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Community Table in Washington CT

In the Litchfield County town of Washington, the two-year old Community Table and its team led by Executive Chef Joel Viehland, stands at the center of a tight network of farmers, foragers and discerning diners. Born from agrarian collaboration rather than co-opting it, Community Table was built around the notion that a restaurant serving its community must not only serves its diners, but act with respectful stewardship of the land. This translates to sourcing seasonally, locally and sustainably, as well as pickling, drying, fermenting and composting.

Community Table’s logo is a sly nod to its geographical home. The orange letters “CT” painted on white sign standing along a quiet strip of Route 202 road, quietly signalling the restaurant’s entrance. Inside is a pair of intimate rooms where art and object reinforce the restaurant’s agrarian ethos, from a stag head trophy mount in mesh orange, to faux fur animal hides draped across Shaker-inspired chairs. Fittingly, a community table made from 300 year old black walnut anchors one of the dining spaces underneath a dramatic lofted ceiling.  

Brunch at Community Table. Photo: Amy Kundrat
Community Table’s menu changes weekly, with subtle daily changes to the menu’s usual six appetizers and six entrees that are equally balanced around locally sourced proteins and vegetables. Flip over the daily menu, and you will find an exhaustive list of farms and foragers that supply the menu, a glimmer into the restaurant’s approach and their network of suppliers. In between first and second courses and this list, stands a selection of local artisanal cheeses, Connecticut wines, and inventive desserts by pastry chef April Massey to complete the experience.   

A warm crab appetizer with leeks, sea trout roe and fresh cream. Photo: Elizabeth Dorny“Farm lettuces” often kick-off a list of six appetizers. Community Table’s definition of this salad is constantly shifting. On a recent wintry visit, these lettuces were populated with pickled vegetables and a few heartier, starchier root vegetables such as crispy parsnips. During the summer, nasturtiums, colorful flowers and foraged greens are more populous. A few appetizers boast seafood, with a warm crab with leeks, sea trout roe and fresh cream a recent stand-out.

Photo: www.Spanishhipster.comUnassuming on the menu, a whole roasted carrot is anything but, when plated. This dish typifies the Community Table experience. Sourced and recently picked from a nearby farm that day, the carrot is cooked to perfection with a pleasant hint of crispness on the outside, giving way to a smoother and buttery interior, with warmth imparted by buttermilk and pistachio oil . A dusting of pine and duck fat powder, and a thin sheath of lardo (brought back from the chef’s recent trip to Tuscany) complete the carrots transformation from vegetable to a complete and winning appetizer.

Winter duck breast entrée with braised red cabbage, beets, blueberries, and radicchio. Photo: Elizabeth DorneyEntrees are equally weighted between proteins such as lamb, fowl, seafood, game, and pork, as well as a vegetable-based entree. On most of my five or so visits, organic duck has always been among the entrees. Recently this dish was a stand-out in its preparation and presentation, a medium rare organic duck breast plated among a shockingly rich spectrum of ruby red hues including braised red cabbage, beets, blueberries, and radicchio -- elements further unified both in flavor and presentation by a port duck jus finish.

Game also tends to be a signature Community Table offering. On an early winter visit, a venison tartare with a tarragon cream shocked and awed. Recently, an elk entree was offered with root vegetables, chestnuts and a red wine elk reduction. I often overlook the vegetarian entree on the menu in favor of fish or game, in part because I know the protein is thoughtfully sourced and difficult if not impossible to duplicate in my own kitchen.

Photo: www.Spanishhipster.comOn a recent visit, I ignored a Skate Wing, a Red Fish Hot Pot and that tempting Elk, and headed straight for the Mixed Grains. In this dish, quinoa and cous cous sat atop an interlocking mass of squash, including spaghetti and kabocha, with small roasted potatoes and turnips aloft bright green beet greens and kale, accompanied by a subtle potato broth that cooked the vegetables and possibly the grains. When your central focus is vegetable or grain-based, you are forced to marry and draw out their much more subtle flavors and build and layer them accordingly. As a result and to my surprise, this vegetarian preference was rewarded with a subtle complexity that most protein can’t offer. 

