Some restaurants need a little help getting noticed. Maybe the chef is a miracle worker in the kitchen, but less adept at marketing. Maybe the location is out-of-the-way. Maybe there’s no particular reason; lots of new restaurants just struggle. And part of my motivation for blogging about local food is to shine a spotlight on New Rochelle’s hidden gems.
Well, Maria (at 11 Huguenot Street) doesn’t need my help. Just a few weeks old, it is already drawing a large and happy crowd of customers. And that’s no surprise, given the intense loyalty to Maria’s sister establishment just down the block, Pop’s Espresso Bar. But where Pop’s is a terrific spot for a casual breakfast or lunch — sandwiches, salads, pastries, and more — Maria brings on the fine dining. And fine it is.
My family and I went this past Saturday night, and we had barely taken our seats when the plates started to arrive. Marinated mushrooms, white beans, and artichokes, all vinegary and wonderful. Fresh bread with whipped ricotta. The best baked clams in memory.
And then our entrees. Briny squid ink linguine with calamari for Jeremy, orecchiette with broccoli rabe for Catie, gnocchi with rich oxtail ragu for Owen, and perfectly charred octopus with fingerling potatoes for me. A side of braised carrots, pretty enough for a cookbook cover, rounded out our savories.
Next up, dessert. Mini-cannolis and an intensely-flavorful black cherry gelato. The kids were full by then — I had warned them: too much bread! — so I greedily consumed three portions of the ice cream. (Since it all worked to my benefit, maybe I should encourage them to eat too much bread in the future.)
I could also mention the signature cocktail, called “Yo Maria.” It is blue. It has lemon, mint, cucumber, and some other stuff. It is very, very good. I had more than one.