These restaurants offer some of the best global gourmet in the area. If you want to do ethnic right, do it at one of these international eateries.
3 North Water Street,Norwalk
What sets a chef on a culinary path? For El Segundo co-owner and Executive Chef Carlos Baez, it was experience and culture. Baez cooked at the eclectic SoNo eatery The Spread and before that worked with seafood, Italian, and high-end French fare. He was the sushi chef in a Japanese restaurant, but he cut his culinary teeth at his parents’ taquerias in Mexico City. All of this set the table for his current gig: serving up street food from 27 countries at El Segundo, a fun and funky former factory across from the Maritime Center on Water Street in South Norwalk. “They kept saying, ‘Carlos, we need the menu!’ But I wasn’t ready,” Baez recalls. He was thoroughly researching street food and figuring out how he could best represent the variety in a couple of bites. Now he shops at local farms and makes his favorite dishes by hand, including Puerto Rican mofongo, Turkish kofte kebab and Jamaican jerk patty. The global gourmet fare at El Segunda has universal appeal.
62 Main Street, New Canaan
Granted, the name of this restaurant implies Indian cuisine, but the Indian behind it—Chef Prasad Chirnomula—dishes out a dash of his global experience with each serving. Small plates in the pub room include Portuguese shrimp with piri piri sauce, Nepalese momos and lump crab meat with coconut lemon sauce and gooseberry beet patties. Chef Chirnomula was cooking up bone broth long before it became popular; he roasts goat bones on the tandoori before turning them into a broth that pairs beautifully with American rib eye, spinach and sweet potatoes. While it’s true that Chirnomula relies on his world travels for many of the dishes, the flavors from his home are the best, including homemade rubs, curries, chili sauces and chutneys. And then there’s the andhra masala, a recipe that came straight from his mother.
98 Washington Street, South Norwalk
Many people didn’t know what to make of Matt Storch’s menu when he first signed on as chef at Match in 1999. “Fairfield County was so cookie-cutter at the time,” he says. He had different ideas, namely fresh, seasonal fare from a host of global influences. “I thought it would be cool to get a seared foie gras and a pizza in the same place.” Storch continues to offer an eclectic menu that changes each day as he riffs on traditional dishes. Sure, Match serves steak frites, but also octopus frites, the fish slow-simmered in Cabernet then charred and dusted with Maldon sea salt, and served with smashed and fried red potatoes. The pizza from the wood-burning oven might hold crispy bacon, mashed potatoes, mozzarella and a baked egg. The breaded fish might be “PB&J Halibut,” the fish simmered in Concord grapes, with nuts and fried leeks providing the crunch. On cool autumn nights the globe-trotting Storch turns to a familiar source for one global special. He learned how to make the chicken pho from his Vietnamese mother-in-law.
GARELICK & HERBS
97 Main Street, New Canaan
On a lovely afternoon around lunchtime, customers of all shapes, ages and languages file through Garelick & Herbs, scrutinizing the clean and bright display case. There’s a Mediterranean salad here, teriyaki Norwegian salmon there. Turkey meatloaf sits beside chicken fajita salad, nestled between quinoa burgers and chicken kabobs. Giant quesadillas that seem to be a foot wide dwarf the sesame seared tuna. Just because customers can get their food fast, though, doesn’t mean this is “fast food.” Owners Paola and Jason Garelick ensure all food is baked, prepped or cooked from scratch at the flagship shop in Southport, whether that be the French croissants, the chimichuri or the pesto.
MECHA NOODLE BAR
116 Washington Street, Norwalk
At Mecha Noodle Bar, East Asian flavor profiles like Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese are built layer- upon-layer in the from-scratch kitchen. The culinary team makes 80 to 100 gallons of homemade broth from scratch each day. The Szechuan vinegar, garlic chili oil and kimchi are all housemade. The menu changes seasonally to reflect what’s growing in nearby farms as well as seasonal traditions and offerings in East Asia. For instance, autumn is rice-harvesting time in Japan, so Mecha Noodle will serve kinoko miso ramen, a celebration of namiko, shiitake and king trumpet mushrooms, with the kelp strips shio kombu supplying the sweet and salty tang. Mecha Noodle was founded by Rick Reyes and Tony Pham (they were boyhood friends) and ramen-loving chef Brian Reilly.
Fresh, housemade food is prepared by inspired chefs who rely on traditional methods to create flavorful, memorable dishes.
