Tag Archives: The Dressing Room

Dressing Room Ends Its Run

This message was posted today by founder-owner Michel Nischan on the website of The Dressing Room — his very popular (and quite cleverly named) restaurant next to the Westport Country Playhouse. 

After 8 great years and hundreds of thousands of delicious, local and sustainable farm-direct meals, Dressing Room Restaurant has closed. Founded by internationally renowned chef Michel Nischan and the late actor Paul Newman in 2006, the restaurant was Fairfield County’s first farm-to-table restaurant.

Michel Nischan at the Dressing Room, with a portrait of co-founder Paul Newman.

Michel Nischan at the Dressing Room, with a portrait of co-founder Paul Newman.

We thank our customers who shared our passion and genuine interest in supporting regional growers and responsible farming methods. As a result of their loyal support, and the resulting successful 8-year run of the restaurant, there are now nearly a dozen farm-to-table restaurants gracing discerning Fairfield County palates while supporting Connecticut agriculture.

Dressing Room Restaurant received numerous awards and accolades in the local and national food press, including one of Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 95 New Restaurants in the World” (2006) and recognition for “The Best Burger in America” by Steve Raichlen, USA Today (2010). This is a testimony to meals made with the best locally grown, artisanal and organic foods.

The Dressing Room.

The Dressing Room.

Lori and I want to thank our talented staff and their families, whose selfless dedication to our cause made the vision a reality. Nearly every team member was with us from the very beginning, and each nurtured their guests with a sense of genuine hospitality not seen in many restaurants today.

When Paul and I founded the restaurant, we wanted to change in the way people thought about food. We believed that all people should be able to put the same ripe tomato on their family’s table, regardless of their income

Lori and I will always hold Dressing Room Restaurant dear in our hearts. Our talented culinary and service team made it one of the most amazing restaurants ever to grace Connecticut. We operated as a family unit, bonded together by a strong set of core values and love of good food.

Wholesome Wave logoWith a more deeply dedicated focus on Wholesome Wave [the national non-profit founded by Nischan to help underserved urban and rural communities gain more affordable access to healthy, locally grown foods while supporting the small and mid-sized American farmers], I am proud that more people will have access to amazing meals. We encourage you to support farm-to-table restaurants, farmers’ markets, and healthier food choices. After all, it’s all about food. Good, pure, affordable, wholesome, delicious, local food. For everyone!

Reached tonight, Michel told “06880”: “Lori and I have been thinking this over for a while. Wholesome Wave is ready to explode. The Dressing Room was awesome and wonderful, but I reached a point where I need to devote all my time to one thing. Wholesome Wave is what I want to do when I grow up.”

Michel Nischan’s Prescription To Eliminate Diabetes

Westporters know Michel Nischan as the founder and owner of The Dressing Room, the restaurant next to the Westport Country Playhouse that was local, sustainable and organic before those 3 words were trending.

But he’s also the president and CEO of Wholesome Wave Foundation, a nonprofit that helps low-income people obtain healthy, fresh and affordable locally grown food.

Plus, he’s the father of a son who, more than a decade ago, was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes.

Michel Nischan

Michel Nischan

That was around the time that Nischan was commuting to a fancy New York restaurant. The subway was filled with people who could not afford the expensive meals he was creating for elite, affluent diners.

That realization, he said last week on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” nearly made him quit the restaurant business entirely.

Instead, he teamed up with doctors — his son’s, and others. Nischan thought that if they could prescribe healthy food and exercise — and not simply medicine — diseases like diabetes could be controlled. And perhaps, even reversed.

Today, Wholesome Wave has piloted a program in 7 states. It offers free produce, plus tips on cooking and economizing.

Wholesome Wave logoAt a pilot program in the Bronx, NPR said, participants receive a prescription that can be swapped for Health Bucks — $1 per day, for each person in the family — accepted at 140 farm markets in the city. That means a family of 4 gets $28 of free produce a week.

“It’s a little unusual,” admits a Lincoln Hospital pediatrician, because doctors are accustomed to writing prescriptions for drugs.

But it works. A 14-year-old girl used to gorge on chips, candy, soda and ice cream. She told NPR that she’d never eaten a pear or cantaloupe.

