A Cook’s tour of four communities

Celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich once said, “Food, you know, tells us who we are, where we come from. It connects us, it expresses emotion. It expresses care, it expresses love.”

And food has become a national obsession. Every community has its share of great restaurants, snack shops and purveyors of all sorts of delicacies. Whet your appetite and take a look at four food communities and a sampling of great places for the gastronome in you to try.

Norwalk

Norwalk is known for its diversity. Restaurants in SoNo (South Norwalk) have a new vibe and add to the variety of ethnic cuisines.

Strada 18 apizza e vino

122 Washington St., South Norwalk, 203-853-4546, strada18.com

Executive chef and partner David Raymer and his wife created their version of a highway pizza place in Italy after a honeymoon trip in northern Italy. “We care and we are very serious about the food we serve,” he says. “We make our own cheese, sausage and dough and are interested in serving authentic Italian dishes.” A mainstay in SoNo, Strada 18 is homey with friendly service and delicious lentil soup, pastas and specials.

Sugar & Olives

21½ Lois St., Norwalk, 203-454-3663,

sugarandolives.com

Jennifer Balin a former TV producer and single mom, has brought a new kind of food experience to Norwalk. “Sugar & Olives is devoted to serving wholesome, healthy and happy local food,” says Balin. “I like to teach people about their food.” And, she adds, “Knowing what you eat is important.” Hence her cooking classes. “If you give your child kale salad, he may not want it. But if he makes it himself, he’ll eat it.” She refers to her cuisine as farm-to-family. Brunch is booming at Sugar & Olives, and Balin is delighted to have chef Jon Vaast, formerly of Westport’s renowned Dressing Room Restaurant, join her in the kitchen as co-executive chef. Wondering about the name? Balin always has something sweet and something salty on hand.

Also try:

The Spread

70 N. Main St., South Norwalk,

203-939-1111, thespreadsono.com

A hip scene with a seasonally changing, eclectic and inventive menu.

Valencia Luncheria

164 Main St., Norwalk,

203-846-8009, valencialuncheria.com

Venezuelan beach food reasonably priced – ceviche, empanadas, carne mechado and more.

Pontos Taverna

7 Isaac St., Norwalk, 203-354-7024,

pontostaverna.com

Authentic Greek cuisine, cozy atmosphere with great food and alongside the Garden Cinema.

Coromandel: Cuisine of India

86 Washington St., South Norwalk, 203-852-1213, coromandelcuisine.com

Cuisine of India with regional specialties from the subcontinent.

Café Chocopologie

12 S. Main St., Norwalk,

203-854-4754, knipschildt.com

Breakfast is served all day. A must for chocoholics.

Mama’s Boy Southern Table and Refuge

19 N. Water St., South Norwalk,

203-956-7171, mamasboyct.com

Southern hospitality and charm with a little sass, featuring Southern food and a kids’ menu, too.

Westport

Lots of the creative energy in this tony town finds its way into some exciting dining experiences.

leFarm

256 Post Road E., 203-557-3701,

lefarmwestport.com

leFarm epitomizes the farm-to-table approach. Bounty from local farms is meticulously sourced and simply prepared. “We get the best ingredients we can and we know how to cook them – or not cook them,” says chef Arik Bensimon, who has the utmost respect for the ingredients and lets them speak for themselves. The menu changes daily with some carryovers from the weekend. Bensimon will pick some lettuce in a local garden and it will be part of a salad that evening. “We don’t have a signature dish. Every dish is driven from the ingredients that we get that day.” Count on Bensimon’s creativity in the kitchen to offer an unforgettable repast.

The Whelk

575 Riverside Ave., 203-557-0902,

thewhelkwestport.com

Bill Taibe of leFarm brings his local approach to seafood with an adventurous menu to this casual spot just above the Saugatuck River. Andrea Dinan, manager of operations at both The Whelk and leFarm, says: “The Whelk is meant to be a gathering place for the community to come together in a refined oyster bar setting and enjoy food and cocktails created using the best ingredients we can get our hands on.” Not to be missed.

Also try:

The Granola Bar of Westport

275 Post Road E., 203-349-5202,

thegranolabarct.com

Eat breakfast all day. Everything is made on the premises from scratch in this peanut-free environment.

