It’s the corner where downtown Stamford’s sidewalk café scene began. Bedford and Spring streets. Barrique has the best location in downtown Stamford, in a quaint stone building a few steps from the Art Deco Avon Theatre (date night recommendation--an independent film and Barrique’s bistro food).
In summer, Barrique’s large, wood doors fold open on both sides of the corner. For 14 years, it was Chez Jean-Pierre, and under new ownership since June, Barrique’s dining room has lost the humorous Renoir-esque mural of Jean-Pierre and his friends in favor of a subdued white and gray palette -- white-washed brick walls, café chairs, wrought iron chandeliers, and bare, dark wood tables. It’s a casual, relaxing atmosphere. And there’s a new bar room at the back of the restaurant, a cozy spot where jazz is played Wednesday evenings.
Executive chef/co-owner Louis Barresi’s menu mostly focuses on France, with Italian, Spanish, Latin, Asian and Latin influences. Barresi is a co-owner of Doppio Artisan Pizza in Greenwich, New York City and Long Island. Manager and partner Danny Silver is the sommelier. Barrique means “barrel” in French, and if you have questions about the 41 wines served by the glass, ask him. He’s the former sommelier at A Voce in New York City.
Classic French dishes are treated respectfully at Barrique. Bouillabaisse ($15) had a luscious, light seafood broth flavored with orange-zest and saffron. The bowl was filled with blue-black mussels, little cockles, sea bass, shrimp and calamari. Each bite was tender.
Moules frites are offered several ways, French, Basque, Italian and Thai. Mustard cream sauce was our decadent choice and we loved the way it coated the plump, juicy mussels. Sommelier Silver suggested an “elegant and acidic" glass of Comte La Fond Sancerre from the Loire Valley. The crusty frites, cut by hand, were flecked with sea salt.
Steak Frites was a thick strip steak, served off-the-bone. It was cooked exactly as ordered, and the sear gave way to tender, pink flesh. The meat was napped with peppercorn sauce, rich and buttery with a touch of truffle flavor. The tempting, sea-salt and herb-flecked frites came with it.
Roasted organic chicken was plump, moist and well seasoned. Beneath the breast, with wing attached, was the flavorful thigh. Wilted baby arugula and cherry tomatoes in balsamic dressing, under the chicken, received extra flavor from the chicken juices, as did the roasted fingerling potatoes.
I’ve tried several wonderful salads at Barrique. There are nine of them on the menu, including, what?, iceberg wedge. We didn’t try that. Octopus Salad was a tender poached tentacle over a fresh mix of blood orange, fennel, radicchio and arugula. It was perfectly dressed – each leaf coated, but not drenched, in shallot-orange vinaigrette.
Each salad I’ve tried at Barrique has been distinct in ingredients and dressing, and all have been properly dressed. It’s such a pleasure to eat a well-dressed salad. And they’re big, meal-sized salads. I like to share them. Frisée aux Lardons was topped with a sunny-side up fried egg, rather than the classic poached egg, but the yolk ran when we pierced it, becoming an essential part of the dressing.
Belgian endive salad was sliced into ribbons and tossed in a slightly sweet balsamic vinaigrette. The bitter and sweet flavors were boosted by juicy, sweet pear. Toasted pine nuts nestled in the leaves. Deep-fried goat cheese croquettes, crisp and rich, made a meal of it. And though it’s not French or Mediterranean, Barrique’s Kale Caesar, made with tender baby kale, is one of the best kale salads I’ve had anywhere.
Cold weather comfort dishes include short ribs served off the bone in a rich, red wine sauce studded with meltingly soft cippolini onions over creamy, starchy-sweet parsnip puree. Brighter and lighter, seared scallops, rested on a colorful mix of yellow corn and orange butternut squash, over creamy polenta. Pastas are made in house. We tried the homey gnocchi in organic plum tomato sauce, and Danny brought us a glass of Barda Pinot Noir from Argentina.
Danny also told us about the cassoncini. It’s the Italian version of empanadas, half-moons of golden-brown, deep-fried crust, filled with chard and melting cheese. It’s served with thin slices of prosciutto. To eat, you wrap the prosciutto around it and bite into it. The dish was featured on the menu at A Voce and was written up in the New York Times. And it’s a personal dish for Danny, who was raised in Brazil by an Italian mother. “It’s a light dough,” he said, “We make it in house, with a splash of cachaça.” The Brazilian sugar-cane rum makes the dough tender and crisp.
Barrique offers prix-fix lunch for $20, a great value. And at both lunch and dinner Les Sandwiches are served. I’m always happy to see Jambon Buerre, ham, butter and cornichon on a baguette. At Barrique, they add gruyere and call it the Parisienne. And they make Pan Bagnat, that portable salad Niçoise. And yes, of course they serve a burger, with bacon, Tilamook cheddar, iceberg (yes!) and sriracha mayo on a brioche bun.
For dessert, we split a crème brûlée, made in-house. With its crackly burnt sugar shell, and creamy, yet light filling, it finished the meal in proper French fashion.
Barrique Bistro & Wine Bar, 203-357-9526
188 Bedford St., Stamford, CT 06901, 203-357-9526