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Sunday
Apr012012

Opening Night at Elm Restaurant in New Canaan

 

At 5:44PM on the first day of spring, March 20, 2012, the kitchen at elm Restaurant in New Canaan hummed to life as it received an order from the dining room. This was no ordinary order, it was the restaurant’s first. The order ticket began…Appetizers – 1 grilled Spanish octopus, 1 citrus cured hamachi, 1 local lettuces from Millstone Farm, 1 roots, shoots, fruits and leaves, and 1 soft farm egg ravioli… elm was officially open. The outstanding staff that Chef Brian Lewis had assembled sprang to action. The months of planning, the weeks of training, the hours of preparation were now tested as the guests arrived and the orders placed.

As we enjoyed wine and draft beer, the server brought a pan of house-made bread that is a cross between a brioche and a biscuit, served with house-made butter topped with smoked paprika and citrus salt. It was a delicious beginning, and over the next two hours we thoroughly enjoyed several courses and numerous dishes. At the end of the meal we all agreed that this was something special; this was an opening night meal that would be remembered as extraordinary. The high expectations that were building for weeks were greeted with superb food. 

The interior of elm was described in my previous article and on opening night I noticed additional subtleties in the décor, the place settings, the service and the overall demeanor of the staff that can be described as relaxed elegance. Our server was calm, friendly and professional as she both described some of the dishes and ingredients and offered suggestions. And the nuances that Laura Barker, Kristen Eveland and Chef Brian Lewis placed on each aspect of the dining experience instilled a sense of calm. Their attention to the tiniest detail created an incredibly relaxed and enjoyable evening. 

The appetizers are truly excellent. The incredibly tender octopus is slowly braised and served with guanciale, pea shoots and served over a black aioli and topped with crisp fried garlic and smoked paprika breadcrumbs. The hamachi is a delicious trio of presentations: a tartare, a citrus cured loin and a sashimi belly. The latter is wrapped with a thin slice of Asian pear. The flavors of the hamachi are combined with several forms of yuzu and ginger oil and finished with a fennel puree, crispy shiso and red beets plus a little cilantro. The combinations of these flavors were bright and citrusy with just a touch of heat from the ginger and yuzu.

The local lettuces and the roots, et. al. are farmed at Millstone Farms and present a variety of seasonal ingredients. Chef Lewis prepares the roots, shoots, fruits and leaves with a variety of methods including raw, braised, confit, dried and pureed. Included in this cacophony of flavors and colors is an incredibly flavorful mousse comprised of goat cheese and medjool date puree. These last two appetizers present a crisp and refreshing start to the meal. 

The soft egg ravioli are three raviolis, each filled with a different ingredient and are amazing. The first is filled with sheep’s milk ricotta, slightly accented with mint and olive oil. The flavors are a delightful combination. The second filling is a soft cooked farm egg yolk, that when combined with the other two raviolis, adds decadence to the dish. The third ravioli is my favorite. The filling is a spinach and parmesan puree, incredibly smooth and flavorful. 

We next enjoyed the Hudson valley foie gras, served two ways. The preparations include a seared piece of foie gras, paired with apricot marmalade, and topped with beluga lentils, pata negra ham and a touch of a sherry vinegar sauce. The second presentation is a terrine accompanied with dried pistachios, some crumbled and dried pata negra ham with a touch of apricot gellee. The sweet and sour components and the different textures are fantastic. This is a true delight for those who are foie gras fans.

The table ordered three extraordinarily delicious entrées; the beef tenderloin in smoked butter, the sea scallops with riso venere and the trio of local pork with pimenton. The grass-fed beef is roasted in hay and accented with smoked butter and salt, and served with oatmeal cooked in mushroom stock, roasted mushrooms, melted and crisp shallots, spinach and finished with a touch of red wine sauce. The beef is incredibly tender and flavorful and the additional flavors create a perfectly balanced and delightful presentation. The scallops are sweet and sautéed in paprika oil to a crisp exterior while maintaining the succulence of the interior. They are served with deliciously prepared Italian black rice, with a touch picholine olive salsa and a salted cod sitting atop. This is a delightful dish.

The trio of pork includes pieces of belly, shoulder and bacon wrapped loin. The perfectly prepared pork presentations sit atop heirloom smoked grits accompanied by a soft cooked egg. A delicious sauce of smoked paprika and smoked paprika salt combines with a green tomato jam, currents and bourbon walnuts to complete the presentation. Each piece of pork presents different textures and flavors and the sauce and green tomato jam are delectable.

The desserts prepared by Pastry Chef Caryn Stabinsky are exceptional. We ordered four to share including the carrot cake, the toffee pudding, the chocolate & banana, and the dark chocolate bread pudding. The carrot cake is a modern interpretation that includes a cake made with grated carrots and served aside small scoops of carrot curd, walnut brittle and caramel ice cream. This is an unexpected and delightful dessert.

