We’d be willing to bet beaucoup bucks that if you asked anyone in Fairfield County that has a soft spot for local food (including us) what’s the best farm-to-table restaurant in our area, they’d tell you LeFarm in Westport without a second of hesitation. How could they not? Chef (and owner) Bill Taibe is a culinary God. A harvester of all things amazingly fresh from local farms and conjurer of uniquely delicious dishes that will seriously blow your mind.
Can you tell we heart him just a little? It does help that he puts some form of bacon on most of his dishes, but whatever.
So when we found out he was opening a seafood restaurant in Westport called The Whelk, we broke out into the most ridiculous happy dance you’ve ever seen. Could it be that Chef Taibe and his Executive Chef Dan Kardos (from Harvest Supper and Napa & Co.) were going to finally fill what we saw as a giant gapping hole in Fairfield County: a flawless seafood restaurant with a conscience? After being treated to a tasting at their friends and family opening, we can safely say the answer is MOST DEFINITELY YES!
As one would come to expect from the owner of LeFarm, the interior is tastefully decorated. It’s sort of a quaint hybrid of French Country and New England maritime with fresh white walls, beautiful wooden tables, flickering candles and unique, slightly industrial, slightly nautical light fixtures. There are intimate bench seats along the wall, two large communal tables and a ginormous bar perfect for sipping Bloody Marys while sucking down some oysters. Hear that @afarsun?
Speaking of oysters, let’s get down to the food. Mmm hmm. Unlike most restaurants, The Whelk does not categorize its dishes into appetizers and entrees. Instead, dishes are simply listed, generally in order of small plates to larger plates, though everything is smaller sized in general so you can sample lots of goodies from the sea. Love that! Depending on what’s fresh off the boat or what they’re able to source from sustainable only resources, the menu will feature creative twists on some of your favorite dishes, like oysters, po’ boys, lobster rolls and poutine. We love us some POUTINE (no it’s not dirty, you’ll see what it is if you don’t know)! And yes, there is a fantastic raw bar for those of you that like your seafood au naturale. There’s also a nice wine and beer list featuring some local gems and some fun concoctions created by our adorably bubbly waitress, Ingrid, like the T N Tea made with tequila, chamomile tea, thyme, simple syrup and fresh squeezed lemon. Danny ordered the Old Burnside Dirty Penny Ale, a toasty, full flavored black n’ tan, while I had a full-bodied 2009 Cotes-du-Rhone blanc that was a PERFECT pairing for the dishes I ordered. So let’s get to it:
If you know me at all by now, you’ll know I started with the oysters. Usually loyal to raw oysters only (most people can’t cook ’em too well), I took a chance and ordered roasted oysters. Ok, not just roasted oysters – roasted Copp Island oysters with pancetta, shallot butter and lemon. Oh all things that are heavenly, these were the BEST cooked oysters I’ve EVER had. Only oh so slightly roasted, these buttery oysters melted in your mouth while the fat and earthiness of the pancetta balanced it right out on your tongue. Wow.
For the next soiree in my mouth (tee hee) I had the smoked bluefish croquettes with an aioli drizzle, prosciutto and a fried egg. Yeah, pretty much any time something has a fried egg on it I have to order it. These croquettes were ridiculous! So incredibly delicate and moist (ugh, must think of a better word for moist). The smokiness of the bluefish was like “slap you in the face” smokiness that worked perfectly with the salty prosciutto and the rich, fattiness of the aioli and the egg yolk. Yeah this dish was true perfection.
Danny HAD to order the octopus and squid poutine. That’s french fries smothered in beef gravy and harissa (a hot chili sauce from North Africa), topped with grilled squid and octopus. This dish may sound wacky and daring to you, but it’s a sure bet! The fries are salty, thin and are somehow able to maintain their crunchiness despite being smothered in the spicy awesomeness that is the beef gravy and harissa combo–really a unique flavor you’ve probably never experienced before. And, of course, the seafood on top was cooked to perfection which is never easy with squid and octopus. Yeah, we’ll definitely order this again.
And, for his second course, Danny got the squid ink cavetelli with red shrimp and chorizo. If you know anything about Danny, you know HE has to order anything that has squid ink pasta in it. Yeah, he’s kind of obsessed for some reason. Now, we didn’t include a picture of this dish because we have to warn you, the black cavetelli looks like some sort of giant bug, but we promise they don’t taste like it. They were cooked perfectly al dente with that distinctive salty, sea fare, squid ink bite. The shrimp, also always tough to get right, were cooked very nicely and the chorizo added the necessary smoky, fatty flavor to make it all work so well together.
For dessert I was very tempted to order the blood orange panna cotta but decided to go with something completely unique and original to The Whelk: the Ewe Blue and Joe Froggers with honey. What? Yeah, I wondered what the heck it was too! It’s ewe blue cheese from Old Chatham, NY and ginger snap cookies drizzled with local honey. It sounds totally bizarre but it totally works. A wonderful balance of that blue cheese bite, the spiciness of a ginger snap and the sweet, sweet goodness of honey. Definitely hits all the taste buds in just the right way. And finally, Danny ordered the Whoopie Pie–a soft, fluffy chocolatey cake sandwich with fresh, creamy smooth whipped cream filling, Yeah, just look at that sexy picture. YUMMY!
In case you couldn’t tell, our experience at The Whelk sneak preview opening was wonderful. We have no doubt Chefs Taibe and Kardos will keep up that awesomeness for years to come. So, if you love seafood you must try The Whelk out as it’s sure to be one of the best seafood joints in Fairfield County. And, if you’re the type to appreciate local, regional and sustainable food, you too must come here because they’re as authentic as it gets. It’s a win, win.
Let’s be clear: there are no reservations except for a few tables, so come expecting a bit of a wait because people love wicked good seafood. Good things come to those who wait, though, right?The Whelk Noms: 4.25 (until we’ve tried more) Cost: $$$ Address: 575 Riverside Avenue Westport, CT 06880 Phone: (203) 557-0902 Site: http://thewhelkwestport.com E-mail: email@example.com