Don't let the lace curtains and stately brick entrance fool you. Behind the doors of this new French Bistro, named for its location on the Post Road in Darien, is an airy room with coffered ceilings and a sleek zinc bar that buzzes--loudly at times--with the chatter of locals every night of the week. Located within walking distance of the Darien train station, 1020 Post, which opened its doors a little more than a year ago, pulls people in like a magnet for dinner and drinks after work and lunch during the week.
On a chilly Tuesday night, I arrived with four friends to find packed tables and a bustling bar, which was lined with large glasses of Malbec and Pinot Noir. Nearby, people dined on bar stools at one of two tall community tables, where small groups can enjoy a quick bite without a reservation (one seats 10, the other seats 20). Since the restaurant will accept arrivals for dinner up until 10:30 p.m., we noted, the community tables are a perfect late-night gathering spot.
Since 1020 is famous for its oysters, we ordered up a dozen from the raw bar and were impressed with the variety. There were delicate, flavorful ones from Eagle Creek on the West coast and tender, fresh selections from Fisher Island and Prince Edward Island on the East coast. Sipping a glass of cold Sancerre, I could have easily ordered another dozen. One adventurous friend downed an "oyster shooter," a tender Blue Point oyster served in a shot glass with Blood Mary mix and vodka, which, she observed, had a lot more kick than the cocktail sauce.
Indeed, 1020 Post is best known for its seafood offerings. The owners, who've had success with Elm Street Oyster Bar in Greenwich and Ruby's Oyster Bar and Bistro in Rye, know how to sell shellfish. True, chef Roland Coulombe offers authentic bistro fare, including steak frites, bouillabaisse and cassoulet with braised lamb and duck confit, but we were ready to sample the next offerings from the sea.
One friend at the table, who once lived in France, ordered the Mussels Muniere, which, we agreed, deserves an award. The heaping bowl of shellfish arrived in a garlicky, saffron broth that "transports you back to Marseille...order extra grilled bread." We did, and passed it around the table twice.
Another friend, originally from Bayou country, ordered the crab cakes. They were taller than any we'd seen, puffed up like oversized marshmallows, but tasted rich and savory in a smokey chipotle sauce. No stranger to crab creations, she noted they were "very crabby with mostly back fin and fortunately, not a lot of filler."
Our only disappointment was my Citrus and Pink Peppercorn Crusted Rainbow Trout, which was buried under a such a dense, woodsy layer of herbs that the true taste of the fish was impossible to uncover. Naturally, my chef-friend ordered a winning entree: sea scallops seared to perfection and drizzled with a simple soy ginger jus, served with tender haricots vert and a mound of Israeli couscous.
Many of us reassembled for a holiday lunch a few weeks later and sampled 1020's lighter fare. We came early, as we had packed afternoons, and were impressed with the quick service. One friend ordered a delicious crispy seared salmon BLT served on black bread with avocado and a rich remoulade topped with capers and tarragon. My chef-friend ordered the French onion soup, which arrived with an irresistible canopy of melting gruyere, the perfect winter lunch. To my surprise, the herbed vegetable wrap was packed with layers of spinach, roasted peppers and cucumbers and saved from blandness by a rich chipotle spread. To make lunch last just a bit longer, we lingered over a plate of flat bread topped with sweet carmelized onions and melted gruyere with crimini mushrooms. It was a decadent moment in an otherwise hurried day.
On my next trip, I'll be sure to sample the brunch menu. I've got my eye on the house-cured gravlax and am eager to sample the Portuguesa breakfast plate, with spicy grilled linguica sausage and a pepper, onion and cheese scramble. If they're lucky, I may even bring my two boys along to try the lobster mac and cheese, which, along with the chicken pot pie and the rest of 1020's comfort food, can be ordered any time or day of the week. And here's their best kept secret: wines from their impressive list are half-price on Sundays.
1020 Post 1020 Post Road, Darien. 203.655.1020