12 Forest Street, New Canaan
It’s not unsual to see Chef Robert Ubaldo unloading the day’s produce—bags and bags of fresh greens, odd squashes, Chinese long beans and heirloom tomatoes. These organic vegetables don’t travel far; he picks them early in the morning in the raised bed garden at his mother’s house in Pound Ridge. Later, they get paired with the poultry, pork and beef that his brother raises at John Boy’s Farm in Cambridge, New York. All of it enhances the food his restaurant is known for: good, clean and healthy. Specials change each day depending on what was just picked or foraged. Ubaldo had a long history in the restaurant business when he found himself between jobs and baking homemade bread to sell at farmers’ markets. “We were standing there freezing one day in November and I said, ‘You know it’s possible to do this with a roof over our heads.’” He moved to a little spot on Forest Street where they sold the family produce with his bread. When customers bought produce, Ubaldo offered to cook it for them in his store. Pretty soon, he outgrew the tiny storefront and moved across the street. He took with him the sourdough starter to keep making that homemade bread.
15 Elm Street, New Canaan
The Hamptons vibe at Uncorked might not be serious, but the food is. Nick Martschenko, the Gramercy Tavern-trained chef/owner, turns out small plates with ingredients that are locally sourced and organic. The 40-seat gastropub is often hopping, and the tiny open kitchen is a model of efficiency, the chefs pulling from a stack of matchstick-thin radishes, plating with tweezers. “We can make things better than we can buy them,” Martschenko says. They make their own bread, sausage, fries, vinaigrettes and sauces. The simple fare belies the steps involved. Take those carnitas, for example. The pig arrives on Thursdays around the corner at sister restaurant South End, and there they break it down. Martschenko brings the shoulder over to Uncorked, where he cures it in the basement with his own blend of kosher salt, herbs and spices. Then he slow-cooks the pork in duck fat for four hours before searing it on the grill.
MEATBALL & CO.
20 Center Street, Darien
The bread dough is on its third rise at Meatball & Co., the unassuming eatery over by the train station. Fresh herbs spill over their pots on the patio. In the open kitchen, they’re chopping carrots for the bolognese sauce and rolling balls of house-ground and spiced chicken thighs for the buffalo chicken meatballs. A couple of customers dig in to their lunch. She’s having a risotto chock- full of mushrooms. He’s having fresh linguini with clams. What, no meatballs? Chef and owner Joe Criscuolo chuckles over that. Each day he ponders the merits of his restaurant’s name, for the common meatball may not adequately convey what he and his wife, Caty, are serving: homemade straciatella soup with spinach and eggs and slow-cooked “Sunday Sauce” with short ribs and homemade sausage. Criscuolo has worked for some of the best chefs in New York, but he credits artisans closer to home for inspiration. “I grew up watching my mother and grandmother making meatballs,” he says.
102 Wall Street, Norwalk
Many chefs stake a farm-to-table claim, but when pressed can’t explain what that really entails. Not so Executive Chef Pat Siciliano. When asked what, exactly, he means by “farm-fresh eggs” in his homemade pasta, he says, “We get the eggs every day from my aunt and uncle’s house in Stamford.” That would be Aunt Gina and Uncle Antimo Pascarella, Italian immigrants whose chickens, ducks and produce often end up on the menu at Bar Sugo in one form or other. Their son, Pasquale, started Bar Sugo but sold it recently to relocate to Atlanta, Georgia. His cousin Pat stuck around and kept cooking. Siciliano could roll a buccatino by the time he was 15, and he’s still making fresh pasta at the restaurant each day. He makes Bar Sugo’s ricotta, mozzarella, sausage, meatballs and more from scratch. When new owner Adam Roytman added a burger to the menu he wanted to honor that from-scratch practice, so Siciliano grinds the meat—brisket, short rib and chuck—for the patty and makes his own pickles.
You’ve been great all week, going to the gym and doing mindfulness meditation. Now it’s time to live it up a bit. Here’s where to indulge.
80 Washington Street, Norwalk
Bacon. Bourbon. Burgers. Some folks don’t need much more than that to dine decadently. Greg Pettinella, the creator of Killer B, makes it easy for them. “I have always liked bacon,” he says. “Throughout my career, I’ve thought, why isn’t anybody doing this?” What he’s doing is combining all three. His restaurant’s signature sandwich includes a 10-ounce beef burger, 9-ounce pork sausage, five thick-cut pieces of bacon and too many other items for us to count—all wedged between a grilled cheese sandwich. The bacon sampler features 10 strips of house- flavored bacon (bourbon, butterscotch, honey, orange) served hanging on a little clothesline, weighing more than a pound. Is it less decadent to eat fish? Not always. At Killer B’s the Lazy Man’s Lobster is a big crustacean topped with from-scratch mac and cheese. No bacon with that? You can have it with dessert. A vanilla honey milkshake comes with real bacon bits, whipped cream, nuts and honey bacon.
