I wag my finger at my former self, the self who assumed that when my husband and I relocated in July to Westchester from the West Coast we’d have to trek to the city to find foodie spots. Our older, wiser selves now have a running list of restaurants to hit between Westchester and Fairfield and were particularly thrilled to snag a reservation at The Whelk, the second Westport dining gold mine of James Beard Award-nominated Chef Bill Taibe.
Taibe (pronounced tay-bee) opened his “oyster bar in Saugatuck” just more than a year ago to characteristically high praise. The artisanal seafood spot complements his quaint nose-to-tail restaurant up the road, Le Farm, which happens to be next on our list. (Coincidently, the duo also recalls how LA chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo opened the posh seafood shack Son of a Gun on the heels of their nose-to-tail eatery Animal in our former West Coast stomping grounds.)
After our welcome and prompt seating at the cozy-lit The Whelk, our server impressed with not only an exceptional knowledge of each menu intricacy – ingredient origin, preparation, flavor, consistency – she also wowed with her genuine enthusiasm for the restaurant’s offerings, smartly suggesting and then scheduling our dishes’ delivery for a superlative dining experience. By dinner’s end, we were stuffed with fried oysters on deviled eggs, succulent salmon collar, remarkably rich peekytoe crab fondue on grits and the most luscious pork belly I’ve ever encountered.
The Whelk’s Whiskey Negroni accompanied the meal – the only offering of the evening where an image may do justice to the taste. (Still, it won’t entirely.) To replicate this drink’s deliciousness, see the recipe below. As for the rest of the menu, without Taibe’s award-winning technique and ingredient innovation you’re hapless to achieve the plated rapture that is dinner at The Whelk.
The Whelk’s Whiskey Negroni
1 part whiskey
1 part sweet vermouth
½ ounce Campari
½ ounce Cherry Heering
Danish cherry garnish
Make sure to catch my article on The Whelk in the March issue of WAG when I go the behind the menu with Chef Bill Taibe.
– Andrea Kennedy
The Whelk, 575 Riverside Avenue, Westport. For reservations, call (203) 557-0902. thewhelkwestport.com.