The dream began in a sandbox…where five year old Geoff Lazlo planted his first garden.
Since then, he has tended, harvested, and cooked with the likes of Alice Waters at Chez Panisse, Michael Anthony at Gramercy Tavern, Dan Barber at Stone Barns, and Bill Taibe at The Whelk.
“What a pedigree!” we said to Lazlo, now the Managing Partner and Executive Chef of the newly opened Mill Street Table and Bar in Greenwich. “Your takeaway?”
"That a seasonal cook has to react like a top athlete," he told us. “Fresh ingredients are in constant motion. Early asparagus is very different than late asparagus, so you're always adjusting to a fast, ever changing game."
Geoff's garden isn't Madison Square, but his own herb and vegetable plots at Greenwich Community Gardens, and, of course, Back 40 Farm. That’s the family acreage in Washington Depot run by his partners at Mill Street, Bill and Leslie King, who head up the organic-centric Back 40 Group.
What Lazlo doesn't pick from there, he sources locally: whether it be oysters farmed off the Greenwich shore, milk, cream and butter churned atArethusa Dairy Farm in Litchfield, even Byram River Rum, distilled down the road in Post Chester. Mill Street represents the fulfilment of Geoff’s dream to establish his own place, an “American Restaurant,” celebrating family, community and local bounty.
That’s why we chose his roasted chicken as our main course. Nothing is more homespun than a chicken dinner – especially a heritage bird, pasture raised and skillfully prepared over a wood fire.Brined 24 hours, the roasted ½ chicken served on a bare plate divided into breast, thigh, drumstick and wing, the crisp skin slightly charred, translucent juices flavored with the woods of the fire. A side dish of roasted, caramelized corn, sugary and autumnal, enlivened the simple flavor of the meat. Another side of herbed but bland spaetzle less so.
In some ways this All-American mainstay perfectly defines Lazlo’s concept for the restaurant: delicious simplicity. “I love to grill a whole chicken over a lump charcoal fire at home -- even in the dead of winter -- and bring it inside to serve to my family,” he says. “That’s how I like to cook, how I want to cook here.”
Indeed. A vast wood-fired grill centers his new kitchen and his menu. For example, taste the grilled Stella Mar oysters he has introduced at Mill Street. Roasting intensifies the sea flavor of the local bivalves, their liquor anointed with white wine, butter and thyme. Sweet and plump, they offer a flavorful start to the meal.
The Tomatillo Flatbread is also wood fired. Lazlo festoons PEI mussels, charred red onion and corn across the thin crust – resulting in a sweet, tangy, and briney pizza. In contrast with the subtle simplicity of other offerings, there was a bit much going on here. We noticed during a more recent dinner that it was off the ever-changing menu.
A section of that menu is headlined: “From the Garden,” featuring vegetables, herbs and fruits largely from Back 40 Farm. Many are roasted, such as a whole head of Cauliflower. Nicely crusted, the vegetable came creamed with a pine nut puree, while capers and lemon brightened the taste. Delicious, hearty, the mammoth portion serves as a full flavored meal in itself.
Mill Street’s toothsome pastas are handmade, the flour whisked with organic eggs from Back 40’s coops. We tried the Riccotta Cavetelli, crowned with a Bolognese sauce, and the Potato Gnocchi, bathed in a sage pesto, candied walnuts and parmesan cheese. The Bolognese was comforting, but the Gnocchi soared. The deep sage pesto perfectly complemented the surprisingly light pasta (difficult to achieve when working with potato), and the candied nuts added sparkle.
We found ourselves devouring the addictive Carrot Fries, imbued with Mediterranean spices. A mass of carrot shavings came hay-stacked in a large bowl, alongside a luscious buttermilk dressing, dolloped in a sister bowl. Alas, the thin, delicate streamers fell through the tines of our fork only to disappear into the dip. “Hands,” a passing waiter advised. We tried. Our fingers came away with more dressing than the fries. Eventually the waiter brought over a wet towel to mop up the mess. “Everyone,” she assured.
Probably not the best choice on a first date.
Magic began and ended the meal: the home-made breads and desserts conjured by Pastry Chef Caryn Stabinsky (Oceana, WD-50, Monkey Bar, Urena, and New Canaan’s Elm.)
A flight of her artisanal breads – from a dark olive rye to a caramelized onion focaccia -- arrived with our drinks. All scrumptious, but the Monkey Bread, a riff on a loaf popular at the Monkey Bar in New York, stole the show. Chocolaty and sweet, the Arethusa butter melting into its warm crevices, this deep dark cocoa and cherry rye tasted more like dessert than a starter. And yet the bread was just a teaser of what Stabinsky had up her sleeve.
For her featured dessert, Blueberry Shortcake, Caryn creates an enchanted garden of sweet grains and berries. A lush compote marries nicely with a corn pastry biscuit and corn ice cream. (Guess what was in season). For this iconic Down East dessert, the chef plays with contrasting temperatures (warm/chill), tastes (tart/sweet), and textures (thick syrup, smooth ice cream, and a crisp biscuit.)
Chef Stabinski’s Blueberry Shortcake serves as an ideal finish to Chef Lazlo’s Roast Chicken, perfectly themed for an American restaurant.
With Mill Street, Lazlo was returned to his roots. Born and bred in Greenwich, Geoff often dined with his family at an Italian restaurant located in the same building he now occupies on Mill Street. After a year of modernizing the historic site with designer Marcia Tucker, Lazlo has fashioned a stunning contemporary space that offers a choice of dining experiences and moods.
In the main room, the tables are reserved, but not the atmosphere -- which is anything but subdued. Walk into the convivial Raw Bar and Garden Room, and the air changes. The ambience seems more relaxed, eased by batch cocktails, wines, cider, and beers, and enlivened with shucked shellfish, seafood salads, and warm lobster rolls. Ten seats encompass the bar. High tops flank it.
The Bar Room, with an adjoining elevated lounge, has become a crowd favorite, especially for locals or music fans attending concerts at the Capital Theatre, only a few blocks away. Danny Silver, Beverage Manager, and Michael Galluccio the General Manager, have co-created a menu of craft cocktails which might be as inventive -- and culinary -- as what’s being cooked in the kitchen. Take the Grilled Margarita. What earns the drink its roasty-ness is a salted half of lime which is grilled face down. Floating atop the Chinaco Reposado and agave nectar, the grill-marked citrus lends a smoky pop and pungency to the classic cocktail.
Come Spring, Mill Street will offer outdoor dining in the courtyard. A “garden” of herbs and greens will surround the tables, their bounty ready to be cut at the peak of flavor for a fresh garnish or salad.
In addition to the pots and planters, perhaps Geoff Lazlo might include a small sandbox there, in honor of his first kinder-garden. Because Mr. Sandman sent him a dream.
230 Mill Street.
Dinner, Tuesday and Wednesday 5-10, Thursday-Saturday 5-11