Another good eating year
By Frank Whitman
Well here it is, the end of a year – a year which brought considerable pleasure and enjoyment at the table. With so many good restaurants serving up a wide range of cuisines and styles, eating well is easy these days. The challenge is to keep up with the new and still support old favorites. Hard choices must be made.
As I was thinking about 2023 – a year with crazy weather, financial turmoil and an uncertain economic outlook – a few experiences stood out.
The Farmhouse at the Crossroads up on Long Ridge Road in Stamford is the latest restaurant to revive a time-honored space with an updated concept. The old colonial-revival inns scattered across Connecticut (many along the Merritt Parkway) have for the most part closed, but a few have been revived. Formerly the Country Kitchen, Country Tavern and Long Ridge Tavern, each a post and beam, antique-filled slice of yesteryear, Farmhouse shows its heritage. But the new look – contemporary, comfortable and sometimes whimsical – fits well with the stylish food.
Other restaurants have made a change in location, approach, or personnel. Chef Roland Olah who enjoyed success at Martel in Fairfield and Bruxelles in SoNo took over the kitchen at the French stalwart Rive Bistro in Westport. Always enjoyable, he’s taken it up a notch or two.
In Ridgefield the husband and wife team of Bernard and Sarah Bouïssou sold Bernards Inn and opened A Table, an authentic source for delicious prepared food – mostly French. Meanwhile Frank and Virginie Bonnaudet closed Sucre Sale in Ridgefield and opened Brasserie St. Germain just down the street. Either place is a worthy destination.
In preparation for a trip to Athens, Marsha and I explored some local Greek cooking. Mykonos Kouzina in Norwalk was a standout. The Mezedes, seafood Lavraki, and Greek wines were all winners.
In Athens we took a walking food tour of the city. Along narrow streets and through neighborhoods, visiting markets, restaurants and specialty shops, we got a real taste of the city and an appreciation of the flavors of Greek cooking. I’d recommend starting any city visit with a food tour. I hear there are good ones in New Haven along with almost every major city across the country and around the world.
Other exciting new restaurants we savored this year include: Greer Southern Table in Norwalk for a high-energy experience with southern cuisine and Athithi in Wilton for impeccably prepared and presented Indian food.
The coronation of King Charles sent us back to Gruel Britannia in Fairfield for high tea and scones and a brush with the monarchy. Nobody puts on a show like the Brits for an occasion like this. In fact, there aren’t many occasions like this.
At home it was easy to fill the panel for an ice cream tasting. Friends and neighbors gathered to sample vanilla ice cream – premium, pedestrian and mass market. A second panel consisting mostly of grandchildren confirmed the results of the grownups – all ice cream is good, but some is better than others.
There was some home baking (cakes are my favorite) using the cookbook from the Model Bakery, a popular institution in the Napa Valley. A visit to Aquila’s Nest Vineyards piqued my interest in Connecticut Wineries. I’ll confess to not knowing enough about them.. Maybe 2024 will be the year to dig into that subject. And we made a fascinating trip to the Grolier Club in New York for the exhibit “An American Story in Menus, 1841 to 1941.”
Restaurant operators are a remarkable bunch. They continue to present polished operations in the face of workforce shortages, demand for highly skilled staff and ever-rising costs. Yet they persevere despite long hours, and challenging times to give us a good meal and (hopefully) make a buck. My hat’s off to them.
My mouth is already watering as I imagine the crop of exciting new restaurants in 2024 while the list of places to go back to just keeps getting longer.