Here's the buzz- VESPA (Italian for WASP) has arrived in Westport, so get ready for the sting. Perfectly situated on the corner of Post Road and the Saugatuck River, the brand spankin-new haunt from Westporter Bobby Werhane and his partner Kevin Lalumiere of Experience Hospitality Group shares its patio space with Bar Taco and nuzzles up snugly to the water's edge. VESPA is the group's second local restaurant (NEAT opened recently, right across the lot) and it's poised for success.
We were invited to a "friends and family" soft opening where we enjoyed a large cross section of the very approachable and creative Italian inspired menu, prepared byWerhane's allstar kitchen team. Executive Chefs, Brian Reilly (Greenhouse Tavern and Noodle Cat) and Craig Wallen (Spasso and sous chef at Gramercy Tavern) work alongside Pasta Chef, Laura Bonechi (Jean-George's The Inn at Pound Ridge), and, by the way...her hand-rolled pasta is seriously crave-worthy.
The dining space is large with wooden floors done "herringbone" style, a large, deco bar area, cozy rounded leather booths as well as regular tables and several free-standing, (not-so) high tops where casual eating and drinking may take place. Werhane employed the RISCALIAGNESE design center from NYC to make the place relevant and funky, while gorgeous art work from a local painter warms up the high walls.
I spoke to Bobby (Werhane) for quite a while at the soft-open and got the gist of his hopes for VESPA; he would like diners to feel as though it is an extension of their own kitchen. With 18 wines by the glass, a great cocktail list and spectacular hand made pasta dishes by Chef Bonechi, Bobby envisions this as a go-to spot for a casual meal in an elegant setting.
And the food? VESPA's menu is easy to read with deliberately small plates, made for sharing, as well as family style dining, and a DEL MERCATO section for those with protein as a priority. Steaks are available for purchase by the ounce (!!), fish is freshly sourced, and the half plate servings allow diners to experience multiple items on the menu. Here are the "multiple" items we sampled:
We started with the TOASTS. The SALT COD with whipped potato and cranberry-balsamic jam was definitely my jam! The fish and potato puree was light and fluffy and blended perfectly with the heavier tang of the cranberries and balsamic drizzle. The STRACCIATELLA was also delicious, seasoned nicely with thyme and buckwheat honey. Our favorite starter of the evening was, by far, the BAKED ROBIOLA featuring the Italian, soft-ripened cheese served in a mini skillet, baked with poached pears and crispy and fragrant rosemary.
Another high point was the GRILLED OCTOPUS. Chefs REILLY and WALLEN go the Spanish route for this dish with celery, potato and a tasty chili relish. Charred yet tender, the cephalopod-ophiles at the table gave it 8 thumbs up. The ARTICHOKES all GIUDEA were served with Salmoriglio, a compound butter, slightly soft and whipped, containing Dijon mustard, lemon, olive oil, and fresh herbs. This was a nice choice for the deep fried artichoke leaves.
We tried the PANCETTA WRAPPED DATES which are a winner if sweet is your thing. Served on skewers and partnered with Mascarpone, Almonds and Mulled Wine with a powerful pull from some deep, dark Valrhona chocolate, this was decadent...and did I mention, sweet?
The PASTA was excellent all around but our favorites were the GRAMIGNA and the STRACI. The GRAMIGNA is thin, short-curled strands of pasta, and Chef Bonechi's was made with spinach, al dente. The RAGU was a traditional Bolognese made with lean, ground meat and a sauce made with a traditional SOFFRITTO base (celery, onions, carrots and garlic) and just enough tomato so as not to over-power. A touch of creme-fraiche finished this perfectly balanced dish in both flavor and mouthfeel...a must try.
STRACCI are medium sized, rhombus-shaped pasta and here they are served with kale, pumpkin squash and a delicate, brown butter.
An expertly prepared fish is often the mark of a good chef, and the PAN ROASTED STRIPED BASS was perfectly cooked, with crispy skin, served with a black walnut, sunchoke purée. The other meats we sampled were the BRAISED SHORT RIB and some "chef's choice" VEAL SALTIMBUCCA served with Marsala, speck and Swiss chard. We greatly enjoyed the accompaniments to both of these dishes, but felt the proteins were both still works in progress.
The desserts were all excellent and featured hand made chocolate amaretto truffles, fried ricotta dough with fudge and sour cherry sauce, and chocolate pot au créme.
VESPA has seating for 60-70 on the patio when the weather warms up and this will add to the charm of this hot new venue. The entrance will surely be a "hang out" space if you need to wait for your table as it is ample and inviting. Most pastas can be ordered Gluten-Free for those wishing or needing that option and the wait-staff are incredibly efficient, kind and helpful. Our waiter, on the evening we visited, could not have been more accommodating and knowledgeable. VESPA - fly on over and check out the buzz.
VESPAis located at 2A Post Road, 203-557-9057