Category Archives: Restaurants

Sugar & Olives Opens Its Own Farmers’ Market

Sugar & Olives may be Westport’s best-kept culinary secret.

Okay, it’s just over the Norwalk line on Lois Street, off Route 1. But it’s owned by Westporter Jennifer Balin, and it’s attracted a loyal (if quiet) corps of local food aficionados.

Now, the funky dining room/cocktail bar/coffee bar/cooking classroom/caterer is adding a farmers’ market.

Sugar & Olives

Called “Farms and a Market,” it runs Fridays through February. It’s indoor, and is open rain (or snow) or shine. Food trucks also serve up goodies outside.

The farmers practice non-GMO, and maintain organic standards if they’re not certified. Offerings include locally produced milk, eggs, cheese, honey, flour, grains, produce, meat and other provisions.

Sounds like the only things you can’t get at the Sugar & Olives farmers’ market is, well, sugar and olives.

 

 

 

Hey, Guest Bartender!

If restaurants can have a guest chef, I guess bars can have a guest bartender.

Today (Thursday, November 13, 8 p.m.) Steve Schneider slips into that role at Dunville’s.

It’s a way of celebrating the renovations the popular Saugatuck spot has made. Co-owner Stephen Carpentieri calls it “Dunville’s 2.o.”

“Carpi” and Schneider are no strangers to each other. They co-starred in “Hey Bartender,” the award-winning documentary directed by Doug Tirola and produced by Susan Bedusa. Both are longtime Westporters.

Steve Schneider

Steve Schneider

The film examines the 2 Steves — Schneider and Carpentieri — as they try to achieve their dreams through bartending. It’s available on Showtime, Netflix and iTunes.

Since the theatrical release, Schneider has flown to London, Berlin, Russia, Asia and Australia. He’s guest-bartended at the top spots in the world.

Tonight he adds Dunville’s to the list.

 

Breaking Restaurant News: Positano’s Replaces Dressing Room At Playhouse

Old Mill’s loss is the Westport Country Playhouse’s gain.

Positano’s — the much-loved-but-too-seldom-visited restaurant kitty-corner from Elvira’s — is closing at its Old Mill Beach location. “06880″ broke that news 2 months ago.

Positano's, at Old Mill Beach near Elvira's.

Positano’s, at Old Mill Beach near Elvira’s.

But it’s reopening in February, next to the Westport Country Playhouse. That’s the space was occupied for 8 years by The Dressing Room. The Paul Newman-created restaurant closed last January.

The Dressing Room, next to the Westport Country Playhouse.

The Dressing Room, next to the Westport Country Playhouse.

Positano’s has been owned and operated by the Scarpati family for more than 15 years. Owner Giuseppe Scarpati was born on the island of Ponza, Italy. He learned to cook from his father, who studied with master chefs in Italy and was one of the island’s leading fisherman. Giuseppe focuses on all-natural cooking.

Under chef Michel Nischan, the Dressing Room was Fairfield County’s 1st farm-to-table restaurant.

So Positano’s stands poised to carry on that natural tradition — right next door to the 83-year-old Playhouse, with its own venerable history.

But the question remains: Will the tradition of an Old Mill Beach restaurant now be history, replaced by a large and imposing private home?

A Developing Story

Ever since the Wright Street and Gorham Island buildings were erected in the 1970s — and those were quite some erections — Westport has been consumed by construction.

Even so, 2014 stands out as a landmark year.

Here are some of the developments — as in, real estate developments — that have occurred in the past few months. Or are occurring right now.

  • The Y moved into its new home. The Kemper-Gunn House is being moved across Elm Street to the parking lot, and Bedford Square will soon rise downtown.
  • The Levitt Pavilion finally completed its renovation. Nearby, plans for Jesup Green — with possibly reconfigured parking, a new Westport Arts Center and a renovated library — are in the works. And, of course, committees and commissions have been talking all year about new ideas for all of downtown.
  • Across the river, Save the Children has skedaddled. That fantastic waterfront property will be redeveloped, such as the adjacent Bartaco/National Hall buildings have been reimagined recently.
The west side of the Saugatuck River is also part of the new downtown plan. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer for DowntownWestportCT.com)

The west side of the Saugatuck River includes the old National Hall and the relatively new Wright Street building. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer for DowntownWestportCT.com)

  • Compo Acres Shopping Center is being renovated. The Fresh Market shopping center — and the one across the Post Road, with Dunkin’ Donuts — will get a facelift (and new tenants) soon.
  • Applications have been made for housing on the site of the Westport Inn. Across town, there are rumors of new housing on Hiawatha Lane, near I-95 Exit 17.
  • Senior housing has been shot down on Baron’s South. But it won’t remain undisturbed forever.
  • Phase II of Saugatuck Center has been completed. Phase III — on  Railroad Place — is coming down the tracks.

