Photographs by Kyle Norton
Above: The Ahi Tuna Poke Bowl and Gates’ signature Chop Chop Verona salad served al fresco.
ANew Canaan institution since 1979, Gates Restaurant continues to evolve while preserving a neighborhood charm and family-friendly vibe. It’s the kind of place that has regulars, but any visitor would feel at home. Billed as “casually elegant,” Gates offers American fare in a modern atmosphere with high ceilings, wooden beams and exposed brick walls uncovered during a 2016 renovation.
Gates was the first restaurant to open on Forest Street, so longtime customers flocked to the beloved eatery for a “last supper” in April 2015 when the original owners retired and sold the business. The “new Gates” opened 10 months later with updated décor, cuisine and a wood-fired oven, but kept menu staples favored by loyal clientele and an air of nostalgia. Fast-forward to January 2019 when well-loved restaurateur Luis Lopez signed on as executive chef and started adding his own spin to the menu.
As a fan of Lopez’ former New Canaan restaurant, Chef Luis, I was curious to try Gates with Lopez at the helm. My family and I walked in on a busy Friday night and the dining room was packed. The hostess was able to seat us in the jovial tavern and bar area, which has a variety of comfortable booths and high-top tables. A baseball game was on at the bar, and I eyed a pinball machine as another entertainment option for the kids.
For appetizers, we shared fried meatballs as well as chicken and lemongrass dumplings—a new addition from Lopez. The flavor of the meatballs was appealing, with fresh arrabiata sauce, fromage blanc and crispy garlic bread. The dumplings were a family favorite, and the delicious red chili sauce gradually disappeared with each dip.
An eclectic menu enabled us to dine on four different cuisines. Although the dishes were varied, everything was flavorful and authentic. Former patrons of Chef Luis will appreciate the new taco options, while Gates devotees can still order the fabled burger and Chop Chop Verona—a salad with avocado, smoked bacon bits, tomatoes and crumbled blue cheese—which has endured every menu revision. Gates has a junior menu for those 12 and under, and the wood-fired oven makes grilled pizzas another popular go-to for diners of all ages.
My jumbo shrimp taco was nicely spiced and served in perfectly grilled corn tortillas, along with avocado, corn salsa, rice and black beans. The Tavern Burger was made from high-quality certified Angus beef, complete with a signature touch of the kitchen’s “100 Island” dressing and half sour pickles. Both my children gave a thumbs-up review for the bolognese. Made with paccheri pasta, chicken ragu, fresh tomato sauce and ricotta, it could rival any Italian restaurant. Rounding out our order was the BBQ Korean Beef Bowl. Slightly sweet and savory, the beef complemented the cremini mushrooms, broccoli and roasted baby carrots. A notable new category, the bowls feature six options ranging from ahi tuna to crispy chicken dishes.
Everyone was stuffed, but we somehow managed to devour the Giant Brownie Sundae. Served in a tall chilled glass, it comes with house-made brownies, vanilla ice cream, a decadent portion of hot fudge, whipped cream and the requisite cherry on top.
In addition to good food and a talented chef, there’s an active nightlife and charity component at Gates. Regular crowds come for Wednesday night trivia and live music on Saturdays, while local heroes are celebrated. Firefighters, police, military veterans and other town personnel get 20 percent off, and the restaurant donates 10 percent of every Sunday purchase to area churches and nonprofits.
No matter what changes at Gates, the best part remains: a sense of community.
10 Forest Street, New Canaan, CT 06840
(203) 966-8666; gatesrestaurant.com
Casual American Fare
Monday – Thursday 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Friday – 11:30 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.
Saturday – 11:00 a.m. – 1 a.m.
Sunday – 11:00 a.m. – 9 p.m.