Elizabeth Fuller is the Playwright for the Off Broadway play "Me & Jezebel." She is also the author of ten published books and Op-Ed contributor to New York Times.
Good news! Cobb’s Mill Inn is no longer just your Aunt Tilly’s favorite restaurant. Opened on Mother’s Day, the fully renovated pre-revolutionary inn, with an eye level view of its magnificent waterfall through the massive dining room windows, smacks of excitement and the promise of romantic culinary adventure. And now, for the first time in decades, so does the menu. The visionary new owners, Drew Friedman and Elayne Cassara, know a restaurant’s ambiance, mallards shooting across 20 foot cascading falls, is not enough of a draw for the savvy Fairfield County patron who has a ridiculously wide array of great restaurants from which to choose. We all know that food trumps view. So what did the new owners do to counteract years of Cobb’s Mill’s famous mediocrity and bump them into the competitive Foodie scene? They set out with the same gusto with which they renovated the 1740 inn to hunt down a chef who would bring their vision of the ultimate dining experience home to Weston, Connecticut’s only restaurant, other than for a local luncheonette.
Enter Chef Michael Achille. The handsome 2nd generation Calabrian studied at the Culinary Arts Program at the Rhode Island School of Design and shortly thereafter opened, one by one, a string of eclectic “A” list restaurants throughout the Northeast. But so much for background. My Calabrian shoemaker grandfather with zip culinary credentials could whip up a meatball that would make you cry. So new owners – SHOW ME THE FOOD!
The night I ate at Cobb’s Mill, I was accompanied by my friend, an Italian Opera singer, for whom food ranks right up there with a high C. The menu was delightfully varied in selection and portion size ranging from teasers and tapas to full entrees. We started by sharing two of the Tapas dishes and a Teaser. First was the Poached Asparagus: al dente asparagus with basted egg, morels, a dusting of parmesan cheese, and sprinkled with fragrant white truffle oil. The first taste transported me back to Positano. When I mentioned this to my friend, whom we lovingly call The Diva, she said, “isn’t that the purpose of great food – to take you to a place of unsurpassed beauty and romance?”
Next came the delicately fried fresh Salt Cod Fritter drizzled with zesty Chipolte Aioli which was spectacular. And finally, the Teaser: Moules & Frites Ala Normande – Prince Edward Island mussels steamed in garlic butter and topped with a mound of hand cut crispy pommes frites, with tarragon aioli on the side waiting to be dipped with crusty, earthy bread. When head waiter Jimmy Ohta came over to ask how we were enjoying the mussels, between bites The Diva told him, “Jimmy,” she said with outstretched arms, “Venus rises from the sea. You can hear the mussels singing love songs from under the waves. From Neptunian depths!” Okay, my sensuous Calabrian Opera singer friend was clearly in her happy place -- the sea. I was in heaven. Next.
With great reluctance we skipped the salads. Although the Black Angus Hanger Steak Salad tempted us we knew we had to save room for the entrées. What to choose ranked right up there with deciding on a diamond. My eye lingered on the braised lamb shank Osso Bucco and the Siam-styled Seafood Stew with shrimp, mussels, clams and calamari in a coconut curry broth, baby bok choy, and jasmine rice, but the Duck Two Ways and Drew’s Favorite Filet Mignon won out.
The duck was a sliced breast and confit of leg with an exotic black plum chutney, port wine glaze, wild rice, and a delicate vegetable spring roll that made me wonder how Chef Michael pulled that one off. The only thing a bit unnerving was feasting on the succulent duck while trying to avoid eye contact with the mallards perched feet away. I told myself that my entree wasn’t a full blood mallard so eat up. It was Rouen, new to the market: ¼ muscovy (French duck), 1/4 mallard (sorry guys!) and ½ crescent (Long Island duckling). The confit was cooked in its own fat for 2 hours until it fell off the bone, osso buco style. The meaty breast was grilled to perfection. Between courses we took a break and struck up a conversation with owners Drew and Elayne who happened to be eating at the next table outside on the screened deck that overlooks the West Branch of the Saugatuck River.
We learned that at 9 pm Elayne, a stunning singer and cabaret performer, would be in the upstairs dining room with her band Original Sin. They perform every Thursday evening. They hoped we would stick around. We ordered our third glass of vino (incidentally the excellent Northern California house wines are a surprising deal, $6 to $8 a glass) and committed to go dancing. But first, Drew’s Filet: a guy sized portion of Angus wrapped in smoked bacon, with a sweet corn puree, chunky bits of lobster, morels, and spinach, with garlic mashed Yukon gold potatoes. “Apocalittico!” the Diva uttered. It was superb!
We ended our dinner with a fresh pear tart tucked into a buttery almond crust served with a creamy French vanilla bean gelato straight from Milano. Then, the banana cake arrived topped with gelato and an exquisite banana foster sauce, an old school New Orleans specialty. Next time around I will have Elayne’s favorite: a Gran Marnier cheesecake. All desserts are homemade!
Incidentally the prices were all on the lower end for Fairfield County top restaurants with entrees ranging from $12 for a Black Angus Cheeseburger to $34.50 for a 16 oz. Grass-fed Ribeye Steak with potato gratin and asparagus. They also offer a Menu de Brasserie which includes Pulled Pork Sliders, Lobster Rolls, and Hearth Baked Pizzas, among other lighter fare. All this and heaven too. Drew and Elayne, Bravissimo!
Le Roue Elayne at Cobb's Mill Inn 12 Old Mill Road, Weston (203) 227-7221
[Photography courtesy of Pam Zaremba]