Over the past year, she tried peppery radishes and greens. She lost more than 20 pounds, and she thinks her taste buds are changing. “I don’t know how to explain it, but [the fresh food] tastes better.”

From his own son’s diabetes, Michel Nischan has planted the seeds of a national, wholesome wave of nutritional, wholesome eating.

To listen to the NPR “All Things Considered” interview, click here or below:

http://www.wnyc.org/widgets/ondemand_player/#file=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wnyc.org%2Faudio%2Fxspf%2F317973%2F;containerClass=wnyc

From The West Village To Westport: 1 Year Later

A year ago April, I posted a story about a woman I’d never met. She was a native Californian who spent the last 7 years in Greenwich Village; a freelance graphic designer with a great portfolio, and the mother of a 2-year-old girl.

The family — well, the little kid had no say — were thinking of moving to the ‘burbs. They were looking at 2 towns: Westport and Darien.

She asked me what she’d find here. I deferred to the collective wisdom of “06880” readers.

Alli DiVincenzo

Alli DiVincenzo

Some people advised her to stay put. Others bashed Darien. But the majority of responders offered thoughtful, wide-ranging, realistic reasons for her to come to 06880.

Things happened quickly. Within 2 months Alli DiVincenzo, her husband Glenn and young Capri found a house and closed. On June 22 they moved to Green’s Farms.

The other day, Alli emailed again.

Did she bear good news? Was she aching for the city — or California?

Read on:

I can’t believe it’s been just over a year since you came to my curious rescue about the town of Westport. You graciously posted my cry for help and opened the blogwaves to your readers for their opinions.

The responses not only hit every geographical touch point, but many emotional ones as well. Your readers are passionate. I thank you and all of them again for enlightening us on the good, the bad and the ugly –although I have yet to witness anything truly “ugly” in this town. Even the seagulls are pristine.

My sister visited last week. She described Westport as “Perfectville!” (She acknowledged that she has yet to experience a winter here.)

Alli's neighborhood, near Burying Hill Beach. (Photo by Alli DiVincenzo)

Alli’s neighborhood, near Burying Hill Beach. (Photo by Alli DiVincenzo)

Lots has happened to Alli in a year.

For one thing, Capri now has a baby brother. Will was born 9 months to the day after Alli and Glenn moved here. (Ahem. I refuse to go there.)

He’s got a longer-than-he-realized commute to New York. But she set up a home studio. Thanks to tons of people she’d just met, but who were eager to refer her, her AlliQDesign firm has plenty of projects. She worked with Westport Invitations; designed a poster for Amy Oestreicher‘s Gutless and Grateful show, and did graphics for the Westport Library‘s Great Gatsby Party. A mother at Capri’s pre-school sent 3 clients Alli’s way.

The neighbors on her cul-de-sac were very welcoming. She was invited to a Christmas party, and they threw her a baby shower plus a baby welcome brunch.

Her neighborhood features a long-running book club, filled with women who are “smart, beautiful, strong and successful, each in her own way.” A neighbor introduced her to the staff at the Westport Country Playhouse; she’s been to every play since. 

Alli and Capri, with holiday plants at Terrain.

Alli and Capri, with holiday plants at Terrain.

Alli and Capri went on the Wakeman Town Farm chicken coop tour. The family has explored Earthplace, the beaches, and canoed on Sherwood Mill Pond. Alli calls Westport’s resources and recreational activities “beyond any scope we’ve ever known.”

Alli loves the open spaces — and the fact that people don’t hide in it. Last week she chatted with a man pushing a stroller. He works on environmental issues. “People here do very interesting things,” she says.

For a while, she and Glenn thought Bobby Q’s was the only place to eat. They’ve since discovered the Whelk, the Dressing Room and many others. The variety of restaurants was “a pleasant surprise,” Alli says.

This summer — for the 1st time ever — the family is not going anywhere. They just want to enjoy their new home town. After all, Alli says, “It’s like a vacation spot.”

She admits downtown is “a bit sleepy.” But she is excited by the changes coming soon. And, as her father observed, “You can always tell a great downtown: It doesn’t have parking meters.”

Of course, every mother wants her child to be happy. So how does Capri like Westport?

“She’s taken the town by storm,” Alli says.

