A recent event at Terrain brought together farmers, foodies and local food purveyors to kick off the spring season and to introduce the Garden Café’s new Executive Chef, Jared Frazer, to the Westport dining scene.
The introduction of the new chef is good news to fans of Terrain who previously gave mixed reviews to Garden Café’s food. After a few lunches and the recent spring dinner party, it’s clear that Chef Frazer has a firm grip on the farm-to-table concept, recently completing a stint as Sous Chef at Terrain’s Glen Mills flagship café. He brings over 13 years of culinary experience including Executive Chef and Chef de Cuisine at Supper in Philadelphia and Perry’s in Washington, DC. He also worked with world renowned Chefs Jose Andres and Michel Richard in several top restaurants throughout Washington, DC, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Under Frazer’s watch, the portions are larger, the foods are less fussy, and the servers are well trained. Recent lunch standouts included the pickled beet salad with grapefruit, chevre, candied pistachios and spicy greens tossed in an orange vinaigrette, and a hefty grilled portabella sandwich, topped with roasted red pepper, bleu cheese and served on a ciabatta roll, accompanied by crispy, house-cut fries.
The introductory spring dinner, held on a beautiful cloudless night, started with drinks and hors d’oeuvres on the outdoor garden patio, which is one of Westport’s hidden gems. A verdant oasis, quietly tucked behind the bustling Post Road, the patio is flanked by a nursery bursting with fragrant perennials and colorful garden plants. It served as the ideal setting for farm-style drinks and nibbles. Though we dined previously on the patio for lunch, the sunset ambience was so cozy and festive that I made a mental note to keep it in mind for cocktail parties, small dinners and private events. (Outdoor heaters warmed up the space after the sun went down.)
The friendly bartender poured a well-edited selection of wines, including a delicious chilled Schug Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma, but in true Terrain fashion, the stars of the bar were two signature cocktails—a refreshing Basil Collins and a Thyme Lemonade—with icy vodka and fresh-squeezed citrus, served in Mason Jars, generously garnished with garden herbs.
Frazer set the bar high with his array of crowd-pleasing hors d’oeuvres that were all as delicious as they were artfully presented. They included beet-cured salmon with crispy skin and capers; cones filled with sweet-and-salty caramel popcorn tossed with rendered duck breast; and leek coins with lemon-poached asparagus. Our favorites were the crispy polenta bites, stuffed with Farmers Cheese and truffle, served lollipop style, with individual skewers playfully poking out from a bed of wheatgrass. For the main event, the guests moved into the gorgeous, skylight greenhouse dining room, with tables draped in linen and festooned with yellow French tulips and roses.
The main meal started with a bang—the golden seared scallop and slow-braised pork belly combo, garnished with a pea puree and fresh peas—delicious. The scallop-pork combo was followed up by fava bean soup, theatrically poured from kitschy, porcelain teapots into small bowls laced with diced, house-cured salami, micro basil and smoked oyster. Sadly, the soup was one of the weak showings of the night, as the bean puree had a bitter flavor that wasn’t diminished by swirling in the salty salami/oyster/basil mélange at the bottom of the bowl. The misstep was soon forgotten, however, with the presentation of the sous vide beef strip loin—perfectly cooked medium-rare bites of loin, served with fresh local mustard greens, fingerling potatoes and morel mushrooms (note to Chef: the salty, earthy morels were overpowering and would have been better sliced sparingly into the dish instead of served whole).
The meal ended with a smoked chocolate cake topped with a caramelized marshmallow.
Our advice to Chef Frazer: keep it simple, and be sure to taste your foods before they leave the kitchen.
Overall, the past few visits to Terrain’s Garden Café and outdoor patio were quite good, and I believe that the Chef, who has already improved the menu, is still settling in and making connections. Frazer, a newcomer to these parts, is hoping to forge relationships that will allow him to incorporate more local farm-to-table fare into his repertoire. In his first weeks, he has integrated produce from Patti Popp’s Sport Hill Farm in Easton that now appears in many dishes, and the list of local ingredients will certainly grow. Judging by the attendees, including Westport Farmers’ Market Director Lori Cochran and local green foods authors and advocates, like Sherri Brooks Vinton, it’s clear that Chef Frazer is in good company.
It was a terrific night in an amazing locale, and it reminded me of how lucky we are to have such a funky, cool venue sitting right on the Post Road. It’s a winner for lunch and, now, with the addition of a liquor license and a promising new Chef at the helm, I’m looking forward to adding it to the rotation for cocktails and dinner.
Terrain 561 Post Road East, Westport. 203-226-2750