A Community Table summer salad. Photo: Amy KundratDesserts continue to rise to the occassion on recent visits. An eggnog croquemboche was a surprisingly subtle embrace of that rich creamy and subtly spiced holiday drink. Its profiteroles were textbook, with a drizzle of caramel. Listed on the menu by ingredients, the "walnuts, raspberries, walnut ice cream and milk shards," was an unexpected deconstruction of powderized components enveloping the velvety ice cream.

Walnuts, raspberries, walnut ice cream, milk shards. Photo: Elizabeth Dorney.This series of impressions are a way of affirming something Chef Viehland told me several months ago as we chatted about the restaurant’s culinary roots: “I want my diners to feel better when they leave then when they came in,” was a statement that stuck with me and particularly resonated on this last visit. I left, as I often do, particularly sated and overwhelmed by perceptive and creative flavors, not bulk.  

Chef Viehland studied cooking at Johnson and Wales Culinary School before moving to New York City to work at Gramercy Tavern and with Chef Katy Spark at Quilty’s. From New York, Viehland moved to New Orleans, where he spent ten years making his way through its best kitchens from Herbsaint to Emeril’s and finally, Stella. Trading Louisiana spice for Nordic minimalism, Viehland moved to Copenhagen to work at NOMA, which introduced him to foraging as a new definition of local and seasonal cooking. The culmination of these experiences married with the agriculturally rich area of Washington, begins to explain the nascence of Connecticut’s most radically local menu.

In the summer, I have been drawn to Community Table by its quiet location, an unusually elegant pit stop for a Sunday motorcycle ride. In the evenings and throughout the winter, I am drawn back for its inventive dishes and what I consider one of Connecticut’s most bewitching dining spaces in its colonial modernity. This deference to seasonality and design explains why it continues to be that restaurant I always escort my out-of-town guests--from San Francisco to Bavaria-- because I know they will appreciate its attention to detail and inventiveness, and its embrace of nature and strikingly local food.

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Reader Comments (10)

I love, love LOVE Community Table! I wish I lived closer. I would eat there all the time. Delicious!

February 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJeff

Ditto to Jeff's comments. Every dish we had during our visit last week was perfection. Congratulations to these folks- they have a major hit on their hands.

February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Iseman

I congratulate the people who had anything to do with the opening of this type of restaurant. At a time in our nation's history when sense of community, love, food freedom, food democracy, sustainability, and such things are needed and wanted; this Community Table. My name is Ed Hartz. I live in sandy Hook. My children could have been in that school when the shooting took place. I was devastated for a week. Our entire community felt the same way. We are very close to this matter. Can you believe the town wants to remove the Christmas tree and the temporary memorial where this incident was memorialized in town? The point is this; healing is needed all over our communities. Good business and politics, government is needed. we are a people who have been together under a great Constitution and for many years we have forgotten. part of the reason we forget important matters in our community is due to the design or the towns and many other designs; landscape, town centers, etc. In europe and other places throughout the world, people come together in their towns and this is facilitated thru design. A community table type restaurant creates and provides a good platform for design, and community. It fosters communication and closeness, caring, and conversations. we need this. we want this now. This new restaurant is a blessing in ways. I congratulate them and wish them the best. They will succeed. Gastronomy, socialization, good food, caring, community and more are all at the hub. Now the wheel can move well again. Thank you. ~ Ed Hartz

February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Hartz

Beautiful dishes.
Job well done Joel!

February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEdgar

I have heard that the desserts at the Community Table as well as the breads and pastries are among the best in the area. I found this out for myself, they are in fact superb and delicious and among some of the best I've ever had. Thanks to April Massey the pastry chef at CT!! I'll be back wheeeeeeeeeeeeew

February 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBigsav

Beautiful setting, great food, and friendly staff.
Brunch and dinner are always a wonderful experience.
This is local food at its best!