Mr. Nischan Goes To Washington

According to yesterday’s NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Michel Nischan is “usually found cooking in his restaurant in one of Connecticut’s toniest towns.”

That would be The Dressing Room, here in Westport.

Michel Nischan

But according to reporter Allison Aubrey, this week the world renowned chef was in Washington, DC. Nearly 1,000 “corporate movers and shakers” attended a summit aimed at shaping private sector solutions to America’s obesity epidemic.

Actually, Paul Newman’s erstwhile partner was not just sitting listening to lectures. He cooked up a storm.

A creative, healthful, and very, very flavorful storm.

Introducing Nischan, Aubrey said, “you don’t need fancy foraged mushrooms or Connecticut oysters to make a great first course.”

Nischan whipped up something that cost “pennies,” and included “anti-oxidants, fiber and all kind of wonderful things like that.”

He added an entree of heirloom grain risotto with autumn vegetables — a “seasonal feast on a reality-check budget.”

Nischan is “passionate” about seeing a sea change in the way Americans eat, the radio report said.

Aubrey went on to examine the small ways in which restaurant chains like Olive Garden, and retailers like Walmart, are leveraging size and scale to change eating habits (at no cost to their  bottom lines).

The piece ended as it began: with a focus on Nischan.

Chicken thighs call for creativity.

He roasted chicken thighs for the 800 summit attendees, adding cloves and cumin to “drive down fat, and amp up flavor.”

The guests loved the seasonal ingredients, and exciting food combinations. They cleaned their plates.

At least one corporation was converted. Hyatt Hotels announced a plan to remake some menus — starting with its kids’ meals.

That’s one small step for Michel Nischan. And one giant step for the nation’s waistline.

(To hear the full report, click here.)

Dressing Room Gets A Dressing Down

Several area restaurants offer discounts of up to 20% to Westport Country Playhouse subscribers.

There is only 1 restriction — as very disappointed Westport resident Eileen Ogintz found out Saturday night.  Here’s her story:

Our mistake was not reading the fine print.

As  Westport  Country Playhouse subscribers, we’d  gotten a brochure with local restaurant discounts — a good marketing move, we thought, to encourage us to eat out  nearby  before attending a play.  All we needed was to show our tickets in order to get a 20 per cent discount at The Dressing Room, La Villa Trattoria,  Manolo,  Matsu,  Rizzuto’s, Tavern on Main or Thali.

In this economy,  local restaurants need our business, and we need to watch what we spend on dinners out.  This seems like a win-win.   We’d enjoyed dinner at Thali before the last Saturday evening performance we’d attended; this time we opted for The Dressing Room next door to The Playhouse — in part because our daughter and her boyfriend had given us a gift certificate there.

But we didn’t read the fine print that said the offer is only good at The Dressing Room Tuesday through Thursday.  None of the other restaurants impose such restrictions.   Our apologetic waiter indicated many weekend  Playhouse goers  are as surprised as we were to learn the discount they expected wouldn’t be honored.

The haughty restaurant manager wasn’t the least apologetic, though she did give us the 20 per cent off “this one time” when we complained, ominously adding she was going to “mark our profile” in their computer.  I didn’t know if I was supposed to be worried or why.

By that point,  I knew I didn’t want to return any time soon.  I even posted a message to that effect on Facebook, prompting a call from my son who wanted to know what had prompted my ire.

“We’re doing the Playhouse a big favor,”  the manager insisted as we left.

Frankly, I thought it was the Playhouse  doing the Dressing Room the favor.  The restaurant wouldn’t even be there without the Playhouse and the  original support of the Newmans,  I thought.  (Paul Newman’s name figures in some of the menu selections, in fact.)

And without  Paul Newman and especially Joanne Woodward,  of course, the  Westport Country Playhouse wouldn’t  be the wonderful community resource it is for all of us today.

On Saturday night, The Playhouse was full.  The Dressing Room wasn’t.

Eat, Drink, See A Play

Several years ago, when the Westport Country Playhouse was being renovated, nearby restaurants saw drops of up to 2/3 in business.

The Dressing Room sits in the shadow of the Playhouse. Other partner restaurants are not far away.

