Last week I covered the opening bash at The Spotted Horse Tavern, Westport's new must-eat-at establishment. I perused the grounds, sampled the passed offerings and thoroughly appreciated the urban-chic decor at this latest love child of restaurateurs Kevin McHugh, Pete Mennona and Tommy Febbraio. I tried to go back on Monday to review but the restaurant had such a phenomenal opening weekend, they literally ran out of food and closed for lunch to stock up. It's good to be a Spotted Horse.
When a group of CTBiters and I returned that Wednesday, the place was packed to the gills and the wait staff was on good form. Polite, helpful and incredibly well informed, the saddle was secure and we were off for a good ride. With a table by the window for some excellent photo ops, we were settled, excited and ready to eat.
Rumor had it that the BLACK TRUFFLE BURGER was an absolute must order. Rumor confirmed - it is! You simply must order this divine concoction rare (or medium rare at most) to appreciate all the flavors and experience the correct textures. Oozing with the meat's natural juices and the black truffle butter, this burger is first class. With sweet, caramelized onions, Bel Paese cheese, lettuce, tomato and a sunny-side-up egg to top the top, um...yum. SPOTTED HORSE gets its bread from Billy's Bakery in Fairfield and although I wouldn't say the brioche-style bun was my favorite, it honestly didn't matter. Though a good bun is key, this BURGER stands its ground (beef!!) With hot, crispy and very peppery fries on the side, the BLACK TRUFFLE BURGER is the Derby winner!
Next at the gate was the EGGPLANT STACK. Here, layers of roasted eggplant arrived between creamy mozzarella, roasted tomato, pesto and parmaggiano cheese. This was a vegetable lasagna of sorts and although it was listed as an appetizer, it was filling enough to be a main course. The eggplant was tender and sweet, a taste of Italian inspired comfort food. Another winner was the SAUTEED GULF SHRIMP. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and arrived nestled in a blanket of white beans and flavorful chorizo with nice medium heat. The dish was seasoned with plenty of garlic and the gentle bite of the peppery sausage brought out the flavor of the shellfish without over-powering. Lucky, but true.
The TUNA TARTARE was up next. Served with Yukon Gold potato chips, ramps, Dijon mustard, Moroccan Spice Paste (with lots of cumin) and tons of capers, I felt that the mild and fresh flavor of the Tuna was a bit lost in the complexity of the flavors. But others enjoyed the unusual approach and I certainly appreciated the creativity.
One dish that I wouldn't order again, unless chef Pedro Garzon (formerly of Manolo) changes it up a bit was the VIETNAMESE TUNA ROLL. It sounded so good on the menu - seared tuna with pickled cucumber, carrots, daikon, cilantro, jalepeno, sweet chili sauce and Vietnamese aioli - what was being offered was basically a Bahn Mi. But this perfect combination of delicacies was rolled in a whole wheat wrap - the wrong choice for the flavor profile here. The wrap was virtually waterproof, causing all the juices to spill out onto the plate and the dish was watery and surprisingly tasteless.
On the other hand, I LOVED the OPEN FACED STEAK SANDWICH. Served on a crispy baguette, the steak is woven together with red wind braised onions, roasted butter mushrooms, grated horseradish and melted fontina. Really nicely done.
Again, THE SPOTTED HORSE TAVERN is basically a larger version of Southport's GRAY GOOSE. Many menu items are similar, including the LOBSTER MACARONI (delicious!) and the GRAY GOOSE COBB SALAD. But there are plenty of new dishes to try. Next time I am ordering the DR PEPPER GRILLED PORK CHOP - I am intrigued! And there will be many "next times" at the TAVERN.
Lastly, of note, is the dessert menu which will be provided by Norwalk's own Master Chocolatier Fritz Knipschidlt of Chocopologie.
The ambience is great, the physical space is airy yet feels cozy, and the bar scene is already hopping. In fact, Kevin McHugh and crew were smart to make the bar large with seating for about 18 around the perimeter. The restaurant seats about 80 people total. Come on down. The SPOTTED HORSE takes reservations for lunch and will take reservations for dinner for parties of 6 or more, only. Get your chaps on and mosey on over. This will be the HORSE to ride in on!
THE SPOTTED HORSE TAVERN 26 Church Lane, Westport. (203) 557-9393