The dining landscape is heating up and foodies want to know where to eat now. These local restaurants know how to serve it up. Ready, set, dig in!
Craving something different and delicious? Try one of the newer restaurants that have opened in our area.
Oak + Almond
For those who love wood-grilled foods and a contemporary atmosphere, this is the place to be. This handsome farm-to-table restaurant—named for the hard woods burned in the open-hearth grill—impresses with its chic, rustic dining room (we like the hand-rubbed walnut tables), open kitchen and executive chef Jeff Taibe’s creative seasonal fare. If you sense a Northern California vibe that’s because owners Jon Paul Pirraglia and family also run a restaurant called Tavola about thirty miles north of San Francisco. Here in Norwalk, the cuisine follows an organic, American approach. The menu changes with the seasons, incorporating the best produce from Connecticut farms. Must-try dishes include a swordfish crudo with blood orange ponzu; chitarra pasta with lamb Bolognese; an outstanding hamburger made with grass-fed beef and topped with bacon, gorgonzola and cippolini jam; and wood-baked black cod with clams, artichokes and prosciutto. Pair your meal with a glass of organic, bio-dynamic wine or craft beer.
544 Main Avenue, Norwalk; oakandalmond.com
Just opened in October, this bistro-style restaurant offers a mélange of cuisines from chef-owner Robert Milano’s travels. “It’s not just about executing dishes; it’s about learning cuisine from all cultures,” Milano says. His bistro—with coffered ceilings, wooden bar and a rotating collection of art—caters to busy families, with lunch served from 11:30 to 4, and dinner to go. Hearty lunch salads range from south of the border to South Pacific and his special soufflés and deluxe melted sandwiches are certain to develop a following.
31 Vitti Street, New Canaan; eateclectic.com
This South-of-France-inspired restaurant at Hotel Zero Degrees is the sister to the popular Mediterraneo of Greenwich, a celeb-spotting favorite. At the Norwalk-based bistro with its yacht-like décor, Executive Chef Albert DeAngelis turns out creative twists on Italian favorites and fresh seafood dishes with a menu that changes with the seasons. This fall, don’t miss the scallop raviolis and the spiced lamb chop paired with harvest vegetables. The restaurant is also unveiling a new drinks menu for fall, with cocktails such as Pama & Pain and Pomegranate liqueur with berries and champagne, designed to be paired with the red snapper ceviche. When the weather’s warm, enjoy cocktails on the roof deck during the daily happy hour.
353 Main Ave., Norwalk, hotelzerodegrees.com
Capitalizing on the small-plate craze, this trendy spot in the heart of New Canaan fuels our love of tapas. A new chef, Corey Falcone, formerly of Stamford’s Bella Luna, will blend Spanish and Italian cuisines. Popular dishes include mussels in a red pepper-saffron sauce; beef tips à la plancha with melted Mahon cheese; seared scallops over cauliflower purée; and a tostada with chorizo, sundried tomato and green olives. This intimate spot is a fun place to meet for a bite and a glass of Spanish wine (there’s also a great list of sherries), but it’s equally capable of proffering a full meal. Start with tapas, salads or charcuteria y quesos and move on to entrées like the salmon with porcini tortellini or lush seafood paella. For lunch, you can dig into a Serrano ham sandwich or one of the best Cuban sandwiches around.
15 Elm Street, New Canaan; 203-972-9999
Baldanza Natural Market & Cafe
Tucked behind Elm Street under a red awning, Baldanza serves all-organic fare for breakfast and lunch, as well as takeout entrées for supper that are good enough to be your dinner-party secret. Sandy and Angela Baldanza are the husband-and-wife team behind this petite eatery that’s focused on farm-fresh ingredients. “We work with as many local farms as we can,” says Angela. Breakfast options include a seasonal frittata and brioche French toast; all eggs are free-range. Once you get a taste of the super-fresh salads (try the quinoa with roasted vegetables over kale), sandwiches, burgers and seasonal entrées like butternut squash risotto, you’ll be craving more. Sign up for the BYOB pop-up dinners, which challenge a guest chef and a guest farmer to produce a prix fixe meal made from whatever’s freshest that day.
