Starting with Le Farm — and continuing through the Whelk and Kawa Ni — Bill Taibe has offered diners 3 very different visions of what a great restaurant can be.
Now he’s preparing a new space.
It’s in Westport’s original Town Hall: the 1908 stone building next to Restoration Hardware on the Post Road, opposite Patagonia. The building already houses another dining spot — Rothbard Ale + Larder — in the lower level (once the town’s police headquarters, including a jail).
Westport’s original Town Hall, on the Post Road next to Restoration Hardware. It’s now home to Rothbard Ale + Larder — and, soon, a new Bill Taibe restaurant.
Even as he builds, Bill is not sure of the menu. The other day, CTBites reported:
“Westport needs a real old time tavern,” Taibe told us. Unlike his other restaurants, there will likely be few twists, no high wire acts. “This menu would probably not be as aggressive,” he suggested. “Unlike the Whelk and Kawa Ni, we’d even have red meat.”
He loves the downtown location, and the site’s historic bones. So even though his new, as-yet-unnamed restaurant is a work in progress, Bill knows one thing.
He’s asking Westporters for old photos of the 1st Town Hall. You can donate other memorabilia too: menus or anything else from produce markets, shops, butchers, bakers, and fish mongers.
Encouraged by the success of Michel Nischan and The Dressing Room, the noted chef saw in the narrow Colonial Green space a chance to open his own seasonal, locally sourced restaurant in a town he felt would support the concept.
Westport did. From the time it opened, Le Farm was busy and vibrant.
But after a few years, Taibe was no longer its working chef. He opened The Whelk, featuring sustainable seafood and local produce in the newly developed Saugatuck Center.
An immediate success, that spawned Taibe’s 3rd restaurant: Kawa Ni, a creative Japanese-fusion place around the corner, in Bridge Square.
Now Taibe is back to only 2 Westport restaurants. Despite its success, he closed Le Farm. He felt he’d reached his goals there, and now wants to serve more people than he could in just an 850-square-foot space. He has embraced the title of “restaurateur.”
“I’m 40 years old,” he says. “I started working in a butcher shop at 16, and in restaurants at 20. I find great joy in finding great chefs. These days, I’m more of a ‘creative director.’ Le Farm no longer fit in that plan.”
Le Farm, in Colonial Green.
He did not just dump the spot, though. He sold it to Brian Lewis, an excellent chef at Elm in New Canaan, who had been looking for his own restaurant.
“He’s super-talented, and sources his food well,” Taibe says. Lewis will open a new restaurant there in mid- to late-November.
It will be “a cool, casual incarnation” of the space, Taibe adds. “He may add more of a bar.”
It won’t be called Le Farm., though. Taibe retains rights to that name.
“There were lots of tears when I told the staff and customers,” Taibe says of the closing. “It’s a special place, and it’s important to a lot of people.”
Meanwhile, he’s on a hunt for his next — and bigger — Westport property.
Patch is not exactly at the forefront of Westport media. That’s not surprising, since it is was owned by AOL — you know, the company that back in the last century was for a while the world’s largest distributor of CDs.
Kids! Ask your parents what these were!
But the other day someone sent me a link to Patch’s list of the Top 10 Restaurants in Westport (according to Yelp).
It must have been a slow news day over at Patch. But hey — it’s a slow news day at “06880” too!
So here is the Yelp list.
There’s no arguing with #10 and 9: Acqua and Via Sforza. Kibberia is #8, though I’d bump this great Middle Eastern spot a few notches higher.
Some of the many intriguing dishes at Kibberia.
#7 is Rainbow Thai, in Bridge Square. I’m glad it’s not overlooked.
Checking in at #6 is Yamafuji, which apparently is a sushi place across from Super Stop & Shop. I’ve never heard of it, but Yelpers give it rave reviews.
The Top 5 is where things get a little odd.
