Word of mouth, and great word at that, brought me to The Spread, a spanking new dining hot spot in Sono. Two months young, the restaurant is the result a partnership of four guys, all with two decades-worth of bar and restaurant experience combined, plus one young and very talented chef, Arik Bensimon. Formerly the Executive Chef of Napa & Co., Chef Arik brings the food in this rustic yet hip joint to a level of excellence and seriousness not seen in Fairfield County in some time. The Spread’s menu is global in scope. It represents a range of cultures--Arik’s Moroccan background and French training, the partners' of Costa Rica, Italy, and France with a dash of New York and California in the mix. Indeed, the menu is all over the place, locally sourced and international, but somehow this eclectic mishmash works. Though dishes are simply titled on the menu, they are, in fact, complex and beautifully executed.
Fluffy squares of cornbread hit the table first, alongside whipped butter laced with locally sourced Red Bee honey. We’re in the South now and why start with something sweet? Then again, the cake is tender with a lightly toasted crunch. You know you should stop and save room for later, but resistance is futile.
Foie Gras Torchon, is a perfect disk of unctuousness accompanied by boozy armagnac soaked prunes and sprinkled with grey sea salt. I also admired the rusticity of the Brandade, a salt cod emulsion, one of my favorite bistro dishes. From France, we skipped over to Spain, with a tapas-like dish of Little Neck Clams. Plump and briny-fresh, they were surrounded by a meaty yet creamy dollop of cranberry beans flavored with smoky chorizo.
As a starter, Beef Tongue could easily feed a small army--or more reasonably, four people. Rosy slices of meltingly tender tongue on thick slices of country bread slathered with mayo and baby arugula, was a playful, upscale take on a deli favorite. Pumpkin Soup drizzled with cream and sprinkled with cilantro and toasted pepitas, had a silky ethereal texture, but was almost too sweet.
Winter Salad, a new addition to the menu, brought welcome relief from a whole lot of richness, if a bit boring--a straightforward mix of arugula and frisee dotted with pomegranate seeds and walnuts, a dollop of fresh ricotta and a light citrus dressing. This Sporthill Cabbage, however, was a standout. Who knew cabbage could do such tricks? Finely shredded and slightly wilted in a truffle vinaigrette, studded with shards of parmesan, chives, parsley, and toasted hazelnuts. Cabbage with a "wow" factor. It was a completely addictive and inventive take on slaw.
Grilled Swordfish marinated in Chermoula, a Moroccan sauce of herbs, preserved lemon, and cumin, had a swath of pureed mint and fresh spicy yogurt atop a bed of fat chickpeas. The heat didn’t overwhelm the delicacy of the fish, which was seared on the outside and juicy within. Squid with black garlic was beautifully tender, and thinly sliced raw cauliflower florets gave the dish a nice textural contrast. Cooked a la plancha, the smokiness of the grill almost overwhelmed the delicate squid.
I’m still dreaming about the Roasted Skate, golden and crisped in a nutty brown butter. Sprinkled with toasted bread crumbs and briny fried capers, it was offset with a citrusy hit of paper thin meyer lemon slices and a knot of braised sunchokes, earthy yet sweet. Knowing how difficult it is to cook fish well, I’ve been consistently amazed at Chef Arik’s way around fish. It comes out of his kitchen perfectly each and every time. I’ve asked Arik about it and his answer: he simply loves to cook fish, and the results truly show.
A self-diagnosed pasta addict, I had high hopes for the Gnocchi, and in fact heard raves about it beforehand. Sadly, on the night I had it, the gnocchi was gummy, though I enjoyed its deliciously browned wild mushrooms bound with gruyere.
Veal Confit, exquisitely tender and decadent, crowned a bed of orzo with bits of lobster. Beef Short Rib, the color of a deep rich wine, was equally sinful. A fork slid right through it. The creamy whipped potatoes may have been predictable, but swirls of grainy mustard punctuated the dish, lending a spicy and vinegary note that was wonderfully surprising.
Desserts are a weak spot. It’s puzzling, given how much skill is in the kitchen, but to accommodate those with a sweet tooth, attention must be paid. Only a few choices are offered and I’m hopeful even a short list could be mastered.
Attention, however, is paid to the Drinks menu. The Spread boasts one of the largest bars in Fairfield County, and it in itself is a beautiful thing--a thick slab of burnished wood. The wine and beer lists are extensive, well-curated and reasonable, both spanning the globe and the country. An inspired Speciality mixed drinks included Bleu Harvest, a straight up vodka martini studded with giant blue cheese stuffed olives. The provocatively named Tea Bag is a very adult soda--tea infused bourbon with smoked lemonade and mole bitters with a shot of seltzer. The Fog Horn, a cilantro infused gin spiked with fresh lime juice and ginger beer was refreshing if a bit too sweet for this drinker.
Though the Spread’s dishes are made for sharing family style, this is a culinary playground for grown ups. The atmosphere is casual and though children aren’t barred, it’s best enjoyed without them. From Thursday through Saturday, a DJ is imported from Brooklyn to amp up the party vibe and waits for a table on weekends can be loooong (thankfully the restaurant accepts reservations). Weekends aside, the restaurant was as lively on a Tuesday night visit as it was on a Friday.
Overall, the menu's heights cancel out any of the very few duller notes. When a dish hits, and most of them do, it knocks it out of the park. Richness prevails. At times, I felt as if I was being fattened for the winter, but food here is sophisticated comfort. Just don't forget to eat (order) your veggies, as Chef Arik knows his way around them as well as he does his proteins. But if you long to be comforted this winter, or any other season, The Spread is a must for any serious eater out there, with its eclectic offerings and talent in the kitchen to spare.
The Spread 70 North Main Street, Norwalk (SONO) 203.939.1111