A family affair at Le Madri

Chef Vinicio Llanos and his family bring upscale Italian dining to Bethel.

A Fairfield County restaurateur is hoping to duplicate the success he’s had with a popular eatery in Westport with his new restaurant in Bethel.

Chef Vinicio Llanos opened Le Madri, an Italian eatery in Bethel, earlier this year. 

Though Llanos grew up in Ecuador, his roots in Italy and his connection to the country’s cuisine are strong. His grandmother was born and raised in Sicily and met his grandfather during a missionary trip to Ecuador. Her family’s cooking traditions were passed down through the generations and ultimately to Llanos and his sister, Patricia.

The two now work side by side in the kitchen at Le Madri, along with their mother, Maria. The restaurant’s name, which translates to “mothers,” pays homage to the matriarchs of the family.

Though Le Madri may only be a few months old, Llanos is not a novice in the Fairfield County restaurant scene. Along with spending a decade working at Italian restaurants in New York City, including Centolire and Coco Pazzo, he also helms Arezzo Ristorante & Wine Bar, an upscale Italian eatery along the Saugatuck River in nearby Westport.

I head to a late lunch in Bethel on a quiet Sunday afternoon with a friend, snagging a booth by the windows that offer panoramic views of downtown. The contemporary space features a generous bar area with booth seating and a separate, private dining room that can seat 30.  

The 130-seat main dining room is filled with dark-wood furnishings, leather booths and, aside from simple, single-rose centerpieces, minimal décor. Instead, Le Madri seems to let the food speak for itself.

We start with an appetizer of crispy fried calamari and zucchini, paired with a sweet, creamy marinara. In a second starter plate, scallops are served over a bed of sweet corn, chopped asparagus, tomatoes and a balsamic drizzle. The scallops are perfectly seared — crisp yet buttery — though the vegetables are lacking in flavor. 

The highlight of our afternoon was undoubtedly, and somewhat unexpectedly, the wood-fired pizza. Options range from a traditional margherita to slices topped with prosciutto and fig. We opt for a caprese, which features fresh tomato, chopped basil and thick slices of melted mozzarella atop a crisp, flaky crust.

Entrées include an array of Italian favorites, from fettuccine to linguine, with seasonal sauces and homemade noodles.

An entrée of gnocchi Bolognese featured handmade potato dumplings with a delicious, slow-cooked beef ragout. Filet mignon was paired with wild mushrooms, truffle oil and risotto in a second entrée that proved too heavy to finish in one sitting.

The eatery’s extensive wine list features a host of wineries that span the globe, while a craft cocktail menu includes Llanos’ takes on Italian recipes. An Antico Negroni is made with Campari, St. George gin, cherry balsamic and an orange garnish, while a Limoncello Pop mixes homemade limoncello and a Prosecco float.

Our meal comes to a close with a warm apple tart, perfectly flaky and topped with a vanilla bean olive oil gelato.

Llanos says that many of the dishes served at Le Madri are inspired by meals that were staples of his childhood, versions of the dishes created by both his mother and his grandmother. 

It seems at Le Madri, the “mothers” really do know best.

For more, visit lemadribethel.com.

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