Tucked in the rear of a charming passageway on Elm Street in New Canaan is Baldanza Natural Market Cafe. With a large and diverse organic menu, and a blackboard filled with the names of local purveyors, this small restaurant is fast becoming a local favorite. Owners Sandy and Angela Baldanza opened the café last year serving lunches and an occasional ‘pop up dinner’. Baldanza recently expanded the hours to include regular dinner service and partnered with Chef Kender Urena, who many will remember as the Chef /Owner of Bistro Bonne Nuit. Urena was awarded a Grand Diploma in Culinary Art with outstanding honors from the French Culinary Institute in NYC and was one of Bon Appétit Magazine Top 100 Chefs in America in 2007.
The interior of the café has a cheerful yet relaxed and inviting vibe. Tables are dressed with white tablecloths and table settings by Juliska. Leather-covered stools are placed in front of a beautifully carved bar which stretches the length of the restaurant. Sandy explained, “I bought it (the bar) from the Stamford estate of Faye Dunaway. It sat in her water-front house in front of a wood burning pizza oven." The actress proudly prepared homemade pizza in the oven to serve to her friends. The rear wall is adorned with two movie posters, one for “Chanel” and the other “The Eyes of Laura Mars.” He felt it only proper to have “The Eyes of Laura Mars” poster from Dunaway’s movie overseeing and protecting her bar, and when I asked Sandy about significance of the Chanel poster, he said it represented his 25+ years running numerous companies in the fashion industry.
During my visits I tasted several of Chef Kender’s dishes.
There were two salads that highlighted the incredible flavors of the ingredients. The first was the “Steak House Salad.” Several slices of beautifully ripened heirloom tomatoes from Eli and Ali’s Farms were topped with crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, thinly sliced red onion, and bacon and finished with sprigs of baby spinach and sprinkled with olive oil. The tomatoes were already mid-season delicious, the Gorgonzola cheese was sharp and rich and the bacon was perfectly paired with the other components. The onion was sparingly incorporated for a touch of pungency. Each of the ingredients was fantastic on its own and when combined was marvelous.
Baldanza’s rendition of “The Hickories Beet Salad” was more than a salad…it was a cacophony of flavors and textures. Situated in the center of the plate was a vegetable tower that included diced beets, candied pistachios, tomatoes, beans, and Medjool dates topped with a dollop of goat cheese. Surrounding the tower were orange segments with a smattering of pistachios and beans. The beets were earthy, which paired beautifully with the sweetness of the Medjool dates and orange segments. The goat cheese was slightly pungent and brought a creaminess to the dish and the candied pistachios added a nice crunch and saltiness. The combination delivered a delightful freshness.
Of the entrees I sampled my favorite was the “Risotto ala Pescatora.” This risotto was perfectly prepared, soft on the exterior with a subtle bite. It was enveloped in a red sauce and topped with PEI Mussels, shrimp and scallops. The sauce was bright and each of the seafood ingredients added a touch of sweetness. This was my favorite dish.
Another wonderful dish was the “Tuna au Poivre.” Several thin slices of beautifully seared tuna sat atop grilled asparagus and Provencal tomato, all nestled in a pool of sauce Vierge and crowned with several fried zucchini wedges. The dish presented a dedication to the natural freshness of the tuna paired with the bright flavors of the tomatoes, then brightened by the acidity of the sauce. The zucchini wedges were crisp on the exterior and moist on the interior.
Baldanza serves two burger specialties. During lunch the “The Carnivore Royal” is comprised of organic grass-fed sirloin topped with Grafton Cheddar cheese, organic tomato and lettuce on an Eli Bakery Brioche. It delivered a fresh, clean beefiness reminiscent of burgers from my youth. The cheese was creamy, with just a hint of tanginess, and the tomato and lettuce reminded me of those great vegetables of days gone by. The brioche was toasted to enhance its butteriness and was a great complement to the other ingredients.
The dinner version “Burger Royale” began with a blend of cuts from Joyce Farmsto create a deep, rich patty. Sitting atop the patty was braised and shredded short ribs and a three cheese combination of Parmesan, Cheddar and Gruyere plus a smattering of crispy onion ribbons. It is also encased in the Eli Bakery Brioche. The flavors of the twin-beefs was outstanding; it takes a little getting used to the texture of the short rib next to the grind of the patty. The onion ribbons added just a touch of oniony zest and the three-cheese mixture brought a nutty-earthiness. Served with frites that were perfectly fried and seasoned.
Save room for dessert as Baldanza serves both house-made cakes, a few from the Whistle Stop in Wilton plus an assortment of gelatos from Gelatissimo. I ordered the “Strawberry Shortcake.” It was three tiers of shortcake, strawberries and whipped cream. The strawberries, from Harry’s Berries in Oxnard, CA, were incredibly sweet for this time of year. Baldanza thinks they are currently the best available and will switch to more local purveyors when they are in season. The whipped cream was not too sweet and the shortcake was delicious, but a little dry and crumbly.
Overall, Baldanza is serving excellent dishes in a relaxed setting. The ingredients were all chosen with great care; Sandy and Angela Baldanza are committed to the freshest quality to deliver the best flavors in every dish.
17 Elm St, New Canaan, CT 06840
- The Hickories Beet Salad
- Risotto ala Pescatora
- The Carnivore Royal (lunch)
- Tuna au Poivre
- Steak House Salad
- Burger Royale (dinner)
- Strawberry Shortcake