17 Elm Street, New Canaan; baldanzabc.com
When you visit this Northern Italian for dinner, you’re likely to be greeted by the owners, Aldo and Barbara Chiamulera, handing you glasses of Spritz. The light, brightly colored cocktail made from prosecco, Aperol and club soda is one of many specialties from the amiable couple’s hometown near Cortina in the Italian Alps. Though they’ve been living here more than twenty years, they learned to cook meat sauce, prepare polenta frita and homemade pastas in Italy. Aldo was schooled in the culinary arts by his father, Cesco, and his Nonna, at the family restaurant set inside Roman ruins. After dabbling in restaurants in New York City and then working for many years in construction, the Chiamuleras were inspired to open Cesco’s when their son was in a serious accident. He ultimately made a full recovery, but in that moment of crisis Aldo decided “life’s too short” not to follow his passion. Now, he’s sharing his family’s exceptional cooking: Chianti Spaghetti (purple in color from the wine) with broccoli rabe and sausage; a homemade pappardelle with lobster, shrimp, calamari and garlic; ravioli in a sage sauce; and Osso Bucco with saffron risotto. There are also heavenly desserts created by Barbara. The fresh food is distinctive and satisfying, all served on patterned porcelain from Umbria. The warm, neutral dining room invites you to linger.
25 Old King’s Highway, Darien, cescosct.com
A go-to for date nights and for families in the early evening—kids love the quesadillas, parents love the cool cocktails and “slapped to order” guacamole—this Mexican eatery won Best of the Gold Coast for Mexican. What’s to love? For starters, try the roasted corn chowder, queso fundido or arepas and order for the table a “massaged kale salad” with squash, peanuts and queso Cotija. For an entrée try the seared scallops, braised short ribs or pepita-crusted maji and, of course, the tacos in unexpected flavors. Beyond the classic Americano and Baja fish taco, Bodega offers crispy Korean chicken, “Skinny Dorado” and Argentino hangar steak tacos. Desserts are a treat, too: Try the Mexican pot de crème heaped with fresh whipped cream and dusted with chili and churros. Designate a driver and say “Si!” to cocktails. We’re partial to the Rosarita, the Natalie Portman and the Ginger Smash.
980 Post Road, Darien; bodegatacobar.com
Meatball & Co.
Who knew there were so many varieties of meatballs? This clever new concept from Culinary Institute of America grad and restaurant veteran Joe Criscuolo involves an interactive menu where you select your favorite flavored meatballs and your desired means of delivery (between bread, in a bowl with sauce or on sliders) and the world is your meatball as far as choices go. “Meatballs are comfort food and we’ve been having a lot of fun creating them,” says Joe. The basic balls include beef, chicken, spicy pork and an amazing eggplant (a Southern Italian recipe his mom used to make), and specials deliver a taste of exotic cuisines in a bite—Jamabalaya, Bahn Mi, Asian Pork, bacon cheeseburger and more. All are made from scratch and the meat is ground in-house.
20 Center Street, Darien; meatballandco.com
Decisions, decisions...Want to home in on the best a menu has to offer? Try these signature meals.
At this farm-driven Italian restaurant, the focus is on light preparation to bring out the flavor of the top-quality ingredients. Top dishes include the Branzino, a wild bass baked in Himalayan salt and herbs; minestrone soup; imported Burrata; Lord Byron Lobster Salad with fresh artichokes, endive, basil, avocado and truffle oil; and Lamb Osso Bucco.
26 Locust Avenue, New Canaan, 203-594-9599
Cava and Scena
At these elegant, understated sister restaurants from Vicente and Kleber Siguenza, the favorite orders span the extensive menus. Fans of both Italian-influenced restaurants love the garlicky seafood pan roast or veal chop Milanese for mains. At Scena, top starters include a rustic charred octopus paired with piquillo peppers, green olives and white beans; hearty veal meatballs; and the shaved Brussels sprout salad resting on a parmesan risotto cake. At Cava, try the crispy artichoke appetizer, the charred octopus, or seared sea scallops appetizer.
