be a breakfast buffet and photo session with Santa. Seatings are at 10 a.m. and noon. Tickets are $25 per person. Info: Visit www.thebarleybeachhouse.com.
Morris Gut is a restaurant marketing consultant and former restaurant trade magazine editor. He has been tracking and writing about the food and dining scene in greater Westchester for more than 30 years. He may be reached at 914-235-6591 or email@example.com.