Distinguished dining at The National

At the southern end of bustling Greenwich Avenue, amid the retail shops and assortment of eateries, sits The National, an unassuming gem with a white paneled exterior and large curtained windows.

The restaurant is the brainchild of Geoffrey Zakarian, the author, restaurateur and celebrity chef of the Food Network’s “Chopped” and “Iron Chef” fame. The stylish location is Zakarian’s first National location outside of Manhattan, offering up sophisticated, American café-style fare.

We make our way to an early Saturday dinner and are shown to a table near the front window. Though quiet on a rainy weekend evening, the restaurant sees a steady stream of hungry diners enter during the course of our meal. The interior is softly lit, with wooden paneled walls, sleek black-and-white tiled floors and palms dotting the entrance. The attention paid to each stylish detail is apparent, with lit candles sitting atop each dining room table and classic Harper’s Bazaar magazine covers lining the women’s powder room walls.

I begin with a glass of Peter Jakob-Kühn Riesling, while my guest chooses the more adventurous route and selects one of the restaurant’s craft cocktails, a drink aptly titled Smashed. The cocktail features Four Roses Bourbon mixed with fresh lemon juice, simple syrup and Branca Menta, garnished with fresh mint leaves. After trying a sip, I realize that this is truly one of the most delicious bourbon cocktails I’ve ever put to my lips, with the subtle hints of mint and sweetness blending perfectly, neither too overwhelming.

Our meal starts with an order of pork and veal meatballs presented in a cast iron skillet, smothered in a San Marzano tomato and Parmigiano-Reggiano sauce. We also share a basket of fried calamari and spicy pickled jalapeno slices. We will be continually reminded during the course of our dinner that sauces certainly shine at The National, and the fresno chili aioli served as a side to the calamari is no exception, giving the starter an added, creamy kick.

I stick with seafood for my main dish, selecting the roasted steelhead trout from the menu. The flaky slice of fish is served next to an assortment of crunchy vegetables — chopped asparagus, radishes, carrots, peas, mushrooms and turnips all mixed with crispy house-cured bacon bits. My guest selects a dish from the restaurant’s wood grill, choosing a juicy Berkshire pork skirt steak with cubed new potatoes. The meat sits below a bed of greens and roasted shishito peppers. Again, the hazelnut Romesco sauce that covers the dish steals the show, giving a delicious smoky flavor to both the meat and vegetables.

When asked about dessert, our waiter, Andres, decides to surprise us with a selection of his own, choosing a seasonal dish to round out our meal. Served in a frosted, long-stemmed glass, the devil’s food cake is filled with chunks of chocolate and topped with a creamy mousse, dollops of smooth whipped cream and a fresh berry. The tartness of the berry adds a nice touch to the rich, chocolate-filled dessert.

Chef Zakarian and The National certainly deliver on their promise, providing a modern, New York City-style dining experience a little closer to home.

For more, visit thenational-ct.com.

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