Category Archives: Restaurants

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.

 

The Last Splash?

Earlier this month, “06880″ reported that Positano’s — the restaurant at Old Mill — will be sold to a Greenwich developer. It will probably be torn down, and be rebuilt as a private home.

But word on the street — and the beach — is that’s it’s not the only waterfront restaurant in Westport set to close.

Splash’s demise has been rumored for several weeks.

Last night, an “06880″ reader dined at the Longshore spot. Here’s her report:

Last night we had a very unfortunate evening at Splash. I think we may be seeing the beginning of the end for this beautiful Westport spot. Service was slow, but this was exceptional. One family stood up to leave because their meal hadn’t come. We were told that the majority of the staff walked out and they haven’t been paid for weeks.

Can you find out what’s going on? Imagine if we lose Splash?

“06880″ will keep on this story. In the meantime: If you hear something, say something.

Will Splash live to see another Christmas?

Will Splash live to see another Christmas?

 

 

 

 

Qdoba Is No Longer The Newest Mexican Restaurant In Town

Last winter, word on the calle was that 2 popular Mexican restaurants were coming to town.

Qdoba came. Chipotle did not.

But when no one was looking, Señor Salsa snuck up on us.

Senor Salsa

The Westport outpost of the Fairfield-based Mexican grill just opened on Post Road West, at the corner of Sylvan Road South.

For years, that was the site of Connolly’s. During its long vacancy, there were rumors that Señor Salsa was coming in. Finally — long after everyone forgot — it’s happened.

The menu features burritos, tacos, fajitas, tamales, quesadillas and more. It seems on the Qdoba end of the scale — perhaps Cuatros Hermanos — rather than Bartaco or Villa del Sol, both of which are quite different from each other.

And then there’s Viva’s, which has been here since (it seems) Emiliano Zapata himself was alive.

But Westport’s restaurant scene is a big tent.

¡Bienvenidos, Señor Salsa!

Senor Salsa menu

(Photos by — and a hat tip to — alert and hungry “06880″ reader Lisa Shufro.)

Slice Is Nice!

Hundreds of Westporters — and many more out-of-towners — poured into the narrow streets of Saugatuck today.

They ambled along Riverside Avenue, Railroad Place and Saugatuck Avenue, enjoying our 3rd annual Slice of Saugatuck festival.

Food and drink was the main attraction. Over 25 restaurants and merchanats — including Viva’s, Mansion, Rainbow Thai, Craft Butchery, Saugatuck Sweets, The Duck, Chinese Takeout, Cuatros Hermanos — even 99 Bottles and Dunkin’ Donuts — offered treats.

But there was music too, ranging from School of Rock and folk to steel drums, along with stuff from hair salons, galleries and a tae kwan do place.

The weather was perfect. The vibe was cool.

And — because most people stayed off the roads — even the traffic was fine.

It was a fantastic slice of life, on a wonderful Sunday afternoon. With proceeds benefiting the Gillespie Center food pantry too, what’s not to like?

Tutti's was 1 of many Saugatuck restaurants dishing out some of its most popular items. Lines formed instantly, and stayed long.

Tutti’s was one of many Saugatuck restaurants dishing out some of its most popular items. Lines formed instantly, and stayed long.

The plaza between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk rocked all afternoon long.

The plaza between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk rocked all afternoon long.

What's a street festival without a bounce house? This one was in the Rizzuto's parking lot.

What’s a street festival without a bounce house? This one was in the Rizzuto’s lot.

Mr. Sausage showed up too, to help promote Saugatuck Craft Butchery's carnivorous samples.

Mr. Sausage showed up too, to help promote Saugatuck Craft Butchery’s carnivorous samples.

Downunder was busy all day, offering kayak and paddleboard rides. Nearby, boat owners tied up at the dock.

Downunder was busy all day, offering kayak and paddleboard rides. Nearby, boat owners tied up at the dock.

 

Positano’s To Change Hands — And More?

An Old Mill area resident writes:

My husband and I are devastated over rumors that Positano’s will be sold to a developer from Greenwich, to become a residential home.

