Once Le Chambord vacated its location on the Post Road (you have to be a true townie to remember it), Da Pietro’s staked its claim as Westport’s standout “classy joint” from the late 1980s on, and today is like the town’s elder statesman in the restaurant realm. A seamless fusion of French and Italian cuisine, a tour de force of European refinement and classic technique, Chef Pietro Scotti’s repertoire has evolved with the times, but his establishment is still a benchmark of classic fine dining in the area, and he's still in the kitchen.
Happening by Riverside Avenue recently you might have seen a chalkboard sign subtly advertising DaPietro’s weekday lunch and dinner prix fixe deals. For real? Yes, $12.00 gets you a two course lunch, three courses for $15.00, and at $33.00 for dinner (drinks excluded), you can enjoy a three course meal and be privy to the chef’s wonderful creations.
We had to get to the bottom of this…on a weeknight recently it was crowded (ok, it doesn't take much at this 26 seater) but they squeezed four of us in for an impromptu double date. We mixed and matched, a couple of us opting for the fixed price menu of the evening while the other pair decided to pay full price to sample other options from the full menu.
Appetizers were for the most part very simple…Asparagus, for example, blanched al dente, were dressed with nutty brown butter, some bitter endive and plenty of Parmigiano Reggiano.
Lobster Bisque was surprisingly thin…expecting plenty of cream and butter, this was more about the essence of lobster; clean in flavor and lacking chunks of lobster meat, which were replaced by little toasts anchored to the bottom with strings of melted Gruyere. We might have wished for more salt and some richness, but this was more a concentration on one natural ingredient than a complex emulsion.
The standout of the first course was homemade Fettuccine garnished with a copious amount of black truffle…strands of very light pasta replete with even thinner slices of truffle and dressed with sauce salty to just the right degree, pungent and not skimpy on the butter.
Mediterranean Salad with roasted eggplant, bell peppers and baby artichoke hearts, studded with homemade mozzarella was perhaps an ode to Pietro’s home turf on the isle of Ischia; a simple presentation of bright vegetables, the cheese reminiscent of that imported from Italy, supple and firm.
While we expect professionals to get it right all the time, experience shows that even seasoned cooks can err on both sides of the doneness scale. So it bears mentioning that all of the proteins for our entree course were cooked to perfection, the quality of each beyond question.
We also noted the beauty of plating with unfettered precision…nothing extravagant, but everything well placed, the right amount of sauce or garnish about each component. It's apparent that the chef does not try to do too much with his ingredients or presentation, keeping everything grounded and close to its natural state.
Pietro went to the Pacific Rim for inspiration with Tuna crusted in black pepper, seared to doneness no more than a few millimeters from the surface and served with a soy reduction and wasabi aioli. On the side of this "Steak au Poivre" was a Mango Risotto, buttery but sweet and exotic at the same time.
The wine list is curved toward the finer bottles of France, Italy and California, so you can figure in your savings from the prix fixe menu and splurge a little on the libation…but we managed to find a few relatively reasonable options as well.
Baby Lamb Chops were de-racked and accented with the wintry woodiness of a rosemary demi- glace, perfectly pink and tender, while truffled mashed potatoes beside them were almost homey…except that I don’t know many moms who put that genome of tuber in their mashed potatoes.
Tender Sea Scallops were seared and served in a chunky sauce of tomato, garlic and scallions with a mold of Mushroom Risotto scented with truffle oil on the side. With so much truffle action going on among entrees you could see where the delicate scallops might be overwhelmed, but the balance of earth to sea was held in check by perfect seasoning...that idea was flipped around for rich and buttery Sea Bass, justly tempered by sautéed spinach and simply roasted potatoes. No truffle needed.
Desserts were flawless, and as expected, plated with care…Gateau St. Nizier, a flourless chocolate cake, was made up of unctuous dark chocolate and little else, nutty and smooth so that it coated the mouth and lingered there on the tongue as it slowly dissolved.
Light and buttery Profiteroles were filled with vanilla ice cream and smothered in a decadent Belgian chocolate ganache, a symphony of flavors and textures.
A generous wedge of Tiramisu was airy and moist, with a just the right amount of strawberry coulis on the edges of the plate to cleanse the pallet of the creamy mascarpone and egg fluff.
The prix fixe menu left us at dessert and coffee but we capped the evening with two of Pietro’s own digestivos; homemade "Limongello" that was sweet and tart rather than stiff, and a Rum Shrub that was also mild and resounded with aromas of vanilla and oak.
Ever since I was a bright-eyed boy I identified Da Pietro's as the kind of place where sophisticated grown-ups went to engage in revelry. Now it’s great to know that chef Pietro Scotti has made his cuisine more accessible to weekday and weeknight diners who just want a great meal at a reasonable price. Who knows how long the deal will last though, so check it out!