The bright dining room at Capers even on a cloudy day.
Richard Abel|Westmore News
The bright dining room at Capers even on a cloudy day. Richard Abel|Westmore News

At age 31, Edwin Montoya co-owns two successful restaurants with his brother-in-law Edi Rivera. The second, Capers Mediterranean Restaurant, opened Sept. 1 in the space that last housed Café Mirage for 15 years and was originally built as a Shell station at 531 North Main St. near the Greenwich border.

The 1,235-square-foot building was to have been torn down and a 3,300-square-foot building to house neighborhood retail was to have been built. But that idea was dropped because of the difficulty of finding tenants, and Guatemalan born Montoya and Rivera, who both have extensive experience in the business, were invited to open a restaurant there. The former USA Bank building next door, constructed as an auto body shop, is being renovated as originally envisioned and is being divided into three retail spaces.

“They planned to tear it down and whatever happened just benefitted us,” said Montoya, who lives in Port Chester.

Montoya and Rivera also own the tiny Appétit Bistro, focusing on French cuisine, in the Lyon Park shopping center on Willett Avenue. What attracted them to this location is the parking lot which can accommodate 18 vehicles.

“We didn’t expect such a great opening,” said Montoya. “We were slammed from the very beginning. People were very interested in what we were going to do with this place.”

One restaurant seems to feed off the other. “We have a good following at Appétit Bistro,” the only French restaurant in town, said Montoya. “We have been getting a lot of new people here who are discovering Appétit Bistro. We are opening up new seats there because of this place.”

Montoya is running Capers, which seats 44, while his girlfriend Dina Ortega is providing the continuity at Appétit Bistro.

Rivera is the head chef at both restaurants. He designs the menus and is always going back and forth between the two to make sure everything is running smoothly in the kitchen.

Renovations were more extensive than originally planned. “We had to redo the kitchen, change the floor, put in new windows, a new roof, new bathrooms,” said Montoya. “We’re happy with all the work we did, and I think people see the difference.”

I’ve been to Capers four times and it has evolved over that period. The service has improved, it has gotten less noisy on a busy Saturday night by installing foam absorption panels on the ceiling, and the menu has been adjusted to remove and replace items that didn’t move. Some of the dishes I’ve tried are no longer offered. If I have a choice, I prefer to dine at a restaurant during the week or even on Sunday night when it’s not as crowded and the servers can give you more undivided attention. But, alas, Friday and Saturday nights are the most popular and restaurants are judged by how they can handle a crowd at those times. Capers is doing fine, with plenty of servers and Edwin stepping up to help out as needed.

So far there are no specials. “We want people to try the menu we have and then we will start coming up with specials,” said Montoya. “Now we are adjusting and cleaning out what doesn’t move and then we will start going into more wintry dishes” such as cassoulet and bouillabaisse.

My 24-year-old says Capers is her new favorite restaurant in Port Chester, and I have ordered and tasted several excellent appetizers, small plates, entrées and desserts there. I have hardly exhausted the choices.

Dinner for three

On my last dinner visit with my husband and youngest daughter, I started with a Byram River Fizz made with Neversink (made in Port Chester) apple brandy, house made grenadine and lime. The house cocktail ($13) was sweet and refreshing, but I would have preferred less ice.

The meal begins with a basket of lovely French bread from Kneaded Bread bakery in Port Chester and a too-small container (you have to keep asking for more!) of homemade hummus accented with lemon zest.

To start, we went with the artichokes ($10), large pieces of heart sautéed with capers, tomato, garlic and white wine and served warm. These were heavenly. Extra bread was brought to the table to mop us the delicious sauce.

The King Crab Salad ($17), although not a large portion, was ample and delicate, served with sliced avocado and chopped tomato, frisée and argula salad tossed with lemon vinaigrette on the side.

My daughter ordered six clams on the half shell from the raw bar ($9) which came with both vinegar sauce and cocktail sauce for dipping.

Lamb Keftedes ($12), Greek meatballs topped with deep red tomato sauce and freshly grated cheese, another small plate, was the choice of my husband, and these were first rate as well. He asked for bread and was offered grilled pita which accompanied them perfectly.

To complement our meal, I selected a bottle of the 2013 Kir-Yianni, Yianakohori ($40), a Greek wine that is a blend of 30% Merlot, 50% Xinomavro and 20% Syrah. It had a minerally flavor but was not at all harsh.

The two-page wine list, with prices ranging from $38 to $175, features varieties from California, France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Argentina and Oregon.

For entrée, I was tempted by the Grilled Pork Chop ($27), a thick piece of meat which came covered in oyster and shitake mushrooms and a peppery brown sauce made with white wine, butter, cayenne and cracked pepper served over perfectly whipped mashed potatoes with asparagus on the side. There was enough for leftovers the next day.

Grilled Rib Eye ($32) brought a juicy steak of medium thickness perfectly cooked medium rare topped with za’atar maître d’ butter (compound butter with herbs) and accompanied by asparagus and roasted potatoes. Peppercorn sauce is served in a gravy boat on the side to be added as desired.

