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Thursday
Jan192012

The Whelk in Westport: A First Look & Taste

Friends and family were treated to a sneak preview of The Whelk, Bill Taibe's latest venture in Westport on Wednesday evening.  Steeped in the sea with unmistakable flashes of leFarm's seasonal luxury, The Whelk is poised to establish Saugatuck as the culinary center of Westport.

Bivalves in various shapes and sizes, octopus poutine, barbequed clams, a blackened pollock sandwich with spicy slaw and a lamb burger are now permanently seared into memory. Among many small bites, it is these I pray make it onto the menu. Admittedly, this reverence may be due in no small part to their pairing with the "perfect Manhattan" – a smooth classic of Bulleit bourbon, Dolin dry and sweet vermouth, bitters, and a lemon peel.

Salty fries piled precariously along the bar, breaking up the bivalve circus, may just be the perfect landlubbing accoutrement to the Whelk's sea-centric snacks. Paired with a Manhattan? Well played Whelk, well played.

As if that's not enough to look forward to, let's talk brunch, outdoor seating and fried chicken dinners.  All these things that were sorely missing from leFarm mainly due to space constraints, will be very much present at The Whelk. The final iteration should retain a substantial raw bar (east coast and west coast oysters, represent) seasonal fish, as well as generous attention to meat (the closest neighbor happens to be none other than Saugatuck's Craft Butchery). 

With familiar faces and names in the kitchen -- Bill Taibe, Dan Kardos and Andy Hayes-- paired with the consummate manager Massimo Tulio manning the elegantly appointed front of house, there is no more tip-toeing around the neighborhood. The Whelk has arrived. And just in time. [For more info on The Whelk, check out this first look].

The Whelk 575 Riverside Avenue, Westport 203.557.0902

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Reader Comments (20)

More than anything else, it's great to see a non-Italian restaurant in Saugatuck. I have a few questions:

Do you envision this as a place that will attract a significant portion of business from people outside of Westport, with more young adults in particular?

Do you think The Whelk will improve the neighborhood's social scene and emerge as a go-to for singles and couples, along the lines of what the Gray Goose has done in Southport?

I'm sure the food is wonderful and I admire Taibe's dedication to quality, service and sustainability, but I just hope it evolves into more of a "hub of activity" than Le Farm or some other restaurants that have gone this route. A destination, if you will. Attracting foodies is one thing, but crossing over (like Match, for example, has accomplished to an extent, seems a bit tougher).

What effect do you think this will have on other seafood-centric neighborhood restaurants, such as the Black Duck, Mansion Clam House and Boathouse?

One more question: is Saugatuck's Craft Butchery doing well? It's obviously a very nice place with excellent product, but has that translated into enough business to keep it around for awhile? I worried that Westporters, particularly in this economy, might not be totally sold, and, when I pass by, it doesn't seem to be as crowded as I would have hoped.

January 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJay

Love the name and the food looks great. Can't wait to taste for myself. Best of luck to The Whelk and staff.

January 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAdam R.

Do they have a website?

January 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChad Wales

To compare Taibe and his new restaurant to the likes of Mansion, Grey Goose and the Duck etc. is like trying to compare local Clams from Jeff Northrop to what might appear on clam strip roll from duchess. We are on two completely different levels here. Just sayin...

January 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick

Chad- They do not have a web site yet.

January 19, 2012 | Registered CommenterStephanie Webster

To "Jay"....... Stop over analyzing the place. Make a reservation and open your wallet.

January 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfoodieonline

@Jay Great questions.

I imagine the serious following that Taibe and leFarm have built transcends demographics and geography. The fact that most food-obsessives (speaking from experience) tend to travel, coupled with a bigger space (an ample & handsome central bar, outdoor seating) will certainly cater to a younger crowd.

The neighborhood has indeed been booming. There are many spots in the 'hood along the dining spectrum, so I think The Whelk will galvanize this trend, adding to the area's interest and rivaling the "hub of activity" as you say, to Washington Street in SoNo.

To answer your question about competition among nearby spots, I would touch on the idea of a spectrum again. If I want fried clams I'll hit up Mansion House. If I want a burger paired with an embarrasing night of karoake, I'll go to the Black Duck. The Boathouse is a romantic spot. Different strokes for different folks & moods.

As for Saugatuck Craft Butchery, they seem to be doing very well. I'll encourage Ryan to answer this specifically but word-of-mouth is very positive from both patrons and restaurants.

January 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Kundrat

To Jay: I hope for it doesn't turn into another Grey Goose! You can never get in there to enjoy the great food and it's a really loud bar scene. Been there, done that. We want eat and enjoy the experience. Well said, Amy. .Welcome to the The Whelk! BTW, we tried Oaxaca Kitchen for lunch- it was superb! They opened up the place, so it's better suited for the casual vibe and the crowds I am sure will arrive for the fresh inventive fare.