Yelp’s 5th most popular restaurant in Westport is Gold’s Delicatessen. Sure, it’s been around since Moses. And yeah, the lox and bagels are good. But when was the last time you heard anyone say answer “Gold’s!” to the question, “We’re looking for a really good restaurant in Westport. What do you recommend?”*
Bill Taibe — owner of Le Farm and The Whelk — will open his 3rd Westport restaurant early this summer.
CT Bites reports that the site is the short-lived Bistro 88 space in Bridge Square — formerly Peter’s Bridge Market. It’s just a few steps away from The Whelk in Saugatuck Center.
Bill Taibe serves up octopus and squid at The Whelk.
Taibe — much beloved for his fierce dedication to locally sourced farms and distributors — told the food blog that the new spot will “take its culinary and design inspiration” from Japanese pubs. The emphasis is on small dishes, and great drinks.
He called it an Asian version of The Whelk — including a communal table — offering a mix of Japanese and Chinese dishes. You can also buy a bottle, write your name on it and store it for later.
Saugatuck has been on the culinary map for a couple of years now. In June, a new kitchen warms up — and the area will be even hotter.
In it, something else is out: Westport as a culinary capital.
The free paper’s survey covers a broad array of categories: restaurants, bars and clubs, drinks and eating (as in “best buffalo wings,” “best burrito,” “best falafel”…).
For those of us clinging to the idea that Westport’s got all best places in Fairfield County, I have 3 words: Get over it.
According to the Weekly’s readers, Fairfield reigns as county king. Our eastern neighbor won 30 categories — 32, if you count Southport as separate, which the paper did. (Southport Brewing Company won for Best Brew Pub, Coromandel for Best Indian Restaurant.)
In 2nd place was Stamford (27 winners). The great gastronomic metropolis of Bridgeport came in 3rd (14).
Norwalk had 10 winners. We were 1 back, with 9.
Actually, only 5 separate places made the cut — 3 won multiple categories.
The good news is that Le Farm picked up the big prize — Best Restaurant Overall — along with Best Chef (congrats, Bill Taibe).
Splash was a triple victor — Best Place for Brunch, Best Restaurant With a Water View, Best Restaurant With Outdoor Dining. (The last 2 are not, technically speaking, culinary awards.)
Our only other double winner was — ah, how the mighty have fallen — Five Guys. It captured Best Burger and Best Fries honors, which are culinary awards (technically speaking).
Sakura won for Best Japanese Restaurant. Our other champ, meanwhile, took Fairfield Weekly’s version of the Oscars’ Best Key Grip: Crumbs has the Best Cupcakes.
(Well, it should. How many cupcake specialty shops are there around here?)
When the busboy fills your glass, some people see it as half-empty. They would say that — culinarily speaking — Westport has gotten really, really dead.
I prefer to see the glass as half-full. I think Westporters are too busy dining in our many fine establishments to fill out some dumb-ass survey.
If the term “farmers’ market” conjures up images of outdoor tables laden with fresh tomatoes and corn, you haven’t paid attention to the local sustainable food movement.
It’s year-round now. And even that summertime staple, the Westport Farmers’ Market, is going 24/7/365. Or at least 3/1/365.
They’ve teamed up with Gilbertie’s Herb Garden to provide “the hottest winter farmers’ market around” (ho ho ho). Starting this Thursday (Dec. 9), and continuing every week through March 31, the Farmers’ Market will be open at 7 Sylvan Lane. Hours are 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
It wouldn’t be a farmers’ market — at least not in Westport — without organic vegetables, greenhouse greens, eggs, milk, indoor plants, tamales (of course), wood-fired pizza (ditto), cheese, baked goods, pork, chicken, lamb, beef, gluten-free options, raw food choices, and more.
More than 25 vendors have signed on — and so have “this area’s hottest chefs.” Boxcar Cantina, the Dressing Room, Fat Cat Pie, Le Farm, Schoolhouse and Skinny Pines will provide lunch items, and prepared food to bring home.
Those chefs were not chosen randomly. All provide local, healthy, environmental and sustainable food in their restaurants.