Cava, 2 Forest Street, New Canaan, cavawinebar.com; Scena, 1077 Post Road, Darien, scenawinebar.com
When you head to this American gastropub, just remember two words: truffle fries! These crispy, house-made frites are sprinkled with fresh herbs and lightly flavored with just the right amount of truffle oil. Also, don’t miss the 1020 mussels, which are no longer listed on the menu, but can be requested—they’re served in a classic wine broth with fried capers that give the dish a unique flavor. You can’t miss with the iceberg wedge, a solid version of the classic, or grilled tuna Niçoise.
1020 Post Road, Darien, 203-655-1020; tentwentypost.com
Regulars flock to this upscale pub for top-shelf comfort food. We like the mac and cheese with Gruyère, bacon, English peas and bread crumbs; the short-rib grilled cheese, which includes cheddar and caramelized onions on country bread; and the stacked turkey grille with red onion, yellow squash, Portobellos, buffalo mozzarella, and roasted red pepper; and the sizeable brick-oven pizzas.
10 Center Street, Darien, 203-614-8183; dariensocialct.com
At this American bistro and bar, the menu changes seasonally. Signature plates for fall include an autumnal salad made with collard greens, farro, warm bacon and golden raisin vinaigrette; Porcini mushroom risotto; the hearty beef bourguignon; veal scaloppini alla Nanni, with prosciutto, fontina cheese and spinach; and shrimp and grits.
972 Post Road, Darien; thegoosedarien.com
This Mediterranean-Latin fusion restaurant in Norwalk draws New Canaanites over the border with dishes like the brie croquettes with passion reduction sauce; fritelle de carciofi (fried artichoke); veal chop with roasted sweet potatoes and green pepper corn sauce; and sea scallops with creamy polenta. For dessert, don’t miss the tres leches cake and the tiramisu, which is made with rum, reflecting the restaurant’s Latin roots. BYOB bonus: The corkage fee here is just $10, so you can bring a favorite bottle of wine to pair with your dinner.
124 New Canaan Ave., Norwalk; bassobistrocafe.com
Sails American Grill
Regulars here can’t get enough of the marinated skirt steak with seasoned truffle fries and a green peppercorn cognac sauce, an entrée that’s been on the menu since the restaurant opened. Also popular are the tuna tartar with a red chili dressing, avocado and tomatillo relish; cucumber and crispy potato chips; and the salty turtle sundae turned decadent with salted cashews, house-made chocolate and caramel sauces, and Tahitian vanilla ice cream.
148 Rowayton Ave., Rowayton; sailsamericangrill.com
With more restaurants per square foot than most towns, SoNo is dense with dining options. These eateries will make your mouth water.
What happens when four very seasoned bartenders and one chef get together to open a restaurant in an industrial space? The Spread is what happens. It’s a place where the good food veers toward the adventurous (beef tongue and grilled octopus with crispy chorizo, for instance), the plates look like your grandmother’s china and the party is always on. Regular DJs and live music fuel the scene, as do the cocktails and half price wine on Monday nights. The signature drink is the Cumbersum (a blend of cucumber vodka, lime, cranberry and St. Germain), while the Tea Bag (bourbon, bitters, smoked lemonade, club soda) is equally popular. There are plenty of small plates to intrigue the bar crowd, from crispy pork belly bites to black truffle risotto balls.
70 North Main Street; thespreadsono.com
A SoNo anchor, this lively Spanish and tapas restaurant has a fab new chef, Freddie Chimborazo, who cut his chops as sous chef at Barcelona Greenwich. Though this place is renowned for its small plates, the paella and other entrees have a following, too. If you can’t get enough of the signature chicken pimentos, you can sign up for one of Chimborazo’s cooking classes this season. He’ll teach students how to prepare popular dishes in his native language, so it’s a great opportunity for those brushing up on their Spanish skills. The restaurant also launched a new menu this year featuring forty varieties of tapas, three types of paella (vegetarian, mariscos and salvaje), churrasco, suckling pig, seasonal whole fish and an excellent mixed grill. Make a note to stop in between 5 to 7 p.m., Monday through Thursday, for $5 glasses of select wines or a trio of tapas for just $16.
