Bill Taibe is passionate about Westport. Its vibe. Its verve. And its role as a culinary capital. Few would dispute that he is partially responsible for that vibrancy. Opening the landmark Le Farm in 2009, Chef Taibe rocked and rolled the town’s culture with a menu that was as loud, lush and as unpredictable as his playlist.
The Whelk followed in 2012 -- featuring creative spins on local mollusks and other creatures of the deep. Three years later, he imported Japanese gastropub cuisine to Saugatuck with the stylish Kawa Ni, a twist on Far Eastern dining and drinking.
This trio of radically different hot spots inspired other new Westport restaurants, bakeries, butcheries, fisheries, and specialty shops, as well as a re-invented Farmers Market. The city became a magical destination for dining and shopping.
Then last year, Taibe shocked the local food community with the impromptu, seemingly impulsive, and very enigmatic announcement that he was closing his celebrated Le Farm. “It was time,” he told us. No other reasons were offered. Nary a notion of what was next. Bill wasn't being coy. He simply didn't know.
Bill now knows much more. And he’s ready to share some of his ideas with CTBites’ readers. To that end, Taibe recently invited us to the empty shell for his next restaurant. He and his partner Massimo Tullio, who will be running the actual buildout, first showed us blueprints of what could come and when that might be. And then Bill outlined the creative framework of a possible new concept.
First, the location. The new space is set in the historic heart of Westport: an upper floor of the Old Town Hall at 90 Post Road East. This magnificent cobble-stone structure, built around 1908 in the Classical Revival style, once served as the municipal hub for the growing city.
“What I’m thinking about,” Taibe confided, “is influenced by that history.”
Cautioning that the concept was still in flux, the chef suggested the new menu might be a celebration of classic tavern grub and drink. “Westport needs a real old time tavern,” Taibe told us. Unlike his other restaurants, there will likely be few twists, no high wire acts. “This menu would probably not be as aggressive,” he suggested. “Unlike the Whelk and Kawa Ni, we’d even have red meat.”
What about the foie gras situation, his signature ingredient? The chef grinned. “We could do that. And at times we might even bring back a dish from Le Farm.” (We’re nominating his Poutine.)
Like the food, the cocktail program would also serve as an homage to times gone by. Beverage Director Craig Ventrice contemplates curating many American classics for his service: Manhattans, Side Cars, and of course the Old Fashion. Influenced by the convivial layout of The Whelk, Bill envisions that the bar and adjoining communal tables will underscore the social tropes of a true town tavern: watering hole, gathering place, community center. The perimeter of the dining area would be lined with booths for more private conversations.
The community experience would also be on display in a very public outdoor dining plaza, part of the civic legacy of Old Town Hall. On a doggedly hot summer day, we stood on the broken bricks of the common, looking over the bustle of Post Road East. “Can you imagine what this would be like around the holidays?” Taibe asked. “Christmas lights, shoppers strolling by, I can just see it.”
That scene could play out this winter. Taibe plans on opening around the end of the year -- even though the space is still raw and buildout is yet a month away. But, if you’re Bill Taibe, plans could suddenly shift.
Case in point: he didn’t settle on The Whelk’s concept until not long before it opened. Taibe cautioned us that he could very well have a change of heart about this new concept. After all, this is a gifted chef who trades on the impromptu. The unpredictable. The passionate.
Bill is now asking the community to donate historic pictures of Town Hall and other artifacts of old Westport, such as menus, images of produce markets, shops, butchers, bakers, and fish mongers. Though his new restaurant will not be a museum, he does want to tastefully honor the legacy of the building.