Restaurant Review: Chateau Hathorn
Warwick’s Chateau Hathorn offers fine Swiss and French cuisine in a 19th-century Tudor castle
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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.