Crisp white tablecloths and brightly polished silver set the table. The staff, murmuring with French accents, was audible in the civilized decibel level, the result of carpet, upholstered banquettes and damask covered chairs. Landscapes and murals on the walls reinforced the Inn’s country-house charm, a charm so rare these days that it’s cutting edge.
“All this elegance feels so luxurious,” one of my brunch companions commented. We were being pampered at New Canaan’s Roger Sherman Inn.
And, the food was exceptional!
Formal and stuffy, you may say, but I disagree. Dressing up makes going out more of an occasion. It’s fun, not fusty, putting on some fancy duds and being indulged. In this era of servers in jeans and t-shirts, high-energy (loud) ambiance, and dressing down to dress up, it’s refreshing to see a more classic approach. At the Roger Sherman, you don’t have to dress up, but you can.
The Roger Sherman is one of the longest running restaurants in the area. It’s clear to see, though, that it’s entered a new era. Chef Francois Kwaku-Dongo is the driving force behind the Inn’s new energy. A native of Côte d’Ivoire in West Africa, but classically trained in California, New York, France, and Italy, he’s a veteran of Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, and most recently l’Escale in Greenwich.
He runs a traditional stock-based kitchen, taking advantage of fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients. His style runs the gamut of his lifetime in kitchens around the world. “I may not look Italian,” he told me “but I developed a love for pasta when Wolfgang Puck sent me to train in Italy.”
His French experience shines through in the paté, croissants, and brie that kick off the brunch menu. Pickled apples on the Little Gem salad are one of a kind. Steak tartare, studded with capers and topped with a glistening egg yolk, never goes out of style.
Pancakes, eggs benedict, crêpes, frittata, and french toast – all brunch staples – are transformed into memorable food experiences by Chef Kwaku-Dongo. Perfectly cooked eggs, silken sauces, real maple syrup, roasted mushrooms, and stewed apples convert the ordinary to the extraordinary. The eggy menu reasonably ranges from $14 to $16.
There are entrees too, if you want something more substantial: a “Riviera Nicoise” salad; grilled salmon with saffron beurre blanc; the chef’s favorite penne pasta with tomato, olives, and capers, or the de regure burger dressed up with smoked bacon and shallot confit range from $18 to $25. I want to return and try then all.
The entire menu is done with the highest level of flair, flavor, and finesse. The chef is a master of the surprise ingredient and unexpected taste.
Farm-to-table is everywhere, but Chef Kwaku-Dongo is taking it to a new level – he has his own chocolate source in Ghana. There the chocolate is grown and, unlike most, processed right there for superior flavor and nutrients.
Chocolate, as you can imagine, is well represented on the dessert menu. A silken chocolate Dacquoise on a foundation of crispy praline was a crowd pleaser. Chocolate crêpes were garnished with nuggets of the chef’s own dark chocolate. The light and eggy raisin-rum soufflé, baked in its own cast iron skillet, came with wine-poached pears. Try to score some of Kwaku-Dongo’s deluxe house made chocolate truffles to finish your meal.
I can’t think of a more romantic or memorable setting for Valentine’s dinner than the Roger Sherman. The fixed price menu ($95) offers a wide range of choice. I might start with the poached pears and then get the Côte de Boeuf for two, after all, it’s more romantic to share. Desserts are, of course, chocolate. If you can’t make it for dinner, pick up a dozen of the chef’s truffles ($35) – chocolate, sea salt caramel dark chocolate, and white chocolate champagne.
The Roger Sherman is perfect for celebrating any occasion – important, minor, or even invented. Be prepared to settle in for an elegant and unforgettable meal.