From tastes of Spain and Provence to dishes meant to bring to mind summers on the coast of Maine, many Connecticut chefs present fixed-price, multiple-course menus to offer diners both a taste of what their restaurant offers as regular fare and also what those chefs can come up with when their creative forces are unleashed. Here are five fine restaurants that offer their customers a unique and wonderful dining experience through the presentation of tasting menus.
See our previous Top Tasting Menus In Connecticut article here.
39 High St.
New Haven, CT 06510
Price: $62 (add $35 for wine pairings)
A tapas restaurant is, by definition, a place where the customer can always create their own tasting menu, but at Ibiza in New Haven, chef Manuel Romero always has at least one and sometimes two such menus available. Unlike many restaurants, perhaps because of its casual atmosphere and tapas style, even the tasting menu here comes with choices for each course and dessert.
“A Taste of the Islas Canarias” and “Andalucia” are but two of the tasting menus this traditional Spanish tapas bar is presenting this summer. Both come with a first and a second course and dessert. For “Andalucia,” named for the famous province in Spain where the Moors made their last stand in the days of Ferdinand and Isabella and the Inquisition, diners may begin with either the ajo blanco (a white gazpacho with almonds and garlic) or the pescaditos fritos (sardines, whiting, baby red potatoes and shallots in a saffron-lemon ali-oil). The second course can be either from the land or the sea, as the customer wishes. The fish choice is a baked branzino (a European sea bass) served with a puree of olive oil and potatoes and accompanied by sautéed baby spinach with diced tomatoes. The meat choice is arroz de rabo – braised oxtail and shiitakes over an oyster mushroom risotto.
Dessert is the hardest choice to make in the tasting menu. At Ibiza, arroz con leche is more than just a fancy name for rice pudding – the orange foam on top alone makes it something far different from the highway diner standard. Natillas, however, is the desert of choice for those who really want something unique: it is a vanilla-infused custard cream served with cinnamon and strawberries.
400 Columbus Blvd.
Hartford CT 06103
Hartford’s elegant On 20 has not one but three tasting menus to choose from. General manager Marwan Idris, along with chef Jeffrey Lizotte, has kept all that was elegant and familiar about this Hartford classic while adding new features and styling appropriate for a restaurant beginning its third decade of service in the state’s capital. “Innovative and progressive” is Idris’ motto, and whether serving a table for two or a charitable event for 200, On 20 prides itself on offering many unique and refreshing choices.
The three tasting menus reflect that vision. Each has six courses and each begins with a soup (the Maine Lobster and Red Shrimp Bisque comes highly recommended), comes with a choice of a meat, fish or vegetarian dish (the Chickpea Crepes with roasted mushroom and leek stuffing get top marks, as do the pan roasted fluke and the bone-in short rib) and finishes with a dessert (coconut tres leches with roasted white chocolate is a dessert of particular beauty), coffee and Mignardies (petits gateaux – i.e. little pastries).
The Mill at 2t
2 Tunxis Road, Suite 101
Tariffville, CT 06081
Price: $70 ($100 with wine pairings)
Unlike many restaurants that offer a tasting menu, The Mill at 2t in Tariffville does not require advance notice even for a large party. Its five-course tasting menu is always available. Ryan and Kelleanne Jones offer their “Chef’s Tasting Menu” nightly, and while subject to change, there is a good chance it will include Spanish octopus empanadas or polenta-dusted sweetbreads for starters, followed by butter-poached lobster, grilled lamb steak or “Tasting of Pork” – a selection of the loin and belly, roasted to perfection. Desserts are delightful at this charming, warm, very New England yet also casual restaurant. The strawberry rhubarb spoon bread with mascarpone ice cream is a wonderful way to end the tasting menu experience at the Mill at 2t.
Related: Top Food Trucks In Connecticut
155 Alain White Road
Morris, CT 06763
According to the website, Winvian is a “A resort nestled in the heart of the Litchfield Hills” that offers “a resort experience like no other.” However, Winvian is also a fine restaurant. Chris Eddy calls himself “a culinary craftsman” rather than a chef, a description none will dispute after trying his warm pigeon salad with foie gras “fegatini” or “loup de mere” with citrus and black truffles.
Eddy offers a number of tasting menus, some that encompass selections from the regular fare and others that, just like his daily offerings, include what he calls “unusual and fresh findings” from local producers and markets. One tasting menu offered in June, for example, had among the choices for its three courses a Maine lobster stew with garam masala, cilantro and kaffir lime and “Foraged Ramp Mezzelune” which are hand-made dumplings with wild board ragout. Winvian, like Eddy, is known for surprising its guests – but always in a pleasant manner. Winvian also offers “build your own” three- and four-course tasting menus, with one or two starters, an entrée and dessert or cheese to finish.
500 Steamboat Road
Greenwich, CT 06830
Provencal and Mediterranean cuisine presented in an “elegant yet modern and stylish” manner and setting is what L’escale on Steamboat Road in Greenwich is all about. The ambiance is striking and authentic, as the wood-burning stove came from a castle in France and the terra cotta tiles on the floor are also imported – and are 200 years old.
The true “flavor” of Provence comes through not just in the décor, however, but in the food, especially in the six-course “Custom Tasting Menus” presented by executive chef Frederic Kieffer. These are indeed “custom” menus, as patrons are encouraged to call ahead, tell the chef or director of operations David Fletcher the theme or selection of wines they would like Kieffer to build the menu around.
Although every such customized meal is different, L’escale does have many fine offerings on its regular menu – variations on some of which by request or chef’s whim appear in the tasting menu. Truffled steak, tuna tartar, Nantucket fluke crudo and a Provencal fish soup are just some of the choices from the daily menu, which itself fluctuates by season, availability of ingredients and, of course, because of that phlegmatic nature for which all French and perhaps most especially Provencal chefs are famed.
Related: Top Tasting Menus In Connecticut
Mark G. McLaughlin is a professional and prolific writer with a proven publishing record in a wide variety of fields. An historian, novelist, freelance journalist, ghost-writer, book reviewer, magazine editor, web and magazine columnist, Mark has more than 30 years of experience. His work can be found at Examiner.com.