So many entrees, so many choices; fortunately for the indecisive diner, many restaurants offer tasting menus. No mere steam-table buffet or chafing-dish smorgasbord, these are samplings of the best dishes in the house. Whether seasonal or chef’s favorites, specialties of the house, theme dinners or just the daily whimsies of the kitchen crew, tasting menus are a restaurant’s version of a first date–the teaser to make sure you come back for seconds. Here are five such first dates to go on in Connecticut.
The Copper Beach Inn
46 Main St
Ivoryton, CT 06442
Prices: $69 for seven-course tasting menu; $116 for tasting menu and wine pairings
There are just too many choices of what to eat, drink and see when you go to the Copper Beech Inn. With 13 straight Four-Diamond awards from AAA plus a Best Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator for its 2,500-bottle wine cellar, this luxury country inn/bed and breakfast in the Connecticut River Valley has so much to offer that even repeat patrons can be forgiven for being unsure of what to order. Fortunately, Executive Chef Tyler Anderson offers a seven-course tasting menu of his blend of French and American cuisines. The menu varies nightly, as do the suggested wine pairings. From fluke tartare and mussels and dumplings to Arctic char and finely aged New York strip steak, “most of our products are purchased from small local purveyors,” says Anderson with pride, and “any item that can be made in house, is.”
The Elm Restaurant
73 Elm St
New Canaan, CT 06840
Price: $75 for four-course tasting menu
Most tasting menus are set by the chef, but at The Elm Restaurant in New Canaan, diners have a choice. Take the Chef’s Farm Tour or talk to him ahead of time and have him prepare a custom, four-course meal from his special Chef’s Tasting Counter. This unusual touch not only makes The Elm unique but also fits in with what chef/owner Brian Lewis says is his commitment to “a highly personal and creative style of cooking.” That style, he adds, is “rooted in American tradition” and “inspired by the seasons,” which is why the menus are constantly changing. Lewis has built up close relationships with nearby artisans and farmers where he sources most of the restaurant’s food from. Expect to see such offerings as vanilla-spiced rhubarb, lamb, whole-hog charcuterie and more. His team includes award-winning pastry chef Caryn Stabinsky, most recently of New York City’s Monkey Bar, and sous-chef Mike Paez of Manhattan’s Momofuko.
7 Railroad St
West Cornwall, CT 06796
Prices: Varies (and no credit cards – cash or checks only)
It takes about three hours to work your way through the up-to-12 courses in the French bistro prix fixe tasting menu that this little gem of a restaurant in West Cornwall sets before you. This is as much a dining experience as it is a dinner. The offerings change almost nightly, with courses from St. Peter’s fish to shepherd’s pie to lobster salad. The real treat here is that this tasting menu comes with not just one but two desserts and the portions are such that no one goes away hungry. (It is BYOB, however, so diners should bring a selection of their favorite reds and whites). With seating for only 20, reservations are a must and need to be made well in advance.
69 Pembroke Road
Danbury, CT 06811
Prices: $39 for the Sunday afternoon dinner menu; $62 for five-couse tasting menu
After 27 years, the staff at this stone-and-stucco house restaurant overlooking Danbury’s Margerie Lake Reservoir knows how to present a meal. Whether it is the table-groaning feast of its aptly named Sunday afternoon dinner menu or the five-course prix-fixe tasting menu, the offerings set before diners are very French and very good. Roasted quail, Scottish salmon, ebony-roasted duckling, Dover sole and other unfamiliar, yet fabulous appetizers and entrees are all good. Patrons are often eclipsed by the final courses of croissant bread pudding, chocolate torte (with marzipan and raspberries) or the caramelized apples on puff pastry with cinnamon-tea ice cream that is the house signature sweet.
928 Hopmeadow St
Simsbury, CT 06070
Price: $50 for four-course tasting menu, $70 for four-course tasting menu with wine
Chef Christopher Prosperi is not satisfied with just owning and running what is often touted as one of the top five restaurants in Connecticut. He is so devoted to the concept of the tasting menu that he travels to search out new offerings and then teaches classes to other chefs on how to select and present a tasting menu. As with most tasting menus, the one at Metro Bis is subject to change and does so almost daily. One sample menu, however, begins with grilled fresh-water prawn and then goes on to present Maine lobster and mascarpone ravioli, followed by a choice of grilled pork chop or pan-seared rainbow trout, with a dessert course that offers a choice of key lime tart or chocolate velvet torte.
Related: Connecticut’s Best Seafood Joints
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, most notably but not exclusively in the fields of international relations and history specifically military history. His work can be found at Examiner.com.