In case you haven't noticed, something is afoot in the old Bennett's Steak House on Stamford's Spring St. as the countdown begins on one of the most anticipated restaurant openings in Fairfield County, a venture that brings together the restaurant acumen of Napa & Co.'s Mary Schaeffer, and the culinary talent of Chef Dan Kardos, most recently of Harvest Supper in New Canaan. Combine this team with an inventive rustic Italian country menu (including a wood burning oven), a bar-centric two-story space, inventive homemade Italian inspired cocktails, and the buzz amongst the foodie obsessed is warranted. CTBites had an exclusive sneak peek into their pre-opening plans, interior renovation, and the much anticipated working menu of the inventive interpretation of traditional Italian fare that will become Bar Rosso.
When we walked into the space this week, the noise was deafening and the construction had transformed the low ceilinged Bennett’s into a two-story, open-spaced visual extravaganza. The wood burning oven was being installed, the stone wall behind the 50-foot bar was in place (the future projection site for old Italian B&W films). At Bar Rosso, the 50-foot bar and the wood burning oven will be the stars of this urban style trattoria. Both regular height and high tables will surround the bar space on the first floor and the second floor will offer more intimate balcony tables (a weekend DJ will reside on the second floor) plus the warmer months will allow for additional seating on the outdoor patio. Several seats are also planned overlooking the wood burning oven.
The kitchen equipment will arrive later this week and will allow Chef Dan to move out of the kitchen at Napa & Co, where he has been testing his recipes for the past six months, and start cooking in his own space. In addition to pastas and entrees, the excitement on the pizza was discussed with co-owner Mary Schaffer. The pies will emerge from the wood burning oven in a "thin crust Neopolitan style along the lines of Tarry Lodge." The working pizza choices as of this week include traditional Marguerita style plus drool worthy toppings including Artichokes/marinated tuna/fried olives/farm egg, Ricotta/pecorino Toscano/oregenata breadcrumbs, and Salami/crispy sardines/fennel pollen/EVO. When we asked Chef Kardos what he was most excited about on the menu, he answered without hesitation "the wood burning oven."
The menu will focus on a culinary tour of Italy from Sicily to the Dolomites with robust offerings of reasonable small plates and starters that casually elevate "bar food." The current menu will include inventive appetizers including Marinated cauliflower, Truffle Polenta, Buttata and olives, Crushed Potatoes, and Whipped chicken livers. In addition the menu will include dry plus homemade pastas with delectable toppings including sausages, lamb, rabbit and shrimp. A selection of heartier meat and fish entrees, many of which will be cooked in the wood burning oven are also in the works. Additionally Chef Kardos will prepare his own mozzarella and in house charcuterie.
Bar Rosso will also offer a 250 bottle Italian wine list and the 25 wines by the glass, the cocktail menu will feature Italian classics that will include one of the five homemade bitters plus lemoncello, orange-cella and grappa. Overseeing the creation of this inventive “Libations” menu is a passionate master mixologist Eric Ribeiro, whose experience as a chef and a passion for drink has created some incredible specialty cocktails. His remarkable cocktail menu is a wonderful complement to the Bar Rosso experience and it mirrors the attention given to the food. For months Eric as been formulating a selection of homemade bitters with flavors like "In Bloom" (blending rose petals, 151 proof rum, lavender, and star anise), "Orange" (with orange peel, spices and roots and caramelized sugar), and "Vanilla & Cherry." Each bitter combines roots, spices, and alcohol which he marinates for 2 months, strains and then bottles. The result is intoxicating, and a cocktail only requires a few drops of Eric’s bitters for the flavors to reach their intended intensity.
While a traditional Cosmopolitan includes vodka, triple sec, lime juice and cranberry juice, the Bar Rosso’s version, named the Mandorlo Cosmo is prepared with Amaretto, Citron Vodka, lime juice and cranberry juice. It was a sweet and delightful combination. The popular Negroni of gin, sweet vermouth and bitters has been upgraded to include Campari, Gin, Prosecco, Cynar, with the housemade Vanilla-Cherry Bitters. We were curious about the ‘Cellos and Eric was quick to pour both the Lemoncello and the Orange-Cello. Two sips of each and both of us understood why these were so popular. They were refreshingly sweet with an extremely pleasing flavor. Then Eric upped the ante with two fantastic adaptations of two traditional cocktails. For those who have enjoyed cocktails in front of a roaring fire after a day of skiing Eric has created his “Hot Smoke” which combines Warm Port, red wine, oranges, grapefruit and sugar into a drink that screamed après ski. We both loved this. But Eric had one more trick up his sleeve with his adult interpretation of hot chocolate. A wonderful chocolate flavor, a richness to the texture and the warming feel of the alcohol laced drink made this the perfect “adolescent” ending to the sampling. Our recommendation...leave your car at home.
The final piece that is falling into place for Bar Rosso's anticipated February opening is the highly trained staff. The intitial group of hires has successfully completed a Food & Wine Test plus Bar Rosso's Dedicated Wine Test (see below). Both of us failed miserably. The opening day servers and staff are in the process of completinga 25-day training session on the food, wine plus full day courses on cheese, charcuterie and the nuances of different steak cuts. Mary Schaeffer readily admits that the wait staff can make the restaurant experience and she is fully engaged in this training.
We wish them luck in the final stages. Stay tuned for our next installment of the Bar Rosso pre-opening story when Chef Dan prepares a broad sampling of his anticipated menu which will be featured in a couple of weeks.
Bar Rosso Quiz #1 for New Hires
Service, service and service!What's the hardest thing about opening a restaurant? Finding great staff! Fairfield County is one of the hardest areas to find people that are passionate about food and wine but also enjoy the service industry as a career and not just to earn a buck while going to school. Below is the quiz all new hires received just to start to identify the level of knowledge they each came in the door with and what was needed. Why are we sharing this? We want you to know how seriously we take the training of the people that will be "selling" our great food and wine each day! See how you do on the quiz...
1. What does corked mean?
2. What does varietal mean?
3. What does the vintage mean?
4. What grapes are grown in Burgundy?
5. What 5 grapes are grown in Bordeaux?
6. What is a Super Tuscan?
7. Name 3 wines (be specific) that your last restaurant poured by the glass
8. Should Champagne POP when you open it?
9. What popular grape is grown in Argentina?
10. What is oxidized?
11. Name a fortified style of wine?
12. Name a grape grown in Piedmont?
13. Name a grape grown in Tuscany?
14. What sparkling wine comes from Italy?
15. What sparkling wine comes from Spain?
16. How many glasses of wine can you get out of a bottle?
17. What is Viognier? Describe it?
18. Another name for Pinot Gris?
19. Another name for Sauvignon Blanc?
20. What grapes are grown in the Rhone Valley
21. What is Chianti Classico?
22. What is Port like?
23. Describe tannin?
24. Describe a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
25. Is Chianti a grape or a region?
26. A customer orders a second bottle of the same wine—what you should do?
27. Is a screw cap a comment on quality?
28. Do you put the cork back in the bottle after opening?