February 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLitchfield Local

Interesting menu, but not that unique an very limited. Not much different than other higher end restaurants. Very expensive for the value served. Main meal portions are barely satisfying and meager. Good portions for bread ... which is ala cart. Tables are close together. Staff is very pleasant. One time experience. $$$$

July 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWT

I agree with WT, Community Table never charged for bread but now they do? Not impressive or expected from a high end restaurant. Also, manager presents us check without asking if we want dessert since another party is waiting for a table and trying to rush us out, not cool. Try Arethusa Al Tavolo in Bantam. Prices are still high end but more reasonable and the bread is free and the portions are larger. The food is excellent. They still have a few kinks to work out with their service, but it recently opened and they're off to a great start. Right now go to Arethusa Al Tavolo for dinner. I'd only go back to Community Table for brunch where the prices are more reasonable. April is their baker and she's phenomenal. Competition is good, best of luck to both restaurants.

July 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGoshen Local

I just returned to CT last night and had a memorable meal (once again) so I thought I would share my excursion and respond to some of the comments above.

The Community Table menu is, by nature of their mission and footprint, curated and short. It is one of a handful of spots I continue to return to because each visit is often better than the last and none of their dishes are contrived, rehashed or familiar. There are times when I dine in lower Fairfield County and elsewhere and I feel like everyone is serving the same menu (thankfully there are exceptions to this seeming rule). I hope that CT considers doing a tasting menu. It seems like one of the best ways to explore their menu and one of my favorite ways to dine out, especially if I am out for a celebratory sort of meal.

In terms of discussing "value," I don't believe quality has a 1:1 relationship with quantity, or in this case, portion size. I'd rather have several exquisite bites than a bowl full of mediocrity. That said, I would never call CT portions meager. As for charging for bread, I'd much prefer their house-made (last night was pumpernickel and sourdough) for $3 than a basket filled as an afterthought.

One other thing I wanted to note is that CT has recently hired a very talented pastry chef, Thomas Juliano formerly of Hartford's On20 restaurant (so sad to see that place go!). We tried all three of the desserts and they were nothing short of unique and amazing. Our favorite was the cucumber ice cream with aerated frozen yogurt, lemon verbena cream and dehydrated green tea (I'm guessing a bit, but that was the gist of the dish). Save room for dessert if you go

Al Tavolo sounds great and I agree, competition is a good thing, and these two spots seem to have very different points of view. I look forward to checking it out soon.

July 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

My husband and I have been to CT easily over 25 times for brunch and dinner and this has been our overall experience. Brunch has been consistently excellent from the service to the food. April Massey is one of the best pastry chefs we’ve ever known and Sarah and Jessica are wonderful servers/hostesses. Their brunch menu is creative, fresh, always changing, and simply phenomenal. My husband recently had a buffalo burger and I had braised short ribs on brioche garlic bread with baby carrots and sunny side up eggs, extraordinary.
Dinner on the other hand, has been a different experience for us. The best word to describe our numerous dinners has been “inconsistent” from the service to the food. I once had monkfish where one piece was totally inedible due to the amount of fat, another time my husband and I both ordered the same fish dish and noticed my husband’s portion was much larger than mine. Service has been all over the place, where recently our server was indifferent and presented us with the check before we were asked for dessert saying the manager, Jeff Phillips, said we didn’t want dessert which was not the case. We noticed a party was waiting by the door and felt a bit rushed and for CT that’s disappointing.
Regarding the bread comments, let me start by saying that CT has only recently began charging for a basket during dinner service. I agree with Amy’s comment about “their house-made” bread, but compared to other similar high end restaurants in Connecticut and New York we’ve never been charged for delicious homemade bread such as focaccia, sour dough, multi-grain, and so on and also get an amuse bouche at the beginning and end of the meal. During our last dinner, CT did give us some white chocolate bark with espresso beans which was tasty. It’s a bit insulting to be charged at all for bread and butter and more about the overall principle. Again, glad Amy had another great dinner, but for now my husband and I will stick with brunch and dinner TBD. Speaking of Arethusa al Tavolo, we have dinner reservations this weekend. This will be our first time going since it opened and we’re looking forward to it. It’s great that we can all share our experiences and opinions. Thank you.

July 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

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