New Canaan’s newest hotspot cooks up the freshest pasta this side of Bologna. Located in the heart of downtown on Locust Avenue, Carpe Diem is all about serving the finest ingredients in a relaxed atmosphere that will make the whole family feel comfortable. “I think any restaurant should be kid-friendly,” says Allan Basaran, the owner and chef who perhaps not coincidentally was awaiting the arrival of his first child when we first spoke in late February. Basaran may be new to parenting, but he’s no stranger to the restaurant business. He also owns the Carpe Diem bistro on New York City’s Upper East Side. Why did he choose New Canaan as the location for a new venture in the country? His wife, Emily Coughlin Basaran, is from New Canaan, and the couple—currently based in Stamford—love the area. Basaran says he wants this eatery to be a place where parents and children both feel welcome, and where great food and top-notch service are the dish du jour.
Although the atmosphere is neat and upscale, the vibe at Carpe Diem is also very relaxed, thanks to features like the pretty patio—where diners can order from the full menu—and the photographs of horses hung around the dining room. (Basaran thinks horses are good luck.) I had dinner here with my dad the day after the Super Bowl, when most of New England was still stuffed from the trays of Buffalo wings consumed during the game. Even so, Carpe Diem drew a good crowd to its smallish dining room (about eighteen tables). Most of the diners were families with school-age children.
The menu has many Italian standards, along with some interesting choices. Although it was carefully edited to two pages—one of appetizers, including Caesar salad, chicken soup, and calamari, and one of entrees—there was a nice selection of dishes. Chicken, pasta, beef, lamb and seafood were all offered for the main course. Basaran plans to switch things up with the seasons, but the focus will always be on fresh and locally grown food. “I believe in supporting local people,” says Basaran, who gets produce every day from nearby vendors. That must be why the appetizer was so good. It was a chopped salad of tomatoes, arugula, asparagus, beets and roasted red peppers, with a citrus dressing. In all, it was a great mix that was light but satisfying, and there was a lot of it on the plate. The tomatoes were ripe, the lettuce was fresh and the dressing was zingy but not overpowering.
At Carpe Diem, pasta is a big draw as it is made on-site (all except the penne), yet it’s also reasonably priced at about $18 per dish. Other entrees include the scallops ($32), which I ordered. There were only four on the plate, but each one was perfectly cooked and served with endive and scallion salad. If I had been hungrier, I would have ordered Spaghetti Mare Monte, which combines scallops with shrimp, mussels, calamari, arugula and radicchio in an organic tomato sauce. My father had La Contadina, a heaping plate of two organic chicken breasts paired with a side of fresh mixed greens ($19).
Although there’s no menu specifically for children, young palates will enjoy dishes like chicken soup and Capellini Pomodoro e Basilico—angel hair pasta, organic tomato sauce and basil. Of course, this dish will satisfy adult tastes as well, particularly when paired with a Tenuta Julia Amarone, a rich red wine from northeastern Italy.
The restaurant had been open only a few weeks when we went, and management seemed to be working out just a few kinks—they were out of veal picatta by 6 p.m. But for the most part, service was seamless, with a friendly, attentive and knowledgeable waitstaff.
If there’s one thing Carpe Diem has down to a delicious science, it’s dessert. Dad’s crème brulee was incredibly smooth, light and rich, but not too filling. My tiramisu was housemade and light, and the piece that was dished out to me was so large I couldn’t finish it. Fresh coffee and aromatic cappuccino are served generously, too, in mugs so large you’ll want to cradle one with two hands.
With its warm atmosphere, fresh food and reasonable prices, Carpe Diem is on its way to becoming that place where lovers of Italian food will bring their families again and again.
26 Locust Avenue, New Canaan, 203-594-9599