Zinc has been a fixture on the New Haven green since 1999, well before farm-to-table restaurants became the sought-after reservation. Even then, Chef Denise Appel was designing plates that changed with the season, and "continued to do so even when people in town wondered if she'd ever make her mind up on a menu," laughs co-owner Donna Curran, who has worked alongside Chef Appel for more than two decades.
Named for the traditional zinc bars in European bistros, Zinc has successfully become a well-known neighborhood gathering place over the past dozen years. Warm and welcoming for its minimalist design, the restaurant is long and narrow, as expected in an urban setting. Yet with a profound cherry bar, generous seating and plenty of quiet nooks, you know you’ll gladly stay a while.
Expect to be delighted by the many global ingredients that comfortably mingle on the menu. Since Chef Appel is most influenced by the cleansing, citrus flavor profiles in Vietnamese cooking, it’s not surprising to see Steamed Pork and Ginger Dumplings (with hot chili oil, star anise soy drizzle and raw zucchini salad) sit confidently alongside the House-Smoked Duck Nachos (on fried wonton skins with caramelized tamarind, lime crema and chipotle aioli), a menu mainstay. They make happy table mates with more European-inspired dishes.
For dinner, you might have the Tamarind Glazed Quail (with Indian-spiced chaat and pomegranate yogurt sauce)...or the salmon, which is one of the most visually exciting dishes I’ve seen. The Scottish Salmon, sustainably sourced, sits atop red beet risotto, which is as vibrant in flavor as it is in color, speckled with peas and a hint of lemon; and that’s a pickled gold beet crème fraiche on top.
The wine list is equally eclectic, with selections highlighting and complementing the diverse flavors on the menu. And then there are the seasonal cocktails, often made with local spirits. I ordered a Cidercar, with New World Aged Apple Brandy from Westford Hill Distillery in Ashford, an apple cider reduction, Triple Sec and a squeeze of lemon juice.
By this time, you may be weighing your sweet and savory options for dessert and stealing less-than-subtle glances at the cheese menu, written boldly on the wall at the end of the bar. You could land squarely in the middle with the Chocolate Capri, or a goat cheese from Westfield Farm in Massachusetts, or finish with the decadent Chocolate Mousse Cake (with hazelnut crunch and raspberry sauce).
While all the menu options change their accompaniments or preparation seasonally (and in addition to nightly menu additions), Zinc goes one step further to celebrate seasonal ingredients. From late May through October or November, the restaurant offers a weekly Market Menu. Available Wednesday through Saturday, it features three courses that highlight organic ingredients sourced locally from New Haven’s renowned CitySeed markets and area farms.
Why is Zinc a continued success? Because Chef Appel is excited by change and embraces it at every turn. When she saw that her customers had an appetite for a vegan menu offering, she added one to the menu. The day I visited, it was Roasted Acorn Squash with Quinoa and Braising Greens. Reading the neighborhood's appetite also resulted in the launch of a sister restaurant, Kitchen Zinc, located right around the corner from the main space and down a wide alleyway. Still creating unique dishes with all those fresh market ingredients, the concept translates well onto Kitchen Zinc’s menu of artisan pies, small plates and salads.
And while change is always good, surely what won't change is Zinc's commitment to local, farm-to-table creations that will continue to delight diners for many years to come.
Zinc is conveniently located in New Haven at 966 Chapel St,between Temple and College streets, and parking is available on-street or at the Crown Street Garage. The restaurant is open for lunch from Tuesday through Friday, and dinner from Monday through Saturday. For more information, visit www.zincfood.com or call 203.624.0507.