The toffee pudding is made with a puree of dates and is served with a toffee sauce plus some crème fraiche. The sweetness of the dates and the toffee is perfectly offset with crème fraiche. The chocolate & banana contains layers of chocolate and banana cake and covered with bananas, some drizzled dark chocolate and cashews. This is served with caramel ice cream.

The last dessert that we absolutely loved was the dark chocolate bread pudding. The house made bread is mixed with two different chocolates and served with vanilla ice cream and cocoa nibs. For the chocolate lovers in your group this is a perfect choice.  

During the evening the menu allowed us to create a wonderful tasting menu, I enjoyed eight different presentations in the pre-dessert courses and in the near future Chef Lewis will expand on this theme and present a four-course Farm Tour and a seven-course Chef’s Tour. 

Photo courtesy of Jane Beiles

Overall this was a wonderful evening with superb food and I look forward to many more memorable meals at elm Restaurant.  

elm Restaurant 73 elm Street, New Canaan CT. 203. 920. 4994

Elm Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Reader Comments (26)

We had the pleasure of eating there last week. The food was excellent, although not all the things here were on the menu. We had the tuna, the ravioli, the beef tenderloin and a halbut in curry and the carrot cake for dessert, which was unbelievable. Service was fine, the hosts/maitre d's were a little formal for our taste, waitress was fine. The food is beautifully presented, great quality ingredients, really nice flavors and combinations, we will definitely be going back.
As an aside, I feel that Artisan in Southport is striving for this type of food but falling short in recent months. The menu hasn't changed in 6 months, which I find strange for a place that is touting the farm to table credo. Hopefully they will improve in the months to come!
In the meantime, elm will be the place to go when we are looking for a little more upscale evening!

April 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkbfood

@kbfood, the constantly changing menu will be something we will all get used to. I went last night for visit #3 and Chef Lewis found some fantastic morel mushrooms that morning and placed them in the beef dish. I also ordered the newly created pasta with octopus that was just over the top delicious.

Oh I wasn't complaining, just sad that there was no octopus on our menu because it looked fantastic! Will definitely be returning and hopefully it will be there next time...or the time after that!

April 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkbfood

@kbfood. Not to worry...Never even considered it a complaint. All is good when food like this hits.

I see the restaurant has not posted a menu with prices online. Can you tell us how much this meal set you back?

April 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJFW

We had 2 apps, 2 entrees, one dessert and a $50 bottle of wine and the total before tip was $149...most of the apps were in the 12-16 range, entrees 30-40 if I remember correctly.

April 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkbfood

Very stuffy place, food was good but the wait staff and host were rude and uninviting. We felt like they were doing us a favor by letting us eat there. Wine list was not very extensive or unique, lots of name brand wines listed at every restaurant...

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFred Siebert

@JFW

As kbfood posted, the crudos and salads are mid-teens, the pastas are high-teens and entrees in the thirties. Desserts are ten.

Reservations are accepted through Open Table for the main dining room. The bar area is completely for walk-ins with seating at the handsome bar plus four tables, each which seat four. Saturday night we walked in early and sat at a table in the bar area and I sat facing the door. Many walked in and some decided to have a drink at the bar (including a gentleman who we had a great conversation with) while the bar tables turned, others left. I found the service nothing short of inviting and cordial from the minute I arrived to the moment they helped my wife with her coat. In fact there was no additional time-pressure at a table in the bar area versus a table in the main dining area.

Had a wonderful dinner there the first week they were open. I mention that only because I was stunned that they were running so smoothly, not the usual "working out the kinks" vibe at all.

Everything I ate that night was delicious. Not only delicious, but inventive, without being gimmicky. Just a lot of clever ideas well executed that brought out the best in the ingredients.

The other thing I really liked is that 3 of the dishes we ordered actually contained 3 different preparations each. Crudo 3 ways. Pork 3 ways. Ravioli 3 ways. That adds up to 9 different tastes while only ordering 3 dishes. That's exactly the way I like to eat. 3 raviolis filled with soft-cooked egg would be a bit much. But 1 is a dream. So love that style of menu design.

In terms of the ambiance, I'd say its a very clean, well designed space. Formal enough to match the price point, but not at all stuffy. More modern/open feeling while using natural materials.

In short. Very happy to see them launch, and can't wait to get back!

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDavid W.

Beautiful space...transporting dining experience through both the inventive cuisine and stylish interiors. Best wishes to this lovely new restaurant in New Canaan.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJane Beiles

JFood:
Lovely review, beautifully written, place sounds great. Probably "too stuffy" for the Shake Shack crowd so prevalent in CT. However....please do not go the "Patricia Brooks" route (whose place you should take) and not mention the wine list. A short paragraph would have done the trick. Often a very good local restaurant gouges the wines so much that it does not make sense to go. Would love an update on the wines.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEduardo

What an exciting addition to the area restaurant scene! I can't wait to try it. Great write-up, as well.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRalph Kantrowitz

This review made me hungry! Looking forward to trying this highly-anticipated restaurant.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Corrado

We happened to be walking by last thursday and stopped in just in case they could take my wife and 7yr old daughter. The host was very nice and was able to get us a booth. Our waiter (who by chance we knew from Bonne Nuit) was great and made the evening very nice. The whole meal was very, very good, especially the ravioli Jfood describes above, simply spectacular. Looking forward to trying it again one of these nights. Great addition to town. I do like the fact that Millstone farms gets a lot of press out of this place and the Schoolhouse both using them. Great products.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLW1

I've been waiting for Elm to open ever since I tasted his wares at the Pimlico reopening. Fabulous detailed review with great photos!! Can't wait to go!

