When we interviewed Chef Geoffrey Zakarian back in September about his new restaurant coming to Greenwich, his confidence, enthusiasm and dedication made us SUPER eager to try it out and see if all that energy translated to an amazing experience. So, when The National finally opened, located at the bottom of The Avenue in Greenwich, we had to get our butts in there STAT to find out. And, like the dedicated food bloggers we are, we hit up Fairfield County’s newest restaurant on Thanksgiving Eve with our friends, John, and Jenn. Because what’s wrong with two days of gluttony in a row, right?
When we entered, we were wowed with the decor and the vibe in general. It’s really hard to put a finger on what it’s like, but the closest we can come is Chic Upscale Tropical Miami. It’s classic, it’s cool, it’s warm, it’s inviting, and it puts you at ease immediately. The bar was bustling with people starting the night off strong and nearly every seat in the comfy booths and chairs were taken. Servers were taking orders, moving from kitchen to table, and Geoffrey Zakarian was at the pass, making sure all the orders were done . . . and done right.
So, if you’re at Chef Zakarian’s restaurant, what do you order first? Drinks, duh! See, he’s always making these killer cocktails on his shows, so it was time that we got our first tastes of what the bar had to offer. Before we get to that, though, there are some other options like an extensive wine collection, a great variety of spirits, housemade limoncello, and a few nice brews in bottles or cans. Okay, now, cocktails:
The National’s signature cocktail that hits you front and center when you look at the drinks menu. It’s made with Bar Hill Reserve Tom Cat Gin, fresh lemon juice, honey syrup, and muddled thyme. There was such a nice balance to this drink with a warm sweetness coming through via the honey. Adding more complexity to this drink was an herby backbone coming from the gin and the thyme working together. Could drink this all day, and we don’t say that about many gin drinks.
One of the things that we loved about the drinks menu was that there was a nice variety of cocktails featuring bourbon (our fave). This one had Bulleit, as well as peach puree, fresh lime, simple syrup, and peach bitters. Like the previous drink, it was very well balanced with the bourbon not taking over the taste. The peach flavor came through nicely, while the bitters and lime gave off a nice contrasting tang.
There was a sweetness that you’d expect from a daiquiri, but there was also that nice tartness coming from the fresh grapefruit juice. This was the sweetest of the cocktails that we had, so this might be nice to have prior or after your meal, or just for a visit to the bar, rather than having it compete with the delish food (which we’ll get to soon).
Gin took center stage here and definitely came through more than in Greenwich Means Thyme. Even still, there was a nice roundness of flavors going on here. This is a cocktail-connoisseur’s kinda drink because the flavors of liquor are apparent.
Smokin’ Margarita: the second most expensive cocktail on the menu (the most expensive features Johnnie Walker Blue and costs $75) was perhaps the best one of the night. But, even still, it took us out of our comfort zones. Normally, we don’t order drinks with egg whites, but we are so glad with this one. The Smokin’ Margarita has Don Julio tequila, Del Maguey Mezcal, agave nectar, fresh lime juice, and a black lava salt rim. There’s a beautiful smokiness here coming from the mezcal that gets punched up with that awesome black lava salt rim. It’s creamy and silky, yet packs a mighty wallop with both liquors working together so well.
OK, so, now onto the food. There were plenty of options to try out, which means (as usual), we felt like we couldn’t order everything that we wanted. Don’t worry though, OmNomivories, we’ve already made a reservation for Christmas Eve to eat everything we didn’t get to. Yeah, that’s how we roll.
Served as a side dish, these are a must get, especially because they have a PERFECT level of crispiness to them. And, the sprinkles of heavenly Parmigiano Reggiano on top added a nice, sharp contrast to the herbaceous rosemary.
From the Plates and Soups portion of the menu, this creamy polenta is served up with Red Wine Jus and Black Burgundy Truffles. The sauce had a nice warm, acidic flavor which went well with the earthy truffle flavors. Our only wish was that the polenta was a little thicker as it was more “soupy” than we prefer.
