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Graham Elliot's Primary Food & Drink Opens in Greenwich: Outstanding & Creative Cuisine

(Added June 20, 2014. Unfortunately Primary Food & Drink is closed)

Primary Food & Drink, the newest member of Master Chef Graham Elliot’s expanding restaurant group, opened in Greenwich this past December under the direction of Executive Chef and Managing Partner Merlin Verrier. The restaurant is serving some of the most innovative and imaginative interpretations of traditional recipes using unique combinations and ingredients.

With six Michelin stars in his portfolio, Chef Verrier worked under several of the great chefs in America. His culinary experience included stops in his native California, Oregon and Colorado where he was eventually noticed by James Beard Award winner Chef Jennifer Jasinski and promoted to Sous Chef at her Rioja Restaurant. His travels brought him to Chicago in 2008 where his business relationship with Chef Elliot commenced. One month after joining Chef Elliot, he was promoted to Sous Chef and a year later he was overseeing the kitchen as Chef du Cuisine where he received his first Michelin star. Chef Verrier now brings his magical cuisine to Fairfield County.

To fully appreciate Primary’s cuisine, it is important to understand the philosophy of Chefs Elliot and Verrier, who told CTbites, “We both like people thinking outside the box, a way to add something to this dish. So it's this non-stop progression of keeping these people on their toes and not being a robot.” This mantra guides the development of the menu and in the construction of each of the dishes. They are not a repetitive series of harmonious bites, each presents a different experience in flavors and textures. Guests need to leave their preconceived notions at the door and vacate their culinary comfort zone to enjoy the complexity of Chef Verrier’s interpretations. 

The “Foielipops” are a pre-cursor to the creativity of the food. These are not listed on the menu but ask your server so you can enjoy these delicacies while you look through the menu. Circles of rich and creamy foie gras mousse are trimmed with salmon colored “pop rocks.” Some will burst in your mouth and others add a sugary complement to the richness of the foie gras; this is a fun way to start the meal.

The “Deconstructed Caesar” included three mounds of gem lettuce, topped with a small Spanish anchovy filet, the middle mound sat atop the oft-mentioned “crouton Twinkie.” The crispy lettuce was complemented by a delightfully light and lemony anchioade. The Twinkie offered crunchiness plus a mild creaminess from the interior’s Parmesan cheese “cream” while the Spanish anchovies delivered just a hint of saltiness. There was the slightest accent of garlic and pepper to complete the dish. This was a very light-handed Caesar salad.

The next dish was the “Beef Tartare” and it delivered a very different profile. The flavors were accentuated by cornichons, horseradish potatoes, Dijon mustard, roasted garlic, and Worcestershire sauce and sat atop a house-made baguette. The richness of the meat was augmented by creamy sous vided egg yolks and then the chef playfully added a sour component with finely diced pickled egg whites. This was a delightful interpretation.

The “Toasted Gnocchi” were delicious. The potato gnocchi were lightened with the addition of ricotta and then crisped. They were the perfect canvas for the flavors and textures of the accompanying ingredients. Sautéed foraged mushrooms added a deep earthiness and the Parmesan Reggiano brought a mild saltiness to the dish. All of these items were nestled in a pool of brown butter that delivered a nutty component and increased the overall richness of this presentation.

We next enjoyed a wonderful “Scottish Salmon.” A flawlessly prepared filet sat atop a mélange of grains, vegetables and fruits including wild rice, puffed rice, organic freekah, Brussels sprouts, crisped salmon skin, d’anjou pear, Brussels sprout leaves and greens; finished with whole grain mustard seed caviar and mustard vinaigrette. This was one of the best salmons I have ever tasted. The fish was crispy and perfectly seasoned on the exterior, and moist and soft on the interior with a deep flavor. The sweetness of the compressed d’Anjou pear, the nuttiness of the freekah, the crunchiness of the wild rice, and the sour and spiciness of the two mustard preparations were a perfect balance to brighten this presentation.

