What do you get when you combine a Greek-Lebanese restaurateur with a French chef? A Mediterranean bistro with brasserie flair. In Darien, a town long on Asian eateries and upscale pub fare, a true ethnic restaurant is a welcome addition. In fact, Cafe D'Azur Mediterranean Bistro & Creperie's opening was highly anticipated by those of us familiar with Myrna's eponymous restaurant in Stamford, a popular lunch spot.
I dropped in on Cafe D'Azur a couple weeks after it opened, early on a Wednesday night during the school vacation week in April, without a reservation. It was packed. Not an empty table in sight. When I requested a table for three, the hostess raised her eyebrows in a sign of hope, and walked us to the back room, a small space they call the 'garden room' for the floral art that covers the walls. We sat down and ten minute later, every table was filled.
For starters, we ordered baba ghannouj and hummus with garlic. As someone who never says no to eggplant, I savored the baba ghannouj, which had a lively hint of lemon. My two boys, ages 8 and 9, made fast work of the pita triangles and extraordinarily creamy hummus topped with a dash of paprika.
Next we all feasted on moules marinieres, in a classic white wine and shallot broth. The mussels were, according to the boys, "delicious and divine." A bit more garlic would've put them over the top--or even garlic bread, for that matter. For dessert, my pie enthusiast enjoyed the apple tart, a delicate sweet with thinly sliced layers of apple and pastry, while my chocolate lover devoured the Chocolate mousse, a fluffy concoction sealed in a dark chocolate bomb shell (seen below). The server, who was a bit rushed and neglected to take my dessert order, brought a dollop of ice-cream wrapped in a pistachio pastry as a sweet apology.
Diners with children take note: you'll find an adventuresome kids menu that includes their popular ham and cheese crepe, a lamb kebab pita wrap, chicken kebab with potatoes and, of course, pasta marinara.
My next visit to the much buzzed about Mediterranean was for lunch, though you could have easily called it dinner. We ordered with purpose, starting with the daily special, lentil soup. My friend and I, both connoisseurs of the lentil, found the soup a bit pallid. Even though it had the requisite sausage, it needed to be smokier. Howver, across the table, the Shrimp Azur, also a starter, was wonderfully orchestrated. Set over a mix of diced cucumber, tomato, onion and mint, the shrimp were seasoned to perfection with parsley, dill and lemon. A swirl of avocado added a wonderful creamy finish.
Sitting in the main dining area, we took in the Middle Eastern art, redwood floors and blue ceiling as we chatted with Myrna about Lebanon, "the Paris of the Middle East" and heard about the two chefs, one Lebanese, the other French. They call it fusion French-Lebanese cuisine and, as we were about to see, all of these elements are to be found on the menu.
Given the heritage of the venue, the chicken and beef kebabs seemed a mandatory order. The generous portion of marinated skewered meat was nicely grilled, still moist, and served over a simple rice pilaf (pine nuts, anyone?). Next we tasted something utterly authentic: homemade lamb sausage with savory spices that seemed as though they came from a recipe handed down by middle eastern grandmothers for eons. Each bite was succulent with exotic seasoning. There was no casing needed--just fresh lemon. This was declared a winner.
We freshened our palates with the simple but fresh Azur salad, chopped Romaine lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber teaming with diced herbs. You simply cannot go wrong with this flavorful mix. It combines well with a side of creamy hummus, which was whisked in on the side. We were pleased to learn that the resaturant's produce all comes from local farmers' markets and that soups are made daily based on the available pick of fresh seasonal vegetables.
Now we were ready for the grand finale, Cafe D'Azur's signature buckwheat crepes. As the selection of crepes all looked so appealing, we found it impossible to choose and ordered the namesake Crepe D'Azur. It looked like art: spinach, dots of red sun-dried tomato and white mozzarella with spears of asparagus atop a lightly folded crepe. The pristine vegetables and perfectly cooked buckwheat crepe made this dish a stand out. A wonderful light lunch or, in our case, third course.
Not ones to miss dessert, we bravely ordered the irresistible Crepe Nutella with banana and Crepe with Berries. The whole wheat crepes are light as can be and the combination of warm chocolate and sliced bananas is truly winning. The homemade whipped cream and berries crepe was gorgeous with a light sprinkling of powdered sugar on top. We sipped our dark Turkish coffee, which was spiced with a dash of cardamom, and vowed we'd be back soon.
Cafe D'Azur 980 Post Road (Rte 1), Darien. 203.202.9520