I’m not sure how many people know that the wonderful owners of this restaurant fought to have 3 tables of outdoor seating a few years ago, but were denied due to a very few uptight neighbors. This devastated the owners.

Most of us in this area love them, and Positano’s. Having a restaurant on the beach in Westport is truly magical, even a necessity.

The number of marriage proposals that I’ve seen take place at Positano’s is a testament to the beauty of the space.

Positano's, on Hillspoint Road near Elvira's.

Positano’s, on Hillspoint Road near Elvira’s.

I can’t believe there aren’t more options for both food and festivities on the Sound. I have heard wonderful stories about Allen’s Clam House (now the Sherwood Mill Pond preserve).

Splash will now be the only water view restaurant on the Sound.

Today, I called Positano’s to track down the rumor. A representative said he could not confirm the potential sale, for a private residence. He said, however, they would “probably” move by the end of the year.

The Calm After The Storm

Once today’s storm passed, Fred Cantor headed to Compo Beach. Here’s the serene scene:

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

Plus, he reports, Joey’s was open.

Mario’s Adds Something New To Menu

Much about Mario’s is timeless. For 47 years it’s served the same great steaks and prime ribs, in the same place, to — in many cases — the same customers.

But on Sunday, September 14, something changes. For the 1st time in nearly half a century, Mario’s will serve brunch.

Sunday morning will soon be hopping at Mario's.

Sunday morning will soon be hopping at Mario’s.

For years, owner Lori Kosut says, customers have asked for the meal. She herself loves it. But, she says, “it just wasn’t something my father wanted to do.”

Lori’s father was Frank “Tiger” DeMace. A Westport legend, he opened Mario’s in 1967. And he owned and operated it until the day he died, in 2012.

“I am very proud of what my father built,” Laurie says. “I am proud that 3 generations of my family work here. Mario’s has always been a family restaurant.

“But as a mother, I don’t want to be home making breakfast for my family on a Sunday. That’s one of the changes I’m most excited about. I’ll be here for brunch just as often as my customers.”

Marios logoAs noted though, some things about Mario’s never change. To honor her family, her restaurant and her Saugatuck location’s heritage, the brunch menu will include Italian specialties.

Italian “French” toast, prosciutto di Parma omelets, eggs Benedict and Italian pastries lead the offerings. Non-Italian items include steak and eggs, bottomless mimosas and bloody Mary’s — all for $19.95.

“My father always insisted on keeping Mario’s affordable for families,” Laurie notes. “That will not change. Sundays are a day for family — whether it be a family of friends, or a family with children.”

That’s our Mario’s!

Blues, Views & BBQ Rocks Downtown

The 7th annual Blues, Views & BBQ Festival rocks Westport this weekend. Get ready for a kick-ass lineup of blues, rock, brass and funk music — plus fantastic food, and tons o’ stuff for the kids.

The Spin Doctors and Rick Derringer headline the stage acts. How did they — and many other Big Names — come to town? Westporter Crispin Cioe played a huge role.

Crispin Cioe gets ready to wail.

Crispin Cioe gets ready to wail.

Soon after he and his family moved here 13 years ago, Crispin met Bob Le Rose, The owner of Bobby Q’s and leader in the Downtown Merchants Association, Bob wanted to start a blues festival. Crispin — a longtime musician/ bandleader/ producer/songwriter — knew plenty of bands and agents.

Each year, the pair spends months discussing possible musical acts. They probably eat very well too.

When they hit on the idea of having the Spin Doctors star in Saturday’s show, Bob worried that the festival might stray too far from its blues-based foundation.

Crispin performed and hung out with the band in the 1990s. He knew they were “rootsy/funky/bluesy” — especially live — and that they’d gotten their start at the Wetlands club in Manhattan (a spawning ground for the jam band scene).

Listening to the band’s recent recorded work, they saw movement toward exactly the kind of music featured at Blues, Views & BBQ.

Spin Doctors will headline this year's Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

Spin Doctors will headline this year’s Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

Likewise, several years ago Crispin and Bob were searching for a way to feature well-known musicians who grew up here, and still live in the area. “Guitar god” Charlie Karp — a Westport native who played with Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Miles — helped assemble the Westport Heritage Blues Band, a special treat.

