Unlike its Franco-centric siblings – the Le Penguins in Greenwich and Westport-- Le Fat Poodle is a Parisian Bistro in name only. Indeed, its faux French appellation comes with a big wink, setting the mood for the whimsy inside what was once a stately U.S. Post Office.
The soaring ceilings, whirling fans, and leafy palms suggest sexy Saigon rather than teeming Paris. That’s Pink Martini on the playlist, not Piaf. And the menu? Global far more than Gallic.
No arrondissements here. Just crossroads….
East meets West via seductive Vietnamese egg rolls. Or there’s Swiss fondue to spark a party without borders. Sample Spanish Ceviche or blistered Japanese Shushito Peppers. Bite into creamy Tuscan Ravioli, plump with wild mushrooms. Dip into a fluffy Hummus Kawarma, inspired by Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. Savor tender rubbed pork belly, by way of the American South. Or grin at the “Pu-Pu Platter” that’s mischievously placed at the top of the menu, and then rave at its mouthwatering reinvention.
“This is a Global Bistro, not a French Bistro,” insists veteran restaurateur Anshu Vidyarthi.
Their style might be light-hearted, but he and co-owner Antoine Blech brandish serious culinary and international pedigrees: Le Bec Fin, Spago, Ivy at the Shore, Le Colonial, L’escale. The planet is their oyster.
“Each morning, we ask our chef, Oscar Herrera, to go to a different part of the world,” Vidyarthi tells us. “And that dish becomes our Special of the day.”
One night it might be a Greek Moussaka, laced with feta and pine nuts. Another evening: a classic Mexican Sopa de tortilla. Or the special could be a Spanish style Paella, brimming with lobster, shrimp and andouille sausage.
Even the tartares don’t boast a French DNA. The Steak Tartare owes its lineage to Yuk-hwe, a Korean raw beef dish, traditionally seasoned with Asian spices and sauces. Yuk-hwe also features a julienned Korean pear, which is sweeter and crunchier than its Western counterpart. Rather than julienne the fruit, Chef Herrera prefers to mix in small chunks of the Asian pears, building a distinctive Eastern flavor and a more toothsome texture.
The shimmering Wicked Tuna Tartare ranks as one of best I have ever tried. Avocado and red onion anoint the raw fish with doses of spice and sweetness. But it’s a side of crispy wonton chips that steals the show. The skins not only add an Asian accent, but a textural contrast with the silken tuna and avocado. Because the chips score as big a hit as the tartare with many diners, the server will bring more if asked.
Other starters range from “Los Cockles” burnished with Pico de Gallo and Chorizo …. to a crusty crab cake with remoulade sauce, countered by a simple, lightly dressed root vegetable slaw.
As for main courses, our first choice was the pan seared Red Snapper, what we later learned has become Le Fat Poodle’s signature dish. Sourced from Greenwich’s exceptional Bon Ton Market, the crisped fish is served Thai style, over a bed of wild rice and yellow coconut curry. A slice of lime caps the mélange, adding accents of acidity to the sweetness and spice of the curry. The flavor combination is simultaneously exotic and comforting, while the variety of textures --- fish, rice, and sauce -- make for a very satisfying bite. The best description of the dish: “balanced.” In structure, flavor, and presentation.
Bon Ton Fish Market has found a good customer in the Poodle. One night we counted over a dozen seafood dishes listed on the menu, including Mussels in a Diablo Sauce. The Spanish version of thisFrench bistro trope features a traditional chunky tomato broth spiced with chili flake, garlic, and cilantro. The peppers gives pop to the mollusks, yet the red sauce remains mild enough to be slurped or mopped with the toasted sourdough. Many consider Barcelona’s Mussels a Diablo the gold standard in the region, but the Poodle’s rendition is equally outstanding. (My only quibble – three unopened mussels slipped past the kitchen’s surveillance. I pointed this out to the busser, who smiled, shrugged and blithely carted them away.)
CTBites recently ranked the bistro’s all-American hamburger, “Royale with Cheese,” as one of the Top Ten in Southwest Connecticut. Served only at lunch, the half-pound Kobe blend comes crowned with a Munster-Cheddar melt, sweet Onion Jam, crispy Boston Bibb lettuce, sliced Tomato, and a flavorful Thousand Island topping. The dressing, like In-N-Out’s “secret sauce” or Shake Shack’s Thousand Island, is elevated by a spritz of pickle juice. A soft but sturdy brioche bun more than stands up to the mountainous burger and all its fixin’s.
(At night, the Poodle may be a no-sandwich zone, but by special request, Chef Herrera is known to grill up their prized hamburger for dinner.)
Our final port of call: Mexico for dessert. The tres leches, described in the menu as “to die for”, tasted perfectly sweet, caramel, and moist. Accented by a squirt from a lime wedge, the cake was, apropos of a global bistro,”out of this world.”
Why Old Greenwich? With a population of only 6,000 and little reputation as a culinary hot spot, the staid hamlet seems an odd location for a sassy international restaurant. “We were attracted by the space,” Vidyarthi explains, “but in no way were we going to do a neighborhood place.” With a packed house many nights, Le Fat Poodle draws its crowds from Westchester, all of Fairfield County, and even the City.
The bistro is literally “Destination” Dining – not just for its far-flung customers, but its inventive international cuisine.
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