A view of the entrance and front of Saltaire Oyster Bar and Fish House which will be opening Aug. 31 at 20 Willett Ave.Jananne Abel|Westmore News
A view of the entrance and front of Saltaire Oyster Bar and Fish House which will be opening Aug. 31 at 20 Willett Ave.

Jananne Abel|Westmore News
What is that restaurant taking the place of The Willett House again and when is it finally going to open? What about the former T&J Villaggio Trattoria? Is that space ever going to reopen as a new restaurant? These are a few of the questions I set out to answer in this month's restaurant recap.

Saltaire Oyster Bar and Fish House

20 Willett Ave.

Port Chester


Expected Opening: Aug. 31

When I walked through the emerging Saltaire Oyster Bar and Fish House on July 27, the hope was that it would be open by mid-August. While the date has now been pushed back until Aug. 31, I have no doubt it will be worth the wait to have a straight-from-the docks fish house and oyster bar in town. We previously enjoyed F.I.S.H. at the foot of Fox Island Road, but the Fox Island Seafood House closed more than four years ago.

Saltaire owner Leslie "Les" Barnes, a second generation seafood buyer and aquaculture buff, has hired chef Bobby Wills, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park who grew up in the seafood business in Massachusetts, spent a large part of his career in Boston and most recently ran a seafood restaurant in Maine.

Barnes, 65, developed a keen knowledge about fish from going to the original Fulton Fish Market with his father from the age of five. His dad opened a fish store in 1959 which grew into a restaurant. Les learned every aspect of the business, London Lennie's in Queens, and took over the operation at age 22.

After running London Lennie's for decades and raising four daughters, he found the former Willett House, an historic grain warehouse with 30-foot ceilings and original exposed brick close to his home in Rye. "The timing was right to open Saltaire," said Barnes.

He described London Lennie's as "an old style fish and chips shop" with the atmosphere of a pub while Saltaire will have a casual nautical feel. The premise of the two is the same, said Barnes. "We want it to be approachable."

"I didn't feel there was a great fish house up here," said Barnes. "I felt it was a market we could tap into.

"It's a great space," he added. "You don't find spaces like this everywhere. The designer, Kim Nathanson, was very respectful of it. Her father did my restaurant 30 years ago."

The focal point of the restaurant, set back slightly from the Byram River, will be a white marble raw bar with two shuckers which will offer 10-12 different varieties of oysters per day. A cocktail bar will be located in the same vicinity which will have a craft aspect to it with custom blended salts and mixes, different flavored bitters and barrel aged drinks.

The menu, which will change seasonally, will be printed in-house daily because "we have to see what the boats bring in and there are seasonal restrictions on fishing," said Barnes, who makes daily trips to the Fulton Fish Market. Saltaire, named after a type of oyster Barnes is no longer able to source, will carry wild fish mostly plus farm raised branzino and farm raised salmon in the winter.

"There will be no frozen lobster tails or shrimp, only fresh shrimp (when it's available)," said Barnes. "We are not looking to be a seafood restaurant but a fish house and oyster bar. We will have fresh fish, easily prepared, to let the fish shine through."

An example of a fish dish Wills plans to feature is Grilled Montauk Swordfish over sunflower seed risotto made with vegan butter and vegetable broth, which he said is "creamy with a little crunch," and heirloom carrots. Other examples are Red Snapper Ceviche with charred lime, sorrel verde and cashew-yuca purée and Grilled Octopus with heirloom tomato-watermelon salad, crunchy chickpeas and yogurt.

"Will we have flounder filet?" Barnes asked rhetorically. "No. It's not available all the time. It's a throwback item. People are more sophisticated now. We may do whole roasted flounder, which is delicious." He does expect to carry snapper, tuna, cobin (lemon fish), wild king salmon, soft shell crabs and Nantucket bay scallops. The latter, he said, are "the best thing out of the ocean."

Besides the white marble bar, the raw bar section of the restaurant has a blue, brown and off-white tile floor and is decorated with black and white photographs of fishermen and burgees-signal flags from boats.

"It's better than a lobster pot and nets," quipped Barnes.

Otherwise, he said, "we wanted to keep it fairly simple and let the nice architectural details stand out, all the brick work."

The main dining room is now on one level, a new wood floor was installed as well as big beautiful chandeliers with an industrial look and blue booths, tables and blue and white banquettes. The mural of Port Chester's historic waterfront which was painted and installed for The Willett House and sold at auction before Barnes acquired the space has been replaced with framed fishing maps. "I wanted oyster maps, but the designer went for color, so they are various fishing maps from around the world, some older and some more modern."

The restaurant seats 150 between the bar and the dining room plus there is a private room for 65 which will open about a month after the grand opening. It will have wall covering and fancy chandeliers. "We won't be booking any parties until October," said Barnes.

For next summer he is planning a possible deck over the parking lot for outdoor dining. "The landlord would like to see it," said Barnes, who has a 20-year lease.

Barnes does have some concern about parking and said "the town has to rectify the parking problem." He is in favor of the plan being discussed to make the currently free marina parking lot gated and paid.

Demolition to make way for Saltaire started back in December, the chef was hired in March. "It's been a long haul," said Barnes.

Café Mirage

223-225 Westchester Ave.