That’s a lot — as in, lots of building lots.

And nearly 2 months still remain in this year.

P.S. Oh, yeah. The beach too.

 

Another Little Kitchen

How many little kitchens — er, Little Kitchens — can Westport support?

At least 2.

There’s the pan-Asian place in Compo Shopping Center. Up sprouts Leera Little Thai Kitchen, which is taking over the “Make & Mingle” storefront across from the old post office.

(Photo and hat tip/JP Vellotti)

(Photo and hat tip/JP Vellotti)

That strip of Post Road East was once home to La Villa (before that, Mr. Sandwich), S&M (and later Joe’s) Pizza, Baskin-Robbins and Häagen-Dazs.

Now there’s Finalmente, Post 154, Blue Lemon and Westport Pizzeria. Plus Leera Little Thai Kitchen.

Very quietly, that section of town is becoming a foodie’s destination. Who knew?

Pete Aitkin Buys A New Black Duck

If you know the Black Duck — and who doesn’t? — you know the popular riverfront barge/bar/restaurant/hangout shares a name with the Black Duck racing boat.

Owner Pete Aitkin just received his latest toy: a custom-built 30-foot twin 300-horse Merc speedboat.

Last night, the Duck docked at the Duck.

This morning, Pete pulled it out of the water at Compo. He’ll store it till next year.

The Black Duck, with Pete Aitken at the helm.

The Black Duck, with Pete Aitkin at the helm.

The Black Duck — food version — put Westport on the “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” map.

The maritime Black Duck did the same for offshore boat racing.

Tutti’s, Tarantino’s, Tarry Lodge: Top that!

(Hat tip: Randy Chiristophersen)

How Much Does It Cost To Buy A Beachfront Restaurant In Westport?

$2 million.

That’s the price “233 LLC” recently paid “Beachhouse LLC” for the property at 233 Hillspoint Road — aka Positano’s.

If the rumors that the waterfront restaurant will be turned into a private home are true, it will mark the 1st new residence on that stretch of Hillspoint Road since the pavilion on Schlaet’s Point was demolished 3 decades ago.

Positano's, on Hillspoint Road near Elvira's, may soon go the way...

Positano’s, on Hillspoint Road near Elvira’s, may soon go the way…

 

...of the old pavilion at Schlaet's Point, just around the curve closer to Soundview Drive.

…of the old pavilion at Schlaet’s Point, just around the curve close to Soundview Drive.

 

What’s Up With This Mansion?

Word on the street — Riverside Avenue — was that Mansion Clam House may have closed.

It was shut Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. There’s no activity today. The sign in front of the building is gone, and the exterior lights have been on for a few days. It looks deserted.

But folks in the know say Mansion will try to open on Friday.

Let’s hope it’s just a bump in the road — Riverside Avenue — for this long-lived, much-loved Westport institution.

Mansion Clam House

Mansion Clam House (file photo).

 

Get Your Fixe At Restaurant Week

Positano’s and Splash are rumored to be on the doomed list. Westporters will hate to see them go.

Yet — in this dog eat dog(ho ho)  world — restaurants open and close all the time. Our dining scene is alive and well.

To show off what’s out there, the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring “Restaurant Week.”

It runs from this Sunday (October 5) through October 19. Alert “06880″ readers will notice that is actually 2 weeks, not 1, but there’s nothing wrong with under-promising and over-delivering.

Arezzo -- one of Westport's most popular restaurants -- is among the many spots offering special Restaurant Week menus.

Arezzo — one of Westport’s most popular restaurants — is among the many spots offering special Restaurant Week menus.

Each of the 27 participating restaurants offers a prix fixe meal. Lunches are $15, $20 or $25; dinners, $25, $30 or $35. Brunch starts at $20.

Restaurant Week participants include 323 Main; Acqua, Arezzo; Artisan at the Delamar; Blue Lemon; Boathouse; DaPietro’s; Geronimo; Gray Goose; Little Barn; Mario’s; Matsu Sushi; Mumbai Times; Pane e Bene; Pink Sumo; Post 154; Rive Bistro; Rizzuto’s; Sakura; Spotted Horse; Tarantino; Tarry Lodge; Tavern on Main; Terrain; Tierra; Tutti’s, and Via Sforza.

