From a quick healthy grab-and-go to a fun night out, there are a ton of new local restaurants in our area. Here, we explore new venues and flavors in our quest for the latest in local deliciousness.
A 42-seat bistro in Darien rooted in farm-to-table, this new restaurant is an offspring of Baldanza of New Canaan, which opened nearly five years ago as a farm market and tiny eatery. New Canaan’s Baldanza has since expanded to a new location (129 Elm Street) with space for 90, and word’s caught on in Darien. When we visited a month after it opened, the bistro was full during lunch on a Tuesday. The dining room has a rustic feeling that compliments the farm theme, with a wood-beamed ceiling and gray beadboard on the stainless steel-topped bar where homemade muffins are displayed on old-fashioned glass-covered cake stands.
For Angela and Sandy Baldanza and their son Alex, the food business is a second career—and a passion. An accomplished home cook, Angela worked in fashion for many years and finds the experience relatable. “Creating a menu is like creating a collection,” she says. “It’s all about presentation, color and texture.” The dishes appeal to the eye and to your health: it’s all about clean eating, food made with organic and non-GMO produce and meats from local farms when possible. Sourcing the best is essential to Angela, who’s been known to climb onto trucks at the end of a farmer’s market and make a deal to buy out the “ugly” tomatoes and other leftover produce.
Power Plates are a lunchtime favorite; we liked the grilled Gulf shrimp with zucchini, asparagus, peppers and avocado in a citrus vinaigrette; a substantial portion of veggies without the salad greens. Baldanza is known for its soups and chilis (which are sold in Walter Stewart’s market); also try the beet salad, homemade pastas or wild Maine halibut.
1020 POST ROAD (IN BACK), DARIEN, 203-309-5777; BALDANZACAFE.COM
Evaritos in SoNo is not your mother’s Mexican. Much of the food is prepped on the custom wood-fired grill, which adds smokiness to the flavorful dishes. A far cry from the traditional taco joint, this menu takes a healthier approach to classics such as fajitas served in an individual cast-iron skillet with dark greens, broccoli, beets and big pieces of red pepper mixed in with the chicken. Owned by French Culinary Institute alum Christian Burns whose other restaurants include Gingerman in Greenwich and Cask Republic, Evaritos has a mix of high and low tables, upholstered banquettes and booths plus a giant fireplace in a wall of tile and a huge bar that draws a happy hour crowd for the margaritas and cocktails.
We loved the spicy tuna tostada with peppers, radish and serrano mayo on a crispy tortilla. Beware: the super-fresh guacamole and salsas are so tasty that you run the risk of chip overload. You can sample all seven types of homemade salsas by taking the ‘Salsa Tour.” A portion of two chicken tacos is served on a metal tray, and they’re on the smaller side, addictive with avocado and adobo sauce on the masa tortillas, which are non-GMO and hand-pressed daily. Vegetarians will appreciate dishes such as cauliflower mole tacos, cactus salad and vegan chorizo. Dessert? Si! Try the bowl of tres leches topped with strawberries, the authentic churros y chocolate or the impossible cake with caramel sauce. Going for apps and cocktails? The bartender mixes some magical margaritas; we liked the spicy jalapeno mandarin.
16 NORTH MAIN STREET, SOUTH NORWALK, 203-939-1620; EVARITOS.COM
Whether you’re craving an avocado toast or egg sandwich alternative or seeking some so-good-they-won’t-know-it’s-healthy options for your kids, this eatery serving only plant-based dishes has it. A quick and convenient cafe on the sunny corner spot of Main Street and East Avenue, it’s the younger sister to Organika in Southport, which opened two years ago. “We wanted to create a place that would be like a Starbucks for vegan food, appealing to everyone from five-year-olds to 90-year-olds,” says Dimitri Pantzos, who runs the place along with his aunt Kathy and uncle Gino Riccio, who have been in the restaurant biz for 30 years. “My aunt is very health-conscious and we always ate organic growing up,” he adds. “She wanted to give back to the community with a place to get healthy-quick meals.” The comfortable interior with wood-topped tables, simple modern chairs, a chalkboard-like mural and large-scale photos of veggies and fruits, make this a good spot to meet a friend for coffee or lunch. It’s also super family-friendly. Kids like to curl up in the hanging swing seat. Since opening in October, Organika has become a takeout hub, too.
CLAIM TO FAME
Nothing here comes from a can. Everything is made fresh, all beans are soaked overnight and everything is organic, down to the nuts and seeds. Chefs make their own almond milk and the only sweeteners used are coconut sugar and maple syrup.