59 North Main Street, Norwalk
Before you stroll into Gyro World you might think you know what you’re getting—endless slabs of pressed meat spinning round on vertical spits. Then you see a Greek woman in a black dress stretching dough by hand to make the homemade pitas and the butcher breaking down whole pork butts. Gyro World owner Chris Papa was rolling dough balls at 8 years old at his father’s knee, and later traveled far and wide as a restaurant consultant. When he realized Mediterranean food was in demand, he returned to his native Norwalk to make it his way: no shortcuts, everything from scratch. Over by the fryer, you’ll see Chris’ brother, Nikolaos, making a batch of loukoumades, Greek donuts that are crispy and light. They serve thousands of these a week. “Try some,” the brothers say.“It’s an insult to decline food in a Greek home.”
264 Heights Road, Darien
When she was 15, some of Meghan Palmer’s high school teachers thought her little cake business was a phase. Her family knew otherwise: Meghan, who’d worked in the family market since she was a tot, was destined to be a baker. She earned a pastry degree from the Culinary Institute of America and turned her family’s supermarket bakery into a gourmet enterprise staffed by six pastry chefs and five decorators. Today, she is the culinary director at Palmer’s. She and crew bake everything from muffins to pastries to tarts, breads, pies and wedding cakes every day, by hand, from scratch. For the ultimate sugar indulgence, Palmer’s is the place.
THE WATER’S EDGE AT GIOVANNI’S
2748 Post Road, Darien
When you have a craving for meat, let JoAnn Latoracca make a suggestion. “A hand-cut, grass-fed, certified Angus, hormone-free steak,” says the owner of The Water’s Edge. “The longbone [rib eye], king T-bone and porterhouse are popular, too. They don’t have all the rubs and salt. Just naked beef. They meet the ‘clean living’ standard everyone is going for.” That longbone weighs in at 42 ounces. The T-bone and the porterhouse weigh about 24 ounces. The big steaks are outselling the little ones these days, and Latoracca is not surprised. “If you’re doing all the right things to stay healthy then you shouldn’t deprive yourself.”
SONO HARBOR DELI & CAFE
50 Water Street, Norwalk
What makes this casual bistro different from the rest? Locals say owner Pete Tellidis doesn’t take shortcuts. He does things from scratch. If you order a corned beef hash benedict, for example, expect Tellidis’s homemade version, not some stuff in a can. You’ll get two eggs perfectly poached and hollandaise sauce made fresh in-house. “It’s not some huge batch that he lets sit there,” says waiter Jason Peterson. The meat-lovers omelet is the most popular dish, featuring three eggs stuffed with bacon, ham and sausage. Vying for second place on the popularity list is the challah bread French toast that’s loaded with bananas and Nutella. The plain pancakes are great, too. Plain? “Yes,” Peterson says. “Pete makes his own pancake batter. He doesn’t use a mix.”
A meal is more satsifying when you can enjoy it in good company. These venues offer good eats and a vibrant social scene.
128 Washington Street, Norwalk
Stroll all the way up Washington Street and you’ll find yourself on the Washington Street Bridge, over the Norwalk River, which feeds into the harbor. To the north is Oyster Shell Park, Oyster Shell Reach, Oyster Shell Point. Oysters are everywhere—everywhere, it seemed, but showcased in SoNo restaurants. Not any more. Saltwater Restaurant and Bar, which opened in August, celebrates mollusks with a full-time shucker at the L-shaped bar alongside the two bartenders. Customers stand shoulder to shoulder, drinking and slurping, especially at happy hour, when the management slashes the prices, throws open the garage door in front and lets the sea breeze into the dining room. Another oyster shooter with Waypoint vodka, coming up. “We wanted to focus on seafood,” says co-owner Carlos Lopez. “Seems natural for our location, doesn’t it?” Indeed. Meaty Copps Island oysters, a Norwalk mainstay since the 1940s, highlight a menu that offers everything from cioppino fish stew to grilled Narragansett squid to crispy cod and more. Just like at the beach, there’s plenty of people-watching, especially from the airy mezzanine. It’s the perfect spot to watch the crowd ebb and flow like the tide.
CHERRY STREET EAST
45 East Avenue, New Canaan
You won’t have to wait an hour for a table at John Bergin’s neighborhood joint. You can bring your picky sister, your foodie brother and your gluten-free grandma. Or you can slide into a booth or up to the cherry-wood bar and order a Bass on tap and a juicy burger and eat by yourself. Just as there’s no snazzy décor or food you can’t pronounce here, there’s no pretentiousness either. This local pub has been serving families since 1977, but that doesn’t mean they slack off in the kitchen. They grind their own turkey and beef burgers every day, and make their own toppings, like salsa and horseradish sauce. Bergin brings a bit of Britain to New Canaan with favorites like shepherd’s pie and beer-battered fish and chips. But mostly he serves family fare that’s harder and harder to find in town.”
