I have an affinity for those underexplored sweet spots that are slightly off the beaten path, tucked away, or unheard of. For whatever reason, Taberna, a Mediterranean tapas and wine bar located in the Brick Walk in downtown Fairfield hasn’t been widely discovered. Although I hadn’t heard of it, many have, and those who have, sing its praises.
Some of you might be familiar with the name, thinking it’s not in Fairfield, it’s in Bridgeport! And you would be correct, sort of...prior to opening the Fairfield location, Chef Daniel Lopez and his brother Jaime owned and operated the Bridgeport restaurant for 8 years. Upon hearing that it was closing, longtime diners were happy to follow to the new larger venue with a light-filled dining area, large bar and outdoor patio.
I was able to sit down and chat with Chef Lopez who was born and raised in Ecuador who revealed to me that he had been enamored with the flavors and cuisines of the Mediterranean since he was a child. In 1994 he and his brother emigrated to the states and immediately began working in the restaurant industry - for many well-known Fairfield County favorites.
In 2008 the brothers decided to take a leap of faith and pursue their own dreams and Taberna welcomed diners in Bridgeport. In June of last year one set of Taberna’s doors closed, and a new set in the Brick Walk opened to expand upon the original concept.
I was joined by a couple of others from the CTbites team to share some tapas with me. We selected a couple of items from the extensive Tapas menu which does seem to offer something for everyone. We let Chef Daniel suggest a couple for us as well.
We started off with the Traditional Ceviche prepared with shrimp, bay scallops, fresh tomatoes, onions, cilantro and marinated in lime juice. This dish took us by surprise initially. It wasn’t what we expected in the traditional sense. It wasn’t chilled, but served slightly warm. The tomatoes, cilantro and onions were quite complimentary, and offered a nice flavor, much milder compared to those that tend to be highly citrusy. The scallops and shrimp were fully cooked and served whole.
The Spanish Wood Roasted Piquillo Peppers were tender and sweet and stuffed with Valencia salad, an interesting mixture of chicken, shrimp, walnuts, saffron aioli and a balsamic glaze. A roasted beet salad followed suit which was light and refreshing.
Thinly sliced grilled steak strips with fresh tomatoes and chimichurri sauce served over crispy toasts, the Crostinis de Filete, offered no unexpected surprises. But the thinly sliced meat was tender to the bite and the chimichurri did seem to burst with fresh flavors. The Smoked Wild Salmon served over crispy toast offered up a welcome and unusual take with leaf green asparagus tips, capers and an avocado relish. The toasts sat on top of a wonderful red pepper sauce which we managed to sop up completely.
It was the Croquetas de Bacalao, however, that stopped me in my tracks - Cod fish croquettes with mustard and lemon aioli. These tender, savory balls that melt in your mouth almost elicited my impression of the famous Meg Ryan scene at the diner in When Harry met Sally. Yes, I thought they were that good. Berenjenas rebosadas, tender triangles of soft baked eggplant topped with manchego cheese in fresh tomatoes coulis were decadent, a perfect comfort food.
Last, but not least, we were presented with the Hand-made ricotta gnocchi with black angus bolognese sauce. The gnocchi was light and pillowy and sat in a brothy bowl.
Taberna offers diners looking for a welcoming environment to sit back and enjoy some of the traditional flavors of the Mediterranean. It is poised to be a favorite for locals looking for solid fare and a casual night out.
Neither CTbites nor the author were compensated for this review; the meal was provided without charge. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.