Moderne Barn, in Armonk, is brought to us by the Livanos family, owners of Molyvos and Oceana in Manhattan and the City Limits Diner in White Plains. I’ve been wanting to try it since they opened their doors in the summer of 2010, having heard mostly favorable reviews. I found myself in unfamiliar territory right off the bat. Normally (or abnormally as the case may be), when I have plans to go to a new restaurant my OCD kicks in and by the time I arrive I’ve already scoured the menu, decided what I’m eating, read reviews and looked at pictures. I pretty much know the experience I’m going to have and have only to taste the actual, y’know….food. For whatever reason I walked into Moderne Barn not knowing a thing about it and was immediately taken aback at the sheer size of it. The sprawling, cavernous space included a long, packed bar with a catwalk overhead containing wine rooms and a soaring vaulted ceiling. The enormous size of the room was surprisingly warm thanks to dark plank wood slats that covered the entirety of the ceiling and many of the walls, as well as low hanging industrial light fixtures. These additions lent the space a warmth I would have thought difficult, if not impossible, and, when you add the mid summer evening natural light tumbling in through large windows the overall aesthetic was striking.
The crowd was a handsome one, with dress running the gamut from relaxed casual to semi-formal evening wear. As I mentioned, the bar was quite crowded and, after tasting a few of the cocktails on offer, I’d say it deserved to be. All the tables on the first floor were occupied and the din of the room was nearly overwhelming.
Because of this I had no complaints when the hostess led us to a table on the deceptively large second level. The lower ceilings helped provide a more quiet environment. Considering Moderne Barn markets itself in the vein of farm- to- table restaurants, the menu was surprisingly large.
An appetizer of Grilled Jumbo Asparagus, served with grilled brioche, poached egg, prosciutto di Parma and tomatillo salsa verde was a study in the perfection of simple inmgredients that work well together. It was technically adept, the asparagus maintaining a pleasing snap and the egg poached perfectly for the yolk to become a rich, drizzling sauce when cut. While it lacked the “Oh my God this tastes like it was picked 15 minutes ago!” freshness of some other farm-to-table establishments, it was still a very satisfying dish.
The Nonna Meatball appetizer was also solid, if not outstanding. If that sounds like an insult it genuinely was not meant as one. As someone who loves meatballs I’m impressed by a restaurant that can deliver a solid one and rarely find one that stands out above the pack. These were in a tomato sauce with a nice acidic tang which was mellowed by a dollop of fresh ricotta cheese.
An Heirloom Tomato Salad with house-made mozzarella salad seemed more a house-made mozzarella salad with heirloom tomatoes. A small distinction I know, but at a restaurant touting seasonality as its philosophy, watching tomatoes at the height of their season take a back seat was odd. That small gripe aside, the mozzarella was creamy and pleasant and adorned with a complimentary drizzle of pesto and balsamic vinaigrette.
There were many choices of entrees, the menu contained full meat, seafood and pasta sections as well as a separate steak category.
First up was a hangar steak, impressive in its simplicity. Impressive because there was nowhere to hide any mistakes to preparation. It oozed confidence as well as meaty juices and was perfectly cooked. It was tender and tasty, served with a piquant chimichurri sauce.
Bacon Wrapped Monkfish was, well, monkfish wrapped in bacon. In other words, fantastic. The meaty monkfish was not overcooked in an attempt to get the bacon right, allowing the dish to exhibit all the reasons the pairing works. Crisp, fatty bacon yielded to the lean fish, flavored by the salty pork drippings. It was served with sweet corn, pineapple and cherry tomatoes, the sweetness and freshness of which lightened the bacon heavy centerpiece.
A short rib special was well braised, falling apart tender, but sadly lost in a sea of thick sauce. It was served with bone marrow potatoes, a deal sealer for me as anything with bone marrow is. However, I was unable to taste any impact the bone marrow had on the potatoes, beyond the aesthetic of serving them in the hollowed out bone.
Lastly was a Wagyu Beef Hotdog on a Pretzel Bun which, believe it or not, was ordered by FoodieWife, she of the tree bark and pebbles diet. Not only ordered….
…………..but finished. Though I admit helping her muscle through the last of it, that a bird seed eating, small, pseudo-vegetarian would dive into it with such abandon is higher praise than my meager vocabulary can grace it with.
The hot dog, to me, was a good indicator of the restaurant as a whole. It was pleasing. Was it haute cuisine? Despite being made of Wagyu beef, it was not. But it was immensely pleasing. And I think that’s how I ultimately felt about Moderne Barn. From the large sociable bar, to the impressive decor, the solid food and friendly service, Moderne Barn was enormously pleasing.