The first thing you realize, as you navigate the long drive leading to Chateau Hathorn in Warwick, is that its name is no lie. The building itself is a true chateau, an honest-to-God mansion that covers approximately 12,500 square feet of real estate. The gorgeous stone structure — built in 1832 in the English Tudor style, complete with turret — was the summer home of General John Hathorn, a Revolutionary War hero who commanded American troops at the Battle of Minisink and later became a member of the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, the subsequent century and a half saw the manor fall into a state of gradual decay. Its use as a dude ranch in the mid-20th century wreaked havoc on the detailing, turning the once-proud dwelling into the sort of spooky old mansion you see on episodes of Scooby Doo.
Fresh fare: Chateau Hathorn’s offerings include flash-seared sashimi tuna on a bed of kim chee with wasabi soy sauce
That all changed in 1984, when Helene and Dolph Zueger took their family apple-picking in Warwick. “We were at an orchard across the street when we noticed the building,” Helene recalls, “so we decided to take a drive and get a closer look. It had so much character, and Dolph thought there was potential to make it a beautiful restaurant.” At the time, he was the owner and head chef at the Swiss Cabin Restaurant in Dobbs Ferry; both he and Helene originally hail from Switzerland, where he went to chef school and she studied hotel management.
After buying the chateau, the Zuegers spent a year restoring it. The original oak, rosewood, and mahogany fireplaces (there is one in each of the three dining rooms and in four of the seven upstairs guest rooms); ceilings; and three staircases were burnished to a luster. Anything that couldn’t be salvaged — dining room chairs, draperies — was recreated, following the original design in minute detail. Big now, and enormous for its time, the chateau still manages to marry the majesty of a Mohonk Mountain House with the intimacy of a cozy boîte on New York’s Restaurant Row. “Right now it looks the best it ever has,” Helene says. “After so much work and restoration, the interior has such a warm and elegant feeling. There is much character on the outside, too, but inside there is this cozy elegance we love.”
Chef Dolph Zueger and his wife, Helene own the circa 1832 mansion, which is also home to a seven-room bed and breakfast
Walking into the perfectly lit restaurant — dark wood everywhere, orange flames roaring in the fireplaces, merry laughter ringing from the large dining room, and the welcoming smile of Helene Zueger, who operates as hostess and maître d’ — I am overcome with a sense of contentment.
We were seated, my wife and I, in a smaller room, in front of a fireplace flanked by wooden shelves on which empty bottles of fine wine are displayed like trophies, mementos of happy evenings spent in the chateau. There are four tables in the room, all of which were occupied: two middle-aged couples on a double date; an older couple treating their daughter and son-in-law; 20-something newlyweds out for his birthday — a nice mix of dinner guests for such a small room.
The waiter — a silver-haired gentleman named Don — brings a plate of food to one of the tables, seamlessly and charmingly entering the guests’ conversation. He then takes our drink order. Chateau Hathorn has a wine cellar befitting its grandeur. Some 12,000 bottles of vino are stored in its voluminous basement, including Château Talbot St. Julien, Château Mouton Rothschild, Château La Mission Haut Brion (a popular choice) — and other vintages that one might choose for a special occasion. (The most lavish: Château Pétrus, at $1,400 a bottle.) Parties of eight or more can reserve seats for a seven-course gourmet dinner in the cellar, six courses of which are paired with different wines (priced according to preference).
We opt for Don’s by-the-glass recommendation, the Beaulieu Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon — which, despite its more humble origins, is so tasty it will become our go-to wine at home.
Beef tenderloin with crushed pepper
With a nod to the owners’ Swiss heritage, there are several Alpine specialties on the menu, notably the veal “Zurichoise” entrée and the spaetzle — a sautéed egg noodle appetizer which was brought to our table with the bread. (It is so delicious I had to stop myself from spooning it directly from the main bowl into my mouth.) But the Continental fare includes a number of French favorites. You can order “Café Paris” escargots, frogs legs á la Provençal, and châteaubriand off the standard menu (as well as nasi goreng, the Indonesian variation on fried rice which was served to President Obama on his trip to that country last fall). Chateau Hathorn is best known, however, for its expansive seasonal menu. Venison is featured in the fall; winter favorites include sauerbraten and osso buco. Locally sourced produce is used as often as possible, and specials change daily to ensure the freshest flavors.
My wife started with a raclette, a traditional Swiss appetizer of boiled potatoes and melted cow’s milk cheese. It was extraordinary. My choice, pasta á la mode — that day it was penne with seafood — was a bit too garlicky for my taste, but good nevertheless, and the portion was ample. My entrée, pork “Oscar” — a special that consisted of juicy pork loins and lobster, served over a generous helping of rice and accompanied by fresh green beans — was delicious. My wife had the New York sirloin au poivre, the traditional French preparation for steak with a peppercorn crust, which was grilled to perfection.
An almond cookie shell filled with ice cream, berries, and strawberry sauce
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While we waited for dessert, I took a stroll around the mansion. The holiday party in the larger dining room had reached its peak. Upstairs, in the Victorian Lounge — a smaller but more private ballroom — another party was in full swing.
One can rent out the entire mansion for a wedding or other grand event, and many do — only one wedding per weekend, Helene tells me, and therefore private. Chateau Hathorn is also a B&B, its seven rooms decorated in various styles, from charming country-chic to elegant Victorian to simple Americana. A European breakfast is offered the following morning, with gourmet cheeses from Switzerland, cured meats, fresh fruit, homemade croissants, and beverages.
As I returned to the table, I made note that this would be the perfect place for our daughter to get married (but she has just turned four, so we have time).
The dessert list is as extensive as the rest of the menu. My wife tried the coupe Danemark, while I went for the caramel custard. Both were terrific, but the former — vanilla ice cream, the crater of which is filled with melted Toblerone — took the proverbial cake. You really can’t go wrong with melted Swiss chocolate.
Don the waiter and Helene bid us a farewell as warm as the welcome. The newlyweds at the next table told me about a shortcut back to the Thruway — a shortcut I’ll use more than once, because I plan to come back here as often as possible.
Dinner served Wed.-Sat. 5-9:30 p.m., Sun. 3-8 p.m. Appetizers range from $8.50-$10.95, entrées from $19.50-$32.50, desserts from $6.50-$8.50