The “Ahi Tuna” was the only dish that I was not fond of. The large filet was coated with a spice rub that included smoked paprika and chili, seared to rare and was accompanied by Plantain chips, plus a combination of hominy, mango salsa and served with whipped avocado and lime crema. The spiciness of the rub overwhelmed the tuna and the other ingredients did not complement each other.

The “Beef Stroganoff” was fantastic with a unique twist to a familiar recipe. Chef Verrier deconstructed each of the major components and then created a delicious rendition of each of the elements. The plating began with rich truffled mushroom purée, topped with crisped spätzle and a few black trumpet mushrooms, topped with a large beef filet and finished with additional black trumpet mushrooms, crème fraiche and thinly sliced pickled shallots. The filet was incredibly rich and tender and when combined with the lushness of the mushroom purée and the earthiness of the mushrooms created a delightful decadence. The spätzle lightened the dish and the pickled shallots added sour notes to balance the other ingredients.

Chef Verrier’s interpretation of “Moroccan Lamb” was flawless in its construction and presentation. This was the best dish of the evening, and one of the best I have ever tasted. A mound of shredded lamb sat atop sweet garbanzo beans and topped with a slightly-spiced Harissa accented red cabbage slaw and a few deep-fried eggplant spears. The dish was finished with a sprinkling of orange gremolata. The lamb was marinated in yogurt and then slow roasted for hours resulting in a mild flavored, succulent, fall-off-the-bone, braised lamb. Prepared similar to “baked beans,” the sweet garbanzo beans were enriched with Merguez sausage and accompanied with a few pipings of curry yogurt to complete this North African inspired dish. This interpretation was brilliant.  

For dessert we ordered a chocolate-cacophony. Included in this dish were dehydrated microwaved sponge cake, white chocolate pound cake, milk chocolate ice cream, coconut crisp, toasted peanut pound cake, peanut semi-freddo, salted caramel syrup, chocolate nougatine, and honey comb crumble. The various flavors and textures that each of the elements brought to this dish were creative and incredibly delicious.

Primary Food and Drink is an outstanding restaurant serving delicious, creative cuisine. I look forward to numerous return visits to enjoy more of Chef Verrier’s inventive presentations.


Primary Food & Drink

409 Greenwich Ave · Greenwich · CT

(203) 861-2400

Currently open for dinner only; Primary will begin brunch service on March 8.  

Really Liked

  • Deconstructed Caesar
  • Beef Tartare
  • Toasted Gnocchi
  • Scottish Salmon
  • Beef Stroganoff
  • Moroccan Lamb
  • Chocolate Dessert


  • Foielipops

Not Fond of

  • Ahi Tuna



Primary Food & Drink on Urbanspoon

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Reader Comments (22)

I'm sorry but those dishes you took pictures of just don't look appetizing - kind of looks like a bunch of small pieces of food stacked upon one another in an effort to look very trendy.

Not what I usually except from CTBites. Glad you enjoyed though! Just not for me.

March 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGaryP

Went a few weeks after opening and had a rather disappointing meal, particularly given the price and chef pedigree. This intrigues me a bit to give it another try, but perhaps I'll wait until they serve lunch or at least until I read another positive review.

Semi-related but had a much better meal at another big name ("celeb") chef suburb restaurant last night - the Inn at Pound Ridge by Jean-Georges.

March 2, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermla19

I beg to differ this restaurant is a great addition to the Fairfield county dining scene. Hats off to chef graham and chef Merlin you guys will be fine. See you soon for another great dinner heard the duck is phenomenal

March 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLondon

What's with all the "Fairy Dust" on the plates?
Graham Elliott is only used for his name. Ka-ching !!! He is a thousand miles away from this kitchen.

March 3, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterfoodieonline

while the food may be good, the noise level on a Saturday night is uncomfortably loud, and the menu prices are the highest in the area, not conducive to returning.

March 3, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterronj

Foodieonline, mla19, and garyp... Would you guys mind posting links to the awesome restaurants that you own? I would love to post obnoxious comments on one of your positive reviews.
Why do people find so much pleasure critiquing someone's business anonymously?