Port Chester

Expected Opening: Middle to end of September

Work is in full swing to turn the former T&J Villaggio Trattoria at 223-225 Westchester Ave. into Café Mirage. A new façade is visible, and co-owner Dave Haggerty, whom I bumped into outside the building Monday afternoon, Aug. 17, said he and his partners were going before the Architectural Review Board that night seeking approval for their lighted sign.

"We are working on finishing, putting odds and ends together," said Haggerty. "We had hoped to be open by now, but the building was so old so we encountered a lot of problems." Among them was the need for asbestos remediation.

He expects to open sometime in September and said "in another week or two we will have a pretty firm grasp."

While the layout is pretty much the same as it was in its former incarnation, the bar has been moved back a bit, the bathroom redesigned, the drop ceiling removed, and the carpeting ripped up and replaced with linoleum that looks like wood in the bar area. In the dining room the original wood floor will be reclaimed.

Walnut has been installed behind the bar, the ceiling painted a pale gray and the walls will be painted blueberry.

"In another week it will be dramatically different," said Haggerty. "It will be a more modern décor. We've tried to bring it up to the current century."

With the new front, there is now only one entrance instead of two and the front windows open. Haggerty expects they will put tables on the sidewalk come next spring.

"We are really happy with the way it's cleaned up," he said.

While the barstools are in good shape and some of the chairs can be reupholstered so they all match, banquettes and booths have also been ordered.

This new space seats 125 in the bar and dining room, another 125 in the banquet room, compared to 40 in Dave and his wife Katy's former restaurant on North Main Street.

Dave, who is the chef, said the eclectic menu "will be pretty much the same when we start" but that later "we might expand some," adding that "it worked for 15 years." The banquet part of the business, however, will be different.

Besides Dave and Katy, the third partner in the new business is Ben Houx who will be the general manager and banquet manager. He was previously the assistant general manager at Moderne Barn in Armonk. "We talked to him about working for us and he became a partner," said Haggerty.

The banquet room, the renovation of which is the landlord's responsibility, is torn apart, and the ceiling was removed. Haggerty said that space will not open until a month after the bar and restaurant.

Port Chester Trustee Sam Terenzi "just really brokered the deal and introduced us to the landlord," said Haggerty. "He's like our patron."

"I can't wait to get back to work," concluded Haggerty, who has been off for the summer to take care of the renovation. Previously he worked at Rye House after Café Mirage closed in September 2014.

Panka Peruvian Bistro

167 Westchester Ave.

Port Chester

Expected Opening: Late September-early October

There has been a banner in front of the former Tortilleria los Gemelos at 167 Westchester Ave. for months, and Panka Peruvian Bistro had a table at the Taste of Peru food festival in Port Chester's marina parking lot on Aug. 2, but attempts to find out when the Peruvian restaurant might actually be opening in Port Chester were unsuccessful until I wrote a message on their Facebook page and received a reply shortly before press time.

"We are aiming for a month and a half tops" was the reply I received.

T&J Pizza & Pasta

10 Pearl St.

Port Chester


Expected Opening at New Address: Spring 2016

I confirmed that T&J Pizza & Pasta is indeed planning to move into larger space in the new office building being constructed at 10 Pearl St., the site of the former Rye Town Hall.

Grace Vitiello, the business's matriarch who was minding the store when I stopped by on Monday, Aug. 17, said Johnny Ruggierio, her nephew, and Ray Sassano, her son-in-law, have been talking with Dominick Neri about occupying the ground floor space in his new office building. Neri bought 10 Pearl St. and the parking lot across the street adjacent to Neri's Bakery Products from the Town of Rye.

"We are thinking about the spring," Vitiello said. "I am going to miss my building here," she added. "I don't know what we will do with it." On Sept. 1, T&J will have been open at 227 Westchester Ave. for 25 years. "It seems like yesterday," she said.

The new restaurant will be a little bigger than the current one which seats 50 but with no place for private parties. The hope is to have a private room to hold 25 people. The new place will probably seat around 75 including the private room.

Neri eats lunch at T&J every day, Grace said, adding that "they better make a nice place where they can sit outside" because Neri and his friends like to hang out outside even when the temperature is 90 degrees.

"Everybody has to get used to it," she said of the new restaurant that is planned. The benefit will be free parking. Since the Village of Port Chester started charging for street and lot parking until 9 p.m., everybody complains.

While Grace and her husband Jerry, who will be celebrating their 55th wedding anniversary on Sept. 3, are no longer involved in the day to day operations of the restaurant they founded in 1990, she said "I'm always here. I love to cook." Between Grace and her sister-in-law Philomena Ruggierio, they make the pasta, ravioli and four different lasagnas.

Thai Restaurant

9-11 North Pearl St.

Port Chester

Expected Opening: When a deal comes along

While new windows have been installed in the attractive old brick building at 9-11 North Pearl St., it is not because a Thai restaurant is coming to fill up the vacant commercial building.

A building permit in the window for alterations to the building including façade renovation, construction of interior stairs and an area for an ADA lift indicates the building is owned by Giuseppe Occhicone, so I went to his leather goods store on North Main Street to ask him if there was any truth to the talk I had heard around town that a Thai restaurant was going to open in his building. The answer was no, but he would be happy if someone were interested in leasing or maybe even buying the structure, which is being marketed by CJ Pagano & Sons.