Review: Destination Bistro in Yorktown Heights Pays Attention

The owner of Destination Bistro, Rob Del Balzo, had several years of catering experience before opening the restaurant in Yorktown Heights.

The first time I went to Destination Bistro, I was with a girlfriend and we sat at the bar for dinner because a private event had taken over the dining room. We had a lovely time, chatting with everyone from the friendly bartender to other guests to a chef who came out of the kitchen to say hello.

The next time I visited the Yorktown Heights restaurant, I was with family and we wanted to have a more intimate conversation. But every time we began to engage, a staff member came over. No fewer than six people, from a busboy to the owner himself, approached our table within minutes after our entrees came out to ask us if we liked the food. We had barely had a chance to taste it.

Credit...Gregg Vigliotti for The New York Times

It feels ungenerous to complain about too much attention, but there’s a tyranny to the constant refrain, “Is everything all right?”

Destination Bistro is not alone in this, and I hardly object to restaurants that want to make sure diners’ needs are met. But sometimes that includes giving people a little privacy. Paying attention can mean knowing when people don’t want to be disturbed.

The restaurant’s food is similarly exuberant. Most dishes reflect an abundance of ideas and influences, starting with appetizers like the slider trio that features not just a mini beef burger, but a zucchini cake with roasted red pepper and horseradish aioli, and chipotle pulled pork with apple slaw. Chicken Carol, the house specialty offered in memory of chef and owner Rob Del Balzo’s mother, is a seasoned chicken breast in a white wine and tomato reduction that also includes caramelized shallots and garlic, artichokes, olives and mushrooms — mixed with horseradish mashed potatoes. The dessert menu includes something called “coconut rice pudding crème brûlée” that is basically a mashup of two different dishes.

Credit...Gregg Vigliotti for The New York Times

But if it sometimes feels as though the kitchen needs to pull back — or drop an ingredient or two — it also is possible to revel in Mr. Del Balzo’s enthusiasm. Those sliders were delicious, all served on warm brioche buns. A honey wasabi-crusted salmon struck just the right balance between sharp and sweet, and came with fragrant black rice that helped keep the flavors from becoming overpowering.

There are wonderful starches, like the cilantro parsnip purée that accompanied tender braised short ribs, the panko mac and cheese that came with the honey teriyaki baby back ribs and the disk of manchego polenta placed under a meaty and large crab cake appetizer.

Mr. Del Balzo also frequently uses liquors in his cooking, and they can give the dishes unexpected, and welcome, flavors. An appetizer special called “lobster mojito” was created with meat from a lobster tail mixed with fresh lime, mint and simple syrup, and then deglazed with a shot of rum. Served around a fresh and creamy guacamole and fried plantain slices, the tastes complemented and amplified each other. Shrimp and grits, billed as “New Orleans meets Italy,” could have been a mess: It started with prosciutto di Parma polenta and bacon fried brussels sprouts, then gave the shrimp a Sambuca tarragon glaze. I wondered about overkill. But it was so well executed, and the intention so generous, it won me over.

Mr. Del Balzo opened Destination Bistro a little over two years ago after several years as a caterer, often for television cooking shows such as “Chopped” and “Rocco’s Dinner Party” (his company, Nuttin to It, is still going strong). He describes compliments from chefs Rocco DiSpirito, for his meatballs, and Bobby Flay, for his ribs, as career highlights. It’s easy to imagine his big personality and flavor-filled food creating a lively atmosphere on a set. That can be true at his restaurant, too. You just have to be in the mood for a party.

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