For dessert, the untraditional but scrumptious house made strawberry shortcake was light and refreshing with strawberries and whipped cream between thin layers of yellow cake ($11). We also received a complimentary piece of tiramisu which is similar in consistency with different ingredients, both of them light with a dollop of whipped cream and mint leaves on the side.

Our check totaled $169.65.

Brian Laserna was our server for this meal on a Sunday night as well as our previous one on a busy Saturday. We found him pleasant, knowledgeable and efficient.

“We both started at BLT [Steak in White Plains] years ago,” said Montoya, who worked there part-time until Capers opened. “He’s a great guy. He makes my life so much easier because he runs the restaurant—makes sure everyone does what they should be doing” when Edwin isn’t there.

Laserna said he finds difficult customers a challenge he doesn’t mind taking on.

Other things to recommend

Mussels are a Mediterranean staple, and the Prince Edward Island variety in a saffron sauce embellished with roasted peppers, garlic, tomato, chili flakes and prosciutto at Capers are delicious. You can order a small clear bowl of them for $11 as a small plate or a larger bowl with fries ($23) for an entrée. Be sure to ask for bread for dipping.

My daughter and others have raved about the Rack of Lamb ($35), which is one of Capers’ most popular entrées. You get two large pieces of herb-crusted meat on long bones, and the meat is juicy and flavorful, even for someone like myself who shies away from lamb. It is served with lemony Israeli couscous and tzatziki sauce (made with Greek yogurt, cucumber, garlic and lemon juice).

Currently there are four types of fish, another staple of the Mediterranean diet—on the menu: filet of swordfish ($28), filet of halibut ($29), filet of tuna ($32) and grilled branzino ($28). The Dover Sole I enjoyed on one visit has been removed.

I haven’t ventured to try the Grilled Quail ($29) yet, but Edwin highly recommends it. “You get two deboned [birds] except for the little legs, and they are unbelievable,” he said. They are served with lentil ragu and smoky bacon and are glazed with petimezi, a grape syrup, this recipe originating from the Basque region.

I appreciate that all the desserts are house made. Besides the strawberry shortcake and tiramisu, I can recommend the creamy chocolate mousse. Other desserts include tres leches cake, and flan has recently been added to the blackboard. If you have coffee with your dessert, you’ll appreciate that the milk to go in it is served warm to keep the hot beverage at a warm temperature.

Last Sunday my husband and I tried had brunch at Capers and I was blown away by the Lobster Benedict ($23), which consists of chunks of lobster, two runny poached eggs on English muffins topped with Hollandaise sauce and served with home fries mixed with red peppers and onions with arugula salad on the side.

What’s in the name?

Dina, Edwin’s girlfriend, suggested the name. “We wanted something catchy and short and started researching and found capers was one of the most used ingredients in Mediterranean cuisine,” said Montoya. It’s also easy to remember.

Cozy space with striking decor

Cozy is the word to describe Capers, with a focus on gray and white tones. Christopher Cintron Designs of Stamford designed the interior. Most striking are the large black and white photographs on the off-white walls with gray accents and the gray/blue, pale beige and white wallpaper in the foyer. Many are set in France, one is of the Wall Street bull in New York City and others are more generic. The light fixtures of large individual clear bulbs hanging from the ceiling and others with similar bulbs on arms or in clusters also catch your attention.

The restaurant is filled with simple square wood tables and matching ice cream chairs set with beige and navy placemats and white cloth napkins with green accents which can be pushed together to accommodate larger parties. There are also benches along the wall in the back left corner of the space with cushion backs covered in brown, beige and gray fabric.

As you enter, there is a small bar that seats four to your left and an attractive gray, yellow, light brown and gray fabric couch accented by charcoal gray pillows with buttons and the first of many black and white prints—this one of a mesmerizing staircase in France.

During the daylight, Capers’ many windows let in lots of natural light, making for a pleasant dining experience.

Seedlings planted for a greenhouse

Café Mirage was always known for its patio which seated another 30 people.

“We have approval to seat 30 outside, but the kitchen can’t handle it,” said Montoya. That’s why the owners plan to make that space into a bar. “We are in the process of submitting the paperwork,” he said. “We think it will be ready by March.”

The idea is to have a larger bar with 10 seats and a lounge area with a few seats that will be heated and open year-round Although there isn’t much water to look at with the restaurant’s location overlooking the Byram River, “we want to take advantage of what there is,” said Montoya.

The new space will resemble a greenhouse with some glass panels that will be removable and others that will open “so it feels like you are dining outside in the summer.”

“We want to bring something completely different,” said Montoya. “There is no place where you can serve outdoors all year, so we are making sure we are bringing different things to Port Chester…We are going to do it the right way from the beginning.”

Hours, parking

Capers is open every day except Saturday for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday for brunch during the same hours and seven days for dinner starting at 5 p.m. and running until 10 except on Friday and Saturday when dinner is served until 11.

On-premises parking is available in the parking lot adjacent to the restaurant. Montoya said reservations are staggered so there is never a problem with an overflow of cars.