Rive Bistro

299 Riverside Ave., 203-557-8049,

rivebistro.com

Comfortable, casual French dining with a river view.

Terrain Garden Café

561 Post Road E., 203-226-2732,

shopterrain.com/westport-restaurant

Local and organic fare in a beautiful setting that engages all five senses.

Splash Restaurant & Bar

260 Compo Road S., 203-454-7798,

decarorestaurantgroup.com

Breathtaking view of the Long Island Sound and seafood with an Asian accent.

Post 154

154 Post Road E., 203-454-0154,

post154.com

In Westport’s historical post office, a restaurant, bar and gathering place. Many dishes have a Latin accent.

Pink Sumo Sushi & Sake Café

4 Church Lane, 203-557-8080,

pinksumoct.com

Upscale Japanese restaurant serving a variety of original rolls and over 30 types of quality sake.

Dobbs Ferry

Visit this river town with its great views of the Hudson and a restaurant row in the making on Cedar Street.

The Parlor

14 Cedar St., 914-478-8200,
theparlordf.com

The Cookery

39 Chestnut St., 914-305-2336,
thecookeryrestaurant.com

David DiBari, the owner and chef of The Parlor and The Cookery, thinks outside the box. “We like to do some fun stuff,” says DiBari. “The secret is to be absolutely passionate about what you do.” Everything centers around the wood oven at The Parlor and you can cut your own pizza with scissors. Enjoy some wood-fired pizza from his mobile Dough Nation Pizza truck at farmers’ markets in other communities, too.

Also try:

Half Moon

1 High St., 914-693-4130,

halfmoonhudson.com

Seafood and casual-yet-sophisticated American cuisine on the waterfront.

Cedar Street Grill

23 Cedar St., 914-674-0706.

cedarstreetgrillny.com

Cozy and welcoming American-themed fare and artisanal beer.

Piccola Trattoria

41 Cedar St., 914-674-8427,

piccolany.com

Authentic Italian restaurant family-owned since 1994.

Sushi Mike’s

146 Main St., 914-591-0054,

sushimikes.com

Japanese restaurant serving sushi in a friendly atmosphere.

Tomatillo: Farm to Taco

13 Cedar St., 914-478-2300,

mexchester.com

A “Mexchester,” original farm-to-table Mexican where you can build your own burrito.

Harper’s Restaurant & Bar

92 Main St., 914-693-2306,

harpersonmain.com

New American fare, contemporary food at a cozy farm-to-table tavern.

Port Chester

Port Chester has become a mecca for its wide variety of restaurants and food specialties, many set to a Latin beat.

Bartaco

1 Willet Ave., 914-937-8226,

bartaco.com

Sometimes it is location, location, location. Set on the waterfront, Bartaco has thrived in Port Chester. “With its spacious interior and patio seating, the vibe is stylish yet relaxed and makes one feel like they’re on a ‘staycation,’” says Ria Rueda of the Barteca Restaurant Group. “We use healthy and fresh ingredients and have impressive beverages – craft cocktails, fresh-pressed juice and premium tequila.”

Tarry Lodge

18 Mill St., 914-939-3111,

tarrylodge.com

Tarry Lodge, which also has a place in Westport, came to Port Chester with an A-List pedigree of restaurateurs. Joe Bastianich, Mario Batali, managing partner Nancy Selzer and chef Andy Nusser have brought their star power to this dynamic trattoria. “We designed the restaurant to be a mainstay in the neighborhood with a little something for everyone,” says Selzer. “It’s a beautiful space with great service and the best food with a price point for everyone.” Tarry Lodge has been the go-to spot in Port Chester for more than 100 years and has a storied history and several reincarnations from speakeasy to family restaurant. Selzer says it was Bastianich’s vision that they be a part of the already established restaurant town. “We wanted to honor the history and to tip a hat to the tradition of restaurants in the neighborhood.”

Also try:

Nessa

325 N. Main St., 914-939-0119,

nessarestaurant.com

Italian wine bar with small plates as well as full meals.

Sonora

179 Rectory St., 914-933-0200,

sonorarestaurant.net

Latin-influenced cuisine with signature dishes that include seafood paella and traditional tapas.

The Kneaded Bread

181 N. Main St., 914-937-9489,

kneadedbread.com

“Knead” we say more. Popular, near and far, for baked goods, soups and sandwiches, too.

