Poised to celebrate its 10th year with Chef Tim LeBant at the helm, The Schoolhouse at Cannondale has long been on my radar. When a friend recently asked me to dinner I jumped at the chance. Nestled among the charming shops at the Cannondale train station, the one room schoolhouse is as delightful from the exterior as it is inside. A small entryway outfitted with a tiny bar area is separated from the dining area by a small curtained doorway, while many framed accolades set the mood for an excellent meal.
The dining room, dressed in rich browns, mustards and woods honors the period architecture, keeping the décor true to the era. Banquettes dressed in large white and chocolate houndstooth line the outer walls. Beautiful paintings in elegant gold frames give the space a personal touch much like the comfort of a personal dining room as opposed to a public restaurant. I was delighted to find that despite the din and hum of diners around us it was easy to hear my dining companion. Often, these days, I’m finding the smaller restaurants are often too loud for my liking.
One of the earliest local establishments to embrace the farm to table movement Chef LeBant sources his produce from Millstone and Sport Hill farms when the seasons allow, and his meats are all hormone and antibiotic-free. Attention to detail, I would soon discover, is evident everywhere – from the restaurant’s décor, to the food, to the menu which changes daily, on which is printed the surname of each party. It just doesn’t get more personal than that.
I had the opportunity to visit on a Wednesday night which offers a vegetarian menu in January and February. This allows Chef Tim LeBant to try something creative during the slowest months of the year. Mario Gonzales, who has been with The Schoolhouse since it first opened its doors, assured me that vegetarian menus are available year-round for those who require, or desire, such. Prior notice is much appreciated. “We can cater to almost all dietary needs,” he assured me. But as the weather starts to warm and tables fill quickly it is best to let the restaurant know ahead of time.
Although I am not a vegetarian I was excited to try this menu. My friends all know that I like to share. What this really means is that in addition to what I order, I want to try what you have! With this in mind we worked our way down the menu, ordering both items from each selection. I should also note that due to the low light in dining room, I regret that many of the dishes mentioned do not have identical representative images, but the photographs below should reflect the beauty of the menu.
We started with the parsnip and apple soup, smooth and well balanced. A hint of the grassy parsnip shone through and while I expected (and worried) that the soup might be too sweet from the apple I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t at all. Despite the creaminess, there was a fresh and refreshing quality and wasn’t heavy in the least. The Citrus Salad, my choice, was my favorite of the two. And despite my not liking to mix sweet and savory I make exception when it comes to citrus. The grapefruit and orange segments perfectly complemented the sweetness of the beets and shaved fennel. The toasted almonds offered a crunchy texture. The mellowness of the olive oil highlighted the flavors – the sweet beets, the tart citrus and the salty goat cheese creating a trifecta of flavors.
From there we moved on to our second courses. I ordered the Braised baby carrots with harissa, fried, spiced chick peas and dates. As soon as the baby carrots were placed in front of me I began to dig in, rudely ignoring my friend whose plate was being placed in front of him. My carrots were incredibly tender and while they were marinated in orange juice, the sweetness was virtually undetectable as the coriander presented itself offering up a bold and vibrant curry flavor which, combined with the spiciness of the harissa, lent itself perfectly to the fried spiced chick peas. The dates were a fun surprise. Lightly seared, they offered a unique crunchy twist on what one expects from this fruit.
Milder by comparison, the Roasted Jerusalem artichokes with celery root purée, Brussels sprouts, hazelnut vinaigrette and sunchoke chips didn’t disappoint. The celery root purée complemented the artichoke’s smooth, almost potato-like consistency that was punctuated by the crispy sunchoke chips. I don’t remember one flavor standing out over another, rather a mellow merging of all.
Next came the Cavatelli with lacinato kale, pearl onions and maitake mushroom in a wine butter sauce. Rich from the wine and butter, the mushroom flavor was intense with the milder kale taking a backseat to this woodland vegetable. I was pleasantly surprised that there were equal parts vegetable to the pasta. This dish was decadently sublime. The Roasted Romanesco with fingerling potatoes, nebrodini mushrooms and carrot purée was as simple as it sounds - little cauliflower florets accompanied potatoes and mushrooms over a perfectly seasoned orange cream-like sauce proving that when it comes to eating less is oven more. Although uncomplicated it was far from ordinary.
I’m not one to order dessert, but when it comes as part of the dinner who am I to turn it down? The persimmon almond cake was light, and reminded me ever so slightly of a carrot cake though much less dense. A single scoop of cinnamon ice cream served as the perfect accompaniment and I loved the crunchy texture of the warm nuts in contrast to the creamy ice cream. Truth be told I don’t particularly care for traditional cheesecake. Lucky for me the Vanilla bean cheesecake with lemon curd and car acara orange was anything but typical. Its lighter texture reminded me more of the Italian version made with ricotta, but I was told that this was indeed made with cream cheese though whipped to become light and fluffy. There was indeed an airiness with every bite. The tartness of the citrus married perfectly with smooth vanilla flavors.
I’m so sorry it took me so long to get there, but it won’t take nearly as long to get back. I am eager to return and hope to be able to do so soon. I have no question in my mind that this is one of the greatest restaurants to grace our state. While The Schoolhouse might not be in many of our back yards, it’s close enough and easily accessible from most Fairfield County towns. Those who’ve been know what a gem this restaurant is. Those of you who will be trying it for the first time will soon find out!
The Schoolhouse is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays so that Chef Tim LeBant can spend time with his family. Dinners are served Wednesday through Friday, lunch is served Friday and Saturday, and Bruch is served on Sunday. For more information visit their website.
The Schoolhouse at Cannondale
34 Cannon Road
Wilton, CT 06897