The Farmers’ Market will also feature a lecture, short class or tour. Topics range from making a holiday wreath to determining the best soil for your plant.
As it does during the summer, the Westport Farmers’ Market will donate food to the Bridgeport Rescue Mission. “Chef Paul” will prepare weekly meals, and offer a shopping day for those in need with donated goods. Anyone attending the Market can donate too.
So, the weather outside may be frightful. But let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. You can still get your organic veggies, greenhouse greens and Farmers’ Market tamales right here in Westport, all winter long.
Farmers like to grow things. They don’t like to market, advertise and transport them.
Bill Taibe likes to cook. He loves using local ingredients — the fresher the better.
The convergence of area farmers and Taibe is good news for diners — and not just fans of Le Farm, Taibe’s Colonial Green restaurant that earns raves for showcasing market-based food cooked and presented in a homey, comfortable and very sustainable atmosphere.
Bill Taibe wears his convictions on his chest.
Thanks to RSA — “Restaurant Supported Agriculture,” a concept that Taibe knows needs a zippier name — 5 local restaurants now offer the best in local products. Banding together, they guarantee farmers a market for their goods.
Promising to buy takes pressure off the farmers. They reciprocate by planting what the chefs request. Make no mistake: It’s not just lettuce, tomatoes and corn anymore.
Taibe — who built 2 previous restaurants on the barter system, and admits he “may have been born in the wrong century” — explains that RSA is based on the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model currently enjoyed by many Westporters at the Wakeman Town Farm.
RSA is less structured –shares are not bought in advance from farmers — but the concept is similar.
By 4 p.m. each Monday the chefs respond with their own list: what they want.
The farmers pick the crops on Tuesday morning; by 2:30 that afternoon GVI volunteers have gathered it, transported it back to Wakeman Farm, and it’s ready for pick-up by the restaurateurs.
“We sit around there for half an hour talking, eating each other’s tomatoes, and sharing ideas,” Taibe says. “It’s fantastic. Do you know how hard it is to get 5 chefs together any time?”
Then they head back to their restaurants, to cook.
Taibe enjoys working with RSA partners. “There’s a lot of jealousy and competition in this business,” he admits. “But people don’t eat at just 1 restaurant. They go to other places. I prefer they go to places with like-minded owners and chefs.”
Taibe gives huge props to GVI. “They get nothing out of this, other than fulfilling their passion. I only wish to be so good-hearted.”
He also loves the “circular economy” that RSA helps develop.
“This gives hard-working farmers a guaranteed place to sell their products,” Taibe says. “If we can get them delivered to us, they can stay and do what they do best. And not worry about the rest.”
The Hickories in Ridgefield and Stone Gardens in Shelton are RSA’s 1st mainstay farms. Soon, Taibe hopes to add milk, cheeses — and maybe protein and livestock — to the list of farms.
Right now, he says, “We need farmers to trust us, so they can plant what we want. Everyone today grows a lot of the little stuff — kale, bell peppers, whatever’s safe. We want to branch out.
“The key is for us to guarantee we’ll purchase what they buy.”
He hopes to continue the concept through the winter. “Farmers have greenhouses,” he notes. “We’ll keep getting products from around the state.”
RSA is, Taibe says, “a really simple formula. It’s sure to grow.”
And, like all the food prepared and served so freshly and creatively at the 5 RSA restaurants, it will grow with love, care and goodness.
No, it’s not a teenager’s lament on the lame life in the Land of Steady Habits.
CTBites.com is a blog — a clever, wide-ranging, sometimes-irreverent-but-always-interesting look at food in Fairfield County.
That’s food in all its forms.
There are pages on:
Eating In (recipes, cooking classes)
Eating Out (restaurants, food festivals and farm events, wine tastings, chef comings and goings)
Ingredients (ice cream names, green tips to reduce your carbon footprint)
Kids Bites (teaching children to cook; family-friendly joints)
Gadgets (onion goggles, coffee makers)
Food Talk (forums on the best pizza place, best bartenders, and everything in between)
CTBites is the brainchild of Stephanie Webster. A New Yorker-turned-Seattleite, she’s lived in Westport for not quite 2 years. But she’s already nailed our food scene.