This summer, many of those restaurants — the ones still around, anyway — will show their appreciation for the Playhouse in a tangible way.  Seven have signed on as “partners” for the 2011 season.  Playhouse subscribers receive discounts of up to 20%, when presenting a ticket or stub on the day of that performance.

The 7 partners include The Dressing Room, La Villa, Manolo, Matsu Sushi, Rizzuto’s, Tavern on Main and Thali.

It’s a win-win-win.  Participating restaurants get their logos displayed in Playhouse promotional materials (and complimentary tickets).  The Playhouse gets to support — and gets support from — local businesses.

And theater-goers get great, discounted meals at a diverse mix of restaurants.  It’s a nice reminder that Fairfield hasn’t stolen all our culinary thunder.

Yet.

(Click here for full restaurant descriptions and discounts.)

Farmers’ Market Comes In From The Cold

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.

Gene Seidman Mixes It Up

Young, old, black, white, married, divorced, gay, straight — once a month or so, they all get together at a restaurant, theater or yoga studio.

They dance to great music, sing with the band, and have a funky time long past midnight.

It’s a movable Mix party.  And it takes place not in the Meatpacking District.  Not in Williamsburg.  Not even New Haven.

It happens right here in Westport.

The Mix parties — or MIX, as the word appears on posters and the website — are the brainchild of Gene Seidman.

Gene Seidman dances with Dr. Barbara Siminovich, an Argentine living in Bridgeport who attends every MIX.

A graphic designer with an interest in eco-friendly products who’s directed projects for IBM, the New York Times, Verizon, UNICEF and the USTA — and held important posts at Priceline, MOMA and Unilever — Seidman started his after-hours events a year ago.

The Saugatuck Rowing Club wanted to attract more diners.  Seidman proposed a dance party.  Word-of-mouth advertising drew 135 people.

Seidman realized he’d found an unfilled need.

“We have a problem,” the longtime Westporter (and current RTM representative) said.

“Fairfield and South Norwalk are on the up-and-up.  They’ve got more restaurants, more nightlife.  There’s not a hell of a lot to do here after 10 p.m.  We need to light a fire.”

His MIX parties provide the heat.

They’ve been held at Splash and the Dressing Room.  When they got too big for Michel Nischan’s restaurant, they moved next door to the Westport Country Playhouse barn.

The most recent event — held earlier this month at Kaia Yoga — featured a Cuban band from New York (and belly dancing).  The after-party at Manolo lasted until 2 a.m.

The mix of people is key.  The crowd skews over-40, but attitude counts more than age.

The MIX parties take place in Westport, but the crowd is more diverse — in terms of race, sexuality, even clothing styles — than you usually see here.

And everyone has fun.

For proof, check out the YouTube video.  “The best bands and best music,” someone says.

“Dynamic people,” another offers.

“Kick-ass band.”  “Everyone is smiling.”  “I came by myself, and I’m dancing.”

Ah, dancing.

A mix of a MIX.

“I love to dance,” Seidman says.  “It’s a great way for people to interact.  These days, people are so concerned about money and everything else.  They text and email each other.  But that’s not connecting.

“People have to get out.  When you dance, you connect.  When you dance, you’re beautiful and alluring.”

Lest you get the wrong idea, Seidman is married — and has been for 24 years.

“But I still want to get out,” he says.

Seidman works closely with MIX musical director Crispin Cioe.  The Westport saxophonist/composer/producer has toured and recorded with the Rolling Stones, Tom Waits and Ray Charles.

Cioe’s classic/nouveau soul band — Cracked Ice — has also played at MIX parties.

This Friday (July 30), Cracked Ice plays at the Levitt Pavilion.

Seidman is organizing the after-party — from 10:30 p.m. on, at Manolo.

It’s not a full-fledged MIX.  But everyone’s invited.

Provided you want to have fun.

(To find out more — and get on the MIX mailing list — click on www.mixct.com)

Fight The Power’s

To the too-long list of grammatically incorrect Westport street signs, add:

The Westport Country Playhouse is located at 25 Powers Court.  The Dressing Room restaurant is adjacent:  27 Powers Court.

That’s “Powers” Court — named for (I am told) the Powers family who once owned the land.

Not “Power’s” Court.  It’s not named for the actor Tyrone.

Even if he did appear at the Playhouse, back in the day.

CT Bites

CT bites.

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.