Monday, June 17, 2013

Bistro 7 Offers a Locally Sourced Culinary Experience, Biodynamic Wines, Artisan Cocktails, and Ambiance!

Bistro 7, a farm to table restaurant in Wilton, was kind enough to invite me for a tasting last week. I brought a fellow foodie with a long history of restaurant employment, Andrea. I am pleased to report that it we both found the evening to be a pleasurable and delicious experience, and I now have a new favorite place near home. It's all too easy to hit the same spots over and over, and Bistro 7 has given me a reason to branch out.

Upon entering, we were greeted by a friendly hostess and seated at a comfortable deep booth. The owner, Breno Donatti, arrived with a bottle of La Jara prosecco, two glasses, and a warm welcome.

The interior is cozy, but retains an upscale feel with exposed brick walls and old fashioned fillament lightbulbs. It's clear that a lot of thought went into the design of the space, and upon speaking to Breno about how much we admired the attention to details, he explained how his wife had been an integral part of the design process. While comfortable enough to become a go-to favorite spot, Bistro 7 seems like a great "first date" kind of place. The glass divider between the bar and dining area is nicely frosted so the space feels open without being exposed if you're in the deep booths next to it, and the tables across the way are far apart enough for privacy. There's nothing more awkward than feeling like you're nearly sitting with the party next to you. Andrea and I were impressed by how "at ease" we felt in the space - even with a big open kitchen, there was no sense of frenzy or the sounds of slamming pots. An open kitchen is a great touch, but only if the action inside runs smoothly (Andrea and I both worked in a restaurant with an open kitchen, and it was more a source of embarrassment than anything else); clearly Breno and his chefs have everything under control.

The first course arrived, and we dug in. A succotash of kidney beans, corn,  and sugar snap peas provided a tasty bed for pan seared scallops and a drizzle of tarragon pesto. Andrea and I were impressed by the perfectly al dente snap peas, scallops that were still tender (I've had overcooked scallops so many times; what a shame), and the surprising brightness of the pesto.

Next, a glass of Catarrato; a crisp sicilian white with a mineral undertone that paired nicely with a cold salad of white quinoa, marinated red beets, crunchy green apple, sweet potato, roasted corn, red onion,  and raisins with a spritz of lemon juice. I don't know how they make it, but I want to learn the recipe because it was delicious. I've never gotten quinoa to taste that good, or retain any texture beyond "mushy." Kudos to the chef!

Our next wine arrived, Langhe Arneis Meriggiare from Lorenzo Allutto, as well as an explanation of how unique it is. Produced in very small batches by just 10-20 people, it's an organic white yet has a light orange hue. The color is a result of the hand processing; some of the skins remain on the grapes and impart a tint. The Meriggiare was paired with a hearty tomato soup topped with grilled cheese croutons - actual miniature grilled cheese sandwiches floating on the surface. It was tasty, but not the star of the show.

A crispy skinned branzino was next, and proved to be the favorite dish of the night; Andrea and I both finished every bit despite the knowledge that we needed to save room for more. The fish was flaky and moist, and the skin was extremely flavorful. The filet was resting on top of a "farmer's hash" of potato, artichoke hearts, olives, celery, and red onion, which was good but not even necessary - the fish was delicious enough to stand alone. It was paired with a crisp South African Beau Joubert Sauvignon Blanc, which was also excellent and very well matched with the flavors of the dish.

All the while, we were listening to live music that was so unobtrusive I had to ask Andrea, "Is this live, or just a really good sound system?" My ears perked up midway through the meal because "Take 5" by Dave Brubeck caught my attention. I often dislike live music at restaurants because it is too loud, but that clearly isn't a problem at Bistro 7.

Stuffed to the brim, our eyes widened at the site of our next dish: meaty country ribs and truffle fries. Before having Bistro 7's truffle fries, the best I had ever experienced were at Wurstkuche in L.A. It's a close race, but I think Bistro 7's are better. I'm almost upset, because now I have yet another food I must try to resist! They were crispy, really "truffle-y" without being greasy or too heavy; I finished all of mine and then started stealing Andrea's as I whined about being too full. Neither Andrea or I had enough room to eat very much of the ribs, but we both enjoyed them. Lots of tender meat and a house made tangy barbecue sauce. The Honoro Vero organic Monastrell pairing was not like any wine I'd experienced before, likely because I'd never even heard of the grape variety, but I thought the flavor went well with the heartiness of the ribs.

Lastly, we enjoyed a Sandeman 10 year tawny port with a trio of desserts: apple blackberry pie, chocolate brownie with a cream cheese swirl, and raspberry bread pudding. The pastry chef, we were told, is very passionate and inventive. Our waitress excitedly told us about how he just keeps producing better and better desserts. We enjoyed all three, and the fudge-y warm brownie was our favorite.

After the meal, Breno visited our table and we had a great conversation about food, and the importance of eating local. He sources as much as possible from local farms, which I think is fantastic - at the time of our meal, 100% of their produce was from local farms. As commercial agriculture becomes more and more damaging to the environment and our health, I will always support a business that appreciates local products. The one downside, he explained, is that when something runs out, there's nothing to do about it. Most customers, he told us, understood that buying local means there isn't an endless supply, so the occasional shortage has not been much of a cause for complaint. I'm glad to hear it!

Andrea and I are big fans of cocktails, and Andrea does a lot of experimentation with homemade simple syrups, infusions, and new ideas for drinks. We always like to check out a restaurant's cocktail menu, and we told Breno how impressed we were by Bistro 7's. He kindly brought us two of the "sage advice" - organic vodka, sage infused simple syrup, blackberry Chambord glaze, and a squeeze of lemon. We were also impressed by the wide selection of organic biodynamic wines. Bistro 7 is doing an excellent job of supporting sustainable practices.

We departed the restaurant full, happy, and impressed. We will both certainly be returning for more. We have a new happy hour to try! The bar area, a bit more brightly lit than the dining room, features two large screen TVs, but they don't overwhelm the space or give any "sports bar sense." With such a great happy hour menu, I'll certainly be heading to the bar in the near future.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? -Mary Oliver

It's a lazy Sunday, and a beautiful day. It's funny, beautiful days like this make me feel impulsive. I want to move to a new place, or travel all over the country. You'd think a day like this would make me content, it's usually the cloudy days that calm me down. Josh Ritter, I think, puts it well in his song Open Doors: "I find myself hoping for the rain; you don't see shadows on a cloudy day. I really don't interpret that in a sad way, it's just that bright days can throw into relief the things that aren't quite right. They offer the opportunity to get outside and remind yourself of what's really important - and all too often those things aren't the things we occupy ourselves with on a daily basis.

All that being said, it's easy to appreciate the wonder of the world. Just go outside and look up at the sky! I think that's why I could never live in the city - you can never really get perspective on the fact that society's mores aren't really all that important. 

As always, I keep certain quotes close to my heart, and I'm happy to share:

"It's hard to stay mad when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much; my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life." -Kevin Spacey's monologue at the end of American Beauty

"With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?" -Oscar Wilde

And lastly, because I really do have an existential bent, I share this. It is not to be interpreted in a sad way! It's TRUE, and I think it's really empowering. We take ourselves too seriously, when really, life is short. 

"Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.”