Popular dishes include the almond crunch acai bowl, an acai blend topped with strawberries, bananas, almond butter and a little granola with an Insta-worthy presentation. The California burger made with black beans, sweet potato and quinoa and served with chipotle mayo is a satisfying lunch or dinner as are the protein bowls, such as Asian veggie stir fry and South of the Border. Kids and adults like the margarita pizza (the crust is made from double-zero camu flour) and pastas. Green juices and smoothies are staples.
TAKE IT TO GO
Order on UberEats or call and pick up.
95 MAIN STREET, NEW CANAAN,
CANTIKI & BOURBON RAW
ISLAND-INSPIRED PARTY / SOUTHERN-INFLUENCED BAR WITH BITES
The busiest block in SoNo has two new anchors with the opening of these side-by-side eateries in October. Though each is separate with its own distinct personality and food, the new kids on the block are both owned by the same group as Sign of the Whale in Harbor Point. When the crowd gets going, an interior door is often open between the two bars so guests can mingle in and out of each location. At Cantiki, the cocktail menu is longer than the dinner menu, but there are good tacos and pupus to be had in this tropical, nautical-inspired spot. Bourbon Raw has more of a masculine feel with leather couches for lounging and Southern favorites on the menu like shrimp fritters and a Kentucky Hot Brown sandwich. Fun theme nights attract a crowd, whether it’s a Finding Nemo movie night or a 1940s costume party. At Cantiki, there are live bands every Friday night and DJs on Saturdays.
Cocktails are a must and several are sized for sharing like the Headhunter’s Revenge with its blend of three rums, pineapple juice, fresh mint and crème de cacao, as well as tiki cocktails such as Son of a Peach and Skull & Bones poured in festive ceramic glasses. At Cantiki, order the taco platter and choose three of your favorites such as spicy shrimp or pulled pork. Beef empanadas and coconut shrimp are other faves. At Bourbon Raw, don’t miss the crispy Brussels sprouts, fried oysters, shrimp and grits and buttermilk fried chicken.
The answer to your cravings from some of the newer spots in town
WHEN YOU WANT… BONE BROTH
Head to NIT NOI PROVISION’S commercial kitchen in SoNo. The bone broth is made from organic, pasture-raised chicken or beef, or organic vegetables. Chef-owner North Shutsharawan whips up a mean Thai noodle soup (Guay Teow Gai) that’s his grandmother’s recipe, the perfect antidote to bone-chilling days. Also available at the Westport Farmer’s Market. 95 Water Street, SoNo or pre-order for delivery, 203-354-4458; nitnoiprovisions.com
WHEN YOU WANT… GELATO AND ITALIAN TREATS
CAFÉ LA DOLCE serves some exceptional Italian treats including homemade Italian ices with unusual flavors such as banana, passion fruit and lily with almond. Indulge in gelatos and pastries like sfogliatelle, amaretti cookies, cannolis and more. There’s also very good coffee and some crepes and savory paninis if you want to make a meal of it. 14 North Main Street, SoNo, 203-642-4577; ladolcecafe.com
WHEN YOU WANT… POKE
Part of a small chain, POKEMOTO is our area’s first authentic Hawaian poke spot. The fast-casual eatery in SoNo lets you create your own poke bowls. You choose the proteins (ahi tuna, salmon, shrimp, chicken or tofu) and top with all kinds of options: a range of veggies, Asian sauces and toppings such as daikon, pickled ginger or seaweed salad and crunchy elements such as crispy onions or tempura flakes. Then, add rice or salad or have the mixture spooned into a nori seaweed wrap. 133 Washington Street, SoNo, 203-956-9800; pokemoto.com
WHEN YOU WANT… SALAD
WALTER STEWART’S has become an easy spot for quick lunch options — from fresh soups to sushi and deli sandwiches, but the new custom salad bar is a welcome addition. Choose your greens (spinach, arugula or mixed greens) and mix in what you like from a huge selection of proteins, veggies, nuts and seeds. 229 Elm Street, New Canaan, 203-966-4848; stewartsmarket.com
WHEN YOU WANT… FRESH BAKED GOODS
Trader-turned-baker Rob VanKeuren opened FLOUR, WATER, SALT next door to NEAT in Darien. Now after you grab your latte, you’ll be able to pick up bread, croissants, apple turnovers and other French pastries fresh from the oven. 20 Grove Street, Darien, 203-202-7776; flourwatersaltbread.com
QUALITY BURGER & STEAK SPOT MEETS CHEERS
For years locals have relied on the space that’s now Darien Grille as a meeting place, hangout and go-to for grabbing a pint and watching sports. Co-owners Dermot Flynn and Steve Looney (from Ireland’s County Offaly and County Cork respectively) wanted to maintain the congeniality of the former Center Street restaurant, but with a menu and format that has broader appeal than an Irish pub. “It’s a more casual take on a steakhouse,” says Dermot, who’s also a partner in South Avenue Butcher Shop in New Canaan. During a renovation, the wood bar was replaced with a more contemporary marble-topped bar, and you’re sure to get a good pour as Dave Barone just won the local “Best Bartender” competition. Thursday is ladies’ night here and on the weekends, the Grille’s TVs screen international rugby among other sports and Smart TVs show high school football, lacrosse, field hockey and other Blue Wave sports.