Pollo A La Brasa – Misti Restaurant

110 N. Main St. 914-939-9437,

polloalabrasamistirestaurant.com

New York-Peruvian cuisine specializing in roasted chicken.

Paleteria Fernandez

33 N. Main St., 914-939-3694,

paletasfernandez.com

Mexican ice cream shop specializing in paleta, ice pops made from fresh fruits.

Arrosto

25 S. Regent St., 914-939-2727,

arrostorestaurant.com

Urban Italian cuisine that features grilled meats and seafood and Neapolitan wood-fired pizza.

RECIPES:

Bartaco’s Port Chester Reviver 

  • 2 spoons of chopped cucumber
  • Large pint of mint
  • 1-1/2 ounces of Miller’s Gin
  • 1-1/2 ounces of mango nectar
  • 1 ounce of lime juice
  • ½ ounce of simple sugar

Muddle cucumber and mint with simple syrup, then add the rest of the ingredients. Shake. Double strain and garnish with a cucumber slice.

 

Strada 18’s Chopped salad of grilled salmon and brown rice

(Serves 4)

  • 20-ounce salmon filet
  • 16 cups mesclun salad mix, chopped coarsely
  • A scant ¼ cup of shallot and caper dressing (recipe follows)
  • 1 cup steamed asparagus tips, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 cup lightly steamed broccoli crowns
  • 1 cup lightly steamed cauliflower crowns
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
  • ¼ cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
  • 1½ cups cooked brown rice, warm
  • Olive oil, salt and pepper

Brush the salmon lightly with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and grill over very hot coals. Mix all of the ingredients and add dressing to taste.

 

Shallot and Caper Dressing

  • ¼ cup imported red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup Spanish sherry vinegar
  • 1 ½ cups extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup whole shallots
  • ½ cup non-pareil capers
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper

Place the mustard and vinegars in the bowl of a food processor. Run until well blended. With the processor running add the oil in a steady steam. Remove the vinaigrette from the work bowl (no need to clean) and add the capers and shallots. Process until finely chopped. With the motor still running add the vinaigrette back to the bowl.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

 

Tarry Lodge’s Guanciale pizza with black truffles and sunny-side egg

(Recipe from chef Andy Nusser)

  • 10 ounces pizza dough, stretch to 12 inches  (See recipe below.)
  • 4 ounces guanciale, thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
  • 4 ounces mozzarella, diced
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ounce extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small jar shaved black truffle peelings

Pizza Dough

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water

Combine sugar water and yeast in a bowl. Combine flour and salt in another bowl making well. Pour yeast liquid and oil into the well. Stir until you have soft dough. Add more flour if sticky. Knead on a floured surface until smooth. Place in an oiled bowl covered with plastic and let rise. Punch down and make into two balls. Stretch a ball into a 12-inch circle.

Top dough with sliced guanciale, grated Parm, diced mozzeralla, olive oil. Crack an egg into the center of the pie. Bake in a 500-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until dough is crispy and cheese is bubbling. Finish with shaved truffles.

 

leFarm’s Yellowfin tuna crudo

(Arik Bensimon’s original)

  • Piece of yellowfin tuna
  • 1 cup sweet peas
  • Pickled ginger
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Mint
  • Salt

Smoked soy sauce (“Or a high quality soy is OK, the smoked soy adds another dimension,” Bensimon says.)

Put a pan on high heat. Once hot, add the peas and begin to char. Do not remove from the heat but shake the pan a bit to get a good char, not burnt. Remove pan from stove and cool to room temperature. Add some pickling liquid from the ginger (you can pickle your own) and olive oil. Cut mint and romaine into a fine cut and mix together. If needed add salt, though not too much as the soy is salty. Cut ¼-inch slices of yellowfin tuna (no sinew as it will ruin the dish). Put slices into the pan and brush each slice with the smoked soy very lightly. Scatter the peas on two separate plates and lay the tuna slices on or around them.

 

Sugar & Olives’s Skillet asparagus with a duck egg, pork belly and ramps

Skillet asparagus with smoked paprika oil, parsley (Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens, Easton,) and lemon zest, farm egg (Speckled Rooster Farm, Westport), and crispy ham (Millstone Farm, Wilton).

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