89 Rowayton Avenue, Rowayton
The fish are jumping, the water is glistening and kayakers are paddling by, watching the diners who are packed on the patio at The Restaurant at Rowayton Seafood. They, in turn, watch the action on the water. Never mind that it’s a Monday afternoon in the fall. This scene rarely changes at the popular Rowayton eatery, which Kevin Conroy opened 21 years ago alongside Rowayton Seafood Market. The market supplies all the fresh fish to the restaurant, and the food is the primary allure, but the view and the vibe vie for second and third. “We can get 700-plus diners in a day on the patio,” says Jesse Ryan, a manager there. Some people call up to four months in advance to reserve the restaurant’s boat slip, he says, but mostly, it’s a neighborhood crowd. On occasion, they’ll have to wait up to two hours for a table. Do customers grow impatient? “Nah,” Jesse says. “They grab a spot at the bar, or they take their drink and wander around the patio. We have good food, excellent views and great people. What more can you ask for?”
86 Washington Street, Norwalk
One recent Thursday late in the afternoon, the dining room was already spilling outside at Tablao, the giant storefront windows open wide, the clatter and chatter reaching diners on the sidewalk and passersby on Washington Street. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” played in the background, the perfect soundtrack to the year-old restaurant’s happy hour, a half-price two-hour affair that slides into paella and sangria night, complete with a flamenco guitarist and dancer. This is no gimmicky guest-grab. Instead, it’s more like supper Spanish-style, where family and friends reach across the table and share what’s on the menu—sampling a bite of this, a bite of that—eating, sipping and socializing, with an equal emphasis on all three. Co-owner Galo Aleman has built a place where people can relate to each other and enjoy terrific tapas.
IN THE MIX
A great dining experience isn’t always about the main course. Here’s a shout-out to the drinks that deserve a special place on the menu.
980 Post Road, Darien
What a pity that in many circles, tequila, the Rodney Dangerfield of spirits, doesn’t get any respect. This doesn’t happen at Bodega, though, where they only serve the good stuff: tequila made from 100 percent pure agave, without the fillers, sugars and caramels that give this spirit its frat-house reputation. The tequila menu at Bodega features more than 80 brands, from simple to sultry—two ounces of the barrel-aged Gran Patrón Burdeos will set you back $75. Even the house drink, the Bodegarita, has as its source 100 percent agave. While a quality triple sec provides the mandatory hint of orange, it’s the fresh-squeezed lime juice—they squeeze 5,000 limes a week here—and the housemade agave syrup that provide the cocktail’s magic flavor. Says Manager Conor Grady, “People say they don’t like tequila. I say they haven’t had the right tequila.”
73 Elm Street, New Canaan
At Elm, Chef Luke Venner aims to be as creative with the wines as with the menu. On any given night, diners choose from more than 100 wines, and the offerings can change as quickly as the daily specials, with Gamays, Carménères and Italian orange wines alongside the more typical varieties. “I think it’s cool that I’ve turned over the whole cellar. I know how all those bottles go with my food,” says Venner. One reason they move so fast is that Venner eschews the triple or quadruple markup common at some restaurants. “Why would we buy all these bottles and then have them sit down there and collect dust? I’d rather have a much lower markup and give our guests a chance to experience something new.”
15 North Main, Norwalk
On Sundays during football season, more than two dozen big-screen TVs are blaring here. The restaurant is loud, fun and usually packed, just as co-owner Casey Dohme and his partners hoped it would be. Football fans can go anywhere to get a beer and watch a game, but this place offers 35 types of craft beer (20 on tap), plus all the standard beer brands, hard ciders, martinis, whiskeys, bourbons, ryes and more. Blind Rhino serves football staple foods, too— including wings, nachos, chili sliders and more—but with exceptional culinary care.
EMBODY FITNESS GOURMET
21 Forest Street, New Canaan
People used to ask Gillen Bryan who, exactly, he was targeting with his so-called fitness-inspired eatery Embody. The paleo dieters and cross-fitters? “People used to laugh at me when I said it transcends these categories,” he recalls. They’re not laughing anymore; people are lining up for green juice and protein shakes. Like many of us, Bryan was often on the go and trying to stay fit, but it was challenging to find a quick-service eatery with healthy options. So he built one, and then another, and another. Embody’s shakes serve as a meal on the go, a combination of protein, fat and the right carbohydrates.
77 Pine Street, New Canaan
“I once counted 28 places where you could get a cup of coffee in New Canaan,” says Doug Zumbach, who calls coffee the “beverage of friendship.” But for 25 years, customers from all walks of life come back time and again to fill their cups at his store. The reason? Zumbach roasts coffee in the shop all day long, combining different bean characteristics to develop the flavor profiles that customers appreciate. He sells more than 50 flavors and blends by the pound and it’s all fresh. Says Zumbach, “Why get used to drinking stale coffee?”