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Sunday
Jan092011

SAILS American Grill Opens in Rowayton

When the River Cat shuttered its doors in March, after 12 years on Rowayton’s main drag, the closure of the beloved neighborhood restaurant and bar left a gaping hole in Rowayton’s dining and social scene. 

So when I returned to check out the recently launched SAILS, a new American bistro with a spiffed up nautical vibe, I wasn’t surprised that the highly polished teak bar was three-deep with old-timers and new fans, making themselves right at home in a familiar, yet completely transformed haunt. 

Where the River Cat was dark and had grown a tad tired from years of hard partying, SAILs is bright, modern and shipshape, sporting a fresh blue-and- white palette and nautical theme that reflects Rowayton’s deep ties to the sailing community and waterfront just steps from the restaurant’s front door. 

In the main dining room, the ceiling is draped with authentic canvas boat sails. The walls are softly lit by maritime pendant lights and peppered with a nautical-inspired décor — from teak woodwork and chrome railings that make you feel like you’re dining aboard a yacht — to simple yachting prints by renowned photographer Michael Kahn.

Ceruzzi, the restaurant group that owns and operates Manhattan’s Bottega del Vino, Kenmare and Sfoglia, completely transformed the ambience, yet treaded lightly when it came to tinkering with the staff. When Ceruzzi brass heard about the town’s loyalty to the River Cat’s crew, they sagely brought back Executive Chef Nathan Kramer, General Manager Terry McSpedon, Bartender Tim Walsh and many of the River Cat’s popular longtime staffers. 

McSpedon, an affable restaurant vet who was with the River Cat when it first opened, has an uncanny read on his clientele. All evening, he deftly navigates the packed dining room, checking on tables, directing waiters and chitchatting with regulars. 

To a gal who encounters her fair share of indifferent twentysomething “managers” snapping gum and texting, it’s a refreshing change to see an adult captain adroitly steering this ship. (It didn’t hurt that McSpedon steered us to a coveted a seat by the crackling fireplace when I mention it’s my husband’s birthday. 

As the ambience has matured, so has the menu. Chef Kramer, who was the executive chef at the River Cat for four years, designed the menu as a study in simplicity, with a well-edited selection of appetizers, soups, salads, burgers as well as gourmet seafood, meat and pasta entrees — and no specials in sight. Instead, the menu will change with the seasons, with winter’s hearty fare being replaced by lighter choices and more fresh seafood and farmers’ market selections in spring and summer.

Though his dishes are simple, Kramer elevates each by using superior fresh and seasonal ingredients. In many cases, his tempting accompaniments threaten to upstage the main event. The Roasted Marinated Pork Chop, for instance, is all but eclipsed by the butternut squash bread pudding, pecan butter and shaved Brussels sprouts and bacon in a cider reduction. 

Other menu standouts include Housemade Meatball Sliders on Brioche, Steamed P.E.I Mussels with chorizo, apples, pumpkin cream, Housemade Lobster Ravioli, and an array of swimmingly fresh seafood entrees, like the Cedar Planked Sockeye Salmon and Rosemary (with red rice, toasted pecans, sun-dried apricots, scallions, Blood Orange butter) & Butter-Basted Chilean Sea Bass (with baby artichokes, Great Northern white beans, roasted tomatoes and mushroom broth).

For the little ones, there’s gourmet mac & cheese, freshly prepared grilled burgers, organic all-beef hot dogs and thin-crust pizzas, though the crowd is decidedly grown up after 7:30 p.m., when both the bar and dining room emit a boisterous, reunion-like vibe. My advice: Go early if you’ve got small people in tow.

We arrive at primetime on a recent Wednesday night, and it’s standing-room only at the door (reservations are the call here). Our first impression is good. The chewy house Ciabatta and excellent Extra Virgin Olive Oil are the real deal. We peruse the menu and take in the chummy Rowayton scene, complete with a colorful bon vivant sporting an ascot, navy blazer and red cords who is chatting up his attractive young neighbors.

For starters, we decide on the savory Braised Short Rib Flatbread with wild mushrooms, Fontina, caramelized onions and fall braising greens, a dish perfect for sharing. Our second starter, a cool and bracing Tuna Tartar, expertly layered with cucumbers, avocado and a piquant chili dressing, is the right counterpoint to the short rib pizzette. It’s served with a side of crunchy, diet-busting House-made potato chips for scooping — a brilliant pairing.

For our entrees, we split the Grilled Marinated Skirt Steak, a hearty portion of perfectly seasoned medium-rare steak in a black peppercorn cognac sauce, served with a hefty side of addictive truffle fries. In between bites of skirt steak, we make short work of the savory House-Made Lobster Ravioli with artichokes, Andouille sausage and lobster in a light and sweet Vermouth cream sauce. 

Along with our first-rate food, we enjoy several very respectable wines by the glass, and are pleasantly surprised with the selection of good bottles for under $30. Overall, the menu is reasonably priced, with plenty of novel choices for a low-key weeknight meal. McSpedon says he wants people to feel like the restaurant is a “home away from home,” a place to bring the “Times” and relax on Sunday in the bar, a place to take the kids for an early bite or a venue for live music and cocktails on the weekends. And, naturally, if you’re in the mood to celebrate or splurge, you can manage that nicely here.

