Top city restaurateurs are discovering our area’s voracious appetite for inspired cuisine. The latest to branch out to the ’burbs? Chef Michael White of the Altamarea Group, who recently opened Campagna at the Bedford Post Inn. White, a three-time James Beard Award–nominee who oversees an empire of high-profile restaurants, brings his fresh, upscale Italian to the inn, which is owned by Richard Gere. Since White’s team (Chef de Cuisine Devin Bozkaya, formerly of the Inn at Little Washington, and Executive Chef PJ Calapa) moved in, the food has been elevated but the décor hasn’t changed much. And to recount the sentiments of Gere, who’s been spotted eating here, that’s a good thing.
As you wander from the valet parking lot past a large wooden pergola and up stone stairs toward the restaurant entry, you feel like you’re escaping to an elegant country outpost, not just heading out for dinner. Inside, there’s a sizeable “patio” dining room, a lounge in the center and smaller library room to the left. Our friends waited for us by the lounge bar, impressed by the bartender’s slow-but-meticulous preparation of an Old Fashioned. For a 6 p.m. dinner, we were seated in the library, which is encased in gray-washed wood with a fireplace flanked by bookshelves. An understated décor of mirrors, maps, shaded sconces and chandeliers adorned with clear wine bottles cast a flattering glow.
Our server begins by asking if we’re familiar with Michael White’s restaurants—yes, fans of Marea and Ai Fiori in New York—and recommends that we order pasta courses as well as entrées to experience his incredible finesse with pasta. She doesn’t miss a beat in answering questions about preparations and ingredients, so we wind up following much of her advice. When we order two appetizers, “you’ll want three,” she advises. The antipasti portions are petite, but each dish is artful, a surprising blend of ingredients. The tender polpo, for instance, braised in red wine and then charred, is complemented by decadent pork belly, all on a bed of minted beans. A panzanella di passera bears little resemblance to your average panzanella, as this one’s star ingredient is slices of a delicate fluke crudo countered with sweet pops of flavor from the tomato conserva, bright green castelvetrano olives and a few croutons. A lightly sauced lobster salad is enhanced with celery root and just a hint of black truffle, earthy and refreshing.
White has been called a pasta savant, and one bite of the Creste Nero confirms this title. The housemade squid ink pasta is shaped into crescents and paired with pieces of shrimp, scallop and baby squid, topped with tarragon-laced breadcrumbs, adding crunch to each bite. It’s all enhanced by a Calabrian chile that gives the dish a terrific spice. Equally dreamy is the fusilli with sausage-based ragu, tomato sauce and ricotta, straightforward yet exceptional. These two pastas are plenty for our party of four to share and, in fact, we could have ordered two or three entrées to follow instead of four and still felt sated.
One not-to-miss main is the duck, glazed in honey and coated in hazelnuts, pink in the center and served with braised kale and quince mostarda, a fruit condiment. A filet of beef is upgraded with a black-trufflecrust topping balanced by a potato purée and parsnips that seem almost caramelized. There are just three “pesce” entrées and we opted for the Astice, a lobster fricassee with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and a heavenly, unusually light gnocchi (a chance to try more pasta). The rich rib eye steak gets added interest from a bone marrow panzanella and a red-wine sugo. A Brusssels sprouts side mixes baby vegetables braised in sherry vinaigrette with mustard seed and chewy bites of pancetta.
To finish, we indulged in the lemon jellyroll cake, swirled with lemon cream, an incredible lemon sorbet and lime sugar. The bomboloni on a bed of vanilla and chocolate sauce were fun to share. By the time we were handed the bill, the manager had made his rounds, checking in with different tables; he noted with a laugh that about fifty people were waiting to be seated. As we floated out past the crowded lounge, thankful for our early reservation, we were already contemplating our next visit. Campagna is pricey enough to fit the special occasion category— entrées start at $30, and $22 by-the-glass wines don’t help—but your wallet’s mileage may vary. Still, the creative dishes, dreamy pasta, smart service and ambience make Campagna well worth the splurge.