Our music library is full of one hit wonders that hit it big, but then sank into obscurity. There are a handful of people, though, who have remained popular for decades, album after album. Well, in our food-obsessed culture, restaurateurs and chefs have become the new rock stars of our generation. The cream-of-the-crop own hot spots that people rave about and put out high quality menus fit for foodies. They use their culinary skills, knowledge, and creativity and translate their success into new restaurant endeavors. Here’s a glimpse at just a few hotshot restaurateurs who own hot spots in Lower Fairfield County. Let’s dig in.
Michael Young: Valencia Luncheria and Bodega Taco Bar
Chef/co-owner of Valencia (in partnership with Luis Chavez) and Bodega, Michael Young isn’t the kind of guy to let a good thing go to waste. He’s journeyed around the world, improving his cooking skills from his travels. He seems to have the golden touch because his amazing Valencia, in Norwalk, is a go-to destination for what he calls Venezuelan beach food. What’s that mean? Pure deliciousness! Arepas, empanadas, burritos, and Venezuelan classics dot a vast breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu. The arepas, Venezuelan corncakes, are full of flavor and boast 31 different variations, including Real Deal (chorizo and mozzarella), Ruby (plantains and quesoblanco), and Pernil (Venezuelan roast pork).
It’s no surprise that with his cult following, Chef Young wanted to open a new hot spot, but this time in Fairfield with the help of Luis Chavez and Mario Fontana. Young said, “I was inspired when I went on a vacation with my family to Ixtapa, Mexico where I found a real appreciation for the handmade soft corn tacos.” Opened just a few weeks ago, Bodega Taco Bar has already received amazing reviews, and there’s good reason for that. Yes, the tacos are ridiculously good here (especially The Americano, and the Baja), but there’s much more that Young features: “little cravings,” sandwiches, salads, entrees, sides, inventive mixed drinks, and 49 kinds of tequila. Michael Young’s Valencia and Bodega are the best spots to eat at, brag about, and then come back to again and again.
172 Main Street
Hours: Mon & Tues 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Wed-Fri 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Sat 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and Sun 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Bodega Taco Bar
1700 Post Road
Hours: Mon-Thurs 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri-Sat 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Vicente and Kleber Siguenza: Cava Wine Bar & Restaurant, 55 Degrees Wine Bar & Restaurant, and Scena Wine Bar & Restaurant
The Siguenza brothers, Vicente and Kleber, are another pair of hotshots that grew up in Ecuador, moved here, and are now living the American dream. The Siguenzas started with Cava, a classy and authentic Italian ristorante in New Canaan. They feature handmade gnocchi so light and fluffy you’d swear you’re in Italy and a frutti di mare pizza that will make you swoon. Next up for the brothers was 55 Degrees in Fairfield. This time they joined up with cousins Carlos and Mario Lopez and created another successful Italian spot that offers good prices, twists on classics, and an extensive wine menu. Some highlights to try are their fresh and flavorful pastas and tasty appetizers, including a grilled octopus salad. Their latest spot, Scena in Darien, has been brought together with their other cousins: Bladamir, Marco, and Wilson Siguenza. Picking a meal here is simple because whatever you pick, it will be delicious. Some real standouts are the seafood pan roast, cooked in a white wine broth, and the Nutella crepe, accompanied by banana gelato. These hot spots are the best places to try fun and creative spins on classic Italian dishes when you’re tired of the same old, same old.
Cava Wine Bar & Restaurant
2 Forest Street
New Canaan, CT
Hours: Lunch Mon-Sat 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Dinner Mon-Thurs 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., Fri & Sat 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., Sun 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
55 Degrees Wine Bar & Restaurant
55 Miller Street
Hours: Mon-Thurs 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., Fri & Sat. 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., Sun 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Scena Wine Bar & Restaurant
1077 Post Road
Hours: Lunch Mon-Fri 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., Brunch Sat & Sun 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., Dinner Thurs 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., Fri & Sat 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., Sun 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Giovanni Gentile: Capriccio Café and Volta Gelateria Creperia
If it’s nice out in Stamford, you can always count on Giovanni Gentile’s Capriccio in Stamford being packed. Why? Great, authentic, inexpensive Italian food that hits the spot and doesn’t leave you broke. The pizza, not to be missed, comes out hot with fresh toppings and a great thin crust. Featured on the menu for dessert is their very own Volta gelato. Seeing the success of his handmade gelato and a real need for a gelato shop and café experience in Stamford, Gentile knew that opening up Volta GelateriaCreperia was a done deal. Focusing on gelato, crepes, salads, sandwiches, and fresh juice, Volta brings that hip, cool, Euro vibe to Spring Street. The nighttime scene has been hopping here and people haven’t been able to get enough of their amazing brunch. Giovanni’s hot spots are the best places to chat, chew, relax, and spend beautiful days and nights.
189 Bedford Street
Hours: Mon-Fri 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sat-Sun 11 a.m. to midnight
Volta Gelateria Creperia
30 Spring Street
Hours: Mon-Fri 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Fri-Sun11 a.m. to midnight
Dan and Kristien Del Ferraro are founders and co-bloggers for OmNomCT, an omnivorous couple’s perspective on all things omnomable in lower Fairfield County, CT.