They were crispy, they were flavorful, they were well-balanced . . . they were amazing, and we wish we ordered more. The leaves had that nice dark, crispy texture and the light creme fraîche, grain mustard, and green apple brought an amazing level of complexity that made it the best damn party in your mouth one could have with Brussels Sprouts.
An unwritten rule of our blog is that when we see meatballs on the menu, we order them. Let’s start with the sauce: it was rich, tomato-forward, and had that kind of tang, slight sweetness, and flavor that you get from your grandma’s sauce. The meatballs were delicate and had some nice juiciness to them, making them just right with the perfect combo of breading and meat.
Roasted Squash Soup: Wow, just wow. This was creamy and silky with a warm spice note peeking through. The cranberry added a nice tartness, bring out some mega 3D flavor. Our favorite part? The Almond Streusel in that added a nice sweet crunch and nutty-toastiness to the bowl.
We were excited to try the malt vinegar potato chips, because, well, malt vinegar chips. When we got them, they looked beautiful, thick, and crispy . . . and eating them with our eyes prepared us for how thick and crispy they were to the bite. But, the only thing is that we were missing that malty taste that we craved. Now, there was NOTHING ugly about this burger. It was an excellent choice, fully juicy at a beautiful medium rare, with that chargrilled taste we love. The Cabot cheddar cheese brought a salty, sharp touch, the crispy shallots a nice texture, and The National Sauce a great tang. This is a contender for one of our favorite burgers around.
Spanish Octopus: Um, yes. The Potato Confit, Pickled Chilies, and Grilled Lemon were great backups for the main dish. The potato was soft and had a nice give to it, while the chilies added a nice, gentle snap. Now, we have to admit that we never had octopus with dill, but it added a nice touch to the dish. The octopus itself was cooked perfectly with smoky grill marks throughout. If you can’t get enough octopus in your life, definitely try this one out.
The agnolotti was cooked perfectly al dente and was made in house like all the pasta here. There was a fresh green flavor coming from the spinach that paired nicely with the Parmigiano. We really liked this dish, but we were a bit disappointed that it was smaller than expected. We could’ve definitely eaten more!
Berkshire Pork Chop: The roasted onions and tomatoes that came with the chop were bursting with flavor and juices and added a nice contrast to the smoky grilled flavor of the pork. As we got deeper into that thick cut of meat, we noticed that it was a bit too rare. We told our server and were brought back a brand new dish and sincere apologies. Honestly, most people would just throw it on the grill then cook it to the point of absolute doneness, but this was done just right . . . and tasted even better the second time around.
Okay, so, the dessert menu came out and we felt obligated to have at least one, two, or maybe three treats. Up first was the Sundae. It does say that you should share this with a few people, but Dan was a hungry boy and it just looked too damn good to pass up. Rich and creamy ice cream was placed on top of super chocolatey Devil’s Food Cake, and, on top of that, were these powerful pops of flavor from mint meringue strips. And, tying it all together were some housemade and tableside-poured fudge along with some cherries.
There was also a Cranberry Cobbler which was buttery, nice and crunchy crumbly on the outside, with a wonderfully fragrant orange zest taste coming through on the warm, fruity inside. Who doesn’t love a good cobbler? Oh, and there was rich vanilla ice cream served on the side for that cold, creamy contrast we all crave.
And, rounding things out, we had a Bourbon Pecan Pie that had a warm, autumnal spice background making it just damn good.
Greenwich is picky with its restaurants. They’ll eat you up, sure, but if they don’t like you, they’ll spit you out just as soon. And, while we are wary of celebrity restaurants, at first blush, we feel like Geoffrey Zakarian’s The National has what it takes to stick around for a long, long time, as long as the quality stays just as high when Chef Zakarian isn’t as hands-on. We’ll have to go back a few times just to be sure . . .
In the meantime, people will be coming for all the different apps and the meats that come off that wondefully smoky wood-fired grill, and especially the cocktails. Now it all makes sense to us what Geoffrey told us when we were chatting at J House back in October. He shared that he was frustrated because there weren’t too many places to get killer cocktails in Greenwich . . . but now there definitely is a new bad boy in town.
Noms: TBD after second visit
Address: 376 Greenwich Avenue
Greenwich, CT 06830
Phone: (203) 861-6851