Elegantly prepared, nuanced preparations of vegetarian, vegan and raw food dishes are the expert domain of Six Main Restaurant in Chester, CT. Housed in the former Chester Savings Bank, a stately 100-year old landmark situated at the center of this quaint central Connecticut town, Six Main helps to usher in the slow momentum of “contemporary plant-based gourmet cuisine” into the state.
Open since summer 2012, Six Main is the result of a serendipitous collaboration between owner Bill de Jonge and award-winning raw chef Rachel Carr. Looking for a chef who would hold the same passion for healthy food, de Jonge hired Carr who happened to find herself in the Northeast after many years on the West coast at the helm of the well known Los Angeles raw vegan outpost, Cru. Their partnership also led to the cultivation of de Jonge's Old Lyme home, Upper Pond Farm, for produce specifically raised for the restaurant they were building.
Six Main celebrates plant-based cuisine–a spectrum of vegetarian, vegan and raw dishes–in an urbane yet unstuffy setting. The space itself retains shadows of its original bank architecture, including soaring ceilings, a bank clock, and a night deposit slot at the front corner of the building. The sparsely elegant space allows for elbow room and privacy, and a central bar and cocktail menu is in the works for next season.
For omnivores sensing categorization fatigue or a knee-jerk vegan aversion, this focus can and does seem secondary here. Both Carr and de Jonge are the first to eschew labels in favor of what the restaurant really embraces—elevated and vegetable-centric compositions that celebrate seasonality and the nuance of flavor in an elegant dining setting. The absence of animal protein is barely noticed. Conversely, for those whose culinary preferences are strict, whether voluntarily or genetically-dictated, this culinary focus can be freeing. Dishes are marked only if they have dairy (assuming the rest does not) and if dishes are gluten free. No need to ask for exceptions, but refreshingly, the menu states “substitutions are welcome.”
Dinner at Six Main often begins with a gremolata paired with several thick and pillowy slices of house-made whole wheat bread. Six Main’s version of this traditional Italian condiment is an emulsion of parsley, garlic, lemon zest and olive oil.
Their recent summer menu was the epitome of fresh vegetables and light flavors, including six appetizers and three salads, and has recently skewed heartier for the winter. Cornmeal dusted crispy shitake mushrooms pan-fried in coconut oil were served with a citrus-laced marinara (vegan and gluten-free). A few new winter dishes include a Tempura Sweet Potato Roll composed of sushi nori, crispy sweet potato curls, avocado, organic gluten free tamri and the Savory Apple Kinchee Pancake, made with pressed sake pickles, shiitake mushrooms and cashew sour cream.
On my first visit during late summer, I tried the recommended warm maple-glazed string bean and spinach salad. Served with chevre, walnuts and cherry tomatoes, the collection of farm fresh vegetables paired with the creamy chevre and sweet glaze was a well-balanced and deceptively complex dish. The dearth of pristine string beans, warmed just enough to coax them out of their very recent plant-bound state, were crisp and refreshing. The winter menu boasts similiarly attentive presentations of vegetable-laden salads, focused on retaining the height of vegetable flavor.
Onto the selection of entrees, a chili glazed tofu and vegetables dish served with organic barley, is already a menu staple, migrating its vegetables with the seasons, recently served with an almond chili glaze, grilled bok choy and toasted cashews. Pasta dishes are earthy and substantial such as the summer Red Pepper Tagliatelle. Recent menu additions have replaced this with a Raw Pesto Zucchini Linguini and Raw Ravioli Romesco.
Desserts are the height of the restuarant's culinary deception. A dark chocolate pot de creme with fig hazelnut compote and spiced cashew crème and a gelato sundae are welcome recent additions with a richness that transcends its vegan status.
The method behind this vegetable madness is Chef Rachel Carr, a St. Louis native who came to Connecticut by way of Los Angeles with a stop in New York City for college. A city synonymous with health-conscious dining and diners, she worked as the executive chef at L.A’s award-winning raw vegan Cru restaurant, which received the Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand distinction. After that experience, Carr moved back to the east coast eager to cast a wider net for her cooking, seeking a kitchen to develop dishes beyond the strict temperature constraints of raw “cooking” (raw restaurants such as Cru only need a pair of hot plates because food should not be raised over 115 degrees F), while still embracing the wholesome characteristics of a vegan, vegetarian and raw approaches.
She met her match with Bill de Jonge’s vision of creating an upscale healthy dining experience showcasing the organic produce from his Upper Pond Farm in Old Lyme. I got the chance to visit the farm in late summer just as squash blossoms were abundant and about to make it onto the menu. This beautiful plot of land on the Connecticut shoreline is inspiration and source for all of Six Main’s dishes. A visit here, connecting with both de Jonge and an inspired conversation with Carr convinced me that what they are doing is truly something special.
Several notable vegetarian, vegan and raw cafe’s exist in the state–Catch a Healthy Habit in Fairfield, Bloodroot in Bridgeport, Claire’s Corner Copia in New Haven and GZen in Branford – yet few if any have elevated it to quite this level.
So what’s next for Six Main? Since opening, they have branched out to cooking classes, special prix-fix menus and Sunday brunch. They are also currently building out their bar area and a special cocktail menu. Their farm is also a place where much attention is given, and as they wrap up the fall harvest, they are also making the plans for next year’s crops that will make inform the cadence of their 2013 menus.
If you live on the Connecticut shoreline, this is a must-visit. If you live in or near our home in Fairfield County, it is a worthwhile day trip to visit this special Connecticut town and meet Rachel Carr’s singular dishes up close and personal.
Six Main is located at 6 Main Street in Chester, CT. They are open for dinner, daily. 860.322.4212 or sixmain.com