March 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterFindAhobbyGaryP

@findahobbygaryp there was nothing obnoxious about my review. I merely stated how my experience was different from the reviewer's. Your post, however, is highly obnoxious. Have you never visited a site like CTBites, Chowhound, etc. before? People share their restaurant experiences, both good and bad. It's valuable.

PS The content of your post makes me wonder if you're affiliated with the restaurant and hence, makes me even less apt to try the place again.

March 4, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermla19

mla19 while i would love to work with merlin and graham, i have my own restaurant. I guess it's not obnoxious to post negative anonymous comments, about someone's hard work and investment. Please let me know where you work so that i can come in and critique you anonymously, about something i know very little about. That would be valuable, right?

March 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterfindAhobbyGaryP

@findahobby, it's 2014 and as I'm sure you are well aware, virtually every service business, from teachers to doctors to auto mechanics, is subject to online reviews via sites like Yelp, Angie's List, Rate Your Teacher. It's the way of the world. And it would be hypocritical to bemoan the fact that businesses are subject to negative reviews without recognizing the boom in business one can receive from positive social media reviews. I, for one, would hate to live in a world where a customer could only speak if he had something positive to day. Constructive criticism IS valuable to the business owner and fellow customers.

I am an attorney in-house and thus I don't report to the greater public, but if I did, I would welcome criticism. Speaking of anonymity, you've yet to tell us which restaurant you own (perhaps you're afraid to stand behind your own words here)?

Finally, these posts have gotten off subject so I will sign off hereafter. But, in closing, I assure you I know enough about dining to stand behind the words of my post. I don't need to work in the industry to assess if I've had a good meal/dining experience or not

March 4, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermla19

Mla19, while I do value constructive criticism, i don't appreciate the anonymity. If you are truly interested in providing the restaurant with constructive criticism, why not do it in person or over the phone? That way , you atleast provide them with the opportunity to improve your experience. As for providing my restaurant's name, no thank you. I would hate to open us up for another anonymous critique.
The problem with the sites you listed is that you are able to hide behind a username. Imagine how much more polite people would be if they had to use their real name and picture. Just because it's "the way of the world" doesn't make it right.

March 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterFindahobby

It is easy to snipe anonymously.
It is also easy to shill ones own restaurant anonymously.
For the umpteenth time, a real name policy on comments would be helpful.

I have not eaten here but will try it some time - though am more inclined to try Inn at Pound Ridge.

I've only heard that Primary is fairly average but, of course, it is crazy pricey.

I'm not sure if FindAHobby is more concerned about the anonymity or the method of delivering criticism, as that message is a bit blurred. I figure if someone takes my money for a sub-par meal, I don't have an obligation to help him/her improve his restaurant - though there are times that I have given direct feedback. But if I am reviewing or commenting, my first concern is with other potential diners.

While I appreciate your measured comments, you at least seem to suggest that the restaurant owner's "hard work and investment" is more important than the hard work that a consumer does to earn a paycheck which is used to buy a meal.

Sincerely and not anonymously,

March 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChris Grimm

The anonymous snipe is what bothers me. to clear it up, we take our guests investment in us very seriously. It's pretty mind blowing to us that our guests work a full day, go home, shower, get back in their car, and then choose to spend their money with us. It's what allows me to provide for my family. And, not to be completely Utopian, but it would be nice if people spent more energy celebrating other peoples talents, rather than shooting them down anonymously online.

BTW, i have been to both primary and the inn twice now, and both are great.

March 4, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterfindahobby

Thanks for the follow-up - I'm particularly glad to hear that you liked the Inn at Pound Ridge.

I'm certainly all for celebrating talent. Unfortunately, there are many who are passionate about food but who do not have an equal measure of talent!

I continue to think that the tendency on this site to cheerlead for restaurants rather than to really "review" them contributes to a lot of the "what are you thinking?" comments that get posted. More actual reviewing would be a service to readers, and lead to less indignant comments. (And removing anonymity would... well I've made that point plenty of times.) More of an effort to post prices (or price ranges) would, too.

March 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChris Grimm

Since I did sort of mention it and for unknown reasons this contributor is offended by the idea of including prices along with reviews, here are prices at Primary...