The Grille burger is a must-order, a blend of filet, wagyu and ribeye on brioche with lettuce tomatoes and pickles, and the veggie burger is a popular alternative. For entrée salads, check out the tasty Cobb or Thai beef salad. There’s a range of steaks, from Tomahawk to New York strip, as well as seafood entrées for those who prefer. A dessert of sautéed strawberries served with black pepper, Pernod and ice cream is a standout.
22 CENTER STREET, DARIEN, 475-328-9763; DARIENGRILLE.COM
BEACH HOUSE CAFE
HIP SEAFOOD FOR ALL AGES / NIGHTLIFE
Chef and restaurateur Kane Xu first put his imprint on the Beach House in Old Greenwich and then last year opened a sister seafood spot in SoNo. This location overlooks the Aquarium, so it’s a convenient place for family brunch, lunch or dinner with a crowd-pleasing kids’ menu. The industrial-meets-nautical décor is fitting for this location with lots of high-top tables and floor-to-ceiling windows. Saturday and Sunday brunch is particularly popular, with bands such as the Salt Water Band and keeping the scene lively. Other special events include a Thursday “boozy trivia night.”
Sashimi fans will love the salmon summer rolls made with organic Scottish salmon, tobiko and wasabi with a spicy Japanese aioli, while traditionalists may favor the oysters Rockefeller with bacon fennel cream and a light touch on the breading so you can really taste the brininess of the oysters. Try the squid ink pasta with lobster, shrimp and scallops in a truffle champagne butter (this combo is also served with risotto). The pan-roasted duck with a crispy, gingery skin and sweet potato mash is one of the signature dishes. For brunch, don’t miss the gorilla bread, a decadent cinnamon roll with cream cheese, dulce de leche and pecans and the lobster eggs Benedict. The pistachio ricotta cheese cake is a fave without being cloyingly sweet.
19 NORTH WATER STREET, SONO, 203-956-7171; BEACHHOUSECAFE.COM
UPSCALE PERUVIAN MEETS THE BEACH
Peruvian food has been trending in the past few years and now the South American import is hitting our area with this new contemporary restaurant. “We wanted to let people know about Peruvian cuisine. It’s so much more than the basic dishes,” says Chef Jose Draganac who co-owns the restaurant with Wilson Rodriguez, who’s originally from Ecuador and has 20 years in the business. Pesca offers a fresh spin on Peruvian cuisine with a seafood-centric menu and décor that transports you to the beach. Giant tile fish murals cover the back wall and an oversized sketch of a vintage Peruvian stamp enlivens another wall. Nautical lanterns hang from pulleys and the floor is so glossy it looks wet. At the center of the space, there’s a large u-shaped bar with high-top tables on one side and regular tables on the other. Dishes are served in pottery imported from Peru. A raw bar overlooks the open kitchen.
The Peruvian version of fish and chips, jalea is a substantial plate of battered shrimp and fish and topped with calamari, plantains and a lime-marinated onion and tomato salsa. Conchas a la parmesan makes an excellent starter: diver scallops in a pisco reduction with butter, garlic and parmesan, baked gratin style and so pretty, served in a white scallop shell plate. The Pato a la Chiclayana, a duck dish served with quinoa, is hearty and satisfying and the paella loaded with goodies from the sea could be a meal for two. The classic pollo a la braza starts with Amish organic chicken that’s marinated for 24 hours in a mixture that includes vinegar, stout, rosemary and cumin.
70 MAIN STREET, NEW CANAAN; 203-594-7400, PESCAPERUVIANBISTRO.COM