She launched her blog last July, after realizing that — unless New York and Seattle — Fairfield County foodies did not frequent Yelp.
Or any other restaurant review blog.
In just 10 months, CTBites has grown “exponentially,” Stephanie says. She’s added food-loving, good-writing friends as contributors. They attract about 7,000 unique visitors a month — and it’s almost all by word of mouth.
Now, Stephanie says, she’s ready to turn her attention to really marketing — and monetizing — her blog.
The restaurant reviews are the initial draw for readers, and the most popular pages. “We’re not the standard Patricia Brooks/New York Times reviews,” Stephanie notes. “We get down to the nitty gritty.”
Readers like the blog’s community feel. CT Bites has sponsored monthly prix fixe lunches, where contributors and foodies meet and mingle.
CTBites.com sponsored a prix fixe lunch at The Dressing Room.
So how is the food scene in Fairfield County?
“Considerably better than I thought,” Stephanie answers quickly. “I like the hidden gems. Places like Le Farm are excellent, but I also like places like Bereket. It’s a Turkish restaurant behind a gas station in Bridgeport, and it looks like a complete dive. But it’s just like being in Istanbul.
“This isn’t Manhattan, where you’ve got a great place every 2 blocks. But there are plenty of good places around.”
Stephanie finds the the farm-to-table movement “exciting.” She’s also excited by the recent move of John Holzwarth, former executive chef at The Dressing Room, to The Boathouse at the Saugatuck Rowing Club.
“People love that there’s something out there — a window on Fairfield County,” Stephanie says of her site.
“And it goes both ways. Farmers and chefs like being part of the dialogue too.”
Stephanie Webster is happy to give them — and everyone else in Fairfield County who eats — something to chew on.
In honor of today’s holiday, “06880” shines a light on “On the Green.” Like many aspects of the green movement, it’s local, little-publicized — and potentially very important and impactful.
“On the Green” is a wiki — a collaborative, interactive website — where users share ideas, information and thoughts about sustainable environmentalism.
Nancy Kuhn-Clark — a Westport Public Library reference librarian — started “On the Green” in 2007. She and library director Maxine Bleiweis wanted to cover environmental issues locally, inclusive and creatively.
“We figured no one needed another boring list of books,” Nancy — a realistic librarian — says.
Find "green parenting" books on the wiki.
“On the Green” is anything but boring. Topics include organic gardening, green homes, green parenting (“green mothers,” there’s a blog for you!) and green pets (as in natural dog food).
There are links to green restaurants like Sugar & Olives, The Dressing Room and Le Farm; sections on farmers markets, green businesses, green products and green travel (who knew there is such a thing as a green RV?).
The “Green Gifts” section includes ideas like tree seedlings, eco-clothes and compact fluorescent light bulbs (“You’re so sweet — these bulbs are just what I wanted!”).
Westport-specific information includes “Westport Library Greener Than Ever,” the Green Village Initiative, and our plastic bag ban.
The wiki is a work in progress — the “Discussion” and “Video” pages are a bit thin — but there is plenty here to feast on (organically, of course).
Here's what a green RV looks like.
Nancy’s background is in English and education — not environmentalism — though in her hippie days she held build a log cabin in Nova Scotia, cooked on a wood-burning stove, and planted organic veggies long before green became the new black.
“On the Green” is mentioned on the Library’s home page, and appears in its newsletter. Mostly it’s marketed by word of mouth. It got a boost in 2008 when Wetpaint — the wiki’s software host — awarded it a Golden Paint Can as “Civic Superstar.”
Celebrate Earth Day by checking out “On the Green.” Nancy Kuhn-Clark thanks you — as does the planet.
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Or Zelle: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!)