When Jeff Taibe opened Taproot in the second half of 2017, our Amy Kundrat summed up this Fairfield County gem beautifully. “Creative, seasonal, down-to-Earth, and hyper-local” (because damn near every ingredient comes from Connecticut farms) are all words she used. That summation is dead-on accurate.
And yeah, you should run there. I wish I listened to her closing sentence and didn’t wait so long for a stellar culinary experience. Bethel isn’t THAT far, and Taproot is worth the drive. When I did go, I deserved the ribbing. “Hey, man! It only took you a f*cking year to get here!” Taibe joked.
From the shareable, addictive apps, to carefully crafted cocktails, and braised pork cheeks that flaked apart with a slight twist of my fork, it was my favorite meal in Connecticut in 2018.
All of the above is a well-deserved shout-out, but I’m not giving you a Taproot update. I’m dishing on the restaurant’s one-Sunday-per-month mood swing called “Bushido.”
Bushido, as you can probably surmise, is a Japanese pop-up concept. The birth of Bushido is a story in itself.
“When I was at Oak + Almond, my brother, Bill, came to me and asked, ‘Do you want to open a Japanese restaurant?’” Taibe recalls. “I was the only one who lived in Asia, in Southeast Asia, actually, so I said, ‘Sure, if it’s Southeast Asian!’ cuz those are my flavor profiles.”
That restaurant—that you SHOULD know—is Kawa Ni. But before the Taibe brothers could open an izakaya, they had a lot to learn. They read books, studied, ate at many Japanese restaurants, and even took a trip to Japan to further their knowledge on that country’s cuisine.
Jeff, who was already a fan of the cuisine, credits his few years at Kawa Ni for increasing his passion for Japanese food and flavors and mentioned that it would be a disservice not to continue cooking this style because he’s spent a lot of time studying it.
Taibe told us that after he opened Taproot, Bushido started as an idea for a brick-and-mortar that never came full circle when the investor dropped out. Because he put some real thought into it, he had all these ideas and knew he had to do something about it.
“The first iteration of it was a dinner at Taproot with sake pairings and Japanese whiskey at $125 per person,” he said. “The problem was, not many people from the surrounding areas of Bethel were interested at that price.”
To cater to the area, Taibe switched it up. He referenced the time he spent living in the East Village for inspiration. “We’d go to Japanese restaurants in the city and get three skewers, a beer, and we’d be good with that. We want to have that here, but have a few higher end things, too.”
That’s how Bushido was born.
It’s tasty, it’s approachable, and it lives up to the promise of affordability. “You can come in for $25, or a couple hundred if you want it all; it caters to everyone,” Taibe said. That’s the reason for a menu that starts as low as $2 for small bites, and in the $10-$16 range for raw fish and more substantial offerings. Essentially, you and your dining buddies (because Bushido is perfect for groups) could fill up on delectable apps and be content.
There’s no telling what Bushido’s ever-changing menu will look like, and Taibe enjoys that. “I would get bored doing the same thing day in and day out,” he said. “Doing this is fun and interesting, and it inspires my cooks to learn more to the point where they’re now buying Japanese cookbooks.”
No matter what, you can bet that raw fish will be a focal point. It is a proper way to begin. We loved the fresh sliced Hamachi. It was delicate, almost butter soft, and the secret egg yolk sauce that dressed it was a creamy, umami punch.
If fish isn’t your thing, maybe chicken is? There’s a good chance you’ll see yakitori skewers, so do yourself a favor, order a few. Chicken skin and white meat from the breast are choices or go with dark meat like we did. We couldn’t pass up the combination of salt, sake, and garlic butter that further enhanced the already juicy leg meat with patches of crispy skin.
There was a fancier skewer that night with foie gras and charred scallions that was all too compelling, but somehow, we couldn’t stop noshing on everything that clucks. That brings us to one of our favorites of the night, Chicken Tsukune, an oblong, well-seasoned meatball with a nicely seared exterior that you dip in a sweet soy sauce and rich egg yolk.
“Chicken night” continued, and we weren’t mad about it! If you’ve never had karaage, you’re missing out. It’s Japanese fried chicken that’s usually marinated, then lightly coated in potato starch or wheat flour, resulting in a crunchy, but not too thick crust. Taibe’s version—served with a yuzu-Toban-djan (a spicy fermented paste made of fava beans and chilis)—is so addictive, I recall said that I’d eat a KFC bucket full of it.
And sorry to keep you waiting, but there’s totally ramen to be had at Bushido! Whatever ramen they’re serving, get on that. His fans from Kawa Ni know exactly what I mean. “People are shocked that I do everything here from scratch, which is uncommon, because usually something, a base, a paste, is store bought,” he said. “Even the ramen; it’s a long, slow process. The broth takes a couple of days to cook. I’m a white guy cooking Japanese food, so it better be good!”
Get a bowl. Slurp away. No judgement passed.
If you’re curious about Bushido, the best way to stay informed is to follow Taproot on Facebook or Instagram, and when they announce it, jump on a reservation ASAP. It’s a Sunday treat you won’t soon forget.
269 Greenwood Avenue; Bethel
(475) 329-5395; http://www.taprootct.com/