Two specialty cocktail venues — Luxe and Neat — serve pre-dinner drinks and nightcaps.

It’s a good thing Restaurant Week is really 2 weeks. With a little planning (and figuring in brunch and drinks), you can try every spot.

(For more information — including menus — click on the Chamber’s website.)

Jamie Graves Is A Sommelier, For Goodness’ Sake

This story is for anyone who drinks sake at Sakura. Or worries whether their unconventional kid will do okay in life.

Or — for teenagers and 20somethings — if you yourself wonder where your path may lead.

At Staples, Jamie Graves played bass in the jazz band and skied on the boys team. He graduated from Oberlin in 2002 with a major in modern history, a minor in East Asian studies, and no idea what to do next.

Jamie Graves

Jamie Graves

He got a job teaching English in a Japanese elementary school. When his year was up, Jamie found an entry-level position as a cook in a Western-style restaurant outside Tokyo.

For the next 3 years he studied cooking in several restaurants, learning how to make soba noodles. He also passed high-level written and oral Japanese exams.

Jamie moved to New York in 2007, to be a freelance translator and writer. To make ends meet he worked at Kajitsu, a high-end restaurant. Inspired by the chef, he realized he could make that his career.

He was asked to be an opening manager at David Bouley’s Brushstroke, a prestigious Tribeca restaurant that was a showcase for Japanese tasting menus. He was responsible for daily operations, hiring and training staff, and translating.

Brushstroke’s sommeliers were tremendously knowledgeable about both wine and sake, and Jamie was an avid pupil. He learned how to taste, describe, store and serve sake.

sakamaiHe’s now general manager and sommelier of Sakamai, a creative place with one of the biggest and most interesting sake menus in New York (along with a small, curated wine list).

As a sommelier, he guides diners through wine and sake lists toward something right for their budget.

A good sommelier, Jamie says, is “empathetic, a great reader of people, can translate what someone is saying into what they actually what, and knows when to push for something unusual and when to play it safe.”

Jamie is certainly a good — if not great — sommelier.

When he learned that the Japan-based Sake Service Institute was sponsoring its 4th World Sake Sommelier Competition, he entered.

He didn’t expect much. But Jamie won the New York regional competition, earning a trip to Tokyo for the semis and finals. He visited a few sake breweries, then prepared for the event on September 19.

Of the 25 semifinalists, 20 were from Japan. Jamie was one of 3 Americans.

The press was out in force for the sake sommelier competition.

The press was out in force for the sake sommelier competition. Jamie is at the podium.

For the semis he was given 10 minutes to taste and evaluate 4 types of sake, and 4 of shochu (a Japanese spirit like a mild vodka). He examined a food menu, then stepped into a service situation to advise a couple ordering dinner on pairing and drink suggestions.

Then came a 5-minute oral presentation on explaining and promoting sake. Jamie spoke in Japanese.

The next day, he was announced as one of 10 finalists — the only American to advance.

The final took place in front of 150 spectators, plus journalists from national papers and magazine. Each contestant tasted a glass of sake without knowing about it; they had to identify aroma, color, taste and style, and declare ideal food pairings and possible maker.

That was followed by another mock service with a couple ordering dinner, and a 1-minute summation speech. All that took less than 10 minutes.

Jamie did not win. But he was 1 of 3 finalists named “Tokubetsu-sho” (honorable mention). The judges particularly liked his food pairing speech.

Jamie Graves, proud American at the sake sommelier competition.

Jamie Graves, proud American at the sake sommelier competition.

So how does all this tie back to Westport, and not knowing in high school what your life will be like?

“I’ve always thought that several teachers at Staples, including Karl Decker and Dave Scrofani, were some of the best I’ve ever had,” Jamie says.

“They constantly challenged me to be curious and not settle for easy answers. They also showed me how to be self-disciplined, and truly understand a subject inside and out. That’s helped me in studying Japanese, and learning wine and sake, both of which came outside an academic environment.”

Jamie also appreciates that his time at Staples was “absolutely suffused with music, playing in jazz band and informally with other students. It really taught me how to listen, and gave me an ear for the rhythms of speaking Japanese.”

So, parents and teenagers: Don’t worry about an unclear career path. Enjoy today, and drink in all that’s around you.

Preferably with sake.