Picador Opens in New Canaan: Tapas

Jeff "jfood" Schlesinger

The culinary landscape of New Canaan now includes the vibrant cuisine of the Iberian Peninsula with the opening of Picador, the second restaurant of owner Alan Basaran. Located on Elm Street in the space formerly occupied by Harvest Supper, the interior’s décor offers a warm and inviting environment as backdrop to the region’s vibrant cuisine. Copper-topped tables and a wrap-around leather-covered banquette fill the entire back and side walls with additional copper-topped tables with dark leather chairs occupying the remainder of the space. The walls are adorned with plates, mirrors and sconces; reminiscent of the region.

Overseeing the front of the house is Basaran’s cousin, Ender Erhan and the kitchen is under the direction Chef Regis Saget.  Born and raised in France, Chef Saget brings his passion for fresh ingredients and simple preparations to the menu. A graduate of culinary school in Morlaas, France, Chef Saget worked in several Fairfield County restaurants including Versailles Restaurant, La Colline Verte and St. Tropez in Fairfield and was the opening chef at New Canaan’s former Savvy Restaurant (now Basaran’s Carpe Diem restaurant). Chef Saget’s menu includes a wide selection of Tapas, Ensaladas, Entradas and Postres.

The “Seared gambas flambees al ajillo, piquillos, Jamon Serrano” present incredibly vibrant flavors; it is a great dish. The traditional garlic shrimp are accentuated with piquillo peppers, adding a spicy-sweet flavor and small dices of Jamon Serrano add a salty component. The dish is finished with a pinch of red pepper flakes, giving the sauce a mild level of heat. A milder choice for the meat eaters at the table is the “Beef tips a la plancha with walnuts, green peppercorns, and Calabres cheese.” I enjoyed the textural contrast of the crunchy walnuts against the smoothness of the cheese, the latter leaving a peppery aftertaste. After the bold flavors of the gambas, the beef tips present a milder alternative.

The “Scallops over Cauliflower Puree” are very good. The scallops are seared to a crispy exterior while maintaining their soft interior texture and finished with just a touch of salt. The dish includes roasted cauliflower for earthiness and the puree adds a mild and creamy finish to this combination. These three tapas represent the range of flavors on the menu from bright and bold in the shrimp to the milder scallops and cauliflower.   

The roasted beets with grapefruit, goat cheese, arugula, fava beans and tossed in orange blossom vinaigrette is my favorite of the Ensaladas. The large pieces of beets are sweet and maintained their earthiness, complemented by the creaminess of the cheese. The citrusy-acid of grapefruit elevates all of the flavors and the fava beans bring a slight crunchiness to the dish. Each of the ingredients in the “Avocado with orange segments, olives, cherry tomatoes, Marcona almonds” offers great individual flavors. This dish, along with a crisp glass of wine, would be a delicious lunch selection in warmer weather served on the new outdoor terrace.

Although billed as a Tapas restaurant, Picador’s menu truly shines with its entrées.

The “Braised beef short ribs with chestnuts, mongetes Blancas and figs” are outstanding. The dish includes several slices of slowly braised beef accompanied by the reduced braising liquid. The meat is incredibly soft yet maintains its structural integrity and the sauce concentrates the flavors into a robust accompaniment. The addition of the chestnuts and figs adds both earthy and sweet nuances.

The “Roast pork chop over rhubarb compote and orange, with deglazed cooking juice” is the perfect fall dish. The chop is prepared with a slight exterior char and is moist and tender. The sauce is a delight, accented with nutmeg, cinnamon and coriander. The accompaniment of the rhubarb, peas and mushrooms present a fantastic flavor complement and the potatoes are soft and crisp on the exterior.

The “Roasted half Cornish hen, Catalan-style with eggplant, peppers, zucchini and roasted potatoes” arrives on the bone, surrounded by a spicy tomato broth with pieces of eggplant, peppers, zucchini and roasted fingerling potatoes. Served in a bowl, it is well worth the effort of removing the meat from the bone to combine with the great flavors of the sauce; I admit dipping pieces of the bread for every last drop.

The “Seafood paella with mussels, scallops, clams, calamari, shrimp” and thin slices of chorizo has great flavor. The dish is beautifully presented in a single serving traditional paella pan with a large portion of saffron-infused rice that has a good level of spiciness. The seafood is moist and succulent and absorbs the bold cooking juices. The dish has an over-abundance of rice and I prefer a crustier bottom to concentrate the flavor and vary the textures.

There are several excellent desserts. My favorite is the Arroz con leche, a vanilla-y rice pudding topped with an apricot lemon sauce. The apricot-lemon curd is delightful, creamy and abundant with citrus flavor to complement the texturally different rice. The Crème Catalane brulée is an enjoyable dish, slightly different from its French cousin with the addition of a touch of orange blossom water in Picador’s version. The Pan Perdido with caramelized peaches and apples is full of flavor. The sautéed fruits sit atop slices of moist and sautéed slices of bread and completed with a delicious caramel sauce. All of the desserts are pleasing ends to the meal.

Overall, I enjoyed many of the dishes at the newly opened Picador. There are several tapas and Ensaladas that are excellent preambles to some great flavors in many of the entrées.

 Picador - 15 Elm St - New CanaanCT – 203-972-9999

Really Liked: 

  • Seared gambas flambees al ajillo, piquillos and Jamon Serrano
  • Roasted beets with grapefruit, goat cheese, arugula, fava beans
  • Braised beef short ribs with chestnuts, mongetes Blancas and figs
  • Roast pork chop over rhubarb compote and orange, with deglazed cooking juice
  • Arroz con leche

Liked: 

  • Roasted half Cornish hen, Catalan-style with eggplant, peppers, zucchini and roasted potatoes
  • Crème Catalane brulée
  • Pan Perdido with caramelized peaches and apples 

[Photography courtesy of Jane Beiles Photography]

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