The construction of Terrain along the Westport Post Road sprouted up faster than a weed; but unlike a weed, Terrain was a welcome sight--desirable and beautiful. I’m unsure who frequents this store, billed as “a shop for eco-friendly growing supplies, home and garden décor” with its $100. terrariums and $2,000. wire tables, but I have noticed a lot of people are eating here. Terrain’s restaurant, the Westport Garden Cafe, with the look of a modern barn in all its refined rusticity--reclaimed wood tables adorned with potted flowers, bulbs suspended from above, and floor to ceiling glass windows--is bright and airy, completely lovely. To match decor, the menu itself is farm-to-table, boasting support for local farms such as Sport Hill, Holbrook, Oakview, The Hickories and Warrups. Alabama chef, Joe Wolfson, Food & Wine’s 2011 People’s Best New Chef from the Gulf Coast, does justice to his ingredients.
While you peruse the menu, a terra cotta pot is placed on the table. Inside is an oversized parker house-like roll which is light, fluffy, faintly buttery. In fact, the bread itself is baked in the pot. A pretty neat trick. Alongside, a dish of softened butter lightly sweetened with locally sourced Red Bee honey gilds this lily and you anticipate good things are about to happen.
Because the menu is seasonal as well as local, it promises to change daily. The dishes we ate late last month may not appear on a future menu or even tomorrow’s menu. Risotto with fava beans, pea tendrils, citrus zest and pecorino shavings was clean and simple if a bit overcooked. At $11. for a paltry portion, it was overpriced for what it offered. Stonington Scallops, an equally diminutive first course dish was more satisfying. Seared to golden brown and placed on an english pea puree with diced bacon, peas and seasoned with horseradish and honey, it was a nice balance of hot and sweet, meaty and succulent.
A seemingly simple salad shined: a nice riff on an otherwise ho-hum combination of oranges, beets, and goat cheese. Roasted yellow beets placed on a bed of baby but flavor-packed greens, with creamy fresh chevre, sprinkled with candied pepita seeds, and drizzled with a smoky buttermilk dressing. It was a salad that tied together perfectly Chef Wolfson’s Southern roots and the Cafe’s farm-to-table philosophy.
The Cafe Burger nestled in a brioche bun and topped with caramelized onions, mushrooms, cheddar and a horseradish aioli was flavorful and juicy. Accompanying homestyle fries, skins on and rustic with crispy edges. And the ketchup. Let me explain. I hate ketchup. The taste and the smell. But homemade smoked ketchup seemed as good a reason as any to dispense with ketchup bias, and it was perfect: rich with tomato flavor and pleasantly smoky.
Red Snapper was fresh and nicely cooked, served on a bed of baby lettuce with wedges of fresh apricot, radish slices and an apricot dijon vinaigrette. A Pork Belly Sticky Bun struck me as an odd addition to the menu, perhaps a nod to trendiness. Stuffed with kimchi slaw and a ginger soy reduction it was tasty, but with too much dough to filling ratio it needed more oomph and sauciness.
Grilled Portabella on focaccia with mozzarella, roasted pepper and pickled onion, was also good if a bit dull, a token nod to vegetarians. Cornbread arrived warm in a small cast iron griddle baked with bits of apple, jalapeno and cheddar. It didn’t quite fit in with the other items we ordered, but we ate and enjoyed it anyway. Assertive with corn flavor and a pleasant grittiness, it hit all the right sweet, savory, and spicy notes.
Drinks, served in Mason jars, were a wonderful touch. A virgin style mojito sounded delicious but tasted of little but soda water. It improved as it sat and the mint and lime infused the drink. A vanilla lemon spritzer, also a nice idea, was equally disappointing. Though it had tell-tale vanilla bean flecks, it was flavorless. Although unsuccessful in this category, the drink ideas were inspired and I have faith the restaurant will get it right.
Even after all that over-ordering, we saved room for dessert. In fact, we chose them all. Then again, there were only three plus a beautiful Artisanal Cheese platter with selections from Connecticut and Vermont. Earl Grey Cake sounded great, but was slightly dry without a hint of bergamont flavor, though the lemon curd ice cream alongside was unctuous.
I’m still dreaming about the Dark Chocolate Boudino, a pudding parfait layered with bourbon butterscotch with bits of salt and pepper cashew brittle folded in and topped with billowy oh so lightly sweetened whipped cream. Simply named Coffee and Doughnuts was a playful take on a diner classic--espresso gelato and small cinnamon doughnuts that were light without a hint of oiliness and placed on a schmear of dark chocolate sauce.
Terrain’s Cafe is filling a need in Westport. Ingredients-driven, thoughtful, well cooked food served in a serene setting--there isn’t enough of it here. Service is friendly but polished, and dishes exit steadily from the kitchen. The downsides? Parking spaces are precious (complimentary valet parking is also available) and at lunchtime Terrain gets busy. The restaurant spills out into an outdoor cafe, but when the weather turns, the cafe’s capacity will be cut in half. And finally, the bill. It comes tucked in a pocket-sized field guide which is precious until you see it. Prepare for sticker shock. Though locally sourced and worthy, this food comes at a cost. Even at lunch, entrees top out at $24. (A glance at the dinner menu revealed a $41. lamb dish.) Regardless, Terrain’s Cafe is absolutely worth a visit not only for the atmosphere, but to experience what new ideas Chef Wolfson will bring to the table with him next.
Westport Garden Cafe at Terrain 561 Post Road East 203-226-2732
Lunch: Monday - Friday 11am - 3:00pm
Dinner: Tuesday - Saturday 5pm - 10pm
Brunch: Saturday and Sunday 10am - 3pm