63-65 North Main Street; barcelonawinebar.com
At this New Orleans-style oyster bar that opened last spring, chef Dan Kardos (of Le Farm fame) heads up the kitchen and his menu is loaded with tempting dishes plus a daily list of raw oysters from New England and beyond. Forget about any diet for the night and get ready to indulge in Southern-style comfort foods, such as the hearty, lightly spicy seafood gumbo; crunchy corn-meal-fried oysters with green tomatoes and jalapeño mayo; and a buttery poached lobster with cornbread waffle. Even some of the veggies here verge on the naughty side. When our waiter set a dish of the addictive fried Brussels sprouts on our table, he declared, “That’s our crack!” And he wasn’t kidding. Though this is a seafood joint at heart, the burger is outstanding too: juicy, crazy thick and layered with cheddar, mushrooms, bacon, fried onions and black pepper mayo. Nola is set in a prime corner location at the top of Washington Street that attracts a lively crowd. The high-ceilinged interior mixes booths, tables and a marble-topped high chef’s table to accommodate a range of customers, from couples on a date to big groups of singles. Cocktails? Don’t miss the SoNo Hurricane, or on Sundays, check out the brunch with $15 bottomless mimosas and a Bloody Mary bar.
68 Washington Street; nolact.com
With its Southern hospitality and low-country comfort food, this new kid on the block underscores the “South” in SoNo. Executive chef Scott Ostrander, a CIA grad, brings more than a decade of Southern influence from his days working at notable restaurants in Charleston, Savannah and Jacksonville. There’s plenty of personality and indulgent food on this new menu. Where else can you get deviled eggs or “red neck edamame” (spiced Georgia peanuts) as a starter? Anyone longing for Southern cooking will love the authentic shrimp and grits, cornbread-crusted catfish, pulled pork on brioche and a hominy fried chicken biscuit. Even the seared New England scallops are mixed with red peas and okra. Among the selection of clever cocktails are the Double Wide and Barn Burner, as well as Cherry Julep and Charleston Sour.
19 North Water Street; mamasboyct.com
A casual artisanal Italian restaurant, Strada 18 has a reputation for authentic pizzas, homemade pastas and a strong wine list, all reasonably priced. In addition to the major selection of white and red pizzas, you can build your own pie with less expected toppings such as soppressata, duck confit, roasted eggplant, pickled jalapeños, fresh Robiola cheese and more. Try the Sunday family dinners here, where Chef David Raymer prepares a special menu each week including salads, pastas, meat and dessert for just $30. Also on tap for fall: Six-course, seven-wine dinners that pair select vintages with each course. Those with allergies will definitely appreciate the chef’s amazing gluten-free pasta.
122 Washington St., strada-18.com
Steals & Deals
At this New American bistro with Southwestern influence and farm-to-table flair, enjoy Monday Burger Nights ($10 for your choice of burger); Taco Tuesdays (taco plate for $10); and the excellent $28 prix fixe dinner speical that includes soup or salad, entrée and dessert if you order between 5 and 6:15 p.m.
1020 Post Road, Darien; estiasamerican.com
On Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m., sample the creative libations and inspired cuisine at this upscale farm-to-table for surprisingly good prices. The signature 73 cocktail, infused with Japanese wine berries, lemon verbena and mint, is just $5, as are select glasses of wine. While you’re there, get a taste of Chef Brian Lewis’s acclaimed cooking from the “snacks & bites” bar menu—chilled kushi oysters, crispy softshell crab, the Elmburger and more.
73 Elm Street, New Canaan; elmrestaurant.com
The Monday-Friday happy hour here (4 to 7 p.m.) puts the “social” in this restaurant’s name. Darien Social boasts 31 beers on draft and all are half price, as are the wines and even the pizzas. Feast on a $5 margarita and hot-sausage pie ($6.50), then wash it down with a Radeberger Pilsner for $3. On Fridays, stick around for the DJs or live bands.
10 Center Street, Darien; dariensocialct.com
Given the talents of chef-owner Bob Ubaldo, any soup here is a meal deal starting at $4.95. Try the spicy shrimp and crab loaded with seafood, green and yellow squashes, green beans, carrots, potatoes and chopped chives; or the roasted corn chowder.
