Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Talent for Tapas and Service That Shines: A Review of Picador in New Canaan, CT

Reading the menu at Picador in New Canaan, Connecticut results in an immediate desire to try everything. From seared scallops to inventive salads and desserts, it's impossible to choose. Luckily, Picador's specialty is tapas, and it's possible to try a wide range of their delicious dishes.

The intimate dining room is comfortable and relaxed, and the presence of the owner makes each guest feel welcome and special. I always appreciate the extra dynamic that an enthusiastic and passionate owner adds to a dining experience, and Ray Rivera provides exactly that.

A meal at Picador is an exciting one, as each dish arrives beautifully presented and their fabulous flavors more than amply fulfill their visual promise. I had the pleasure of sampling seven of Chef Frank Barrese's magical creations, and each new dish was impressive as the last.

We started with Garroxta, a cave aged raw goat's milk cheese produced in the Catalonia region of northern Spain, paired with Marcona almonds, golden raisins, and a sweet apricot puree. The combination of tangy cheese and the sweetly nutty crunch of the almonds was an intriguing pairing of flavors, which, when paired with the Moscato wine suggested by Ray's right hand man, Matt Hernandez, absolutely shone.

When a dish makes you close your eyes and be briefly transported, you know there's real magic going on. Chef Barrese must be a magician, because his Spanish style baked egg with tomato, currants, and chorizo paired with skirt steak and tomatillo salsa provoked such a reaction. The perfectly runny egg yolk flowed into the hearty sauce, and the smoky chorizo brought the dish to a new level of culinary ecstasy. Thinly sliced and tender skirt steak was an indulgent addition, and I was amazed by how such simple ingredients could come together and create something so complex.

It was too difficult to choose between the two scallop dishes on the menu, so of course I tried both. First, seared scallops over truffled cauliflower purée, which was light and bright, with the delicate truffle flavor complementing the tender scallops. Next, chorizo crusted scallops with saffron aioli and Piquillo puree. The combination of salty smoke and sweet fresh scallops was addictive. Add the aioli and puree, and the four flavors come together to make an already excellent dish even better.

Seafood is a favorite of mine, so the trend continued with beer steamed mussels with charred orange, coriander, shaved radish, and a side of crusty bread. These went far beyond the all too common lemony wine broth that often accompanies steamed mussels, and I highly recommend the dish. Sweet orange, and a tang of coriander are not flavors I have encountered before, and they really complement the delicate flesh of mussels.

After loving the cauliflower that came with the scallops, I was excited to try another dish featuring them. Chef Barrese continued to impress with ricotta gnudi and cauliflower with sage and pine nuts in brown butter. The pillowy gnudi was delicately sweet, and the savory sage and butter balanced the dish just right. I couldn't get enough of the cauliflower, and almost asked for another plate of the lightly browned florets. 

I ended on a carnivorous note with filet mignon tips a la plancha with hot cherry pepper, Spanish barbecue sauce and melted Mahon cheese. This put me in a blissful food coma. This dish is a must have, and is, in fact, one of Ray's personal favorites. I can certainly understand why, though I would have a hard time selecting a favorite from Chef Barrese's impressive arsenal of dishes. 

There are great things happening in the kitchen at Picador, and I look forward to seeing more of Ray and his talented staff's special passion for food which informs each dish and each element of the overall dining experience. Picador is a shining star in the Fairfield County dining scene, and I expect it will only continue to burn bright. For a fabulous tapas experience, I cannot recommend this charming spot highly enough. 

Picador is located at 15 Elm Street, New Canaan, CT. Call 203-972-9999 for reservations. 
Click here for their menu.

1 comment:

Morna Crites-Moore said...

After reading this review, I can hardly contain myself! When can we go? :-)