Gates in New Canaan: New Chef, Changing Menu for Longtime Institution

jeffrey schlesinger

Gates Restaurant has been an institution on Forest Street in New Canaan since 1979. It was sold in 2015, completely redesigned and re-opened last February. The new Gates maintained the relaxed environment with a rustic, Americana décor, with the original gates repurposed around the entrance to the revamped bar, exposed brick-and-wood walls, bistro seating, and an open kitchen. On weekends kids’ teams continued to flock to this town fixture for post-soccer game celebrations, families scheduled weekly Sunday brunches, locals met for a casual lunch, guys sat at the bar indulging in a burger, beer and ballgame, and young adults enjoyed a few late-night drinks and live music. It was still the town watering hole...Gates 2.0.

My first few visits after the re-opening were disappointing; the noise level was deafening and the food was not to my liking. To the credit of management, they listened to feedback from social media, comment cards left with each patron and a self-assessment. Changes occurred. The noise level is being addressed, many of the opening items were eliminated from the menu, former favorites are reappearing and new dishes from its recently hired Executive Chef Dan Rubino, who joined the team in November, are slowly making an appearance. CTbites was invited to return and sit with General Manager Carter Messman and the new chef to discuss the vision for Gates and sample a few items.

Management wants Gates to be an American Brasserie where the bar is filled with locals enjoying food, libations, and desserts, with a side of live music on certain nights, while the dining room is packed with families and guests, who return on a regular basis. The noise level is being addressed with the installation of noise damping panels on the ceiling, softer chairs and booths are on order, and an array of art and historical photos will adorn the hard brick walls.

The ever-changing menu now includes some old-time favorites (the Bellagio sandwich), plus slowly introducing Chef Rubino’s concepts. As I sampled the dishes, there was a distinct difference between the items that the new chef has added and those that remain from the opening menu, Rubino’s creations were better. When I asked about this, I was told that many of the opening menu dishes were some of the restaurant’s best sellers, and removing them would draw the wrath from many of their regular diners.

I sampled many of the appetizers and salads, with some good and some not to my liking.

The Crab Cake consisted of a single, large oval-shaped portion of jumbo lump crab meat mixed with a light aioli and sautéed flat on two sides. It was served with a spicy rémoulade with a smattering of micro greens on top. The cake was almost entirely crab meat, mild in flavor, less sweet than I expected, and worked well with the medium spiciness of the aioli.

The Roasted Baby Beets paired chunks of red and yellow beets with walnut puree, a sprinkling of goat cheese, and creamy tarragon dressing, all hidden beneath a mound of mache. The current version emphasizes wintry flavors with the walnut puree accenting the earthiness of the beets. During the warmer months, the chef plans on brightening the dish with a citrusy alternative to the walnut puree.

The Tuna Tartare was a scant amount of sushi grade tuna, topped with a large portion of guacamole and house-made potato chips, swimming in a pool of ginger ponzu sauce. More aptly named pureed avocado with ponzu sauce, there was a meager amount of tuna, and both were overwhelmed by the bold ponzu sauce.

The Crispy Chicken Cobb salad was a traditional Cobb with bacon, avocado, tomatoes, dry bleu cheese, pickled red onions, and ham tossed with a honey mustard vinaigrette. Instead of slices of roasted chicken, the Gates version included buttermilk fried chicken strips. This was a very large salad, more than enough for a hearty appetite, but the fried chicken was overcooked and very bitter.

I found many of the sandwiches and entrées more to my liking. 

One of Gates’ best dishes was The Burger, which consisted of 28-day dry-aged blend of brisket, short rib, & chuck topped with American cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, on a brioche bun served with fresh cut fries. The meat was one of the richest flavored meats in the area, very “lamby” and perfectly prepared to my requested medium-rare. Guests should expect a lot of flavor hitting the palate on the first bite, which I really liked. The cheese and bacon were very good as was the bun.

The Pattie Melt was also delicious. An 8-ounce beef patty (a different and milder bend of cuts than the burger) was joined between slices of buttered and grilled rye bread by caramelized onions, melted Gruyere cheese, and Russian dressing. This was a well-executed, traditional patty melt that would go down smoothly with a few beers.

Of the larger entrée-sized offering, my favorite was the Short Ribs (picture at top of review). A large boneless single rib sat atop a mound of whipped potatoes and roasted vegetables (varietal cauliflower and snow peas) with a pan reduction. The meat was full of flavor, ultra-tender and delicious. The whipped potatoes were very good with the sauce as were the simple roasted vegetables.

The Yellowfin Tuna was a very simple presentation, seared tuna, encased in black and white sesame seeds, served with wakame seaweed, and snow peas. This was a very light dish, nicely balanced with an excellent quality tuna complemented by a delightful seaweed and vegetables.

The BBQ Baby Back Ribs were served with a side of fries, lathered in BBQ sauce and served with French fries. The meat lacked any flavor and the sauce was cloyingly sweet.

Overall, Gates is still a destination, neighborhood watering hole, offering a fun atmosphere to enjoy with friends, a relaxed environment for family dinners, and for adults looking for beers, music and good times. The menu is very diverse from sandwiches to salads, to fish, to meat & potatoes. Choose carefully, there is still a wide variance in dishes from delicious to somewhat challenging.

10 Forest St. New Canaan, CT 06840 •Tel: (203) 966-8666 

Really Liked

  • Burger ($17)
  • Pattie Melt ($13)
  • Short Rib ($25)

Liked

  • Crab Cake ($19)
  • Roasted Baby Beets ($13)
  • Yellowfin Tuna ($27)

Did Not Like

  • Tuna Tartare ($17)
  • Crispy Chicken Cobb ($16)
  • BBQ Baby Back Ribs ($18)

Neither CTbites nor the author were compensated for this review; the meal was provided without charge. The opinion contained herein are solely those of the author.



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