Friday, May 2, 2014

Upscale Farm to Fork Fare & Spring Cocktails for Sunny Days at Bailey's Backyard

Bailey's Backyard, an intimate farm to table restaurant tucked away on Bailey Avenue in Ridgefield, CT, has been on my "must try" list since last year when they closed temporarily and then reopened with a completely revamped menu and beverage program. Now I can finally say I've experienced Bailey's Backyard, as I attended a tasting dinner for local food writers earlier this week, and am happy to report that the evening of small plates and seasonal cocktails was a pleasure. I understand why so many people have recommended a visit!

The evening began with introductions from Owner Sal Bagliavio, Executive Chef Forrest Pasternack, and beverage program Manager Bryan Walsh; the evenings menu would be showcasing spring menu items as well as Bryan Walsh's new cocktail creations. 

We started with appetizers and selections from the "for the table" portion of the menu. First, Pasternack's take on "Devils on Horseback" - armagnac plums wrapped in meaty North Country bacon, and topped with slices of fresh pear. The combination of sweet and savory, as well as the different textures presented by soft plums and crisp pear worked together very well. Already, the meal was off to a great start. 

A beautifully presented dish of Hawaiian Ahi Tuna Poke with sesame oil, garlic, soy sauce, wakame, black sesame seeds, and puffed wonton was fresh and light. Raw tuna is one of my favorites, and I always order it if it's on the menu - I could eat it completely unadorned, but the sesame oil added a unique element that elevated the dish.  

Two "for the table" dishes arrived, Tempura Vegetables with sweet potato, asparagus, and red onion topped with cashew powder and hoisin sauce, and Zucchini Fries with shaved parmesan, pecan puree, and mint. Both dishes were really nice and crispy (nothing worse than greasy veggies) and each had a unique twist that I enjoyed: the cashew powder on the tempura and pecan puree with the zucchini. I haven't experienced anything like that before, and in both cases the extra touches really made the dishes "pop."

The next two dishes were my favorites of the night. First, Chicken Liver & Grand Marnier Pate with apricot, mustard, and thyme toast was perfectly seasoned, and satisfyingly rich without being heavy. If you're a pate fan (or ready to be converted to one), you must order this dish. 

Next, Grilled Asparagus Salad with frisée, prosciutto, black truffle, hollandaise, shaved pecorino, and herbed red wine vinaigrette. I was impressed by how perfectly cooked the asparagus was; slightly charred, al dente, and bright. The vinaigrette added the right amount of tanginess, and the earthiness of black truffles complimented the salty sweet tender prosciutto

Goat Cheese Profiteroles with aged balsamic, crispy parmesan, and sun-dried tomato vinaigrette were an interesting twist on a dish traditionally associated with dessert. Chef Pasternack clearly has a creative mind, an eye for presentation, and a talent for combining unexpected flavors in a winning way. 

Now it's time to talk drinks. Bryan Walsh is creating some seriously unique cocktails and doing it with skill and style. We started with the "Six Toed Cat" (a reference to Ernest Hemingway's famous polydactyl cats): blueberry and mint infused rum, lime, fresh mint, and ginger beer. It had a wonderfully prominent blueberry flavor, with a bright purple color to match. Sticking to the Farm to Table and sustainable philosophy of Bailey's Backyard, the straw it is served with is completely biodegradable. A nice touch. 

Next, "Don't Call Me Shirley" (top right): house made citrus vodka, fresh citrus juice, and Cointreau. It tasted like Orangina for grownups! Deliciously strong. 

The "Samuel Clemens": is made with ginger infused vodka, lemon, ginger, club soda, and the completely unexpected addition of black pepper. I was skeptical, but the mix of lemon and pepper actually created a slightly spicy floral scent and flavor. I would never think of putting those ingredients together, but I'm glad Bryan did. 

A final dessert-like drink, "Rude Barbara," made with white rum, strawberry rhubarb puree, and lime, tasted like a strawberry rhubarb tart. Definitely the perfect complement to a warm spring afternoon. 

Entrees arrived, and continued to impress with their unique twists and beautiful presentation. Whipped Foie Gras with Caramelized Onion Perogi, Barolo soaked pearl onions, chive crema, and white truffle and bacon powder was a refined version of hearty Polish comfort food.

A Slow Roasted Suckling Pig with yellow corn fritters, lavender, buttered peas, and cracklin' gravy was so tender it melted in the mouth. The addition of lavender added an intriguing depth of flavor.

My favorite (though it's honestly hard to choose) was the Firecracker Rock Shrimp Scampi with hand-cut linguine, diced shallots, roasted garlic, and meyer lemon. The shrimp were tender, sweet, and lightly battered, while the buttery rich pasta boasted a clean bright pop of tangy meyer lemon.
By the time desserts arrived, we were all full to bursting, but who can resist? We enjoyed a Strawberry and Rhubarb Tart with tasted meringue and Arethusa Farms vanilla ice cream followed by a trio of warm House Made Donuts: almond and chocolate, powdered sugar, and Dulce de Leche with bacon served with a side of pomegranate espresso sauce. 

Bailey's Backyard is a Ridgefield gem. It's truly Farm to Table, dishes are unique and thoughtfully crafted, the staff is attentive but not invasive, and and the space itself is inviting and cozy. It was on my "must try" list; I recommend you add it to yours! 

Bailey's Backyard is located at 23 Bailey Avenue, Ridgefield, CT 06877. Call 203-431-0796 for reservations. 

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