Along came Carol, and then she opened The Nook, a private dining experience in Black Rock.
The secret is about to get leaked. All who’ve visited The Nook can’t stop singing its praises - they’ll say how wonderful it is. What, exactly, is The Nook? And, if all these people have heard of The Nook, why hadn’t I?
The concept was created by chef and caterer Carol Lentini and her husband and partner Mark Mojcher. Located in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport, it is best described as a communal private dining experience. The eatery features one community table set in the middle of a long room offering an artistic and whimsical air with walls painted in a cheery bright pink, on which hang large colorful paintings.
More private dining room, less public restaurant, we felt like guests, not customers. While you wait for dinner you can mingle with the others and introduce yourself; you’ll meet your neighbor and maybe even become fast friends. Two things should be noted - this isn’t the place for a quiet romantic evening out, and it’s BYOB.
When you first book your reservation you’ll know not what will be served. The menu will likely be decided and published a day or two before you arrive. The dinner the night I attended was “Mark’s Favorites.” I was brought back to the small family operated tratorias I had been to in the Tuscan and Umbrian countrysides where we ate what was served, no menu from which to choose.
We started with little bruschetta toasts on top of which sat the creamiest ricotta I have ever tasted, slightly sweet from honey and slightly tangy from lemon zest. The smoothness of the ricotta juxtaposed perfectly with the crispy toast, as did the lemon and honey. I wanted to help myself to a second, but refrained knowing I had best pace myself as evident by the pile of plates in front of me. The antipasto skewers were next. Manageable, just slightly larger than bite-sized, with artichoke hearts, grape tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, sopressata and a balsamic glaze. I did help myself to a second. There were nice intervals in between each appetizer and course so that we could relax, enjoy ourselves and prepare for the next delicious item to appear before our eyes.
The Louisiana Crab Cakes with roasted red pepper remoulade far exceeded my expectations. These bite-sized ‘cakes’ were flaky, light and tender. The fresh crab shone through and was not overwhelmed by filler as most are. Each delicate bite had a nice zing to it, highlighted by the remoulade. I should have had two, maybe even three…or figured out how to sneak a couple into my purse!
There are salads, and then there are salads - those so good you could make an entire meal of them. This was one. With baby field greens, diced tomato, red onion, gorgonzola, toasted pecans and croutons the colors were as vibrant as the flavor as Carol’s Balsamic Vinaigrette.
The Linguini with Sauteed Portobello Mushrooms followed suit. Perfectly al dente linguini with roasted garlic (oh the garlic!), olive oil, crushed red pepper and grated Romano cheese brought me back to the Italian countryside. The large bowl, from which we helped ourselves, was brimming with mushrooms, tender and flavorful… and oh the garlic! I was brought back to Italy in an instant.
We had a bit of an intermezzo as Carol created the next course. We got to better know our neighbors and the conversation flowed as though we’d all known each other for years.
The Chilean Sea Bass with Fire Roasted Plum Tomatoes then made an appearance. Light, tender, flaky and incredibly flavorful, the fish was topped with toasted garlic, a Focaccia bread topping and Julienned basil. As good as this was, I don’t think anything could hold a candle to the Cracked Red Pepper and Garlic Coated Filet Mignon. I don’t particularly care for red meat. I never order it when I am out, and I nearly passed this over, but I didn’t and am so very glad. The meat was cooked to perfection - tender, sweet, juicy and pink. It was accompanied by a Chimichurri sauce and a Horseradish Caper Sauce. I almost passed on the horseradish, again, I’m glad I didn’t. The Chimichurri was zesty and garlicky, and while I’m not one to ever pass on this verdant accompaniment, it was the horseradish sauce with its creamy tanginess that excited my taste buds. The Sauteed Broccoli Rabe with cannellini beans, crushed red pepper and fresh lemon was the tenderloin’s vegetable match made in heaven. Tender and tart, the greens were balanced by the smooth and mellow beans.
In betwixt the food was incredible and incredibly funny conversation which had us all roaring with laughter and tears pouring from our eyes. A great dining experience goes well beyond great food - it extends to the ambiance, the service and the company. I hit the trifecta.
Then there was desert, and from a pile of 6 plates we were down to just one. I was stuffed, full beyond my wildest imagination. And yet somewhere there was room for dessert. Why is there always room for dessert? Sweet, dense but not too much so, bursting with fresh strawberry flavor, the Triple Layer Strawberry Cake with strawberry cream cheese frosting was the cherry on top of a perfect night.
In addition to the family-style dinners, The Nook offers numerous dining events and is available to special events, private parties and cooking classes, as well as the Friday night communal dining experience for which you’ll need a reservation.
2984 Fairfield Avenue, Bridgeport CT