This year’s treats include Raw Oyster Cult, a New Orleans supergroup; the high-voltage, horn-drenched street band Big Sam’s Funky Nation; perennial favorite and guitar star Anders Osborne; blues slide guitarist Ms. Rory Block, and the formidable Popa Chubby.

Big Sam's Funky Nation will also perform at the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. (Photo/Adam McCullough)

Big Sam’s Funky Nation will also perform at the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. (Photo/Adam McCullough)

Crispin will play tenor sax with his old pal Bill Kirchen, guitarist and principal songwriter for Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen. The friends go back to the University of Michigan, where Commander Cody was formed.

Lately, Crispin has been working with legendary local band Cracked Ice, vocal great Darlene Love and producer Steven Van Zandt. But on Sunday (August 31) he’ll be at Blues, Views & BBQ, playing alto sax with Rick Derringer on the classic instrumental “Frankenstein.”

If you like great music, excellent barbecue and plenty of fun in your own hometown, you’ll be there too.

(For advance tickets and more information on the festival — which takes place at the Levitt Pavilion and the grounds of the Westport Library – click on http://www.bluesviewsbbq.com or call 203-505-8716. Gates open at 11 a.m. Music starts at noon, and goes straight through to 9:30 p.m.)

Any Way You Slice It…

Whatever goes around, comes around.

And on Sunday, September 14, a couple of thousand folks will go around and around in Saugatuck.

That’s the date for Slice of Saugatuck. All afternoon long, for just $10 ($5 for kids 6-12), people will wander up Riverside Avenue, along Railroad Place, and out Saugatuck Avenue. Every restaurant offers food; others businesses hand out coupons, gifts or anything else they want. There is bands, street artists and a bouncy house. It’s the best street party since, well, Festival Italiano.

The Slice of Saugatuck drew huge crowds in 2011 and 2012. (Photo by Terry Cosgrave)

The Slice of Saugatuck drew huge crowds in 2011 and 2012. (Photo by Terry Cosgrave)

It’s the 3rd “Slice” in 4 years, and that’s what the “goes around, comes around” line is all about.

RTM representative Matthew Mandell created the festival back in 2011. After 2 wildly successful years, he handed it off to the Chamber of Commerce. But the director did not see the benefit — for either the Chamber or the merchants — and last year the Slice was iced.

Now the Chamber of Commerce has a new executive director: Mandell. One of his 1st moves was to serve up the Slice.

Nice.

Saugatuck has always been about food. The Slice of Saugatuck festival is too.

Saugatuck has always been about food. The Slice of Saugatuck festival is too.

“It’s a quadruple win for the town,” Mandell explains.

“One, it brings people to Saugatuck, and promotes the merchants and the area.

“Two, it’s a fantastic community event. It’s great for people-watching, and it brings everyone together.”

“Three, it raises money for the homeless and hungry. The Homes With Hope Gillespie Food Pantry received $5,000 from the 2012 proceeds, and once again they’re our beneficiary.

“Four, we hire Homes with Hope residents to work at the festival.”

Slice of Saugatuck is not just about food. In 2012, free kayaks brought plenty of people to Downunder's riverside dock.

Slice of Saugatuck is not just about food. In 2012, free kayaks brought plenty of people to Downunder’s riverside dock.

Mandell seems to have thought of everything. Including — 4 years ago — the perfect name.

“Saugatuck is shaped like a slice of pizza,” he says. (It is, if you consider its boundaries to be the train station at one end, and the intersection of Riverside and Saugatuck Avenues the other.)

For many years, of course, Saugatuck was a thriving Italian neighborhood. There are still restaurants like Tutti’s and Julian’s, and quasi-Italian spots like
Tarry Lodge and Rizzuto’s. Mario’s and Tarantino’s are long-time classics. Dunville’s, Mansion, Viva and the Duck are not Italian, but they’ve outlasted even some of the oldtimers.

Newcomers like The Whelk, Rainbow Thai and Saugatuck Sweets — plus merchants like Downunder — have brought new life to the old area. So there will be plenty more free food than pizza available at the Slice.

Though I’m betting those slices will go real fast.