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSueIsemanwestport

I've heard greats things, but I am a vegetarian (not pescatarian), with a strong vegan pull. Are there options available for me? Thanks!!

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteph

Went last night and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The space is fantastic. Th service was well done and the two dishes I ordered were delicious. I started with a bowl of the whelk chowder. First time for me and whelk and i did not know what to expect. Nice pieces that have a great flavor and a bite to them and Bill created an incredibly complex broth, tons of flavor. Entree was the Oyster Loaf, which is fried oysters with spicy cole slaw and dressing between two slices of brioche bread. The oysters were perfectly cook, the slaw added a spicy component and the house made tartar sauce was great. The brioche bread is about as good as it gets.

Very vibrant atmosphere, tons of people with a loud vibe.

January 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterJeff "jfood" Schlesinger

Let's be very honest about the pros and cons when reviewing a restaurant....the honesty will then help everyone involved. Four of us went to one of the first nights it was open to the public. Based on the pictures that had been taken and posted on this site, we couldn't wait to go ! Walked into the restaurant and we were greeted cordially and shown to our table. The restaurant is very classy looking. The server was very helpful with thoughts on what to order and we got some appetizers and many entrees. Our upbeat mood was soon deflated as multiple items arrived. THe BBQ clams were very tasty but tiny. The Octopus entree pictured above was truly disgraceful as it was severely lacking SEAFOOD and was mostly french fries, unlike the abundance of seafood pictured above in the dish. The seafood in the Croquette was practically non-existent and quite a letdown. The Oyster loaf was good and the lamb burger very good. While the food overall was not up to our expectations, the bill when it arrived was quite shocking due to the excessive liquor charges. Fourteen dollars for mixed vodka drinks is outrageous. Fifteen dollars for glasses of wine ! Overall, the restaurant we had hoped would become a favorite new spot to add to our list was truly a bummer in many ways.

January 29, 2012 | Registered Commentertst

@steph I don't think there are many options here for vegetarians. You'd be better served elsewhere if the early menu (and Taibe's proclivity for animal protein) is any indication but don't hesitate to call and ask ahead as it is still early and I am sure the menu is still in flux.

@tst This is not a full restaurant review. We made it clear it was a "first taste." As with any new restaurant, I am hopeful the menu, service and experience will continue unfold and solidify with all the comments above adding to the dynamic dialogue of the evolution of any new spot.

January 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Kundrat

@tst

It is very unfair to "review" a restaurant the very first week they're open. Most critics, meaning people that are actually paid to write reviews, wait at least a month before dining in a new restaurant. It is very well known that restaurants need time to work out the kinks. I would encourage you to give it a second try in a month or so.

February 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAR

My wife and I enjoyed dinner last night at The Whelk. It was Valentine's Day. The service was perfect, and the food was delicious. Our favorites included the blood orange salad, the octopus & squid over spicy fries, and the squid ink cavatelli with chorizo. Truly wonderful flavors. The portions and the prices were in line with our expectations. The ambiance was lively. Several decent wines were available by the glass for about $9. We will be returning. No regrets.

February 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterYep, I said it!

Let's be honest about Welk. First of all when I walk into a newly open establishment and walk up to the bar the last thing I want is to have to shout over to the one female bar tender who seems more interested in chatting up a conversation with one of the locals. On a few occasions this has happened to a few of the patrons and myself.
The second issue I have is I don't want to play name that liquor. I asked for a scotch and of coarse all they had was a bottle of some unknown brand that no one has ever heard of selling for an amount as if it was an 18 year old single malt. Then I ask for bourbon and there was none to be found. Next I ask for a simple dark rum and of course out comes some third rate unheard of over priced rum. As far as the menu it is something typed on the size of a postcard all cramed together line by line. Make sure you bring a lighted magnifying glass.
If you are fortunate to be able to read it --be up for eye of newt or roastbeef and snail gravy, squid inked pasta and a lamb burger for 24 dollars!!! The place has the feel of a cafeteria complete with communal dining and the noise to go with it. One sure thing about Westporter's they know what they want and what they don't want.

February 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNATHAN

Nathan, maybe you shouldn't be drinking so much.

February 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWestport Wrecker

Whelcome to Whestport.

May 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterde la vega

whats with the hat on backwards look?

May 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfoodieonline

Is it too soon to speak now of the "Whelk-ification" of Westport, and is it wrong to look back nostalgically to a time before Westport was merely another accessory for the Range Rover set (and really, does any car say "get out of the road, peasant" like a Rover? Does anyone call them "Rovers"? Actually what they do say can't be printed here. Something like, "Forget you!"

Judging from the crowds (constant, regardless of day, time or weather) this place must be phenomenal.

July 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDe La Vega

I'm pretty sure people prefer clam strips from dutchess than stale clams Northrop sells at whole foods

October 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDutchess

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