Bar Snacks range from $5 for popcorn & $7 for almonds to $9 for a couple of hot ones and $13 for the cheese platter.

Salads are $12 & $13 (the Caesar).

Raw dishes - sashimi, beef tartare, oysters - are $15, $16, $18.

Hot aps (a couple of pastas, risotto, Buffalo chicken) are $13 to $15.

Seafood mains are $35 to $42. Ouch.

Land mains are $33 to $36.

Sides are $6 to $9.

Desserts are $10 to $12.

March 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChris Grimm

@ChrisGrimm, I agree wholeheartedly that this site would be better served by critical reviews than, as you put it, "cheerleading." Blogs like Serious Eats are wonderful for their well thought out research and critical opinions of the NYC dining scene. I wish CTBites were more like that.

Getting back to Primary, I was very excited for its opening and maybe we went too early in the game, but we experienced some inept service and dry, over cooked food (more than one dish) and we spent a pretty penny. It was a disappointment as I would like nothing more than to have a really solid option in Greenwich. Until then, we mostly dine in the city or at our favorites in other CT and Westchester towns.

March 5, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermla19

I went to Primary with my wife on their opening weekend, and my experience was similar to the others who have posted here: So-so service, decent meal, extraordinary bill at the end. We used a $100 AmEx gift card toward the bill, and after two cocktails, two apps, two entrees and a split dessert, I still had to shell out around $80.

I don't mind paying high prices, but the food was simply not worth it. The buffalo chicken appetizer was interesting but ultimately a disappointment. I liked the idea of the Beef Stroganoff, but $35 for a very small portion felt very tacky.

It's too bad, because I really admire Graham Elliott. But I have to wonder how much influence, exactly, he's offering to this place.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKeith

What an obnoxious comment - hope I never end up in your "restaurant".

"Please let me know where you work so that i can come in and critique you anonymously, about something i know very little about. That would be valuable, right?"
March 4, 2014 | findAhobbyGaryP

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGetALife-findahobby

Got the chance to check out Graham Elliot's Primary last night for dinner...and was so impressed! Fun vibe, casual, urban feel and some memorable dishes! At Jeff's suggestion, we tried the Deconstructed Caesar, which was delicious and very shareable among the three of us. The Twinkie is actually a yummy cheese filled crouton...very clever. We followed with two pasta dishes, The Toasted Gnochhi were perfectly cooked and loved the mushroom and fresh Parmagiano topping. And the Pumpkin Ravioli was served with pepitas and pomegranates and amply stuffed with a delicious pumpkin puree. Sorry to hear there are "haters"...but I am a "fan" ! Nice change for Greenwich Ave!

April 4, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterellen bowen

We were there last week and I was pleasantly surprised. Certainly it is pricey (and I can understand people not wanting to pay the prices for what is a casual dining experience - it's why prices in reviews are a service to readers), but I thought the gnocchi and the risotto were top notch. Loved the lobster and the beef Stroganoff. Cocktails were food friendly, even if they didn't necessarily resemble the cocktails that they were echoing.

I feel like I am the only person who doesn't like the "twinkie." While the Caesar was solid, the twinkie was indeed the texture of a crouton - so the salad was served with a steak knife, which should have been the first message that this isn't the best idea. (Like the corn-on-the-cob I got on an early Oak + Almond salad. You should be able to eat a salad with a salad fork!) The CheezIts on the risotto were also, to me, off-putting - but others think they are fun (I'm more for fun on the plate when the prices are a little lower.) - but, as I said, otherwise the risotto was top notch, and a nifty apple & cheddar thing going there.

My concerns were, in the grand scheme of things, pretty minor. Will definitely go back.

April 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChris Grimm

Imagine my surprise to find this!

Graham Elliot's Primary Restaurant in Greenwich Closes

June 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGaryP

Genuinely good thanks, I do believe your trusty audience would probably want a great deal more blog posts of this nature maintain the good hard work.

July 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAlexSmith

I know there have been a lot of theories as to what was the cause of the sudden downfall, but I think the prices were way too high for what was ultimately just whimsical gastropub fare.

July 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChris Grimm

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