For dessert, temptations include the Warm Chocolate Ooze Cake, served with a small side of Vanilla Milk Shake, The Salty Turtle, which features vanilla ice cream, drizzled with chocolate and caramel sauces, topped with salty cashews, The SAILS Root Beer Float or rich Butterscotch Pudding. 

We dive into the Salty Turtle and sail back off to our home port of Westport, happy to know that, like a Phoenix, SAILS has risen from the ashes of the River Cat, and is well on its way to reclaiming its former status as the community’s go-to gathering spot.  

SAILS American Grill is open daily for lunch (11:30 am - 2:30 pm) and dinner (5:30 - 10:30 pm), and features a special Brunch Menu on Sunday. SAILS is located at 148 Rowayton Ave. and offers al fresco dining and great people-watching on the street-front patio starting in the spring. Reservations are recommended for dinner. Live music on weekends starting Jan. 1, 2011. For more information, visit  www.sailsamericangrill.com or call 203-853-SAIL.  

Sails American Grill on Urbanspoon

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Reader Comments (12)

Great review. I wish I would have known about this place 24 hours ago when Mrs J and I were doing the "where do we want to eat" dance.

January 9, 2011 | Registered CommenterJeff "jfood" Schlesinger

j food you are lucky you missed this, the food is mediocre at best... very similar to the River Cat. The menu is basically the same that it was with zero creativity (do we really need another flatbread?). Having dined at Kenmare and Sfoglia, a new chef from this group would have been and is still welcome. As for the review I am sorry to say that it reminds me of the episode of the Simpsons where Homer is a food critic who can only write exceptional reviews of all food...

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFatso

Thanks for the "Homer" comment, Fatso! I needed a good laugh! No one said that SAILS is a hotbed of culinary creativity or that it is "exceptional" in any way. In fact, the reason I enjoyed the experience was because its owners were smart enough to realize that the last thing people want in this climate is another pretentious eatery with precious portions on large plates that display a star chef's egocentric vision of "exceptional" cuisine at the expense of a decent meal.

Every town needs a hopping local hangout with good food at fair prices in a cozy, welcoming ambience — and that's what you get at SAILS. Not every meal has to be overwrought, overpriced and a testament to a chef's culinary artistry in order to make for a happy dining experience. Sometimes, a neighborhood joint needs to be just that. This one happens to fit the bill — and Rowaytonites are happy to have their spiffed up River Cat back in town as SAILS. So, as much as I'd love to see a Kenmare or a Sfoglia come to the area, SAILS is far better suited to the folks to live by in this seaside town who seek a few drinks with a friendly bar crowd and a good casual meal that doesn't break the bank.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristy Colasurdo

Sails is just what Rowayton needed. Great atmosphere, Great food. Loved the marinated steak and banana split. This will easily become our new family favorite!

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

As mentioned above, the food at SAILS is BORRRRRRINGGGG. Casual does not have to mean bad. The food is just not executed well and it can be avoided...oh and overpriced.

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFraggle

I have to agree that SAILS, as was the River Cat, is a perfect "local" and maybe not so local restaurant and hangout, even coming form Stamford! My wife and I were there for brunch today, a perfect way to spend a cold Sunday afternoon, Aiden the bartender makes a great Bloody Mary. Can't wait for the live weekend entertainment to start up once again! Bravo Ceruzzi Restaurant Group!

January 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAl

Based on the CT Bites review we tried Sails on Saturday night. Overall a good experience. However it should be noted that the restaurant is VERY loud. I don't know whether its the structure of the dining room or lack of sound-absorbing materials or whether it was the boorish 30-somethings howling at the tables ringing the room, but it is loud. Did you hear me, ITS VERY LOUD !

January 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBill

I have to agree with Fatso - although I understand what everyone is saying about the location and I will miss having a reliable spot at this venue - we went there for dinner this week and the menu, like the service, was bland and amateurish. All the food we ordered was tasteless (Flatbread, Gnocci, and Skirt Steak), minus the Truffle fries which were so overly seasoned they were un-edible. We had to send back the chicken breast because of many reasons, but which came with a heavy handed mustard sauce and not a sherry black pepper sauce per the menu. The wine list was overpriced for the 4oz. pours they gave and they had the draft kegs hooked up incorrectly. An overall HORRIBLE experience - so disappointing. They need to get their act together over there.

February 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSusanVH

Doesn't it bother anyone else that restaurants are still serving severely over-fished Chilean Sea Bass?

June 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRlam

Nope

June 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermike d

Sails is an OK spot for burger or a pizza and a beer or glass of wine. I don't really like the menu and the food just isn't good enough to be able to recommend Sails to a friend. I had a salad last week and there were several pieces of lettuce that were nearly rotten. The steak sandwich is all bread and no steak. And yes, the place is very loud and crowded.

June 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSailor

Ok, not that many will see this but I am here to give my update on Sails. The food here has done a complete 180 degree turn for me. In addition to mixing up the menu with innovative and not too complicated specials, the wines by the glass have improved as well. The quality has gone up significantly as well. To top it all off the service is as good as you'll get in Fairfield County. Nice work Sails!

(I still find the original review comical and over-hyped).

July 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFatso

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