21 Forest Street, New Canaan, 203-594-7890
Meatball & Co
Chef Joe Criscuolo makes a mean homemade risotto and seasonal roasted vegetables that’s are an outstanding value for just $5.
10 Center Street, Darien, meatballandcompany.com
Sails American Grill
On Tuesdays and Sundays, enjoy Wine Lover’s Nights, featuring wines from around the globe for just $20 a bottle. During happy hour, Monday through Friday from 3 to 7 p.m., beer, cocktails and wines by the glass are half price and so are the bar-menu appetizers.
148 Rowayton Ave.; sailsamericangrill.com
Don’t miss the great prix fixe meals here. For lunch, you get an appetizer (soup, little neck clams, shrimp cocktail or house salad) and entrée (a flatbread, chicken Caesar salad, salmon, swordfish or fish and chips) for just $21. The prix fixe special for dinner ($31) features the same dishes.
89 Rowayton Ave., Rowayton, rowaytonseafood.com
The promise of good food draws us to a restaurant, but ambience is key to keeping us there. Top-quality art created by local talent adds to the décor at several eateries.
At Picador and Carpe Diem, the large-scale photography of New Canaan’s award-winning artist Torrance York is currently on display. This includes the photos from her Road Works series that were shot in Connecticut and the Hudson Valley. Every work in the series is titled with the GPS coordinates from which it was captured.
The Spread in SoNo houses the works of Rowayton’s Barbara Erdmann. Her large-scale series titled Blue Bubbles hangs next to the bar, making a statement in the room with a grand pop of color. “I look for out-of-the-box subjects to photograph and then pull in very tight,” she says. The resulting images are blown up to giant size. Proceeds from the sale of Erdmann’s works go to select local charities.
Ridgefield-based artist G.G. Reid, whose works have been exhibited at juried shows in both Connecticut and New York, displayed her collection “Of Water, of Sky” at Rosie in New Canaan. These organic abstract paintings brought color to the popular lunch spot.
At Estia’s American in Darien, restaurateur Colin Ambrose displays a portion of the wonderful collection he began to aquire when he opened his first restaurant, Estia, in Amagansett, Long Island. Ambrose has strong ties to that region’s artists, including Jim Gingerich, Dan Rizzie and John Alexander, and he proudly displays their work—much of which is coastal inspired—in his relaxed, comfortable eatery.
It’s been said that the martini lunch has been replaced with the juice break. Especially in frenetic Fairfield County, busy, health-conscious people now reach for green juices, nut milks, raw coconut water and smoothies mixed with protein or supplements to keep them fueled during an active day. Here are a few places to get your liquid fix.
Green & Tonic
This organic eatery and juice shop serves cold-pressed juices; you can order a custom juice and have it pressed while you wait or pick up a convenient to-go bottle. G&T offers a selection of green juices, including the popular Jungle Juice and Green Monster as well as Roots & Fruits blends, Thirst Quenchers and Nut Mylks. The smoothies here are outstanding, combining coconut water and other bases with the freshest fruits and vegetables; three-day cleanse programs are also available. And, for a coffee alternative, you can get your morning started here with one of the green tea lattes.
1098 Post Road, Darien, 203-656-1035
This natural market and café carries the Rawpothecary line of juices. For a healthy dose of greens, try the Kalefornia composed of kale, blueberry, kiwi, banana, date and coconut water; for a cleansing effect, opt for a Lemon Oasis.
17 Elm Street, NewCanaan; baldanzabc.com
A frozen yogurt favorite, this chain offers twenty-five varieties of smoothies, with some all-fruit options, probiotic varieties, fruit and yogurt blends, and “boosted” options; you can add antioxidants, such as green tea acai and dark chocolate.
125 Elm Street, New Canaan, redmangousa.com
At this popular breakfast and lunch spot, you can order fresh smoothies, from a basic bluberry-banana to more exotic combinations, depending on what fruits are freshest.
27 Elm Street, New Canaan, 203-966-8998