UPDATED WITH NEW PHOTOS
It was a wild, wild first night at Peter Kelly’s new Yonkers restaurant, X2o. The festivities began at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, for the ceremonial ribbon cutting with mayor Phil Amicone, and culminated with Kelly’s 9 p.m. battle against celebrity chef Bobby Flay on “Iron Chef America.” It’s hard to say that there was just one star of the evening — the new restaurant, the TV battle, or the night’s most notable celebrity guest, Bill Murray — so I’ll talk about all three after the break.
But I will say this up front: Having Bill Murray sit down next to me for dinner (literally, right next to me!) was the biggest treat of the night. Having helped Peter write “Diary of an Iron Chef,” I already knew who won the battle, and I’d already visited the restaurant before for an RNN segment. But getting to booze with a lifelong idol — I think only this quote from “Groundhog Day” can sum up my sentiments: “Whatever happens tomorrow, or for the rest of my life, I’m happy now.”
Before we get to the Murray portion of the evening, let’s begin with the new restaurant, X20, shall we?
Suffice it to say that in one masterful stroke, Kelly has instantly given Westchester its most spectacular restaurant. Views from the Tappan Zee to the GW, a 140-seat dining room with soaring 25-foot ceilings, the gorgeous Dylan bar with its dark wood ans chenille-upholstered chairs. Set atop a Yonkers pier, the restaurant has a deck jutting out atop the Hudson right off the main dining room. A couple years ago, when I first started with InTown Westchester, my first assignment was to write a feature about the restaurants with the best river views. At the time I wrote glowingly about places like Harvest on Hudson and Sunset Cove. But if X20 had been around then, I would have had an entirely different perspective. Honestly, no preexisting riverfront restaurant holds a candle.
And the food? Well, take a look at this menu (which was just for the event). I came in expecting a small gathering of friends and, as Peter put it in his email invite, “a simple buffet.” By that of course, he meant cote du boeuf with Bernaise sauce, miso glazed king salmon with 10-vegetable lo mein, and seared jumbo Maine scallops, among other things.
Even the appetizers were insane: lobster cappuccino, short rib and foie gras ravioli, ahi tuna parfait, negimaki with smoked langoustine — which also happened to be one of his Iron Chef dishes (pictured here on the left). After just a couple bites, I was running over to the reception area to book my wife’s birthday (if you’re interested in going, I highly suggest calling to make a reservation now, while you still can — 914-965-1111).
Although I attended the event dolo (my wife was working at the hospital), I was lucky to have the company of my Journal News colleagues — Greg Weber and Liz Johnson (above left), Mark Vergari, and Jeanne Muchnick (above right, with me). But the biggest lucky stroke of the evening, by far, came when we all got up to the buffet line. Peter was hand-carving the beef by himself, and looking a little panicked. When we asked him how things were going, he said, “pretty good, but we just found out that we don’t get the Food Network here in the restaurant.” Our jaws dropped. After all, the whole evening had been planned around watching his Iron Chef battle.
After a second or two, I remembered that Liz had brought a DVD of the Iron Chef battle, the same DVD that I’d originally obtained from the Food Network to give to Peter. And lo and behold, Liz had the DVD on hand. She ran back to her purse, delivered it to restaurant manager, and totally saved the day. Happy, happy day. By the time 9 p.m. rolled around, the restaurant still couldn’t raise the Food Network, but with the DVD, we were able to watch the episode without commercial interruption. How’s that for a good omen?
Shortly before the show started, though, a funny thing happened. Some complete and total stranger sat down in the empty seat next to me. I looked up and it was Bill Murray. Bill frikkin Murray.
I’ve known that Murray is good friends with Kelly and frequents all of his places in Rockland, but I never imagined that he’d actually be coming to watch the Iron Chef battle. It was surreal.
As he started digging into his beef — persistently offering me a slice in between bites — Liz said she’d heard a story about him going to an Iron Chef taping. He grinned. It wasn’t Peter’s taping, he told us, but he’d been to one where another chef friend, Kerry Simon, took on Cat Cora. “The smell in the studio kills you,” he said, explaining that the producers won’t give you anything to eat. They want the audience hungry. “By the time they begin filming, you’re like –” He broke off, grabbing my shirt like a famished island castaway.
Murray said he felt bad for everyone in the audience and the crew so he went across the street to get food. He came back with sacks and sacks of fast food burgers. By the end of the story, we were all cracking up.
As the Iron Chef episode began playing at 9 p.m., Murray was equally hilarious. When the judges gave their overly harsh assessment of Kelly’s dishes — and excessive praise of Flay’s — Murray stood up and shouted to the room: “HE DOESN’T STAND A CHANCE!” And then he buried his head in a napkin, weeping with sadness.
Of course, like the rest of our table, he knew full well that Kelly won the battle (by three solid points) and when the Chairman announced the results, he was one of the first people on his feet, cheering. He then grabbed me on the shoulder and said, “Come on!”
I had no idea what he had planned, but I mean, this is Bill Murray — you don’t question. I raced after him as he dove down to grab Kelly’s leg. Before I could get my bearings, a waiter much closer to Murray’s height (he’s a good foot taller than me) grabbed Kelly’s other leg. They paraded the victorious chef around the dining room atop their shoulders for about two laps (that’s Murray carrying his right leg in that pic). Kelly then stood on a chair and thanked everyone profusely.
After the speech, we retreated to our table. A couple minutes later, though, Kelly was back, carrying a teetering birthday cake for his brother Ned. As the crowd sang Happy Birthday, Murray sprung into action again, grabbing me on the should a second time. This time Peter stepped in and grabbed Ned’s other leg for me. They did a lap, Ned gave a speech, and the mayor of Yonkers talked briefly. Then, out of nowhere, Murray slipped off his loafers and hopped up on the chair. “I’m normally much taller with my shoes on,” he said, as he proceeded to toast the Peter, the restaurant, and the crowd. “I didn’t invite any of you. But I’d like to toast whoever did invite you all.”
After the speeches, Murray disappeared from our table and, we assumed, left. But a half hour later he was back in his seat, just minutes after the waiters had taken away his dessert — a “black & brulee on a caramel pedestal.” Liz had taken a picture of it, though, and we showed Bill the photo. He grabbed the camera and told a waitress that he wanted one of those.
Shortly thereafter, my colleague, Jeanne Muchnick (who had been seated at another table) saw Murray with us and made her move. In one of the ballsiest displays I’ve ever seen, Jeanne came up and said, “Bill, I’m so jealous that I’m not at your table.” She introduced herself and asked if he reads Rockland Magazine — to which I think he said, “Oh, I do more than read it.”
I can’t remember all of the conversations that followed, but my favorite part, without question, wasÃ‚Â when Jeanne began talking about how she once cooked for Peter Kelly at his house. I chimed in that she not only cooked for Kelly, but also heated up frozen Trader Joe’s appetizers for him. “A little known fact about Peter,” Murray said, “He begins every day with a platter of frozen appetizers.”
Here’s Bill giving Jeanne a nuggie:
Thanks again to Peter, Bill, and everyone else for a truly memorable evening. And many more thanks to Liz Johnson for being a great table companion, sharing all her photos, and generally saving the entire evening by bringing the Iron Chef DVD.
Be sure to check out Liz Johnson’s blog, Small Bites, for her update on the evening.
“Diary of an Iron Chef” [Rockland Magazine]