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterquintessence

Very happy to read all these great reviews as they are well deserved. Elm is exactly the right addition to the local restaurant scene. Imaginative, delicious food. Excellent service.

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRichard P.

Had a great meal there last night. I walked in close to opening with the purpose of snagging a table on the left in the bar area without a reservation but was informed those are no longer available for walk-ins and there was no availability. So I retreated to the bar and over the 2 hours we spent there, half the restaurant, including two of those tables, remained empty. I was happy to dine at the bar (the bartender was great), but hope they are a bit more accommodating to walk-ins. I can't wait to return!

April 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Kundrat

I did want to add that although we loved the presentations and the food, the little side dishes they brought with the accompaniments for the main dishes were a little fussy for us. The dinner plates were very large, just put it all on one plate, much easier and cohesive!

April 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkbfood

Hey kbfood

Quick question. I have enjoyed almost every entree and cannot remember a second, smaller plate as an accompaniment. Would you mind elaborating? Just curious as I have not experienced anything other than as you suggested with a single-plated presentation.

TIA

Sure...both of our entrees came that way. I had the halibut with curry and it came with swiss chard and cippolini onions in a little copper pot on the side. My husband had the beef, very similar to the pic in your review but it came with the oats on the side in a little pot.

April 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkbfood

Thank you kbfood. Incredibly inventive and the plates are as well conceived visually as they are tastewise. Can't wait for another visit.

Elm is now serving brunch every Sunday from 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., with local ingredients & seasonal twists on brunch classics.
 
Brunch highlights include:
·         House-made Pepita Granola with berries, yogurt and agave nectar
·         Brioche French Toast with rhubarb-strawberry jam
·         Morel Mushroom and Asparagus Frittata with castemalagno cheese and pea shoots
·         Langoustines and Heirloom Grits with soft farm egg, bacon and smoked paprika
·         Spicy Pork Sandwich with siracha aioli, grilled ramps and friend onions
 
If you end up there on a weekend, let us know what you think.

May 8, 2012 | Registered CommenterStephanie Webster

portions way too small for the price. I should be able to get more than 3 or 4 bites from an entree or an appetizer. Wait staff has been rude 2 out of 3 times we have been there. Hostess clueless when people walk in (and please wear sharper outfits--some of you look like you are going grocery shopping and forgot to wash your hair) The bartender is rude and the bar is extremely limited in what they offer. Many locals are not impressed. Disappointed actually. Was hoping this would be our next regular place to frequent.

May 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterctfoodie95

We've been a few times now and while we enjoy the food, we find the service to be very fussy and awkward. The waiter is great, no problems there, it's the rest of the group that is frankly just useless. The 3 hostesses spent the night chatting to each other at the hostess stand...why do you need that many hostesses, a maitre d' and another man in a suit who basically filled water glasses in a place that small?

They do not give you menus when you are seated, (I assume they want you to feel relaxed and not rushed) but neither do they ask if you want the wine list or to order a drink. So you are left sitting there twiddling your thumbs. After 10 minutes of waiting, and seeing that the waiter was very busy with other tables, we asked one of the 3 hostesses for menus. Instead of turning around and getting them from the stack behind her, she went to tell the waiter, who had to finish what he was doing and go get the menus that were right next to her and give them to us. Very bizarre.

The food was good, not as good as our other times there. All the apps and pastas were delicious. We are never ones to complain about portion size, but the veal "ash and hay" dish was really ridiculously small and had little resemblance to the photo they posted a while ago. It was about half the size of our other 2 entrees, with 3 small pieces of veal, maybe 3-4 ounces total.

We will definitely go back based on our other meals there, but I hope the front of the house relaxes a bit and changes some of their very formal ways.

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkbfood

Very interesting. If you read the above post, it's pretty much how most people, especially locals and from surrounding towns who are frequent fine dining patrons of top restaurants have to say. Portions and service. Service is super key. A business can fail simply from poor customer service regardless of how great the food is. No one should have to ask for a menu at a restaurant like this. Drinks should be quickly asked by the waiter and wine list presented immediately. Eating at a restaurant is all about the experience, and the experience begins as soon as you open the door. The host or hostess needs to be sharp, attentive, and welcoming when she sees a patron entering the restaurant. If people feel as kbfood does above from the initial arrival, you have set a evening of failure in the mind of the dining patron. Things to think about.

June 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterctfoodie95

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